Posted on Monday, 22 March 2004
Author’s Note: Ever since I wrote What I Wanted to Say, which was a short story told from Anne’s perspective, I’ve been wanting to write one from Frederick’s point of view. The original idea was to write a companion piece, but inspiration works in funny ways and I ended up writing something that is more along the lines of a sequel. While I think this piece can certainly stand alone by itself, you may find it helpful to read What I Wanted to Say. Enjoy! ~ Amy
The room was shrouded in darkness, the drapes sealed tightly against any moonlight that might try and shine its offending way through the windows, but still he did not turn on any of the lights. He didn’t need to. The room had been his own sanctuary for the past fifty-one years, and he could have closed his eyes and still managed to navigate the room without bumping into anything. There was a chill in the room. He felt it straight down to his bones. So, he lit a fire. The glow from the flames cast a shadow upwards, highlighting the Wentworth family crest that had hung there ever since the first night he and his wife had moved into their new home.
“For our children,” she’d whispered into his ear, while he’d tried to distract her by nibbling at the base of her neck. “So they will always remember where they come from.”
In the end, she’d been the one to distract him. With her heartfelt words. Even now, so many years later, he could still remember how her simple thought had touched his heart and captured his soul. It wouldn’t be the last time she managed to deprive him of his words though. It would only been the first.
With only the fire to light his path, Frederick Wentworth crossed the remainder of the room to pour himself a drink. It wasn’t out of any need to conserve energy, or some sort of misplaced laziness that kept him from switching on the light. He simply did not need it. Nor did he want it. Right now, all he wanted to do, was sit in the darkness. To live in the darkness. To be the darkness. Even the light from the fire burned too brightly for his taste, but the common sense in him told him he would appreciate it later when the air turned chilly. Meanwhile, he would soak up as much darkness as he could.
The light of his life had recently passed on, and he wasn’t ready to replace her.
Standing at the side bar, Frederick reached up and slid the thin noose of his tie from around his neck, and shoved the offending object into his pocket. Then, he reached up again and undid the top two buttons of his stiffly starched shirt. His neck, finally free of constraint, felt wonderfully liberated. Rolling his neck around to stretch out the kinks, Frederick poured himself two fingers worth of brandy. As he swirled it around and then held it up to his lips, he considered the heavy, crystal glass in his hand and then thought better of it. Such a small amount would never be enough to drown out all the sorrows in his heart. He left the brandy glass on the side bar in favor of the practically full decanter. Carrying it over to his usual spot, Frederick placed the heavy piece of glass on the side table that his Annie had picked out several years ago when she’d bamboozled him into letting her redo his study.
Frederick remembered rebelling at the thought of changing anything in his study, especially when Annie had suggested that they replace his favorite armchair. The armchair was sacred, a relic from his university days and his youth. That much, Annie had said with her lips curled in rarely seen disdain, was obvious.
The side table had also been another source of contention between the happy couple, for Frederick had been rather attached to the old one as well. Annie had simply pointed at the table and shook her head, daring him to explain how he could love such a wretched-looking piece of furniture. She’d pointed out to him every single burn mark, stain, and scratch. But, they were his burn marks, stains, and scratches, he’d told her. Annie hadn’t seen the merits of his argument.
They’d ended up compromising on the armchair. She allowed him to keep it, and Frederick allowed her to cloak it in new fabric. But Annie put her foot down about the side table. It was either a new one, or nothing. So, Frederick did what any right-minded husband would have done in his position; he capitulated. And in the end, his wife had been right. As she so often was. The study, when all the work was completed, Frederick had grudgingly admitted, looked fantastic. Especially the new side table.
Now, with Annie’s passing, Frederick was even more grateful that he had let her have her way. Because now he could always look at his study and be reminded of his wife. How she’d insisted upon doing this for him. Because she’d loved him, just as he had loved her.
Frederick sighed for his loss, and holding the neck of the decanter with one hand, took a healthy swallow of his brandy. The liquid fire burned a trail down to his stomach where it settled. It was, he considered, the first feeling he had felt in days. Up until now, he hadn’t felt anything since that night he’d held his wife’s hand, watched her close her eyes, and felt himself go numb, as his wife’s hand grew cold and lifeless in his. The image was too much to handle. He covered his eyes with his hand and tried to block it out.
From a distance, there came a creaking sound, and though his eyes were closed, Frederick knew it was the door. He frowned at the intrusion. Then peered through the gaps between his fingers to see who it was. Dana. He should’ve have expected it. She was the only one left in the house. She was his youngest.
