The funeral was short. I wished I could spend hours making it perfect for Shayleen, but my head knew more than my heart felt. I needed to get Melody and Lillian to safety before nightfall. So, I dug her grave in the flower garden. She would have liked that. I knew she would have. They paled in comparison to her beauty, of course, but to her they were the most beautiful thing of all.
The ordeal was not possible for Timothy Stevens the husband, so I had to be Timothy Stevens the father. Even then… I had barely managed to move and bury Shayleen. I made the girls stay in the basement while I worked, of course. They had already seen her, so I wasn’t worried about scarring them, I just… I didn’t want them to see me cry.
“Shayleen,” I said, kneeling on top of her freshly made grave, “I promise I’ll take care of our family.” I wiped my cheeks as the tears started to pour down. In my past, I would have scorned any who cried over emotions. I was not the same now. I couldn’t stop crying. “I swear I will see you again. It’s like you told me; God will let us meet again in Heaven. I’ll keep believing like you believed in me. I’ll stay on the right path. I won’t go astray again.”
I stayed there for maybe an hour. I couldn’t afford to stay longer, but it also took me most of that time to simply stop my tears. Of course, the pulsing pain in my heart was something I didn’t think would ever let up. Part of me was glad for it. It was proof that Shayleen was still with me, in a way. I needed that connection.
Melody and Lillian were dressed and ready to go shortly after I cleaned the blood I had somehow got on myself off. The sight of them as we walked away from our simply farmhouse made me more confident. So long as they lived, I knew Shayleen was still here. She lived on inside them. I had to remember that. After all, she might be mad if I didn’t smile for them.
“Yes, Melody?” I looked down at my eldest daughter as I spoke. She was the spitting image of her mother at only ten years of age. Brown hair curled around her face and deep blue eyes that mirrored mine peeked out from Shayleen’s youthful face.
“Mama protected us.”
I nodded, feeling a tinge of pride. Shayleen… You really were amazing. “She was brave and full of love, Melody. She loved you girls enough to give her life for you.” God, please don’t let me cry here…
“I know, I just wanted you to know.” Melody, bless her, gave me a smile. She had cried before, so maybe she already came to term with everything… She always had been the brightest of any child – or man – that I had seen.
I turned to Lillian and tried to keep my smile from faltering. Lillian still wore her blank expression. Usually, she was a very active girl and a tomboy at heart. She looked more like me, with black hair that was combed back out of her face. She would be beautiful when she grew up. She even had her mother’s deep green eyes.
“Lilly, I’m going to protect you like Mama protected us all.”
“OK, Papa,” Lillian mumbled, clutching the small bag full of bread.
I decided to deal with Lillian later. I loved her, but my first priority was getting them to safety. Shayleen would know what to say to fix everything but I was at a loss for how to soothe a little girl’s heart, even if that girl was my own daughter. Safety first.
My crossbow hung over my back, along with a spear. Thanks to years hunting with Austin White, I had grown used to carrying a lot of supplies, including the weapons. I carried wrapped meat and bottled jam for the bread Melody and Lillian carried. We would head to a cave I used to camp while I was hunting. It wasn’t far out, but I was still afraid that night might come faster.
No, that mustn’t happen! We had to make it.
For hours we journeyed. I had to force myself to try to make conversation with the girls, lest I fall into the abyss known as despair. With Shayleen gone, I was getting closer to the edge. It was tempting to just throw myself over, honestly. It was better to let myself feel the anguish than move on, surely? But no, I had my daughters counting on their father.
In the distance, I saw a familiar tree. The cave was close. Safety was close.