Dear Diary, ever since I can remember, I’ve taken for granted that my life would always be the same. Well, except for the parts of it I wanted to change. When you’re a child, you naturally assume everything will stay the same forever, your parents will always be there and your grandparents, too.
I don’t know what I would have done, how I would have reacted if Momma hadn’t had second thoughts and called me from the little hotel phone across the water. Really, though, I think it must have been my father’s insistence that lit the fire under her causing her to call me.
It’s a wonder I hadn’t already found out since the whole world was aware of the dreadful news. My grandpa had died and a terrible weight had entered my stomach making it impossible to sleep or eat.
The TV stations ran the story several times, delving into details of his amazing life that even I didn’t know. Magazines hurried to the presses, pumping out “never before seen pictures” of him.
My favorite was done by Stadium Magazine. They did a plain cover devoted completely to him and his favorite guitar, the one my mom said he slept with before he married grandma.
There were no unnecessary teasers on this cover. It was beautiful in a way I couldn’t describe.
Grandpa had been on a huge amount of Stadium covers before and Xalen had collected them all. We were anxious to get home and look through that collection even though I knew I would be crying the entire time.
By the time we did get home from our trip, it was nightfall and the children were exhausted. Paparazzi lined the walk outside and I didn’t know quite how to take that. Never before had they bothered me. Momma mentioned on the phone, though, that once word got out, it wouldn’t be long before the “little insects” figured out where his family members lived.
I was able to keep myself together for the most part until I saw Susan who was waiting for us at the door. When her blue eyes met mine, a sob wrenched itself free from my throat and she began to softly cry.
As we fell into each others’ arms, Xalen explained to the children why we were sad.
“Momma’s worried about the funeral,” Susan quietly said as we finally let go of one another.
I nodded a little. “Seeing from all the paparazzi outside, it seems she was right to be concerned. Xalen and I talked about the situation on the flight and he’s going to arrange to have security there so we can mourn in peace. They will keep everyone at bay so we can have some privacy.”
Eyes rimmed with red, Susan nodded understanding and gripped my hand. “We have to be strong for Momma.”
It was a long funeral ceremony for many family members and friends wanted their chance to speak about what my grandpa meant to them. I was proud that he touched so many lives in such a positive way.
Grandma Leela was very distant and left as soon as the ceremony was over. Momma told us that grandpa was the love of grandma’s life and she needed time to herself. I was worried about grandma but momma said she and daddy were going to stay with her for as long as it took to make sure grandma was all right.
The weight in my stomach had given way to a numbness that enveloped me like a blanket. Xalen assured me this was normal. He was so patient with me and fielded most of the questions the kids had.
Everyone wanted photos of Leo and Leela’s children. Aunt Ruby, Momma and Uncle Leo stood patiently as people snapped their cameras, however, I could see how it all was wearing on them.
Most everyone had left, as I approached momma, who was standing away from the others. Her eyes met mine and her lips curled into a soft smile even though tears still flowed from her eyes.
“Are you all right, Momma?” I asked.
Instead of answering me, she pulled me into her arms and I stood there as limp outside as I felt inside.
Her fingers tenderly stroked my hair and she kissed my salty wet cheek. “Grandpa loved you so much.”
“I know,” I said, barely above a whisper. “He was so good to me.”
“I don’t know of anyone he wasn’t good to.”
“Do you think grandma will be okay?”
“I don’t know,” she said, her voice gentle. “I hope she will be, but I just don’t know.”
As momma regarded me with the same green eyes grandpa had, I realized how much older she was now, too. She was still beautiful, yet the hands that had once shown me how to bake and sew were now looking more arthritic and stiff. She was good at covering the wrinkles on her face, but I still saw the lines, each one like a road on a map, with its own story.
“Momma, I don’t know what I would do if anything ever happened to you,” I suddenly blurted.
Her eyes sparkled with unshed tears as she smiled softly again. “Oh, Marty, you may not think so, but you will be just fine. You are a wonderful, independent and courageous woman and I’m not worried one bit about how you will get on without me.”
