Today's Reading

Chapter 1

MADELINE

People parted around us in the courtyard. No one stopped to say anything— why would they? No one had ever seen us before. I paused, hearing something about champagne and a celebration. I was sure I was mistaken. Two women slid around me into the sea of black. From behind they appeared an unlikely pair. One stiff, as if held up by a single rod, while the other walked with the grace of a yogini. Black pants swirled around her ankles.

At the close of the service, we had walked back down the aisle, heads straight, following Dad's lead. But once we spilled out into the stone entryway, the crowd separated us. I looked around for Mom and found her several feet away, talking to a group of women. One reached out and held her arm, as if Mom needed consolation. Perhaps she did. She was the only one in our family who had kept in touch with Aunt Maddie over the years.

The icy rain had stopped, but the clouds felt no less foreboding. The sleet or snow would soon return. Dad watched the sky for a long time. So long, I tipped my head back as well.

"Almost twenty years." He dropped his gaze and stared at me. "That's how long since I spoke to my sister before last month, but she didn't tell me. She said she was calling to say she loved me." He gripped the back of his neck. It wrinkled white under the pressure. "I wouldn't have answered if I'd recognized the number."

His eyes held a rare hint of vulnerability, so I pressed the advantage. "Well, it was about time. It wasn't your fault. None of it."

He cast me an odd, questioning look. Dad, who never questioned. Who held all the answers. "It 'was' my fault. Every bit of it. I had never seen her so angry. But I was angry too, and...ashamed..." Dad breathed in. And out.

"I hated that she judged me, but I don't think she did. I don't think she ever held it against me."

"What? What are you talking about?"

His gaze flickered in alarm or pain before it drifted above and beyond me.

He shook his head and walked toward the church's circular drive.

Bits of conversation snagged me as we passed. "Isn't there a reception?"

"What about her house?"

"Her brother should host one. Didn't she have a brother?"

"No...That was Pete's brother in the front row. Maddie didn't have any family."

I looked to Dad and wondered if he'd heard. If those women had done the same, looked at my dad, they would have seen he never could have been Uncle Pete's brother. He and his sister shared the same deep- set eyes, eyebrows, and nose. Her "Irish twins," Granny Caoimhe called them. They looked alike, walked alike, laughed alike. Both bit the side of their cheek when deep in thought, narrowed their eyes when something didn't sound right, and laughed loudest at their own jokes.

Though, if I remembered correctly, Aunt Maddie's laugh was more of a contagious giggle that held strong until you caught on and joined her. Dad's, I knew from experience, held a slight condescension—you simply hadn't caught the brilliance of his humor.

Mom reached us as their driver pulled to the curb. "Maddie was certainly adored. So many people. Shouldn't we go by her house to make sure it's okay? Houses don't like to be left alone."

Dad opened the car's door. "I haven't heard from her lawyers. Who knows who owns it now? We could be trespassing...Madeline?"

I shook my head. "I have no idea. No one has contacted me."

"That's it then. Until told, it's not our concern." He dropped inside.

Mom pulled me into a hug. "I hate leaving you like this. We hardly saw you this trip." She glanced into the dark car.

"It's okay, Mom. You both are busy. I'm busy."

"It's not okay, but I'll be back in four days."

I nodded.

"I land on the seventh, as I'm sure the firm will host something extravagant on the sixth. I'll get myself to your apartment." She gestured to the parking lot. "How are you getting back downtown?"

"I took the Metra up."

"In the rain? Let us take you back before it starts again." She leaned into the car. "Do we have time to take—"

"Don't worry about it." I tugged at her shoulder. They didn't have time before their flight back to New York. And Dad rarely veered from his predetermined schedules.

"Charlotte?" he called as if cued.

...

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