I stood at my parents’ burial site, gazing down at their graves. I’d been to so many of these. It was the price I paid for being a lieutenant in the Navy. I’d buried too many good men, faithful men who never made it back home to their families. In the Navy, I always concerned myself with getting my men home. Never did it occur to me that families wouldn’t be there to receive them because of their own death.
Never did it occur to me that I’d lose my family in the country I’d fought so hard to keep them safe inside.
“Debra and Bernard were incredible people, Clay. They’d be proud of you.”
The priest stepped up to my side, but I didn’t turn my eyes to look at him.
“Debra was always so active in the homeless shelters. And she always had a smile to offer someone.”
“That she did, Father,” I said.
“And your dad. He was a force. Opening that restaurant in town was a great passion of his. I watched your parents’ love blossom in their later years in it—him in the kitchen and her at the front of the restaurant. They were great business partners.”
“Your father’s presence at the women’s shelter will be missed. He always made those women fleeing brutal homes comfortable. And he always got their children to open up to him. To talk to him. His testimony of their stories was invaluable to some of our investigators here in town.”
“I know that, too,” I said.
“Hartland has lost two great individuals. And if you need anything, Clay, I want you to let me know. I’m here for you.”
“I appreciate it, Father. But I just want to be alone right now.”
“Of course. If that’s what I can give you, then so be it,” he said.
I listened as the priest walked away. I listened as his car door opened in the distance. I stood there, tears lining my eyes but never falling. Not after my training in the military. The skies above me darkened. Clouds grew thick with gray. The smell of rain was underneath my nostrils, and I heard rumbling off in the distance.
The entire earth was pissed off at the car accident that took them from me.
“What the hell do you guys expect me to do now?” I whispered.
The wind rustled through the trees, wrapping around my body. I clasped my hands in front of me and closed my eyes, trying to listen to it. In the Navy, on those ships, sometimes the only comforting thing was the wind. Watching it kick up the waves. Watching it direct the fish in the sea our ships parted through. Sometimes, the wind was the only thing that reminded me of the fact that there was land beyond the horizon of water.
I relied on the wind to give me answers my parents were no longer alive to give me.
I opened my eyes and scanned their graves. Freshly packed brown soil against the green that surrounded me. Their tombstones had finally come in, and I saw to it that it was settled against the ground perfectly. My parents deserved at least that. It had been two weeks since they’d been killed, a week since they’d been buried. And still, people brought flowers, wreaths, letters of love. Some lit candles by their graves and sat there, crying over the loss of my parents.
They really had been a force in Hartland, Virginia.
I dabbed at my eye as a drop of rain fell onto my shoulder. I grew up just outside of DC, but when I’d enlisted, my parents had moved to Hartland and opened up their own restaurant. My father knew how to sling around some recipes in the kitchen, and my mother was a networking fiend. It didn’t shock me one bit that their little restaurant became a rousing success in the small town. I chose not to reenlist when word of their accident got back to me. It didn’t feel right. I wasn’t there when they needed me. I wasn’t there to help prevent the accident that happened.
My father had no fucking business driving around at midnight, with the way his eyesight was, even if he and Mom had spent a late night at the restaurant preparing it for the holiday rush.
My eyes panned over to a wreath someone had sat out for them. More raindrops fell onto my shoulders, my head, my nose. There was a flyer stuck down in the middle of it, a folded-up pink sheet of paper. I reached over and plucked it out. I unfolded it as the droplets of rain turned into a light mist.
It was a letter from a child, scrawled in almost illegible handwriting.
I’ll order dessert at the restaurant just for you guys. I love you. I miss you. I’ll even get an extra spoon and leave you some.
- Sally Mayfield
I sniffed as the mist grew harder. I folded the note back up and put it in the wreath. Suddenly, the wind came out of nowhere, wrapping me up and fluttering the pink piece of paper. I sighed heavily as I turned on my heels and marched back to my car. I knew what I had to do. I knew what my parents would have wanted me to do.
“Thank you, guys,” I whispered.
Then, as if they could hear me, the wind brushed against my ear, whispering what I could have sworn was my father’s voice.
“I’m proud of you, son.”
And as I sat down into my car, a tear dripped down my cheek. The first tear I had ever cried since my reenlistment. I was an orphan with a legacy to protect.
A legacy with which I’d do anything to protect.