Then her mother died, bringing her back to Sonesville and throwing everything she thought she had figured out into the wind and scattering it like so much dust. She's no longer sure she made the right choices, and the lack of close, personal relationships in her life suddenly feels lonelier than ever.
But her mother hasn't really left her, not yet. Chandra McCarty isn't going anywhere until she convinces her daughter there is more to life than deadlines and detached relationships. Her ghost has no intention of letting go until Janice finally realizes home isn't just where she lays her head, it's where her heart is.
Pastor Crane took his place in front of us, waiting for the stragglers to find a place among the silent crowd. For a long time the only sound drumming in my ears was the constant snap and flicker of the canopy against the wind, and then Pastor Crane cleared his throat. Moments later he began the recitation of departure and Dad hovered closer to me.
My eyes stung, and I tried to tell myself it was the chill of the wind, but the truth was I never expected either of my parents to die. I knew death was inevitable, but in the daily scheme of things the last thing that entered my mind was the fragility of my parents’ lives. There would always be another day, another chance for me to say goodbye. I always imagined on her death bed she’d be able to hear me, and in perfect health she would respond and tell me just how much she loved me. She would forgive me for going and staying away so long, but none of that happened.
I hadn’t even been given the chance to say goodbye.
Dad lowered his arm onto my shoulder and drew me into his chest just as Pastor Crane said the words, “In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our sister Chandra.”
There was the squeaking sound of pulleys as they began to lower the casket into the ground and I nearly choked on the heavy ache that restricted the muscles in my throat.
“We commit her body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
My father stepped forward and knelt, clutching a trembling handful of earth to toss it over her casket, but I couldn’t step close enough to even see it. The anxiety inside of me was so deep I knew if I saw that casket in the earth I’d lose control.
Pastor Crane’s voice sounded far away, and my cold ears burned with a nervous fire. “The Lord bless her and keep her, the Lord make his face to shine upon her and be gracious unto her and give her peace. Amen.”
Amen. . . Amen. . . Amen.
It circulated through the crowd, and though I tried to form that word inside my own mouth, I wasn’t able. I hadn’t prayed since my last visit to the Sonesville Baptist Church more than eight years earlier, and the only time I’d said the word amen had been in sarcastic reply to some silly statement.
Dad walked back toward where I stood still beside Lottie Kepner, and the first thing I noticed was the dirt on his shoes, dirt that had been dug up so they could put my mother into the ground. The notion pressed on my already frazzled nerves, sending me into the next phase of realization. My stomach trembled within, and for a moment I was sure I was going to be sick, but then something completely unexpected happened. A cold numbness in my face crept upward into my cheeks, along the top of my skull before it circled around the back of my neck. The scene before me seemed to waver like asphalt in the hot sun.
“Janice,” the slow echo of my name bounced upon the drumming canopy flaps. I saw hands reaching for me, but my vision began to blacken around the edges. I was falling backwards, the way I sometimes fell in dreams: endless, drifting while the world swarmed in around me. The slapping of those flaps dulled to a faint whisper, and for a moment I could hear nothing else but the dry rustle of leaves above me.
Dark emptiness curled around me like a blanket, while that hush of leaves carried me far away.
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