Federal Way, Washington, 2007 — Darkness swirled around him as he pried his eyes open. He blinked, the room coming into view with what little light filtered through the blinds.
What had woken him?
Crying. Not from himself; that had stopped a few years ago. It came from someone much younger, and from a different area of the house.
Ethan pushed back the covers and swung out of bed, yawning. He shivered when his bare feet hit the wooden floor; even in spring, it was chilly.
He plodded down the hallway, to the room one door down from the bathroom and across from another door covered in crayon-scribbled pictures.
He opened the door. A nightlight shone next to the tiny toddler bed his son had just ‘graduated’ to.
James sat up in bed, wailing. Ethan knelt beside the bed and yawned again.
“What’s wrong, kiddo?”
“I scared,” James whimpered. “Make bad dreams go ‘way, Daddy!”
“Aw, James.” Ethan picked up him up and James settled against his shoulder, still crying and whimpering. Ethan walked out of the room, traveling down the hall and turned into the living room.
The rocking chair was still in the corner next to the fireplace. Ethan sat down in it and James shifted in his arms as he began rocking. He leaned back and closed his eyes, but convinced himself to not fall asleep.
After a while, James stopped crying. Ethan thought he had fallen back asleep until he felt James shift, and then his tiny voice said, “Daddy, what this?”
Ethan opened his eyes and looked down. James was sitting upright, holding onto two round objects, one smaller than the other.
Ethan sighed. Apparently, the rings he kept on the chain that had once held his dog tags had somehow tumbled out from behind his shirt while he slept.
“Those are…Mommy’s and Daddy’s wedding rings,” he forced out.
For a brief moment, Ethan wondered if his still fit. He hadn’t worn it since…
He shook his head of the unwanted memories. Of his failure.
Gently, he took the rings out of his son’s tiny fingers and tucked them back behind his shirt. “Are you okay now, kiddo?”
James nodded, yawning. Ethan stood and took him back to his room. He tucked a now-sleeping James into bed and lingered for a moment before heading back to his own bed.
Sleep wouldn’t come. He rolled onto his side and propped himself up on his elbow, taking the rings out from behind his shirt, letting them lay in his palm as that part of his memories reopened.
Heather’s face formed in his mind, her sea-blue eyes in sharp clarity, her smile bright.
The sound of roller-skates against the pavement.
Her sobs as she embraced him gently in a hospital room.
“Ethan, be careful,” she said even while smiling as he gently tossed a giggling Maddie into the air.
“Don’t worry, maybe our next baby will say Dada first.”
Her kiss against his scruffy cheek.
“Ethan, hold me.”
Rain melting the freshly-dug dirt around them.
Her name and the dates set in the ground.
He hadn’t even realized he had snapped the chain until he tossed it onto the side table beside him. He turned away from it, fighting his mind’s insistence on dredging up image after image.
For the first time in two years, he cried himself to sleep.
(Critiques are welcome and appreciated!)