Coming Home 3

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The grandchildren walked in as if they lived there. First came Kumar, the boy from Calcutta, followed by Tomas, the boy from Rio, and last came Marshmallow, the girl Thalassa conceived during her final year of med school.

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With the uncanny sense that children possess for finding the play things, the three young ones descended the basement stairs into the spare rooms which Cinnamon had filled with the doll houses, toy chests, and picture books from her children’s childhood. She and Jacques lugged them all the way down from the attic and set them up in the basement during the days of preparation for the family’s visit.

Jacques had directed the placement of the toys. “Don’t put the doll house in the corner!” he said. “It is too dark. The dolls will grow sad. Put the toy box there, beside the desk. Under the desk is the soldiers’ fortress, you know.”

On the morning of Thalassa and her children’s arrival, Jacques and the rest of the light-stringing team stopped by to welcome them. It had been years since they’d seen Thalassa and Marshmallow, and they had never even met the two boys.

“The world traveler returns!” said Bjorn.

“The doctor who cures the world!” said Joaquin.

“My high school crush,” said Sergio, under his breath.

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When the neighbors left, Cinnamon gave her daughter the welcome that had been growing in her heart for years.

“Such a miracle,” she whispered. Thalassa felt so tiny in her arms, but she was strong with the resilience that comes from seeing the worst life can bring and still showing up the next day, for whatever might follow. Cinnamon didn’t know how she did it.

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When Stellar came in from his rambles along the beach, he pulled his sister into the tightest embrace.

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Cinnamon replayed scenes of her two children–making forts on the beach, building driftwood rafts to launch into the bay, rescuing storm-fallen nestlings, sharing secrets, and hatching plans. It had been years since they’d been together, not since Steve’s funeral. But now it seemed like they’d never been apart.

While her children caught up with each other, Cinnamon headed to the basement to become acquainted with her grandchildren.

Jacques was there already, playing with Tomas.

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“Are you my grannie?” Tomas asked. “I’ve been waiting to meet your for five years!”

“For five years?” Cinnamon replied. “That long?”

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“That long!” he said. “That’s how long I’ve known about you, since I was just a little guy and Ma came to fetch me. She said, her ma was a funny lady with big stories who lived on an island, and I knew you were really a fairy godmother grandmother, and so of course I wanted to meet you! But of course we had to wait because we were in Rio, and then we were in Calcutta, and then we went to Cairo, and then we went to Belgium, and we thought you might come to see us in Belgium, but you never did, so now we had to come here!”

It hadn’t been that long, of course. It had only been three. But for a young child who’d seen so much and traveled so far, Cinnamon suspected that time took on a different sense. Her heart ached that she was only now meeting this small boy, and her heart ached more that he had suffered so much when he was a tiny thing, and her heart ached more–with happiness and gratitude–that her daughter had found him in the orphanage in Rio and had adopted him. She couldn’t speak for a moment, with the fullness that clutched her chest. So she closed her eyes and breathed.

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She had three young persons to get to know, each with their own histories, dreams, wishes, sorrows. It might take more than a holiday to get to know each one. But she loved them all, fiercely, already.

Kumar had ventured upstairs in search of cookies and discovered his uncle instead. He’d heard that his grandmother was called Cinnamon because she made the best oatmeal cinnamon cookies, and Kumar loved cinnamon. But before he found the cookies, he found a man that smelled like salt spray and pine who called his name, knelt down on his knees, and wrapped him into the biggest hug.

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“You must be Uncle Stellar!” said Kumar. “I know all about you! You’re the one who saves the birds that fall out of the nests! And you sail on logs across the bay!”

Before Stellar could answer that yes, he was that one, Marshmallow bounded up the stairs, calling out “Uncle Stellar!” at the top of her lungs.

She remembered her uncle from when she was a teeny girl, and her mother had kept the memories alive through stories.

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“Why, I’d recognize you anywhere!” Stellar said.

“Really?” Marshmallow asked.

“Of course!” replied her uncle. “Once a Marshmallow, always a Marshmallow!”

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Coming Home 2

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Sometimes an hour feels like five.

Cinnamon finished her nightscape painting.

One night, when Stellar was about five, he’d wandered out after Steve and Cinnamon had gone to bed. He had a habit of doing that. Steve said not to worry. They knew all their island neighbors, and there was nothing to fear.

Usually, Stellar came back after fifteen or twenty minutes, and crawled into bed with them, smelling like the night sky. But one time, she waited after hearing the front door close behind him, and he didn’t return. Fifteen minutes turned to twenty. Twenty minutes turned to half an hour. At thirty-five minutes, Cinnamon couldn’t stand any more. She woke Steve.

“We’ve got to find Stellar!”

