The Billionaire's Instant BrideBy: CJ Howard
She smelled of lilacs, her favorite perfume. Callie could never smell lilacs without thinking of her grandmother. Calista had worn the scent for years, and it was a comfort to Callie. Her grandmother was dressed in black that day, as was Callie, bearing the color of loss to show on the outside how dark their pain was on the inside.
Calista said on the night that Harrison died that the angels had taken him and he was surely in heaven, but she was selfish and she didn’t want him to go. She wanted him to stay with her until it was time for them to go together. She felt that death had cheated her out of the remaining days she had with her husband, but Callie knew that it wasn’t death. It was cancer, and each day that he lived it was another day of pain, misery, and sadness for him. He felt that his sickness had been a burden on the two women in his life, and on everyone who came to help them and support them. He wanted to go, though he would never say so to his wife. He only said it once, to Callie, feeling like it would be a blessed escape, freeing Calista from the agony of seeing him go through it all as he was, and freeing him from having to go through it.
The pastor stood again and asked if anyone wanted to say anything. Callie and Calista sat in their seats as many people got up to say kind and loving words about Harrison, and when they were through, the pastor spoke a long and thoughtful prayer, and then invited everyone to the church for refreshment and company. Callie and Calista hugged the people that came to give them condolences and thanked them for coming. When the group of people thinned, they each paid their final respects to Harrison, and Calista left a red rose for her husband on his casket, and then walked back to the car slowly with Callie.
They spent the afternoon at the church where Calista and Harrison had gotten married as young adults, where their daughter had been baptized, where their daughter had been married, and where her funeral had been. It was the church where Callie had been baptized, and it was the church where Harrison’s memorial would be held. A lifetime of people seemed to come and show that they cared, and Callie knew that it meant the world to her grandmother, though Calista was too heartbroken to do much more than hug and thank each of them.
By early afternoon, Callie took her grandmother home and helped her to bed, knowing that the only thing the old woman needed was rest. Callie kissed her cheek as Calista laid on the bed in her room, and then she went downstairs and paused partway down the steps looking at the wall of the stairwell. It was lined with photographs from almost every year of their lives. Her gaze moved over all of them, seeing time pass in each of them. She was a baby with her parents in some, then a toddler, and then a small child with her grandparents. She smiled at the images of her learning to ride a bike and play at the beach, waving from a diving board and walking through a forest. She saw herself at the awkward transitional years in her early teens, and then more changes as she bloomed into a young woman.
The most recent family photograph of her, Calista, and Harrison, had been taken a year before. He was already sick, though not bound to a bed as he had been for the five months prior to his death. She could see how tired and ill he was, but still he smiled and held Calista’s hand. Callie was standing beside him wearing a white summer dress. It made her mocha skin look like dark caramel. Her shoulder length wavy black hair was down and she had a flower in it at her ear, one from her grandmother’s garden that Calista had put there for the picture. Callie’s form was slender like her grandmothers, but she had feminine curves that were full and complemented her figure. She looked into her sea green eyes in the photograph and saw that she had been happy that day. Her rounded lips were lifted into a wide smile, softening the angled line of her cheeks.
It was often said to her that she was beautiful, but she didn’t think of it often, and she didn’t really see herself that way. She thought she was pretty, but not much more so than anyone else she knew. She didn’t feel as if she stood out in a crowd, and her grandmother had told her once that that only made her more beautiful.
Tears filled her eyes and her chest grew tight with an ache for her grandfather as she stood there looking at him while his image smiled back at her. She drew in a deep and shaky breath and walked down the stairs and out of the kitchen to the back yard where her secret paradise garden waited to comfort her and lift her spirits.
Afternoon sun glowed warmly in the kitchen when Callie walked into the room. She liked the look and feel of it, but when her gaze moved to her grandmother, sitting at the table, the glow seemed to fade some, and her lighter heart faltered.
“Hi, Grandma. How are you doing today?” she asked in concern as she walked over to stand behind the chair her grandmother was sitting in and hug her shoulders.