Click

After Ree’s husband dies suddenly, can she ever get along with her sister-in-law?

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Click: a slight, sharp sound; to fit together harmoniously; to suddenly become comprehensible 

Ree was sitting at her kitchen table working a crossword puzzle when the telephone rang. She waited for her husband to answer, clicking her pen over and over until she heard his voice. 

Since his death, she always let him answer their landline. 

“Hello.” Ted’s voice brought heat to her face. “You’ve reached the Limms. Leave a message. We’ll call you back.” 

On the answering machine, her sister-in-law’s voice slapped Ree like ice water. 

“Hey. Ree. Pick up. … C’mon Ree. Are you there? Pick up.” 

Ree sighed, lifted the receiver. 

“Hey, Georgeanna.” Georg-gee-ah-nah. Too many syllables for such a tiny woman, in Ree’s opinion, but no one ever shortened it, not even Clarence, Georgeanna’s linebacker-sized husband. 

“Get caller I.D.,” Georgeanna said. “Then you wouldn’t have to use your answering machine to screen calls.” 

“I wasn’t. I heard the ringing and rushed up from the laundry room.” 

“Anyway,” Georgeanna said. “It makes me sad, hearing my brother answer your phone. If you feel safer having a man answer, I can send Clarence over. He can record a new message for your answering machine.” 

Ree opened her mouth. Nothing emerged. Her heart pounded into her ribs like it was trying to escape. But no matter how much her heart complained, she knew she would never liberate it. Not deliberately. She, the no-fun parent, the klutz who preferred books to sports, was the only parent her girls had left. 

“Anyway, how are the girls?” Georgeanna asked. 

“They’re fine. They both made all-star this year. They’re at practice right now.” 

“Such athletes,” Georgeanna said. “Hey Kendall! Kailey!” she shouted to her daughters. “They’re both crashing in the family room,” she said, talking to Ree again. “Sleepover hangover. They’ve been spending more nights this summer sleeping at friends’ homes than here. Too many friends! Hey, K-Ks!” 

Now Georgeanna was talking to her daughters again. Ree felt exhausted. And jealous. When was the last time her girls had been invited to a sleepover? 

“Your cousins made all-girl … what, Ree? Baseball?” 

“Softball.” Ree looked at the photo on the wall. “All-star softball.” 

On the wall, Ted smiled from a framed photo. A softball team of 10-year-old girls surrounded him, Becca and Nickie holding a large trophy. He’d coached their girls’ softball teams every year until his death. Both girls, now 14, had been picked for this summer’s all-star team. 

Her daughters. Tall, sturdy, athletic. Ted’s girls. 

Good. Reliable. Strong. Like the kitchen appliances she sold at Home Depot. 

“Softball!” Georgeanna was shouting to her daughters. “Your cousins made all-star softball!” 

Ree heard laughter, then Georgeanna’s voice, still directed at her daughters. 

“Watch your mouth, missy. We don’t talk like that in this family! I’m sorry, Ree. That was Kendall who said dyke ball just now. You probably couldn’t tell which stinker said it, and I don’t want you to blame Kailey. Kailey’s still my sweet 12-year-old. Most of the time, anyway. But Kendall? That girl is 13 going on 21.” 

“I actually didn’t hear anything,” Ree said. 

“No? Well, whew! They’re both too pretty for their own good. Did I tell you Kendall got invited to the senior prom last month? Of course, we said no way. K-Ks! I wish you were both a little less boy crazy and a little more sensible like your cousins! 

“Anyway, they want to know” — now she was talking to Ree again — “when and where are the games. We’d love to come and cheer the family all-stars.” 

Ree heard shrieks, and then Georgeanna scolding. “Girls! Your cousins would appreciate you cheering them on!” 

“Let’s see,” Ree said. “I have the schedule here somewhere.” She rustled the newspaper containing her half-solved crossword puzzle, even as she wondered why she needed to pretend to look for the schedule. She knew by heart when the first round of games was. She’d rearranged her work schedule to ensure she’d be there for every one. 

“You can give me the game dates later,” Georgeanna said. “I was wondering what you were bringing on Saturday. I’ve been so busy with the ’rent, I haven’t been making my usual lists.” 

