He had always expected that he would die first. He supposed that that's what he wanted, but life had a way of not letting him get what he wanted.
Most days, it was bearable. The loss. Some days, he couldn't even get out of bed, because she wasn't there to share the morning with him. Then, there were days like that one.
Alek stepped out of the cab that he had taken to his son's house. Artemis stood at the door, awaiting his arrival. He took Alek's jacket and gave his father his arm for support as they slowly walked along the cobblestone path.
"Sorry that Julia isn't here to greet you right now, Da. She had to go pick up Jaspert from football practice." He said as he hung up his father's tweed jacket onto the coat rack. He sighed heavily. "I have no idea where Deryn's disappeared to."
Alek smiled, his green eyes had never quite lost their soft twinkle. "I'll go outside to look for her." He offered. Artemis seemed at a loss, but nevertheless, he nodded, letting his father have that one simple task.
Alek walked into the kitchen and then through the sliding doors that led to the patio and furthermore to the vast back garden. He was glad that his son had built rails for the steps of the patio; his arthritic knees needed all of the support that they could get.
The back garden was large. That was the best way to describe it, really. There were trees everywhere you looked, and the grass seemed to be as endless as the see under the Leviathan had once been. Alek walked, carefully watching the trees for any sign of his granddaughter. He kept walking between the trees, walking beneath the shadows cast by the sunlight hitting each individual leaf on each individual branch. There were all sorts of trees, but there was one in particular that he was looking for, the largest and most majestic tree in the entire field.
It was an oak tree. It would take seven people holding each other's hands to measure the circumference of the tree trunk alone. The branches of the tree were tangles together in a mesh of organized chaos, weaving between one another, a large branch fed off into smaller branches, supporting them.
She was on the fourth topmost branch of the magnificent tree, her blonde hair catching the light perfectly. She was an image of her namesake at that age. The same short hair and stubborn scowl on her face as she leaned back onto the trunk of the tree from her branch.
"Stupid, dummkopfs..." She mumbled as she angrily scratched out something in her sketchbook, "think they can tell me what to do."
"What did they try this time, liebe?" Alek asked. Deryn visibly jumped at the sound of her grandfather's voice, accidentally dropping her sketchbook. The worn leather book tumbled down from the fourth topmost branch and landed with a soft thud, on the grass below.
Deryn swore softly under her breath. Alek walked over to where the sketchbook lay, and gingerly picked it up. He recognized it as the one that her grandmother had given her for her tenth birthday, the last birthday before her death, five years prior. His wife had rebound it herself as a present for her granddaughter.
"Hi grandda." She greeted, when she had her feet on solid ground. Deryn sunk herself into her grandfather's arms. They had always been very close, especially since her grandmother's death. They shared the loss of her together.
"Hello, darling." He said into her hair, inhaling the scent of trees and dirt that wafted from her. "How are you?"
Deryn tore herself from her grandfather's arms and crossed her arms. "I'm fine," she said through gritted teeth.
"No, you're not. Don't try that with me, Deryn. You're exactly like your grandmother, same temperament, just a different generation." He teased. Deryn often drove her parents mad with her crazy and impulsive nature. Only Alek understood her need to fly away from the normal. She was as extraordinary as her grandmother had been.
Reluctantly, Deryn's scowl shattered and she fell to the ground, kneeling in the grass. "I'm just so mad." She admitted.
Alek eased himself down to the ground slowly, sitting next to her. "I see that, but why are you mad?"
"Remember how I applied to that amazing art school in New York a few months ago?" She asked, now yanking blades of grass out of the ground and tearing them into minute pieces.
"Yes." How could he forget? It was all that she had talked about for months. Raved, really. That fancy art school in New York where all of the best and most famous artists had come from.
She looked pointedly at the blade of grass between her long slender fingers. "I got in."
Alek's eyes widened with happiness. "You got in?" He asked excitedly. He had prayed for this. "That's amazing!"
"Yes, it really is." She admitted. "But ma and da don't want to let me go." Alek pursed his lips.
"This really is a pickle." He muttered quietly. Alek wanted Deryn to do what she wanted but he did not want to cross his son.
"It is!" Deryn exclaimed. "And the worse of it is that they're being completely unfair! I mean, I can survive outside the walls of the house. I'll be okay outside of Glasgow! I'm not a little girl anymore!" She threw her arms up for emphasis, adding to the dramatic monologue that was about to ensue. "I know that I'm Da's little girl and all, but I'm going to have to leave sooner or later. Does he just expect me to stay here forever? He thinks that I'm never going to go to university, or meet a boy, or get married. He can't keep me forever!"
Alek sighed. "Your father knows that. He wants to protect you from the world, Deryn. It's not his fault that he cares. He's a father, it's in the job description." He puts his old veined hand on her shoulder. "When your father was around your age, he decided that he was going to go to Paris to study biology for a year. Your grandmother nearly had a heart attack just thinking about it. It took her three months and a lot of safety precautions to convince her to let him go. She stayed with him for two weeks to make sure that she had made the right choice." Deryn let out a small laugh.
"Was Da embarrassed?" she asked, her eyes clearly showed her amusement at the thought.
He nodded. "Terribly. He wanted to hide when she followed him into his first class." Deryn let out a very loud laugh and fell back on the grass, rolling with laughter. Alek grinned at her, remembering when his wife had done the same after seeing Bovril with a fake moustache on a particularly humorous Halloween. "I will talk to your father." He said to her as she began gathering her faculties. "I'm quite sure we still own a flat in New York anyway. You can stay there with me if he has any other issues with the matter."
"Really," Deryn asked, her eyes lighting up at the possibility.
"I promise." Alek assured her. Deryn threw her arms around her grandfather, and ran back to the house.
* * *
Alek sat in the small, New York flat watching the television and waiting for Deryn to come back from the party that she was at with her friends. She was late for her curfew, but Alek did not mind. She was a teenager after all, and she should have her freedom.
The lock on the door was unlocked and it slid open with only a creak. Deryn carefully stepped across the threshold, saying a playful "shush," to whoever was behind her. Alek turned the television off and swiveled the chair around to face the door. Deryn's fingers carefully found the light switch. "Quiet! Or else my grandda will hear!" she whispered viciously.
"Do you mean me?" Alek asked, a sly grin. Deryn's face lost all color and the boy who was behind her slowly began retreating back into the elevator hall.
"Oh, sheiße!" Here we go again, Alek thought.