How long had it been?
She sat in the window watching the wind blow against the silhouetted trees on the lawn. At times the leaves came down in a soft shower of color upon the front porch. She would have to sweep the porch in the morning.
The tea kettle whistled from the kitchen and she hurried to turn off the fire.
She took her favorite cup from the cupboard and got out a box of pumpkin spice tea. She thought of her mother as she dropped the tea bag in the cup and poured water over it. The rich aroma brought back so many memories, so many haunting memories.
She could picture him standing in the doorway, the day after her mother's funeral. Hard to believe it had been a year ago. They had known one another most of their lives and she never dreamed she would be without him.
When he announced he was leaving, she would have cried, but she knew it was the right thing for him to do. He had his own life now.
She remembered when he first announced he was going into missionary work. She was a senior in high school. They had talked of marriage, but she didn't want to be a Missionaries wife. She had cried. She remembered her mother's sound advice. “I know it's hard, but you and Eric are more like a brother and sister. I never thought of the two of you as anything else. Time will tell and time will heal.”
He wasn't like a brother to her at all.
He traveled to Indonesia a few years later. He called occasionally, but mainly to talk to her father about the work he and the others were doing and to ask for him to send out the word to other churches about their needs. Emails were more frequent but as were the phone calls, mostly sent to her dad.
When her dad had died, the frequency of his calls and emails lessened. He hadn't been able to come home for his funeral. She remembered the long letter he had written to her mother, brothers and her. His words spoke of how much he hurt. He wrote of how her father had been a man he had looked up to most of his life. I was an orphan and he took me in. He gave me a home, a family and love.
Eric never missed her birthdays. There was always a card or a call. Who could forget her birthday? It was the day after Halloween. He had given her the nickname Spooky.
Why did it seem they always avoided one another now?
Eric only had a month before his furlough would end. He had planned to stay through Christmas, but one of his fellow missionaries had fallen ill and he would have to get back. He had spent most of his time traveling the country to speak to churches about his mission work. His goal was to reach out to as many as he could for funding and donations of non perishable items. Every state he went to, every town or city he visited, every church he entered welcomed him with open arms. His presentation about the work he and his fellow missionaries were doing in the far away islands of Indonesia brought a lot of needed attention and money. He had to admit, he was good at being the ambassador and spreading the word.
He had grown accustomed to life in the tribal environment and the conditions of the vast forest and mountains that surrounded him there. Nothing could compare to being home though. There was so much he missed. He missed Julia most of all, but he just couldn't tell her.
He was in the last town on his journey. It had one little church which had always been one of his biggest supporters. He liked the town and the people, but it wasn't like home.
Home ̶ It wasn't so far away that he couldn't visit again before he left. He wanted to. He planned to visit his home church one more time. He hoped to see Julia. He always had hope.
He left the hosting family's house announcing he was going for a stroll. The crisp fall air seemed to be calling to him. They didn't have fall in Indonesia. They didn't have winter. All the had were seasons of rain.
He strolled down the sidewalk. A cool crisp breeze blew against his hair, causing it to fall in his face. He pushed it back.
“You need a haircut,” he heard Julia say, but she wasn't there.
Lights from the houses along the way lit up the windows to guard those inside from the dark. Some had smiling jack-o-lanterns on the porch to chase off the goblins of October. The lamps along the street cast shadows triggering imaginations of the passersby. The autumn leaves crunched beneath his feet. He watched as they fell around him. Each tree had its own color: gold, orange and his favorite red, like Julia's hair.
He wondered if her thoughts were on him this fall.
He stopped outside a little coffee house and lingered for moment. He stared through the plate glass window at the patrons sipping coffee and tea quietly or chatting with friends. He wanted to go in, but hesitated.
A man and woman stepped out laughing. The man accidentally bumped him and apologized. Eric nodded his head. “No problem.” He watched as they walked away. The woman's long auburn hair reminded him of Julia. He tried to shake the lingering feelings of desire from his thoughts and went inside. A woman with a welcoming smile greeted him as he walked up to the counter. “Um, I'll have a pumpkin spice latte.” He hated pumpkin spice, but it always reminded him of Julia and the last time they were together.
He sniffed the steam rising from the paper cup. A smile came to his face. How could I ever love anyone else.
