The day Tomas received his final notice, he painted his first masterpiece.
His painting captured Granite Falls and the joy he felt there, seeing Pepper Doodle so happy, surrounded with Douglas firs and granite slabs.
“This is for Cypress,” he told Redbud when he finished.
Early the next morning, he ate iced spooky cookies for breakfast.
“When your time is about up,” he said, “you can have whatever you want for breakfast.”
Red joined Cypress as she enjoyed a breakfast cherry ice cream cone.
“We haven’t really had the whole legacy-heir talk,” Red said.
“That’s ok, Mom. I know the drill.”
“You might know the drill, and I’m sure you’re well aware of the responsibilities, knowing you, Pepper Doodle. You’re a good kid. But I want to make sure that you also know that you don’t have to give up anything. It’s not a step away from happiness. It’s a step towards.”
“What are you talking about, Mom?”
“Trust your heart,” Red said. “I know you’ve got a lot of guys coming around. You’ve got choices, remember that, ok? All the heirs in our family have had true love. I want you to have that, too. Don’t rush into anything, and trust your heart.”
True love was something that Cypress hadn’t really been counting on. She counted on flirty hats and flirty feelings and finding someone who liked sharing those feelings with her.
But love? Love like her mom and dad had? Was that even possible? She’d always thought that love like that was a once-in-a-millennium type of thing.
But could that be available for her, too?
When Jade stopped by that afternoon, they headed upstairs to the flirty nook.
“We’re best friends, right? We can talk about anything?” she asked him.
“I guess so,” he replied. “I mean, I don’t really like to talk about my feelings.”
As an experiment, she blew him a kiss.
“How about feeling your feelings? Do you like that?”
“It depends,” he answered. “This feels ok, I guess.”
Tomas joined them.
“Nice to see you, Jade. Hey, did you hear about our vacation? We met some pretty nice people up there. Real nice guy who works for the park service. Ranger type. Loves the outdoors.”
After Tomas headed downstairs to whip up a batch of ice cream, Sugar came up.
“We had such a great vacation, Jade!” she said. “Do you know that the park service makes a point of hiring those who love the outdoors?”
“Yeah,” he said, “I heard about the vacation. Cyp says you guys stayed in a really nice cabin. Lots of paintings and stuff. But no tv. What’s up with that?”
Cypress headed downstairs when the ice cream was ready. While she was taking a moment to appreciate how beautiful it looked, she heard that hollow roar she’d heard a few times before.
It was her friend Grim.
“Here for the ice cream?” she asked.
“No,” he replied. “For the ice cream maker, unfortunately.”
Tomas had heard his name and greeted it with sorrow–it was so hard to leave those he loved.
Jade joined the circle as the family witnessed Tomas’s reaping.
When Grim snatched the bright light of soul, every family member felt that a part of them had been stolen, too.
Grim left the family to deal with their grief, and Cypress and Jade headed back upstairs.
“My mom and dad had one of those ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ things,” Cypress said. “I don’t know how she’s gonna make it.”
“I really liked him, too,” said Jade. “I’ve known him almost all my life.”
They flirted a little bit, wondering if maybe they’d be drawn together through their grief.
“This isn’t working,” Jade said. “I’m just. I’m just not cut out for this. It’s too much, all this closeness you guys share. Like what happens to one, happens to all. That’s not what I want in my life. I want to fly solo.”
“Look,” he said. “We’ll always be friends. But I gotta get going. I got to get home. You… you take care, ok?”
She watched him walk out. She realized he was hurting, too. Her dad’s loss would touch all who knew him. She realized, too, that Jade wasn’t the guy who could be her partner in life. She wanted somebody who could share his feelings, and somebody who could listen to her when she talked about her own. She wanted the kind of love where they could comfort and support each other during challenges and pain, not leave each other to deal with the tough stuff alone.
Without Tomas, everybody felt a big hole in their life.
When he was here, every member of the family always had a whim to socialize with him.
And now that he was gone, those whim slots were empty.
That is, those slots remained empty until Knox’s face began to appear in them.
“Be friendly” with Knox. “Be funny” with Knox. “Watch stars” with Knox.
He dropped by shortly after Jade left.
“Hey,” he said to Cypress, “What do say we head up to that room with the good view? I’d love to spend some time with you.”
Cypress didn’t know what came over her once they got up there–well, ok. She did. Even though she was still feeling grief, what came over her was that this ranger guy was pretty awesome.
He actually listened to her.
He actually said that he understood when she said her heart felt like all the light had been stolen from it.
He actually said that there is a certain beauty in grief, for it helps you internalize and remember forever just how much that person meant to you.
He actually said that she should feel everything she was feeling, and if she wanted to talk about it, or if she wanted to cry, or if she just wanted somebody to hold her, he was there. And he wasn’t going anywhere unless she told him to leave.
And even though her heart was broken, she said, “You’re about the sweetest man I’ve ever known, next to my dad.”
When she woke the next morning, she found a new whim in the slot that was usually occupied by a whim to be friendly, funny, or mischievous with her dad.
And this whim read “Have first kiss with Knox.”
He was already walking down their path when she picked up the phone to invite him over.
They sat together on the bench looking over the canyon.
“Do you have a nickname?” he asked her.
“Yeah,” she said. “It’s silly.”
“Nicknames are supposed to be silly.”
“My dad called me Pepper Doodle,” she said.
“Aw,” he said. “It fits. That’s what I’m calling you. Little Miss Pepper Doodle.”
“I still think you’re sweet,” she said to him later that morning, when she found him playing games on the computer.
After their first kiss, Cypress looked up, thanking life, thanking game, thanking her dad for showing her what a good man was like. So she didn’t see when Knox blew her a kiss that contained within it all the promise of a good life–of having somebody beside her who would talk with her when things were tough, who would be there to hold her and to listen, and who would share with her all of his own feelings, even the gloomy ones.
She didn’t see him blowing her that kiss, but she felt it, for it landed right inside her heart, and it lit it up again.
That afternoon, onezero, painted a masterpiece of her own, which she also dedicated to Cypress.
“Pepper Doodle in Space,” she calls it, but if you look closely you can see that it’s about the energy of creation–which, as we all know, is really the energy of love.