"Ah well..." I said, trying to find the right words. Maybe I should have warned them about all this....it's not like I hadn't had the time or opportunity. "This is Azula and Katara - my daughters..."
Mom and Dad were speechless, blinking at me in surprise. Theodin was smirking about the whole situation. I knew exactly how his teenage mind was working. Azula saved me from having to explain too much just then as she started crying again. Dad, not saying anything, ushered Theodin off with him and a I heard a lot of grunting and banging from the attic as they brought down one of the old cribs. "'Fraid we only have the one left in any sort of condition to be slept in...but we can go out and get another one tomorrow." Dad said as he ushered us up to Eowyn's old room. They'd pushed her bed out of the way and rearranged a few things to squeeze the crib in.
Katara chose that moment to start crying and I started to put Azula down to go get her when Mom held out her arms. "May I?" I nodded and handed her Azula. When I returned, she was making cooing noises and looked delighted to be holding a baby again.
After we got the girls changed, cleaned up and fed; I stepped out of the room with everyone. Theodin was still amused by the whole situation and walked off. "Faromir..." my mom started.
"Oh don't pester him Ez, he's just got home - he can explain it all later." my dad interceded, giving me a look that said I WOULD be explaining soon enough.
"No, it's alright." I said. I told them briefly about how Katara came into my life and how I had to claim her as mine or leave her behind.
"Well you did a wonderful thing for her Faromir," my mom said, wiping a tear from her face when I told her about Jhana's death. "And Azula? Was it the same situation?"
"Not exactly - Azula is mine, her mother and I..." I was at a loss for how to explain the brief relationship I'd shared with Nyaari. "Nyaari - that's her mother's name - she died, in much the same way that Katara's mother died. Tes did everything she could to save Nyaari and brought Azula to me - unfortunately, it was too late."
"I'm sorry Faromir." Mom said, she was crying harder now - thinking about Jhana, Nyaari and everything her boy had gone through in the last few years.
"You did well son." Dad said, putting a hand on my shoulder and squeezing it firmly. "And you brought us back some beautiful granddaughters right Ez?"
Mom nodded, still trying to stop the tears from flowing. She reached out and pulled me into a tight hug. "I'm glad you're home safe." she whispered.
My family took the girls in as their own almost as soon as we got home - there was never any question on if they would be accepted or not, they simply were. In the weeks following our return, I thought about everything that had happened in the last few years - particularly the final weeks with Tes and the girls.
I tried calling her a few times; I should say I looked at the phone and failed to dial the numbers. I missed her and the more I thought about her, the more I missed her.
Instead of dwelling on it, I threw myself into taking care of the girls and planning a party for Katara's birthday. She would only turn one the one time after all. It was easier to not think about Tes than to think about her but I did try sending her an invitation to the party but it came back "Return to Sender".
Katara grew into a cute toddler, she had some of Jhana's facial features but the hair had to belong to her father - whoever he was. But when I looked into her chocolatey brown eyes, I could see Jhana looking back at me. "Your momma would be proud." I whispered to her as I set her down with a new bear that was bigger than she was.
She gave me a toothy grin and then started loving on the bear.
It didn't take too long to adjust to life back home. Having the luxuries of clean water and working appliance made life easier and the girls adored having more people to love on them and play with them.
But I felt idle - a feeling I hated. In the village there had always been something that needed doing. Even in the apartment, two little infants and countless appointments kept me busy constantly. But here at home things didn't break every other day, the garden had been pruned back so it only took an hour or so a day to tend and there were three other people to help with the girls.
I went for an evening swim most nights in order to keep up athletically and to relax my restless mind.
Mom was waiting for me in the lounge chairs that night. "Are you alright?"
"Hmm?" I asked as I dried off and took the chair next to hers. "Oh yeah, I'm just...I'm feeling idle. I don't like it." I said with a chuckle.
"Most people would like to have that I think - but I understand that's not you." she said. "Is idleness the only thing bothering you?"
I thought for awhile on her question and she respected that. She didn't push me to answer too quickly. "No..." I said finally. "Remember me mentioning Theresa? Tes?"