The pulled their jackets on over their pajamas, slid on their boots, and headed out. The moon lighted the paths. She ran to the beaches, where silver waves lapped the shore. There was her son, sitting on a rock, looking out over the bay.

Steve came up behind her, placing his hands on her shoulders. They watched in silence. Their son stood on the rock, rose his arms to the moon, and sang.

Steve pulled her back to the path, where they sat on a log and waited until Stellar completed his strange ritual.

“I swear that child is Pan,” said Steve.

When their son saw them sitting beside the path, he waved. Without a word, they walked home.

Cinnamon resisted looking at the clock. It will only make time pass more slowly. After a life living on the island, she’d learned you can’t rush the ferry. She baked a batch of oatmeal cookies.

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She pruned the holiday bonsai.

Stellar had always loved trees. More than once she’d found him talking to the pines and cypress that grew on the island. He seemed to keep track of each one, as if he knew them by name.

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He’d probably take his time walking up from the ferry dock, following his favorite paths to greet the trees that had been waiting for his return.

She lit the candles, set the platters of sweets on the table, took in the festivity, and headed downstairs to make up the beds for her grandchildren who would arrive tomorrow.

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She used to love tucking her children in at night. When they were little, they seldom slept the night through in their own beds, usually joining her and Steve in the big bed upstairs by daybreak, but they started out in the silent dark of their own rooms. She would fill the rooms with fairy tales, talking and singing softly while her children’s eyes slowly shut.

She wondered if her daughter sang her children to sleep each night.

While she spread the quilt on the last bed, she heard the bell ring as the front door opened.

“Ma?” Stellar called.

“Down here, son!” And there he was, smelling like pines and salt spray and the cold winter night.

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“You made it!”

They talked without stopping, about nothing and everything, while they walked up the stairs.

He grabbed a cookie.

“I made taco casserole,” Cinnamon said. “Do you want a real meal?”

“Sure!” he said, gobbling down the cookie.

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Since it was just the two of them, they ate in the living room.

“Missed your cooking, Mom,” Stellar said.

Cinnamon wanted to say that she’d missed him, but she didn’t want to start to cry, and she didn’t want to accidentally make him feel guilty for not coming home more frequently, so she settled for talking about the meal.

“I used paprika. Can you tell? Usually, I use cayenne, but Jacques, he says cayenne puts him on edge, so he bought some paprika that I can use when I make meals that he’ll share, and I guess I forgot to restock the cayenne, for I couldn’t find it tonight, and what do you think? Is the paprika OK?”

“It’s good, Ma,” Stellar said. “I kinda like not burning my tongue.”

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“You look good,” she said. “That life at the national park agrees with you.”

“I quit my job.”

“You what?”

Stellar had worked as a ranger for the National Park Service since getting his master’s degree in botany. Knowing his love for trees, this seemed like the ideal career for him.

“I got tired of being a cop,” he said. “That’s what the job’s become. Peace officer for the public lands. But it doesn’t feel like keeping peace. It feels like stirring up trouble. I don’t want to carry anymore.”

“You had to carry a weapon?”

Stellar nodded. “Went to cop school, too. I’m done.”

“What will you do?” she regretted asking as soon as she said it. Of course there were a million things her son could do, and he would, of course, know what those were, and if he decided he needed a change, no one was better than him to know what that change might be.

“You remember those gnarled stumps that wash up on the beach?” he asked.

She did.

“Are they still there?”

They were. Hundreds of them.

“I want to sculpt,” he said. “I got something to say, but I can only say it through wood. I want to stay here, and I want to be a sculptor.”

So that was why Stellar had been vague about how long he would be staying.

“Do you mean you want to move back home?” Cinnamon asked.

He did.

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Shift 26: Return

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It took me all day to walk home. The sun was just setting as I arrived in the meadow.

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It’s the golden hour, and I love how Ted’s flowers light up as if they are filled with the essence of everything.

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Ted was waiting for me inside.

“How was it?” he asked.

“It was…” I had no words. I started to say, it was like any day. But that wasn’t right or true. I started to say it felt amazing. But that sounded cliche.

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He looked at me and smiled. “I can see how it was. It was a success.”

But I said, no. It really wasn’t. If it was meant to be something transformative, then I’d failed. It hadn’t worked. Because I felt the same as before. I felt strong, sure. And I felt good. But I had to admit that I was just a normal person.

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He laughed. “It just hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said. “Give it time to do its work. And besides, who says that magic isn’t normal?”

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I felt something pop when he said that.

This is normal.

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I was living a miracle, and I always had been, and I was totally and completely changed, but it had happened so gradually and then so completely that I hadn’t even realized that it was happening.

