When Tomas and I made it to the neo-natal ICU there was a group of nurses and hospital security there to greet us. "Oh, crap," I muttered out loud. This could not be good.
Tomas placed his hand on my shoulder. "Don't worry, I've got this handled."
"It took you long enough!" barked a cranky older woman. Judging by her elaborate lanyard name tag, she was a high-ranking nurse (or just an angry bitch on a power trip.) "We don't allow dogs in the ward. This is for the safety of all patients and staff. I mean look at your animal, it's impeding my staff's ability to do their jobs!"
Peeking over her shoulder, I could see what she meant. My husband's massive bloodhound was asleep by one of the main doors to the nursery. With her large frame and awkward position each nurse had to make a conscious effort to step over her when entering or exiting. This included people attempting to carry trays or push wheeled carts.
A kind older security guard stepped forward to take control of the situation. "Your daughter says that's your husband's service dog?"
"Yes. My husband is-" the words choked in my throat.
"In the ICU," the cranky nurse groaned. "If he's unable to take custody of the dog you'll need to stay with the animal outside the ward."
"My husband is dead," I said in the bluntest deadpan voice I could muster. I didn't intend to shout, but volume was a necessity to override the emotional need to punch her in the face.
Somehow, against all odds, my words caught my dog's attention. Pup barked loudly, motioning to the door with her front paws while staying firmly in place. Her goal was clear; she wanted Tomas and I to come in, and was not going to leave her post until that happened.
Tomas stood arms crossed, staring down the nurse. "Well, are you going to allow us in? Or are we supposed to attempt to whistle for her?"
The nurses and security parted, allowing us inside. Tomas took a knee, cuddling Pup's face. "You're a good girl, aren't you? Yes, you are; devoted to the very end." The animal seemed to understand. She bowed her head and stood up without any kind of fuss. Tomas then turned to the nurse. "Can one of us go in while the other takes the dog for a walk?"
"Yes, that was what I just said," the nurse replied with a condescending groan.
I was too joyous to pay her any mind. Pup knew Josh's spirit, his soul. She knew Josh was in the nursery. Since Tomas was already holding the leash, I assumed he was volunteering to take her. "Are you sure you don't mind?"
Tomas smiled: his warm sexy grin reminiscent of a father (or a saint.) "I'll take good care of her." The remarkable man stood up, and easily left the ward with Pup by his side.
The ward nurse seemed satisfied, so security departed. "It's almost time for your daughter's bi-hourly visit. If you like you can wait for her."
"Bi-hourly?" I asked. I had a feeling I knew why, but right now that was not important.
Right on cue Christina emerged from her room. She was in a wheelchair, accompanied by another nurse, but as soon as she spotted me, she sprang up like an excited puppy. "Mom!"
The ensuing hug was the greatest moment of my life. "Oh, Christina, sweetheart, I missed you so much. I'm so sorry I left you all alone during the birth of your son. You must have been so frightened."
"I'm not a little kid." Christina gripped my hands, allowing me to cup her face. "I missed you too, but I know Dad needed you more."
The mention of Josh caused all of the air to leave my lungs. "Have you heard about your father?" Part of me hoped she already knew, that would be a small burden lifted off my already broken heart.
"Yeah, Mom," Christina said, pursing her lips. "I imagine I'll be able to cry during the funeral. but right now, my mind feels like it's going a mile a minute." She took my hand, guiding me to the door. "Come on, I can't wait for you to meet the baby."
The room was what I expected; several rows of newborns in transparent boxes. Some were premature, with their tiny bodies covered in tubes. Christina walked to the far side of the room, to the babies who were swaddled in individual cribs.
"He was taken off critical care a few hours ago," Christina said as she lifted the sleeping boy's little body. "He kind of looks like a caterpillar in a cocoon, just waiting to become a butterfly." She kissed the baby's forehead before placing him in my arms. "Are you ready to become a butterfly for your grandma?"
As if on cue, the baby's eyes fluttered open.
Thankfully, the nurse had brought in Christi's wheelchair, or I might have risked tripping over my own feet. The precious little boy had his grandpa's sky-blue eyes. "Hi, Josh."
The baby smiled.
I knew that newborns could not see beyond shapes and blobs, but something felt so right. I kissed his forehead, with tears in my eyes. This was Josh. "Welcome back, my love."
