Full Circle

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Remembering Sara

While Jake made arrangements for his staff for his absence, Jackie busied herself with the funeral arrangements. She tried to keep herself occupied. She never thought she would have to bury her own child, however she made sure everything was perfect. It was the least she could do, she told her husband as she made the necessary arrangements.

Jackie cried the entire flight to Houston. She would never forget this flight. Her husband couldn’t hold back his tears either. It was just a few weeks ago that they were there helping Sara with her emotions. If they had known that was the last time they would have seen their daughter, Jackie would have never agreed to leave Houston.

Jake tried to assist his wife, but she didn’t want any help. She felt that she owed her daughter this special tribute.

In the interim, Lilly assisted Cole with making a slide presentation of her life. It was so hard watching the pictures of their childhood and trying to remember the fun times they shared, because they were so few and far between.

Cole showed her a picture from their wedding, and pointed out Lilly being a flower girl.

“Yeah, I was mad about that. I was nearly twelve years old and she was treating me like a little girl. I thought I should have been a bridesmaid, but she wouldn’t budge.”

“That was Sara. Once she had her mind set, there was no convincing her otherwise,” Cole said without thinking.

Lilly held her breath, realizing that Cole didn’t mean to speak ill of Sara. She tried to find something to mock him about, to lighten the mood.

“Look at your suit. Is that a solid white tux? I didn’t realize that was the style back then,” she said, laughing.

He looked at the picture and laughed, and said that the worst part was that it had tails.

“Oh my God, I can’t believe I forgot that,” Lilly said, laughing. It was good to hear laughter. Cole knew that their living arrangements would probably change, but he was going to miss having Lilly around.

They both worked on the pictures and tried to ease the tension that was in the room.

Jackie and Jake didn’t want them to pick them up. Jake wanted a car in the event he needed to run errands, or just in the event that Jackie needed a break.

Lilly and Cole were sitting on the floor going through pictures when the doorbell rung. Lilly jumped up and greeted her grieving parents.

She led them into the living room, where Jackie saw the pictures and broke out in tears.

“Mom, it’s ok. We’ve got this...right, Cole?” Lilly felt super protective of her mother right then.

“Absolutely. We have been working on this for some time. We are getting the montage ready,” Cole said, standing up to greet his in-laws, or ex-in-laws. He wasn’t sure what they were anymore.

“Cole, is it all right if we put our stuff in the bedroom?” Jake asked.

Cole had already moved his stuff back upstairs in preparation for the Williams’ arrival.

“Sure, Jake,” he said, not sure what else to say.
“Mom, I made dinner. Are you hungry?” Lilly asked.
“I’m not able to eat,” Jackie said in earnest.
Doctor-mode took over then for Cole. He told Jackie exactly what he told Lilly the day before.

“Jackie, you have to eat. Your body is undergoing a lot of stress right now, and it’s harsh on your organs. Even if you can’t keep it all down, you will get some nutrients. Please don’t starve yourself. I can’t imagine losing you too,” Cole said as he walked over to his mother-in-law and held her tightly. He let her cry into his chest, just as he had let Lilly the day before. He knew that the Williams women loved hard, and felt pain even harder.

After he moved upstairs, he heard Lilly cry herself to sleep every night. He didn’t know how to comfort her. He was hurting too, but not as much as he should have been. Sara had worn him down and betrayed him. He was sorry she ended her life, but their life together had ended long before Monday night.

“You better listen to him. He lectured me too,” Lilly said, and pulled her parents into the kitchen where she removed the lasagna out of the oven. She knew it was her father’s favorite, and seemed to be one of Cole’s. It was her mother’s recipe.

Lilly busied herself over dinner, talking about her job and how tired she was every night she got home.

As much as Jake liked listening to his daughter and her accomplishments, he couldn’t overlook the reason for their arrival. “So, Mom has made all the arrangements and posted an obituary in the Houston Chronicle. Some of the family is coming from Georgia. I know there’s still a lot to do, but we were hoping to leave a few days after the funeral.”