“You may not know it,” Ted had said, “But you’re sparkling.”

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I slept for a few days. It was weird because I didn’t feel wiped out. I felt really strong. I was just really, really tired.

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When I got up, I was ravenous. Ted had a pot of beans on the stove and some bread on the table, and I ate three bowls and half the loaf.

Then I found him outside.

“How’d you sleep?” he asked.

“Pretty good!” I replied.

“Are you ready to harvest some herbs?” he asked.

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We headed into the back country to some meadows where wild currants grow. Ted said every bruja worth her salt knew where to get the wild currants and gooseberries.

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Whisper 2.30

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Dear me,

The gnomes may be celebrating my return from university…

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but I’ve come home to a mess.

I walked right into the middle of a fight between Riley and Bo.

“But you can’t keep pranking everything,” Riley was saying.

Bo screamed. “It’s just a whoopee cushion!”

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Riley was being so reasonable, explaining all the ways somebody could get hurt.

“But I have to!” screamed Bo. “You’re limiting my self expression!”

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She grounded him.

He wept. Mr. Drama King, my baby brother.

“It’s not fair,” he cried.

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“I’m home!” I said, once the ruckus died down.

“Thank God,” said Bo. “You won’t believe how impossible your IF has been to live with.”

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I tried to offer another perspective. “Maybe she’s had reason to be a little strict?”

“ARGH!” screamed Bo. “Nobody understands me! I hate imaginary friends! You’d think, if we imagined them, they’d have some compassion. But NOOOOO! Nobody loves Bo.”

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I suggested he head out for a cup of tea.

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“Feeling better?” I asked him after he’d downed three cups.

“Hydrated,” he said. “And the phytonutrients are awesome.”

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When I was getting ready for bed, I noticed that the faucet in the kitchen sink seemed to be pointing in the wrong direction.

I called Bo over.

“Do you know anything about this?” I asked him.

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He said he didn’t know sinks from rocket launchers. Then he snickered.

“Bo! What did you do?”

First he denied everything. Then, when I said he’d have to fix it if anything broke, he finally confessed. He’d booby-trapped it. The sink would blow the next time anybody turned it on.

“How’re we supposed to cook? How’re we supposed to wash dishes? What about washing veggies?”

“Don’t eat veggies,” he said.

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Bo! What’s gotten into that kid?

I grounded him.

“The prom is tomorrow,” he said. “Me and Patches were going. Not together. But separately. In the same limo.”

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“You’re so grounded,” I said.

“I just want to kiss the world,” he said, “and then watch everyone die. Poison flower kisses.”

“You’re so weird. I just want to work on my novel.You think I want to spend my evening yelling at you?”

“You don’t?”

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“Not really,” I said. “I don’t like being mad at you.”

“Then don’t be,” he said.

“All right,” I said. “I won’t be.”

We both started laughing.

“Poison flower kisses!”

He exploded in laughter.

He asked me about all the pranks I did as a teen. I’d only done a few. And I never got in trouble for them.

He said he shouldn’t get in trouble for them, either.

I realized that the only reason he got in trouble was because he’d gotten caught; whereas, I’d never gotten caught, so I’d never gotten in trouble. Which made me think about what kind of lesson we were teaching Bo. Which was, don’t get caught.

We made a deal: I’d let him off the hook, if he’d promise to clean up any messes that his pranks caused, including fixing anything that got broke.

We shook on it.

“I’m so glad you’re home,” he said. “All I want is a little self-expression.”

Good grief!

Welcome home,

Me

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Whisper 2.14

Hey, Shannon.

Well, I made it home. And, guess what? It was still snowy when I arrived! My worries that I’d miss the snow melt were for nothing!

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Remember how you said it was important for me to get back home because people here needed me?

You were right.

When I arrived, Bo and Patches were both standing in their room, not speaking to each other. Patches looked mad, and Bo, he just looked forlorn.

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I’ve never seen my little brother look that way.

They both broke out in smiles when they saw me, and, for the moment, their troubles seemed forgotten.

The next morning, though, I made sure to spend a little time with each of them. I’ve been gone for a while, and a lot can change in a family in the time it takes to get a degree.

Bo and I worked out together. It gave us a chance to catch up while doing something–kind of took the pressure off of talking about difficult things.

Eventually, Bo came out with it. “She hates me,” he said. “I deserve it. I’m rotten to the core. But it still sucks. I thought she’d have my back to the end.”

It was Patches he was talking about. I thought about it while we continued working out. My IF Riley and I are so close–even though we’re different, I feel like she can read my mind.

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I bet Patches can read Bo’s mind, too.