Dana stood in the doorway, illuminated by the light from the hallway. It hurt to look at her. She was the mirror image of her mother.
He rubbed his hand wearily over his face before drawing it back down to his side.
“Daddy?” she repeated in a louder whisper, in case he hadn’t heard her the first time. Frederick grunted his response. “Oh, good. You’re still awake. I just wanted to let you know that I’ve cleaned the kitchen and put everything away.”
He knew she was waiting for him to say something. Like thank you, perhaps. But he couldn’t. It hurt to speak. It hurt to do anything. Except sit and think about his Annie. Although, truth be told, even that hurt sometimes.
They’d held the memorial service at the house. They’d served cheese and crackers, tea, and cake. The whole event had been so civilized, and all Frederick had wanted to do was send everything crashing to the floor, breaking everything into a thousand pieces, just like his heart was broken. Friends and neighbors had brought food. Just in case they’d said. They’d served some of it – the cookies and the cupcakes. And they’d refrigerated the rest – the loaves of bread, the casseroles, the multitude of pasta dishes. The refrigerated food, they’d said, would be for later. When he was home alone. Without his Annie.
Now that the day had come to an end, Frederick thought about how he’d hated every minute of his day. He’d spent every minute of the graveside service and then the memorial service afterwards wishing everyone were a mile away. He hadn’t needed to be reminded of what a wonderful person his Annie had been. He knew without a doubt that his wife had been a sweet, caring person. Generous and kind. Beautiful on the outside and on the inside, where it mattered most. He also knew that his Annie had been a devoted friend, someone you could always count on. They had, after all, been friends, partners, lovers, and soul mates for the past half century plus one.
He rubbed at his chest, trying to ease the pain that throbbed steadily there.
The last of their guests had left four hours ago. Only his children had remained. To keep him company through dinner before they departed, each going their separate ways.
Adam, his eldest, had been the first to leave with his wife and two kids. He’d been deeply apologetic, but they’d needed to fly home that evening. The company plane was waiting for him at the airfield. His son was an executive officer at very large and influential investment firm. Frederick could still remember how his Annie had cried with pleasure the day their son had called home with the news of his promotion. They’d both been so proud of him. Now, Adam had a meeting first thing in the morning, something about a multi-million buy out of a smaller investment firm, and it was a meeting that couldn’t be put off. Frederick understood that his son had to fly home. After all, life had to go on. Even without Annie.
Susan was their middle child, and most like him. She’d held in her emotions the entire week, and because of it was now absolutely exhausted. Frederick hadn’t objected when his son-in-law suggested that they begin their five-hour drive back home after dinner. Susan was pregnant with their first baby, and Frederick agreed that she needed to go home, rest, and take care of her family. He promised he’d be fine without her.
Only Dana had remained, long after the others had departed, just as she’d been the only one of their three children to marry and move back home after college. Even when Dana had been a little girl, playing house, Annie had predicted that their baby would never be happy unless she stayed close to home. Frederick had been afraid that maybe it was because they coddled her too much, as the youngest in their family. But Annie, in her infinite wisdom as a mother, had explained that Dana was like her. Someone who was happiest when she had a family to take care of. She needed nothing more than a husband, a home, and a passel of children to love to make her happy.
Dana, herself, freely admitted that she didn’t have the ruthless energy that was required to make the snap decisions that her brother faced every day in his top position at the investment firm. Nor did she have the argumentative streak that so suited her sister who was a rising attorney in her law firm. Dana was, simply put, a nurturer. The one who’d brought home sick and injured animals to nurse as a child, and the one who’d taken in the broken dolls her older sister had cast her way. And thus, it was she who’s stayed behind, with their father, to put their childhood home back together, after sending her husband home to tuck their four children into bed.
“I’ve turned everything off and checked the locks,” Dana spoke again. “I’ll lock the front door behind me when I leave.”
Frederick took another pull from the decanter and stared into the fire he’d built earlier. Dana continued to watch him, waiting for him to say something. Her tender heart went out to her father. It was clear to all that he was in a great deal of pain, and it hurt knowing that there was nothing she could do about it.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to spend the night?”
“Go home, Dana.” They were the first words she’d heard him utter since her siblings had left and he’d said his good-byes.
“I could call Lenny,” she offered. “He and the kids, they’d understand.”