“Your family can stay here. We have plenty of room,” Cole offered. He felt that the more people there, the better for everyone. “That’s very kind of you, Cole. I will let them know,” Jake replied. He then continued, “The services are Saturday. Although we wanted them Friday, it made more sense since we would have out-of-towners.”

“That’s ok. I’ve closed my clinics for the rest of the week,” Cole stated.

“I can only take three days for bereavement, and I’ve used two already. I have to go back to work on Friday, so Saturday is better for me,” Lilly stated sadly. She hadn’t liked that she had to leave her parents the day before the funeral, but she hoped that she could help them while she was still off.

“It’s ok, honey. We know you have a new job and you don’t have the luxury of just taking time off,” Jackie finally said.

“They have been really good to me, Mom. They have let me leave early when I needed to. I probably could push it and take off Friday, but I’m still on probation,” Lilly said, looking at her father.

“Honey, we will be fine. That’s why we rented a car, so we could come and go and not interfere with either of your schedules,” Jake said reassuringly to his daughter, and then turning his attention to Cole he said, “Son, if you need to go back to the office, we understand.”

“Thanks, but I’m ok. I need this week off.”

Jackie reached across the table and enclosed her hand over Cole’s and said, “It will be nice spending time with you.” She took her free hand and wiped away another tear.

Cole offered to assist Lilly with the dishes, and suggested that Jackie and Jake take it easy.

Lilly loaded the dishwasher, after rinsing every dish first.

“You know, this is a dishwasher. You can put it in with food still on it,” Cole said jokingly.

“No, it’s more like a dish steamer. I wash them first and then let them steam clean,” she jabbed back.

“It seems redundant,” he stated.

“Well, it’s how I’ve always done it. I hate getting a dish out of the dishwasher and it’s unclean. It’s a waste of water and time. So I wash them off first, so I know nothing will get between the steam-cleaning and the dish.”

Cole just laughed and said, “Still seems redundant.”

From the living room, Lilly’s parents were listening to Cole and their youngest daughter. They were so at ease with each other. They teased each other and laughed. At first Jackie was mad. How could they laugh when she was crying? When she asked Jake, he said “Life goes on, Jackie. They are young, and I’m sure they grieve plenty and take every bit of happiness they can find right now.”

“I don’t like it,” Jackie said snippily. Jake just smiled and closed his eyes and listened as his youngest daughter laughed while doing dishes. He hadn’t heard her laugh in so long. Their past few visits had been so stressful, and Lilly had taken refuge in her job.

“Jackie, they are just washing dishes.” He squeezed his wife.

“We don’t laugh like that when we wash dishes,” she snapped back.

“We did too. I’ll remind you later when we get home,” he promised as he kissed his beautiful wife on her pouty lips.

He then suggested that they go to sleep, but Jackie wasn’t looking forward to staying in Sara’s bedroom. She knew that Cole had been staying there, but it was still Sara’s room as far as Jackie was concerned.

When Lilly and Cole entered the living room, they both felt like they were standing before a firing squad. Jackie just looked at them with accusing eyes.

Jake saw her look and instead of scolding his wife, he told Cole that he was glad that Lilly had been there, and appreciated his generosity.

“Oh, Jake, I don’t know how I would have survived without her being here. She has kept me grounded,” Cole stated honestly.

Lilly blushed at the compliment but Jackie wasn’t pleased with it.

“Lilly, when are you moving out?” she asked instead.

“Um, honestly, I don’t know. Everything has happened so fast, I haven’t even thought about it.” Lilly was horrified by her mother’s reaction to her staying there. They hadn’t done anything to merit her look between her and Cole.

“Well, you are off tomorrow; maybe you should start looking.” Jackie was not going to back down. She didn’t want her daughter to be with Cole. He had ruined her other daughter, and he wasn’t going to have the chance to ruin Lilly’s happiness.

Jackie didn’t have to say those words, because it was apparent with her looks.

