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From This Moment(5)
Author: Melanie Harlow

After the pain of missing my brother, I hated that the most. The helplessness. But a close third was the guilt I felt that he was gone and I was still here. He’d had a wife and daughter. It was hard not to lose myself to thoughts of it should have been me.

I braced myself on the counter and took a few deep breaths.

“Oh?” My mother was chopping vegetables and didn’t look up as I turned around. “Did you invite her for dinner?”

“I did, but she said she had plans.” I stuck some cheese in the fridge and a box of crackers in a cupboard.

“Plans? I wonder what kind of plans.”

“She didn’t say.” I could practically see the wheels spinning beneath my mother’s shellacked blond bob, which I was pretty sure had been in place since her sorority days at Tulane. Was there tension between her and Hannah? Drew had sometimes complained to me that our mother was hard on his wife despite everything Hannah did to please her. Both of us agreed it wouldn’t have mattered who either of us brought home—no one was ever going to be good enough for her boys. Deep in my gut I felt a stab of loneliness for my brother. How was it possible we’d never have those conversations again? I’ll stick up for Hannah, I promised him silently. That was something I could do to feel less helpless. To honor him.

“She’s been working way too much, bless her heart. The early hours she keeps are ridiculous, and I think she has a babysitter for Abby going on five days a week. You’d think she’d want some family time at night.” My mother never criticized anyone without blessing their heart. I think she felt like it smoothed the rough edges of whatever she was saying, but I could hear the disapproval in her tone.

“She’s a single parent. She’s got to work, doesn’t she?”

“Oh, I don’t know about that. I think they had decent money in the bank, and there was the insurance money, too.”

“Well, then,” I said, taking an apple from a bowl on the counter. “She must really like her job. What’s she doing?”

“She makes breakfast over at Valentini Farms Bed and Breakfast.”

I bit into the apple. “I didn’t know the Valentinis had a bed and breakfast.”

“The old Oliver place, right across from the farm. It’s been open a year or so. Pete and his wife Georgia run it.”

“Oh yeah?” Drew and I had grown up hanging out with the Valentini brothers, and we’d graduated with Pete. Hadn’t seen him in years, though. “I’ll have to check it out.”

“I didn’t see how they were going to turn that old mess of a house into anything,” said my mother, “but it really is lovely. Jack’s wife Margot did a lot of the decorating, I think. She looks like she has the best taste of anyone there. And I think she comes from money.” She whispered this last part, as if someone else was in the room with us and might overhear her saying something crass.

“So Jack remarried?” There was nothing my mother liked better than small town gossip, and I figured asking about everyone else in town would keep her off the subject of Hannah.

“Yes, last year. They just had a baby in April, a little boy. I sent a casserole—the chicken with the mushroom and sage. Everyone was so happy for him after losing his first wife. I wrote you about that, right? I think you were already in Africa. It was right about the time Abby was born.”

“I remember hearing about it.”

“Anyway, that man was a mess for years. No one thought he’d ever get over it. So how did Hannah look?” My mother wiped her hands on her apron and turned to face me. “She’s lost way too much weight, but I can’t get her to eat much of anything I make.”

“She looked fine.” She had looked a little pale to me, and definitely thinner, but I wouldn’t mention that. And for God’s sake, I was the spitting image of her dead husband. Who wouldn’t go a little pale?

“I just hope she’s feeding Abby better than she feeds herself.”

“I’m sure Abby is fine. I can’t wait to see her.”

“Did y’all make plans to get together?” She went to the fridge and took out a stick of butter, eggs, and milk.

“No.” I took another bite, weighing my next statement carefully. “I think it was hard for Hannah to see me. I don’t want to push her.”

“She can’t keep you from Abby. You’re her uncle.”

“She’s not, Mom. She said I could come by the house. I’m just saying I want to be sensitive to the fact that I’m probably a painful reminder of Drew for her. She looks at me and she sees him.”

“Well, she’ll have to get over that.” She sniffed as she started whipping something in a large mixing bowl. “She’s not the only one who misses him. She can’t just shut us out.”

“She’s not shutting us out. Give her a break.”

“I have,” she said petulantly. “I’ve tried to help her. It doesn’t seem like she wants my help. I offer to watch Abby at least once a week and she turns me down. Says her sitter is already booked.”

“Are you giving her enough notice?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. A day or so, I suppose.”

“Why don’t you try giving her a week?”

Another sniff. “I don’t always know when I’ll be free a week in advance. But she needs someone to look in on her and Abby. She didn’t even catch the warning signs with Drew.”

“Mom. Drew’s death was not her fault. It was no one’s fault, you know that.” My voice was sharp.

She didn’t say anything, just kept whipping and whipping and whipping. I was amazed whatever was in the bowl didn’t slop onto the counter.

Finishing the apple, I tossed the core in the trash. I was beginning to realize why Hannah might have turned down the dinner invitation. “Well, if you’d like to go over and see Abby with me tomorrow or Friday, let me know. I’m going to take a run before dinner if there’s time?”

“Yes. There’s time.” Suddenly she turned to me, her eyes wide with fear. “Be careful, Wes.”

“I will.” After Drew had his heart attack, I’d had all kinds of tests done, but there was no sign of the hypertrophic cardiomyopathy that had caused my brother’s sudden death. I gave her a hug and she wrapped her arms around my waist. “You’ve got nothing to worry about, okay?”

“I miss him so much.” Her voice was muffled against my chest.

My throat tightened. “Me too.”

“Oh, Wes, it’s so good to have you back home.”

I hugged her, thinking there was at least one person in town who might disagree.

 

I ran along the beach, waving at neighbors, smiling at dogs and kids, getting my feet wet where the lake encroached high upon the bank. After two miles, I paused to take stock of my body, making sure my heart rate wasn’t too high, my chest felt loose and pain-free, and breathing wasn’t too difficult. I’d brushed off my mother’s concerns, but the truth was that hypertrophic cardiomyopathy was usually inherited, and our father had high blood pressure. Like many physicians, I’d tended to ignore my own health concerns over the years in favor of helping others, so a little extra vigilance when it came to monitoring my own health was warranted.

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