"Mhmm." Mom said, a small smile on her face that I couldn't exactly read or understand.
"When we left - it was obvious she had feelings for me; ones I couldn't really return at the time. Nyaari was still fresh on my mind and I'd become a single father of two so quickly...romance just wasn't on my mind then..." I tried to explain myself.
"And now?" Mom prompted after a few moments of silence.
"I miss her. And I think I may have screwed up the one chance of finding out if there was something when I shut her down like that..." I said with a sigh. Mom suggested calling or emailing her - both of which I had tried and failed at.
Katara was starting to pass Azula up in a few things - mostly mobility. Still stuck with crawling, Azula was aggravated when Katara started walking and even running. For only three months age difference - it seemed like a lifetime at this stage. I knew, when they were older, three months would be nothing.
Despite her desire to catch up to Katara, Azula loved a good snuggle - and to be carried. She cried and whined until someone carried her from point A to point B usually. Carrying her once again, I went out to the garden to let Mom know I'd be out to help as soon as I could get her settled.
"Oh no hurry sweetie, I've had a wonderful helper all afternoon." she said with a familiar smile.
"You have?" I asked, I knew Theodin had only just gotten home from school. "Don't tell me Dad's been out here again."
"Oh goodness no! Now that you're home he hasn't set foot in this garden." she said with a laugh. She pointed down toward the other end of the garden where someone else was bent over a plant.
I walked closer, trying to figure out who it was. Long, wavy hair was cascading down her back and covering her face from view. She looked up at me and pushed back her hair.
"Tes?" I sputtered in surprise. Azula started to whine in my arms - she may have fallen asleep and I'd startled her awake again.
"Hello Faromir." she said, giving me a warm smile. I wanted to ask her why she was here - how she was here - I wanted to tell her a lot of things but my brain seemed to have shut down and throated seemed to have closed up. "Speechless is good...I'll take speechless." she said with a chuckle.
Azula's crying got louder and more persistent. "Um.." I looked down at Azula and tried to shush her a few times but she refused to listen. "Don't go anywhere..." I said finally. I took Azula back inside and it took nearly an hour to get her calmed down enough to put her down. I think she could sense my impatience and was fighting me at every turn.
When I finally came back down, Tes and Mom were side by side still. I admit, I was relieved to see she hadn't vanished into thin air.
We didn't get a chance to be alone, but she stayed for dinner and my parents relieved me of the duty of asking questions thankfully. "I have a job interview." Tes explained. "At the hospital. I've been looking for a residency program that would account for my time with the Sim Corps - most have been unwilling. If I have to, I'll take the best offer I can get of course but the hospital here seems willing."
"I can understand why - we've had a shortage of medical personnel for years now. Those we have are good doctors of course - just limited." Dad replied. "I hope the program works out for you."
"Me too." she said with a smile. "From what I've seen of Barnacle Bay, it's a nice place. And it's always good to move to a new place already having a few friends." she added looking over at me.
They picked her brain for much of dinner but she didn't seem to mind. She asked about the girls and we had a pleasant evening. "We're having a party for Azula this weekend....her birthday you know." I said. "Will you still be here?"
"Yes, I should be. I'd love to come." she said.
Tes arrived early, even before Mom had finished the cake or Dad and Theodin had returned with the balloons and gifts. "I'm glad you came..." I said.
"Me too." Tes said, staying a few steps away from me.
"Tes...I've missed you." I said, it sounded lame in my mind but she blushed and smiled in response. I reached out for her hand, afraid she'd pull it away from me but she didn't. She stepped a little closer. "I'm sorry, about how things happened before..."
"No...don't be sorry. You have nothing to be sorry for, you weren't really in a place for anything and I should have realized that." Tes protested.
"I'd like another chance...I mean...if you're willing..." I fumbled over the words and wondered when my brain had taken leave of my body. Tes barely hesitated before she stepped even closer to me. "I don't know if I can make any promises...but I know my life...my world...seems off without you in it. And..."
