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Alone for the first time in days, Raegan Fairbanks dug her nails into the palm of her hand, staring into the blackened storm. Through a thunderous crack of white, she hardly flinched. She placed her hands on the frigid windowpane, absorbing the house’s vibration. The lightning was close, just overhead, but her vision stayed loyal to the white bench, its luster holding her eyes. It had been his, and hers, and now it was the storm’s.
Her mother was asleep upstairs, and Justice was on the couch. It was the first time Raegan hadn’t been watched like a fragile infant since Russell died. They hadn’t left her side the past three days, even laid next to her when she sobbed herself into a nightly coma. But tonight was different. Tonight they sensed her desire for solitude, and though their leash still choked her, she reveled in the temporary abandonment. In that moment with the bench.
The thought of her mother in her own bed—their bed—brought some of her fury to life, and a piece of numbness flaked to the ground. But she’d do anything to keep her mother at a distance, even if it meant tarnishing the place where her late husband once warmed her. Besides, now it was empty, cold. More fitting for the bitter woman atop it.
Her late husband. A woman in her twenties shouldn’t have to think that profane term. It aged her, pulled her to the ground. It gave gravity a win as it had its way with her. Three days and she went from twenty-eight to eighty-two.
Rain pelted the glass pane in a sideways fury as it had the last three days. It was unusual, but fitting. The universe seemed to mourn with her, letting her know Russell’s undue absence was known to the heavens. It seemed to threaten her fondest memory, consume the bench as though it was its own.
Three days. It didn’t matter how short the time was; there was no way she could go back and change it. He’d been there, in that very kitchen, and now he was…where?
His things haunted her, the memories tearing through her. She looked back to the sinister yard, puddles swallowing the browning lawn. The white bench at the base of the cottonwood tree replaced the sting of trivial reminders with the throb of a precious memory. It’d been her birthday surprise last year, handmade. He’d apologized for its crooked panels when lifting the sheet, revealing the thoughtful token of his love.
She wanted to keep it forever, wanted to take it back from the storm.
Riveted by the bright, crooked panels, she unlatched the back door and walked outside, shivering as the almost frozen November rain beat against her. Russell had always said rain smelled of a cleansing shower, of a new start. But tonight it reeked of loss.
Surrounded by darkness, she warily made her way to the bench, her bare feet sloshing through the muddy puddles. Water cascaded relentlessly down her face and blurred her vision, the bench appearing as a smear of white.
She mindlessly sat, saturating her clothes—his clothes. She ran her hands over the sopping panels, feeling the rough, splintery spots as affectionately as the pieces still glazed in glossy finish. Her fingers took in every touch, extra sensitive to embrace the feel she once took for granted.
Her tears poured to match the vibrancy of the rain as she imagined his solid, sturdy figure, hunched to carve her gift. She imagined white paint stains in his hair, speckling his arms and callused hands. As if able to connect her to him, she laid against the uneven panels, planting her cheek against the sodden wood. Creaking, it spoke of the many memories. Sunny afternoons, late nights, and even an early morning.
In the fetal position she sobbed, trying to press every inch of her aching body against it in the hope its touch could heal her, in the hope that the material reminder would feed his void. Like a roaring freight train, the rainfall intensified and buckets poured over her, attempting to take it back. Attempting to revive a lost cause.
Lightning flashed and thunder cracked—temporarily lighting her surroundings. Strings of hair hindered her view, but she was sure a figure was beside her. Unable to force movement of her limbs, unable to turn to see more clearly, she let herself believe it was him.
“I’m sorry,” she hoarsely cried at the apparition, her teeth chattering. She hardly noticed her fingers and toes numbing in the icy rainfall, hardly noticed as her swollen eyes closed and her body deadened in drowsiness.
She heard a murmur above her, maybe even her name. And before blacking out, she dreamed the added pressure of a warm hand on her shuddering back was Russell—there to wake from her nightmare.