It was a terrible time. Zeke had passed over three years earlier, and still Ruby couldn't come to terms with his death. She sobbed in my arms. Thunder shook our tiny apartment, and the lights went out. I lit the stove, and hoped that would keep us warm. Pacific Coast Highway had flooded the day before, and I'd seen a man canoeing down the street.
Cade worked late again, and I wished he were home. He’d grown up so much from years before, and really turned into the person I hoped he’d become.
I sat and held Ruby again as I begged the storm to not wash us away.
“Why did he leave us, Mama? Why?” I couldn't believe how she could ask such hard questions, even at the age of four.
“He wasn't meant for this world. But we have a new baby now. We have little Sky and everything will be okay.”
“I love Sky. I love her, Mama, but I love Zeke too.”
“Hush.” I held her closer, and she clung to my arm. “How old would he be?”
She cried hard. I think it hurt her more since they would have been close. “I don't understand. Why didn't he wake up? Why did he go away?”
I wanted to tell her it's because life is hard, because life isn't fair. It's because I couldn't keep my baby, no matter how hard I wanted to. But, even though I wished I could tell her all that, I didn't. I remained quiet for a long time. We listened to the rain, and saw the shadows the flaming burners cast on the walls. I thought of telling her the truth, about pain and sadness, but instead I didn't. I cooed to her, sang into her golden curls. That's when I told her Zeke's story one more time.
“Once, in a faraway land, there was a strange castle. It had painted walls that changed, animated message bottles, passageways that led to the enchanted ocean. In that castle lived some very special children. They were named Ruby, Zeke and Sky.”
“Were Ruby and Sky pretty?” she asked.
“And Zeke . . . did Zeke love us?”
I nearly choked on a sob. “More than he could say.”
“I like this story. Can Zeke stay with us this time?”
“I wish he could, but that's not how the story goes.”
She hesitated. “Well, then, I want to go with him.”
That made my heart tighten. I hugged Ruby. I couldn't imagine her following her brother. I couldn't comprehend losing her too.
“Tell me the part about when the witch comes,” Ruby said.
“Well, one day, a deadly, powerful witch found the castle. She was cunning and wise. She knew how amazing all of the children were, and that's when she decided to take one of you.”
“But I was too smart.”
“Yes, you were,” I said. “You outwitted that witch. She tried to take you, but you could draw things that came to life. That's how you tricked her.”
“And Sky did too?”
I nodded. “Because Sky could see her own future.”
“He had to go away.”
“Why, Mama? Was it because the witch was too smart for him?”
“Oh, no,” I said. I always had to breathe deeply when I got to that part. “Zeke let her take him.”
“But why? Because he fell in love?”
“Maybe, but mostly because he knew how to really defeat the witch. He knew if he went, he'd bring about her doom. You see, she thought she'd take his life, but he knew better. He knew that, if he went, he'd get to meet pirates, mermaids. He'd have sword-fights and battle sea creatures.” I looked at the stormy sky. It reminded me of my conflicted emotions. Somehow, every time I told the story, I saw something symbolic to Zeke's months on Earth. “Adventure awaited him.” I sighed. “If he went with the deadly witch, then, and only then, could he truly live.”
“I want to go with him.”
I almost cried.
“I want to go! Get to the part where I see him again, Mama. Tell me that part. I know it's coming. I just know it!”
I wanted to see Zeke, too. Couldn't she understand how much her words stung. “We'll get there someday, Honey, but you have to be patient. It's not our time yet.”
“But, Mama, I want to see him, too.”
“So do I, Honey.”
“I'll fight that witch if I have to.”
My heart stopped at her words. “Really? You're awfully brave.”
“Zeke's worth it.”
I don't know what overcame me, but for the first time, the story changed. I sat up straight and wiped my eyes. I knew I could be brave like my little girl. I couldn't hold onto her and protect her forever. “You want to meet the pirates and mermaids?” I asked. “You want to save your brother from that witch?”
She nodded, more excited than I'd seen her in weeks. “Well, one day after Zeke left, you knew you had to go after him. You drew yourself a boat, one that had talking sailors painted on the sides, and a glass bottom that let you see into the ocean. You took Sky and that boat, then you went to find Ophyrus, the orange sea dragon.”
She grasped onto every detail, ready to save her brother and defeat the witch of death. So, that's how the tale about “The Sword of Senack” really began. I told Ruby the story every night, then I told Sky, when she got old enough. It was scary because I never knew where the story would go. It got so perfectly plotted and detailed, one day I wrote the whole thing down, and turned it into a full-length book. For years, I read the story to my kids almost every night. They loved everything about it, except that I couldn't tell them the end.
They'd always grow quiet, and clutch onto every word. When it was almost their time to meet Zeke, they'd stay perfectly still.
“But the deadly witch was there too,” I said the last time I read it. “And, even though you'd both mastered your gifts, she had the confidence of immortality.”
“And we couldn't meet Zeke unless we defeated her first,” little Sky said.
“So?” Ruby asked. “Do we beat her? Do we finally get to see Zeke?”
I smiled, knowing the ending had changed again; I'd just finished editing my journal, and I'd finally healed. “You'll have to wait 'til tomorrow, Sweethearts. I'll tell you all about it then. You might meet Zeke this time.”
“Really?” They were both so excited.
I tucked them into their beds, and sang their favorite songs because, somehow, I knew everything would be okay. I couldn't wait to read them the ending. I knew it would be something they'd never forget, something I was finally ready to let go of.
Available for purchase February, 2, 2012