One Lavender Ribbon - Heather Burch

Present Day

Will sat in the front row, knowing the room was full without turning to see. The unmistakable sense of people squeezing in tighter to pay their final respects and all the sorrowful tension that accompanied them filled the space with an awkward silence.

He glanced down at his fingers. He’d rolled up the little leaflet, something he was sure one shouldn’t do at a funeral. Will swallowed the lump in his throat. Grown men weren’t supposed to cry. No worries—he was certain he could hold his emotions at a safe and reasonable distance.

Until a tiny little hand slid into his palm.

“Daddy, are you sad?” Giant dark eyes blinked on a small angelic face, now creased with a frown.

It undid him.

Will cleared his throat, a futile attempt to remove the surge wrecking his last shred of composure. “Yes, baby. Daddy’s sad.”

The frown deepened, causing her eyes to darken and fill with tears. “Then I’m sad too.”

He reached down and scooped her into his arms. She strained to look in the casket, but only for a moment, then turned and wrapped her little arms around his neck. Will held her close. If not for the deceased, he wouldn’t have his young treasure. Music filled the air. Short breaths warmed a spot on his shirt. “Daddy,” she whispered, “when we get home will you tell me the story again about you and Mommy?”

He tilted to look down at her face. “Sure.” He’d tell her a thousand times if she wanted. Because there’d been no real life until that day Adrienne Carter knocked on his door with a stack of old letters.

Letters,” Adrienne Carter whispered, and ran her fingers over the contents of the small open box in her hands. Thunder sounded outside, causing the attic window to rumble. She glanced at it, then above her head to the rafters, where the box had been just moments before. Adrienne adjusted the flashlight under her arm and reached to the floor, where an old broom—her weapon against the onslaught of attic spiders—rested, perched between an empty trunk and a stack of old magazines. With a soft pool of light guiding her, she tilted the broom into the corner, keeping the metal box pressed against her chest. This was something . . . unique. Of that she was certain. The intrigue almost caused her to forget her prior plan of tinkering with the breaker box. If the lights didn’t come on soon, she’d return to it; but right now, letters from a distant past waited. And that took precedence over everything else.

The attic door groaned as Adrienne threw her weight into pushing it shut. Old houses didn’t always comply with the rules . . . simple things like doors fitting into doorframes, the same frames that had cradled them for nearly a century. This one insisted on puffing up. She’d called her dad and asked about it right after she’d moved in. But he’d just said, “Old houses. They breathe. Humidity and all. It’ll fit better in the winter.”

Whatever that meant. Like southern Florida had winters. She’d also consulted the hardware store guy, but he’d just suggested she hire someone to shave off the edges where the frame had scraped until bare wood shone beneath the wood stain. Hire someone. Yes, that’s what she needed to do for about a billion jobs in this renovation.

Her feet padded down the attic stairs, through the upstairs hallway, and finally onto the stairs leading to the first level of her new . . . old home.

The flashlight cast shadows as she moved, highlighting and then shrouding various rehab projects in multiple areas, all at different levels of completion. If she ever actually got a few done, she’d throw a party. If, of course, she had any friends. Which she didn’t.

Her light skittered across some ominous thing in the corner, causing her to pause halfway down the stairs. Just a sheet thrown over the recliner. Adrienne released the air she’d sucked in hard and scanned the area, orienting herself and looking for other monsters. None.

She hated being without electricity. It always happened at the worst possible time, during window-rattling thunderstorms. Actually, the whole place looked better in the softened radiance—where the scars of life hid behind the muted glow of lantern and flashlight.

The tart bite of fresh paint greeted her at the base of the stairs. Her hand had grown sweaty around the small metal box. Adrienne’s heartbeat picked up, and she scurried to the couch to open the first letter.

June