“This is the most time my father has spent alone with me in the past twenty years. He’s just as quiet, too,” Bradford whispered to Angela seated next to him in the small viewing room of the funeral home. Images of what Bradford had endured as a young boy, seeking scraps of attention from his father, ran parallel to her own futile attempts of securing affection from Harold, her father. She squeezed his hand in support while looking at the others.
Kiva, his oldest sister by eighteen years, sat alone on the front row and stared forward. Angela had met her for the first time when they arrived an hour ago and the woman’s dark green eyes looked through her as if she weren’t standing two feet away. Her greeting lacked warmth and sincerity and she seemed like the shell of someone who had once lived a vibrant life. It seemed the death hit her hardest, certainly harder than Bradford’s other sister Morgan, who was fifteen years his senior. She sat two rows ahead of them with her son Neville, a row behind Kiva, and for the most part seemed unaffected.
She and Bradford sat in the fourth row, the last row of people mourning the life of the deceased. Even Harold would have a better turn out than this and Angela avoided looking at the white casket in the front of the hall. Turning, her gaze clashed with Morgan’s, something akin to pain or compassion filling her eyes before she turned away, avoiding Angela’s probing look.
“I wonder if he would stay, in this room, I mean. Breathing the same air that I am if he had a choice,” Bradford continued, his voice rose above a whisper and was clearly heard in the pristine silence of the small room.
Angela’s hand tightened on his thigh. The smooth, crisp feel of his Giorgio Armani trousers filled her palm as she shushed him. Uncomfortable over his heartbreaking comments, she wished she were anywhere but here. Rather than continue staring at her hand on his leg, she looked over her shoulder and met the mocking gaze of Bradford’s nephew.
“Seriously Angel, he hated me. Never spent any time with me if he could help itand Mother wasn’t much better.” Bradford slid his arm across the back of the bench seat and met her gaze. The cold stare sent in their direction and the clear disdain on the face of his eldest sister buffeted her. She didn’t know how to help him other than listen to his recounting of time spent with the man laid before them.
“I keep telling you we are a perfect match we both had crappy parents. You had your grandparents to care for you and I had Nanny Griffin. Well, until I turned fifteen and she died.” The distant light in his eyes made her wonder if he saw the older woman nearby. All of his childhood stories included his nanny, and Angela had always thought she was his mother until he’d corrected her at Christmas.
“Then off to boarding school and forgotten… by everyone.” Since he didn’t bother lowering his voice, everyone in the room heard his unofficial, unprompted, and certainly unrequested tribute of his father. The cool room seemed colder, and it had nothing to do with the temperature. If Kiva stiffened further she’d break and rather than respond, she stood and walked to the front where the body lay.
Angela watched the tall, thin woman stare into the face of her father and brush her fingertips across the satin lining of the casket and the elegant movement seemed loving, and adoring. A woman who didn’t contact her only brother regarding his father’s illness, death or funeral, and yet exemplified such caring qualities mystified Angela. How could anyone do that to their sibling?
When she’d left her sister Melissa and Sebastian at the condo in Miami on the way to the airport, Bradford had received a text of his father’s upcoming cremation. Considering he hadn’t been informed of the man’s recent demise, the announcement had been a shock. They’d changed plans and headed toward San Antonio, arriving late that morning and had just made it to the funeral home after the viewing started. This entire funeral escaped the bands of anything she had ever experienced.
“Bradford, are you done, can they finish here?” Morgan asked, looking over her shoulder at them.
He looked at his Cartier watch and then offered a tight smile in response. “We’ve traveled a great distance to make this … event. I’m not done saying goodbye.”
Her dark brown eyes softened, she pulled her hair behind her ear and nodded. “You haven’t gone up to see him, how can you say goodbye? Go ahead and close this door.”
He straightened his tailored pants and leaned into Angela while shaking his head. “Soon. I’m preparing myself. His body’s being cremated right?”
She nodded and left the room.
