"What do you mean you don't live at home any more?" I knew I had been woefully out of touch lately but I was sure I would have known this.
"Well I am home. I'm just not at home home."
I tried to wrap my brain around her words. Home but not at home home? No even saying it again to myself it still did not make any sense. "Sorry,I think you lost me at the first home."
She chuckled. I could hear the sounds of gulls crying in the background and waves crashing on a shore nearby. It sounded very much like the shores of the beach of Sunset Valley.
"Well you remember how Chestnut got that grant to go study rare plants in Coconut Bay?"
"Yes," I answered hesitantly, I remembered all too well. It had been just before Per and Nilla's wedding, and not long after Moon and Chestnut themselves had eloped, and troubles at a neighbouring airfield had kept her coming back for the ceremony. No matter what she said the fact that they needed armed guards to go out into some of the remote areas around the town to do research made it sound very unsafe to me.
"Well we're still there," she said cheerily.
"Wasn't that grant only supposed to be for a couple months?" She wasn't telling me something but I couldn't quite tell what.
"Yes but," she hesitated for a moment before plowing ahead rapidly. "We would have come home but I couldn't exactly travel once the pregnancy got far enough along."
My mind blanked. She could not have said what I thought she did. She couldn't have! "You're pregnant?" How could she be pregnant, so pregnant she couldn't travel, and I not know about it?
"Weeeeeeeell," she hesitated stretching the word out and trailing the end up as she did when she knew what she was going to say would be bad news. "Mum said that you were going through rough time, that you we're barely keeping your head above water, and that you would not be able to talk to anyone no matter what the news was. She told me that it was best if I waited until you called me. I wanted to tell you, so badly, but you know how mum is scary accurate about these things so I thought it was best if I waited."
"I..." I wanted to tell her she was wrong, that she should have called me anyway but I could not. "I'm sorry." It was all I could manage. It tore at my soul that I wasn't there for her, that she couldn't come to me.
"I guess if you're not home...." I trailed off once again. I didn't really want to go to Coconut Bay. I just wanted to be home for a while, to give the kids some light in their life and to give me a chance to learn to be human again.
"But you should still go home! Lola is back from boarding school and mum and dad would love to have you and the triplets around for a while. You can come visit me on your way back to Hidden Spings."
"Sure. I guess." Some how the idea was less appealing now that I knew Moon would not be there. I could feel a big part of me that pulled back from the idea and was ready to hide itself away again.
A tugging at my jeans pulled my attention downwards. Three smiling faces greeted me, their eyes alight with excitement. I did not know how much they understood of what was going on but I could not bear to take those smiles away from them. Moon and I talked on for a time about inconsequential things like the weather and her pregnancy symptoms and by the time I hung up I felt a bit better about the choice once again. A bit.
It was winter in Sunset Valley as much as it had been in Hidden Spings but the change from cold mountain winds to the occasional rain storm off the sea made it feel like we were stepping into spring time. Unusually the house was not decorated for Christmas as I had expected it to be.
"No wreaths this year mum?"
She laughed secretively. "Nope. We are running away for a white Christmas this year. We have booked a house in White Scone Valley and we will be hitting the slopes soon. Lola has to stay behind with her new job but we really hope you and the kids can come. The house is far to big for just the two of us. Tht is unless you have other plans?"
It was so innocently snuck in there I couldn't help but smile. "No mum no other plans. Toffee is out of the country and won't be back until well into the new year." Saying his name so casually like that caused a pain to stab into my heart. In a way I relished it though it was the first time I had felt something in a while.
"Well we will be more than glad to have you." She bustled me into the kitchen and set me to baking. It seemed that although we were going away for Christmas there was still plenty of cookies and cakes to be made. It was nice to have something to do with my hands and when dad and Lola joined in I could feel something loosening inside me.
I was completely useless in the kitchen, getting more flour over myself than in the bowl but by the time I put the kids to bed there was a smile on my face that did not slip away as easily as it once had.
"I remember when you won that one." Dad's voice was unexpected but I managed not to jump, too much.
"When I won it? I distinctly remember you winning it for artist of the decade!"
He chuckled as he slipped his arm around my shoulders. "I never would have win that without your management skills. I never could have done it alone. I honestly don't know why you quit when I did. You had a real gift for it."
He kissed me gently on the cheek then before leaving me to stare at the wall of his accomplishments. It didn't matter what he said he was the one that earned them. I knew that yet something tugged inside of me, very like the tug I felt when I thought of Toffee, when dad mentioned how good I had been at managing his career. Just like the feelings I had about Toffee this one was confusing as well. I tried to push it down but no matter what I did it kept bubbling to the surface at the most awkward times.
With it still being a week until Christmas and mum doing her best to whip the triplets into a holiday frenzy I found I was spending more and more time away from the house. I kept telling myself it was to help clear my head but the truth was I was searching for something, something I had yet to even define in my own mind let alone begin to know where to look for it. My distracted musings lead me all over the town. From old haunts....
To places I had never really seen before...
