It was pretty late at night when Elder returned home from Plum Day celebrations. Everyone had already gone to bed, except for his dad Dia and sister Easter Lily.
“Heya son,” said Dia, “I’m just making your sister a snack. Stay and visit with us for a while – tell us about your trip!”
Elder was happy-exhausted and talking a hundred miles a minute. It was a bit hard to make out some of the details, but the overall takeaway was that Plum Day was “totally awesome.”
Easter had some news of her own to share (which Elder was not at all surprised by – they’d been staying in an adjoining room and you might say the house has ‘thin walls’) – she and Jarrett were expecting their first baby!
Finally pooped out, Elder told his family good night and went to sleep.
The next morning Elder woke up in his own bed, just like he’d done a thousand times before. Normally he wasn’t one for angst, but this morning something just felt off. Something important was missing, and it hurt his heart.
Like the tides he found himself drawn towards Edelweiss. He could always count on his sister to maintain clarity. Of anyone he knew, she was the most in tune with herself and her surroundings. You know those times when you’re in a room and the air just feels wrong all of a sudden – you can’t put your finger on it, but you feel like something’s about to happen? Growing up, whenever he felt that way he could just look over at her and the answer would be there in her face. So he really leaned on her now.
Ede had him sit and eat and tell her all about it.
“I can’t stay here,” Elder declared hopelessly.
Ede smiled. “I know.”
You see, Elder wasn’t ready to come back; he wasn’t done “living” yet. Ede suspected as much.
“So,” Ede posed, “how do we get you where you need to go?”
Elder told Ede about an experimental Leadership program he’d heard about that was looking for more male participants. Another person who was at Plum Day had left for the program just about the time he arrived. It had sounded like the perfect interim self-exploration kind of opportunity for him. There was still one day left to apply to the program. Ede sat with Elder as he completed his application. He had to rush, so he basically poured his innards out for the application committee without much filtering at all.
Being so open about his living situation had left him feeling a bit embarrassed, but also, somehow, it gave him a sense of closure ~ whatever happened next, it wouldn’t be because he held anything back! And that was a welcome change.
To take his mind off the anticipation of waiting for an answer, Elder called his neighbor and good friend Landon over – he knew he’d want to catch up on all the juicy happenings at Plum Day. Plus, he kind of missed the guy.
Landon was kind of obsessed with woohoo – it’s just the age, I think. Elder told him about some of the conversations he’d had with folks at the Houseful of Hippies. His argument with Forrest that turned into a friendship, and his heart-to-heart with CathyTea about waiting for love. Landon thought he heard an exploitable spark there, which he shamelessly used to turn the chess game to his favor.
“Oh, she the one with the brown hair, who’s standing right over there?” fibbed Landon.
A few hours and several chess games later, Elder got the email he’d been waiting for.
“You are receiving this because your application for the social experiment–The Desert Leaders–has been selected. Congratulations. You are going to be a part of something much larger than yourself.”
He read and reread that first part; his heart was beating so fast! And then he read on, and it felt as though it were being squeezed by a big fist.
If he wanted to keep his spot in the program, he would have to leave tomorrow.. and arrive in his Young Adult form.
Trouble is, he’d miscalculated the time left before his birthday and he wasn’t actually going to be old enough in time. Elder was crestfallen. But his sister wasn’t giving up just yet.
Elder had forgotten. I mean, of course he hadn’t forgotten, forgotten — he and Ede had skipped out on an unwanted birthday party by making their own cake early. They even got to miss that day of school. It was awesome!
He could do that again – of course he could!
Elder hopped up from the desk and got to work while Ede and Landon stood guard.
Ede and Landon had a rocky past between them, but things had mostly worked themselves out. The two were able to joke and get along again, at least. Poor sweet Landon still carries a torch for her, but (so far) Ede has managed to restrain her romantic impulses.. at least, I *usually* manage to cancel the worst of them in time. ;D
Most people would extend their youth to cling to life, but this would be the 2nd time that Elder Wolff accelerated his own aging process to “catch” his. With his two closest friends beside him, he leaned in and blew his past a kiss goodbye, and said hello to his future.
There was no packing that needed doing, since he hadn’t actually unpacked, but Elder did have one last item he needed to resolve before he left.
Elder didn’t know how to tell his mom that he was leaving. He didn’t want to hurt her. It seemed so selfish, with one pregnant relative and another nearing the end of his life, that he would even consider going away again already. But somehow, everything happening at the house right now made it feel even more important that he go. He could only hope that she would come to understand.
Elder meant to somehow articulate all of this when he sat down to talk with Cooper, but what came out instead reflected the other thing he had on his mind right now.
“Did you ever regret being with dad, instead of someone closer to your own age?” Elder asked his mom.
“Not for a minute,” answered Cooper without hesitation.
“Not even now, that he’s so old and you’re still so young?” He continued, troubled, “I mean, was it worth it, knowing it has to end and you’ll be alone?”
Cooped regarded her son closely before answering. “Your father is one of a kind, Elder; there will never be another like him. He is everything I ever wanted or needed in a friend, or in a husband. He gave me you! And your sisters, and soon, a beautiful grandbaby. I won’t be *alone* and neither will any of you, ever, because of that.”
Elder seemed to be hearing her, so Coop went on, “You might not know this, but your grandmother was much older than your grandfather, too. Yet they loved more in the short time they were together than most people who spend their whole lives together do. It’s hard when that time ends, but that doesn’t erase the good parts.”
“Besides,” she continued with a smirk, “I don’t know if you noticed, but I can be a bit of a bear sometimes. Dia never made me feel like less of a person for it. If anything, he celebrated my faults in a way that let me work past them instead of having them define me — I wouldn’t be the same person without that! Elder, you come from a long line of incredible men and there is nothing I would do to go back and change any of it.
But to answer your original question: love, real love, follows its own schedule. And it’s always worth it.”
Cooper sensed that there was more to her son’s soul-searching than random curiosity, but she wasn’t one to press matters of the heart. If there was anything she’d learned during her life with his father, it was patience.
Her words had resonated with Elder, she didn’t need to know the details to know that. She knew she could never replace his sister Edelweiss as a general confidant, but Elder’s own heart aligned more with his mother’s in this arena.
But, oh crap, Elder still hadn’t actually told Cooper what he needed to tell her.
“Mom, I have to tell you something.”
Coop smirked. “Oh? Go ahead, then”
Elder felt like a steaming pile of poop at this point. Cooper let him squirm for a minute before giving him a break.
“I know you’re going away again, son,” Cooper confessed. “It’s okay. I already talked with your sister about it while you were away at the festival.”
“Really? Why didn’t you say anything??”
“I figured you’d tell me when you were ready,” shrugged Coop.
“Oh god,” laughed Elder, “I’m still not sure I’m ready to tell you, even now that you already know. I can’t believe you let me squirm like that!”
Coop laughed too. “Come, hurry and give your mother a hug. Your dad made you some sandwiches for the road.”