It was quiet for the rest of the afternoon around the house. Felicia went into the front yard and sat on a bench outside by the front sidewalk. The sun was peeking out from behind a few clouds that were beginning to disperse. She then pulled out a book and began to read it when a young man was walking by. He was a sandy-haired young man in his late 20’s. To Felicia he was gigantic, however he did stand at around 6’2″.
” ‘Ello!,” he said smiling, “And how is that little girl named Felicia who teased my father?”
“Daddy isn’t coming home.” she told him.
“Oh love…I’m sorry. I’ve come at a bad time and I was going to invite your family to our housewarming–”
“I don’t know what a housewarming is. It can’t be cold in there.” she said.
“Well,” he said as he smiled slightly at her response, ” it is actually a get together neighbors have when a new person moves into the area–it’s like a party.”
“I don’t know if a party is a good idea now.” she told him.
“But why Felicia?” he asked.
A tear escaped her eyes.
“Everyone is really sad right now. Daddy died in the war and I don’t remember him. He went away when I was a baby.” she told him.
“Oh my. I am so sorry. I’ll come back at another time, alright.,” he said to her as he came inside the gate and knelt to be at eye level with her, “But my father did say to give you this book. If your family needs anything, please let me know.”
“Thank you. I forgot your name, I’m sorry–”
“It is Stephan. I’ll see you later, okay?” he said.
“Okay. Thank you for the book. I’ll read it.” she said.
Stephan stood back up and Ida appeared at the door. “Is there something I can help you with, young man?” she asked.
He went to the door and introduced himself. When Ida realized that he was their new neighbor–along with this father, whom Felicia had already met, she invited him in.
They talked for a few minutes and he did take her up on her offer of muffins and coffee. Annie did not come downstairs. Ida then explained that although Michael had been missing since Felicia was a baby, she was concerned at the impact that knowing he was never going to return would have on the child.
“I’ve worked with a lot of children, and I think she will surprise you. She is very bright and resilient.” he told her.
“Why thank you,” Ida said, “You’ll also find that she has a very large imagination when things get back to normal.”
“Oh yes! She already told me of the white alligator! It is actually a fascinating folk tale. There is an old Indian in town that told me of it two days ago. I tend to think that he actually believes it!” he grinned.
“Big Bear. He’s a full-blooded Lakota Sioux Indian and he always looks out for Felicia when we go into town. He tells her all kinds of stories and tales, but she loves the one about that alligator! Big Bear can see things sometimes. He told me when Felicia turned one that her father would not be found alive. I didn’t want to believe him either–for my daughter’s sake.” Ida told him.
“Well, I thank you for your hospitality but I must really be running along now. I am truly sorry for your loss. If you need anything let us know. I’d like to know when the service is if that is alright. My father and I will be there for your family.” he said.
“Why thank you. I’ll let you know Mr.–”
“Just call me Stephan.” he said as they went to the door. Felicia thanked him again for the book and went quickly upstairs. She laid the book on her bed and looked at Michael’s picture.
“Grandma was right. You really aren’t coming back. I’m sorry, Daddy. I’ll see if I can find the alligator another day so Mommy will be happy again. I’ll still talk to you though. I promise.” she said as yet a few more tears welled up in her eyes. It was becoming real to her now. She took his picture to the bed and set it next to her pillow. She then fell asleep.
Meanwhile, Stephan went back to his house. The painters were painting the outside a very pale bluish-grey color. It was at that point his father, Jack, stepped outside. He then went to the mailbox as Stephen approached.
“Well where have you been off to? I got three phone calls from different schools already.” Jack said.
“Then I’ll call them back, Dad. It’s not a big deal.” Stephan smiled.
“Was that little girl home today? She hasn’t been by and she usually comes by just to see what your old man is tearing apart!” he grinned.
“Dad, Felicia may not be around for a bit.” Stephan told him solemnly.
“What on Earth do you mean? She didn’t get into some kind of trouble or anything–”
“No, Dad…Her father was killed in the war. Her grandmother told me that he had been missing since she was a baby but this has to be devastating for her.” he said.
“I am sure that it is. Just let me know when the services are. Does Felicia have a mother? Jack asked.
“Yes but I have not met her. I only know because her grandmother, Ida, explained that she hasn’t left her room.” Stephan said.
“Damned dreadful.” Jack said as he went back to the house. Stephan could see Felicia’s house from the curb.
