The Levitt’s had wanted to accompany me to the funeral. At the time my spirits had been replenished, and I had told them I would see them there instead. I regretted that decision now.
I took a deep breath to steady my quivering lip as I rummaged through my suitcase. I was twenty-two, and though I was not a child, I had always imagined that my parents would be around for my wedding, my pregnancies, to see their grandchildren grow. Instead they died right before I graduated from San Myshuno University.
“Where is my dress!” Frustration welled up in my stomach as I dumped the contents of my suitcase onto the floor, a loud bang soon resounding as the suitcase flew across the room with every ounce of strength I could muster. The action was supposed to bring me relief. Instead I found myself curled in the pile of clothes, sobbing into them relentless, desperate for some kind of relief.
It took me an hour to gather myself. Another to shower and get dressed. Somehow I made it to the funeral on time, collected, and appropriately dressed.
The old stone church was dimly lit, soft classical music taking the backseat to the chatter of old family friends and acquaintances. I shook hands and forced pained smiles as all eyes turned to me, the whispers growing in intensity as I made my way down the closest isle.
Two coffins were positioned in the back, encompassed by thousands of bright petals. The sight stole my breath. My parents were adored by this community. This display was a testament to that. I had taken them for granted my whole life, but this community hadn’t.
As I succumbed to tears again, I felt a hand on my shoulder. Mr. Dale was standing beside me, tears burning his cheek as well. We stood there, silence easing between us, as we mourned their deaths. Eventually, the priest came, and I stopped crying long enough to find my pew.
The service was beautiful.
Memories were shared. Laughter breached the morose undercurrent as a celebration of their lives ensued. I couldn’t bring myself to speak. I didn’t know what to say. I had been an awful daughter these past years – undeserving of the love and compassion they had always given me. I sat there, distant, unable to focus. I couldn’t even find the words to thank people as they gave their condolences.
“Willow… why don’t you stay over tonight?”Christina offered, voice small and unsure. I just shook my head, eyes hollow, gazing ever forward. I could tell she was conflicted – did I need space or should she insist? – but eventually, she seemed to settle on the former, “Okay, but I’ll keep my ringer on loud. If you need anything, please, call.”
I gave no acknowledgment. She pulled me into a brief hug, and I returned it numbly before she ambled away.
No one approached me after that. The whispers circled around until finally, they died out altogether. I realized that everyone had moved into the foyer to enjoy the refreshments.
Or so I had thought.
“Willow?” My name was a question, the gravelly voice uncharacteristically hesitant. The voice slid around my right side, revealing gray eyes framed by dark lashes, “Willow, I’m sorry to hear about your parents.”
“I never know what to say to that. Thank you? Don’t be, it’s not your fault? What’s the proper response, Jay?” The words came flooding out of me, thick on my tongue. Jay and I had dated all through high school. He was ambitious and charismatic, if not big-headed, with a tendency to be impulsive. He looked much how I remembered – blonde, fit with sun-kissed skin – only now stubble lined his square jaw.
“I don’t know if there is an improper way,” He shrugged, “I mean, there is. You could punch them or call their mom a llama. People tend to get testy when you call their mom a llama. You didn’t call someone’s mom a llama, did you?”
I laughed for the first time since I had returned, “No, I didn’t.”
“Good, good. Then I think you’re in clear.” His gaze rested on the empty space in the pew beside me. I nodded, and he sat next to me, “How are you holding up?”
“You didn’t see my meltdown earlier?”
“No, I just got here.” Jay had never been good at time management, “but I assume that means you aren’t holding up well.”
I didn’t respond. Silence lingered between us, and while lulls in a conversation had never bothered me, they had always vexed Jay. His need to fill the void won out quickly, “Listen, we should go get drinks soon. We’re both legal now and you need to get out and have fun. We can catch up before you leave.”
“Sure,” My enthusiasm was lacking, but it didn’t hinder the smile spreading across Jay’s lips, “probably won’t be soon, though. I have a lot to figure out. I’m not leaving.”
Flashes of emotions flickered in Jay’s steel gray eyes at this news but eventually, he nodded, “That’s great. You can tell me more over drinks,” I couldn’t tell if he meant it or not. He glanced behind him, at the gathering towards the front of the church where the rest of the community was conversing over appetizers, “I should go say hello. My number is the same.”
“Right, I’ll call you,” I said as he rose, patting my hand in a final show of compassion. The gesture filled me a moment of warmth, and then I was alone again.
I guess that was just something I would have to get used to now.