“The rent?” 

“Par-rent. Ree, you have teenagers. You should know their lingo. Anyway, it’s all on me now, visiting Mom in that nursing home, making sure staff is doing right by her. This past year without Teddy’s help … it’s been so hard, Ree.” 

There was a pause, rare with Georgeanna. What, Ree wondered, was Georgeanna waiting for her to say? This past year without Ted had been so hard on Ree, too. Being a solo parent was surely harder than being the solo adult daughter of a dementia-afflicted mother. 

“Anyway,” Georgeanna said. “I’ve been so distracted that I can’t remember what you said you’d bring to the—” 

“I’m bringing,” Ree interrupted, “an anniversary gift.” 

Anniversary. Her mouth hurt when she said the word. 

Twenty-five years of marriage for Georgeanna and Clarence. It wasn’t fair. Georgeanna had too much. A big house. Beautiful daughters, feminine as lingerie. A husband who loved her. Ree’s marriage hadn’t made it to the silver anniversary. 

Georgeanna was talking, something about the menu and how (annoyingly!) everyone she’d invited was coming. “Can you believe it, Ree? Everyone said yes!” 

But her sister-in-law’s voice was fading. The mystery of Ted’s death was once again shrouding Ree, blinding and deafening her to everything but her husband. 

* * * 

He’d been dead over a year. On a sunny afternoon in May, driving to the nursing home to see his mother, he’d crashed his Mustang into an oncoming 18-wheeler. 

Ree had surprised him with the Mustang for his 40th birthday two years earlier. Their daughters, 11 at the time, had proudly contributed $300 from their paper route earnings. Ree drove the car home while Ted was out golfing. Becca and Nickie then used Turtle Wax to draw on the Mustang’s windows: bats, balls, bikes, fish dangling from poles, three skiers zooming down a mountain. Icons for the activities they shared with their dad. 

Ted loved it. 

“This’ll be the car you girls learn to drive on,” he promised. 

But the girls were only 13 when Ted’s promise died. 

His body was burned so badly the autopsy results were inconclusive. 

There was no way to test for mechanical failure. The car was destroyed. 

The trucker was unhurt. “That Mustang just zoomed over the double yellow line,” he told police. “Right into me.” 

Had Ree’s gift killed Ted? If not the car, then what? 

He’d loved his job, phys ed teacher at a public grade school in the city. A few months before his death, he’d been passed over (again) for the assistant principal position, but he hadn’t seemed upset. “It’s all political,” he’d said with a shrug. 

At his wake, it seemed like the whole school turned out. A handsome young guy, a teacher at Ted’s school, seemed especially upset. Hugging Ree too long, saying how sorry-sorry-sorry he was, like it was his fault or something. 

A few weeks after the funeral, Ree spotted the guy in the mall where she worked. She was sitting in the food court on her break. He walked by, holding hands with another man. The water bottle in Ree’s hand fell to the floor. 

Was that it? Had Ted been romantically involved with him? Had Ted’s secret life gotten him infected with HIV? Was that why he’d stopped making love to Ree in the months before his death? 

Or was this all ridiculous conjecture, the need to know why, to solve the mystery. 

Even if the explanation was totally false, even shameful. 

And it was shameful to know that she could have lived with Ted having something awful like HIV better than she lived with the fear that he’d stopped loving her. 

* * * 

One afternoon while Ted and the girls were out at softball practice, Ree had spent nearly an hour on the internet, clicking the mouse from site to site, looking for solutions. 

Later that night, emboldened by wine and a candlelit bedroom, Ree stroked her husband’s back. “I know you’re a little young for Viagra, Ted, but maybe that’s something to try?” 

Ted sighed. He did not turn to her. He did not see the tears burning Ree’s eyes. His back to her, he murmured, “Is that the kind of love you want, Ree? Is that what you really want? Me to medicate myself into readiness? I do love you, Ree. But look, I’ll get myself checked out. Maybe it’s a thyroid thing or something.” 

Or something. 

What something had veered that Mustang into the truck? 

