This story was written for Eternal’s birthday in 2016. It was … not what we’d hoped for. There was someone not there, at least not physically. From this birthday onwards, there will be, always, someone …
It is said by many in the Realm that if there is one character trait their rulers share, it is that neither of them wishes any fuss to be made when either of their birthdays arrive. That isn’t to say they aren’t thankful for anything should it occur—which it does, for they each make sure the other’s birthday is celebrated, no matter what. The wishes given and the words shared are treasured. A card, no matter how simple, matters and is adored. Gifts—though they never wish them, and have said, over and over again, that such things are not needed—are accepted with the grace everyone expects.
This particular birthday in the Realm came during a year where there was something, or rather more importantly, someone missing. This particular birthday was the first which dawned beyond the time when a blessed soul was called home to Goddess and she answered that call.
It was, to get to the point, Keith’s first birthday after his mother had gone to her rest.
The time in-between the loss and the natal day was filled with many things, some good, some not so much so. There were moments where the pain, hurt, and ache did terrible things to the royal family of the Realm. They were bent, but not broken. They wept, but did not despair. She did, after all, express to her loving son and daughter that she did not wish them to live in the hurt for all time.
But there were some days where they keenly felt someone missing, someone that had been there before, said the words, shared the joy, gave the gifts, and was, after all, never missing … until now.
The day had dawned with the Eternals in bed together, their tails entwined, snuggled under the sheets. To say who woke first wouldn’t be the question to ask, for it didn’t really matter. What did matter was the feeling within each of them that someone was missing, a feeling which had been their constant companion of late, becoming that much more present on this morning.
She was the first, as was meant to be, to wish him a happy birthday. The words were warm, loving, holding hope that the day would be kind to him, for she was not concerned for herself. He held her close, smiled, kissed her horns and thanked her. His hope was that she wouldn’t be sad today; he had no wishes for himself. Well, there was one thing that he wanted, but she was missing.
The morning was, if one was to be honest, melancholy. The shower was long, he standing there and thinking long after she’d gotten out to deal with drying her wild mane of hair, which always took, it seemed, forever. Perhaps the time in the shower was so that his tears would be masked by the water falling upon him. He couldn’t, after all, be like this throughout the day. It wouldn’t be right, knowing what his Eternal had planned—or thinking he did, at least.
By the time he’d tucked in his shirt, run a hand through his hair, and made his way to the kitchen, the melancholy had faded slightly. It was, to be clear, a start to the day getting better in time. He shared a bagel with her, smiling, a real smile, while she talked about the evening to come. Part of the day would be missing, for the first time. Part of the day wouldn’t be the same: the comfort, the expected moments that had always been. He didn’t allow those thoughts to creep into his expression. But she knew. As she sipped at her tea, she looked at him over the rim of her mug, giving him that look that all souls entwined knew so very well. The one that said: ‘I know. It’ll be okay.’
He trusted in that. He needed to.
Much of the day was spent with the two of them being together, talking. Occasionally there was a call to be answered, from one of the family who was dearly thanked and then asked about themselves. A visit at the door came, as well, at several points in the day. Their daughter Rianna popped by, to hug her parents and tell her father she loved him. Sister Rachel called, wishing him the best, he asking about her, to be sure she was doing alright. His answer to each of them was: “Things are … okay.”
Then there was a visit from Legion, the two men—as men do—clasping hands, nodding, keeping themselves in check, not from some male need to “be strong,” but rather from an understanding that they were both managing. When asked, he admitted: “Missing her.”
A birthday song was presented by Aria, Keith chuckling at some of the more interesting passages. Her concerned question was answered, “Missing her, but things are … okay.”
Noon came and went, the day being a little bit brighter, a little more promising. Their neighbours came to the fence, to wish him well. He spoke with them both, their conversation milling about many things, many moments, many thoughts. He was asked a question, the answer being: “Missing her, today more than ever. Things are … okay.” They nodded, but knew. Afternoon came sooner than expected. He embraced their neighbours warmly, thanked them, and then turned to look upon their own home. He could just make out her, rushing about within, being busy with things she wanted done for the evening to come.
He entered their home and made his way towards the dining room. Being that this wasn’t the Palace, the space was small, and he stood there watching her gathering her utensils, pacesettings, and more. The phone diverted his attention, Uncle was calling, and a long talk about football did bring a smile. A question was answered: “Doing okay … missing her.”
He intended to go and help with things, but the next call was from his father. It was the most difficult call of all: not because of missing her, not because of it being his father. It was the most difficult because the question was asked, his answer could only be: “Love you, Dad.”
In the past. they had dressed up for dinner. Not this year. It didn’t seem important, didn’t feel, somehow, right to be celebrating even if that celebration would only be known by themselves and no one else. At her call, he walked into the dining room and paused at the doorway.
There should have been two place-settings. There were three: one for the soul missing and there, two for the souls hurting and there. The message was clear. It was one that she’d said before: souls were never missing when they were remembered. He smiled, a real smile, knowing that she’d been missing that smile. Then he opened the bottle of wine, pouring out exactly half a glass. She wasn’t missing, she was there, after all, and she would not be forgotten, especially on this day. She always had exactly one-half a wine glass’s worth, no more, no less.
He expected dinner to be a quiet thing with his Eternal, but instead found himself talking to the one missing … no… that wasn’t right: her glass was there, her place was set; she was, as ever, listening to the conversation; he could see her smile, the knowing look from time to time when he, or his Eternal, tried to dance around her questions. He found himself talking to the one he had missed.
Dinner came to a close, they putting things away. The wine glass remained half-full and was brought to their living room. The Eternals laid together on their couch, words not needing to be said. They looked at the wine glass on the table across from them, thinking about the one missing, yet not. The day wasn’t as sad as he expected; it was better than she had imagined. It wasn’t a feeling of getting through it all, but rather knowing that being missing only meant that one was missed.
None were ever missing from the lives they had brought into being, given life to. None were ever missing from the lives they had touched and taught. None were ever missing from the hearts of those that loved them. They were missed, not missing.
That is the important difference between missing and being missed … always.