The day of the funeral was one of peace and tranquility (at least it started out that way.) In Texas, my husband had been cremated with the ashes distributed into several containers, for use in the beachside memorial service. Driving home to Mississippi had been difficult but it was a necessity for all his work friends to be able to pay their respects. (Otherwise, I would have gladly just handed Josh's body over to Aunt Grace for burial in her amusement park of animal sculptures.)
The Mississippi coastline was as beautiful as ever. The late afternoon sun was beating down, making the ocean sparkle with an entrancing light. There were no tables or chairs, just people sharing memories on beach blankets with copious amounts of cheap beer. There was a pastor from the nearby Air Force base leading the service with basic run of the mill prayers. (Again, someone from my husband's work life hired him. I had no opinion on his choice of readings.)
It all sounded positive enough; something about God's love and purpose, I wasn't really listening. Christina's wife had flown into town after learning of the birth of the baby. We were still in Texas at the time, so Chloe spent the night alone in Christina's hotel room. The funeral would be their first time reuniting as a family. And for whatever reason I was nervous for them.
Chloe, with her short pink hair and black pants suit drove while Christina held the baby in a chest facing carrier. "You good, sweetheart?" she asked her wife as they sat away from the rest of the mourners. "I can hold the baby if you want."
Christina didn't reply. In fact, she didn't say a single word for the entire service.
With the help of Tomas, I'd divided the ashes in to a series of Ziplock bags, with the largest portion going to Aunt Grace, to bury on her land. (I liked the idea of Josh being with his father for all eternity.) The rest was going to be set free upon the majestic waves of the Atlantic.
I took a seat next to Aunt Grace, who was leaning on a large stone while sketching.
"Have any ideas for Josh's sculpture?"
"I'm stuck between an octopus and an eagle," she said from under her massive sunhat. "Maybe I can make something like the flag of Mexico.
"That's the one with a bird fighting a snake, right?"
"Who says they're fighting?" The older woman giggled. "Nature is more then what we perceive. Except for me. I tend to stay in my own little corner. When I die, I want you to promise me you'll build a giant hamster on a wheel."
"I'll try my best. Maybe we'll get lucky and baby Josh will grow up to be a great artist, and we can design an entire fair ground."
We both looked over at Christina. My daughter was seated, rocking the baby in her arms. True to her word, she cried out all the pent-up tears, until it looked like she was becoming physically ill. Little did we know, the worst was yet to come.
Josh's friends spoke about his life; his devotion to the military, family and faith. I didn't know these people, but they all seemed to genuinely love him. Then came a certain elderly man.
"Joshua Miner was a friend of mine," he said in a voice quivering with emotion. With his white hair and walking stick, he seemed like a kind, feeble grandfather. "I met him back when he was a student of mine, a trainee fresh out of tech school."
'Ok.' With that series of clues, I had some kind of idea of who this was; a retired military man with a sense of entitlement.
"He had such a passion for learning, improving his life through Christ. He was a role model for other soldiers. I grew to love him like the son I never had. My biggest regret is losing touch in the last years of his life. With his daughter turning her back on the Christian faith, I have no doubt his heart was in a terrible state. Perhaps, that was what led to his illness."
I swallowed the bile in my throat. This was clearly the words of a disrespectful elder from a previous generation. (Kind of like when your white grandma talks about the African American cashier who happened to answer her cell phone in the middle of a transaction.)
"Joshua always held strong to his faith, because God never gives us more then we can handle. I have no doubt that he prayed for his daughter's soul with his last living breath, despite the fact that she turned her back on him in such a cruel manner."
My eyes went wide. Did this asshat assume Josh's antichrist, sinner of a daughter would skip out on the funeral? I closed my eyes and forced a tranquil breath. (Otherwise, I feared I was moments away from ripping off his self-righteous head and hurling it into the ocean.)
"I'd like to think, wherever Joshua's soul ended up." He paused to lick his lips in a way that was both creepy and condescending, "He is in a place of his own design."
I found myself staring, mouth agape, in awestruck confusion. Was that an insult? The more I thought about it, the angrier I became. It was a well-crafted jab at both my late husband's abilities as a father and my daughter's life choices. I turned to Chloe and Christina.
