Home > The Sometimes Sisters

The Sometimes Sisters
Author: Carolyn Brown

CHAPTER ONE

Promise me,” Annie whispered.

“I promise.” Zedekiah nodded with tears in his eyes.

“You’ll bring them all home where they belong.” She reached up and touched his cheek. “They need to heal.”

“I’ll get them here. You rest now.” Zed cradled her frail body in his arms.

She’d been in and out of consciousness for two days, and each time she awoke she made him promise all over again that he’d bring her granddaughters home to the lake resort. Suddenly her eyes opened wide, and she cupped his cheeks in her hands.

“You . . .” Tears flowed down her face.

“I know, Annie.” His salty tears mingled with hers when their cheeks touched.

“I’ve loved you since we were kids.” She inhaled deeply and let it out slowly.

“Oh, Annie—” he started to say, but then he realized that she’d taken her last breath.

Time stopped as he hugged her closer to his chest. One heart beat steadily as it silently shattered. The other heart that had kept perfect time with his for decades had entered into eternity without him.

“Why, God!” he moaned. “I was supposed to go before her.”

Stop it! Annie’s voice was so real in his head that he watched her lips to see if she might start breathing again. I told you that there would be no mourning. We’ll be together again before long—remember when we were separated while you were in the military. You’ve got work to do now. So suck it up, Zedekiah, and call the girls.

They’d talked about this moment for three months and gotten all the pieces in order. Even though they’d argue about things sometimes, the plan was in place for the next step, as she called it. And now it was up to him to make sure that her wishes were carried out. But dear sweet Jesus, he’d never thought about the pain when he’d have to let her go for good.

He laid her gently on the pillow, laced his darker fingers with her paler ones, and bent to kiss each knuckle. “Oh, Annie, life without you isn’t life at all.”

The girls will help, the voice in his head said sweetly. Now let me go, Zed. You’ve got things to do.

“I can’t,” he groaned.

He sat with her for half an hour before he made the call to the doctor, who was also the coroner for the county. When they came to get her, he accompanied the gurney to the van with his hand on hers.

“I understand that she made arrangements beforehand. Do you want to come to the funeral home and see her once more before . . .” The doctor hesitated.

Zed shook his head slowly. “She said that I wasn’t to do that, and I’ll abide by her wishes. I can’t say goodbye. Never could say that word to her and still can’t, but we’ve come to terms while I waited on you to get here. Call me when her ashes are ready.” He choked on the last words.

The doctor patted him on the shoulder. “I’m so sorry. She was a great lady and a good friend to you, Zed.”

“My best friend.” He wiped his eyes. “We made a lot of memories.”

“If you need anything, call me.”

“Thank you. Right now I have to go call the girls, and I’m sure not lookin’ forward to that job.”

“They should’ve been here.”

Zed raked his hand through his curly salt-and-pepper hair. “She wouldn’t let me call them. No tears. No fussin’. That was Annie.”

“Yep, it was.” The doctor nodded. “I’m so, so sorry, Zed.”

“Thank you.” Zed watched the van until it was completely out of sight, waving the whole time, just like he did from the window of the bus that took him away all those years ago when he joined the army to get away from Annie and her new husband. He’d thought he’d forget her, but distance and time did nothing to ease the pain of watching her marry his friend Seamus Clancy and wishing that he’d been born with white skin and blond hair so he could marry his beautiful Annie. But the ache on that day was nothing compared to the one in his heart now as the coroner’s van disappeared while the sun rose over the bridge crossing the lake that morning.

With every single mile, Harper’s head pounded harder. She’d been driving the same old burnt-orange truck two years ago when she came to the lake briefly on her way up to Oklahoma to work at one of the casinos just across the Red River. She hadn’t spent a night on the property in ten years. Not since that summer that changed her whole life.

Ever since then, a rock the size of a Buick landed in her chest every time she got near the lake. The boulder in her heart wasn’t as big as what had been there the day she signed her daughter away, but it was still painful.

She slowed down at the liquor store but didn’t stop. Her sisters, Tawny and Dana, would judge her as it was. If she came in with a brown paper bag under her arm, they’d have a field day. First right-hand turn before the bridge and there it was—twelve cabins located behind the combination convenience store and café. Then just a short distance from the cabins was a small white two-bedroom house. That’s where Granny Annie lived and where Harper and her two sisters had come to visit for a month every summer—but that all came to a screeching halt the summer before Harper’s sixteenth birthday in August.

Beer, bait, and bologna—that’s what Granny Annie called her store. It did offer a little more than that, with bread and other snacks and a shelf of over-the-counter medicine like sunblock or sunburn lotion, for those folks who forgot to bring those items with them. They also had milk and soft drinks in the refrigerator section, a big minnow tank, and a special fridge to hold stink bait, plus two gas pumps out front to keep the boats as well as the cars and trucks all fueled up and ready to go.

She could see each shelf in her mind’s eye as she drove around the back of the store to the café entrance. Uncle Zed cooked up the best food in all of North Texas at the café, and Flora took care of the cleaning. Three old folks had kept the place going for decades, and now one of them was gone.

She parked her truck and leaned her head back, shutting her eyes. She’d made it. No spare tire and the gas tank, as well as her wallet, was empty. “On fumes and prayers,” she whispered as she inhaled the pungent aroma of the lake water along with the smell of freshly mown grass and the first roses of spring, all mixed together with cigarette smoke. Lake Side Resort, as the faded sign above the door proclaimed, had not changed a bit.

Uncle Zed rounded the end of the porch and waved. His green eyes looked out of place in that ebony-black skin. His curly hair, once black as coal and cropped short, now had a heavy mixture of white sprinkled in it and was a little longer, but he would be at least seventy by now—maybe even seventy-one or seventy-two. He and Harper’s grandmother and late grandfather were all the same age. He still looked like he needed rocks in his pockets to keep a spring breeze from blowing him into the lake, but he’d always been a beanpole and he’d always worn bibbed overalls. Some things didn’t change with time—thank God.

A fresh wave of pain pounded through her head when she slid out of the seat and her feet hit the ground. “Mornin’, Uncle Zed.”

He wasn’t really her uncle, but he’d been more like one, or maybe even a grandfather. He’d been far more than an employee at Annie’s Place, that’s for sure. Dana, the oldest of the three, had given him the uncle title, so Harper and Tawny followed suit.

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