Lilly couldn’t believe that one minute her mother was reaching across the table consoling Cole, and the next shooting him daggers like he had taken advantage of her.

“Mother! You need to back off. I am not moving out tomorrow unless Cole asks me to, and honestly it’s none of your business.” Lilly’s back was stiffened. She was not going to let her own or Cole’s reputation be tainted by her mother’s wicked mind.

“Excuse me? What do you mean it’s none of my business?” Jackie said as she walked closer to her daughter.

Jake and Cole both jumped in between them. Jake ushered Jackie into the bedroom, and Cole told Lilly to go upstairs and cool off.

Jake said his apologies and goodnights, and Cole turned off the lights downstairs.

When he got to the top of the stairs, he saw that Lilly was storming across the length of the gameroom/kitchenette.

“Come, Lilly, have a seat. You are going to wear a hole in the carpet,” Cole said as he reached for her arm and pulled her down.

“I can’t believe the nerve of my mother. Really? Did she think we were doing something immoral with my sister in the hospital? What kind of person does she think I am, or you for that matter?” Lilly said through her tears.

“She’s hurting. We have times where we grieve, but we have been dealing with Sara’s condition longer. You were the first to diagnose her as bipolar. Your mom is just grieving,” Cole said as he rubbed Lilly’s back, trying to calm her down.

Only his touch was doing the opposite. Lilly couldn’t let him know that being there with him was like playing house. She had enjoyed being with him. He was kind and thoughtful. He texted her every day to see how her day was. He was always worrying about her, especially after she told him how guilty she felt over Sara’s suicide.

“Lilly, it’s ok. We know that we haven’t done anything to be ashamed of,” Cole stated, realizing that he wasn’t sure he agreed with his statement. True, nothing had happened but he couldn’t say that he didn’t find her attractive and that he thought how different his life would have been if he had been with Lilly instead of her sister.

It was a horrible thing to think, but Lilly was easygoing. She never took herself too serious, and she was a hard worker and took pride in her work, whether it was for the HLSR or washing dishes.

He knew that eventually she would move out, but he dreaded that time. It surprised him how she said she wasn’t leaving unless she was asked to.

“Lilly, you don’t have to leave,” Cole stated, and then finished his thought: “I don’t want you to leave.”

Lilly knew that he was being nice, but those words left him vulnerable and she didn’t want anyone’s seconds, especially her sister’s. Although, she had to admit that when he said that he didn’t want her to leave, she smiled. His words were breathy and low, and she liked the way it sounded. She was wanted. It had been a long time since she felt wanted. She just wished it wasn’t Cole that wanted her. Not that he said he wanted her that way. He just said that he didn’t want her to leave. Of course, it was because she cooked and cleaned and caused him no trouble because she stayed upstairs most of the time.

“I don’t want to leave either,” Lilly finally said. She felt at home there, even if it wasn’t her home.

“Good. Now that that is settled, you should get some rest. I believe you are going to have a fight on your hands tomorrow.” He smiled and released the pressure off her back.

Lilly instantly missed his touch. She needed to get a date or something because she was getting too close to Cole, she thought to herself.

“Night, Cole,” she said, and walked into her bedroom and started crying.

Cole could hear her crying. He wanted to take her back into his arms and console her, but he knew that was asking for trouble. Instead, he went and took a shower and went to his bedroom.

Downstairs, Jake tried to talk with Jackie about her tone and assumptions.

“You know Lilly isn’t like that. I think you really hurt her feelings,” Jake reasoned with his wife.

“It just seems weird. It’s like they are playing house while Sara is dead.” Jackie was still not letting this go.

“Jackie, honey, listen to me. We don’t know what they are feeling, and it’s honestly not our place, but we know Lilly and we know Cole, and they would never do anything to dishonor Sara’s memory.”

Jackie knew her husband was right and that she overreacted. She told him that she was going to go upstairs and apologize to Lilly.

When Jackie got to the landing, she knew where her daughter was because she could hear her tears. She lightly tapped on the door and entered to see her amazing daughter crying into her pillow.

