Bright morning sun glinted on the stained glass windows of the gray stone church. Lauren Grant left the memorial garden where the ashes of her sister and brother-in-law had been interred inside the stone wall near her parents’ site. She rubbed her arms to chase the chill of the autumn day.
Conversations flowed around her. She drew a deep breath to force back the tears ready to fall. Not yet. She had to leave. More words of sympathy might release the flood.
As she dashed past the stairs leading to the sanctuary, she saw him standing with the pastor, two of Jim’s colleagues and a teacher friend of Carrie’s.
Tony Carlin. Tall, broad-shouldered, dark hair. She felt sure his piercing blue eyes compelled witnesses to tell the truth when he questioned them on the stand. Jim’s brother and the man she had to share custody of their ten month old nephew troubled her. She wasn’t sure why, except sharing wasn’t part of his nature.
She reached her six-year-old hybrid sedan. In the sunlight the car appeared more blue than green. She slid into the driver’s seat, started the engine and drove through the streets of the
town to her classmate’s house. The action gave her time to control the need to
cry. She was on the way to pick up Jamie. The baby didn’t need to see her cry.
She parked in the driveway of the white frame house and rang the bell. Her friend opened the door.
“Tee. Tee.” Jamie’s happy cries greeted her.
She held out her arms and he almost leaped into them “Were you a good boy?”
Marsha smiled. “He was a dream. Wish my hellions were the same. I have your notes from yesterday’s class. Will you be there tomorrow?”
“Have to be.” Lauren sank on the couch. “With midterms looming I can’t afford to miss another day.”
“Makes two of us. I made a list of classmates willing to watch Jamie. Do you have someone for tomorrow?”
Lauren nodded. “The young man I tutored for Carrie signed up for weekend duty. He watched Jamie for them several times so they could go out to dinner.” Lauren struggled to fit her squirming nephew into his blue jacket.
“Study hard tonight,” Marsha said. “I’m sure there’ll be a quiz.” She walked with Lauren to the door.
“Never fails.” Lauren wished she could follow her friend’s suggestion. Hopefully there would be time to copy yesterday’s notes as well as go to battle with Tony Carlin over the guardianship issue.
The trip from her friend’s house to Carrie and Jim’s condo took ten minutes. Jamie’s chatter had ceased the moment she’d fastened him in the car seat. At least he hadn’t cried this time. Did he remember the accident?
She turned into the circle of the development and parked in the driveway of the unit. She’d lived here since the day of the accident and the deaths so Jamie could have a familiar environment. After opening the garage door she lifted Jamie and carried him inside.
She nearly lost her composure. “Just Auntie.” Tears she dare not shed burned her eyes. “Just Tee.”
“Tee.” He patted her face.
“Hungry?” She removed his jacket and put him in the blue and yellow highchair. After setting a pan of water to heat she opened two jars of baby food and headed the meat and vegetable combination. She poured water from one of his bottles into a cup. Jamie used the plastic container as a hammer. He settled as soon as she popped a plastic bib over his head. She sat on a bar stool at the counter separating the narrow kitchen from the rest of the first floor. With a spoon she fed him.
After Jamie finished both jars of food and drank milk from the cup she carried him to the spacious nursery. There she changed his and sat in the rocker to feed him the rest of the bottle.
When she placed him in the crib he was asleep. She turned on the monitor. For a time she studied him. How much he resembled his father and uncle, except for his hazel eyes, a gift from Carrie.
With a sigh she walked downstairs, straightened the kitchen and leaned against the counter. The tears of grief she’d held inside refused to be contained any longer. As though a water pipe had ruptured, gasping sobs accompanied the flood.
She gulped deep breaths attempting to control the gush of grief. She cried for her young nephew deprived of the parents who had adored him. The tears turned butter when her own loss arose. Carrie ad Jim had dragged her from a slide into self-destruction and helped her become a woman with a future. The sobs morphed into mourning for the couple who would never achieve their potential and never see their son grown into a man.
As Lauren wiped her eyes thoughts of Tony Carlin rose.