Shannon, have you ever been so close to someone that you could read their mind? If that person has friendly thoughts, it can be nice. It can bring the two of you closer. But what would happen if that person didn’t always have the most generous of thoughts? What if some of those thoughts were even destructive or mean?

I found Patches playing chess on the computer.

She and I aren’t that close, so I wasn’t really sure how to approach this.

“You ever get inside your opponent’s mind when you’re playing chess?” I asked her, cringing at how obvious I thought I was being.

But Patches was interested in the question. “I can’t really read their minds,” she said. “But sometimes, it’s as if I can, because I can figure out the lines of possibles moves, and then based on my analysis of their play, I can predict which one they’ll choose, so it’s as if I can. But in truth, there’s only one person whose mind I can read, and that’s Bo.”

Uh-huh.

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I wasn’t really sure how to proceed. What would you have done, Shannon? Would you have even gotten involved?

Part of me felt like not intruding, but when I saw how sad Bo looked, I couldn’t just ignore it. I feel like if I notice something, it’s for a reason. So if I notice that there are problems between my brother and his IF, then it seems like it’s up to me to say something. I mean, what if I didn’t say anything and they just went on being miserable? At least if I say something, the worse thing that can happen is that they get mad at me for interfering. And that’s not so bad!

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Bo and I headed out to join Riley at the tea table. I figured it might help to have Riley’s perspective.

“So how did you all get along while I was gone?” I asked. Yeah, you know me, Shannon–I’m not really subtle.

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“Beautifully,” Bo said.

“Well,” Riley confessed, “Sometimes we got along beautifully.”

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She poured a little more tea and looked at Bo.

“And sometimes not,” she said. “It’s natural for teenagers to be moody, and I guess sometimes bad moods can be taken out on other people.”

“I keep it to myself,” Bo said, “when I feel that way. I don’t see what the big deal is.”

I remembered how angry I’d felt sometimes when I was a teen. There were days when I wanted to stop being friends with my mom, when I wanted to skip school, and when the whole world just sucked. I tried to keep it to myself and not act on any of it, but my mom was pretty good at figuring it out, anyway.

“Riley,” I said, “You know how you always say that you can read my thoughts?”

“Oh, sure,” she replied. “It’s that way with all IFs and their person. I mean, after all, it was your thoughts, initially, that brought us to life.”

“Uh-huh. I guess it was pretty lucky that you spent most of my teen years in my mom’s closet. What do you think it would’ve been like for you if you’d been around when I was having rotten thoughts and feelings?”

“I wouldn’t have minded,” Riley said. “I would have understood. Unless they were mean thoughts about me.”

“They might have been,” I said, “unless I learned to reel it in a bit when I was feeling hormonal.”

“Can you control your thoughts?” Bo asked.

“You can be aware of them, at least,” I said. “And then if you end up having a thought that’s ungenerous, you can not fuel it with emotions by just watching it pass.”

Shannon, do you think that was an OK approach for me to take? I thought about being more direct and letting Bo know that when he thinks mean thoughts about Patches she picks up on them, and that’s what causes the distance between them. But I also thought that he might be more responsive if I came at it from an angle. I don’t know. I’m not very good at helping my brother with complicated interpersonal relationships. What would you have done?

It might have been OK that I took that approach, for you know what he said next?

“That sounds like an art. An art of the mind. I’m not sure I can only have beautiful thoughts. In fact, I’m pretty sure, no, I can’t. I don’t even know what comes first, the thought or the feeling.”

I told him that not knowing was a start and he could watch to see what did come first.

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I don’t know, Shannon. I’m not sure anything I said made a difference or helped at all. But I did notice that afternoon that he and Patches were talking, then they were joking, and then they were sitting together to play a game of chess.

That afternoon, I found Riley standing at the upstairs window looking out over the back meadow.

“Your feelings were right,” she said, just as if she’d read my mind. “Letting Bo discover on his own how his thoughts and feelings are intertwined and how they affect those he lives with, that’s the right approach.”

I joined Riley, and together, we watched the snow melt.

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Shannon, what’s a family? We share all these tangles of emotions and habits in this shared space, and we have all this history and tradition. We get defined by the thoughts we hold of each other. I think part of what drew me to you was a sense of freedom I felt from you–you define yourself. But didn’t you say to me, shortly before I left, that you found something of yourself when you were with me, something you had never known existed?

Riley leaned against me and smiled while we watched the grass showing itself for first spring. “Everything’s right,” she said. “Now, when it all feels good, and even before, when it felt messed up. The whole of everything is right.”

Life’s not really simple, is it, Shannon?

I’ve just been home a few days, and I miss you already. What do you say to coming to Moonlight Falls for a visit? I’m sure this valley would love to see you! And the valley is not alone in that wish…

Love,

Marigold

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