Had it been a year since her mother's death?
Julia returned to the front of the house and the window seat where she had been sitting. Her father had made it for her and her mother. Vents from the heater blew up on either side making it a warm, cozy spot. She leaned against the wall behind her and wrapped her hands around the warm cup of tea. The scent of pumpkin spice filled her senses. She smiled and caught her reflection in the window. She was twenty-five now, unmarried and had no boyfriends. She had finished college and was working as a registered nurse at the U.T Hospital in Knoxville.
The house was hers now. Her brothers had families and homes of their own. They visited and most likely everyone would be there for Thanksgiving and Christmas. She had made sure of that. She wasn't going to let go of that tradition.
She looked about. The light from the entrance hall filtered softly into the room. She could she her dad's chair still sat in the corner by the fireplace. She could picture him sitting there with his pipe, newspaper, a book, or his Bible. He was usually reading from his Bible. The other books he owned were written by authors and scholars of the word. How many books did he have? Her eyes moved to the bookcase. There were five shelves and three of them contained nothing but his books. She promised herself she was going to read them someday.
She settled back in the window seat and looked out sipping her tea, all the memories of home began to drift down around her like the leaves falling from the trees. If she closed her eyes, she could almost hear the voices of her brothers, Eric and herself as they ran through the house and played. She could hear her mother calling them to dinner and the smell of the cherry tobacco from her father's pipe.
A more recent memory was the sound of her mother's feet sliding across the floor in the pink house shoes she always wore. She still had those house shoes and wore them on days she really wanted feel close to her mother. Today she wanted to feel close to Eric and had put on an old sweat shirt he used to wear. She had some of his cologne too and sprayed the sweat shirt every time she washed it.
She took a sip of tea and raised her arm to her nose to smell the sleeve.
Wish he'd call.
She closed her eyes and held her cup to her face. The steam rose up, warming her and filling her thoughts with melancholy memories of him. “I miss you, Eric,” she whispered softly.
He sat at an empty table near the window. He had a text message from one of his fellow missionaries. Had to hand it to modern technology, it made it easier to communicate long distance. Well, when the WiFi was working.
Long distance ̶ too bad time travel hadn't been invented. Sometimes he longed to be a kid again and Julia's best friend.
Julia's father, Joshua Benton had been a pastor most of his adlt life. He hadn't grown up wanting to be one, but God called him to the work and he followed the desire put in his heart. His beginnings were small, but his heart was big. He never had a big monster church, but the small flock he led was, as he often said, God given and his preaching at times was profound and eye opening.
His early beginning were as a co-pastor in a church in Memphis. He had married his childhood sweetheart, Marcie. She had given him two sons, first Daniel and two years later Jacob. He and she loved the large church they belonged to, but he had desires of taking that next step and shepherding his own church. When a small congregation outside of Knoxville offered him a job, he accepted it and moved his wife and two sons to East Tennessee.
They had their regrets about moving, but it hadn't been the first time for he and his wife Marcie to pick up their roots and travel where they were needed. They hated leaving behind their best friends Tony and Heather Kinyard, but there would always be weekends and summer visits.
The church helped him to secure a loan and he bought a six bedroom house, high on hill in the little town outside of Knoxville, Tennessee. The house was old, and needed updates. He had been able to purchase it at a good price, making the notes each month low.
It had two baths and a large kitchen. A wide front porch and a screened in back porch provided views of the surrounding mountains. There were big oaks and maple trees surrounding the house. The biggest oak tree had a rope tied around a large lower branch with a tire tied at the end. It had plenty of space for them and their two sons, Daniel and Jacob. Together they turned it into a home.
Marcie was an RN and quickly got a job at the University Hospital. With her pay and the credit the two of them had secured together, they were able to update the house and turn it into a fine home. Much of the work they did themselves, saving them even more in costs.
Julia was born in the house. Her mother and father had decided that she wouldn't be born the conventional way. They chose a midwife and a supportive doctor. Julia was born in the master bedroom. She was healthy and strong and didn't spend one day in a hospital. Her father had been present during her delivery. Daniel and Jacob had waited in the living room with the Kinyards, who had traveled from Memphis for her birth. They were allowed to enter the room and greet the new baby.
