Fireworks of Forgiveness
Grace adjusted the browning petals on her bouquet of roses and tried not to think of how much time she had spent here over the past week, mourning. Kneeling beside the grave of her precious little brother, all she could think about was the sudden explosion of light from the backyard and the hysterical screams that she didn't realize were hers until the medics told her to calm down. The hysteria was soon replaced by a strange numbness when they told her that little Joshua was dead.
And it was all her fault.
Grace knelt beside the small grave and kissed the headstone. Joshua would have turned seven last month, but all Hannah saw was his three-year-old cuteness.
"Oh, Josh, I love you."
Grace didn't stop the tears that fell as she laid her roses on the grave.
It was time to go back.
Grace's apartment was small, but it was home. As Grace sat on the old stairs near her house, she thought about dinner that night. Her family had eventually moved on and accepted her brother's death, but every time they looked at her, she felt that familiar stab of guilt. They probably hated her. The fact that she was invited to their get-together was probably out of duty. But she would go, out of duty.
Grace hesitantly rang the doorbell of her childhood house and heard the familiar chime. Oh, how good it would be if she could turn back time!
"Grace! Thanks for coming!" Grace's sister nearly tackled her with a hug when she opened the door.
"Hey, Bridgette." Grace smiled half-heartedly.
Just get into a quiet corner and stay there, she reminded herself. She wasn't about to make this evening more painful than it already was.
Just as she was sneaking over to the dark den, Drake, Grace's always-sensitive older brother, quietly came over to her and took her hand.
"Grace, welcome home. I've missed you."
She blinked back tears and nodded. "Where's mom and dad?"
He shrugged. "I guess they're out with the grill. That thing has been a nightmare today. But hey," he nudged her, "You should come sit with me and Molly tonight to watch the fireworks. You know how much the kids love their favorite aunt."
Kids. Fourth of July. Fireworks.
Grace grimaced and took a step away from Drake. "Thanks, but you should enjoy this holiday with your family. I don't want to get in the way."
Drake looked at her for a long moment before replying, "If you're sure. But never forget, little sister, you are family. We love you, no matter what."
Grace nodded, as she always did, but she felt herself pulling into the familiar shell. He didn't really mean it. He knows it's my fault. It's my fault Joshua isn't here.
It was then Grace decided she had to go.
"I'll see you around, then."
Drake kissed her forehead like he knew what she was thinking. "Goodbye, sis."
Grace drove. Her little car whined and creaked the whole way, but she didn't care. She drove out of habit, not of sight. The tears wouldn't let her. Like a zombie, she got out of her car and found herself in front of her family's church. The church she had not attended since the death of her brother. She looked up at the sky and sighed. It was dark enough; the fireworks would start soon.
After climbing up the stairs, Grace pushed the heavy oak doors open, just as the first firecracker exploded in the sky. All was quiet inside, as most of the congregation was gathered at Grace's family's house, near the waterfront.
Were they all celebrating? Or were they all thinking about what had happened this day, four years ago?
Grace sat heavily in one of the back pews and pulled her knees up to her chest. She heard her mother crying in her room like she did most nights, though she put on a brave face for her family. She saw the sad lines etched around her father's face. She saw her family huddled together the day of the funeral. She felt the hollowness that had followed the burial of a life too young to end.
She felt a hand on her shoulder.
Grace's eyes flew open and she yelped.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I just- well, you see... Ma'am, I can't let you stay here. The church is closed for the fireworks."
Grace turned to see the face of her old high school and youth group buddy, Jason Turner.
To be continued...