Jackie went over immediately and gathered her in her arms. “I’m sorry, Lilly. I never meant to hurt you or make you feel bad. I know that you and Cole have been able to help each other through this, and I’m glad you’ve had someone to share your pain with. It was stupid of me. Please forgive me, Lilly,” her mother pleaded.

“Oh, Mom,” Lilly said as she cried in her mother’s arms. “It’s been so hard. I am angry at Sara and I feel sorry for Cole. He’s a good man. I never really knew him, but he loved Sara so much. I hope to find that kind of love one day.”

Jackie just shushed her daughter and promised that they would be ok, and that she knew Cole was a good man.

“Lilly, I just don’t want you hurt,” Jackie said, wiping the tears from her own eyes. “We don’t know what drove Sara to the point of taking her own life, but it wasn’t yours or Cole’s fault.”

Lilly just cried harder because of the conversation she and Cole had, and the guilt they felt over pushing Sara to the point of taking her own life.

“Thank you, Mom. Please don’t ask me to leave right now. I think I’d go crazy if I was all by myself, and the same for Cole. We aren’t doing anything wrong. I basically live upstairs and go in/out the back staircase. We hardly ever see each other. It’s not like we are having dinner every night. We both are crazy busy. We hardly see each other.”

“I know, honey. I shouldn’t have said that. I know you aren’t acting like a wife to Cole. I don’t know what is wrong with me.”

“You are hurting. We are too, it’s just we’ve been watching Sara decline for months. Of course, neither of us thought she would take her own life, but with mental illness, it’s difficult to gauge someone’s demons.”

“How did you get to be so smart?” Jackie said leaning back and looking at her daughter.

“I’m not a child. Believe it or not, I’m a grown woman.” Lilly laughed.

The two continued to talk, and occasionally Cole could hear Lilly laugh. He was glad that Jackie had come and apologized. He was standing at her door to comfort her when he heard Jackie and her talking.

He smiled proudly, knowing that Lilly was able to take care of herself, but he was glad that she didn’t want to leave. She was right: he would go crazy if she wasn’t there.

He turned and headed to his bedroom, and hoped that he would sleep better knowing that Lilly was okay.

As he turned over, he wondered why her happiness meant so much to him.

The next few days seemed to fly by. Family members were arriving, and Cole was entertaining.

When Lilly went to work on Friday, he realized how much he missed having her nearby. She was able to find something to laugh about despite the situation. She didn’t take herself too seriously, unlike Sara, who was nothing but serious.

Cole chastised himself for comparing the two sisters, but they were as opposite as night and day.

As predicted, Jackie apologized to him the next day and he told her not to worry, that they were family and needed to stick together. Cole knew that there was nothing that bound them together as family anymore. If Sara and he had had a child, then they would always be their grandparents, but with Sara’s death, they weren’t technically family anymore and that made him sad. He loved Jackie and Jake. They were solid, good people, and he liked having Lilly there. She was a lot like her father. She was very thoughtful. He thought about how she much be suffering at work, knowing that she should be with her family.

He decided that he would shoot her a text:

Cole: How many Williams are there in Georgia, and are they all coming to our house?

Lilly: There’s a bunch. Remember, we are from the south.

Cole: And that means what?
Lilly: No birth control...She started to type and then he saw the message erase and instead she wrote; Big families.

Cole: The south will rise again????

Lilly: LOL, something like that.
Lilly: How many are there?

Cole: Too many to count.

Lilly: See what happens when you miss a family reunion. You didn’t know what you were missing. LOL.

Cole: You.
Lilly: ?

Cole: Missing you. It’s not fair that I’m here having to deal with your family, and you get to play with animals.

Lilly: You were the one who offered up your house. Cole: True.

Cole: How is it today? Are you okay?

Lilly: Trying to stay busy. Keep my mind away from tomorrow. I’m dreading it.

Cole: I know you are. So am I.
Lilly: At least everyone will be gone by Monday. Cole: And then real life resumes.