She put her arm around me. "I'm in if you're in." she said.
"Faromir!" Mom called over to me, Dad tried to shush her but they had my attention now. In the midst of my awkward fumbling - they'd gotten everything set up for the party.
"Apparently I have do the dad thing." I said with a small chuckle. "But we'll pick this up after?" I added hopefully. Tes nodded and I went to retrieve Azula and bring her to the cake.
True to my word, after the candles had been blown out and the cakes had been demolished - Tes and I retired to the porch while Mom and Dad cleaned up the cake crusted toddlers for me.
"I should tell you, I got the job at the hospital here..." Tes said. "So, I'll be around - a lot."
"Good, I look forward to it." I said pulling her closer to me.
"Did you really miss me?" she teased.
"Very much - and not just your winning touch with Azula." I said.
"Good, then I can do this...." she said, leaning in close. I could smell the sweet scent of her hair and it filled my senses.
Tes became a regular visitor at the house after that. We helped her move into her apartment closer to the hospital but she may as well have lived with us considering how much time she spent at the house versus the time she spent in her own apartment.
She hadn't lost her touch with Azula either - those two adored each other. Azula would smile for Tes faster than she smiled for anyone else and would always calm down if Tes was the one holding her.
Unlike her relationship with Tes, Azula and Katara seemed to fight more than play nicely together. Azula had a way of playing that was a little disturbing but I tried to tell myself it was just an age thing. Surely - in time - she would stop trying to eat the heads off the dolls or whacking them into the house. Katara always put the dolls safely in their beds - just in time for Azula to snatch them away for her own malicious play.
I caught Katara chewing on one of the dolls once but considering the massive molars cutting through her gums - I'm fairly certain she was trying to relieve her pain rather than cannibalize the doll.
But even on her worst, most trying days - Tes could walk in and make everything better in Azula's world. I firmly believe that Azula imprinted on Tes from birth or something similar.
Every time I tried to teach Azula to walk, she would stubbornly refuse to walk to me. Same happened for Mom, Dad and Theodin. Tes hadn't been by in a few days because of a busy week at the hospital but the moment Azula heard her in the house, she stood up and toddled a few steps, following the sound of her voice.
"Aww! When did she learn to walk?" Tes asked us, looking both happy and a little disappointed about having missed something so big.
"She didn't!" I protested. "She refuses to walk for any of us!"
Tes stood her up again and held out her hands encouragingly...and Azula walked right into her waiting arms with a triumphant smile on her face. "Seems to be a natural." Tes said with a laugh.
Shortly after Tes moved to Barnacle Bay for good, I'd signed up to be a substitute teacher while taking a few college classes online. It wasn't and everyday thing but it was enough to subdue the feeling of idleness I had. And this time, all my students spoke English...well all except that one who insisted on speaking like a pirate every day. I'd even asked his normal teacher if he always spoke like that or if it was a special treat he reserved for subs but she assured me it was normal for him.
I started to consider moving out; as much as I loved this house and having the constant help of my parents - I wanted my own home for the girls. And I wanted to ask Tes to move in with me. I talked to Dad about it first - I knew Mom would protest loudly and try to reassure me that Tes was more than welcome. I never doubted that - they loved her as much as I did I think. I just didn't quite feel at home in my grandparents' old room - the room I'd moved into since Tes had been coming around more often. Dad assured me that he understood and even Mom would understand - in time. But he asked that I didn't broach the subject until after the holidays. I was willing to make that concession.
I wish Eowyn and Aragorn could be with us that holiday but they were both busy with their lives in France and Bridgeport. Eowyn had been asked to perform in a Christmas symphony - a huge honor - so she couldn't make it.
Watching the girls play happily with all the boxes and wrapping paper made up for the missing people a bit though. Azula even smiled a me....or maybe it was at Tes who was sitting beside me but I pretended it was for me.
Is that tasty Katara?
That's attractive! lol
Neener Neener Neener!
The Mayor was in the Christmas spirit lol
They'll stick anything in their mouths
I just think she looks all sweet and pretty here
I took a lot of pics here so extra