I hate this fucking dress. I hate this fucking car. I don’t want to fucking be here.
Al found me passed out on the couch again this morning and shoved me into a cold shower, the bitch. She didn’t even have time to collect all the empty bottles like usual, it took her a while to get all the sick out of my hair so by the time I was in my dress the car was already waiting to pick us up.
I almost tripped over another set of flowers that had been left on the front porch on my way out. People had been sending them all week, I couldn’t even find room in the house for these ones though so I had to put them out back. I looked for a card but I think it slipped under the mat on my way in and I wasn’t rummaging around to fucking look for it.
It didn’t matter, they all said the same thing – ‘I’m so sorry for your loss.’ Nothing original with these fuckers.
May kept herself tucked in between Cole and Tara on the seats opposite me. She’d attempted to give me a small hug when I got in but I think Tara had made her do it because her heart didn’t seem in it at all.
Pulling down onto the street where the church was, I moved my eyes down to my lap so I didn’t have to look at anyone in particular when we got there. I was more sober than I’d been in days and my head was thumping as we continued to drive down the road at this torturously slow pace.
Tara’s voice echoed around the silent car, drawing everyone’s attention to the windows once again.
I’d never seen so many cars on this street, not even at Christmas service. The road was lined with a sea of moving black fabric as people made their way towards the towering white building. As we stopped outside I saw a familiar face, his cheeks already glistening with tears.
Okay Brie, don’t you dare lose your shit. You keep it together.
I’ll survive now and cry later.
Pastor toy-boy opened the door of the limo and looked in, his eyes only growing more sympathetic as they fell on me. I’d told him a few days ago that he didn’t need to hold the service, that we could find someone else to do it, but he insisted.
Him and Granny weren’t exactly a secret around here and I know people would understand him having to stay on the side-lines but he said he had to do it, he had to do it for her.
“You should all come around to the back, we’re moving the service to the gardens instead. All the chairs we have are already out there but most people will have to stand.”
I was slightly confused, I’d seen the church hold funerals with large numbers inside before.
“Why do you have to move it? I’ve seen you fit the whole congregation inside with room to spare.”
He smiles gently. “There’s a lot more than just the church goers here Brianna, you’re grandmother was one of the most well loved women in this town. Come around, you’ll see.”
He shut the door and I felt a tiny hand slip into mine, her touch almost foreign after all this time. I hadn’t even see her move but as the car pulled out to the back of the church I reached around and held May against me. I wanted her safe, even if it was with me.
Milo was already sobbing before we even made it to the other stop. Cole was doing his best to comfort him but it was doing nothing, the poor boy was inconsolable. He’d meant a lot to Granny, so did Jayce. She had so many children in her life she’d nurtured in one way or another into adulthood.
Jayce opened the door again, helping Al to get out whilst Cole supported her back with each step, before pulling May up into his arms. Her hand never left mine as I stepped out to join her, only for me to almost stumble back at the sight before me.
He was right, it wasn’t just the congregation. It was the whole fucking neighbourhood.
From one end of the garden to the other were row after row of people, all dressed in their best outfits and standing tall. Each and every one of them here to pay respect to a woman most of them owe some part of their hearts too. She’d touched more people than even I could imagine.
Granny never turned anyone away, she always had a meal if you were hungry, a bed if you were tired and a harsh word when you needed it too. Our neighbourhood had its share of bad kids but Granny never saw them that way, or treated them with fear like everyone else.
I spot Jackson Venez standing on the edge of the crowd. I haven’t seen him for a few years, he’s got a lot more tattoos on his face now than the last time I saw him but I’d still recognise him anywhere. He leads the Serpents now, over on South Side. I remember walking into the little store at the corner of our street when I was thirteen with Granny, only to find him standing at the counter with a gun pointed at the guy behind the register.
Most peoples reaction would’ve been to run, but not Granny. She marched straight up to him, grabbed him by the ear and dragged him right outside threatening to call his mama if she ever caught him doing anything so stupid again.