The unknown was too frightening. For if she didn’t solve the mystery of Ted’s death, how could she prevent the mystery from taking her? From taking her girls? 

* * * 

“Anyway, Ree. No gifts.” Georgeanna’s voice blared through the phone. “Your presence is the only present expected. But what I could use are some appetizers. Clarence is grilling his famous ribs and chicken, but we’ll need fun stuff for the throngs to nibble until the real food can be served.” 

* * * 

The cherry wood door swung open. 

“Ree! Girls!” Georgeanna held a glass of red wine. She tossed her salon-blonde hair. “First ones here! Fashionably early!” 

We’re 15 minutes late, Ree thought. It had taken a while for the girls to work out who would sit in front and control the music. And we parked a block away to leave closer spaces for your older guests. 

* * * 

 It was Nickie who’d suggested parking farther away, despite all the trays they had to bring in. “It’s what Dad always does,” she said. 

In the rearview mirror, Ree saw Nickie’s face droop. Ree’s throat tightened. She felt Becca’s gaze. 

“Did,” Becca corrected. “It’s what Dad always did.”  She slapped the dash and peered at the sky through the windshield. “Hey, Pops. Anyone you can send down to help us haul Mom’s appetizers to the house?” 

Nickie and Ree laughed. The sad moment dissolved. 

* * * 

Georgeanna waved her glass of wine over the trays in their arms. “Enough for an army!” she exclaimed. “Ree, you must have been up all night making them. You look tired.” 

“I’m fine.” Ree straightened her posture, stretched her smile. 

Tired. Code for old. Unattractive. Which at 42, widowed, Ree felt she was. 

“There’re more trays in our van, Aunt Georgeanna,” Nickie said. 

“Oh my goodness gracious. Well, let’s bring these into the kitchen.” She eyed Becca and Nickie. “Don’t you girls look … healthy. I wish I could get your cousins to wear such sensible shoes.” 

Ree felt a burst of heat punch her face as they followed Georgeanna into her vast kitchen. Becca, older than Nickie by five minutes, turned and rolled her eyes at Ree, but Nickie’s ears, exposed by her ponytail, had turned bright red. 

Sorry sorry sorry, Ree thought, wishing her girls could hear her apology. She’d had them wear their church dresses and shoes. Another mistake. One Ted would have caught. 

Kendall and Kailey floated into the kitchen, slender, graceful girls in sleeveless tees and short, bouncy skirts. They wore flip-flops on pedicured feet. Their skin glowed, their hair flowed. They looked up from cellphones, thumbs texting while they managed hellos. 

“K-Ks,” Georgeanna said. “Put down those phones and help your cousins bring in the rest of the appetizers from their van.” 

“Um, excuse me?” Kendall said. “How ’bout putting down that baditude, Georgeanna? And where’s the please?” 

Georgeanna’s face collapsed. Then, she laughed. “Please, darling daughters. And the name’s Mom. Though I’ll answer to Your Majesty.” 

Kendall muttered something, and Kailey snickered, but both girls, still texting, headed toward the front door. Ree’s daughters followed, looking large and solid, Ree thought, next to their petite, shimmering cousins. Kitchen appliances and lingerie. 

Becca turned and smiled at Ree. Ree smiled back, guilt stretching the smile into pain. Ted, she thought, they don’t look like cousins, not a bit. But why would they? Ted wasn’t a blood Limm. He’d been adopted at five weeks old. 

Clarence lumbered into the kitchen, a puff of shaving cream on his neck. He hugged Ree. “How’s my favorite sister-in-law?” he bellowed. 

Ree smiled. She knew he said that to his brothers’ wives, too. 

“Hey, Clare,” Ree said. She grabbed a napkin off the counter and wiped the shaving cream from his neck. She felt a sharp stab of happiness. How she missed doing things like that. Smoothing Ted’s collar, thumbing sauce from the corner of his mouth. 

“Well thank you, Ree,” Georgeanna said. “For tidying up my husband.” 

Ree’s stomach lurched. Another mistake. 

“It’s a never-ending job,” Clarence said. He uncorked a new bottle of chardonnay, an expensive, oaky wine that was Ree’s favorite. He poured Ree a glass. 

