All in all, it was a pretty great party, Clarence thought, heading home after Tomas’s elder birthday. He’d lived to see it, at least, which, at his age, was an accomplishment in and of itself.
He was the last Park Boy of his generation.
He no longer thought, when he came to Cradle Rock, “It could’ve been me.”
He’d been friends with Redbud far too long to waste anymore thoughts on what might have been. Red had shared one poem with him long ago, and two lines from it had been etched forever in his memory:
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
–T.S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”
He had to chuckle at himself, finding solace in lines of poetry. That’s what you get when the love of your life–unrequited love, at that–is a bookworm.
It was all good. It was all forgotten, forgiven, joined in the warmth of a lifetime friendship.
Only sometimes, he wondered.
One evening, all the family were busy, and he snuck into the bathroom where the spa bath was.
He didn’t normally let himself slide into wondering what it would feel like if this were his actual home. But, sinking into the citrus scrub soak, he couldn’t help but feel that it would have really been something if this were his place. If he belonged here.
Of course, he always had felt welcomed here, ever since that first day he came, when he was just a little kid.
He’d been here nearly every day since. He didn’t need to call or knock. He just showed up, every day, at the door, and somebody would engage him in conversation, and before he knew it, he’d be sharing a meal with the family, then playing on the gaming rig, or watching stars through the observatory, or using the mega-microscope. He could call it a “second home.”
The thing was, when he let himself think about it, he realized that there were a million little moments he missed out on by not living here.
When the party was over, and it was time to head home, he had to leave Cradle Rock, while the Boughs simply carried their plates of cake into the kitchen.
Soaking in the tub, he thought about some of those moments he missed.
He wasn’t there to see the hours on the treadmill that Cypress put in early every morning. He only witnessed the result of that training regime: a new lean teen.
He wasn’t there to help Cypress with her homework each day. He was only there to benefit through conversation from the results of her studies, and to feel astounded that this young person could tell him more about the intricacies of ecosystems than he had ever thought to wonder.
He missed out each morning on the jokes that Cypress told Jeffrey Pine.
And he missed out on the ways that Jeffrey teased his little sister, just to let her know she was loved.
He missed out on all the little daily ways that Redbud was a good mom to her two kids.
There were some things he didn’t mind missing. Nathanael had his own style, when it came to making friends and socializing, and Clarence felt just as glad not to be around for all that.
But if it had been his home, he’d have been there to share Tomas’s birthday breakfast in the early morning before the party.
Even so, he had to realize, there was so much he did see, so much he was a part of, by dropping by every day and being the first guest invited to every party.
Why, at Tomas’s party, he’d been there to see Sugar bring out the white cup once again, and to watch as onezero, Nathanael, and Red followed suit. Even if his own lifebar had begun to sparkle, it was something to know that Red would carry on, always young, and not just young-at-heart.
He was there to get confetti in his hair when Tomas made his last good wish.
And he was there to let Tomas know that it wasn’t so bad. Being old wasn’t the worst thing.
It was all good, he thought. When he’d been to every single party at Cradle Rock, when he could drop by any time he wanted, no need to call first, when he felt as much at home there as anywhere, it was good. It was something to feel grateful for. It was a gift.
You don’t always get what you want in life. But you know what? You still get gifts. And the gifts that come to you, they’re all good, for they’re the ones meant for you.