Lilly was smiling at the texts. She looked forward to talking to Cole, but their daily texts were highlights to her. She noticed that he said ‘our house,’ but she chose to ignore it, as well as the fact that he said he missed her.

Lilly: Gotta go. I will text you when I can. If it gets too bad, take a drive and clear your head.

Cole: I don’t even think I could get my car out of the driveway. Your family is feeding me like I’m a goat.

Lilly: That’s how we grieve...we don’t eat but force food on others.

Cole: I’m going to be as fat as a whale if they don’t leave soon.

Lilly: Or a seal

Cole smiled at that, remembering the day that he said that she looked like a wet seal. He didn’t mean it as an insult, but Lilly was quick to straighten him out.

Cole: Haha, get to work before they fire you. Ttyl.

Cole went back downstairs and saw more family members show up. He noticed Jake giving one man a good talking to. He didn’t recognize him, but that didn’t mean anything; there were a lot of people he didn’t remember. Most of them he hadn’t seen since

Sara and him were married.
He refused another plate of food, and walked over to Jake and the young man.

“Cole, this is Ricky Wilcox. He and Lilly used to date. He lives in Houston now, and read about the funeral in the newspaper.” Cole instantly didn’t like the man. He was relieved to know that he didn’t know about the services from Lilly. He couldn’t explain why he was jealous, but it had to be a brother-in-law thing. He was very protective of Lilly, and apparently so was Jake based on the look he gave Ricky.

Cole shook his hand and asked if he had spoken with Lilly. For all he knew their break-up was amicable.

“No. Not since she left Savannah. I’m not sure she even knows I’m in Houston,” Ricky stated sadly.

Cole wondered if Lilly would have been seeing him if she did know. He had lots of questions but she was busy. She said she would text me when she was free.

“Are you coming tomorrow?” Cole asked. He wasn’t sure what else to say.

“Yes. If it’s okay with you. Sara was a wonderful person, and I want to say my goodbyes,” Ricky stated, making no reference to Lilly.

“Very well. See you then. Jake, I’m going to head to the store. Do you need anything?” Cole asked. He decided to take Lilly’s advice and leave the house and the family. He felt so uncomfortable in his own home. He didn’t know anyone expect Jackie and Jake and without Lilly being here, he felt alone.

“No, son. I’m good,” Jake said stressing the ‘son’. Cole assumed that was for Ricky’s benefit, but he didn’t know the backstory so he didn’t read anything into it.

Cole said his goodbyes and took off in his car and headed toward Galveston.

From the house, it was only twenty minutes away, but it was one of his favorite cities. He liked the water and loved that it was an island, so he was dealing with locals only. It was his favorite clinic. He didn’t want to open it initially, but all the hormone injections were expensive; he needed to increase his income, hence the Galveston location.

He wondered if he could close the South Houston location and just focus on this one location. If so, he could sell the house and perhaps buy one on the beach. Lilly would like that.

“Cole, what are you thinking?” He cursed his thoughts. Lilly was there because it was convenient, not permanently, and now that her ex-boyfriend was in town, she may leave sooner to be with him. That thought made him angry, and he sped over the causeway trying to pound those thoughts out of his mind. His phone vibrated. It was a text.

He pulled over and looked at the phone. It was Lilly.

Lilly: Busy?

Cole: Nope. In Galveston. You?

Lilly: No. Leaving office now. Was going to head home. Cole liked that she called it ‘home.’

Cole: There’s still a lot of ppl there

Lilly: Great!
Cole: Met your ex-boyfriend
Lilly: Ricky?

Cole: Yep.
Lilly: He’s at the house?
Cole: Yep.
Lilly: So where are you at in Galveston?

Cole: You don’t want to go home?

Lilly: Nope!

Cole was feeling better now.
Cole: Meet me at the candy store on the strand.

He remembered how much she loved the milkshakes from the old-fashioned candy store.

Lilly: Done. See you soon. Bye.
Cole was smiling thinking about how glad he was to see her. He had missed her all day. She was choosing him over Ricky.

