Stuck in the Middle - (Book 1 of the Marvelous 3 Saga)

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3 - Goodbye Steve Richardson

It was Sunday morning, just a few days after Gabrielle had arrived back at home and requested a temporary leave from work. She had spent her time helping her mother and Sally with funeral preparations and the memorial in celebration of Steve Richardson’s life.

Gabrielle stood in front of the mirror behind the door, smoothing out her black dress. She teased the kinky curls of her hair that framed her round, mocha-toned face.

“Gabby, you ready, baby sis? Time to go,” Eli called from downstairs.

“Coming!” Gabrielle shouted back. She fixed her hair one last time and slowly exhaled “Okay, girl... You can do this...” she said to herself.

She descended the stairs to find her brother in a clean-cut, black suit. Leaning back against the wall, Eli was too preoccupied with his phone to notice his sister.

“Ooh! Baby boy! Don’t you look fresh!” Gabrielle grinned.

Eli looked up at her and plastered a huge smile on his face. “Ay! You know them good genes run in this black ass family,” he said, popping his color.

Gabrielle chuckled and gave her brother a small peck on his cheek.

“Where’s Mama?” she asked, looking around.

“I’m here! Let’s go! We ain’t gon’ be late! Not with all them white folks there!” Clara exclaimed. She rushed out of the kitchen with a pile of pans layered on top of each other.

Eli rushed to help her with the food.

“Really, Ma? Allllll this food? Did you cook for the whole town?” he said, taking the containers from her.

“Hush, child! The whole town is gon’ be there. Gabby, help your brother,” Clara ordered.

“Jeez, Mama. It’s just the Richardsons and a few people from the neighborhood, right?” Gabrielle said, taking one of the containers from Eli’s loaded arms.

“The entire Richardson family is coming. And you ain’t met them none, have you? Didn’t think so. So, hush. They don’t call them the RICH-ardsons for nothin’,” Clara said, motioning her children out the door.

“Wow, Ma, you a whole cornball,” Eli snickered.

“She really is though,” Gabrielle laughed. “She said RICH-ardsons. Help me.”

“Y’all betta hush!” Clara snapped at them. Gabrielle and Eli laughed as they got in the car.

Despite the humor, Gabrielle considered her mother’s words. She had only met the other Richardsons twice, when she was much younger. Chris, Charlie, Sally, and Papa Steve rarely had visitors. Their family was spread throughout the world. She wondered what they would be like.

“Now, don’t get overwhelmed,” Clara said as Eli pulled out of the driveway and onto the road. “This day is gonna be really hard for Sally and her boys. Make sure to be as supportive as possible,” Clara advised.

Gabrielle nodded her head, remembering how cold and short Charlie had been with her. If he was that annoyed just seeing her, she couldn’t imagine how he would be the day of his father’s funeral.

They pulled up to the church where the wake was being held. Eli and Gabrielle followed their mother to the kitchen at the back of the church to store the food while the service went on. When they emerged, the choir had already started singing. The trio took their seats towards the back corner and looked on. Gabrielle could hear her mother humming as she swayed in time with the music. Soon, the music had ceased and people were directed to come to the pulpit to say their final goodbyes.

“Did they do an open casket?” Gabrielle whispered to Eli.

“No. They couldn’t bring themselves to see him that way,” Eli whispered back.

Groups of people walked up to the casket to say their goodbyes. They each placed memorable remnants of Steve in a small basket on top of the coffin that would be buried with him. The atmosphere in the church grew heavy with people’s sobs.

Gabrielle scanned the congregation but saw no sign of Chris, Charlie, or Sally. As if reading her thoughts, Eli whispered that they were probably at the front.

The line finally started to dwindle. “Come on, baby,” Clara said, patting Gabrielle’s hand. Together, the Johansson family walked down the side of the aisle.

Sitting in the front row was Chris, Charlie, and Sally. Chris sat to the right of his mother, holding her hand while she wept quietly on his shoulder. Chris squeezed her hand tightly as he tried to keep his own tears at bay. Meanwhile, seated on his mother’s left-hand side was Charlie. With his head in his hands, he anxiously rubbed his temples with his thumbs. Like his mother, Charlie’s eyes were red and sore from crying.

Both brothers instinctively looked up when the Johansson family stepped up to the pulpit.

Clara said a quiet prayer before placing her late husband’s watch, a gift from Steve, in the basket. She walked towards the other side of the pulpit to wait for her children. Eli followed suit, saying a small prayer. He placed a baseball card in the basket and walked to stand with his mother.

Gabrielle cautiously approached the coffin. She looked at the picture of Steve Richardson on the easel in front of her. He had his well-known, warm smile plastered on his face. His bright blue eyes seemed to light up the room. His white and grey-peppered hair added character to the fun and gentle father-figure everyone knew him to be.

“I’m... I’m so sorry, Papa Steve,” Gabrielle whispered, tears brimming in her eyes. “I wish I could have been there. I wish I could have seen you... could have talked to you one last time.” Though she whispered, she could still be heard by Charlie, Chris and Eli.

Gabrielle’s vision blurred from her tears. Chris and Charlie watched attentively as she delicately brought her hands behind her neck to unlatch a necklace. She balled the necklace in her hand and started to tremble. Bringing the necklace to her lips, she kissed it, and tears fell onto her fingers.

Chris and Charlie exchanged concerned looks, unsure if they should do something. Then, Eli came to her side and held his sister steady. Gabrielle looked up at her brother, tears running furiously down her face. He smiled down at her with remorse lacing his eyes.

“It’s okay, baby sis,” he reassured her. Gabrielle gave him a slight nod and placed the necklace in the basket. Eli escorted her back to their mother.

