Finding ForeverBy: Melody Anne
She crept back down the stairs and sat motionless on the living room couch. When the morning light started peeking through the windows, her six-year-old niece, Ally, wandered into the room, still gripping her blanket. She was rubbing her eyes, and she smiled when she spotted Whitney sitting there.
“This is great! You’re here so early!” the girl exclaimed before cuddling up in her aunt’s lap.
Whitney smoothed her niece’s hair while the two of them waited for Brayden to join them.
When he finally appeared, Whitney had no choice but to be the bearer of bad news. How could they possibly move forward?
One year later
Whitney gazed out the window, watching as snowflakes drifted down on top of one another, creating a blanket of white. At one time, this had brought her joy. Now, it only brought sorrow.
She sat back down at the counter of her temporary customer service job, watching the clock for closing time. She wanted to get home to her nephew and niece. They had become her one and only focus over the past year. At least it was a focus she loved with all her heart.
They’d all had a year to grieve. Now it was time for that to stop. — they had to build new memories. Though it would be difficult to let go of the pain, that was exactly what they needed to do.
She would at least have time to do that, since this would be her last day at this job. And her prospects weren’t great. Finding a good job that offered a flexible work schedule was much easier said than done. She’d been surprised to find how few people were sympathetic to her situation. Employers just didn’t seem to understand that her niece and nephew always came first. She’d certainly have to go looking for another job soon, but she decided to spend the Christmas holidays with the kids first.
Because their parents had died at this time last year, it was especially hard on all of them. But she couldn’t extend her vacation for too long. They needed the income that she provided.
She had to sigh. So many changes in such a short period of time — taking care of two young children, putting her education on hold, and trying to hide the pain she felt at losing her sister.
Sometimes she felt selfish that she worried about where her life would end up, especially since connecting with her nephew had been difficult if not impossible. He was bitter and angry at the loss of his parents, and he seemed to feel that he should have done something to prevent it, that it was somehow his fault. He was now ten and acted like an adult. It frightened her.
She was failing on every count. Dealing with the world had always been easier for her sister, who had made life in general look effortless. Her sister had been the perfect daughter, sister, wife, and mother. There wasn’t anything Maxine couldn’t do. What had gone wrong with her own DNA, Whitney had to wonder? She hoped that her sister wasn’t looking down upon her and shaking her head.
The final customers walked from the store and Whitney moved to the front door, locking it for the last time while her co-worker counted out the till. It didn’t take long, and then the two of them left the store together before separating and rushing to their cars.
The roads were icy, but Whitney didn’t mind much. At least having to drive slowly gave her a few extra minutes to paste on the smile she needed to have in place when she stepped through the front doors of her home.
Her sister and brother-in-law had left the fully paid off house and custody of the children to her. There had been a modest life insurance policy, but that was the children’s money, and the only reason they were able to stay in the private school they’d attended since they’d begun their education. She wouldn’t tap into any more of the fund than she needed to. Enough had been taken from the kids already.
Even though she was making as few changes in the children’s lives as she possibly could, the one thing she wanted to change but couldn’t was the never-ending ache.
“Time …,” she murmured. She’d been saying this same thing over and over again for more than three hundred and sixty-five days. Everyone told her that all she needed was time, that time healed everything. Maybe one day that would turn out to be true.
She squared her shoulders and stepped into the house. The home was eerily quiet, which immediately worried her. She knew beyond a doubt that if the kids were quiet, they were most likely up to no good. She tossed her purse onto the chair and went in search of the two. She stepped into the kitchen and felt her feet slip out from under her.
“What the heck?” she yelled as her tailbone connected with the ground and she thrust her hands out to stop herself from sliding. What in the world was on the floor? She rubbed her fingers against it and smelled. Was it cooking oil? Yes, and worse. There was a mixture of flour and oil all over the place. What had the kids done now? And where in the heck was the sitter?