TIn the darkness, the house is quiet.

They share a bedroom, as they always have. William remembers that first night, when the boy stood there, homesick for his nurse and too scared to fall asleep in his own bed next to a man who was more stranger than family. So William pushed him onto the trundle, climbed into his own bed, and pretended to sleep through the wet sobbing coming from the floor beside him.

Men sleep on their own, William had told him then, and it was no good for him not to be a man. He would learn.

And learned he has. Learned so well not to beg for affection that it is a rare day when the two so much as exchange words. And so it is only in this silent house after the boy has collapsed on the trundle that William is able to even get a good look at him.

The golden hair fans out over broad shoulders which rise and fall as he breathes. A body which twenty-three years ago fit easily into William’s palms—that tiny body grew into this one, over six feet tall and fourteen stone. Wide shoulders and a strong back, the high soprano voice having given way first to the cracking stutter, and finally settling into a rich baritone that William never hears except in shouting.

They fight so much.

The boy wishes to be a barrister, and William wishes for him to be a pastor. In this darkness, when the boy is asleep—when they are not screaming at one another—William can admit to himself that it is not to break the boy’s will that he insists that he position himself to take over the church. It is because the boy is better, purer, more even-tempered and loving than William himself. Easy to love, quick to offer love in return. Slow to anger, or, at least with everyone else. He is Christlike, much more than William will ever be able to be.

But he cannot tell the boy this, and so they spend their days in shouting matches, with William the only person who ever elicits so much as a scowl from him.

In the moonlight, William’s son’s skin looks even paler and more delicate than it does in the day. He inherited her fair coloring, her eyes, her hair, her thin lips. When people talk about him, William hears them call him beautiful, not handsome. They murmur their condolences, reminded of his loss. And William can’t help but to think that they are right, because above all else the boy is her son, not his—and each cold shoulder, each fight, each time the boy hisses his disapproval, it is as though it comes from her.

As though he loses her again, in pieces, every single day.

So it is that sitting here, at night, while his son lies sleeping, is the only time that William gives himself to mourn. To remember how beautiful his wife was, and how strong, to imagine their family as it might have been, with not just one boy but several, and girls too—the family that would serve the church and the world. The only time to stare at this man who has grown from a freckle-faced boy into a taciturn stranger, and know that he is all William has left of that dream, and of her.

In twenty-three years, William has learned to weep without sound so that his child will not wake. And he does this, standing over the trundle but not bending over, so that the tears that make their way down his cheeks and drip off his chin, splash one at a time onto the floor.

Love is not a word that has ever come to William easily, and so he does not speak it into the darkness. Instead, when his tears subside, he removes his own clothing to prepare for sleep. But as he climbs into bed, he reaches down to lay a hand on the broad back. And for a brief moment, the expression, hardened even in sleep, softens, the muscles, tensed as though preparing for a fistfight, relax. The young man—for that is what he is now, William thinks—sighs.

And William utters the one word he can, the word he is careful not to say when his child is awake, the source of so much of their arguing. The name his wife wanted, that his son prefers, and which tears William’s heart in two every time it passes his lips.

“Goodnight, Carlisle,” he whispers.

But it is only the dark which hears him. And soon the hand is withdrawn, the bedcovers pulled, and William, too, falls asleep.


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