"You were supposed to help me with this."
"I came along for support but you don't need me to help you pick out a ring. You know Emma well enough to know what she likes."
"Yeah," Sean said with a smile as he handed the clerk his credit card. "She's going to say yes, right? I mean it has been almost a year since she's been gone."
"All she talks about when I hear from her is how much she misses you. And don't tell me she doesn't send you love letters."
Sean ignored Manny's comments as his cell phone rang. "Hello? What? Have you found out anything yet? Yeah, Manny is with me. We'll be right over."
"What's going on?" Manny asked, alarmed at the look of panic on Sean's face.
"It's all over the news. A bunch of foreign aid workers have been killed in a refugee camp on the border of Eritrea."
"The Simpsons don't know anything yet but we need to get over there. But Emma's fine, I know she's fine. I mean I would feel it..." Sean trailed off as he looked down at his tattoo. It was normally so in tune with Emma's emotions. But today he hadn't felt anything. His blood ran cold. He needed to get out of there fast.
"Sean! What are you doing?" Manny yelled as Sean ran out the door. Quickly grabbing the ring and the credit card from the clerk, Manny ran outside in time to see Sean retching in the bushes.
"I'll drive home," Manny said quietly as she handed Sean the ring.
Sean just nodded because he was too overwhelmed to speak.
Ten-year-old Jack answered the door and the Simpson house. "Mom and Dad are in there," he said, indicating the living room with his head.
"Sean," Spike said as Sean entered the room. Her eyes were red and swollen from crying.
"What's happening?" Sean asked as he had to keep his own tears from spilling over.
"I don't know. We know there's been an attack at the camp Emma was working at but no one knows anything else. The aide worker coordinator has been in touch but he doesn't have any information yet."
"So we just wait?" Manny asked as she sat down on the couch.
"We just wait," Snake said as he came up behind Spike and put his hands on her shoulders.
"Three more days. She was coming home in three more days. People are coming into town for a welcome home party, not a funeral." Spike's voice broke on the last word. She turned to her husband and sobbed.
Sean felt his stomach clench and knew that he needed to get out of there. Spotting the basement door, he slipped quietly out of the room.
It still smelled like Emma. She'd only inhabited this room part-time since high school graduation but it still smelled like her. Sean looked around, his eyes finally settling on a photo album on the shelf. Pulling it down, he noticed there wasn't a speck of dust on the cover. Spike must have just dusted in anticipation of Emma's homecoming. Now she might never be down in this room again.
Sean wiped the tears that were streaking down his face. His hand brushed over his tattoo. He tried to ignore the fact that he hadn't felt anything from the tattoo but rather focus on the meaning. Remember to have faith, faith in himself and faith that they were going to make it.
Sean opened the photo album and laughed at the first picture. It was Emma, Manny, JT and Toby playing in a sandbox. Emma was wearing a "Save the Whales" t-shirt. It must have been about kindergarten, way before Sean knew Emma. He turned the page and found more of Emma and her friends through the years. Emma usually managed to be front and center with some project she'd enlisted her friends' help with. She'd been a precocious child, as Spike liked to say.
On the next page was a picture of their first date. Sean knew that it was without a doubt the most awkward experience of his life but they had managed survive and go out for awhile. And he'd fallen in love with her. He hadn't really understood that feeling back then. He knew he was in love but he wasn't capable of expressing those feelings.
When they were going out in ninth and Emma's life was falling apart, he loved her so much but he was feeling neglected. Instead of telling her that he loved her and that he wanted to spend time with her, he'd screwed up and pushed her away. Sean couldn't swallow his pride and go to her so they could talk things out. So they'd ended things on a sour note.
The next pages were filled with more photos. He wasn't in them. They'd gone through a long period of ignoring each other's existence. But they'd needed that time to grow and explore other things.
"Yeah, right," Sean said out loud. The time apart was time wasted.
"Have you taken to talking to yourself?"
Sean looked up to see Jimmy sitting at the top of the stairs.
"Aren't you supposed to be at law school?"
"Figured you'd need a friend but I can't get down there."
"It's okay, I'll come up." Sean closed the book and headed back up the stairs. "Have they heard anything yet?"