“Snap out of it,” he said to himself. “You are burying your wife - her sister - tomorrow.”

He had walked around the strand for some time, and when it got close to an hour, he went into the candy store.

He caught his breath when he saw Lilly already sitting down at one of the benches. She had made good timing.

“Hey, I didn’t think you’d be here so quickly. I was just walking around, window-shopping.” Cole said as he sat down across from her.

He could tell that she wasn’t in a good mood. It had to be because of Ricky.

“So why are you here?” Cole asked outright.
She looked up at him with tears in her eyes.
He immediately took her hands into his and wished that he could take away her pain.

“I just couldn’t walk into the house and see Ricky there. Why did he show up?” she asked Cole.

“He said that he was a family friend and wanted to pay his respects.”

Lilly just laughed. “Ricky and respect do not go hand-in-hand.”

Cole didn’t know what to say, but he wasn’t going to let this guy hurt her.

“Is he going to be there tomorrow?” she asked.
“I believe so. He said he wanted to say his goodbyes to Sara.”

“Whatever. He didn’t even know Sara,” Lilly snarled.
Cole had never seen her this way. He had seen her laugh and cry, but never angry. Her hands were shaking. He stood up and moved over and sat beside her. He put his arm around her to try to slow down her shaking.

“Do you want to talk?” Cole asked softly.
“Not right now. Maybe later,” she said through her tears.
“I’m here for you, Lilly. I always will be,” he whispered.
The waitress came over, and Cole started to order Lilly a milkshake, but she said that she didn’t think she could eat it. Instead, he ordered a banana split with two spoons.

“You don’t want me to go all physician on you, do you?” He smiled. She loved his smile. It was so sweet of him to worry about her.

“Fine, I will eat,” she said, and rested her head on his broad chest. Cole instantly started rubbing her arm with an up-and-down motion that was so soothing.

“He really hurt you. I can see that,” Cole said, more to himself than to Lilly.

“He did,” she simply said.

“Your dad was giving him a lecture when I interrupted them. I didn’t know who he was. I figured a cousin or some family member.”

“Really, my dad was lecturing him?”

“Yeah. I have no idea what he was saying, but your dad had his finger in his face, wagging it, and Ricky was just shaking his head up and down.” Cole recalled the scene.

“He should have slapped him,” she said.

“Lilly! That’s so not like your dad,” he stated.

“Fine. I will do it,” she said, and then stated, “That is so like me.”

“Yes, Lilly Pad, it is,” Cole said as the waitress brought them the banana split with two spoons.

Lilly thought his term of endearment was sweet, and reminded her that her father and Cole were protective and very much alike.

“My dad used to call me that when I was little.”
“That’s because you remind us of a frog.” He smiled.
“What? A frog? Why?” she said as she dug into the banana split.

“I don’t know. It’s what I think of when I hear ‘Lilly Pad.’“ He smiled down at her and kissed the top of her head. Her hair smelled so good, like vanilla beans.

She just elbowed him and said, “Whatever,” and didn’t talk anymore about her nickname or her former boyfriend.

They finished their banana split, and then Cole went to pay the bill. Lilly walked around the store and grabbed some candy for the kids that would be staying at the house.

“Are you sure you want to give them candy? There are so many that they could easily take over the house.” He laughed, but she just put them on the counter and pulled out her wallet.

“My treat,” Cole said instead, and paid for the candy for the Williams children sleeping at his house.

As Lilly got into her jeep, she looked at Cole and asked if he could do her a favor.

“Sure, Lilly, anything,” Cole said sincerely.
“Please keep Ricky away from me tomorrow.”
“As you wish...” He smiled, referring to the movie they watched the other night, The Princess Bride.

The funeral was beautiful. Actually, Cole was wondering why people said that. Funerals weren’t beautiful. They were sad and left too much empty time for self-meditation.

True to his word, he shielded Lilly from Ricky. If he wasn’t by her side, her father was. There was no way Ricky was going to upset Lilly today.