Eric Kinyard was four years old when he first saw little Julia. She was a bit fussy when he walked up to the bed where her mother was holding her. Her eyes seemed to move directly toward him and she grew quiet. The two stared at one another, and although they say babies don't see well right after birth she seemed to see him. He held out his hand to touch her and her tiny hand grabbed hold of his finger. He smiled and to the amazement of everyone in the room, she smiled back.
Eric was five years younger than Daniel and two years younger than Jacob. Like them, he got to hold little Julia. The adults couldn't help but see a connection between the baby and the small boy looking down at her face and smiling. He looked up at his parents and said, “I think she likes me.”
It was during this visit the Kinyards voiced their concerns about what would happen to the children, if something were to happen to both parents. Although the Benton's had someone to fall back on, the Kinyards didn't. Tony's parents were too old and he was an only child. Heather's parents were not believers. They wanted Eric and any future children they may have to be raised in a Christian environment.
The couples made a group decision and a few days later before the Kinyards left for home, legal documents was drawn up by an attorney who attended the Benton's church. The Kinyards and Bentons signed it and had it notarized. It was official, the Bentons would adopt Eric as their own if anything happened to his parents and vice/versa.
The Kinyards tried have more children, but after three miscarriages they had all but given up. As Heather told Marcie on one visit a couple of years later, “If the Lord wants me to have another baby, I will. I am content with Eric.”
Julia had liked it when Eric and his parents came to visit. Even though he was older, he would always spend a little time with her playing. She didn't remember it, but was told the first steps she ever took were from a table she had pulled up on to Eric as he entered the house.
Growing up as the youngest in a family of boys, she didn't get to play with Eric much. He mostly played with her brothers instead outside. She was allowed to sit on the porch with her dolls and watch them play in the front yard. She didn't think she'd ever grow up and play football or baseball or wrestle in the leaves like they did.
She still liked Eric. He had a nice smile with a dimple and dark eyes that would crinkle at the the corners when he laughed. She grew up loving his laugh.
The year was 1988. It was a Tuesday, October twenty-fourth. Julia would be turning five in a week. She and her mother were sitting on the porch. Her mother was planning a birthday party for the weekend. The sun was shinning through the trees giving the golden leafed oaks and red leafed maples bright glows. The school bus would be stopping at the bottom of the hill soon dropping off Daniel and Jacob. Julia often wished she was in school. Mama promised she would start next year.
They saw Joshua's car coming up the hill. Marcie thought it a bit unusual. He was to visit some of his home bound members today after he had attended to some other church business. He pulled up beside the porch and parked. She could tell by the look on his face something was wrong, terribly wrong. She stood and walked to the steps and waited for him to walk up. “Joshua, what is it?”
The car accident had been devastating to family and friends. Eric who had been sitting in the back seat had been unharmed. His father, mother and the drunk driver who hit them head-on had all died at the scene. Eric had been whisked away to the hospital as a precaution. He was scared, in shock, and alone, but didn't shed a tear.
His grandparents on his father's side were the first to arrive at the hospital. He was glad to see them. They knew he didn't understand what was going on. His Nana tried to comfort him as much as she could. She and his grandfather couldn't understand why Eric had not asked about his parents.
Later, just before they were signing him out, Marcie's parents arrived. They had always objected to her marriage to a Christian and had never spent much time with their grandson. It was clear to all who Eric wanted to be with. The Kinyards were glad to take him home. There he would wait for the Bentons to arrive.
Julia's birthday party was put on hold. She couldn't understand at first, but Marcie sat down and explained to her that Eric's mother and daddy had died and gone to heaven. Julia asked why Eric hadn't gone with them. “Well,” Marcie told her, “God wanted Eric to stay here. He will be coming to live with us and be your big brother.”
“But I already have big brothers. Can Eric be my friend?”
Marci smiled and pushed Julia's bangs from her eyes. “Of course he can.”
Eric had gone home with his Nana and Papa. He loved them. He had slept in the room which had once belonged to his daddy before. It had been Eric's room since he was a baby. His grandparent's hadn't changed it much. He even slept in his daddy's old bed. He didn't sleep well though. He kept wondering all night what heaven was like and if his mama and daddy were happy. Did they miss him?