Chloe looked as pissed as I was, but her attention was divided between thoughts of rage and caring for her emotionally fragile spouse. I watched as my daughter asked for the car keys and started to make her way back to the parking lot.
I followed as she made an escape back to her rental car, shutting the door and turning on the AC. When I caught up to her, she was sitting in the passenger seat, holding the baby like a teddy bear. I tapped the window, before opening the unlocked door. "Christi, you alright?"
"Yes, Mom," she said with a forced nod. "I was just about to try to breastfeed. I could never get it to work in the hospital. Maybe my tits are broken," she laughed as tears streamed down her cheeks. "Everything is so broken and it's all my fault." She opened her shirt and attempted to position the baby's mouth. "I figure my day can't get any worse." The baby was clearly not interested, squirming and flailing until he started to cry. This prompted my daughter to start sobbing all over again, gripping her head in pain. "You should probably get back to the beach. At least Dad's friends know what you look like. They might actually miss you. As for me, they probably want to tie me to a pole and burn my lesbian ass; send me back to Hell where I apparently belong."
Now I was pissed. I held her hand, knowing that if I took a single step outside of the car, I would not be able to control my rage. "You know that's not true."
"Is it? Can we really be certain that I wasn't the reason he got sick? If I had been a better Christian, a better daughter..."
I was at a loss for words. "It'll be ok."
Christina shook her head, rocking in her seat like someone on the verge of a mental break. "I don't think I'll ever be ok. I miss Daddy so much."
The innocent baby, calm and quiet, looked up at her. I watched in awe as little Josh reached his tiny hand, catching a single tear from Christina's face.
"You don't need to miss your father, He's right there, in your arms."
That got a smile. Christina wiped her remaining tears with her wrist. "I know." She repositioned the baby to rest comfortably against her shoulder. "He's my little miracle. He can barely move but I see so much of Dad in him. But all I can think about is the lost time." She placed her finger in the baby's grasp. "I want him to be an artist; a free-thinking surfer who paints visions of peace and hope, while writing poetry about love and understanding. But I also want him to know his culture; how to build things with his own two hands, how to fish, hunt, garden, maybe even bake."
Try as I might I couldn't think of a single time my husband tried to bake. Was that referring to me? Was it possible my daughter wanted me in her life? "Is there anything I can do to help?"
Christina shrugged. "You could move to Cali. I mean if you want to."
I honestly couldn't tell if she was being sarcastic. "You serious?"
"Of course, we have plenty of room. You could either get a job or take care of the baby." Christina turned little Josh to face me. He appeared to be asleep, when he suddenly smiled. "Aww, the little guy is gassy. Do you want to be held by Grandma? Yes, you do." My daughter got to work removing the baby from the carrier. "Little help? This thing is like a Chinese finger trap."
I lifted the baby in my arms, small and innocent he was the very definition of perfect. Holding him felt so natural, like a doll filled with stuffing, he just seemed to melt into my arms. "Hi, there."
Christina stretched her back, savoring the newfound freedom of movement. "So, what do you say, Mom?"
"Yeah. I think I'd like California." Without Josh I had nothing left in Mississippi. Even the trailer was a rental. The idea of having a family, a future, it was something beyond my wildest dreams.
"Well good," Christi said through tears of joy. "I'll buy your ticket, on my phone. You can go home and pack. Then we can fly back together."
Together we held the baby in a loving embrace. "I love you, Mom."
We stayed in the car as people left. I knew Tomas was holding my portion of the ashes and more than likely Chloe was holding Christina's. Once the beach cleared, and the sun was starting to set my daughter and I emerged into the cool night air.
"Hey," Tomas said with a chuckle. He was sitting on the sand with Chloe, drinking the leftover beer.
"Hey," Christi replied, taking a seat by her wife side. "I can't believe the republican national convention gave you their booze supply."
Chloe laughed. "To be fair we shared our magic potion." She motioned to a bottle of Skrewball peanut butter whiskey. "Well, Tommy's potion anyway. I got to give credit where credit is due."
"I just picked it up at the gas station," Tomas replied, as he took back the bottle, taking a swig. "Those southern boys do love their peanut butter."
Chloe laughed even harder, resting her head on Christina's lap. "We should call them the NRA or better yet the Westboro Baptist Church." Clearly, she was still a little peeved.
