Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: In-Law(s) (05/08/08)
By Betty Castleberry
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Her mother-in-law caught her hand in mid air and squeezed it gently. “I’m worried about you. You’ve been taking too many of those.”
Claire’s bottom lip trembled as she struggled to maintain her composure. “Nona, my headache just won’t go away.”
“Sit down and I’ll fix you some tea.”
Claire admired Nona’s strength. She had lost a son, but still managed to take care of her daughter-in-law. In the week that had passed since Jared’s funeral, she had spent a part of every day with her, bringing her food and keeping her company. Claire had been married to Jared for ten years, and from the first, Nona had treated her like a daughter. They spent hours shopping and chatting on the phone. Claire cherished her friendship.
She stole a glance at Nona, noticing her moist eyes. “Are you okay?”
The older woman sat two steaming mugs on the table. “I’m heartbroken, just as you are.
I know what it’s like to lose your husband. John’s been gone eight years, and it still hurts. Losing a son is harder, I think.”
Sipping her tea, Claire looked up. “Why did he have to die? Thirty-two year old men don’t just drop dead of heart attacks.”
“Only God can answer that.”
“I wish I could’ve had children. At least I would have part of Jared here.”
Nona looked away.
“I’m ready to start going through some of his things, but I don’t want to throw anything out yet. Will you help?”
“Of course I will.”
“I can’t bring myself to do anything with his clothes. Can you?”
“If that’s what you want me to do, I will.”
“Please. I’m going to his office.”
Nona stood. “I’ll go to your room and take a few things out of his closet.”
Claire nodded. The office had been Jared’s domain. It was where he had finished projects before leaving on his frequent business trips. She rarely entered, except to vacuum.
The clean scent of his after shave still hung in the room, and his glasses were perched on the desk. For a moment she was almost giddy, expecting him to pop up from under the desk in one of his playful attempts to scare her. She knew the thought was absurd, but she played it over and over in her head as she approached the foreign territory of his desk.
Pushing Jared’s brown leather chair out of the way, she opened a drawer. Inside was an assortment of ink pens and paper clips, along with several small notebooks. She pulled them out and opened one. Notations of business meetings and deadlines were scrawled across the pages.
Claire scooped the miscellaneous items out, revealing a sealed envelope at the bottom of the drawer. Curious, she opened it and removed three photographs. One was a little boy’s school photo. His resemblance to Jared was uncanny. He had Jared’s deep set blue eyes and square jaw. Written on the back of the photo in a child’s handwriting were the words, “To Dad. Love, Brandon.” Her heart began to pound.
Another photo showed Jared with his arm around an attractive woman. They faced each other, smiling. The same little boy stood in front of them, a wide grin on his face. The woman in the picture was the one who had come to the graveside service and slipped away early before Claire could speak to her.
A jumble of confusing thoughts raced through Claire’s head. Her breathing became ragged as a dark reality swirled around her. She got up the courage to look at the last photo. The boy was sitting in a swing with an older woman. It was Nona. The child’s handwriting on the back of the photo read, “Me and Grandma.” Claire felt nauseous.
Nona walked into the den with some of Jared’s clothing draped over her arm. She stopped when she saw the photos.
Claire’s voice was shaky. “You knew.”
She shook her head. “Claire, please, let me explain.”
Claire stared at the woman she thought she knew, then unceremoniously tossed the photos on the desk. They scattered, like the pieces of her broken heart.
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