“Got it just for you, Ree. I remember it’s what you like.” 

He poured a splash into another glass and held up his drink. 

“Let’s click a toast, ladies! To 25 years!” 

“It’s clink, Clarence,” Georgeanna said. “Glasses clink.” She tapped her drink into his. 

“You say tomato, I say tomahto,” Clarence sang. “Let’s call the whole thing off.” 

Ree laughed and sang out in the same melody. “But not til after the paartaay!” 

She and Clarence tapped their glasses, then Ree held out her glass to tap Georgeanna’s. 

But Georgeanna tightened her lips into a line. She set down her drink without tapping Ree’s glass. Then she broke into a smile. “Those appetizers smell amazing. What’d you bring?” She peeled foil from two trays. 

“Wow!” Clarence said. “Mini quiches!” He popped one into his mouth. “Delicious! And your famous crabmeat dip!” 

“I can feel my arteries hardening just looking at all this,” Georgeanna said. She lifted her glass and sipped. 

Clarence draped his thick arm over Ree’s shoulders. “At parties there’s no such thing as calories or cholesterol,” he said. “It’s a law of physics.” 

Ree forced a smile. “That’s what Ted always said.” 

“Who do you think edjumacated me on that law?” Clarence laughed and patted Ree’s head. 

Georgeanna drank the rest of her wine and slapped down the empty glass. “I’ll see what’s keeping our girls,” she said and left the kitchen. 

* * * 

People and chatter soon filled the house. Georgeanna’s high voice rang out. Five women — all wearing identical silky pink dresses — surrounded Georgeanna like petals around a flower’s pistil. 

“Our bridesmaid dresses!” they’d proclaimed when they first arrived. “From Georgeanna’s wedding!” 

Ree sat at the kitchen table. Clarence’s uncle attacked her with a monologue about his and his wife’s past travels and the ones to come. She nodded and watched people crowd around the granite island, eating her appetizers. Her own bridesmaids had disappeared from her life. But Georgeanna, she kept her friends. 

“These are great, Georgeanna!” one of the bridesmaids exclaimed as she lifted another mini quiche to her plump pink lips. 

“Thank you,” Georgeanna said. 

“How you holding up?” another bridesmaid asked. “Now that it’s just you, managing your mom’s care.” 

“It’s so, so hard,” Georgeanna said. Her eyes glistened. 

Hands reached out, patted Georgeanna’s shoulders, stroked her hair. 

“Did they ever figure out what caused your brother’s accident?” a bridesmaid asked. “My neighbor had a heart attack when he was behind the wheel. Just a few months ago. I was thinking of you when I heard about it. But fortunately his wife was with him. She grabbed the wheel and managed to get the car to the side. He’s fine now. They put a stent in.” 

Georgeanna shook her head. “No way to ever know. Teddy was way too young for a heart attack, but, maybe heart problems ran in his real family. We don’t know anything about them.” 

Real family? Ree kept her gaze on Clarence’s talking uncle, the old man’s quivery voice a burbling river under the sharp, hard words from the women. 

“It’s so mysterious,” another bridesmaid said. “Being left in a laundry basket outside a church. What kind of person would do that?” 

Shopping bag. Ree gripped the stem of her wine glass. 

“Shopping bag,” Georgeanna said. “A Macy’s shopping bag.” 

“We still have that bag,” Ree murmured. 

“What’s that, honey?” Clarence’s uncle asked. 

Ree felt her heart palpitate. Ted’s mother had given the Macy’s bag to him when Becca and Nickie were born. The bag was still where Ted had placed it, folded in a gallon-sized ZipLoc under his sweaters in their bottom dresser drawer. 

The sweaters were the only clothes left of Ted’s. Five sweaters, all knitted by Ree. 

She swallowed the last of her wine. “So,” she asked Clarence’s uncle. “Did you see whales on your Alaskan cruise?” And he happily relaunched his travelogue. 

“The umbilical cord was still attached,” Georgeanna was saying. “They didn’t expect Teddy to survive.” There was a pause. Ree looked up from the chattering old man to the women, and caught Georgeanna’s eyes slicing into Ree, swiftly, savagely. “But Teddy did survive,” Georgeanna continued, looking down. “Until—” Georgeanna wiped her eyes. 

