“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to honour the life of Delaney Rose Fitzgerald. A life cut short by tragedy but remembered forever after. In this loss, we seek to find meaning in our lives and somehow understand why so much sadness exists in a world full of so much joy. Her life mattered to us. We stand here, saying goodbye a final time, and remember all Delaney taught us in her 18 years on this earth.”
The rain began to fall as he spoke and I held Gus tighter, his small body cuddled close to me in the summer shower. It was warm rain, soaking my black cotton dress while I held an umbrella over Gus to ensure his little body stayed dry. Outdoors amongst the blossoming flowers and cool shade of the trees, outside where life bloomed all around me and the legs of my chair sank into the soft ground at the family burial plot,my sister was being laid to rest. I fought every instinct that told me to shout, “Fuck all of you for taking away the one person who ever gave two shits about me!”
She was only eighteen. Barely an adult but mature beyond her years, Delaney had barely been able to leave her mark upon the world. I had gone through enough knocks in life to know it was unfair but this was by far the one incident that cemented just how cruel life could be.
I took long, deep breaths as he spoke of her life and desired to be a good partner for Prescott and mother to Gus, but my heart was shattered.
Delaney couldn’t really be gone. She couldn’t. She was just at my little apartment, baking cookies and failing miserably as usual. I was distracted playing with Gus and she forgot to set the timer. My final memories of my sister are of her waving a book by the fire alarm while it wailed while tears streamed down my face from the laughter. That was how I remembered my sister. Laughter and life.
“Fucking hell, Lulu!! What the fuck do I do?!” she screamed over the beeping while I tried to catch my breath, cackling at her movements. Regulating my breathing, I stood and hit the reset button, solving the issue with ease.
“Sis, you’re good. You’ve got this. Let’s trash these and do another batch,” I answered while continuing to laugh, dumping the burnt chocolate chip cookies in the trash then scooping more dough onto a clean baking sheet in what I hoped would be a more successful second attempt.
I don’t think it would be a far cry to say the second batch was perfection.. Delaney and I ate most of the dozen while drinking cold milk and talking about our dreams. We poured over wedding magazines while Gus happily played with blocks, debating A line verses trumpet style dresses and whether silver was a better accent color than gold.
We were happy. We deserved that happiness.
At least that was what we thought. But life owes no one favours.
And now she’s gone.
The morning was quiet and solemn, a testament to the aristocratic people who attended the wake. Strangers who barely knew my sister in nothing but name. She would be horrified to see how many people came out of the woodwork just to grieve her as another penciled event for their social calendar.. This wasn’t what she would have wanted. Delaney deserved more than to be party to grief pornography for the wealthy.
I could feel the anger boiling in my veins as I shifted slightly, adjusting the newly one year old bundle in my arms.
I hate that your first birthday is being spent at your Mama’s funeral, baby boy, I thought, kissing his temple and gaining an ounce of peace as Gus settled into my body and began to doze off for his morning nap.
“We give thanks for knowing Delaney. We thank God for her son, Gus, and that he was unharmed in this incident.” My eyes shot up and my jaw dropped as the minister alluded to the tragedy that had dramatically halted my life.. I looked to Pres and saw his jaw clenched, balling his hands into a fist by his sides. I reached over, taking his left hand in mine and placing it on his son’s back. Pres released some of the tension and gently patted Gus, connecting with his son to ground himself before he said something that he may not be able to come back from.
I’d never envied them the pressure that came with the status. Never once craved the life that meant censorship. Pres and Delaney had relied on each other to navigate the privilege they had been born into.
They had already been dating when I met them and I had sunk into their dynamic with hesitancy but I shouldn’t have worried. Pres had welcomed me just as openly as Delaney had. I’d had the honour of being the first person she told when she’d found out about her pregnancy and stood by her side as she broke the news to Pres and their parents.
Pres had been thrilled, like a child on Christmas day. At eighteen he had known my sister would be it for him. Her parents took it as an example of why I was a bad fit for their family. His family felt like the world had crashed down around them with the scandal it would bring to the door.
Both families were furious at my involvement and their hatred for me intensified as I supported my sister and her boyfriend as much as I could. I finished high school early, got my job at the coffee shop, and tucked away as much money as I could in case Delaney was kicked out. We could make it happen between the two of us.