It didn’t change him completely, he’s probably doing a lot worse than that now but it did teach him that you always have someone who won’t respect you because of fear, there’s people who you’ll need to earn it from. He always made sure we were safe when he took over our block, kept the gang lads off our bit of the neighbourhood and had enough respect for Granny to keep them off me too, although that didn’t always stick as well as he thinks it did.
On the other side of the garden is Hector and the other boys from Poison, their dripping knife tattoos clear on their cheeks for everyone to see. It speaks volumes that these two groups would usually kill each other on sight, but have put all their differences aside for one day to show respect to this woman. Hector slept on our couch for three weeks when he was eleven, his dad was drinking again and he did a runner from home. Nobody else would go near him with his reputation as a little psychopath in the making, but Granny just saw a scared kid and had the couch made up in an instant.
Every face here could tell you a story of her kindness, something she did for them that no-one else would. Now days I’m not proud of a lot of things about myself, but I’m so fucking proud to be her granddaughter. They’re all here because of her.
May holds on to my hand tight as Jayce lowers her back to the ground and we start to make our way down the make shift aisle in the middle of the crowd.
The pastor stands on a podium at the front and I try to focus on that, knowing if I look at all the weeping faces of everyone I care about around me, I’ll break in an instant.
My resolve however crumbles when I get to the front and see the small white coffin.
Granny was never a big woman, she was barely five feet tall, but that box is still so fucking small.... I can’t quite believe she’s in there. It doesn’t seem big enough for someone with so much personality.
“Ladies and Gentleman, if those of you with seats would care to take them, we shall begin.”
Collapsing onto my seat, I feel an arm take my waist and hold me there so I don’t end up on the ground. Al sitting next to me, tears already in her eyes as she holds me close to her.
No matter what I do, I’ll never be able to make this girl hate me, will I?
She doesn’t let go, she keeps her face looking stronger than I know she actually feels. She’s doing it for me, so if I crumble, she’s got me.
“We’re here today not to mourn a loss, but to celebrate a life. This woman we’re here to remember with love went by many titles; She was a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a confident, a supporter, a survivor, a warm shoulder to cry on and a soft hand to hold. She was well loved by all those that knew her...” He turns to look down at his shaking hands. “She was a very easy woman to love.”
Yes she was.
“In all the time I knew Gloria it was clear she had achieved a great many things but there was one title she wore with such pride and such reverence that it was the name by which she was most commonly referred – Granny.”
The cage breaks, the pieces falling into my stomach as all the pain finally rushes through me.
She’s gone... she’s gone... she’s not coming back.
I can’t stop the tears now, I sob uncontrollably as I feel so many arms try to pull me into their hold. Aleah’s hand grips my waist and I fall onto her shoulder as I can’t keep it all in any longer. May’s body rises from next to me as someone sits her onto their lap in order to hold me and a familiar hand starts stroking my hair.
Josh doesn’t try to pull me away from Al, he just holds May and sooths me as I let every tear I have fall.
I don’t want to feel this. I want it to all just fuck off again. It’s too fucking much.
I can’t take it all in anymore, I know he’s speaking beautiful words but I don’t know what they are. I want another drink, I want something to make it stop. I just can’t fucking take this!
Granny hated long funerals, she didn’t want any readings or speeches, she just wanted people to have the opportunity to say goodbye and have a moment with their own memories of her.
Focusing on my breathing I try to bring myself back to reality as everything draws to a close. The pastor informs everyone where to attend for the wake and that only close family and friends are to stay for the burial.
Al doesn’t move me as the people behind us start to disperse, I can feel May trying to cuddle into my side so force myself to sit up and take her into my arms. Josh swings me to his shoulder and I rest there with him for a moment until my tears slow.
I don’t turn around but the noise is quieter now, and I can’t hear Tara thanking people for coming anymore so I know most people have left. I’m glad it’s just us for this part.
“Are you sure you want to stay for this bit pudding? Tara can take you back to the Manor now if you’re tired?”