Ree groaned. 

“Are you okay, honey?” Clarence’s uncle asked. 

She excused herself and hurried to the drinks table. She refilled her glass, hand shaking, wine spilling, and went outside. 

To the gazebo. 

It was tucked into a corner of the yard, far from the deck where Clarence and other men were grilling and drinking beer. She was glad to find it empty. How often it had given her and Ted refuge from the competitive chatter of Georgeanna’s parties, Ted with a beer in the wicker chair, Ree across from him with a wine in the cushiony chair. 

She sank into that cushiony chair. 

Through the gazebo’s screened windows, she watched the young ones play football on the vast stretch of lawn. Kendall, Kailey, and several other teenage girls sat cross-legged on the sidelines, looking at phones and every now and then yelling out cheers as the boys ran. 

“Go Nickie!” Kendall shouted. 

So not just boys. Ree spotted her daughters in the thick of the game. Ree wondered if there were now grass stains on their dresses. But they were keeping up and then some. Ree watched as Nickie caught a pass, dodged a tackle, and took off running. Boys converged on her, but just as she was about to get tackled, she lateralled the ball to Becca. The boys adjusted and headed for Becca. Just as Becca was about to get tackled, she lateralled the ball back to Nickie. Nickie scampered untouched into the end zone. 

The flea-flicker. It was what Ted called a move he’d rehearsed with their daughters time and again in their own backyard. 

Ree watched Nickie spike the ball and then, with dramatic flair, curtsy to the boys. The cheerleaders leapt to their feet, cheering Nickie and Becca. “Girls rule! Boys got schooled!” 

The boys laughed and offered fist bumps and high fives to Ree’s daughters. 

Ree closed her eyes. Ted, you’re missing so much. Why? God damn you. Tell me what happened. 

The gazebo door banged. 

Ree gasped. Her eyes snapped open. 

But it was only Georgeanna standing on the threshold. 

“Why are you hiding out here?” She swayed into the gazebo, gripped the back of the wicker chair to steady herself. 

“They ran the flea-flicker,” Ree said. “Scored a touchdown. My girls.” 

“They’re probably ruining their lovely little dresses,” Georgeanna said. 

Ree turned her attention back to the football game. Nickie and Becca’s team was kicking off. Nickie held the ball as Becca ran up to it and kicked a high, arcing ball that spun end over end and landed far beyond the receiving team. 

“I’m sorry,” Ree said. 

Georgeanna frowned. “For what?” 

“For whatever I’ve done to make you hate me.” Ree realized that she, like Georgeanna, had probably drunk too much. 

“I don’t hate,” Georgeanna snapped. “But I think you should let your girls be girls. Not keep jocking them up to satisfy some caveman notion that boys are better. You’re in charge now. Not Teddy.” 

“What?” Ree felt her hair stand on end. 

“You and Teddy. You started them in pee wee football when they were, what, 8 years old? Football! Concussions! Broken limbs! It’s … it’s so goddamn irresponsible!” 

Ree shot to her feet. “They never had a concussion! And we never made them do anything they didn’t want to do!” 

“Kids don’t get what they want!” Georgeanna shouted. She took a deep breath, shook her head. 

“Listen,” Ree began, but Georgeanna lifted her hand like a crossing guard. Ree clenched her fists, waited. 

“I wanted a sister,” Georgeanna said. “But my parents wanted a boy. And they didn’t want to risk doing it the right way. God forbid they’d get another girl. So they adopted Teddy. I was 7 when they brought him home. He cried constantly. Did you know that?” 

Ree felt dizzy. She sank back into the chair 

“He had some kind of stomach problems. Hospitals. Surgeries. My mom, she was never home anymore. Never there for me. Did you know that? She was always somewhere with sick, sick Teddy. So Teddy finally gets better. Perfect. Then my parents are always at his football games or soccer games or basketball games or baseball games. Our vacations were traveling to his away games. And now my mom is sick sick, sick, and Teddy is gone gone, gone.” 

