I feel a tug on my hand and I look down into the face of my five year old niece Lana. Her big brown eyes blink at me and she holds up her other arm, indicating she wants me to lift her up. Her tiny frame weighs next to nothing as I heft her up against my side. She rests her head against my shoulder, playing with my tie. She’s probably never seen me in a tie before. I don’t make a habit of wearing them.
But they seem required attire at the funeral of your older brother.
I still can’t believe he’s gone. He and his wife both, suddenly. Permanently. Leaving behind two little kids who don’t even understand what is happening.
Her little brother Eason is next to us, sitting on my mother’s lap. He’s got his own tie on, in a pint-sized suit my mother had purchased two days ago. My parents are functioning but grief etches their faces, their normally cheerful smiles and welcoming personalities dulled with the weight of it. I don’t know what to say to them. I don’t know what to say to Lana and Eason, or my sister Brandi.
For years my family and I feared for Brandi’s life. She’s two years cancer free now, but she was the one we all braced ourselves to lose. Never accepted, never that. But she was the one we worried about, focused on. And now, out of nowhere a car accident steals my brother.
The priest closes his sermon, everyone bows their heads in silence.
The next voice to break the silence is Hunter, announcing the family has invited everyone back to her cafe for refreshments. Although I suspect it won’t be long before people migrate from her bakery and the food, two blocks down to my family’s bar and the alcohol. We are half Irish after all.
I haven’t seen Hunter all week. Not since I showed up unannounced on her doorstep, still numb with the news.
Lana snuffles against my neck. “Tutu is sad,” she says softly, referring to my mother.
I rub her back and agree, “Tutu is sad.”
“Mommy and Daddy are in heaven now?”
I have to clear my throat before I can respond. “Yes, pretty girl.”
Mourners come up to my parents, offering condolences, before turning to me and my sister. People are slowly dispersing from the grave site. I know many of them will be waiting for us at the cafe, my parents are well loved in our Chicago neighborhood. I’ve moved to a different part of the city, but am still a frequent face in the neighborhood. And now that I’m on television on a regular basis I’m almost as popular as my folks.
Lucas, Jax, Logan, my Vanished family all approach and take turns hugging me, squeezing my shoulder in sympathy. They hardly knew my brother. He’d left Chicago before I’d met any of them. Their support reminds me how lucky I am.
Finally it’s just the family left. We say our goodbyes. More goodbyes. Constant goodbyes. Ones none of us are prepared for. My mother starts crying and Brandi scoops Eason out of her arms, allowing my father to hold her, his own eyes watery.
When we reach the cafe, Hunter has closed for the day in order to accommodate the crowd of people, the air seems less oppressive. Women have switched into more comfortable shoes, men have loosened their ties, ditched their suit jackets.
There’s forced laughter, people trying to remember funny stories from the past. Children are allowed to run and play and sneak the tiny cakes Hunter and her assistant have made.
Slowly, I make my way through the crowd finally finding myself across one of the buffet tables from Hunter.
“Hey.” I’m awkward, which is, frankly, unheard of for me.
“Hi, Mace.” She smiles, briefly meeting my eyes before returning them to the food she’s plating. “How are you handling everything?”
I open my mouth to respond, but nothing comes out. I don’t know what to say to her. Before my silence becomes painfully obvious, Logan interrupts.
“Here he is!” she says cheerfully, bouncing Eason on her hip. “This little guy was looking for his ‘Unkie’ Macy.”
I ignore my stab of disappointment at the interruption and lift him out of her arms. “What’s up buddy?”
“Jus?” I’m still learning to decipher his three year old language.
“Jus,” he says again.
Hunter looks up, I think recognizing my confusion, and turns her smile to my nephew. “Do you want some juice?”
“Do you like apple juice?”
He nods again.
“I’ve got some juice boxes in the back,” she tells me and disappears into her kitchen.
“Son, your mom and I need to talk to you.”
“Sure, Da.” I glance at Logan and she nods, grabbing Eason back until Hunter can return with his juice. “Thanks.”
“I’ve got him. Best date I’ve had in ages,” Logan grins at me.
My parents have settled into a table in the back corner and I kiss my mom on the cheek before taking an empty chair.
They look at each other soberly before my mom nods, some unspoken communication happening between them. They turn their attention back to me and my dad hands me an envelope.
“The last time your brother and Christy came home they talked to us about their wishes if something were to happen to them.” His voice cracks on the last and my mom grips his hand, giving him strength. “They asked us to give you this letter.”
Confused I look between my folks and the envelope on the table in front of me. “Is this their will?” Is this how wills work? I don’t even know.
“It’s about Lana and Eason,” my mom says gently, placing her other hand over mine.
I don’t know if it’s grief or exhaustion that’s making me slow, but I still can’t quite grasp what’s going on.
“They chose you, Macy. They wanted you to raise Lana and Eason.”
“They gave custody to you.”