Salt of the Earth
Following the sitter’s voice to the front door, Melia found Nikolas, rocking slightly. The sitter stood beside him, shifting uncomfortably, so she seemed to rock with Nikolas.
Melia took a breath to brace herself for the fireworks that would go off about the break in his routine. This was not the right time of day for her to be leaving the house. This was his lunch time.
The sitter said, “I’m sorry, ma’am, I know we should be having lunch, but he won’t come.”
Melia crouched next to Nikolas. “Do you need something?”
He turned his face slightly closer to her, but still didn’t meet her gaze. His right hand fluttered in his distressed rhythm. He licked his lips before whispering, “Dora.”
Melia waited a moment to see if he would say anything else, then asked, “Do you want to go to her memorial service with me?” She had not been sure that he understood or even noticed that Dora was gone.
Nikolas jerked his head once in a quick nod, still looking sideways at the wall.
“All right, then.”
She led him down to the garage, keeping a careful distance from him. Nikolas was silent on the way to the memorial service, not even rocking as they drove through the streets. The road in front of the chapel was thronged with tourists and paparazzi anxious for news about the Salt Baron’s granddaughter.
The security system recognized Melia’s vehicle and passed her through the barricades. She went around the car to let Nikolas out. When she opened the door, he slipped out to stand quietly on the pavement next to her. In the throng of people, Nikolas huddled closer to her than he usually stood to anyone. Melia chewed on the inside of her lip. The crowd could overwhelm him. “Nikolas, you tell me when you need to leave, all right?”
He didn’t answer, but she rarely got a response to that question. He might, just might, grunt before melting down.
As they went inside, the people surrounding them all had tearsheets under their eyes catching tears for Dora. Melia wondered which ones were really shedding tears, and which had bought pre-salined sheets to demonstrate their shared grief.
The reclaimer by the entrance to the chapel was already full of the tearsheets.
Every person she passed seemed to want to clutch her hand and express the same banal condolences as the person before. Melia kept nodding and thanking them for their thoughts, but her attention was on Nikolas. She diverted the people who wanted to pat him on the head, but could do little to protect him from the closeness of the crowd as they worked their way across the lobby. Her dad saw her and arrowed through the crowd to shepherd them across to the private family waiting room.
He stopped outside the door. “Theo is inside.”
“I won’t say anything.”
He squeezed her arm once before opening the door.
At first, she only saw her mom and grandma. Her mother looked as if she had been crying off and on for days. Grandma was patting her hand.
Theo’s father stood up when she came in. Mr. Lathouris’s eyes were as red as her mom’s. He had a wad of tearsheets in his hand, and she had no doubt that he had saturated them all himself; he had always been so good with the children.
He had his hands over his ears and was staring at Theo.
“What the–?” Theo flung his hands out in exasperation. “Why did you bring him?”
“He wanted to come.”
“That’s great, Melia. What did he do, tap it out in code?”
Melia ground her teeth together to keep the silence she had promised her dad. She knelt between Nikolas and Theo, hoping that cutting into his line of sight would help. “Nikolas? Do you want a Salti?”