“Go home, Dana,” Frederick repeated in his low, gravelly voice. “I don’t want you here.”
His abrupt words hurt, but Dana was determined not to let it show. Not until she was home, tucked in the comforts of her husband’s sympathetic arms at least. “All right. I’ll just take one more turn and make sure all the lights are off downstairs then.”
She hesitated before closing the door to her father’s study. Her hand fiddled over the doorknob. Worry nagged at her as she bit her bottom lip and wondered whether she should say something. The inner mother in her won. “I do hope you’ll try to remember to eat, Daddy. Even if it’s just a little bit. And even if you’re not feeling the least bit hungry. I’ve marked all the Tupperware in the fridge. All you have to do is pick what you’d like and pop it in the microwave for a minute or two.”
“I’ll check on you tomorrow.”
Dana knew her father wanted to be left alone, but she had to say it anyways. Even if it meant disturbing him and risking his ire. “I love you, Daddy.”
And then the door clicked. Tears streaming down his face, Frederick whispered back, “I love you too, baby.”
But it was too late. It was always too late.
With his legs spread out in front of him, Frederick closed his eyes and settled in for a long night. He’d slept in his armchair every night. He preferred it to his bed where his wife had lay when she breathed her last breath.
For fifty-one years they’d shared the same bed, and Frederick wasn’t ready to sleep in it alone.
The exhaustion of the week took over, and before Frederick could stop it, he’d slipped into his dreams. His memories. His past.
Birds chirped brightly in the distance as bells chimed loudly closer to home. The doors to the parish church were thrown wide open in expectation of the crowds that would come. It amazed Frederick how quickly they had managed to throw everything together. He was still reeling from the whirlwind of activities that had taken place since that fateful night when he’d been reunited with Anne Elliot at her aunt’s house party. He’d loved her for so long that it still seemed inconceivable to him that in a few, short hours she would be Anne Wentworth.
Just last night, he’d been lying wide-awake in his bed, wondering if he was gliding through some sort of very realistic dream. Only a half-dozen self-inflicted pinches had managed to convince him that finding Annie was very real.
Frederick still remembered with perfect clarity the first time they’d met, and all the other times they’d met afterwards. He remembered the joy he’d seen in her face the first time he’d presented her with a gift. And he still remembered how he’d felt after the first time they’d kissed. He willed himself to not remember the years in between then and now, their years of separation, and the pain he’d felt when he thought she’d been the one to turn away from him for good.
There were a few moments in the past weeks where Frederick had wondered what would have happened if he’d been a little more persistent, and not so quick to turn away when he’d been told that Annie didn’t want to have anything more to do with him. Maybe it wouldn’t have taken them so many years to find one another.
Words of speculation. They did nothing to further his cause now. Frederick was determined to not think about it anymore. Their past had been discussed, resolved, and put to bed. Neither of them wanted to dwell on the past. They both wanted to move on, and to face their future together. Even the lingering anger Frederick had felt towards Annie’s father and older sister had turned into pity when they’d finally met last week.
How the times had changed. Once upon a time, Frederick hadn’t been good enough for Anne’s father or older sister. His pedigree hadn’t been pure enough and his pockets hadn’t been lined enough. Everything about him hadn’t been enough. With nothing to recommend himself but the love he felt towards Anne, Frederick had been summarily dismissed from the Elliot household. But all that had changed.
It was amazing how the jingle of coins in one’s pocket could instantly change people’s attitudes. When he was reintroduced to Anne’s father and older sister, he’d been heartily embraced. Frederick knew that it was more than just the fact that he was now a wealthy, well-respected man that had them so favorably disposed towards him. It was also because their own situation had become so reduced during the intervening years. Frederick hadn’t a doubt that the Elliot’s held some hope that Frederick might offer them some financial assistance.
It grated to think that he, Frederick Wentworth, the suitor once scorned, was now supposed to help those that had done the scorning. But he’d do it for the sake of his fiancée, whom he knew still loved her family in spite of all their faults. Her capacity to forgive was just one of the many things that he loved about her.
And with that thought, Frederick put all other thoughts about Walter Elliot and Elizabeth Elliot to rest. They and the part they’d played in his past were simply not worth anymore of his concern. On his wedding day, Frederick wanted to look only to the future.
Frederick was surprised when he turned in his pacing and came face to face with Aunt D, as she was known to the Elliot girls. And now him.
