“Are you sure you don’t need anything else, honey?” Clara asked her daughter softly. “There’s still time for one more run to the store before you head back.”
Rory shook her head, smiling warmly at her mother. “Mama, I’m fine. You’ve already got my car practically overflowing.” She laughed. “And I’ve gotta leave now if I wanna get back before it’s too dark.”
Her mother nodded. The drive back to Hamburg would take at least six hours, and it was already almost noon. “I know. I just… Well, you know me.” Clara forced a small laugh, trying to ignore the hot stinging of tears in the corner of her eyes.
“I know, Mama.” Her youngest daughter shook her head slowly. “But I’ll be back to visit again before you know it.” Rory promised, pulling Clara into a tight hug.
“Text us when you get there, okay?” Florian stepped forward then, wrapping his arms around the young woman. “Drive safe, Peanut.”
“Aw, darn. And I was planning on driving as recklessly as I could.” Rory rolled her eyes and laughed as she pulled away from his embrace. “Glad you said something, Papa.”
Florian just laughed. “It was great to see you, sweetie.”
“You too.” Rory smiled, her tone a bit more serious this time. “Love you guys.”
“Love you too.”
“See you soon.”
With one last wave, she was gone.
Clara sighed heavily as she watched Rory’s car pull out of the driveway and disappear down the road. “There she goes.” She whispered. “Our baby.”
Beside her, she watched as her husband’s happy mask slowly faded as well. “Yeah… God, it’s always so damn hard to say goodbye.”
Neither of them spoke for several long moments after that. The silence that surrounded them felt so cold. So absolute. It was overwhelming. Ever since Rory had left for school, Clara had quickly discovered just how much she hated the silence of the empty house. Would she ever get used to it? She certainly hoped so.
“Hey, wanna have some lunch?” Florian offered, breaking the silence at last. His smile seemed so forced.
His wife shook her head. “Thanks, but… I’m not hungry.”
“What about a movie then? Or a video game or something?” He asked almost hopefully.
Clara shrugged. “Whatever you want, babe.” She tried to smile.
Her husband’s face fell slightly as he turned and headed toward the couch. “How about a movie then? I think it’s one of those Harry Potter marathon weekends.” He suggested, taking a seat and grabbing the remote. “Let’s see… Yup! Half-Blood Prince. Your favorite.” Florian teased.
Despite her mood, Clara couldn’t help but laugh. “Oh my God, WORST film of the whole series.”
“I know, baby. I was kidding.” Florian smiled gently at her. “Should we skip it then?”
“Nah, it’s been a while since I’ve sat through that shitshow. I could probably use the laugh right now.” She dropped down to sit beside him, her smile fading just as quickly as it had come. Though her eyes were fixed on the large television screen, her mind was already very far away.
It just didn’t seem fair. Having Rory home for a few days had finally brought some light back to their household. And now that she was gone… Well, everything just felt so quiet and boring. Meaningless.
Sometimes she wondered whether it was simply because of how she’d been raised – maybe spending most of her life in a household with so many people had simply made her used to the company of her family. And even when she moved out of her parents’ home, she always had her children by her side, filling her and Florian’s lives with joy and laughter every day.
It was hard enough adjusting back when the twins turned eighteen and left to live on their own. Clara still had no idea what she’d do with Rory gone. Back when she’d first discovered she was pregnant with Remi and River, Clara never would have dreamed she’d come to love being a mother so much. But she did. Her children had quickly become her whole life. Her world.
What did she have left without them?
“Clara? Baby, what’s wrong?” Florian’s voice quickly called her back to the present. He lifted the remote from the coffee table, shutting off the television with a soft click and turning to face her.
She reached up, realizing that her cheeks were hot and wet with tears. How long had she been crying? Clara tried to wipe them away as quickly as she could.
“Is… Is it your Papa?” Her husband continued uncertainly.
Clara shook her head. Losing her father had been one of the most painful things she’d ever experienced, right beside losing Lucas and Hazel all those years ago. Even months later, she still found herself weeping for Jonas every now and then. But this time, that was not the case.
“I just miss the kids.” She admitted softly. “Saying goodbye to Rory again… God, it was almost as hard as when we first dropped her off at school. I hate it.”
“Me too.” Florian agreed, sighing. “But she’s an adult now, honey. What can we do?”
“I know, I know… It’s just… It’s so easy to say that.” His wife replied. “I keep thinking about her, all alone on the other side of the country… What if she decides to stay there for good?” Clara asked, her voice rising slightly in fear. “How do I know she’ll be okay? And how can I handle not seeing her anymore?” The words spilled frantically from her lips. “I mean, we barely see River already. And Remi’s only two towns over and it still feels like he never visits as much as he used to…”
To her surprise, Florian chuckled softly. “He’s got a kid, Clara. He has his own family to take care of now. And River and Coleen are always off on tour, just like Lucas and I used to be. What kind of hypocrite would I be if I judged her for that?”
Clara bit her lip. She suddenly felt so silly for voicing her fears aloud. “I know.”
“And as for Rory… Yeah, she might decide to stay away.” He admitted. “Hell, she may end up leaving the country altogether someday, like Alex and Tony did… But what can we do about it?” Florian sighed. “It hurts. Like hell. Trust me, I know that. But we’ve gotta let them live their lives. They’re adults.”
“I know, I know.” She repeated. “I just… I can’t help feeling this way.” Clara shook her head slowly. “Florian, we’ve spent over half our lives being parents to those kids. Maybe not always the best parents, but…” She shrugged helplessly. “They’re our whole world. I mean, don’t you feel it too? Everything’s just… empty now.”
Her husband did not immediately reply. “I do feel it.” He broke the silence at last. “I feel it every day, you know that. I love being their Papa. I love having the kids at home with us…” Florian paused for a moment. “But just because they’re not here anymore doesn’t mean our lives have to be over.”
“But they are my life!” Clara insisted, feeling her tears threatening to return. “Being their Mama is my life!” She paused and took deep breath to calm herself. “I mean, without them… What the hell do I even have left?”
Florian’s face fell instantly. “What about me? Your husband?” He narrowed his eyes at her, rising to his feet. “Guess I’m nothing then, huh?”
“Fuck… No. I didn’t mean it like that.” He only made it a few steps before Clara stopped him. “I love you. So fucking much. You know I do.”
Florian turned around at her words, his expression softening as a soft sigh escaped his lips. “I know.”
“I’m just so lost right now, Florian. I don’t know what to do.”
“Hey, I get it. You’re not the only one hurting.” He lifted a large hand and brushed it gently against his wife’s cheek. “This fucking sucks. But this is our life now. And we’ve just gotta figure out how to deal with it… Or try to, at least.”
Clara nodded in agreement. “I guess that’s all we can do, huh?” She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to calm herself and focusing on the feeling of Florian’s warm hand against her cheek.
“And you know what?” Clara continued, a small smile coming to her lips. “There is one nice advantage to having this big house all to ourselves…”
Florian’s lips stretched into a smile. “You read my mind.”