“Dad, are you done putting the kids to sleep yet?” Skye blinked, having been snapped out of his storytelling by the graying hedgehog beside him. Darrell’s pelt had indeed darkened from since he was a newborn, being far more akin to a robin’s egg blue than his father’s sky blue. That being said, Skye had dulled to more of a grayish coloration, but being in his nineties was a very good excuse for it. The ancient hedgehog was confined to a wheelchair for the most part, his heart being too weak to sustain walking for very long; lack of mobility did nothing to dampen his spirit and activity.
Coughing a little and noting his seven great-grandkids all on the ground sound asleep, Skye chuckled softly. “Well, you know me Darrell, I love telling the story of your mother.” He frowned a little. “My only regret is that you barely knew her. She was a wonderful person.” It was his ninety-ninth birthday, and the entire family had come to celebrate it. His three grandchildren now had the problem of driving home without waking their young children, something Skye had not intended to happen. He loved his family, and was glad he was still around to experience every milestone with them, although the fact he could go at any moment weighed heavily in the back of his mind. The hedgehog had never expected to live this long, and especially without his wife whom had left a gaping hole in his weak heart.
As the others wished him goodbye, Darrell glanced at his father, noting his thoughtful expression. “Dad, is something wrong?”
Remaining silent for a few breaths, it was only after the hedgehog cleared his thoughts up did he deign to reveal them to his son. “You know next year is my one-hundredth birthday, right?” With little surprise, this was confirmed. “I have a request. Would you take me to see Rikka’s grave?” That question earned a great deal of surprise from his son, but he ultimately agreed to it, although he questioned why he didn’t want to see it now; Skye chuckled once more at this. “Promises of the past, Darrell, promises of the past.” He reached up, pulling his son down to kiss him on the forehead. “Now let us get ready to sleep. You have to work tomorrow at the company. I could always help you sleep by telling you the story of how I founded it…”
Darrell groaned. “Not again!”
As months passed since that birthday party, however, Skye’s health began to decline at a rapid yet steady pace. No doctor could find rhyme or reason for it; every medical scan came back normal, and every blood test was as perfect as a ninety-nine year old could be. Skye was losing weight and energy, yet no one was able to give an explanation as to why. Darrell was frantic, worrying that his father wouldn’t live much longer; it was only natural that he would experience such a panic with the likely possibility of his only parent dying within a year. The two had done everything together, and he had even inherited the company when Skye had retired. His father meant as much to him as his wife and children, and he had no desire to lose that.
Perhaps by fate or grand design, Skye made it to his one-hundredth birthday, although he was severely underweight. On December twenty-first, Darrell wheeled his father into the cemetery where his wife was buried, and it didn’t take long to find the intricate marble piece that was her tombstone. The day was cold, and no snow had fallen quite yet although there was a storm coming in later. Skye always looked at the ground in front of the tombstone, and he constantly frowned upon noting the rose he had planted had never bloomed. He had buried the seed over fifty years ago, so Darrell did not understand how he expected it to still be alive after all those years.
Skye asked to be left alone for a bit with Rikka, and while his son protested leaving his frail father alone, he gave in and decided to go for a brief walk. When he had disappeared from sight after a kiss to the forehead to wish him well, the old hedgehog braced his arms against the wheelchair and with great difficulty pushed himself to his feet. Taking a few hobbling steps forward, he felt the top of the tombstone, noting how smooth it was despite the years of abuse the weather repeatedly hammered against its structure. The day was crisp, and it reminded him of how they had first met, dragging sorrow from the depths of his heart.
“Oh, how I miss you my love.” Skye croaked out, biting back bitter tears that he had long since thought had dried up. “I never stopped missing you. I buried myself in my work, in raising our son and helping others, but I could never stop thinking about you. Every day has been a living hell for me because my heart is constantly tearing itself apart in its grief. I regret that I left you beneath that bus stop on that day; I detest Mother Nature for raining and for that trucker driving too fast. They all took you from me. I try not to be bitter, but I fail. I love you too much to be unable to stop putting the blame on someone.”
He knelt down, tracing his spindly fingers on the name carved in the stone. “I miss you so much. We were only together for about two years, but it was enough to make me realize I had found my soul mate. When you died, you took my soul with you.” His legs were hurting, so he sat down and leaned against the tombstone, taking a deep breath of the cold air. Clouds were rolling in, painting the sky a deep gray, and he knew that soon snow would begin to fall. There was no noise at all, no birds or other people, making the entire scene quiet and calm.