After the graveside services, the minister invited everyone to come back to the Meekers’ home for food and condolences.

Cole just wanted the day to be over. He wanted to get back to work. He couldn’t stand being alone with his own thoughts. He blamed himself, and he knew that Lilly did too. They never spoke of it after that first night, but it was always in the air.

Ricky asked Jake if he could come to the house and Jake said that it wouldn’t be wise.

Ricky was not happy but decided that he would talk with Lilly eventually. Now he knew where she lived, so he would make an impromptu visit and try to win her back.

Lilly walked up to the gameroom/kichenette and looked over the staircase to the number of people that were intruding. She knew they meant well, but she just wanted to be alone. She didn’t want to hear anyone else say how sad they were; that Sara was a good person; that it was horrible that she took her own life; that she would have been a good mother.

Lilly finally told her mother that she was going to lie down because she had a migraine. Cole watched her walk up the stairs but he couldn’t follow her without causing a scene.

Several hours later, everyone had left, and Jackie cleared up the dishes and cleaned up after the guests.

Cole finally asked if they thought Lilly was okay.

“She’s hurting. She just needs to have some space,” Jackie replied. Cole wasn’t sure if that last sentence was meant for him, but he didn’t care. He was going to check on her before he went to sleep.

Cole thanked Jackie and Jake for all their help. There was no way the services would have been so beautiful without Jackie’s touch. She had beautiful floral arrangements, a well-written eulogy, and had sent out all the announcements.

“I’m surprised you didn’t want Sara buried in Savannah,” Cole finally said out loud. They didn’t have burial plots, and he only bought the one because he didn’t know if he’d want to be buried next to her.

“I wanted to, but Jack reminded me that this was her home now.

Her friends, her husband, and her neighbors,” Jackie said, not realizing that her daughter had no friends and had lost her husband a long time ago, emotionally at least, and that her neighbors didn’t know her, except for the boy she cheated on Cole with. Fortunately, Brandon wasn’t there. Cole had wondered how he would deal with that, if it happened, but instead he kept his eye on Lilly and kept her free of Ricky as she requested.

Jake said, “She’s not hurting anymore. That’s all that matters. She’s in God’s memory.”

“True,” Cole stated. He wasn’t a religious man, but he believed in God, and he did believe that Sara wasn’t hurting anymore. He didn’t know if he believed she was in heaven, but he knew she wasn’t in hell. Sara had her faults, but they weren’t worthy of eternal damnation. He figured that God understood her mental illness and took that into consideration.

Jake put his large fingers around Cole’s neck muscles, and gave it a tight squeeze.

“Jackie and I are leaving tomorrow. We decided to just drive the rental back and give you and Lilly some time to grieve in private,” Jake said to his son-in-law.

“When will we see you again?” Cole asked.

He wasn’t sure if they would want to see him again, since they have no further ties to him, but he did love them and would hate to never see them again.

“We want to come down when the rodeo is happening. So in a few months, if we are still welcomed,” Jackie said.

“Of course you are. Look, you are the only parents I have. I love and respect you. I wish I could have made Sara happy. I really did try,” Cole said as his voice was breaking.

“We know you did, Son,” Jake responded, and then surprised him with the next sentence: “We expect you to try to make Lilly happy too.”

Cole did an immediate turn to see his father-in-law’s eyes, and could see that he was more knowledgeable than even Cole was about his feelings for Lilly.

“Jake!” Jackie responded.

“I’m just saying we are entrusting our Lilly into your care,” Jake responded.

“I will keep her safe,” Cole promised and then said his goodnights.

Once upstairs he knocked on Lilly’s door lightly, in the event that she was asleep.

“Come in,” she said quietly.
He waked into a dark room and stumped his toe on the bedpost. “Ouch!” he cried out.
“Cole?” Lilly said as she turned on the lamp on the nightstand.

“Yes, it’s me. Are you ok?” he asked, not closing the distance between them.

“I’m fine. Just thinking,” she said tenderly.
“What are you thinking about, Lilly?” Cole held his breath, and then heard what he never expected to hear.