“No need to stand upon ceremony now that you’re going to be part of the family,” she’d told him last night at the rehearsal dinner. She’d then thumped her cane imperiously against the floor in front of her, and that, as far as Aunt D had been concerned, was that.
Now, she stood in front of him, peering curiously into his eyes. Frederick found her searching gaze to be more than a little unnerving. “Nervous?” she finally asked.
“A little,” Frederick admitted with half a nod. The nervousness had nothing to do with insecurities over married life though. He knew that, once married, he and Anne would live a rich and full live together. It was the getting married part that had Frederick so nervous. He had a feeling that he wouldn’t feel relaxed until he was standing in front of the priest and altar with Annie standing opposite him. When he could finally be confident that Anne’s father or sister wouldn’t talk him out of marrying him. Like they had once before.
It was as if Aunt D was reading his mind. “Don’t worry,” she reassured him. “My nephew may be a stupid man, but even he isn’t so stupid as to botch this arrangement. However he may have felt about you before, circumstances have changed, and now you’re the one that’s the catch. Elizabeth, she too, understands that they only stand to gain if this marriage goes through. No doubt they’ll depend upon you for everything in the future. Poor relations can be so tedious,” Aunt D sighed. “I hope you’re up for it.”
He’d do anything just to have Anne Elliot by his side, Frederick thought to himself.
“And then there’s Mary!” Aunt D had already moved on. “Won’t have to worry about her dipping into your pockets. The Musgrove’s do quite well on their own. But you will have to put up with her flightiness. Wouldn’t be surprised if she showed up on your doorstep tomorrow morning pleading her long lists of aches and ailments, and begging you to take her children off her hands. For just a day, she’ll say. So she can get some peace and quiet for once. She depends upon Anne for everything, you know.”
Frederick did know it. He’d experienced one of Mary’s fits just the other day. Three quarters of an hour, though it had felt like eternity! He’d never get any of it back either. That was probably the worst part about it.
Frederick had gone to visit his intended, hoping to whisk her away for some alone time. Some private time where they wouldn’t have to deal with any of the wedding preparations. He knew that all the demands on her time were driving her insane, and he’d wanted to give her some reprieve. In the end, he hadn’t been able to deliver for the moment he stepped foot into her father’s home, his attention had been snatched up by Anne’s younger sister. For three quarters of an hour she regaled him with tale after tale about how no one in her family cared about whether she lived or died, and how her mother-in-law was far more concerned about her own daughters than her son and his family. Through it all, Frederick had tried his best to feign sympathy when all he really wanted to do was send the self-centered woman home. By the time Annie had come to his rescue, he’d felt like he had a woodpecker permanently attached to his temple. Still, it had been worth the effort to see the pleased smile spread across Anne’s face.
“Thank you,” she’d told him when they were finally alone. “I know my sister can try one’s patience, so I do appreciate your trying. If I haven’t told you lately, I think you, Frederick Wentworth, are the very best of men. And I’m so lucky to be able to call you mine.”
He’d carried her praise in his pocket for the rest of the day, feeling like the tallest man on earth.
“It’s not a proud family you’re marrying into,” Aunt D warned, cutting back into his thoughts. “But at least we’re not all a sorry lot.”
That was a relief to know. Frederick almost chuckled. He wasn’t the least bit surprised by Aunt D’s candor. She was known for her bluntness, and in truth, he found it refreshing.
“I think you’ll be good for Anne,” she told him, managing at least to surprise him with her compliment. Compliments from Aunt D were so rare and far in between. “You’d better treat her well though, or you’ll have me to answer to!” She waved her cane at him and came so close to his nether regions that only his previous, lengthy service in the military kept him standing upright and from crossing his legs and wincing. She left as quickly as she came, and left no opportunity for Frederick to defend himself or give her any reassurances. As he watched Aunt D hobble away, leaning on her cane for support, Frederick was left in no doubt that she would more than live up to her promise.
Frederick resumed his pacing until it was time for him to take his place in front of the altar. He turned to the door of the church as soon as the music started, and missed the sea of faces staring back at him. He looked for one face alone, and expelled a shuddering breath when he found what he sought. A vision all gowned in white.
Even with the entire length of the aisle between them and a veil covering her face, Frederick knew she was smiling. He returned it with one of his own and watched her proceed down the aisle, her hand gently tucked within her father’s arm. Knowing that Anne had appeared for the ceremony lightened Frederick’s heart considerably. The rest of the ceremony passed quickly, and at the end, the prolonged kiss was for relief as much as it was for formality.
