He learned to walk in the clearing between me and the creek. Carly brought him as she promised to do. Those first few cycles of the seasons, when I witnessed him transform from that round, sleepy bundle in her arms to a giggling baby scooting on his hands and knees to this scrappy, ready-to-go boy, were the best of my years. Nothing could surpass the pleasure of it. I guarded his perfect face from the glare of the sun. I watched with anxious hope as he took his first steps then, in what seemed like no time at all, began to run and tumble over the bumps of the earth that surrounded me. I swung my boughs in the wind, inviting him to grab hold and lift his little feet from the ground.
I saw his father in his eyes and smile; heard his father in his laugh. His mother noticed it, too, of course. Bittersweet and beautiful, her still waiting for William’s return, she’d set down her papers and pen to watch him play. On picnic days, she talked of nothing but William while the new boy chewed his sandwiches and apples. Stories to make him smile, make him laugh, make him listen in wonder. Always when she finished came the question, “When will Daddy come home?” Always the same answer, whispered into her boy’s blonde curls as she hugged him, “Soon, my dear, soon.”
The new boy was Thomas William, as that was what Carly called out when he wandered from my side. The rest of the time though, he was Tommy.