Angela placed her hand over his as he released a breath. His sisters hadn’t discussed anything with him, had blindsided him with the death, and if he hadn’t changed their plans at the airport, he would have missed this final viewing. Silent, she hurt over this slight. Even now, it seemed he wasn’t a part of anything, more a distant relative granted crumbs from the floor near the table. Perhaps the age differences were to blame and they still thought of him as their kid brother, but Bradford hadn’t been a little boy in a long time.
“I understand you’re into computers.” Angela looked over her shoulder at the nephew. His scraggly beard, ill-fitting pants and wrinkled shirt seemed out of place with the other two well-dressed women in the room.
“Yes. I know a little about them,” Bradford said, removing his arm from around her to shake his hand. “You must be Morgan’s son, Neville.”
The man’s head bobbed before settling. “Yeah, heard you had been something of a wonder-kid on computers. Made half-million on a software program before you graduated high school. Heard the old man,” he tilted his head toward the casket, “made you repay him for the money he spent on that fancy boarding school they sent you to.”
Noticing the slight clenching of Bradford’s jaw, Angela rubbed his thigh instead of punching his nephew in the face. Sabrina and Melissa would be proud of her restraint.
“So they knew about that, huh? Didn’t think anyone knew where I’d been sent since no one contacted me the entire time I was there. Weird, huh? To have a brother and never check on him? Make sure he’s okay? Right?” Bradford’s hard tone sent a shaft of pain through her. Despite the lack of affection from her parents, she always had her sisters. She stiffened as Kiva walked toward them.
“They’re taking the body now to prepare it for cremation. If you want to spend any time with him, go now. I’m not holding this up any longer.” Glassy-eyed, she walked out the room, leaving her, Neville, and Bradford in the room.
Angela pushed against his arm. “Go,” she whispered, understanding he needed to do this, put the matter to rest. None of his childhood stories had mentioned his father, mother, or sisters for that matter. He needed to close the door and move forward.
Neville left the room, leaving them alone.
“Go, say your good-byes,” Angela said softly. Her heart squeezed at the tortured look in his eyes.
He shook his head. “I never… he never… I always thought there’d be time to show him, to prove I was good.” He closed his eyes and exhaled. When he opened them and met her gaze, her heart fell to her stomach at the pain.
“It’s just that I wanted… I wanted to prove I was good enough… someone he could be proud of, you know?” he said in a ragged whisper, looking away. She wiped the tear from his cheek with her thumb and laid her forehead against his. This had to be killing him inside.
Swallowing hard, she forced out the words. “Baby, he knew. Whether he ever said it or not, he knew. Come on, it’s time to say goodbye.”
He wiped his face and nodded. “Come with me.”
Angela leaned back and offered what she prayed was an encouraging smile. “Of course, I’m here for you. Let’s do this.” She stood and waited for him. Together they walked to the front of the room and looked at Michael White for the last time. Pale skin stretched over a bony canvas, with spiky eyelashes and thin lips were the visible remains of the man who’d taken her man through hell. Some people weren’t fit to be parents, she knew better than most.
“They didn’t want any more children. He thought they were done after Morgan. They had plans to travel, see the world and have fun. They’d done their duty and raised two children,” Bradford said in a low voice while staring at the body.
Unable to think of anything to say, she tightened her hold around his waist and leaned close.
“I was… unexpected, a weight around their necks, a problem to be solved. He didn’t want a son.”
“Bradford, I’m sure he did.”
“No. He told me to my face, more than once. The first time I was six. The next day Nanny showed up. The next time my father made sure I knew he wanted nothing to do with me was in the email he sent after Nanny died. That note also included instructions to catch a flight and papers enrolling me in an all boy’s boarding school in Tennessee.”
His fingertips touched the satin on the casket. “Yeah, he was quite the fatherly figure, probably told them not to tell me he died, wouldn’t be surprised. Like I said, if he could walk away, chances are he wouldn’t breathe the same air with me.”
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