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Three years ago, Ben had forced Lanie to bring him to Dre’s track meet when he was fresh from the hospital. This time, Lanie was the one wheeled across the grass in a wheelchair. She felt like she was drifting on a cloud. Not high enough, though. She popped another Vicodin and chewed it slowly, enjoying the sharp bitterness.
“Don’t,” she snapped at Jennifer before she could start up again. “I’ll take as many as I want. This is a hard day.”
“You should put on your hat, though. The sun is too hot for – ’
Lanie launched the hat in the path of the wheelchair, and Jennifer ran over it before she noticed. The gathered guests pretended not to see.
“Stop being a brat,” Jennifer snapped.
“Stop being such pretentious cow. I just want to get this over with.”
Oh, and look. Wasn’t that just great – here came the Pastor. Bob kept moving toward her, even though she tried to look away and pretend she didn’t see him. He knelt in front of her wheelchair, and put a hand on her arm. She shook it off. The last thing she wanted was to be touched by a bunch of people who were “sorry for her loss.”
“Listen, I don’t want to hear your spiel about how he’s in a better place and whatever. That it’s part of God’s plan. As far as I’m concerned, God can go – ”
She was shocked into silence when he pressed a finger to her lips.
For a moment all they did was stare at each other. Then he swallowed. “My friend is dead, Lanie,” he whispered in a broken voice. “He was like a second chance at a son. And he left one of my other friends behind. And three children, whom I consider my own grandchildren. He left behind a world that’s a whole lot darker without him.”
The words were like knives directly in her heart. But she’d been expected to be cut to ribbons today. “What do you care? If he’s where you think he is, you should be leaping for joy. ‘Do not mourn like those who have no hope,’ remember? Isn’t that a quote directly from the almighty Newsboys?”
“Even Jesus wept when Lazarus was in the tomb.”
She tapped a finger to her chin. “Well, he brought Lazarus back, didn’t he? What about Ben? Speaking of big, dark places, you should take your Jesus and shove him up your – ”
Lanie froze, and looked behind her.
Ruth sprinted after them, but the tiny terrors were on a mission. Dre broke away from his huddle with Jaylin and Fletcher, but he couldn’t stop them before they flung themselves at Lanie. It was so odd, watching them collide with her legs, and feel nothing. It wasn’t until Sam scrambled up on Lanie’s lap that she felt a sharp little knee in her stomach. Sam, so much stronger now, hauled her sister up, and they both clung to their mother.
“Bad mommy!” Sam yelled, clubbing Lanie over the head with a plastic blue pony. “You stayed out past your bedtime!”
“Why didn’t you come home?” Summer whispered. “Grandma Rowan said you and Daddy couldn’t have any visitors.”
“What are they doing here?” She glared at Ruth. “This isn’t a place for children.”
“We’re not babies!” Sam snapped, and this time, Lanie caught the pony before the three-year old could put out her eye. “You’re a mean mommy. You took Daddy.”
“Mom.” Dre approached, and snatched Sam. He was ready with a restraining hand when she vengefully tried to bite his neck. Lanie realized her boy had aged. He didn’t look thirteen. He looked like an ageless, old soul. “I made Ruth bring them. They don’t understand what’s going on. We all need to say goodbye to Dad.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “So, you think you’re the man of the house, now? You think you get to make those sorts of decisions?”
He hefted Sam, and gazed down at Lanie and Summer. “We’re a family, Mom. For better or for worse. I know you didn’t want this. But we have to stick together.”
She glared at him, fighting the tears that spilled into her eyes. He looked just like his father. That’s what was different. He looked so much like Ben now that it cut her to the center of her being.
Popping a Valium, she motioned for them to proceed.
“Best seats in the house,” she commented acidly as Jennifer wheeled her to the end of a row of padded metal folding chairs. She had a sprawling view of the rows and rows of grave markers dotting the hillside of Kirkby’s municipal cemetery. “Anybody have snacks?”
From his spot next to her, Dre gave a world-weary sigh. “Mom, please don’t make this worse. Everyone already feels bad enough.”
Sam glared from Dre’s lap. “Bad mommy!”
Dre slapped the girl’s hand sharply, making Lanie flinch. “Sam. Listen to me. You stop that right now, do you understand?”
The quiet murmur around them broke slightly as everyone peered at the family of four. Summer began to wail, reaching for her sister. Dre hauled her off of Lanie and gripped one little chin in each hand. His amber eyes blazed with cold wrath as he stared into his sister-cousins’ eyes. Even impetuous Sam shrank from him, whimpering with quivering lips.
Well. Maybe he had a little of Lanie in him, after all. A little of Sean. A little of Vincent, and a little bit of Basso.
“Twins,” he said in a soft, menacing tone. “You will stop this, now. Do you want me to take you home?”
They shook their heads, little braids slapping their cheeks.
