A walk by the sea (72)

Lindy closed the door behind her without a sound. Her older son was fast asleep in his old bed, the one he had grown up in. With Christopher being away in India to shoot his third international movie hit, the family was significantly tattered, but the presence of Joshua, however forced by circumstance, was an unexpected gift so joyous that Lindy could do nothing more than be grateful for the events that led to his current state.

-Mom, I wasn’t asleep –Joshua emerged from the room, his hair tussled just like a child’s, his eyes sleepy.

Lindy smiled and took the arm of his son to lead him into the parlour. Seating him into the best place, by the fire, she switched off the main lights and turned on the small one by the window, which loaned an atmospheric rusty undertone to the room.

-I’ll make you a cup of coffee –she offered and while she was preparing the beverage, she glanced at Joshua over the kitchen counter.

He looked unmistakably thin, almost skinny. The light from his eyes had gone ever since the day she visited him in England: whatever happened between him and that woman, she will never know, but to suppose that Mary had been the sole cause of Joshua’s plightful condition would have been ridiculous. Lindy was notified about her son’s financial predicament by Jack, who had accidentally found out from a business partner, whose attorney worked for Capitol. That night, they lay for a long time in their marital bed, awake and alert, in complete misery. To contact Joshua right away was out of the question; from past experiences they were well aware of his pride and his desire for authority over his own life. But a week gone and still no sign of him was too much for a mother’s heart to bear and upon phoning Joshua, she detected gratitude in his voice.

Since then, he had been staying with the two of them.

-The first hearing is tomorrow, right? –she stated rather than asked, pouring coffee into two large mugs, adding milk and sugar to both of them.

-I still don’t think I stand any chance of winning –he passed a hand over his tired face. –Mr Burrows assured me that Daniel Holgers is probably the best in town but I keep wondering where I’ll get two more million in case I lose.

-We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, honey –Lindy handed him the coffee, seating herself next to him. –You have a place to stay, and once you’re free of this ordeal, you can start re-building your life.

-Mom, there are at least two statements in your reply I couldn’t disagree with more –Joshua slowly sighed. –I do not have a place to stay, and as for re-building my life… I just don’t know if I can give it a third shot.

Lindy sipped her coffee to buy herself time. He seemed so dejected, so much giving up on his life that it pained her to no end.

-You can count on us, no matter what –she firmly said, obstinately squeezing her lips. –This house is way too big for the two of us and even Chris’s family can stay over whenever they wish. We have seven rooms, for God’s sake.

-I’m soon thirty-four, mom… and I have no family of my own, no roof above my head, no career to speak of, and pretty soon, what is left of my saved money will barely cover the attorney’s fee.

-I hear you –Lindy squeezed her son’s knee with her free hand, entreating him to look at her. –But these are just numbers. Since when do you care about numbers so much?

-Since my life went bananas over a woman twice my age –Joshua chuckled and held his mother’s gaze.

The sadness behind his smirk was so scathing Lindy felt tears well up, and she couldn’t stop them. Tears for her wonderful son, the beautiful, generous and talented son who had the whole world on his palm only a few years earlier.

-I’m sorry, ma –he leaned closer and pulled her into a hug. –I’m such a selfish jerk, only thinking about me, me, me… I never wanted to involve any of you into this. I was gonna…

-You were gonna what? Start singing on corners of streets to collect two million dollars? –Lindy sniffled and the tension was temporarily broken by timid laughter from both of them.

-Not a bad idea… never occured to me –Joshua grinned and wiped the tears from his mother’s face. –Don’t cry mom, things will be alright… eventually…

-Is what I keep telling you –Lindy held both of his hands between hers, searching his eyes to find traces of certainty on his part. –You have to believe that you will be getting help from people who care for you… your family, for three… David, I am sure, will use his influence on a few bigshots… and Mr Burrows, he’s so very helpful.

-I know, I’m getting more help than I… –he cut off his own reply, looking away as if to stop words that would inevitably hurt his mother from coming out. –Look, ma, even if we win the case, and I go free, my name… will be all over the tabloids once again… how could I involve you into this, when you almost…

His voice trailed off. He let his head fall on the temple of four hands, intertwined in pain, wetting them with his own tears.

She was unable to speak, understanding the fears of a son for his mother: even during a time of utmost misery, a time when the fate of his whole life was at stake, he thought of those who loved him. She kissed the top of his messy hair and disentangling her hands, embraced him with her infinite love. He had always been like that, always putting the interests of others first. He still was her little Josh, unchanged.

-If you think you can protect us by pushing us away, you’re very mistaken –she smiled through her tears. –There’s nothing a parent won’t do for their child… remember that.

His head lay buried in the warm spot between her knees and her arms, as she hugged him to shelter him as much as she could, form everything evil. She knew she was helpless against the things larger than herself, the trial, the tabloids, the heartache he would keep feeling for a long time, but what little she could do, she would.

-The greatest happiness for me, my love, would be to give my life to save yours –she swallowed her tears, rocking him in her embrace.

