Previously: Sarah Jane’s father died. At the funeral, she contemplates how God has abandoned her family in spite of all the good works they do. At the church luncheon afterwards, she decides to go home. On the way out of the parking lot, she passes an arriving Prius with a driver who looks like Sarah Jane’s long lost sister Rachael.
THE BANDBOX HAT
I slammed on the brakes. The car stopped with a jerk and the seatbelt dug into the side of my neck.
My cheeks flamed and I felt heat rise from my gut. It totally figured. Rachael would come back for a funeral but she couldn’t be bothered to be a part of our lives. She turned her back on the gritty details of deciding on a casket.
Rachael took off when she had to decide between raising her son or living her own life. It shouldn’t surprise me that she couldn’t deal with her parents’ illnesses or deaths. My shoulders slumped against the vinyl seat.
I glanced behind me to see the blonde climb out of the Prius and start toward the hall. She didn’t look my way so I couldn’t see her face. I stared, willing her to turn her head. She wore dark jeans, a peasant-style blouse, and teetered on stiletto heels. She tugged the door open before disappearing from my sight.
Should I go back and see if it really was my prodigal sister returned for the funeral feast?
I jumped at the horn blare. A minivan wanted to get into the parking lot but I was blocking their way.
I waved and pulled away.
It probably wasn’t Rachael, anyway. Just my imagination playing more tricks on me. After all, I’d been seeing my sister all over town for years now.
Instead of heading home as I’d told Anna, I drove back to the cemetery. The asphalt drives meandered past green lawns and budding trees. From my car, I stared at the place where a crowd had been gathered just a few minutes ago.
Workers had already filled in the hole. A big brown stain marred the manicured fescue where Daddy’s shell had been planted.
My knuckles whitened as I gripped the steering wheel.
God, what are you doing?
Tears seeped from my lids and meandered down my face.
What should I do?
I dabbed away the dampness with a tissue and snorted a laugh. I was nearly twenty-seven years old. I was a teacher. I was single. I had the whole world in front of me. Why couldn’t I seem to leave Rosedale? Rachael had left without even a backwards glance. She left not just her hometown, but her son and her husband. Jesse left his family.
I stared into the sycamore tree that would shade Dad’s gravesite come summertime, not wanting to take that last thought to its logical conclusion.
Jesse left me.
After Rachael, Mom left. Now, Dad. I was left behind again, only this time, my only comfort was my brothers and Anna and April. Two of the boys were the strong, silent types, just like Dad. Nathan was my favorite, but given the way Carlene had clutched his arm, he might not be available to be my strong shoulder much longer. Jake’s first allegiance had to be Anna and April. Even though Anna drove me crazy, I wouldn’t want it any other way. Jake made a commitment to Anna when he married her and this family already had one member who bailed when things got rough. Jake wouldn’t be that kind of a flake.
I was more alone than I’d ever been. Everyone I’d ever loved had moved on, leaving me to clean up after them. Whether it was hurt feelings to soothe, or a messy shared bedroom, or a classroom of hooligans, I’d been cleaning up after someone for most of my life.
My jaw ached and I rubbed my chin as the thoughts and memories continued to flow over me.
Rachael climbing out the window and holding a finger to her lips as Dad called through the closed door. “You girls okay in there?”
“Just fine, Daddy. Good night!” I sang out in reply.
Rachael flashed me a thumbs up before slipping over the sill and out of sight.
Then Jesse. “I’ll be home in a couple of weeks,” he’d promised. It was months before he came back for a visit and then I heard about from Mrs. Grunwald next door. He never called. Not once.
Mom. Growing weaker until she could no longer get out of bed.
Dad. Strong and vital one day. Gone the next.
Who’d be next? Jake? Or someone else? My stomach clenched at the thought of what God had up His sleeve for me. He could take April in an accident. She rode the bus to school most days. No seatbelts. Crossing railroad tracks. She loved the swings out on the playground. And playing hopscotch. She could slip and fall and crack her head on the concrete, the way she skipped out to recess every day.
What would I do without my sweet niece? What would Anna and Jake do?
I turned the key in the ignition, jumping at the grinding noise it made since I’d never turned it off.
I jerked the gear shift and drove at least three miles an hour over the posted speed limit sign of ten MPH. As soon as I exited the cemetery, I turned toward home and pressed the gas pedal.