Lee and his twin sister, Jill, had been as close as only twins can be. When the unthinkable happens, Lee must endure his own grief while he battles to make sure his niece, Grace, who is the very image of her mother, has the best life possible.
With Jill’s in-laws doing everything they can to stop him and contest the will, Lee must lean on the broad shoulders of Brian, the lawyer determined to see Jill and her husband’s will fulfilled and maybe fill an empty spot in Lee’s heart.
I pulled into the driveway of Jill and Paul’s house. I knew this was going to be hard and was glad I had taken a week’s vacation to settle in. It was the first time Grace had been to the house since her parents left for vacation. Mother had come and picked up clothes for Grace, and I had come over and changed the locks on the doors and the code to the garage-door opener. I pressed the button on the garage-door opener. “It looks like we may have a problem.”
Grace looked at me; her lower lip was quivering. “What problem?”
Trying to keep Grace’s attention focused away from coming home, I pointed to the two cars already in the garage. “Well, we have three cars and only a two-car garage. We need to sell one.”
“I guess so.” Grace’s lower lip again quivered, and she hugged her doll to her chest.
I opened the car door, got out, and started into the garage.
Grace stepped out of the car and stopped.
I looked back over my shoulder. “What’s wrong, Gracie?”
Tears flowed from her eyes. “M-m-m-mommy and D-d-d-daddy aren’t here.”
Grace usually surprised people with her maturity, but at this moment, I was reminded that she was just a little girl who’d lost her parents. I spun around, dropped to my knees, and pulled her close. The hard cement was cold even in the heat of July, and the roughness scratched my knee through my jeans. But it didn’t matter; Grace needed reassurance and love.
Patches jumped from the car and tried to squeeze between us. His cold nose hit my arm, and I somehow managed to not jerk away. He whined and ran around, looking for an opening to be part of our hug.
Grace threw her arms around my neck and buried her face on my shoulder.
As tears ran down my cheeks also, I eased down, sat cross-legged on the driveway, and guided her onto my lap. “It’s okay, Baby. I miss them too.” My throat tightened and my heart ached so hard it felt like it was going to break. No matter how much I missed my sister, I needed to be strong for Grace. She was all I had left of Jill but the memories.
Patches placed his front paws on Grace’s leg and licked her arm.
She sniffed and patted his head. “A-a-a-aunt Melissa says I shouldn’t cry, but I can’t help it.”
“Oh, Baby. If you want to cry go right ahead.” I lifted her chin. “Look. I’m crying, too.”
She laid her head back on my shoulder, and I held her close.
Patches stood and barked.
I freed one hand and stroked the dog’s head. “Sit, Patches.”
He whined and sat next to us.
A welcome voice said, “I think you might need these.” A box of tissues appeared in front of my face.
I looked up into Brian’s damp eyes. “Thanks.” I pulled a couple of tissues from the box, handed them to Grace, and pulled out a couple more for my own use.
Brian’s hand rested on my shoulder as I rocked Grace back and forth on my lap. His touch was gentle and reassuring – something I could get used to.
As I blew my nose, a woman’s familiar voice intruded on our moment of shared sadness. “What seems to be the problem here? Is someone hurt?”
The sound shattered the quiet moment more than Ms. Kirkwood’s voice had.
“Quiet, Patches.” I looked up into the social worker’s rugged face. “We’re just having a good cry.”
Grace turned her head and swiped the tissues across her eyes. “My mommy and daddy are dead. They aren’t here.”
I touched her chin and turned her head back to me. “They’re here, Gracie. I know we can’t see them, but they’re here. As long as we remember how much we loved them and they loved us, they’ll always be here. We just won’t be able to see them.” I kissed her forehead. “And as far as Aunt Melissa telling you not to cry, well, you know what Mommy would say to that don’t you?”
Grace smiled weakly. “She’d say Aunt Melissa can just go suck a pickle.”
I wiped my face with the wrinkled tissue. “Right. She can just go suck a pickle.”