He hoped he could stay with his Nana and Papa.
The next afternoon, Eric was sitting in the kitchen floor at his grandparent's home. All his favorite toy cars were scattered around him. He held one in his hand and had been staring at it for a few minutes. “Nana?” He looked over at his grandmother who was sitting at the table with a cup of tea.
The elderly woman gazed at him. Her once blue eyes had turned to a soft gray, but they still held a sparkle of love for Eric. “What baby?” She motioned for him to come to her.
He stood and walked over, welcoming her arm around his shoulders. “Here. You can have this.” He placed the small car on the table. “It's like Daddy's car, but it's red and not blue.”
She picked up the Buick Rivera replica and smiled. “Why don't you want it?”
“I don't need it any more.” He walked back over and sat down on the floor.
She almost cried seeing him sitting there. He hadn't shed a tear. “Why don't you need it anymore, Eric?”
“Well, I used to like to play with it. I don't play with cars much any more. I thought you might like it.”
Mr. Kinyard entered the kitchen and walked up behind his wife. He placed his hands on her shoulders. “The plans have all been made. I got together with the Hoings and we got plots for the two of them next to each other. Crazy kids, guess they just never thought they would be buried someday.”
There were voices coming from the front of the house.
“Oh,” he said, “We have some visitors. I told them to wait in there. They brought food and all ready to help out as much as they can.”
“The Benton's should be here soon,” Nana said and looked down at Eric. “I hate the thought of him going away to live with them.”
Papa patted her shoulder. “It's best, I guess.” He kissed the top of her head. “You're not well enough to handle a nine year old.”
“I could manage.” She looked up at him and gave a sad smile. “But, I guess you're right. He will be taken good care of and raised in a Christian home.”
“Come on, we have people to greet and mourn with us.” He held out his hand.
She placed her hand in his and gazed at the two hands that held onto one another. “How many times have I held your hand?”
“Not near enough.” He brought her hand to his lips and kissed it. “Come on, Eric.” He pulled his wife to her feet and escorted her to the living room. Eric followed.
The little red car sat on the table forgotten.
The Benton's arrived that evening. The house was quiet as Mr. Kinyard invited them in. “We've had company all day,” he said. “Glad for your sake it is quiet now. You must be hungry and tired.”
Joshua Benton gave a nod and without thinking gave a yawn. “Oh, excuse me.”
Mr. Kinyard smiled. “We have plenty to eat. Trust me. I bet Betty hasn't lifted a finger all day.”
“How is she holding up?” Marcie asked.
“She's doing better than I expected.”
Marcie placed her hand on his shoulder. “And you?”
He gave her a sad smile. “You know, I don't think I've really had time to grieve. Little Eric has been my main concern.” He closed his eyes for a moment and bowed his head. “Yep.” He shook his head and opened his eyes to gaze at Marcie again, “That little boy seems to be carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders and hasn't flinched.”
Julia stood behind her daddy wondering what everyone was talking about. She knew Eric's parents had been killed. She wasn't sure how to react. She had never experienced death before. She wanted to see Eric.
“Eric is up in Tony's old room. Last I checked he was looking through some of Tony's high school annuals.”
Julia looked up at her parent's excitedly. Daniel and Jacob also had anxious looks on their faces.
“Boys go on up and visit with Eric. I'm sure he will be glad to see you.”
Julia tugged on her daddy's coat sleeve.
He looked down and gave her a smile. “You too.”
Her brother's were already half way up the stairs. She ran after them and paused to stare at the chair lift attached to the wall. She wondered if she would be allowed to sit in it. The thought quickly left her and she bounded up the stairs after her brothers.
“My goodness,” Mrs. Kinyard remarked as she entered the room. “What is all the ruckus in here.” She smiled at the Bentons. “Marcie, Joshua, it's so good to see you.” A tear ran down her cheek. “So good.”
Marcie walked over and embraced her. “You are looking well.” She kissed the older woman's cheek.
Mrs. Kinyard took Marcie's hand in hers and patted it. “Thank you, dear. Considering everything, I am doing quite well. Never...” she paused and took a deep breath and let it out slowly to stave off the tears, “never thought I'd out live my son, though.” She collapsed in tears in Marcie's arms.