The Dead: Book 18 (frag. 1)

Submitted by Ken Watts on Mon, 03/02/2009 - 14:47

HIS DEER GRAZED QUIETLY at the bottom of the hill. He let his eyes wander over the grass, the woodland below, with a quiet satisfaction.

The scent of coffee drifted on the breeze, and he caught Raymond's eye and glanced toward the pot.

Jewel squeezed his hand.

"How are you feeling?"

He squeezed back.

"Surprisingly well. Have you heard from Franklin?"

"He'll be here soon."

She nodded across the lawn.

"Look."

It was Susanne. She had come all the way from Harvard.

He smiled, touched.

"I told her she didn't have to. Not during the semester."

"Nonsense. And you know it. Do you think there was a chance she wouldn't come?"

"We had our moment, during her break."

"And you thought that would make a difference?"

He frowned.

"I guess not. But it feels thoughtless of me. I should have scheduled better."

"We've been over that. You couldn't have met everyone's schedule. And, besides, you didn't have endless options."

"Well, it's still above and beyond..."

"She wants to be here. She isn't just doing it for you."

She patted his hand.

"Just enjoy it, for God's sake."

He sighed, and nodded.

Raymond handed him a coffee. Susanne greeted Jeffrey and Tom, and the three of them wandered over.

Tom wrinkled his brow.

"How you feeling?"

"Tired of that question."

Then he laughed.

"Good, actually."

"You're sure that you want to..."

"To avoid feeling bad at the end? Yes. We've had this conversation."

Tom nodded.

"I'm not arguing—just checking."

Susanne patted his hand. They exchanged a smile.

He adjusted his oxygen supply, making it a bit higher than the doctor had recommended. Then he took a sip of his coffee. He nodded at Raymond, and the staff retreated to a respectful distance.

"Well, family, I have a few last things to say before Franklin arrives."

They exchanged glances, moved a little closer to him. He continued.

"You all know the terms of the will. I didn't want any surprises there. I just need to ask, one more time, if everyone is happy with my arrangements?"

Tom protested.

"Dad, we've had this conversation already."

"I know. I'm just checking, Thomas."

Tom chuckled.

"Fine."

"Any last minute problems?"

He surveyed their faces.

"Good. It puts my mind at ease."

Another sip of coffee.

"I want you each to know some things about me. First, I have had a damn good life. There's a lot to be said for inheriting wealth and power of course..."

He gestured toward the house, and the grounds below, the deer grazing at the edge of the lawn.

"Few people have the luxury of the kind of life I've lived, and of those, even fewer have the power to really appreciate it. Even fewer get to share it..."

Jewel suddenly sobbed. He patted her hand.

"Even fewer get to share it, first with a soul-mate like mine, and then with a family like mine."

He scowled at them all, but not seriously.

"Oh, stop the blubbering. I'm not trying to make you cry."

He paused, a tear running down his own cheek.