September 14th, 2014
The leaves were already changing, bringing with them the sharp, pungent smell of fall. Green became a color of the past, replaced with bright reds, oranges, yellows… Jensen Ackles leaned against his cane, his calves groaning in protest as he pushed himself up the small hill, the wooden bench coming into view. He felt a small smile perk at his lips, the first genuine smile he'd had in weeks.
“Hey, Jay,” he whispered, his voice raspy with age. His lungs were straining against the cool air, reminding him that summer was already long gone. He ran his fingertips along the bench, the worn wood warming to his touch. “I miss you,” he whispered.
He let the cane fall against the seat, sinking himself down, bones popping and creaking as his position changed. He sighed, relaxing into the back of the bench and let his eyes fall closed. A soft breeze blew around him, leaves that had already fallen dancing around his feet. He inhaled deeply and smiled again. The few rebellious rays of sunshine that had yet to dissipate into night were warming his face and he reached out beside him, forgetting for a moment he was alone.
Because he was now.
He looked up, smiling sadly as his oldest daughter made her way up the hill. His heart skipped a beat as he saw what she held in her hands and he pushed himself into a standing position to hug her.
“Jenna.” He smiled, kissing the top of her head. “Where are the kids?”
“I left them at home with Mark. I figured it would be best, just us, you know?” she answered and he watched the tears swimming in her eyes. He nodded. “Kaleb, Cameron, and Leigh are on their way.”
He looked over her shoulder, smiling again as he watched his three other children making their way up the hill, shoulders touching as they took comfort in one another. Although their family had always been close, it never failed to tug at something deep inside to see his children together.
“Hey Dad.” Cameron approached him first and he hugged each of his children in turn, squeezing their shoulders hard. He understood them as much as they did him. They were in this together; they always were.
“Ready?” he whispered, meeting each set of watery eyes in turn. “Let’s get Daddy home.” He turned and walked around the backside of the bench, knowing all four of them were following. He looked down at the old, broken stump; weather and time had eaten away at it, leaving the center of it completely destroyed.
Kaleb stepped forward with a shovel, using the wide, pointed blade to bite further into the rotting wood and deepening the hole until he met rich, dark soil underneath. When Kaleb had finished removing the larger pieces of decayed wood, Jensen smiled at him and gratefully accepted his son’s arm to help him to drop to his knees. His joints popped and screamed at him, pain shooting to his hips, but he didn’t care. He needed this, they needed this.
“Here, Dad,” Jenna whispered, handing him the small bundle. It was a small oak sapling that had been carefully guarded in the safety of their childhood home until it grew strong enough to survive on its own. He closed his eyes, willing his entire soul into its roots through the tips of his fingers; his strength, his love, his patience and undying devotion to his family and the ones he loved.
With arthritic, shaking fingers, he carefully untwisted the metal cord around the base of the tree, releasing it and the mesh fabric containing the roots. He slowly loosened them, working his fingers into the soil. He placed it carefully on the broken stump and looked up at his children, who were attentively watching his every move.
“Okay,” he said softly, smiling at them. He exhaled slowly, reaching into his deep coat pocket for the small urn resting there. He pulled it out, and lifted the cool metal to his lips, kissing it softly. “Love you,” he whispered before carefully prying off the top.
Bending low, he held the little urn above the hole in the stump, before cautiously upending it and letting the ashes spill out to mix with the rich, black earth. He resealed the urn carefully, setting it aside, before picking up the sapling again. He worked quietly, adding the sapling to the hole before back-filling the area with the dirt his son had dug out. Jenna moved beside him, using the watering can Cameron had carried to slowly pour water over the earth, mixing new life with death.
A sob above made him look up, a sad smile on his lips as he watched his youngest daughter Leigh turn into Cameron’s shoulder, clinging to her brother’s jacket as if her life depended on it. Perhaps, at this moment, it did. Jensen sat back on his heels, ignoring the pain it gave him, and looked at the tree, their tree, Jared’s tree.
“You have to promise--” he started before Kaleb cut him off.
“Dad, please. Don’t.”
“No. All of you, look at me.” He took in the three sets of green eyes before he met Jenna’s hazel ones, a pang going through his heart. “I need you to promise me that this tree will stay here. It needs to stay in our family, it has to. And when the time comes – Leigh, please.” He smiled sadly at the strangled noise she made and swallowed before pushing on, “When the time comes, this is where I want to be.”
“Dad… we wouldn’t have it any other way,” Jenna whispered, dropping to her knees beside him and wrapping her arms around his shoulders. “We would never separate you and Daddy.”
He smiled, leaning into her embrace. The five of them stayed there, looking at each other, the small tree, and nothing at the same time until the last bits of light disappeared from the sky.
“Come on,” Cameron said, pulling a flashlight from his pocket and flicking it on.
Jensen allowed his sons to help him get back up into a standing position, Leigh suddenly there with his cane. He smiled at her, grateful.
“I’ll be right there,” he promised softly with a small nod of his head. Jenna hesitated before handing him another small flashlight and reluctantly following her siblings back down the hill to the large farmhouse below. Jensen tried to keep his hand from shaking as he aimed the thin beam towards the little tree.
He made his way carefully around the stump, knowing from years of past experiences where each and every knotted root and hole were, before he came to the front of the bench again. He let his fingers dance over the back, over the sets of initials that were carved there. His flashlight strayed across the ground until it landed on the new addition to this spot, a grey marbled stone, set into the ground.
“I love you, Jay, and I’ll see you soon,” he whispered softly into the night, reading the words that glared back up at him. Now alone, with no expectations upon him, he finally let the tears fall. He stood there, crying silently until there was nothing left. Nothing left, except a promise. I’ll be with you, always.
July 19th 1944 – August 3rd 2014
Husband , Father , Son