Charlie felt a sense of guilt building like bile in his chest. Gabrielle and his father had always been close. He treated her as if she were his own daughter. Charlie should have known that his father’s death would hit her fairly hard. He had been annoyed with her, but it was partially because he missed her so much. Seeing her in front him, after 8 long years without her, had been overwhelming for him. And now, all he wanted was to hold her.

Chris’s somber, blue eyes followed Gabrielle as she walked to the back of the church. He had just witnessed a side of her he had never seen before, and it broke his heart. Chris always admired how close she and his father were. Losing him was like losing a father for her as well. He turned his head to face the front again, his brows furrowing in concern. He wished he could have rushed over to her and wrapped her in his arms while she cried. He wanted to kiss her tears away, her cheeks, her lips and tell her that… he loved her. Ever since the day she returned, his mind had been in a frenzy.

But Chris chased that urge away. He pulled his mother closer and kissed her forehead.

The priest walked up to them respectfully, announcing they were ready for the burial.

Charlie looked to Chris who nodded back at him. They both helped their mother up and waited as the ushers rolled the coffin outside. They walked outside with the congregation trailing after them.

Everyone gathered around the hole in the ground where Steve would be buried. Sally could barely keep it together as she leaned on her eldest son for support. She struggled just to hold her head up, breathing heavily from her relentless sobbing. With his head down, Chris tried not to reveal the tears he fought to keep from falling. Meanwhile, Charlie completely withdrew.

“Would anyone like to say any final words?” the priest asked the congregation.

Everyone seemed too heartbroken to speak up. But Gabrielle cleared her throat and quietly walked to the front to face the crowd.

“Hi, everyone,” she said. Chris and Charlie instinctively looked up at the sound of her voice.

“My name is Gabrielle Johansson, though most of you may know me as Gabby. I um... I’m not related to Mr. Richardson. Clearly,” she chuckled nervously, wiping her sweaty palms on her dress. She was relieved when the crowd responded with a chuckle of their own.

“I lost my biological father to cancer when I was 4, and... never really got to know who he was. But that doesn’t mean I grew up fatherless. Mr. Richardson embraced me and my brother Eli into his family. And he treated us as if we were his own children.”

Gabrielle looked at Eli and her mother who were smiling back at her.

“He would take us to baseball games, walked us to school, gave us toys for Christmas, watched us when we were sick. Because of him, we never went without. He even tried doing my hair, which honestly, for a white dude is a pretty amazing feat.” Her joke was met with warm bursts of laughter.

“Mr. Steve Richardson, or as I grew up calling him, Papa Steve, was the most patient, loving, kind hearted, selfless person I knew. There was something about him that attracted people to him. That just made you fall in love with him, as you all must know personally, because you’re here... you’re here for him.”

She looked over at Sally, sporting a huge smile on her wet, flushed face. Tears ran down like rivers from her crystal clear blue eyes. Her hands were clasped in front of her with delight.

“Just as he’s always been there for us,” Gabrielle continued. “He was a true family man who loved his beautiful, kind wife and cared deeply for his incredible and loving sons.”

Gabrielle looked towards Chris and Charlie.

“And when I see them, I know he’s not truly gone, because I see him in them. His spirit, his kindness, his humor, his intelligence, his bravery, his love...”

Chris’s face flushed pink as he looked lovingly at the dark-skin beauty before him. His gaze was broken when his mother grabbed his hand to look up at him with a smile.

Charlie started to sweat and couldn’t look at Gabrielle for long. He quickly turned his head away and shifted his stance uncomfortably.

“So, let’s not mourn his death, but rather celebrate his life, and the amazing legacy he left.” Gabrielle finished and met an eruption of applause from the crowd. She smiled shyly and walked back over to her mother and brother for a family hug.

“Thank you, Miss Johansson, for that lovely speech. Is there anyone else?” the priest asked.

Suddenly, an older man stepped up to the center and stood facing the crowd.

“Afternoon,” he said with a refined English accent. “Rather difficult to follow up such a heartwarming and well-spoken speech such as that one. Thank you, Miss. Johansson,” he nodded to Gabrielle.

“My name is Eric Richardson. Steve was my second eldest brother. My siblings and I didn’t quite grow up in the most decent of households. Our father was rather... harsh to say the least. That tends to be expected when you’re part of a family as old as ours. We all had responsibilities. We all... still have responsibilities,” he said looking at Chris and Charlie. The brothers shifted uncomfortably under his sharp gaze.

“And though my eldest brother and I were rather pessimistic about our childhood, Steve always had a more positive and optimistic outlook on life. And I can see here that he hasn’t left anyone untouched from his kindness and generosity. I’m proud to call him my brother. I just wish I could have had an ale with him one last time.”

Eric Richardson looked down momentarily, lost in his thoughts, before looking back up.

“We’ll miss you, brother,” he said finally. Everyone applauded as he walked back to stand next to his daughter.

The priest said a prayer for Steve and his family before giving the signal to begin the burial. Everyone watched as the coffin was lowered into the ground. A woman from the choir sang “Amazing Grace” while the dirt was thrown back into the hole.As the dirt was patted down neatly, people began to throw roses on Steve’s grave.

Sally stood silently watching, when Clara walked up to her and hugged her comfortingly.

“We’ll meet you back at the house and get everything prepared,” Clara said hugging Charlie and Chris.

“Thank you, Ms. Clara,” Chris nodded to her gratefully.

Clara gestured to her children and the family headed towards the car. Gabrielle looked back at the Richardsons to see Sally holding onto her sons for support. Charlie was looking down at his mother while Chris was looking back at Gabrielle.

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