“I love my girls,” Ree said. “Just the way they are.” Their basement shelves were filled with trophies, not just Becca and Nickie’s, but also Ted’s childhood and teenage sports trophies. But Ree had never known much about his early health challenges. 

What else had Ted kept from her? 

“Clarence and I adore our two beautiful girls. Key word there, girls. We let them be girls. We’re happy they’re girls. We encourage them to be proud of their femininity. We’d no sooner have them do a paper route than we’d have them play football.” 

“Then what are they doing now?” 

Georgeanna spun around. Kendall and Kailey had joined the football game. They ran with Nickie and Becca, laughing and shrieking. 

Georgeanna lurched from the gazebo. “Young ones!” she shouted. “Food is ready!” She stumbled toward the players. “Stop! Food! Eat!” 

Kendall threw a pass. Becca caught it, but instead of heading for the end zone, she raced toward the house. 

“Here we come, Auntie G!” Becca shouted. 

Ree smiled. Auntie G? 

Kendall, Kailey, the boys, the cheerleaders, they all raced after Ree’s girls. 

“K-Ks!” Georgeanna shouted. “Your phones?” 

Ree watched Georgeanna straighten her shoulders, march to where the cheerleaders had sat, lift two phones from the lawn, then walk, chin up, with painfully perfect posture, to the house. Something thick filled Ree’s throat. Heat pricked her eyes. 

Ree forced herself to rejoin the party. She ate. She listened to people talk. She laughed when others laughed. She avoided Georgeanna. She drank more wine. When the sun started to set, she carried a full wine glass back to the gazebo, sank into the cushiony chair, and closed her eyes. 

* * * 

The scent of wood smoke woke her. It was dark. On the opposite side of the yard, a bonfire illuminated young, animated faces. Ree sighed. 

“Awake?” 

Ree jerked, her leg knocking the end table. She steadied her nearly full wine glass before it fell off the table. Wine sloshed her hand. A lamp clicked on. Georgeanna sat across from Ree in the wicker chair. She sipped something clear from a tumbler. 

Georgeanna looked out at the bonfire. “The kids are all still here. Clarence is playing poker with the leftover men in the basement. Bridesmaids are watching a movie in the den. Bridesmaids, of course.” 

“Oh,” Ree managed to say. 

“Want to join us?” 

Ree shook her head. 

“Not a fan?” 

“Walked out the theater.” 

Georgeanna nodded. “I wanted to. Don’t tell my bridesmaids. It did pretty well at the box office, though. Proving women can be just as crude as men.” 

“Were you surprised, your girlfriends showing up in their bridesmaid dresses?” 

Georgeanna snorted. “Those weren’t the actual bridesmaid dresses. Who keeps stuff like that? And what woman could still fit into the dress 25 years later? I’d have to unfriend anyone who still could.” She gazed at Ree. “No offense. I’m guessing you still weigh what you did on your wedding day. You look great.” 

“Thank you,” Ree murmured. She slapped a mosquito on her leg. She really was awake, she decided. Not dreaming. 

Georgeanna sipped from her glass. “No, they all plotted behind my back, found a cocktail dress at Nordstrom the same color as the bridesmaid dress, and they all bought one to wear today.” 

“That’s impressive, Georgeanna. They did that. For you.” 

Georgeanna blushed. The blush, to Ree, felt like a compliment, compelling Ree to offer more of herself. 

“I don’t even exchange Christmas cards with my bridesmaids anymore. I envy what you have. I don’t keep my friends. I didn’t keep my husband. I don’t know why Ted veered into that truck!” A sob knifed her throat. 

Crickets sang. A faraway plane droned. Distant voices thrummed from the group around the bonfire. 

And then Georgeanna spoke, so softly Ree leaned forward to hear. “It could’ve been a wasp, something like that. It happened to me once. I was driving on the highway, the windows closed, the A/C on, and suddenly this thing is buzzing around me. I freaked. I’m swatting, screaming. Almost ran into the guardrail. Killed it though. It was a wasp, a yellow jacket. People call them bees because they look like bees, but they’re wasps. Pests. Vicious. We don’t get honey from wasps.” 

