His Burden

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Chapter Seventeen

The hearse carrying me, Sam and Dad followed Mum–whose coffin was situated in the car ahead–attracting the attention of curious onlookers. A few people stopped what they were doing to pay their respects and others simply carried on with their daily tasks as if unbothered. It was the way of the universe reminding us of what would happen after we said our goodbyes. Life would carry on as normal and we would be faced with a decision. Either power on through or get left behind. Karen and Bethany were meeting us there, along with Alex who had promised to handle anything should a problem arise. Thankfully, Spencer remained uninformed, yet still centred at the forefront of my mind. He took up majority of my waking thoughts and had somehow wormed his way into my dreams. I couldn’t escape him, even in sleep. Then again, did I really want to?

No.

I felt guilty keeping things from him but reminded myself why it was for the best.

“This is it, then,” stated Dad, shuffling in his seat opposite.

He looked styled to perfection in his crisp, navy blue suit and new shoes.

“I suppose it is,” replied Sam, sporting his own fancy suit.

The pair looked like twins. They both wore the same sombre expression and held a sense of dread about them that I couldn’t quite ignore. Sam had finally gotten a hair cut (though not to the length I would’ve suggested) and Dad, bless his cotton socks, had insisted on using wax on his own lifeless locks.

“Are you okay, Jessica?”

“Fine.” YEAH RIGHT! “You both look lovely. Mum would approve,” I smiled, thinking she absolutely would.

Sam cracked a small smile from beside Dad and rested his hand on my trembling knee. Having asked everyone attending to come dressed in anything but black, I was wearing a thick, red dress with sleeves, grateful for its added protection with regards to warmth. January was brutal with its freezing cold temperatures and the church we were going to was not renowned for its central heating. In fact, the whole place could’ve done with being renovated. The roof was falling down around it and from what I remembered, the entrance door was hanging on by its hinges. In all honesty, I was shocked when Dad had insisted we hold the service there but understood his reasoning’s completely. In the early 80s, him and Mum got married under the old fashioned arch with nothing more than a hundred pound between them. Back then, its condition was a little warn but they loved it nonetheless. Apparently, it had character, though I failed to see it myself.

“She’d be very proud of you both,” offered Dad, taking hold of our hands.

Sam lowered his head and unwillingly let slip a few tears, finding Dad’s words an emotional burden. Seeing him crumble before the service had even begun was a worrying sight and like any sister would to her brother in the absence of their mother, I took off my seatbelt and encouraged him into my arms.

“You’re okay, Sammy. You’re okay,” I chanted, slipping back into the mindset of that terrified sixteen-year-old.

Back then, I would cry myself to sleep and now didn’t feel much different. Although I had yet to shed a tear, every night since Mum’s passing I would lie in bed and question everything. Sometimes, all this stuff between Spencer and Isy seemed like child’s play in comparison. Why was I wasting valuable time being away from the man I loved when at any moment, he could be taken from me? He was no stranger to death’s door and that thought alone was enough to make me sick. On more than one occasion, I almost caved. I would find myself on the brink of calling him, desperate to hear his soothing voice. Thankfully, my rationality came sweeping in just in time, convincing me to step away. I’d be an idiot to let my emotions get the better of me at a time like this.

“Today is about saying goodbye to Mum,” I expressed, reaching for Dad in an attempt to make him join us. “We’ll laugh, cry and probably get really pissed off by people wishing us their condolences.” All three of us shared a smile. “But we’ll get through it together. We always do. Us Turners are tough cookies and it takes a lot to keep us down.”

“You’re right, sweetheart. Your mum might not be here anymore but she’s with you,” informed Dad, offering my cheek a quick kiss and Sam a firm pat. “She’s always with you.”

The three of us remained in this position, pulling apart only when we arrived outside St. Mary’s church. Surprisingly, the building looked in good shape. The roof had obviously undergone repairs and the door, completely replaced. Huge trees dotted the entranceway where many people congregated, all wanting to pay their respects. The kind gesture fluttered in my stomach, much like the feeling of butterflies and lingered there until Dad spoke.

“Bloody hell, Linda. Would you look at that.”

It was incredible to see the amount of people who wanted to say their goodbye’s. Mum had touched the lives of so many and continued to do so on a daily basis. Even after a decade of barely any communication, she was still able to maintain friendships. Sam and I both looked at each other and shared a silent moment. He quickly wiped as his cheeks and inwardly sighed, composing himself with regards to his appearance.

“Ready?” I asked, gifting his shoulders a sure squeeze.

“Yeah,” he smiled, kissing my hairline. “Thanks, sis. I love you.”

