Flash Fiction: Invisible Strings – Part 11

This entry is part 11 of 14 in the Flash Fiction: Invisible Strings

Written in 58 minutes.


Cameron nearly fell asleep at the dinner table that evening, his head listing to the side until he gave up and put his head on his arms. Elizabeth would have been mortified by his manners but she was a bit tired herself, and Jason only seemed to laugh and lift the little  boy in his arms.

“I’ll take him up,” Jason told her as she rushed to her feet. “You finish eating—”

“Oh, I’m done,” Elizabeth assured him, a bit uncertain at the quick change in her husband’s demeanor. Jason had spent so little time with Cameron, though he’d been unfailingly kind and gentle with the little boy. Today, anyone observing the two of them might have mistaken Jason for Cameron’s father. Right now, Cameron was tucked into Jason’s arms, his head cradled against Jason’s shoulder, looking every inch the warm and loving parent.

Was it just for the day? Jason had promised them one day a week, but what about all the rest of them? And the promised dog? Things were changing so very quickly and she didn’t know how to manage all the emotions swirling inside.

“I can tuck him in if you carry him,” Elizabeth offered, following Jason towards the stairwell, her hands fluttering uselessly. Did she think she expected him to do this? Oh, she was trying so hard not to make any demands on him—

“I can do it. I should do it.” Jason paused, turned back to look at her. “Unless you don’t want me to.”

“Oh, no.” She chewed on her bottom lip. “It’s just that I don’t want you to think you have to—”

“I don’t,” Jason assured her, and then disappeared up the stairs. If she followed him, would that make him angry, she wondered? Or would he think she didn’t trust him with her son?

She did, though that felt like a foolish decision. No more foolish than traveling across the country, then marrying a man who hadn’t sent for her in the first place, she reminded herself. She’d trusted Jason with her own life and happiness—and Cameron’s. If he wanted to hurt either of them, he’d have done so all ready.

Oh, she was getting herself worked up and worried over nothing, Elizabeth decided, irritated with herself. She returned to the dining room to stare at her half-eaten food, her stomach lurching at the thought of finishing her meal.

“Are you done, darling?” Alice asked, bustling in to gather up the dirty dishes from Cameron and Jason’s places. “Did Mister Jason take the young master up to sleep?”

“Yes. Yes.” Elizabeth flashed the housekeeper a quick smile, who had been nothing but kind and warm to them both. “He all but fell asleep at the table. I’m so sorry he didn’t each much—”

“Boy eats like a horse at every other meal,” Alice said, her good-natured smile causing Elizabeth’s own to deepen and feel more genuine. “And I saw what a good time he had today. All tuckered out.”

“Yes, Jason was very kind to spend so much with him today,” Elizabeth said. She picked up her fork and pushed at a piece of meat. “Thank you for all that you do for him. You’ve been just as wonderful—”

“He makes it easy,” the housekeeper replied. “You’ve done well with him, Missus, if you don’t mind me saying so. And he’s come into Mister Jason’s life just at the right time. My boy needs some light and laughter in his life.”  Her expression dimmed. “We all do.”

Elizabeth’s breath caught at the reminder that the boisterous woman had lost much in the cholera epidemic that had swept through the town and decimated Jason’s family. He’d told her Alice had lost her own. “He’s always kept my spirits high. I’ve been most fortunate. Being his mother has been a blessing when I’ve needed it most.”

“Children will do that to you,” Alice said, stacking her own. “My boy, Ryan—” Her voice faltered. “He had a wicked smile and a set of dimples. Couldn’t stay angry with him. He was going to be a doctor, you know. Had it all set to head to San Francisco for the schooling. Mister Edward was going to pay for it.”

“Oh, Alice—”

“Good that I had Mister Jason to look out for after all of that,” she said briskly, shifting the conversation back. “He spent so much time worried over his grandmother and that cousin—I moved out here to make sure someone worried over him.” Alice’s smile returned. “And now he’ll be looked after, too. You’ll take care of him, won’t you?”

“I will,” Elizabeth said, though not entirely sure how to keep that promise.

