Dawn woke from the blackness of sleep. The room was dark and the scent of her mother filled her senses. Just enough light filtered in from under the door to tell her that she was alone. Alone, and surrounded by all the things she remembered from her time spent as a pseudo-teenager here: Her mother’s dresser, her mother’s clothes, her mother’s pictures.
She could barely make out the painting over the mahogany dresser, but she knew every detail of it if she closed her eyes. It held eleven shiny gold butterflies, caught mid-dance around a black and white bouquet of flowers. She knew that if she ran her fingers over the cream colored material, it would have the unexpected softness of cloth instead of paper.
Inhale, exhale. No matter how long in between visits, that smell would always tell her she was home. Which means,
she thought, I have to face Luke.
With a resigned sigh, she stood, straightened her clothes, and left the peace of her mom’s room.
The mourning friends had left. But one soft conversation could be heard down the hall. Dawn walked slowly toward the kitchen, not wanting to intrude on her mothers voice. It had been two and a half years since she’d heard it without the metallic filtration of a phone line. There’d been better things to do. More pressing matters than seeing her mom, or her little brother.
“Thank you so much for helping to clean up, Laurie. I don’t know what I’d do without you and Luke.” Noreen’s voice was weak, as if she hadn’t the strength to raise it.
“Nonsense. It’s a blessing to us to help you.” The clatter that followed spoke of cabinets opened, dishes put away, refrigerator shut. The dishwasher turned on.
Dawn froze in the hall, just beside the kitchen doorway. She might have stayed there for hours, contemplating the idea that Laurie had somehow, unselfishly, taken her place in the time she’d been away. She felt cheated, and thankful. Before she had too long to ponder her feelings, the front door opened.
Luke spun before entering, before seeing her standing there. A bolt of electricity struck her at the sight of him. After so long away, something in her still longed for him. She watched as, with one hand on the door jam, he steadied himself on one foot to press the remainder of his cigarette on the bottom of his black dress shoe. He reached for a used plastic cup to put it in. He looked good. Better, even than she remembered him. Reddish-brown hair, wavy and loose after a day of running his fingers through it. A little softer around the belly, perhaps, but it fit him somehow. He looked comfortable in his skin. She shook herself in the split second she had before he turned toward her. She remembered to don a small smile as he saw her. His cinnamon-brown eyes caught her standing in the dim light wearing black jeans and a slept-in dress shirt. She suppressed the urge to check her collar, her buttons, her hair. Fidgeting was never attractive.
“Dawn.” He said it with a smile that fit the situation. Sad and happy and a little hesitant. She stifled a snicker as his hand flitted halfway up toward his hair, only to stop and move to his slack’s pocket instead. He’d been told about the fidgeting thing, too. That’s what happens when you spend so much time with a group of people.
“Hi Luke.” She moved forward and so did he. They embraced, then backed a step away as if the previous moment of awkwardness had never happened. As if they hadn’t both been thinking of that night - the one with the tequila, and starlight.
“Sorry about your brother,” he said.
“Yeah, me too.” She crossed her arms in a self-hug that could have meant she was sad, could have meant she just didn’t want to talk about it. Her eyes left his and turned to Laurie as she walked out of the kitchen.
Laurie smiled at Dawn and stood beside her man, one arm around his waist. He leaned in to kiss her blonde head, but had yet to release his gaze from Dawn.
Finally, Laurie cleared her throat. “Dawn, why don’t I make you a little something? You must be hungry.” She moved back to the kitchen, holding Luke’s hand.
Luke obeyed and went as led, waking from whatever trance had taken him. “Yes, you must be” he agreed. “How long was the flight? You’re living all the way up in Maine these days, aren’t you?”
Dawn gave her mom a quick hug where she sat, then took the chair next to her. Her mom smiled at her, but her eyes were glazed over. Dawn sent a worried glance toward Laurie, who shrugged in reply.
Dawn answered Luke’s question. “Portland. The flight was long, but I can’t believe I just fell asleep like that.” She turned to Noreen. “Mom? Did you nap, too?”
“Did you get some rest too, or did I just conk out by myself in there?”
Noreen responded with a hand on Dawn’s arm. “I had a nice lay-down with you. I’m fine.”
Dawn wondered when her mother had turned into this old woman. She supposed the death of your husband, followed too soon by the death of your son, would age anyone. She could sympathize well after so many losses. But the only thing about her that showed her age was her eyes, and she’d learned to mimic innocent youth long ago. Noreen had not.
Luke pushed on with the conversation while Laurie pulled a piece of left-over casserole from the microwave for Dawn. “What do you do now?”
