Six

The pine log crackled and hissed as it roasted slowly in the fireplace. The smell of burning sap was as pleasing and acrid as it was relaxing; the stress worked its way out of her tense, knotted shoulders as her husband's gentle hands worked their magic against her spine.

Three weeks, it had been. Three weeks since her Tom had spoken a word to her. It was a tragedy, to be certain, losing a child. But as a mother, she had to be concerned with her own offspring. Tom had broken down, suddenly and completely, though not unexpectedly. Losing a wife and a daughter in the space of less than a year would do worse to most; she was surprised he had managed to stave off the depression and fear this long. Tom had never been a strong boy; sweet and caring, but never strong.

Maybe it was that he hadn't fought it off this long. Maybe this was just the tip of the iceberg, pushing through the usually calm and pleasant demeanour. It worried her more than the pain of losing a grandchild.

Her son.

In pain.

Soul-searing, gut-wrenching emotional agony.

Rachel had always been his anchor. Without her, he was lost. Flailing, without a grip on reality. How could he go on like that?

The thought alone tightened and bunched the muscles of her shoulders, her husband tsking in the background as he continued massaging her weary old bones. Reaching up and over her shoulders, she took his hands gently and held them tight. "I appreciate it, love, but it's not going to help right now." She glanced back, head cocked, eyes locking on her husband's. Forty years of marriage had a certain way of making banter unnecessary.

Harold looked her in the eyes carefully, deeply, his world-weary gaze peering through her outer facade and seemingly deep into her being.

"I understand, my sweet. That wasn't just for your benefit, you know. Giving you a good back rub has always helped me to regain my focus. Clear my head. You know that."

Iris nodded. She realized that he was doing it as much for himself as he was for her. She leaned back suddently, resting heavily against her husband's knees, thinking of her only son. The miracle baby she'd birthed when she'd been told she was too old to produce a child. Tom was her life, as much as Harold was. She couldn't let him grieve alone, as much as he wanted to distance himself from the rest of the family. She could only imagine the tormet he was going through right now.

She had to help. Standing by impotently was never Iris' style.

"Hand me the phone, dear. I need to speak with him."

Harold laid the phone in her waiting palm without a word.

The End

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