——

Jason laid Cameron into the bed, carefully to lay his head against the pillow. Then unlaced the shoes and removed his stockings. It wouldn’t do much harm to sleep in his clothes, Jason decided. He found the rag doll on the table next to the bed and laid him in the crook of Cameron’s elbow.

Elizabeth had looked so surprised when Jason had offered to put her son to bed, another note of his failure to do more. He’d promised to look after Cameron as his own, hadn’t he? Jason perched on the edge of the bed, watching as the boy’s chest rose steadily, his breathing remaining even and deep.  That was the promise Dillon had made in those wretched letters, the promise that had lured Elizabeth away from the world she’d known her whole life and travel across the country.

And Cameron was easy to like. He had a brash smile, a sunny nature, and was so grateful for every morsel of attention that Jason wanted to give him more.

But looking at the sleeping child brought back other feelings. Other memories that Jason had wanted to remain buried. It wasn’t Cameron or his mother’s fault that the little  boy had the same sunny blond hair that Michael had. Or that, at the age of four, he was the age Michael would have been if he’d lived. Or that this room, with the smaller bed, had once been Michael’s.

None of that was Cameron or Elizabeth’s responsibility, only Jason’s burden to manage.

Today, when Cameron had gone beneath the water, sputtering, Jason’s heart had leapt, started to race in his chest, even as he’d forced himself to laugh and drag Cameron back to the surface. Little boys were fragile. Children were fragile. They sickened easily.

Jason exhaled softly, then turned down the lamp on the side table. He’d loved his nephew every day of the two years they’d been given with him. More any other loss they suffered, Michael’s had lingered in his thoughts. His tiny body had been so wracked with the disease, and he hadn’t truly understood what was happening to him. He wasn’t old enough to be told, to take medicine—he hadn’t even been old enough to know that he wouldn’t live. On his last day, with his last words, Michael had wanted to go outside and play.

Jason ruffled Cameron’s soft hair, then rose to his feet. He’d thought of becoming a father after Michael’s birth, of having a child of his own that would be with him all the time, but after losing the little boy, for all that he’d promised his grandmother—he hadn’t looked to start his own family very hard. He hadn’t wanted to let anyone else in his life.

He left the room and found Elizabeth at the top of the stairs, her hand resting on the carved knob on the railing. “He’s still asleep if you want to look in on him.”

“No, I—” Elizabeth met him in the middle of the hallway, her gaze searching his. “Thank you. For today. He’ll remember it forever.”

Jason’s chest tightened. He didn’t like the way her words sounded, though he knew she meant them genuinely. They sounded so…temporary. “I hope he won’t,” he said, his tone more rough than he meant. Her eyes widened. “I hope he’ll have so many days like it that one won’t stand out.” And that Cameron would have so many days in a long, well-lived life, that one hot summer day spent in the lake wouldn’t even rank.

Elizabeth smiled, and his heart leapt, because she understood what he’d meant. “I wish for the same. For his happiness to be so complete and constant that he won’t have to cling to one moment, but all of them. Then I thank you for myself. I’ll remember it always.”

Jason nodded. That was better. “So will I.” He rest his hands at her waist, drawing her against him. “It was good out there on the lake. The three of us,” he added. “I felt—” He cleared his throat. “Like we were a family. For the first time.”

“So did I. I’ve felt quite married,” Elizabeth added, and he knew her cheeks were flushing, and he grinned at that. “But it wasn’t the same as feeling…” She squinted. “Connected. I don’t know if that quite make sense—”

“It does.” He slid one of his arms around her waist and turned her in the direction of their bedroom.

“I want you to know that your happiness is important to me,” Elizabeth blurted out, stopping at the doorway to the room, standing in the middle of it. Her eyes were wide. “You’ve given so much to me, to Cameron. Our lives are so different, so much better,” she hurried to add. “And I am very grateful—”

Jason grimaced, and her expression. “I only meant—”

“I know what you meant.” And Jason didn’t hold it against her. He only wished he could see inside of her mind. To know exactly where gratitude stopped and affection, if it existed, began. “I am happy,” he said instead, because he could think of no good way to ask someone, even his own wife, if she cared for him. He leaned down to brush his mouth against hers. “I promise you.”