They’d spent the wedding reception dancing the night away in each other’s arms.
Life had been wonderful for them after that. Certainly they’d had their share of fights, as all married couples were wont to do from time to time. But they’d always made up, usually before the night was over. And in Frederick’s estimation, the making up had always been well-worth the fighting.
Until the night Annie told him he was to be a father, Frederick had already thought he was the happiest man on the face of this earth. He was mistaken though, for his joy grew ten-fold upon her precious news. They’d been lying, spread out underneath their first Christmas tree, Annie warm and safe in his arms. They’d stared up at the angel spreading her wings over the freshly decorated tree, and at the stroke of midnight, on Christmas day, Annie had reached for her husband’s hand, placed it on her still flat stomach, and gifted him with the best Christmas present ever. Only the happiness he’d felt nine months later when his newborn son lay in his arms could rival how he’d felt that Christmas morning.
The memories faded as Frederick shifted in his chair. He shivered in his sleep as the fire went out, the room grew colder, and his dreams turned haunting.
Gray, lifeless walls stared back at him. Devoid of any sort of warmth or comfort, Frederick could feel them closing in on him. If he covered his ears and screamed at the top of his lungs, maybe then they’d stop moving towards him, crushing him from all sides. If only he could, he thought, but causing a scene would hardly be dignified.
The walls looked clinical, Frederick thought to himself. Which made sense since they were sitting in a doctor’s office. Diplomas from the nation’s top universities cluttered the otherwise bare walls. Alongside them hung awards and certificates, reminding Frederick that they were here because he’d demanded the best.
Behind them, the door opened, giving entrance to the doctor. He was a serious, studious looking man, and he wore a long, white coat over his tailored clothes. Frederick tried to ignore the chill that had passed over him the moment the doctor had entered the room. He knew Annie probably wasn’t even registering the man’s presence, as she would be too busy focused on the manila folder the doctor held in his hand.
For Annie and him, the manila folder represented life or death.
“I appreciate your rearranging your schedule to come in on such short notice this afternoon,” the doctor began. He eased his way into his large leather chair behind the cluttered desk.
“It’s no problem,” Frederick replied for the both of them. He hoped his voice hadn’t betrayed the trembling, nervous sensations that were currently running rampant throughout his body.
The doctor took a moment to study the elderly couple sitting across from him. They fit perfectly, he noted with some surprise. And in that instant, his job was made all the more harder. It wasn’t often these days that he saw a couple come into his office and be so right for one another as these two persons so obviously were. Frederick Wentworth, even as a man in his advanced years, was still an impressive figure of strength, virility, and robustness. At first glance, he appeared to be a man incapable of having any weaknesses, but the doctor knew that like any man he had an Achilles’ heel. Frederick Wentworth’s was the woman who sat next to him and whose hand he clutched so tightly in his own.
Compared to her husband, Anne Wentworth looked like a pale, slip of a thing. Something that faded easily into the background. Whereas he was tall and broad, she was small and slender. But, from their many conversations, the doctor knew that his patient was anything but weak. And would never have allowed herself to have been pushed into the background. Anne Wentworth was a woman who possessed a very strong character. One that would stand against an entire army to protect those that she loved. Their combined strengths, the doctor mused, would be put to the test in the weeks and months to come. And he sincerely wished them all the best.
Leaning forward to do the one thing he hated about his job, the doctor spoke as calmly and unemotionally as he possibly could. “The reason I asked you to come in this afternoon is because I have your test results, Mrs. Wentworth.” He tapped the manila folder now laid open in front of him. “I knew you were eager to know what they were.”
Anne licked her lips nervously and tried to ignore the heavy palpitations in her heart. She felt Frederick squeezing the palm of her hand. Drawing strength and comfort, she whispered, “And?”
“I’m sorry,” the doctor spoke, careful to keep his face impassive as his patient’s crumpled right before his very sight. The slash of pain was one he’d seen time and time again on his patients’ faces. It never stopped hurting.
“It’s cancer. Just as we suspected. And it’s spreading, more quickly than we feared, I’m afraid. I’m so sorry.”
The ocean roared through Frederick’s eardrums. Beyond the crashing waves, all he’d heard were the words: Cancer. Spreading. Quickly. So Sorry. It was worse than they had feared.
