(I swear, it's the last Hughes aftermath I'll do)
Come home soon, Love Elysia
“I’ll get it, I’ll get it!” The little girl shrieked, pigtails whirling as she leapt from the ground, crayons falling from her lap upon a waxy drawing upon the floor.
“Elysia,” her mother began, poking her head in from the kitchen, her gaze apprehensive. But what did she fear so? Who would be at the door, or who wouldn’t be?
Elysia didn’t bat an eye; she raced to the door at the sound of the knock and flung it open, radiance sparkling in her shimmering emerald eyes. Her little lips were stretched into a wide smile as she shouted:
She stepped back almost uncertainly, her hand coming loose from the knob; the child’s face fell, the smile shrinking slightly realizing that the man at the door was not her father. She looked at the ground, muttering a polite hello.
From the kitchen door, Gracia smiled thinly upon seeing their visitor. Her face softened, her gaze warm. She pulled her worn, yellowed cooking gloves from her hands and set them gently upon the countertop, then walked lightly to her daughter’s side. Elysia clung to the hem of her mother’s olive colored dress, her fingers tugging familiarly at the edge.
“Mama?” she inquired, staring almost warily at the figure. “How come he’s here and not Papa?” Gracia knelt down beside the child and smiled warmly, patting her gently on the head. Elysia looked at the man in the doorway, wondering why his face twisted so upon her words.
“Baby, why don’t you go finish your picture?” Gracia suggested affectionately, smiling.
“It’s a letter, Mama.” The little girl corrected her with a wide grin, and spun around, plopping softly on the ground and picking up a chalky violet crayon, expertly making straight lines on her paper. Gracia smiled and watched her for a moment, then turned back to their guest. Elysia stared from behind her mother, listening.
“I’m so glad you’ve come by,” her mother said with a reassuring tone. The man’s face softened, his gaze drifting to the ground. “Come on in, Roy.”
Roy’s eyes wafted about the room, touching over the many homey things within the living room, worn couches and mystique paintings that lined the wall. Photographs were mounted upon a table across the room; his eyes avoided the pictures within the frames, trying to evade the ache that would fill his heart, and the pain that would burn his eyes.
“I haven’t been by in a while.” He said shortly, keeping his eyes glued to the ground. Gracia couldn’t help but notice Roy’s dejected mien as he stumbled over to the sofa. He indicated it with a twitch of his head; she nodded, taking a seat opposite him. Elysia wondered why he looked so upset.
“Roy, you don’t have to force yourself to come here.” Gracia said softly, keeping her eyes downcast. Roy looked up, startled, his face full of pain. He opened his mouth to speak, searching ineffectively for words that would reverse what she’d said.
“Roy, please, you don’t have to push yourself if you don’t want to be here.” She interrupted, her eyes glassy but focused upon the ground. “You’re not obligated to come, and you’re not responsible for my daughter and I. As much as I appreciate you stopping by to see us, if it’s hurting you like this, then…”
“That’s not it!” His voice came hard, startling Elysia from a few feet away. Her ears perked at the sharp rise in his tone.
Why were they talking like that, she wondered, coloring in a corner of the sheet of paper. Their voices had been hushed and quiet, until the man she had let inside had spoken. She had never heard that tone before; her father’s was always light, and laughing. The man had sounded like her mother had lately, sad and upset. Was he upset too, she thought wonderingly. Why was he sad?
She stood quietly from the ground, lifting her skirt slightly and crawling around an armchair. She peered at him curiously. She had seen this man before, she knew that. Wrinkling her nose, she looked closely at his face, his dark eyes flashing in the light of the room, face tight and scared. She wondered why his eyes shone like that. Was he crying, like Mama did?
Her eyes lit up for a moment and her face broke into a little smile. She turned away from the back of the chair and stumbled to the table near the center of the room. She grinned; she was right! The man in her living room was here in the picture frame, next to her Papa. He worked with her Papa at the big stone building in town; she had been there once before. They both worked at the place where people were nice, where the bookworm, Sciezka lived, and where everyone dressed the same. She smiled at the thought of the place, but then her little face scrunched slightly with confusion.
He didn’t look like that anymore. The man in this picture was smiling and happy; his face was bright with laughter, his eyes squinted closed from the grin. Her father had a thumbs up behind the man’s head; the man’s face wasn’t scared, his arm around her father’s shoulders. She wondered why he looked so sad now; she had barely recognized him.
The voices had fallen back into their whispers; she returned to her place on the floor, edging her paper and crayons a little closer to the sofa where her mother sat. She pretended to be involved with her writing, catching soft words like, ‘it’s all right’, ‘not your fault’, and ‘nothing you could have done’. She wondered what that meant. What was Mama talking about?
The man called Roy’s voice was thin, strained. He answered in broken whispers, his gaze glued to the ground. She stood up and waddled over to the man, whose head had fallen against his chest, his eyes clenched closed. She watched a tear fall off his face; she felt her chest tighten. She didn’t like this. Why was he acting like this? Grown ups weren’t supposed to do things like that. She watched her mother place a hand on his shoulder. Her eyes shone; she pulled them closed and hung her head.
Roy felt a tiny hand warm on his face. He pried his eyes open, a drop falling down his face inadvertently, resisting the instinctive urge to jerk back. His eyes locked upon the child who peered into his face, her green gaze questioning. After a moment, she pulled her hand back, staring at it.
“Why are you doing that?” she asked softly, her little voice curious. Roy cleared his throat and straightened up. Gracia looked up, surprised at the sound of her daughter’s voice.