"No, everyone is still waiting. Caitlyn and Joey are flying in tonight. Spike and Snake are upstairs and Jack and Manny are watching a movie with Matty."
Sean followed Jimmy into the living room. He smiled as Matty leapt off the couch and hugged him.
"Hey buddy!" Sean said as he picked him up.
"Watch movie with us," the little boy said as he pointed toward the screen.
"Okay," Sean agreed and took Emma's little brother over to the couch and sat him in his lap. Sean didn't look at the screen but looked at Matty instead. He flashed back to the time when Emma found out Spike was pregnant again.
"My mom is pregnant," Emma told him as she set plates on the table for dinner.
"What?" Sean yelled from the bathroom as he cleaned himself up after work.
"I said my mom is pregnant again... And I might be too."
Seand definitely heard that but this time he was in shock. "What?"
"I'm late," Emma said as Sean came out of the bathroom. "Almost two weeks."
"Wow. Have you taken a test or been to a doctor?"
"I've been too afraid."
Sean took a deep breath and exhaled. "Okay, I'm going to go down to the drugstore and pick up a test. Stay here and stay calm."
Sean went to the drugstore with his heart in his throat. A baby right now wouldn't be the best thing. Emma wasn't finished with school and he was still working on saving up enough money to get his own mod shop. They weren't even living together. Emma lived in the dorms at school and Sean had two roommates. It just wasn't a good time for a baby. But he knew Emma and Emma wouldn't be willing to have an abortion or give the baby up for adoption. The prospect of impending fatherhood had Sean faltering in his steps. He sat down on a bench and took deep breaths.
Sean had no idea how longhe sat there. At some point Emma got worried and came out looking for him.
"Guess you didn't make it."
Sean looked up to see Emma's concerned face. "No, I got a litle sidetracked."
"This is pretty scary."
"Yeah. I just keep thinking about my own parents and I wonder if I'll turn out like them. I don't want to disappoint you, Em. I don't want to be that guy who freaks out and does stupid things because of an unexpected pregnancy."
"I'm right here, Sean. You can freak out and I can freak out and we can just freak out together. But maybe it's just a false alarm. We need to go and get a test and then decide what to do."
They went back to his place and Emma took two tests. Both were negative.
"Are you okay?" Sean asked Emma as he noticed the tears running down her face.
"I'm relieved. But maybe I'm a bit disappointed. I know we're too young and we're just not in a good place to have a baby. But I had this image of a little boy with your crazy curly hair and my brown eyes. It was a nice image."
"I bet it was," Sean whispered as he held Emma in his arms. "My image was of a little girl with your pretty blonde hair and my blue eyes; a real heartbreaker, just like her mother. And we're going to have that someday."
"Yeah," Emma snuffled, "but we're not having kids until Spinner can afford a place of his own. That man is not sleeping on my couch."
"Agreed," Sean said with a laugh.
That had been four years ago. Spike had Matty, Sean had been able to buy his own shop, Spinner and his other roommate had moved out, and he and Emma were going to be moving into together. When she got back from Africa.
Sean sighed as he looked down at the now sleeping Matty. He had to keep reminding himself of that: when Emma got back from Africa.
The phone rang, jarring the otherwise quiet house.
Sean waited anxiously. The phone had stopped ringing so they must have answered it upstairs. His hands hurt. Why did his hands hurt? Sean looked down to realize that he'd been clenching his hands so hard that his knuckles were white.
Snake came down from upstairs. His face was ashen.
Sean tried to speak but he couldn't. He didn't want to know if Emma was dead. If Snake was going to say that Emma was dead then Sean would rather he not speak at all.
"Fifty aid workers were killed," Snake choked out. "Another twenty were seriously injured. Right now they're trying to sort who's who. The attack came at night when most people were sleeping so there wasn't time to get away. They're going to let us know when they find Emma."
"What aren't you saying?" Manny asked.
"We're to be prepared for the worst. There was a woman matching Emma's description among the dead."
"No!" Sean shouted. "They're lying! Emma is not dead!"
"I'm not saying she is, Sean, but we need to be prepared for the worst."
"You be prepared for the worst! I'm going to believe that Emma is going to walk through those doors in three days!" Sean yelled before storming through the front door and into the fading light of the evening.