“Are you absolutely sure?” Frederick heard himself asking. “Maybe the results got switched or something, maybe the test was done incorrectly. Maybe it’s something else Annie has. Something that can be treated.” He knew he was grasping at straws, but he felt he had to try.
“I’m afraid not,” the doctor spoke gently, understanding Frederick’s need to explore all avenues. “We ran the tests more than once, just to be sure. And I oversaw them myself. They are absolutely conclusive, much as I wish they weren’t.”
And with that, Annie’s fate was sealed.
Frederick clenched his teeth and turned his head away. He refused to break down in front of the doctor or his wife. She would need him. The children would need him. And it wouldn’t help one damn bit if he started howling at the top of his lungs or throwing things crashing to the ground. No, he would do what he’d always done in times of trial and tribulations. He, Frederick Wentworth, would be the pillar of his family’s strength.
For the rest of the doctor’s lengthy meeting, he kept his arms gently curved around his wife’s slender shoulders. As the minutes ticked on, and one hour turned into two, he could feel Annie leaning more and more against him as her energy waned. For his own part, Frederick couldn’t hear what the doctor was saying. He knew the doctor was speaking, could see the doctor’s lips moving, but he couldn’t hear a single word. He didn’t want to. All he could hear was the roar of the ocean crashing thunderously in the back of his head.
He knew the doctor spoke of options, but he also knew that there weren’t that many. Nor were the projected success rates going to be very high. With the cancer spreading as quickly as the doctor foretold, Frederick knew, just as the doctor and his Annie knew, that it was merely a matter of time. He wasn’t willing to sit there and listen to the doctor tell him and Annie how much time they had left together. He didn’t want to know, and ignorance really was bliss. The one thing Frederick wanted, he knew he couldn’t have.
He wanted life with Annie to be forever.
Mentally rocking back and forth in his chair, Frederick could only think about what would happen once the light of his life was gone. He couldn’t drum up a picture for the life of him. It was as if without her, his life was over as well.
All too soon, winter faded into spring. And for the first time in all her married years, Annie hadn’t been around to see the snow melt, to smile at the sight of birds nesting in her bushes, to caress the petals of her flowers’ first bloom, or to chase away the pesky rabbits that made meals out of the budding flowers in her flowerbeds. Her trusty shovel and hoe were also relegated to the far corner of their garage, for Annie was much too busy to spend her time puttering around her garden. She had other things to attend to.
While the rest of the world was awakening to a season of celebration and rebirth, Annie and Frederick spent their spring traveling to and from the hospital for more tests, more therapy, more medicine, and more of everything. By the end of the season though, it was clear that all their last ditch efforts had been just that. Last ditch efforts. There was no more use in pretending that Annie would get better one day. She was wilting away right before her family’s very eyes. It pained Frederick to glance in the rearview mirror while he drove home from the hospital and see his wife, once so vibrant and full of life, reduced to a ball, curled up in pain, in the backseat of their car.
Frederick took her back to the hospital the very next morning and didn’t drive her back home at the end of the day.
When the hottest heat waves were pushing the limits of every thermometer, and her brow was filled with the sweat of pain and discomfort, Anne Wentworth decided it was time. She’d spent the last two months of her life lying in a hospital bed, staring at the ugly hospital walls, and managing to eat what she could of the distasteful hospital food. And for all her prayers and efforts, Anne knew that there was nothing more anyone could do. They’d tried, they’d fought, and they’d lost. Just as they all knew, deep down, they would.
There were no regrets though, Anne thought. She’d lived a full life. She’d been a dutiful daughter, a good sister, and she’d known the love of a husband and of her children. The one thing she was sorry about though was that she’d be leaving her Frederick behind. Ever since that day she’d been reunited with him at her aunt’s house party, they’d never been separated for more than a day or two at most. She hoped he wouldn’t be sad or angry once she was gone. She would worry for him if he were.
At least he wouldn’t be completely alone, Anne thought to herself. He’d have the children.
When Frederick came to see her the morning of that fateful day, bearing that brave smile he pasted on his face every day and pretending that there was absolutely nothing wrong, Anne told him of her decision. When she went, she didn’t want the last thing she saw to be the sterile and unfamiliar walls of her hospital room. When she went, she wanted to be in the bed she’d slept in for the past fifty-one years, in the bed where all three of her children had been conceived, and in the bed where she and her husband had spent countless number of nights loving. Being together as one.
In short, she wanted to go home.