“There is a storm coming in, similar to the one that snowed us in and made us fall in love. I often wondered if I would hurt less if I never met you, Rikka, but then I realized that I would have become a cruel, lonely person. You changed my fate, and I can never thank you enough for it. I miss you so much, but I would rather be loved once and hurting forever than never loved, never in pain. It tells me I am alive.” Listening to the sound of the wind through barren trees, the soft rattle they made soothed him and made him drowsy. Skye looked up as he felt something cool land on his head, and with a start he realized it was snowing.
A slow smile crossed his lips. “It truly is
like when we first met, Rikka. The beginning of a storm in winter, which could easily become a blizzard just as powerful as ours was.” He held out his hand, allowing a snowflake to land on his palm. It sat for the briefest of moments before it melted into a droplet of icy water, which he let roll to the ground. It was joined by more drops of liquid, but this time from tears which fell freely from the old hedgehog. “This just brings up more memories, so please, forgive my weakness. It makes me miss you all the more, although I already made that clear. Winter brings harsh clarity, while spring brings about renewal. Ever since your death, I could not bring myself to go out in the snow…”
Yet he felt so calm here. His eyelids were being tugged down by an invisible force, persistent yet gentle. “You remember that vow we made, right…?” Skye shook his head. “We would always be together no matter what. You broke it and left me alone, yet I cannot be angry with you. Now I am a tired old man that is quickly dying, and I have no way of knowing if after all these years you would still be here with me. If the accident had never occurred, would you still be walking with me, talking and loving me, just the same as when we made that oath?”
He coughed, and started when he felt something feathery and light against his hand. Glancing down, surprise overrode his sadness, before it turned around into a tiny smile. “I see. That is your answer. I am glad to know that, Rikka, I really am. Mmm…” Opening his mouth, he gave a great yawn. “Do you think it is time?” Pausing, the wind whispered through the trees with a sweet murmur, and he nodded. “I suppose you are right, my love. I knew this was coming all along. Our child and their children will be fine. We will always be watching over them, and with our little Darrell keeping everyone in line…” Skye sighed. “I hope I raised him right, Rikka. I really do. He grew up without a mother…”
As the snow began to fall more thickly to begin blanketing the land with its frozen grace, he did not hear the wind this time. Skye instead heard a gentle voice giving him comfort, telling him he did the right thing, and with a smile the old hedgehog nodded. “It means so much to hear that.” Stroking the object beside him, he leaned back against the immobile stone, the tears slowing to a stop as he closed his eyes. His mind wandered into the abyss of dreams, and for once since her terrible death they were filled with happiness.
Darrell, having noticed the snow coming down more heavily, was quickly making his way back to where he had left his father and cursing himself for leaving in the first place. Upon getting close enough, he noticed that the wheelchair was empty, and panic began to flicker into his thoughts before he noticed a few quills poking up in front of the tombstone. Relieved that he hadn’t tried to go far, he jogged up to where Skye was, poking his head around the tombstone. It was quite clear his father had been crying, but his expression now was one of peace, not turmoil. Darrell had a hard time remembering the last time he had ever seen him so happy before, and was hesitant on waking him up for fear of ruining that moment.
Reaching forward, he nudged his father’s hand only to get no reaction. “Dad, come on, now isn’t a good time for your nap.” When he still received no response, he moved to be beside his father, shaking him a little harder. “Get up!” Lifting his hand up, he pressed it fingers against his neck, trying to find the rhythmic drum of his heart. Full blown fear gripped his own muscle when he realized there was none, and he nearly tried to do CPR when it dawned on him. His question a year ago, the rapid weight loss, the talk about promises…
Skye knew he had been dying.
It did little to stop his own crying, but now he understood everything. His father didn’t want a birthday party because he knew he wouldn’t be coming back from the cemetery; he didn’t want to get the kid’s hopes up to see their great-grandfather alive and well when he wouldn’t be. His father had never been truly happy, and for the longest time Darrell had thought it was because of him; he had learned a long time ago that it was because of his mother being deceased but had assumed by now Skye had put it behind him. Only now that he could see him so joyous
in death did he realize his assumption had been completely wrong.
While it hurt, it made him happy to know that his father was finally in a better place. He was with his wife in a younger body, watching down on them from afar as guardian angels. As much as it tore him apart, he would rather have Skye be gone but happy than be here and miserable. Leaning forward, for the first and last time in his life he pressed his lips to the old hedgehog’s forehead, giving him the same kiss he had always received every day from his doting father. As he stopped and began to fall back, his hand brushed something his father was clutching, and he could only gaze with shock at the flower before that emotion slowly began to turn into understanding.
It was a single white rose.