“Doing what?” he interrupted, his voice firm once more. Gracia was thrown off by the tone of his voice as he spoke; she looked at her daughter, amazed to see her face placid, as calm as could be for a four year old. She let her hand graze his cheek once more and said softly:
“Crying.” She stared at Roy perplexingly. “Grown ups aren’t supposed to do that.” Roy felt a thin smile cross over his features. He tried to form an answer that she would understand; how could he say that her father, his best friend, was dead?
“Elysia,” he began, his voice sounding strange. He realized that in all the time he’d known the Hughes family, it was a rarity that he said the child’s name, as often as he’d heard her father complacently spout it. Could he let broken words fall upon so delicate of ears? With just a few words, could he break her fragile heart?
Elysia wondered why he wasn’t answering her. Why did he cry? Her father would make him smile if he were at home, she knew that. Elysia smiled and stared at Roy, her eyes understanding.
“Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations!” She said evenly, smiling cheerfully. Roy’s eyes refocused upon her, as though snapped out of a haze.
“Wh-what?” he asked, confused. She shook her head superiorly and laughed.
“Papa says the more you tell someone congratulations that good things will happen to them!” she explained with a big grin. “And he’d be sad if he saw you crying.” Roy’s face softened; his mouth dropped slightly, and his taut expression lessened. He felt his eyes burn, but no tears came. He put a hand upon the child’s head and smiled delicately.
“Thank you.” He said softly. She just smiled and turned away, heading back to her crayons on the floor.
‘Papa will be happy when I tell him that I helped!’ the little girl thought emphatically, scribbling a few more words hurriedly onto her paper. Roy had stood; he was going to be making his leave.
“You know,” she heard him say to her mother as the two approached the door. “He was right the whole time, as much as I hate to admit it. She is adorable.” Gracia laughed, lightly, brilliantly, chiming happily for the first in so long a time. The sound rang like a chorus of little bells, ringing through the air. Elysia looked up at the sound, her face fixing into a wide smile. Her mother sounded happy, for just a moment; it was a beautiful sound, one she wished would never end.
Roy gave Gracia a brief hug, and nodded once to Elysia. He turned to leave, his hand resting on the doorknob. His ears caught the sound of his name as he moved down the steps.
He turned, to see Elysia at the top of the porch stairs, waving a sheet of paper in her hand. Gracia approached behind her, peering down at the page Elysia was holding. Roy stepped forward a few paces, interested.
“Hmm?” he replied, glancing at the sheet in her hand. She handed him the paper, her face intent.
“Could you give that to my Papa when you go back to the big building?” she asked, her voice not quite as cheerful as it had been throughout his visit. Roy’s eyes constricted painfully at the child’s words; she still didn’t understand. “He… he hasn’t been home in a long time. You can read it too, though!” she added, her voice joyful once more. Roy cleared his throat slightly, and took the paper firmly into gloved hands.
“‘Dear Papa,’” he began, reading the simple, crooked child’s handwriting, scrawled over in purple crayon. “‘A man came to our house today. He was… very sad. Please tell him not to cry anymore…’” Roy read, feeling his throat tighten. Gracia’s eyes welled with tears; she brought her hand to her face, oblivious to the smiling little girl.
“‘Tell him to smile, please. I miss you, Papa. Please…’” The paper shook within gloved hands, quivering with such vigor that light scorch marks began to appear where his fingers rested. “‘… please come home soon… l-love, Elysia.’” A small heart was drawn next to her father’s name, a drawing of him and her in the margin of the page. Roy stared down at the sheet in his hand, words lost.
How powerful a thing love was. Love for a parent, a spouse, a friend; all of it so important. It healed and it hurt, brought joy and wreaked pain, caused smiles and tears. Such a simple thing, but how much it meant. How easy it was to feel, and for Maes Hughes, so effortless to say, those three words: I love you. How was it that one man could do all of this, in merely his existence, and in one split second, rip it all away?
“Mister Roy?” Elysia looked confused. Why didn’t he answer her? Did she do something wrong? “Would you please give that to my Papa? Please?”
Roy’s eyes had closed, but a simple smile was plain on his face. His face had a new light to it, and upon the rise of ebony eyes lay a beautiful flash of resolve, tears gone. He nodded, tucking the paper into his pocket.
“Yeah.” He answered, turning away, the thin smile hidden on his face, as though his own secret. “Yeah, I’ll give that to your dad. As soon as I see him. I promise.” Elysia grinned and waved as he walked down the street.
“Thank you!” she called, standing on her toes as she waved enthusiastically. “Thank you so much, Mister Roy!” She waved until the man became a speck in the distance, blurring into the fading sunlight, as though a ray of light all his own. She smiled proudly, taking her mother’s hand into her own.
“Let’s go inside now, Mama.” She said with a big grin, looking into her mother’s eyes. “Papa will be home soon.” Gracia smiled through her tears and took her daughter into her arms.
“He’s already here, baby.” She whispered, the tear tracks on her face thinning. She closed her eyes, resting her daughter’s head against her own. “He’s right here in my arms.”
Roy walked down the street, shoes clacking softly against the cobblestones. He stared into the sunset, his thoughts miraculously placid, face smooth and serene. The words of a child were as simple as could be, yet laced with the wisdom that maturity was deprived of. He smiled to himself, stopping off at a place he had become familiar with.
A marker read a name alone, the place adorned with flowers and endowment. Roy pulled the paper from his pocket and set it in the center of all the gifts, between the flowers and cards, propped up against a name that would live on forever in the minds, hearts and spirits of many.
‘To think, a few words could say so much.’ Roy thought to himself, as the sun sank beneath the horizon. He smiled and turned away, walking softly down the road, leaving the graveyard behind.
Illuminated by a single star, five words gleamed in the night, ever waiting for daylight to come.
”Come home soon,