“Mummy?” I looked up from my book to see Gary standing next to me, his eyes shy and his hands restelss. I had heard him sneak in, but I had a feeling this was something he needed to say for himself, without me pushing him. “Do you have a moment?”
“Of course I do, baby!” I patted the spot next to me. “Come here, sit down.”
It was 10pm – several hours past his bedtime. Any other night I would have made an issue out of it, but if this was keeping him awake then I wanted to hear it.
He shuffled with his feet, and scooted closer.
“Do I have a daddy?”
My heart sank. I had dreaded this conversation, but I was prepared as well as I could be.
I nodded. “You did. He died before you were born.” Gary was smart, and he needed to learn about death some when. I didn’t need to give him all the details, but I didn’t have to lie about it, either.
“Oh,” he said, and leaned into me. “What was he like?”
I smiled. This I could answer easily. “He was a good man. He was a police officer, just like me.”
“How did you meet him?” I was glad to see him so interested. I had been worried that Gary would resent Emery for leaving us, but instead he was curious. In his intelligent little head, he had worked out that Emery hadn’t meant to leave us, and that it wasn’t his fault.
“He was my partner at work. Your daddy was very brave, he helped me stop a lot of bad people.”
I pulled my son into my arms. “Yes, baby. Just like batman.”
Gary hesitated, then said: “Is that why he isn’t here now?”
My smile faded. I wanted him to know the truth, but how much detail did an eight-year old need? “It is. There was a very bad man, but thanks to your daddy he can’t hurt anyone any more. Don’t worry, baby, you’re safe.”
Gary nodded, but didn’t meet my eyes. “I know. You’re like batman, too.”
Just like that, I knew what to say to lift his mood. “You know, your daddy loved to cook.”
His eyes went wide. “He did?”
“Hmh. One night he stayed with me to protect me from the bad man, and he cooked me dinner. He was a really good cook!”
“Better than you?”
I laughed, and my heart swelled. If Emery had still been with us, my cooking wouldn’t have stood a chance against his. “Much better than me.”
“Can I make breakfast tomorrow?”
“Of course you can, baby. I love it when you cook for me.” Maybe Gary had just wanted a connection to his father. He couldn’t meet him, and he’d never know the sound of his voice, but he’d always share his father’s passion for food. Gary had made breakfast a couple of times now, and each time he had served me either cereal or toast with cheese. On Mother’s Day he had brought me breakfast in bed – two different kinds of cereal, two slices of toast, cheese, ham and raspberry jam. It was simple, but I knew he had put his everything into it.
Once he was older there’d be no keeping him from the stove and oven.
I felt myself well up. Gary had needed a connection to his father, but maybe I had needed one, too. He looked so much like Emery that it was impossible not to see him in our son, but it felt amazing that Gary had inherited more than his father’s good looks.
My birthday sneaked up on me, but thanks for Grandma and Grandpa Milan I remembered to throw a party.
It wasn’t a big deal. Grandma and Grandpa Milan came, and Chief Chau made it as well as a few other people from work. After the nightmare with Blaine I was paranoid that some of his minions remained despite everything we’d done to identify them, but there were a few people I trusted. They had helped me take him down, and had been supportive after Emery’s death. We had grown close over the years, and they were the closest thing I had to friends.
Once everything had calmed down a little and Gary was occupied telling my colleagues all about the secret to a great ham sandwich (mustard), Grandpa Milan asked me for a chat.
“You’ve got news, then?”
I had tried not to dwell on it, but now that he finally had something my heart was racing.
He nodded. “I do, but I’m not sure how to put it.” My heart sank. Nothing good ever started with those words.
“So it’s my fault, after all?”
“No, no, that’s not what- How much do you know about the universe?”
His question took me by surprise, and I blinked in confusion. “Not much. Why?”
Grandpa Milan tapped his chin, trying to think of an explanation. “It’s difficult to explain. Have you ever watched Doctor Who?”
I nodded, more confused than before.
“It may be fiction, but they’ve got one thing right. You don’t mess with the past. There are fixed points in time which mustn’t be altered.”
I felt a shiver run through me. “I’m with you so far.”
“When I made the bargain with the spirit to save Morrigan, I changed something I shouldn’t have interfered with. She was supposed to die, but because of me she lived. Not only that, but because I meddled with her fate – with the universe – she had a child. There’s now a bloodline that shouldn’t have existed. Your family has touched all sorts of things since then. Morrigan has written some influential books, your mother’s contribution to charity was immense, and now you are actively making the world better as a detective. The universe doesn’t know what to make of that – for lack of better words.”
I nodded, but my head was spinning. “Are you saying that we were a mistake?”
“Oh no, not at all! I may have messed the universe around a little, but I don’t regret it for one moment.”
I didn’t know whether to feel better or not. Just what was he trying to tell me? “I don’t see where Emery and I come in.”
“The spirits don’t believe that his death was your doing. He was a cop, Sophia. It’s a dangerous line of work. Your interfering might have sped his death up a little, but sooner or later he would have been in an equally dangerous situation. It was inevitable. But this is where it gets interesting. The spirits aren’t sure, because the universe isn’t sure.”
“I don’t-” Was the universe conscious? He talked about it like it was a living thing!
“Perhaps I shouldn’t have interfered, but I did and it confused the cosmic order of things. But the universe is older and more powerful than any of us can imagine. It… adjusts. You could say it’s getting used to your presence.”
My heart jumped. Was he implying- “So I could grow old with someone I love?”
Grandpa Milan shook his head, but it didn’t look confident. “No. The spirits seem sure that it’s too early for you, but Gary might be able to. I advice caution, in case it’s too soon for him, too, but some day in the future your family will be able to love. Your grandchild might be able to have a normal life.”
It was too much to comprehend in one sitting. I thanked him, and said I understood but really I needed time to think it all through. The universe adjusts to my family? That would make it sentient, wouldn’t it? Or was it even more complicated than that?
I wasn’t sure if it was too much for me to understand, or if the drinks Mum had been mixing all evening were to blame, but either way I needed time.
Gary had a passion for drawing and painting. He enjoyed his art classes at school, and asked me for a drawing table and some paints for his ninth birthday. His teacher thought he had a talent for it, and I was happy to see him immerse himself so much. He still liked to cook, but he was too young to really get into it. He wasn’t allowed at the stove or to use the oven, and eventually he got bored of making toasts and salads all the time. His drawing table gave him something different to do, and soon the walls in his room were covered in drawings.
“You could be a big artist one day,” I said one afternoon after adding another drawing to his wall. “Like Picasso, or da Vinci.”
He smiled, but shook his head. “Nuh, I don’t think so.”
“It’s fun, but I don’t think it’s for me.” I smiled at his choice of words. He was so grown-up it was easy to forget that he was only nine years old.
“What do you want to be when you’re older, then?”
“An awesome chef, like you and daddy!”
I smiled, and resisted the urge to pull him into a hug. He was getting too old to be hugged constantly by his mother, and I didn’t want to be clingy. I wanted him to know that he could be whatever he wanted to be – not what I wanted him to be.
“Then I’d better start saving for culinary school!”
Even if he decided on something else later on, it’d be good to have a college fund set up. A good education wouldn’t be cheap, and with his mind he’d be able to get into the best school there was. I didn’t want to hold back on his education. If he wanted to be a chef, I’d have the savings set aside to make it happen.
I gladly hugged back when he hugged me. Emery would have been proud of him. I knew I was.