As if rehearsed, we all slid from the car with surprise elegance and took to our rightful positions. Cousin Claudia waved me over as Dad and Sam walked towards Mum’s coffin, followed soon by Alex and my other cousin, Jack. The four of them would be carrying the coffin as per my dad’s wishes. I, on the other hand, was to walk straight in.

“You okay, chick?” asked Claudia, nudging my arm.

I hadn’t seen her in a while and couldn’t believe the changes in her face. As kids, we were chalk and cheese, yet after years of growing up together, we soon discovered that differences didn’t always mean you couldn’t be close. She was a little bit adventurous and a lot bonkers but I loved her all the more for it. She was the one who took me to get my nose pieced when I was fifteen and stuck by my side when Dad lost his shit because of it.

Good old Claudia!

“I’m okay, how are you? You look great,” I told her, unable to hold back on my compliment.

She’d spent best part of her early twenties traveling Australia and looked great for having done so.

“I’m good.” Her pink-painted lips pulled up into a small smile and instantly, her beauty increased tenfold. “How about I sit with you in there? I’ll keep you company until Sammy and uncle Andrew get back.”

“Thanks.”

The pair of us climbed the steps and took the order of service from a table positioned strategically on our way in. On the front of the booklet was a picture of Mum looking as stunning as ever wearing a white sun dress and rocking a pair of retro shades on her head. Her long, red hair pooled flawlessly down her back in soft waves, very much in keeping with my own. I never thought I looked like her but in that moment, I truly saw myself. Her smile, her bright eyes. Everything about her appearance was strikingly familiar and even though remaining strong on the outside, I slowly succumbed to the idea of not being able to do this.

“You’re okay. I’m right here,” whispered Claudia, sensing my reluctance.

Her hand wrapped firmly around my upper arm as she gently guided me towards the front where we immediately took to our seats. Uncle Matt joined us soon after and landed a brief kiss to my cheek. His brother– my other uncle– eventually sauntered over; the pair having decided against carrying Mum’s coffin due to dodgy backs. I had yet to see Karen and Bethany but figured they could take care of themselves. Now was not the time to be stressing over their whereabouts and in all honesty, I didn’t have the strength.

“Jessica?” The reverend’s silk-like tone came sliding down my ears like a gentle caress, comforting me in ways I never knew possible at a time like this. “We’re ready to start,” he explained, receiving the all clear from me.

“Okay,” I replied, trying my hardest to smile.

Within seconds, the entire church was silent, gifting the CD player life. We chose Songbird by Fleetwood mac for the opening song and man did I regret it. The sounds of the soft piano mixed with the beautiful lyrics made holding onto my emotions that much harder. In an instant, my chest closed in on itself and the ability to breath was a luxury long gone. Still, tears didn’t come. Sniffs could be heard to my left and I soon discovered the culprit to be Claudia spilling a few tears. Without thinking, I grabbed her hand and positioned it over my lap. There, I offered her comfort by caressing each knuckle one by one and took great satisfaction from being the one taking care of her. It made me feel in control, even if I was anything but.

Sam was first to come into view; gaze lowered and lip trembling. Dad was right behind him, struggling on through his own need to cry. I could tell he was hanging on by a thread and I had to look away when the sight suddenly became too much to handle. What hurt the most was seeing those I loved suffering and knowing I couldn’t do anything about it. Thankfully, Alex had hold of Sam’s shoulder from the opposite side and took over the task of steering everyone in the right direction. Once at the front, all four carefully placed Mum down on the table provided and did as instructed by taking their seats. Dad sat on the aisle with Sam to my right. Alex and Jack positioned themselves on the row behind, offering me shoulder squeezes on their way past.

“Anyone who knew Linda knew how beautiful she was on the inside as well as the out…”

Reverend Collins took command of the entire room by speaking of Mum’s many successes, including marrying her high school sweetheart and having two children. He went on to tell funny stories and for the most part, the service remained pleasant. During one of the hymns, my mind drifted to Spencer on its own accord. I wondered what he was doing and whether or not he was coping with our timed split. Was he calm and collected or was he frantic like me? I kept thinking about how much better I’d feel if he were here even if I knew that made me a terrible person. The fact I was even thinking about putting my own needs before Leila’s made me internally cringe. That little girl hadn’t the slightest clue what was going on around her. If Spencer lost his rights as her father, she may never learn of the truth. She may never learn that her dad fought with everything he had to prevent that from happening. I couldn’t let that happen. I couldn’t let Leila grow up thinking her father didn’t care. Spencer couldn’t understand it completely but I was a burden for him right now. In time, that would surely pass but I needed to take into consideration what was happening in the present. I couldn’t demand his company for my own selfish desires. Spencer was my everything and I’d do anything for him.

Even this.

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