A Line to Heaven
Maes Hughes walked up the hill with a bouquet of roses clutched in his hand. He counted the graves as he went by. Over the years, he had memorized the exact location of the gravestone, but he counted out of habit. The grave stood alone near the top of the hill, jutting up against the background of clear blue skies and peaceful white clouds. It was strangely picturesque and Maes couldn't help but smile.
"Well hello there," he said as he stopped before the marble gravestone at the top of the hill. "I brought some roses for your special day. They're pink, not red, just like you like them. I know that you always said that pink smelled better. Alicia helped to pick them out." He put the roses down in the small holder in front of the gravestone and pulled out a few pictures. "I have pictures to show you!" He began laying them out in front of the stone, naming off the events in each photo. He paused, looking at one particular photo. A blush began to spread across his cheeks. "Oops. You weren't supposed to see that one." He quickly shoved it back in his pocket, giving the grave a rueful look.
"Daddy! Daddy!" A small voice called from down the hill.
Hughes looked up and smiled as he watched his daughter run up the hill with her ruffled dress flouncing around her. She was slowly followed by a man carrying a large picnic basket.
"Look Gracia. Here she comes. Isn't she beautiful?" Maes held his arms open for the girl and she bounced in.
"Daddy, you walk too fast!" She hugged him tightly before wiggling out of his arms. "Hi Mommy!" She moved to the stone, wrapping her little arms against it.
"Sorry sweetie. I wanted to say hi to your mother before you came and hogged all her attention." Maes stood up, turning and holding an arm out for the man standing beside him.
Roy walked into the welcoming arm, smiling as it settled around his waist. He looked at the grave before him, noting how Alicia hunkered down and started pulling a small batch of pictures from her little purse. Like father, like daughter.
"And this one is when Daddy and Roy and me went to the park. And this one is the doggy that I got to pet. And look here, this one is of Daddy and Roy kiiiiiiissssssing."
"Alicia!" Maes exclaimed. "When did you take that?" He demanded.
Alicia glanced back at him, annoyed that he had interrupted her chat. "I was practicing my intelligence gathering Daddy."
Maes glared at him.
Roy laughed again. "Don't look at me. She's your daughter."
Maes sighed. "Let's just put the blanket down." He took the basket from Roy, pulling a large checkered blanket from the top. He shooed Alicia away from the stone as he shook the blanket out and spread it before the grave.
Roy put the basket in the middle of the blanket. Alicia plopped down next to the stone.
"Shoes," Roy warned. Alicia quickly took her shoes off and set them beside the blanket. She looked up at Roy and he nodded. He slipped his own shoes off, giving the gravestone a little bow before he sat on the blanket as well. A moment later, Maes joined them as Roy started unpacking the basket revealing a nice picnic lunch.
"Can I put out Mommy's half?" Alicia asked.
"Yes, but Daddy's going to light the incense." Maes said.
Alicia grinned as she started to put together a small plate to place in front of the gravestone. Maes pulled a stick of incense and a lumpy, brightly painted incense holder out of the basket and placed them beside the plate.
"Alicia made this at school." He commented as he put the incense into the colorful holder and lit it. He blew out the small flame and watched the smoke curl up into the air. He closed his eyes and sighed before crawling back to sit beside Roy. Roy wrapped his arm around Maes' waist and let him rest his head on his shoulder. He rubbed Maes' back comfortingly and kissed his forehead.
"Can we start now?" Alicia asked as he watched them, smiling brightly.
"Yes," Roy said. "I think we should start out with a toast."
"Yes, a toast sounds perfect." Maes said, sitting up straight. He pulled a bottle out and looked it over. "Oh yes, this is a very fine vintage of sparkling cider." He commented.
"You can do the honors," Roy said as he pulled out four glasses wrapped in checkered napkins.
"Of course." He opened the bottle as Roy and Alicia unwrapped the glasses and set them out. He poured the cider into each glass. "Now everybody, let's toast."
Alicia put a glass on the gravestone beside the plate and turned to eagerly raise her glass. Roy and Maes each raised theirs.
"A toast, to the most wonderful woman that I've ever met, my wife, Gracia. Happy Mother's Day!"
"Happy Mother's Day!" Alicia trilled.
"Happy Mother's Day, Gracia," Roy echoed as they all touched their glasses together. "Don't worry, I'm taking care of this little family of yours," he said quietly before he took a sip of his juice.
"You just rest easy and enjoy your special day," Maes added, as he gazed at the headstone. His eyes once more followed the incense smoke as it rose, painting a faint trail of gray across the blue sky as it stretched to meet the fluffy clouds. It's like a line to heaven, he mused as he imagined Gracia connected to them on the telephone he was often so attached to. It made her feel a little closer.
Warm fingers tangled with his and he glanced over at Roy. Roy tilted his head towards the food. "Come on, you know how she hates to see a good meal go to waste."
Maes nodded. "All right. Let's feast in her honor. We'll clean every plate, eat every veggie," he glanced over at Alicia who squirmed a little, "and enjoy this beautiful Mother's Day to it's fullest."
"Okay!" Alicia cheered.
Together they ate, each happily sharing memories of the mother, the lover and the friend that they'd lost and the angel that watched over them still.