A few days later, after completing his work at the jail, Jason went to his grandmother’s house.

“Hello, darling.” Lila beamed as Jason kissed her cheek. “I haven’t seen you in a few weeks. I hope that means you and Elizabeth have quite settled.” Her eyes narrowed. “Even though your cousin says you’ve mostly kept your terrible schedule here in town—”

“That’s one of the reasons I’ve come by,” Jason told her, squeezing her hands. “I want to spend more time at the ranch so I’ve already informed the council I won’t be standing for another term. And they’ve agreed to hire another deputy so that I can take more time now. I’ve promised a day a week, but I want more.”

“Oh.” Lila brightened. “Well, that’s quite all right. You have your family to care for, just as I wanted for you. And you’ll bring them dinner on Sundays.” She paused. “Just like before.”

Before the cholera. Jason had come every Sunday after church for the meal, to spend time with his grandparents, parents, and sister Emily. And if AJ and his wife were in San Francisco, he’d taken Michael back to the ranch for a few days to make sure someone was taking care of him.

It would never be like before. After the disease had nearly taken everyone, Jason had moved in for a while and then stopped by every day after he’d gone back to the ranch, once he’d been appointed sheriff.  The last few weeks had been longest time he’d spent away from his grandmother in years.

“Just like before,” Jason said, because it was what Lila wanted to hear. “I wanted to ask you for some ideas for Elizabeth. She hasn’t said much to me, but I know she’s been restless during the days and even when I’m back on the ranch, there will still be work to tend to. I’d like her to feel part of the family. There are some responsibilities I know you’ve wanted to ease back on.”

“What a lovely idea, and so very thoughtful of you.” Lila patted Jason’s hand. “I’ll bring it up at dinner. Oh, I had Dillon put together some toys to take out to the ranch, some things from the nursery that might be appropriate for Cameron—”

From the nursery. Michael’s toys. Jason shook his head. “No,” he said abruptly, not wanting one more thing that belonged to his nephew at the ranch. He wanted Cameron to have his own things without memories tied to them. “No,” he repeated more gently when his grandmother looked upset. “He’ll need them for the visits here,” he reminded her. “You want him to come often, don’t you?”

“Oh.” Lila brightened. “Of course. When Elizabeth comes to town, she can leave him with me. You’re always so thoughtful, my dear.”

That wasn’t true at all, but Jason didn’t want to press it. He made promises to being Elizabeth and Cameron for the next Sunday, then went home a few hours before the sun dipped down, before supper would be served, surprising Elizabeth by offering to show Cameron some of the basics of fishing that very evening.

He’d never taken Michael fishing, Jason thought, as his stepson skipped down the path towards the pier and the lake. This would be one more thing that belonged just to Cameron. To his children, Jason decided, as Cameron shot him a sunny smile, his blue eyes dancing with excitement. It was time to get on with his life and make new memories.

Comments

  • I had forgotten about this story the update was great. I’m glad they are getting to know each other and that Cameron is pulling them together.
    Lila is so kind I wonder what she is going to find for Elizabeth to do.

    According to Pamela Hedstrom on December 28, 2022
  • Just the perfect salve to soothe the soul. So glad to see this story return. I do love how you capture the cadence of the story with the dialogue, making it unique to each story yet still so true to the characters that span storylines.

    According to LivingLiason on December 28, 2022
  • I hope Elizabeth and Jason can start to feel relax around each other. I want them to be happy and in love. Hopefully Jason can get past losing Michael. I’m glad you are starting new chapters for this story.

    According to Carla D Pettenger on December 28, 2022
  • So glad this one is back. I love period pieces and Jason and Liz are still tip toeing around each other.

    According to leasmom on December 29, 2022
  • So happy this is back! What a great update. They work so well together but true to their original characters are so terribly insecure about themselves. Hopefully they can get out of their heads and be more open with each other.

    According to Stephanie on December 29, 2022