“If I should tell you something. It involves you too.” The word ‘too’ hung in the air. It involved Cole and Lilly.

“You know you can tell me anything,” Cole said, moving slightly closer to her side of the bed.

“I don’t know how you would feel about this. It might anger you.”

“Lilly, I can’t imagine anything you could ever do that would make me angry with you,” he said now sitting down on the side of her bed.

“I went to the doctor Friday,” she said, not finishing her thought.

“I thought you went to work,” Cole stated in surprise.

“No. I took the day off. I had to do something that I should have done months ago.”

“Lilly, you know I could help you if you needed to see a doctor.”

“Not this kind of doctor. I went to see Dr. Winters,” she said quickly.

“Sara’s gynecologist? Are you okay?” Cole asked quickly.

Perhaps Lilly needed a well-woman or new birth control pills, but it was strange that she chose to do it the day before her sister’s funeral.

“I did what Sara asked me to do. It was her last request, and I felt that I had to do it,” she said, avoiding Cole’s eyes.

Cole was thinking back to what Sara asked her, and the personal dilemma that put Lilly in. “You got inseminated.” It wasn’t a question; it was more like a statement of disbelief. She got inseminated with his and Sara’s child.

“Why would you do that, Lilly?” he questioned.
“I owed it to Sara and to you,” she said above a whisper.
“You don’t owe me anything, Lilly, and you didn’t owe Sara either.”

She started crying. He didn’t want to make her cry. He hated seeing her cry. He lifted her up from the mattress and held her, soothing away her fears and uncertainties.

“I’m sorry, Cole. I never meant to hurt you.” She cried into his chest.

“Oh, Lilly, I’m not mad and I’m not hurt. I just hate that you felt you needed to do that for Sara or me. You have your own life to lead, and it’s a good life.”

“Hah, it’s an empty life,” she replied.
“Geez, thanks,” Cole retorted, and stroked her hair.
“That’s not what I mean. My sister asked only one thing from me in my entire life, and I was selfish. I put my career before my sister and her happiness. I had to do this. If you don’t want anything to do with it, I understand. Sara cheated on you, and I know it hurt you, but I had to do this for her because I cheated her out of having your child.”

“Oh, Lilly, you are such a good person. We will get through this together. I’m not going to let you go through this alone,” Cole said, and kissed her on the cheek and tasted her salty tears.

“Do your parents know?” he asked.

“No, and I don’t want them to know until I know everything is okay. It could take weeks before I know if it even worked.”

“Why didn’t you talk to me about this first?” he asked, stroking her hair.

“Because I was afraid that you would try to talk me out of it, and I wasn’t going to let that happen,” she said, and then looked up and saw the care in his eyes.

“Oh, Lilly, I wish I could take away all your pain, but I can promise you that I will be there every step of the way. You are not alone in this. Even though I didn’t want you to do it, I will support you.” Cole wanted to kiss away her tears, but knew that was forbidden. She was crying over the loss of her sister, his wife, and there was no way he was going to overstep his bounds. When and if she was ever interested in him as more than a brother-in-law, she would have to make the first step.

He laid her back on the mattress, covered her up, and shut off the light. He told her her parents were leaving tomorrow, and that they would talk after everyone was gone.

“Cole?” she called out in the darkness. “Are you sure you aren’t mad at me? It is your baby too.”

“No, honey, I’m not mad at you, but it’s our baby. You did this without thinking about who would be the baby’s mother, and it’s something we will need to discuss tomorrow,” he said as he started to close the door.

“Ok, Cole. Thank you for being so loving to me,” she whispered.

“It’s not that hard to do, Lilly Pad.” And with that he shut the door and shrank to the floor.

Lilly was carrying his dead wife’s eggs and his sperm. They were going to be co-parenting his deceased wife’s child. Today had been one shocking and emotional day.

Cole decided to get a drink before he took a shower and went to bed.

Tomorrow, they would talk. Seriously talk about their future.

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