The bonfire crackled and snapped, its sparks kissing the night and then disappearing like barefaced pixies, having their fun and then flitting away. It didn’t speak much to constancy, but Hannah refused to take it as an omen. It was just a fire; nothing more.
“Do you think this will help?” she asked, clutching a paper bag in her hand and staring at the flames.
Lexi didn’t answer right away. “Maybe.”
Hannah nodded. She would take ‘maybe.’ It was better than ‘no.’
“No.” Hannah sighed. “And yes.” She looked down. “I don’t want to let go.”
Lexi’s smile didn’t quite reach her eyes, but it was warm just the same. “Neither did I. Letting go hurts, Hannah. I’ve been there. But in cases like these you have to let go of what’s behind so you can grab hold of what’s ahead with both hands. That’s the only way it will work. Besides, it’s worth it in the end. Just keep thinking about what you’re grabbing onto.”
Hannah thought of Simon.
Lexi actually laughed. “Yeah, I recognize that smile. Just don’t let it fade, ok? You won’t regret this, but you can’t ever go back. That’s what this fire is for. You need to understand that.”
“Symbolically severing the umbilical cord, you mean?” Hannah shook the bag, feeling a familiar bittersweet pang. She was ready for tomorrow. She just wished it didn’t mean letting go of yesterday. She took a deep breath. “Ready.”
Lexi nodded, and Hannah opened the bag as a painful tightness coiled in her chest. Out came a picture of her bedroom. Twenty-five years swelled in that room—like waves—some big, some small, some frightening, some warm. It was her playroom as a child, her haven in her teenage years, and now, after tomorrow, her parents’ office. Hannah tossed it in the fire, watching as the flames darkened and then curled the edges, causing the photograph to collapse in on itself.
A tear fell.
Hannah reached in for item two. A postcard with her name on it. Her maiden name. Tomorrow she would go by a different one. It, too, went in the fire as Lexi watched silently.
Only one more to go.
Carefully, Hannah took out the last item, a photograph of her family, smiling and wearing Santa hats at the local Mom & Pop Diner last Christmas. It was a duplicate—she wasn’t burning the original—but she struggled to let it go just the same.
Hannah gently touched her mother’s face and choked back a sob. She looked desperately at her older sister. “I don’t want to do it. Is that bad? Am I betraying Simon?”
Lexi reached over and put her arm around Hannah and tugged her close.
Hannah sniffled into her sister’s jacket.
After a moment, Lexi let her go. “It’s not betrayal, Hannah. It’s love. Simon understands how much you love your family. Not wanting to let go of your life here, with them, doesn’t mean you don’t want to marry Simon.”
Hannah nodded. “I want to marry him more than anything else in the world.”
“And tomorrow you will. You will put on that white dress, and you will walk down that isle, and you will pledge yourself to a man whose love for you, sis, shines in his eyes every time he looks at you. It’s a little nauseating, if you want the truth.” The corner of Lexi’s mouth turned up, but the joke fell flat, and she touched Hannah’s face. “Tonight may be one of the saddest days of your life, but keep focusing on tomorrow because tomorrow will be the happiest. It’s the bittersweet paradox. Now toss it in.”
Hannah bit her lip and then quickly dashed the tear sliding down her nose. This was it. Tomorrow she would be Hannah Whitmore. A married woman. They would move away, and she would live in a new house, and she would cook from strange pots and pans and sleep in a strange bed. And in a year or two, she would start to forget what it was like to live twenty-five years in her parents’ home. But today, she was still Hannah McMann, and Hannah McMann didn’t want to fade away.
Simon. Good, strong, steady Simon.
With a determination born only out of love, Hannah tossed in the photograph and turned away, finally ready to let go…let go, so she could cling with both hands to the man she loved…and never let go.
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