Say You'll Never Love Me

By: Ann Everett

TWO WEEKS EARLIER, RAYNIE stood in the same spot and swore off bad boys. Absolutely. For sure. Maybe. She squinted behind her Ray Bans and watched her niece pull petals from a daisy and drop them on top of the graves like a flower girl at a wedding. Motherhood had not been on Raynie’s wish list. But dying had not been on her sister’s either.

Raynie should have tried harder. Called more. But she hadn’t, and now it was too late. A year ago was the last time she’d seen Celeste. So when the lawyer read the will and request, Raynie sat dumbfounded. She understood why her sister had made such arrangements. A precaution. She never expected to need them. The odds of losing both parents together were slim, but the seismic shift the tragedy had caused in Raynie’s world was bigger than The San Andreas fault line.

“Are you ready to go?” She tried not to sound impatient, but a cemetery didn’t rank in the top one hundred places she wanted to be. Should a six-year-old cry more? Even at the funeral, she hadn’t shed a tear. But at night, bad dreams plagued the little girl.

“This is Mama’s favorite kind. Sashay daisies.”

The reference brought a smile and Raynie noted how Silbie referred to Celeste in the present tense. “They’re called Shasta.”

“Oh yeah. They look like a fried egg. We have some in the backyard. This summer we can pick’em. Want to?”

“Sure.”

Silbie knelt and ran her fingers across the fresh sod. “I miss Mama and Daddy.”

Tears rimmed Raynie’s eyes, and she bent to offer comfort. “I do, too.” She needed to say more, but what? No clue how to deal with grief in a person so young. Heck, she hadn’t figured out how to deal with her own.

She wrapped her arm around the little one and hugged her close. Other than her dad’s slender nose, Silbie was the spitting image of her mom and Raynie. Same green eyes, honey-blonde hair, mischievous smile. The resemblance was so strong, Raynie could easily pass as Silbie’s mom, but she wasn’t. And the worst part? She didn’t know how to be. She’d killed her quota of goldfish and hamsters. Why had Celeste thought Raynie would be capable of raising a child? Her sister had probably planned the kid’s future by the time she’d brought her home from the hospital, and it didn’t include Tarot cards or men with piercings, tattoos, and motorcycles who glittered Raynie’s life.

Silbie buried her head in her aunt’s bosom. “Mama and Daddy aren’t really down there, are they?”

A knot formed in Raynie’s throat. The questions kept getting harder, and for a fleeting moment, anger pushed grief aside while she blamed Celeste for dying, which was ridiculous, but she couldn’t stop herself. Had her older sister considered the ramifications of her scatterbrained sibling taking charge? Who was she kidding? The roster to choose from offered slim pickings. “No. It’s just a beautiful place to come and think about them.”

Oak trees rustled above her, carrying the fragrance of carnations from a fresh burial nearby. She took the little girl by the hand and led her away from the cemetery. By the time they reached the car, Silbie had already moved onto another subject. “Christian sent me a note at school today.”

“Who is he?”

“He sits two seats behind me and sometimes teacher puts his name on the board because he doesn’t do his work.”

“Oh. What did it say?”

“Do you like me? There was a place to mark for yes or no.”

“Which did you choose?”

“I didn’t answer him yet. What should I check?”

Raynie reached for the door handle. “You want to stop for ice cream before we head home?” Treats were good. No problem with them. And the domestic stuff was a breeze, except cooking. Another weak point. It was the discipline, homework, and comforting duties where she fell short. Now add boys to the list? At six? Damn.

“Mama says I shouldn’t eat a lot of sugar. I’ll get hyper.”

She crawled in and Raynie clicked her safety strap in place. “So you don’t want to go?”

“I guess one scoop might not hurt too much. What about Christian?”

No avoiding the subject, she stooped to Silbie’s eye level. “Do you like him?”

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