“Do you want to say goodbye to Daddy before he goes to heaven?”
They nodded gravely.
“Alright. Then stop it. All three of you.” He shot Lanie a look that included her in the reprimand, not blinking when she glowered back. “Let’s all show some respect. Dad…Dad was – ” his face started to crumple, and for a moment he was a child again, but he slammed down a hard mask. “You guys behave, or you’re all going home.”
“Yes, Sir,” Lanie mumbled, then made a zipping motion on her lips when his eyes flashed at her.
She’d raised him right. She would have taken a minute to feel proud, if it wasn’t for the fact that she was swimming in sedatives. She mostly felt empty.
“I want to sit with Mommy.” Sam gazed at Dre with watery eyes.
He looked at Lanie, his own amber ones questioning, and after a sigh, she reached out her arms for her girls.
Sam cried softly into her neck, ruining Lanie’s black blouse with snot and tears. Good. She hadn’t wanted to wear this, anyway. That witch, Jennifer, had insisted that she look “presentable” for this spectacle, and hadn’t let her come in her ratty black Sex Pistols t-shirt and drawstring shorts. Jennifer didn’t appreciate Lanie’s sense of style the same way Ben had.
Lanie sniffed, and buried her head in her daughter’s glossy black hair. Pastor Bob stepped up to the microphone. Suddenly, she felt like she had to flee. She couldn’t be here. This wasn’t right. But she couldn’t move. She couldn’t go anywhere on her own. She wasn’t strong enough yet to push her wheel chair over grass.
Bob looked so terrible. Everywhere she went, people walked around with egg on their faces. How very popular her husband had been.
“Um. Hi.” Bob cleared his throat, but his voice still sounded thin. “I had a whole thing prepared. I know it’s my job to be strong for you all but…” He stared straight into Lanie’s eyes. “But our church is a family. I don’t have to pretend with you. I…I’m broken. Wrecked. My heart is wide open. I just can’t believe he’s gone.” His voice cracked, and he wiped a tear. “He’s gone.” For a moment Lanie, could see clearly that Bob was talking about Jonathan. But then he reminded himself. “Bennett Murray Goldberg.” He looked up to the bright blue sky for almost a full minute, while tears tracked down into the collar of his shirt. Rowan looked like she wanted to go to him, but then he continued. “It was too soon, my son. Too soon.”
“I don’t want Daddy to go to heaven,” Sam whispered, and Lanie patted her shoulders, despite herself.
Get on with it, she implored the Pastor with her eyes.
“Anyway. Ben was a part of this church longer than I was. He dropped off for a bit in the middle, but he started playing with this worship team when he was almost seventeen. Then he became our beloved worship leader this year. Some of his song choices were a little unconventional.” A smattering of titters. “But one thing always shone through: his love for Jesus. When Ben loved, he loved with everything he had. To say he was full of life was an understatement. Oh, he had a temper, and a lot of pain in his life. But he was also just an exuberant, loving man, who embraced everyone around him like family, no matter where he went. To know him was to love him.” He pressed his lips together and gazed at Lanie. “I could go on. There’s so much to say, and I’m sure we will never stop remembering him. But before we go on, our worship team would like to play a few songs.”
A group assembled on the raised platform. Fletcher grabbed his guitar, Ruth sat at the piano. Ian got on the drums, and Ruth and Audrey got up to sing. They looked resolute. Stoic. Their makeup was smudged under their glistening eyes. Without looking at each other, they took a unified breath and began.
Lanie was expecting some sort of Christian repertoire, but they started off with “The Reason,” by Hoobastank. A few sobs rose from around her, but Lanie gripped Sam and focused on Ruth’s steady, clear gaze. Then, when they started with “Smile,” by Uncle Kracker, there were some appreciative laughs, and nodding. And then, they played “Gone, Gone, Gone,” by Phillip Phillips. They continued with upbeat songs, until they motioned for everyone to stand up.
“We believe that Dr. G. is dancing with the Lord right now,” Fletcher declared, wiping his eyes as he took the mic from Ruth. “Let’s dance with him for a few minutes.”
He pressed something on his phone, and then the two-hundred people assembled to honour the life of Dr. Bennett Murray Goldberg jumped and danced and clapped their hands to the tune of “Work This Body” by Walk the Moon. Sam jumped off of Lanie and grabbed her sister, and they squealed with laughter.
Cautiously, but hopefully, Dre stood in front of Lanie with an outstretched hand. “May I?”
Oh, why not? She was high as a kite; she may as well enjoy it. She took her son’s hands, and they bobbed their heads and swung their arms together, and then the twins pushed in, twirling their little black dresses and squealing with laughter. In her haze, she squinted her eyes in the glare of the sun, and thought she saw him poke out from behind one of the huge speakers, head thrown back in laughter. She smiled back at him, but when she blinked, he was gone.
All good things must come to an end.
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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
~ Romans 15:13