Sizzling(Buchanans, Book 3)(81) by Susan Mallery
AFTER THE FUNERAL, Madeline’s friends poured into Lori’s house. The small space overflowed with Madeline’s coworkers and girlfriends, people she’d known and touched in her too-short life. Lori greeted them as they came in, accepting their condolences. Evie stood next to her, but after a few minutes, excused herself.
Lori knew the last few days had been incredibly hard on her. Her mother seemed to have shrunk. She hoped that time would help, as it usually did, but as she, too, was still in shock, it was hard to imagine ever feeling better.
“I’m so sorry,” Gloria said as she entered. She leaned heavily on a cane and on Cal. “I don’t know what to say.”
Lori hugged her. “You don’t have to say anything. Thanks for being here. But don’t overtire yourself. You’re still recovering.”
Gloria’s eyes filled with tears. “Don’t you worry about me, child. I’m fine.”
Lori nodded, and Gloria and Cal moved on. A few minutes later, the last of the mourners had arrived and she was able to walk through the crowd.
She was amazed at the number of people who had shown up to celebrate her sister’s life. There was an equal number of smiles and tears as friends recounted funny and touching stories about Madeline’s life.
She found Penny manning the kitchen, organizing enough food to feed the city for three days.
“We’re good,” Penny said as she looked up from a tray of corn cakes topped with vegetables and tiny shrimp. “I have the food together and Dani’s handling the rest of it. I made some pretty intense desserts. At times like these, sugar always helps, don’t you think?”
“It does for me,” Lori said. “You’ve been great. All of you. I don’t know how to thank you.”
“You don’t have to. You’re one of us. Of course we want to take care of you.”
One of them? If only. But she didn’t say that. She thanked Penny again and returned to the living room.
Reid stood by the makeshift bar set up in the corner. She crossed to him and accepted a glass of white wine.
“You okay?” he asked, then shook his head. “Let me rephrase that. Are you able to handle all this?”
“There’s not a whole lot for me to handle,” she told him. “Your family took care of everything. I want to thank you for that. For being there for me. It means a lot.”
She couldn’t have gotten through this without him. He’d stepped in with Gloria, staying with his grandmother for much of the day, then showing up here to be with her. He’d spent every night since Madeline had died, holding her until she fell asleep.
Part of her felt guilty for not being able to give him more, but honestly, there was nothing left. Her emotional insides were a gray, empty void. Eventually he would get tired of that and move on, she thought grimly. Which meant she was looking at even more pain.
She wanted to say something to him, something that would keep him around until she’d started to recover, but there weren’t any words. Still, she had to try.
But before she could come up with anything, a woman walked over and started talking about Madeline.
“She adored you,” the woman said, smiling, but with tears in her eyes. “I still remember how happy and touched she was when you invited her to come live here. She told me she wasn’t scared anymore. She knew you’d be with her no matter what. She knew how much you loved her.”
Lori nodded. Her eyes burned as her throat tightened. “She was my sister,” she managed.
The woman gave a little sob. “Sorry. This has to be ten times harder for you than for me and I’m barely holding it together. I just wanted you to know that Madeline talked about you all the time.”
Others approached her with different stories. There were more kind words until Lori couldn’t take anymore. She escaped to her sister’s room. After closing the door and leaning against it, she realized she still wasn’t alone. Her mother stepped out of the small closet, a red blouse over one arm.
“I remember when Madeline bought this,” her mother said, wiping her tears. “She had just filed for divorce and she said she wanted to buy something cheerful. But the blouse looked horrible on her and I couldn’t seem to lie about it. I remember us standing in my living room, laughing over the fact that she couldn’t even buy the right blouse.” Tears fell and she wiped them away. “She was always ready to laugh at herself.”
“I remember. She tried to pawn that blouse off on me, but I told her there was no way it could look better on me than on her.”
Her mother sighed. “She was always a beautiful girl. Even as a baby, she was lovely.”
“I know. She never took a bad picture. Even those horrible school pictures turned out great. I hated that.” Emotions swept through her. She sank on the bed and clutched her sister’s worn and tattered teddy bear to her chest.
“I hated her,” she whispered. “God forgive me, sometimes I hated how beautiful and charming she was. How everyone loved her.”
Her mother sat next to her and hugged her tight. “You hush right now. Don’t beat yourself up, Lori. You didn’t hate your sister. Not ever. You wanted what she had and there’s a difference. You never give yourself enough credit. I know I’m to blame for that and I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Lori told her. “It’s fine. I’m okay. I just wish…” She swallowed hard. “I wish I’d been nicer or something. I wish she’d known how much she mattered to me.”
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