She shakes her head. I can’t believe how grown up she looks, her black lace dress and little ballet pumps, it’s the best dressed I think I’ve ever seen her. I’m grateful to Tara for making sure she’s been well taken care of when I couldn’t do it, I’m grateful to her for a lot of things.
Maybe this is what I needed to do? Just find a way to say goodbye and have closure so I can get back to who I was before this.
“Tara said I can put a flower in with her, if I give it a kiss first then she’ll be able to keep my kisses in heaven. Is that okay?”
Everyone begins to walk over towards where she’ll be buried but I can’t move as I look at this girl before me, she’s growing so fast... she’s going to be magnificent.
“Of course you can beautiful, she’ll love that.”
I’m going to be okay, it’s all going to be okay, I just need to-
“It’s been a long time Brianna.”
Everything stops. My blood pauses running in my veins at the sound of that voice. No, it can’t be.
I stumble to my feet and get back from the sound before even looking up. Everyone had started making their way over but Al stops when she looks back to spot me alone with May and this thing.
Pushing May behind my legs I try to shield her but she can sense my fear.
“Beebee, who is that?”
I can’t do anything but stare at the monster, his face still as cruel and evil as it is in my nightmares.
He’s not real. He’s not real. He’s not real.
But he is real...
He leans down and looks directly at May, his eyes running the length of her, the smile that makes its way onto his face forces my body to hold back my breakfast.
“I’m your Great Uncle Tobias, why don’t you come give me a hug little flower?”
Little flower. The words send a chill through my body the same way they did back then, until all I feel is frozen. I try to move away from him but I can’t.
He can’t silence you now Brianna. Use your voice.
“Get the fuck away from her.”
He stands back up slowly, his view lingering on May. He’s younger than Granny but I can see he’s still weak and frail... So why am I so afraid?
His evil glare finally lands on me and a small whimper of pain leaves my lips. I don’t want him here.
“Come now Brianna, we’re family, there’s no need to be like that. I’m all you have left now.”
Aleah had been slowly moving closer, she catches my eye and I see the moment of realisation of who this is hit her. She’s the only one who could know. She glances from me up to Jayce and I nod, I know she needs to tell him so he’ll understand.
He steps closer and I feel May cling to the back of my legs.
“Stay the fuck away...”
I try to sound strong but there’s a quiver in my voice I can’t fight.
He reaches out and it’s like the world stops. His skin touching mine just like that day and I already feel that same fear begin coursing through me, the desire to drink bleach just so I don’t feel so dirty returning.
He talks in a hushed whispers as he leans into my body. “Are you still mad about our little misunderstanding Brianna? Because today isn’t about you, it’s about my sister. You really must learn to control yourself.”
Granny stopped considering him her brother that same day. We never spoke of it again. Al was the only person I ever told, I still don’t understand how my mother knew and told Nigel.
I should hit him. I should shout and scream but right now I don’t feel like I could do any of that. Right now I’m just a scared seven year old girl again, quivering in the bathtub watching him lock the door.
Just as I feel my legs about to give way I’m held up by two strong arms, I don’t know who it is but I feel someone else pull May into their protection too.
All my vision of the creature is blocked as Jayce steps in front of me.
The thing turns from me to face Jayce, who’s whole body appears to be shaking with anger, his fists clenched at his side.
“Would you hit an old man boy?”
Jayce steps forward and I see Drew and Cole come to my sides to shield me as well now.
“You are no fucking man... Leave or I will make you fucking leave.”
He just stares up at Jayce, the towering form of a demon I once saw him as quickly shrivelled to the nothingness of a pathetic old man.
“And who are you?”
Jayce smirks, leaning down, his face filled with revulsion and close enough to put fear into even the strongest of men.
“I’m her brother.”
Those were the last words I heard, the words that placed warmth in a place in my heart where that had only previously been ice.
As my eyes surrendered to the black I fall into the arms of the stranger holding me, my final vision that of his perfect face.