Chapter XXV: A Friend Departs

The last time Harwood saw Juan Darer, his best friend was on a Sunday morning. Juan invited him over and Harwood was lucky enough to get a babysitter for Billy. Christie Snodgrass was a high school student but she came highly recommended and Harwood liked what he saw of her behavior with Billy, at least when he was around. And he could always trust Rookie to keep an eye on her. His little dog had grown and was fiercely loyal, Harwood trusted him to keep the house safe at all times.

When he came up the hill to Juan’s house he was greeted by small barks, it seemed Rookie had gotten even more brothers and sisters from the look of things up there, there were Cinammon’s little puppies everywhere.

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Juan led him to the kitchen and served him a cold beer. Harwood tried to protest saying it was too early but Juan was having none of that. He had a beer himself and sat next to Harwood. “You have been a good friend Harwood. Before and when you came back. I could always count on you no matter what. There is only one more thing I will ask of you and that is too take my dogs when I go. Most of them are just little puppies they need humans, and my Cinammon, she is a spoiled little devil.” He said in his deep voice, and thick Twinbrook accent focusing his dark grey eyes on Harwood’s.

Harwood shifted on the plastic chair uncomfortably. “I am glad to hear you appreciate my friendship, I am sure I could have done better… I could have stayed in touch, I…” Juan just dismissed him with a careless wave of his hand.

“It’s all in the past my dear friend. I have understood and forgiven you. You had your dreams to follow and you did well… A great artist, with a little boy… Wish I had seen the little bugger grow…” He smiled a warm and pleasant smile and Harwood felt his heart harden.

“Juan is everything okay?” He asked in a small voice. Juan looked away in the distance before turning to face Harwood again.

“It is Lacey.” He said quietly. “She calls for me Harwood. Soon we will be together again. I feel it in my bones and in my very soul. ” He took a deep breath. “I spoke to Milly about it and she understands, she knows my Lace had been my one true love and when she calls I have to go to her- I have to…” Harwood doubted Milly understood anything. From what he heard from Dilly, Billy’s mother her mother was far gone, trapped in her dementia. But he kept silent. He hated when Juan would get like this, talking about his dead wife as if she was here but there was nothing he could do to dissuade him so he kept his mouth shut. He hoped Juan was wrong. He had to be wrong. Dead wives don’t come back and take you with them yet the certainty with which he had spoken chilled him whole.

“So you promise, you will take my dogs?” Juan asked when they said goodbye half an hour later.

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“I promise.” Harwood said. They shook hands and Harwood had gone home to his son. He found a way for them to spend time together while he did his art. He made a life size ice sculpture of Billy. Both him and Rookie seemed to be really amazed once it was finally done. Rookie sniffed it curiously and Billy touched it with his little hands eagerly. It made Harwood smile fondly. He displayed it on the porch, knowing it would soon melt but nevertheless it was a nice reminder of how fleeting everything was, life, memories… Soon his Billy would grow up too, his baby like form will melt away just like this statue… There was no way to preserve this moment except in their heads. Everything ends.

Such were Harwood’s thoughts that day. Maybe it was due to his talk with Juan, and maybe it was just old age. It is normal that you spend more time thinking about the passage and time and death as you grow older. That was the case with Juan, for sure. Harwood persuaded himself. And while Harwood’s way of expressing these feelings was creating ice sculptures Juan talked about ghosts and his great love, his wife Lacey.

Yet despite all his assurances Harwood’s phone started ringing one night, a week and a day after the last time he had seen his best friend. He jumped out of his bed and ran into the living room carefully checking on Billy who looked at him from his little crib.

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“Sleep tight little one. Everything is okay.” He whispered as he hurried to the phone.

“Harwood Clay?” A female voice spoke as he answered the phone.

“Yes.” Harwood said in a voice he barely recognized as his own. It was midnight according to the digital clock on the phone. Whatever it was the chances the news he was about to hear would not be good.

“Are you a friend or a relative of Juan Darer?” The female asked.

“A friend.” Harwood said his heart beating strongly.

“I am sad to inform you that Mr Darer is dead.” The woman said. Everything else became a daze. Harwood remembered barely a word being said, as if from far away he remembered the woman saying Juan had a heart attack at the grocery store, he was brought to the hospital where he passed away.

That very morning Harwood climbed up the hill to Juan’s now empty home to keep the last promise he had made to his best friend but when he came up there he was greeted by nothing but chilling silence. It reminded him of how much he had hated that place, with its ghosts and horrible memories. He searched the whole house and the surrounding bushes but of Cinammon and her pups there was no trace. As he stood looking over his hometown a thought occurred to him that maybe, how ever improbable it was Lacey had indeed come and took both her dear husband and his whole litter of dogs to some nicer world, a nicer place… And with his whole heart he hoped it was true, he hoped his friend had finally  found his way back to his wife, unburned from the guilt that travelled with him from the day she had died. He hoped he was happy at last.

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