Flashback: This Is Farewell
The room was very still.
Carefully, Carmen settled herself at the bedside, reaching out almost instinctively for his grasp. His fingers curled feebly around hers, to acknowledge her presence, and she forced a tiny smile.
"Hola, querido." She whispered. "Es Carmen."
The brown eyes flickered open, taking a moment to focus on his surroundings.
"Carmen?" The word was barely more than a murmur, but Carmen nodded, tightening her grasp on his fingers.
"Yes, Esteban. It's me."
"Are you...are you alone?"
"Yes. The children are here too, but the doctor said you wanted a moment alone with me." Carmen ran a gentle finger across his wasted cheeks, her heart aching at the pain and weakness she saw reflected in his gaze. "What troubles you, Este?"
There was a moment of silence, then,
"Este..." Carmen bit her lip. "You know that we've tried. We've really tried. This last few months I've called everyone I knew, tried everything I could and you know you and your agent have done the same. There's no sign of her. No trace. It's hard enough searching a foreign country, but Natalie doesn't want to be found. I'm sorry...I feel I've failed you. But I don't know where she is."
Esteban lifted his hand clumsily to touch her thick curly hair, for once unstyled and loose over her shoulders. He smiled again.
"You were always most beautiful to me when your hair was like a gypsy." He observed softly. Carmen swallowed hard, aware that her husband's mind was prone to wandering.
"Este, please. The doctors said they thought it was important. That you'd said it was important. Something you wanted to ask of me?"
"Yes." Esteban lowered his hand. "Car, I'm not beyond comprehension. I know it's too late...I know she won't be here in time. But...but she is part of my family nonetheless. Do...do as you think is right as regards Copper and the others and what they know about her. But for me...for me, promise that if you ever do find her, you will explain to her why I can't speak to her face to face. Why...why I'm not there any more. And how hard I tried to find her."
"Oh, Este, you didn't need to call me here to say that. You know I will." Carmen's blue eyes filled with tears, but she fought against them falling. Carefully she bent to kiss his brow. "I promise. I would never let her think ill of you."
Esteban was silent for a few moments. His eyes flickered closed, and Carmen stroked his hand gently, knowing that her husband's frailty was growing ever greater. At length he opened his eyes again, grasping her hand loosely once more.
"Car, they have told me..." He faltered, then seemed to steel himself. "This...it might be the last time we speak."
Carmen's eyes widened in horror.
"Not so soon?" She begged. "Oh Este, please...not so soon as this! They said six months...they said..."
"I know...but the only thing I hate more than being like this is having to hear the pain in your voice at seeing me this way." Esteban said quietly. "If it's soon, I won't mind. I'm not really alive now, in so many ways. Better you and the children remember me for who I was, not who I am now."
"You are still the man I love, querido." Now Carmen's tears fell. "And you always will be. Whether it's now or...or six months from now."
She gulped them back. "It is a big thing you ask of me...to leave me alone in the world to show our children the best path."
"Yes, it is, and I'm sorry. But you're more than up to it."
"Am I?" Carmen shook her head, then, mindful of her husband's deteriorating eyesight, she sighed. "I don't think so. Copper has been very hard to reach this last fortnight. She won't take time from school, though I have spoken to three teachers about undone work and lack of attention in class. And when she's not here with you she shuts herself in her room. She doesn't eat and I don't think she sleeps much, either. She seems...so far away."
She bit her lip guiltily.
"And the last thing I should bother you with now is this. I just...can I reach her? She loves you so much, Este...she's always been your girl."
"Will you ask her to come in?" Esteban asked slowly.
"Yes, of course."
With some reluctance Carmen got to her feet, moving to the door of the little sideward and pushing it open, poking her head around it. For a moment her gaze fell on each of her three children in turn. Ten year old Rosita, her eyes big with fear and apprehension. Thirteen year old Luis, solemn and silent, lost in his own thoughts. And fifteen year old Copper, her red hair in two long plaits and her expression distant and unreadable. She swallowed hard.
"Copper?" She murmured. "Copper, Papa asks for you...will you come?"
Without a word Copper got to her feet, following her mother into the little sideroom.
"Copper?" Esteban whispered from the bed, and Copper came to sit beside him.
"Estoy aqui, papa." She agreed. "Mama said you wanted me."
"Car, will you let me speak to Copper alone for a few moments?" Esteban asked gravely. Carmen bit her lip but nodded, obediently withdrawing from the room. Once he heard the click of the door, Esteban reached out a weak fist for his daughter's grasp.
"Copper, chica, how are you?"
"That's a silly question to ask me." Copper said quietly. "How do you expect me to be?"
"Chica, do you not remember our talk? How you promised me to help and support your mother and I as much as you could?"
Silence, then a sigh.
"Yes. But...oh, Papa, it's so hard!"
"I know." Esteban paused, then, "Chica, listen. Sooner or later you know what must be. The doctors think it to be sooner, not later. Very soon...I will not lie to you. And when it does, it will be hard on you all. I know that and I wish I knew how to make it otherwise for you...but I don't."
"They said you had six months." Copper's voice wavered. "This isn't fair! They lied even about that!"
"No...they said three months for certain. Six if I was fortunate." Esteban chided her gently. "But to be honest, Copper, if it comes soon it will be more fortunate. If I am drugged I make no sense to any of you - if I am not, sooner or later the pain comes back. I don't want to live this way any more. Can I ask you...to let me go?"
"Copper, when you look out into the sky at night, what do you see?"
"Huh?" Copper stared, startled by his change of tack.
"In the sky. What do you see?"
"The moon. Stars. Clouds."
"Are they stars, niña? Or are they angels?" Esteban pressed. "My papa once told me that every star is one of God's angels watching over the people of the earth. When it is time, I will go to join them. Whenever you miss me, I will be there. This I promise you. I might not be here beside you, but I promise that I will always be with you in some way, watching you grow and make me so very proud."
Clumsily he wiped away the tears that had begun to spill softly down Copper's cheeks. "And I know that you will, my Copperita. I will be the proudest Papa in Heaven the day you are grown up and out in the world."
"It's hard to let you go." Copper said brokenly. "Nobody understands me in the same way you always have. Who will I go to with my problems when you're gone, Papa?"
"You and your mother must learn to help each other." Esteban said gravely. "This hurts her far more than she lets you see. She wants to be strong for you, for Luis and for Ros. She must. But she will need you as much as you will need her. Please, Copper. Be there for her and look after her as much as she will try to do for you. Then at least when I do leave you, I know you will all be safe."
Copper gulped back her tears.
"I promise." She said at length. "I promise to try, Papa."
"That is all I ask." Esteban returned softly. "Kiss me, chica. And ask your mother and Ros and Luis to come to me. I would like to have you all here with me...all together."
"Yes, Papa." With difficulty Copper did as she was bidden. She got to her feet, stumbling to the doorway. She met her mother's gaze, and in an instant, Carmen understood. Ushering Rosita and Luis to their feet, she shepherded them quietly into the little hospital room. As she passed her eldest, Copper put a frightened hand on her arm.
"It is now, isn't it?" She asked, terror and grief mingled in her eyes. Carmen took a deep breath. Then, slowly, she nodded.
"I think it is so." She agreed. "And we must be with him...it is what he wants. Come, chica. This is the last thing we can do for your father here on earth.
Let us at least do it as a family."
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