Ree felt something loosen inside her. Could it have been as blameless as that? 

“Once I was driving,” Ree said, “and I sneezed. You know how your eyes close just a moment when you sneeze? I almost rear-ended the Toyota in front of me.” 

For a moment, they listened to the voices from the bonfire. 

“Your appetizers were a big hit. Every last one gone. I meant to put a plate aside to bring to my mom tomorrow.” 

“I can make more,” Ree said. “The mini quiches? Would she like those?” 

“You don’t have to do that.” 

“I’d be happy to. And I could bring them to her myself tomorrow, if that’s okay with you. I’d like to bring the girls to visit her. They haven’t seen her since—” She swallowed, unable to finish. 

“I can’t drag my girls to that nursing home unless I pay them,” Georgeanna said. “And then we have a big battle over how they dress. And their makeup. Too much! My mother called them whores once. I know it’s the dementia, but … I wish my girls didn’t always dress like that.” She sipped her drink. “Their grades could be better. Their mouths could be way better. The only time they’re pleasant is when they want money or a ride. Nothing I do seems to work. I envy you, too, Ree. Your girls. I’ve never heard them sass you. They have their heads on straight. A credit to you. And Ted.” Her voice broke. 

Laughter pealed from the bonfire. Ree saw two shadows leave the group and float toward the gazebo. 

Her girls. 

Georgeanna sipped again, took a deep breath. “I was thinking. Maybe Kendall and Kailey could spend more time with your girls this summer? I know they’re busy with All-Stars but, you know, maybe we could go see a game and afterwards, if they ever want to have a sleepover-hangover—” 

Ree nodded. Before she could reply, Becca and Nickie burst into the gazebo. Their faces were flushed, their hair windblown. 

“Who’s hungover?” Becca asked. Nickie punched Becca’s arm. 

Ree and Georgeanna laughed. 

“We’re heading into the house,” Becca said, “to get more snacks and pop for the bonfire. Kendall and Kailey said we could. Is that okay, Auntie G? Can we bring something out for you guys?” 

Georgeanna sighed. “My girls are giving you jobs they should be doing themselves.” 

“It’s fine,” Nickie said. “We know where stuff is.” 

Georgeanna sighed again. “Thanks, girls, but nothing for me. I’m fine.” 

“Mom?” 

Ree gazed at her daughters. They’d never looked more beautiful. 

“Sure! Please bring—” A quick frown from Becca let her know they were anxious to return to the bonfire. “Oh, never mind. We’re both good.’ 

“For now, anyway,” Georgeanna said. 

The girls ran toward the house. Ree watched Georgeanna watch them. 

“They have a game Tuesday night,” Ree said. “We could use a cheering section.” 

Georgeanna turned back to Ree. She lifted her glass. “We’ll be there.” 

Ree held out her wine glass. Georgeanna stretched forward with her tumbler. 

They clicked. 

Featured image: Shutterstock

 

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Comments

  1. I really enjoyed this story. The dialogue between Georgeanna and Ree was strong – and I loved how the family history and dynamics were peeled back throughout the story. Excellent work!

  2. The main characters are both grieving the sudden loss of Ted, husband and son. I was left with more grieving to be embraced by both.

    I have had about a dozen sudden deaths in the last two years at my current assignment, suicide, 2 farm accidents, house explosion, person got hit by a truck walking a road. It leaves the survivors with all kinds of unanswered questions and sometimes brings some tension between family members as they go through the process of grief.

    Folks that identify with these issues should seek grief support groups .

  3. This was an excellent character-driven piece that I really enjoyed sinking into. Great exploration of family dynamics and grief.

  4. A well told story Ms. Anderson. It really runs the entire range of feelings and emotions. This includes not knowing, thinking you might know, could be this or that, or none of them. I like how you transition from one scene to the next.

    I’m glad that the ending had Ree in a better place with her sister-in-law, Georgeanna. I think both women learned to appreciate what they had, and what the other one had; especially with their daughters. The story has a happy ending of sorts in that regard, but what caused Ted’s Mustang to crash into the large truck will never be known, as well as other factors Ree will always wonder about, unfortunately.

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