Memorials had never been John's favorite thing. Sure, he understood the importance of remembering and honoring the dead; he was just never comfortable with the emotional pain and sense of quiet reverence. So when Rodney twitched and looked unhappy at dinner and said, "It's Marie's birthday tomorrow, we're visiting the cemetery in the morning," even John thought it was odd when he asked, "Can I come?"
Rodney gave him a stare, then glanced at Timmy, who shrugged his shoulders and said, "Okay."
In the morning, John dawdled in the shower, making sure Rodney dressed first so he could follow his choice of attire. Brown trousers, blue shirt, not too dressed up but not scruffy either. Good. John pulled on black trousers and a green shirt.
The day was lovely, clear blue skies and a pleasantly warm temperature, and John wasn't sure if that made everything better or worse. They piled into Marie's white truck, Timmy in the middle, and they wouldn't fit in a few years, when Timmy grew too large to squeeze in between the two of them.
The grass in the cemetery was immaculate except for the regular pockmarks of tombstones, many of them accompanied by flowers or small souvenirs. Hanging back, John watched as Timmy and Rodney approached Marie's grave. The bouquet in Timmy's arms was almost too large for him to carry. They talked quietly for a time before Rodney drifted back to John, leaving Timmy whispering secrets to his mother.
"I wanted to cremate her," Rodney blurted out, softly but half-angry. "She's not there."
"Her parents objected?" John asked sympathetically.
Rodney shook his head. "They weren't involved. This is what she wanted. We bought the plot together. It was horrendous. And Timothy - Timothy needs to come here."
John flattened his palm on Rodney's back, offering what comfort touch could provide, trying to imagine shopping for a cemetery plot with someone who had cancer. 'Horrendous' probably didn't even begin to cover it. "You just come on her birthday?"
"Her birthday, mother's day, the day of her death, and at least once around Christmas," Rodney answered wearily.
"I didn't notice you guys going around Christmas last year."
"You and Ronon had gone lumber shopping."
"Oh," was all John responded, remembering the trip to Home Depot when he and Ronon had priced out new kitchen cabinets to determine whether to invest time in restoring the old ones. Restoration had won out, though sometimes John wished it hadn't. Refinishing the cabinets had been really tedious.
"Do you want to say anything to her?" Timmy asked, having approached John without his awareness.
He didn't, not really, but he'd spoken to Mitch's Mom and Dex's parents, and Timmy seemed to expect it. There were things you just did whether you wanted to or not, one of the few sentiments he shared with his dad. "Sure," he said, taking Timmy's hand and walking back to the grave, dropping one knee to the grass. Marie Renee McKay, Beloved Wife and Mother, it said, with dates of a life ended too soon. "Hi Marie," he said softly. "I'm sorry I never had a chance to meet you, but I wanted you to know that I'm going to take good care of Timmy and Rodney."
"And Ginger. And I told her about Einstein."
"And Ginger and Einstein," he added.
Timmy leaned against him, and John wrapped an arm around him. Resting on the grass, touching the white tombstone, the flowers were an explosion of color, red and pink roses, yellow daisies, something orange that John thought was a type of lily, a few purple irises. "I bet she'd really like those flowers."
"She loved all kinds of flowers, so we always get a bunch of different ones. The roses are from our bushes and we bought the others at the florist yesterday." Timmy seemed okay, expression somber but eyes calm, the routine or perhaps the passage of time relieving the grief.
"Breakfast?" Rodney suggested, resting one hand on John's shoulder.
John stood, sliding an arm around Rodney's waist, giving him a squeeze, keeping his other hand on Timmy's shoulder. "Waffles sounds good to me."
"I want pancakes, Dad."
"Hey," John said, squatting a bit, and Timmy took the hint, leaping a little to get on John's back, his arms tight around John's neck. Clasping Timmy's thighs, John pulled him up, settling him in a comfortable position on his back. They walked away from Marie's grave debating the best restaurant for both pancakes and waffles. As they approached the truck, John could see their reflections, Timmy's serious face peering over his shoulder, starting to show his tilted smile, the sadness in Rodney's blue eyes beginning to clear as they got absorbed in discussing where to eat.
His family now, and he was glad to be here for them, to take care of them. John hoped Marie knew he would make good on his promise.