Thankfully, the families settled down and rallied around the couple in an attempt to save face. The public perception shifted to viewing them as caring parents who are doing all they can for their wayward children. When I was kicked out on my 18th birthday it had not come as a shock. They found a scapegoat and took out their resentment on me. Unfortunately, the stress that situation caused Delaney to go into labor early, so my godson Augustine Prescott Rothschild V was born three weeks early.
But he was perfect and I got to be there when he was brought into the world. Pres and I sat on either side of Delaney as she cradled Gus, staring at this perfect baby boy that we already loved so deeply when he had barely been introduced to the world. This precious bundle who had no idea the number he had done on our hearts.
I found my own path, as I always had, and saw Delaney and Gus a few times a week. Pres would tag along once in a while and doted on his girlfriend and son every time they were together.
We were happy. Maybe things weren’t perfect, but we had each other and Gus had all three of us.
Then Delaney was gone, and now we were forced to adjust to her loss.
My apartment was barely a mile from the cemetery, and Pres made sure the stroller was in his car, so I packed up Gus and left after a quick goodbye to the Rothschild and Fitzgerald families. They had no issue with me taking Gus, since they are headed to the country club to have a luncheon in remembrance of my sister.
I had a different idea, though.
My third floor walkup was tiny, but held everything I needed. Delaney visited often and helped me decorate, bringing floral coffee mugs and artwork every time she stopped by. She may have been living at home, but she treated my place like it was ours.
I shouldn’t be surprised. It had been like that since the first time we met.
I was a foster kid, in and out of the system and homes from when I was barely older than my godson. No real connections and bouncing place to place made it difficult to figure out my place in the world. There had forever been a sense of being misplaced and never knowing if I belonged somewhere.Delaney’s family took me in as part of her Dad’s business public relations campaign. His Public Relations manager insisted fostering a teen would be good for his image, so they complied. I was the child with the golden ticket.
Reluctant to once again move into a home, which I doubted had any permanency, thankfully the moment I met Delaney I found my true soul sister. Something about her just got me from the first day I arrived.
Gus slowly woke from his nap and yawned, cooing happily in the playpen I had set up in the living room. I smiled his way and felt my heart break at his gorgeous toothy grin.
“I’m so sorry your Mama couldn’t be here to celebrate with us today, buddy… but I promise I’ll make your birthday special,” I said with determination, standing a moment to move the four steps into the kitchen. My pantry was decently empty but I found a few blueberry muffins from work and smiled, as an idea formed in my mind.
The plan only took a few moments to put into action, birthday candles already in my junk drawer and ready to light. I took one muffin and unwrapped it, throwing it in the microwave a moment before adding a candle and lighting the wick. Gus looked up from the play pen with excitement when he saw me approaching, the scent of blueberries wafting through the space. I approached slowly, holding my hand opposite the candle in an attempt to keep it lit as I walked.
My voice carried as I sang, “Happy birthday to you.” He clapped his chubby hands and reached for the muffin as I came towards him.. I held off on giving him a bite, deciding instead to say a few words. Gus cooed as I lifted him out of the play pen and into my lap, cuddling him close a moment before I had the ability to speak.
“Alright, baby Gus Gus. I’m gonna make you a promise.” My voice stayed quiet and I could hear rain outside as it hit the windows. How fitting that the heavens would also cry on the day we handed Delaney to them. If they were so reluctant then why did they choose her? Why take my sister, the only person who I knew loved me unconditionally?
I took Gus’s small hand and wrapped my pinky around his, then kissed our joined fingers. “Gus,” I whispered and once again that lump came to my throat. Words have never failed me but suddenly I struggle to tell my godson everything that I want. “You will never be alone in this world. I promise you that no matter what, you will never feel like you face this world on your own. I will always be there for you just like your Mama should have been. Just like she would have been if she had been given the chance.”
I blew out the candle and clapped along with Gus, wiping away a tear as I broke off a portion of the pastry to offer him. He gobbled the morsel and signed “Please” then “More” before I shared another bite.
We would be okay.
It was my job to make sure of it.
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