Without betraying a single emotion or saying a single word, Frederick gathered his wife into his arms and carried her out of the hospital without a backward glance. She weighed less than a stone, Frederick considered, reminding him of how the cancer had done more than its job of ravishing her body. He wanted to weep, but he knew he couldn’t.
Frederick took his Annie home and slipped her into their bed. Then he remained at her side, taking up the vigil, and refusing to leave for anything. He wanted to make the most of their time left together. And he wanted to be there for her when they finally parted ways.
When the yellow sun outside her window ceased to shine, and the moon rose high into the night’s sky, Anne Wentworth got her final wish. With her family crowded around her, she died peacefully and smiling, all pain and sorrow forgotten. The last thing she’d seen before closing her eyes forever were the tear-stained faces of her children. She’d let her eyes rove from one child to another before letting herself linger on the pain-ridden face of her husband’s. Somehow, Annie had managed to summon enough strength to caress his cheek. Then, she’d smiled that faintly tilted smile of hers that Frederick loved to see so much, and whispered for his ears only, “I love you so much, Freddie. I’ll love you always.”
Her mission completed, Anne Margaret Elliot Wentworth closed her eyes and then was gone.
That had been three nights ago.
Frederick shifted once more in his sleep. He was surprised when he felt the weight and the warmth of an afghan tucked around his body. It was, he knew, the same afghan his Annie had knitted when she’d been forced into bed rest with their middle child. How, he wondered in his half-dazed sleep, had he managed to pull it over himself?
Was Annie’s angel looking out for him, just as she had watched over him in life?
Frederick opened his eyes and found his answer.
There, crowded around on the floor at his feet, were the smiling faces of his children. The shock and surprise sent Frederick fully awake, and he righted himself in his armchair. “What are you all doing here?” he gasped.
“I got about halfway home when I realized that I was needed more at home. By you. So, I asked the pilot to turn the plane around,” his eldest was the first to explain. “Danielle’s upstairs with the kids, putting them to bed in my old room. I hope you don’t mind if we stay for a couple of more days.”
“But, your meeting tomorrow morning . . . .”
“Can go to rot,” Adam finished for his father. “There are some things more important than work and multi-million deals, Dad. Mom taught me that.”
“Yes,” Frederick agreed slowly. “She didn’t, didn’t she?” A curious feeling of warmth was starting to spread all over from top to bottom. He wasn’t quite ready to put into words what that feeling was.
“And you?” Frederick turned to Susan, his face still awash with wonderment. “What brought you back?”
“Mark and I were almost home when I realized that I didn’t want to be there at all. I wanted to be back here. With you.” Susan grabbed onto one of her father’s hands and held on tightly. Her voice trembled when she spoke again. “We were still on the road when all of the sudden, the only thing I wanted to do was to curl up in my daddy’s arms and have him tell me everything would be all right. I’m scared,” she finally admitted. Something they all knew had not been easy for her to do. “Mom always said that if there was something that needed fixing, you were the one to see.”
It helped, Frederick realized, to know that he was still needed. Loved. He patted his knee and Susan quickly scrambled to her feet so that she could climb into her father’s lap. She didn’t care that she hadn’t sat in his lap ever since she’d started wearing make-up and told her father she was a “Big Girl” now. Or that she weighed an extra twenty pounds courtesy of her pregnancy, and was no doubt suffocating her father. She also didn’t care that her older brother and baby sister were there to witness her total regression. She knew they wouldn’t dare make fun of her.
Frederick then turned his eye to his youngest. “I thought you’d gone home.”
Dana took her father’s one free hand and stroked it soothingly. “I was just drifting off to sleep when I remembered you hadn’t thought to cover yourself. Mom wouldn’t have wanted you to get sick. So, I drove back on over. When I did, I ran into the others.”
“We love you, Dad,” Adam piped up again.
“And we’ll always need you,” Susan added.
“Just as we’ll always be here for you too,” Dana finished.
“It’s how your mother would’ve wanted it,” Frederick nodded his head approvingly.
Suddenly, the thought of life without his Annie didn’t seem so unbearable anymore. Oh, he’d always feel the pain of her loss. And he’d never love anyone other than his Annie. But, he’d go on. He would face each day, bravely, like his Annie would have wanted. She wouldn’t have wanted him to hide inside the house, day after day, drinking down his sorrows, and staving off life. Tomorrow, he’d make her proud.
And when his time finally came. They’d be reunited once again. Because that’s how they were meant to be.