Even to places that did not really exist.
But all my wanderings were for naught. The darkness that had been put at bay by my arrival back home was creeping back around me. I could stop it no more than I could stop the setting of the sun. In my heart I knew that I was broken, incomplete, and until I could find my missing piece I could never be strong enough to find the light again.
"You miss it don't you?"
"Miss what?" I did not turn to her, I could not face the concern in her features just then.
"Having a reason to get up in the morning. Don't get me wrong kids can give a person that reason but I know you Mint Cream, you need more than that. You need a life of your own."
"I have a life," I mumbled into my hands.
"No, you don't. You have plenty to do, sure, but your heart is not in it. Without a heart you have no life, not truly, because you are missing part of who you are."
I snorted quietly. That sounded too much like what had been going through my own head. I had never quite got over my mum's uncanny ability to know what I was thinking before I did. "I don't know where to find it."
She smiled cryptically at me before placing her right hand on my chest. "Deep inside you know what you must do. Don't think, just follow your feelings and they will lead you right." She did not give me time to respond before she patted me on the cheek and stood to go upstairs. "Don't stay up to late dear. We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow."
I woke, stiff backed, in the very spot my mum had left me the night before. I did not remember lying down and certainly not closing my eyes but somewhere in my soul searching I must have drifted off. Bleary eyed I got up and looked around. It was oddly quiet for being so late in the morning and I went from room to room calling out names before finding myself back where I started the note I had missed early leaping out at me.
We have taken the kids and gone ahead to White Scone Valley.
Meet us whenever you can and remember to follow your heart.
I supposed it wasn't a bad thing that they had taken the kids. It would have been very cramped in their car with all six of us in there for the ten hour drive up to the mountains. In a way it was a relief to have the house to myself. My initial feelings of irritation at my mother for butting in, and more for taking my children without telling me, melted away easier than they should have as I relaxed in the first long bath I was able to have in ages.
Not wanting to face the drive all by myself I decided that a train trip would add quite a bit of adventure to this little trip with the added benefit of allowing me to catch up on the latest magazines that had been piling up in the corner. Platform two, where the train should be leaving from, was practically empty and I settled down happily wiping out the mornings paper and turning straight to the celebrity news section.
"Don't you just love travelling like this on the holidays?"
I hadn't seen her approach and although she was interrupting my reading I couldn't bring myself to be irritated at her. The joyous smile she had on her face was infectious and I found myself giving it right back to her. "I guess so I've never really thought about it." Looking around I could see what she meant thought. The station was decorated with festive colours and sparkling lights. As rushed as they were people had smiles on their faces and seemed to be helping each other in ways that you just don't see the rest of the year.
"Where are my manners," she said laughter in her voice. "I'm Strawberry. Strawberry Teaser."
Teaser? Sure not. There had to be other Teasers in town. "I'm Mint Cream." I don't know what made me leave out my last name but some how I was reluctant to give it. "Are you going to see family?"
"No my husband and I are going off to White Scone Valley for the holiday. I hope the train gets here soon, I can't wait to be off. It will be nice to have him alone, for once." That last bit was said so softly that for a moment I doubted I had heard it. Her face held an odd sadness that made me wonder what this delicate woman had been through. Blinking rapidly she put on a smile that was so big it was clear she was covering for some internal pain. "What about you? Is your husband about?"
I laughed gently. "No husband. It's just me and the kids. They are with my parents at the moment and I am headed to meet them."
"Oh? So do you work here, away from your kids?"
"No I don't work at the moment." There was that tugging feeling again. More and more I realized that what my mum had said was right. I needed to find that piece of me. Maybe it was in the music managing career I had left behind. I certainly was happy then. Strawberry didn't quite seem to know what to say after that and we chatted for a time about general pleasantries. It was only the sounds of the approaching train to White Scone that made me look up and realize the time. As I did so I saw a familiar figure headed our way, a jaunty smile on his face.
Looking over her shoulder, Strawberry turned to see what had caught my attention. At the sight of him Strawberry stiffened at my side. In that one movement I could tell she was at once pleased to see him and on guard at the same time. My head turned from her to him and back again. "I guess there isn't that many Teasers in town after all." I muttered to myself. So this was the wife. How many times had she found her husband with another woman, for that matter did she know about me? The closer he got the more her manner changed. The bubbly nature that was there before all but disappeared and she stood meekly at my side now head down. I could see clearly that she was living a life that she had resigned herself to but in doing so she had left a part of herself behind. At that thought my own lurched.
"Platform three for the train to Bridgeport. Platform three for the train to Bridgeport." The announcers tinny sounded throughout the station and drew my gaze to the opposite side of the track. My heart began to beat widely as a thought came into my mind unbidden. I couldn't, could I? A glance to Strawberry and the increasing closer Malt was enough to have me grabbing up my bags and heading to the stairs. I could not let a part of me go, not without knowing it that was what would truly make me whole.
"Where are you going?" I heard Strawberry shout after me.
Without turning I called over my shoulder.
"To follow my heart."