His sobs stifled by his hands, he was but a little boy in her arms once again, sweet-tender moment of a bond stronger than anything else in the universe. She was hoping he would feel it too, the magic of the moment, despite his pain: that she really would grow wings if needed, that she would walk desert and ocean to stop harm from getting to him, her baby. She felt to powerful and potent, endowed with a strength almost superhuman. It scared her, the feelings she was feeling, frightened by the possibility of breaking her promise when the time came: what if she wasn’t strong enough when he needed her most?

And then, through the desperate sobs of her son who had gotten lost somewhere in the maze of life, she understood that the time was now, here. He needed her now, there was no more ifs or buts, he needed her most now, when she was thankfully there for him- and the realization filled her with gratitude.

Their tender moment was uninterrupted by Jack who stood on the side, watching with tears in his eyes the two hug each other.

After some time, she noticed her husband and motioned him to walk closer.

-Dad –Joshua lifted his tear-stained face, wiping his swollen eyes. –How was your day?

-The usual –Jack put on a straight face, playing along. –And how was yours, son?

-Oh, you know… a little soul-searching, some re-evaluating of old mistakes, weighing possibilities of going totally bankrupt and infamously tabloid-ized… the usual –Joshua shrugged and pulled a face, his eyes shining with genuine mirth.

Jack laughed and rubbed Joshua’s arm, then cupped Lindy’s face and gave her a kiss.

-I hate to see my family weeping like that –he concluded, smiling at both of them, his heart brimming with emotions. –Let’s pop some corn and watch a silly old movie together. The rest can come later, besides, there’s not much we can do, right? Let’s give the universe a chance to set things straight, son –he patted Joshua on the back.

-Wonderful idea –Lindy’s face lit up, to which Joshua’s eyes narrowed into his trademark sunshine-smile. He couldn’t help but wonder at the optimism of his folks, but he knew that he would have been totally lost without them.

-You know, one thing you could do is tell us more about how you met this Mr Burrows of yours… –Jack mumbled as he inserted the sachet of popcorn into the microwave.

Oh, he’s the ex-partner of my ex-partner, Joshua wanted to say, finding the words hilariously funny. Knowing he could not possibly say them.

-I met him at an art gallery –he spoke the truth, deciding to leave off the background information that would lead to countless questions. –Before that, he watched me perform, already offering me a record deal back then.

-Wonderful –Lindy stated, glancing at her husband who nodded.

-Indeed… he seems to be a regular guardian, popping out of nowhere like that –Jack ventured, eyes rounded and looking tellingly at his son.

Joshua laughed, his attention momentarily caught by the sounds of corn popping inside the micro. A guardian… what a random idea.

-I’ll go change, will you guys get me some hot water for tea? –Jack asked, lifting his suitcase from the counter.

She was already in the kitchen, while Joshua shuffled to the micro and opened its door. He mechanically emptied the bag’s hot and cheese-scented contents into an ancient wooden bowl they had always used for eating popcorn from. He felt his mom’s presence, her hand’s gentle squeeze on his arm when she walked past him on her way out.

Back in the old house, together with two of the people he loved most in the whole world, time seemed to stop. He knew the significance of the day ahead of him, he clearly recalled some of the most horrible moments he had ever lived through, emerging randomly from his memories, and his future stretched before him like a road with a thousand bumps, some of them large enough to hide the rising sun. And yet, despite all of that, he felt protected and safe, now. The taste of popcorn in his mouth, the click of the water boiler that signalled his dad’s tea water was ready, the familiar closing and opening of wardrobe doors from his parents’ bedroom, steps he would recognize from among a million- the feel of home, the odours and sounds of home that he had forgotten in a life he had chosen. They were all there to calm him, give him hope. He knew it. He tried focusing on them, on the words of his parents, taking refuge in the resolute manner in which Andrew had told him he was in the best hands possible, given the circumstances.

The hand he lifted to chase a small fly hit his beard even though his fingers were nowhere near his chin. Frowning, he rubbed his beard which felt long and soft. Walking over to the standing mirror in the hallway, he eyed himself in it, horrified by his dishevelled state.

-The beard has to go –his mom kissed his stubbly cheek and pulled him after herself to the parlour. –Your dad’s old electric shaver will do, and I’ll also trim your hair a little in the morning.

Joshua nodded, recalling the last time his hair was trimmed. He clearly remembered Mary’s paint stand and her paint-stained apron, her hastily tied bun, slightly lopsided on her head, the confused glances she was giving him after he returned from her bathroom, his beard all gone. The electric fireplace he was sitting by was nothing reminiscent of the real ones in England, and yet it brought back memories that would be the beginning of the happiest period of his life… except that he didn’t know it back then.

He shivered slightly and rubbed the sides of his two arms, then smiled at Jack who was already walking over with his old favourite kiddy blanket, the one with blurry sheep and clouds, undiscernible from each other. He used to call it the cloud-sheep throw.

-Thanks dad –he muttered and allowed himself the luxury of sinking into the warmth of bygone days as his father inserted one of their favourite movies, probably watched together for the fortieth time.