“I’m working at the hospital, in the billing department. Terribly dull, really. I’ve been thinking of quitting, but … no where’s going to be perfect, right?”
“Yeah – grass is always greener.”
Laurie asked, “How long are you planning to stay?”
“Just the three days – I have to get back to work on Monday.”
“M-hm,” she agreed. But a glance at her mom’s vacant stare made her wonder if that was a good idea. Maybe a couple extra days wouldn’t hurt.
“I guess I’ll figure that out tomorrow. I don’t really get much in the way of sick days, but …” They all considered Noreen. Changing the subject, Dawn asked Luke, “What about you? Still doing the law thing?”
Laurie jumped in. “He’s just been promoted to lead clerk at Gruthers and Bailey.”
He shrugged, “It ain’t partner or anything.”
“Oh, come on. It’s great.” Laurie showed her support with a side hug and a kiss.
“Well, it does mean I can pick my hours a bit better. The lead gets his hands in everything, so it’s more stressful in some ways, but I’ll also get to order the other guys around, so I won’t have to work nearly so many weekends.”
“Well, that’s fantastic.”
Silence followed as Dawn finished her dinner. At her last swallow, Laurie took her plate and put it in the sink. “So…,” She peered at Luke, expectantly.
“Right,” Luke said. “We should probably get going.” He rose. “Will you…will you be okay?” They all watched Noreen stare at the salt shaker.
Dawn stood and saw them to the door. “I’ll be fine – we’ll be fine. You two go on. Thank you so much for helping out tonight. I’m sorry I wasn’t more help. I can’t believe I slept like that.”
“Oh don’t worry about it, really.” Laurie gave her a small hug, clasped Luke’s hand again, and lifted her purse off the side board. Dawn got the distinct impression she was jealous. It seemed comical after so long.
Luke released his hand from his girlfriend and gave Dawn a proper hug this time, holding on for an extra moment. “I’m so sorry about Sam.” He put a little space between them, but let his hands rest on her upper arms. “You call us if you need help with anything this weekend. We’re just 15 minutes away. You still have my number, right?”
“I, I’m not sure. Mom will have it.”
He pulled his wallet out and took out a business card. “Laurie, do you have a pen?”
She had to let go of the door, which swung half closed as she fumbled in her purse. She handed it to him and he wrote on the back of the card.
Dawn accepted it. “Thank you.” She let her smile move from Luke to Laurie and back again. Luke seemed hesitant to leave.
“Why don’t we pick you both up tomorrow for the funeral,” he offered.
Laurie added, “Unless you don’t want us to. Noreen’s car is in the garage.”
“Actually, that would be wonderful. I haven’t been to this funeral home and I don’t think mom’s going to want to give me directions.” There was a slight strain on the word ‘this’. She been to so many others. And there were so many who hadn’t had that privilege – the normalcy of being buried by a funeral home.
They left her standing alone in the small foyer. The house was silent. She looked at the back of the card. After his number, Luke had written “Cell - Call any time.” Maybe Laurie has a right to a little jealousy
, she thought.
She returned to the kitchen. “How about we call it a day, mom?”
Noreen looked up, her face brightening. “Dawn, you’re up. I’m so glad you came.”
She ignored her mom’s shiny eyes in order to keep things moving, helping her stand and move toward her bedroom. “It’s time for bed, mom. It’s after ten o’clock.” She sat her on her bed and turned to the old dresser. Noreen’s night clothes were in the second drawer down on right, like they’d always been. She pulled out a light blue nightgown and handed it to her mom.
Noreen put it in her lap and continued to stare at her daughter.
Dawn smiled at her, then sat beside her and, pressing her mom forward, undid the buttons that ran down the back of her dress.
“I missed you, Dawn.”
The words were clear; vivid in their truth. Dawn swallowed hard and stood. “You get some sleep, and we’ll have a nice breakfast in the morning. Alright?”
Dawn stepped out to the hall, closing the door as she went. “Good night.”
The door closed, Dawn let out a sigh before heading for the guest room. Thankfully, her forgotten suitcase and purse had made it into the room. She unpacked a few things, then climbed into bed in a large white shirt. For someone who’d just slept through the last couple hours of her brother’s wake, she was beyond exhausted. Her eyes closed and she saw her little brother. Sam, the super-hero, jumping off the swings. Sam, the protector, kicking a boy in the shin because he’d kissed her. Sam, the man, who’d stayed by his mother’s side all through their father’s funeral. Just four years ago. Sometimes, it seemed, death just wouldn’t leave her alone.
A/N: Thanks for reading! Please review:)