“But – ”
“Shh… ” she said with another smile. “You have done amazing things with your life. When things got rough and didn’t go your way, you persevered and have gotten everything you’ve ever gone after and then some. I’m so proud of you.”
This, of course, made me cry again. “Thank you,” was all I could squeak out.
She hugged me again, then wandered off to make sure she’d spoken to everyone who was still there.
I caught up with the twins who were firing questions at my dad. Instead of interrupting, mostly because I didn’t feel like I could deal with this at the moment, I backed away.
“Marty, over here!” I heard Momma call.
I joined her while she was speaking to a woman and little boy I didn’t know.
“Marty, this is your cousin… uh, my cousin?” she laughed a little. “Let’s see, her mother was actually my first cousin – no that’s not right either.” She cleared her throat as the stranger and I patiently waited. “I’ll start over. Her mother was Ramona Ventura, and Ramona was Tia Ventura’s daughter… and Tia was my Great-Aunt Keniesha’s daughter.”
Relieved not to have to think about grandpa being gone, I smiled as pleasantly as I could at the woman and her little boy. “And that makes you…” my voice trailed off. It seemed I was as confused as momma.
“Let’s just say cousin,” she said then laughed. “I’m Olivia Ventura and this is my son Christopher. Leo meant a great deal to me. The first time I ever met him, I was just a toddler.”
“Oh yes!” Momma exclaimed. “Your grandma Tia brought you to Mango’s funeral!”
“Yeah, that’s right,” she grinned. “He and Leela kept in close touch over the years and Leo even helped me out a time or two.”
“He was like that,” I said.
“Olivia is a teacher and she’s looking for a job in these parts so you two will practically be neighbors,” Momma said.
A teacher! Suddenly, I had an idea. “What grade are you hoping to teach?”
“I would prefer younger children, but I’ve taught most grades at one time or another.”
An experienced teacher. I was nearly giddy with excitement. “Tell me… have you ever considered working privately?”
We walked toward the parking lot as I explained what I meant.
A few days later, Olivia was at our home and we were interviewing her for the tutoring position. I was really hoping this would work out because she had a child of her own, tons of experience and could travel with us if need be. Hopefully, it would be what she wanted, too.
Xalen smiled as the three of us chatted about the job, what it would entail, what we expected, what she expected and the like.
I was really encouraged by that smile of his.
Olivia was easy to talk to and very kind. I couldn’t wait to see her interacting with the kids. From what I’d already seen of her child, I was sure she would be terrific.
“Well,” Xalen said, “if you would like, we can show you around the living quarters.”
“That would be lovely.”
We brought her upstairs to the children’s room. Since they were no longer toddlers, they had graduated from the nursery to the bunk beds. (Xalen called this room the nursery, too.)
“I’m sure we could get another bed in here unless you would want Christopher to have his own room.”
She shook her head. “Oh, no, I would prefer he was with your children. You see, he hasn’t always had an easy time and I think it would be good for him to be around them.”
“That’s terrific!” I said.
After deciding the sleeping situation, we showed her the playroom.
“Hello, Father, Mother,” Rosetta said without looking up from her book. “I’m reading a very interesting book called ‘Carnage of Time.’”
Xalen raised an eyebrow and gently took the book from her hands, then replaced it with another book. She wrinkled her nose and said, “‘Horses and Friends?’ Ugh.”
As she continued to complain to her father, Olivia and I joined the boys who were pretending to be astronauts.
Olivia and I smiled at each other and shook hands.
I’d just finished cleaning the kitchen after feeding the kids when Shelly joined me. I could tell she wanted to talk to me about something important but she was hem hawing around.
“I met Olivia. It seems she’ll work out really well.”
“We’re hoping so,” I said as I turned toward her. “She’s a cousin to me or something. I haven’t quite figured that out.”
Shelly laughed a little.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
“I don’t quite know how to approach you about this, so be patient with me,” she began. “You see, it has to do with your children.”
“What about them?”
She licked her lips and cleared her throat before answering me. “Well, there’s something really strange going on.”
“What do you mean?”
“I feel a presence around them. A hostile presence.”