The day of Palani’s elder birthday was also the first time Xander came home since the big move to Windenberg.
Aurora greeted him eagerly on the front porch.
“Honey, what are you wearing? Are those your pajamas?” She raised her eyebrow and plucked at his sleeve.
Xander blushed. “Yeah….about that….” He glanced over his shoulder at the bulging bag of laundry he brought with him. “Annie says I’m a grown up and grown ups should do their own laundry. I just, uh, haven’t quite gotten around to it yet.”
Aurora threw her head back and laughed. “I knew I liked that girl for a reason! It’s really too bad she couldn’t make it this weekend, but we know how hard she works. Annie’s a good influence on you, Xander. And she’s right about the laundry. I hope you don’t think I’m bailing you out of this. You know where the washer and dryer are.”
He did know where the washer and dryer were. What he didn’t know was how to use them. Luckily, Aurora agreed to a one-time only laundry lesson. Xander listened attentively as she explained how to separate colors from whites, and the difference between detergent and fabric softener. He drew a diagram and took notes, paying special attention to the bit about the fabric softener. There was a baby on the way now, and soon enough he’d be washing tiny onesies and bibs, that would need to be soft against his baby’s skin.
By the time that the birthday dinner rolled around, Xander had learned to wash, dry, and fold everything from underwear to collared shirts. He put the collared shirts aside and pulled on his favorite broken in sweater, and headed to the dining room. It was time for his dad to blow out the candles.
Palani leaned over the cake and took a deep breath —
“Wait, no, not yet!” It was Aurora. She cast a mischievous sidelong glance at her husband. “Say it one more time, honey. It’s your last chance!”
Palani turned to her, smiling. “Isn’t my old lady so thoughtful?” He winked and brushed a piece of hair from her face. “Craddle robber.”
Aurora laughed affectionately. “There it is! Now, go ahead, you old geezer.”
“Plummit, Aurora, my back!”
She shook her her head and the expression on her face said: I told you so. And as she kissed his cheek, she whispered seductively in his ear, “I hope your back’s not too sore…”
Because later that night, Aurora had plans for a private celebration of their own…
The following weeks proved that old age was no match for Aurora and Palani. It was never easy in a house full of kids, but they found time for each other wherever and whenever they could.
“I think it’s time we get out on the town,” Palani suggested after one frenzied tryst in the bathroom. “Get a little time to ourselves, maybe take a trip out to Windenberg? We’re the only ones who haven’t been there yet! Gray hair doesn’t mean our adventures are over, right?”
Aurora grinned, and kissed him again, her spontaneous and adventurous husband. Even after all these years, he never failed to excite her.
Palani wasted no time. Within the hour, he’d secured train tickets and a dinner reservation for the very same night. They boarded the train hand in hand, stopped for drinks in a tiny, cozy pub, and had dinner on the river under a wooden trellis overgrown with ivy.
Afterwards, they took a walk through the country side, down to the park, and kept right on going until they hit the town center. Stopping in front of a spectacular fountain, Palani put his arm around his wife and kissed her cheek.
“Gorgeous, isn’t it?” she whispered.
He nodded. “We’ve been through so much together, Aurora. So many memories, and so many more to come.”
She frowned. The expression looked foreign on her normally cheerful face.
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
Aurora sighed. “I guess…. I’m afraid, Palani. We’re getting older – who knows how long either one of us has left? I know it’s morbid.” She buried her face in her hands. “I’m afraid to be the one to leave you behind, and I’m afraid to be the one left behind. I don’t know if I could go on without you.”
“I love you, Aurora. The uncertainty is scary, I know. I feel it too. But no matter what happens, we’ll find out way back to each other.” He smiled down at her with love in his eyes. “You live in a haunted house, sweetie. You must have faith that that’s true.”
She laughed sadly. “I do….” her voice trailed off, and she paused, looking up at him.
Palani could hear the hesitation in her voice, read the anxiety on her face. “We can’t know what will happen, Aurora. Uncertainty is a part of life. The best we can do is make the most of what we have. And we do have so much, don’t we? We have our kids, and each other, and this beautiful night. Growing up in the Amazon, I’d never have dreamed that my life could be this wonderful! I didn’t know that all these amazing things would happen to me, that all these incredible people would walk into my life – that I would have someone like you to grow old with. But they did, and they would, and I do. Faith, Aurora. You have to have faith. Live in the moment with me. Okay?”
Aurora nodded resolutely. “Live in the moment. Okay. I can do that.”
And when he kissed her, passionately and with so much love, all the worry and anxiety fell away, leaving nothing but Palani, and the fountain, and the way she felt in the here and now.
When Aurora pulled away and gazed up at her husband, Palani saw that the frown was gone, that the familiar glint in his wife’s eye had returned. He squeezed her hand.
“Come on. I have something to show you.”
Aurora’s eyes widened in gleeful surprise. “Really? In there? What about your back? What about the cops?!”
Palani winked. “Live in the moment, right?”
“Live in the moment.”
And with that, she tumbled into the bush behind him.