Christina stroked her wife's cheek. "Babe, are you drunk?"
"I drove here, you can drive back. But first you need to decide what you want to do with your bag O'Daddy." She held up the plastic bag, allowing Christina to take it.
"If it's alright, I think I want to keep it. Maybe I'll spread his ashes in California."
Tomas stood up, stretching his back. "Sounds good. What about you, Ms. Carolina?
I was quite comfortable, sitting cross-legged with my grandson in my arms. However, since Tomas was in possession of my plastic bag, I owed him an answer. "Can you help me up, maybe take the baby?"
Tomas pulled me up, hugging the little boy between us. The three of us made our way to the water's edge. Tomas went first, he opened the bag and threw it in the air. A passing breeze caught the plastic, moving the bag higher and higher as the ashes were blown out to sea.
The bag itself fluttered back to Tomas landing on his shoulder like a bird. "Your turn, if you want to. You can always keep your bag. I'm sure Josh wouldn't mind.
I shifted the baby in my arms, letting his hand touch the bag. "Christina wants me to move to California."
"Yeah, I think I am."
I went home alone and packed up my life in to a single suitcase; clothes, a few pictures and small items that reminded me of Josh. Beyond that, I was fully intending to leave Mississippi in my rear-view mirror.
Although I willingly tossed my portion of ashes, I kept the Ziplock bag. Something about holding the plastic felt, for a lack of a better word, emotional. Maybe it was the fact that there were dark stains from the remainder of the ashes; part of him was still with me, and always would be. That night, the final night in my trailer, I was treated to the most beautiful dream.
I awoke on the beach under a moonlit sky. The air around me felt warm, comfortably calm, while the waves crashed hard, ushered in by an unseen force. One final swell crashed higher than ten feet tall. For a moment I was afraid I was going to get pulled out to sea. Instead, the water parted like a fountain to reveal the most beautiful sight.
My husband emerged, completely nude, standing up slowly as if getting out of bed. He ran his fingers through his hair, letting a soft mist of water caress down his skin. In this dream, Josh appeared to be in his late fifties, but with no tattoos, and a thick muscular body (as opposed to the sickly man who passed from illness.) The way the moonlight hit the water as it shimmered off his back, created the perfect pair of crystal-clear angel wings.
"Josh?" I said in a breath. Before I could rush into his arms, a shadowy figure appeared across the sky. Looking up I could see it was a massive bird, flapping its majestic wings. And it appeared to be heading right for Josh. The animal's features were masked in shadow, until it landed, taking the shape of Tomas.
The man was naked, with his sexy caramel colored skin on full display. His facial hair was the color of ocean waves, perfectly framing his pouty lips.
I watched, entranced as Tomas lowered himself to his knees. He put his arms around Josh's wet body. His gaze was at a certain level, but his first move was to lean in and kiss Josh's stomach. The tide calmed, drifting in and out at their feet. Tomas took his time, gripping Josh's cock while gently taking the tip. I needed a better view.
Step by step, I walked barefoot through the shallow water. I approached my husband, where he stood so perfect and strong. I stroked my nails down his back. He was quivering; Tomas was making him shiver. Like a fish to a lure, I was drawn in, desperate for a taste.
Josh already had one hand on Tomas's head, massaging his scalp. With his free hand he coaxed me closer, placing a finger under my chin. This gave me a chance to look into his blue eyes, sneaking in one last kiss before he guided my lips to his waiting cock. In this dream his uncut member was big and thick, with a layer of precum coating the tip.
I took him in my mouth, while Tomas switched his focus to Josh's balls. He started licking and sucking, peppering Josh's moist skin with intense passionate kisses. With how engorged Josh was there was no way for Tomas to fit both testicles in his mouth (but he tried his best.)
I took Josh's monster of a cock down my throat, letting my husband control the pace as he fucked my face. "Carolina, you've always been my girl."
I closed my eyes, trying to relax, despite the fact that it was becoming difficult to breathe. My nose filled with the scent of his sweat as my mind drifted away. I was lost in memories; every moment when I had the privilege of touching him. For Josh to give himself to me, to trust me with his sacred flesh; it was a blessing, and it always had been. My body felt tight, I was having an orgasm, from the act of giving him pleasure.
"That's enough," Josh moaned. He leaned back ever so gently.