“Poor kid.” he said to himself. He then got into his own car and headed into town. He remembered how distant he felt from Jack after his own mother died when he was 8. He thought it was totally heartless to not shed tears, but then one night a month later, he got up to go to the bathroom and saw Jack talking to her picture as rain was pounding the roof.
“God I miss you, Kate.,” he began as a tear did escape his eyes, “I cannot let him see me like this. He’ll think I am weak. The truth is, I don’t know how to do anything the way that you did. I was always a man’s man, but you had a way with kids that I just do not have. Your mother suggested that I read him stories and such and I will try that, but I can never be you. I love that boy with my life and I’m so afraid to let him see what I feel. I want him to be strong–and I am not.”
“Dad, you’re a lot stronger than you think. I found that out when I broke my leg that summer playing football.” Stephan thought to himself as he pulled into the store. Big Bear, who stood at 6′ 4″ was sitting on a stump beside the door. Stephan got out of his car, a brand new Chevy Volt and was about to enter when Big Bear uttered:
“Felicia will unite this place. You are good with her. That will bring you great reward.” he said.
“Okay. Thank you–”
“No need. You do it, not me. You see things that she sees. You understand her. Other grown ups do not, but they will. Through her eyes, this town will be strong again.” he said.
“I’ll be right back, Big Bear.” Stephan said, still unsure of what to think of this.
“I know. You will by eggs, milk, bread, meat and more candy for Felicia.” he said.
“How did you–”
“Dropped your list. Felicia likes those home-made lemon drops. She’s allergic to nutmeg though so steer clear of Emma’s grab bag. Makes the girl break out in hives.” Big Bear said as he picked it up off of the ground and handed it to him.
“Thank you.” Stephan grinned.
“You are welcome. You and your father will both learn much from her.” he said.
Stephan really wasn’t sure how to handle what Big Bear told him, but several of his neighbors told him that they always go to him when they need advice.
Meanwhile, his father, Jack sat at the kitchen table scratching his head. He was grateful that he and Stephan were close, but was even more grateful that he learned that tears were not a weakness before it was too late. He opened up his brown leather wallet and looked at a picture inside. It was one of himself, his wife Kate, and of Stephan when he was a baby. His eyes got misty as he talked to it…
“You would be proud of him Kate. He has grown into a strong man with a big heart–just as you had hoped. He still has to put up with the old man being himself though. We still have that piano and the drum set. I still have the jewelry. I couldn’t part with it. Maybe one day our son will have a daughter but who knows? I often wonder how things might have been had you been here today. No one could ever begin to understand me as you did…” he mused as the phone rang. His brother from Surrey was calling…
Jack talked to his brother Ike for a long time. 45 minutes had passed when he looked up at the clock…”Just like his mother…Shops until he’s broke or talks until his tongue falls out!” he laughed.
Stephan picked up the items on his list and then walked back over to Big Bear.
“You think I’m crazy but I’m not. I see things. Felicia needs a real hero. You’re it.” he said.
“I hardly know her–”
“The spirits say you will save her. They don’t lie. They say your father will learn to dream again too.” he said.
“Well I appreciate your thoughts.” Stephan said as he went for the car.
“And she’ll love the book.” he replied. This really threw Stephan off. Only he and his father knew of it.
Stephan’s thoughts were on Felicia all the way back to his house. He felt her emptiness. He felt her pain. He was determined to speak with Jack about it as well.
As he pulled into the drive, the sun was still shining down on the neighborhood since it had cleared up. Since Jack insisted on having the painters out, he was grateful that it didn’t mist or rain. When he walked in, he noticed Jack had fallen asleep while in his recliner so he quietly carried in the groceries and put them away. He then went outside and called the numbers to the three schools Jack had written for him. He then looked over at the stove and noticed that his mother’s favorite tea kettle was on the counter beside it. He then looked over to the left and saw her favorite biscuit jar too–one she picked up when they went to Japan one year for a visit…She loved cranes and it had pictures of cranes on it.
He smiled and looked back at his father. “Dad you always strive to keep her alive around here. I suppose that’s good, but I’m grown now so should you decide to put out those beer steins out she didn’t like, I’ll think you want her to come back to haunt you!” he said softly as he remembered how mad his mother got at Jack for gambling to win them. She found out that they were worth a lot of money later and decided maybe she should leave him be over it. These spats always gave Stephan a laugh or two as a child.