Prequel to "Number Seventy-Five"

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Chapter 4

“You can just leave those, Mandy. I’ll clean up in the mornin'.”

“Not going to happen, Sambo. I’m here for many reasons. Friend. Strong shoulder. Nurse. Cook and housekeeper. Sounding board. Official hugger.”

Sambo smiled but the expression seemed forced. The hollow bags under his eyes looked just as dark and heavy as Shawna’s had earlier, right before she finally fell asleep. The last four days since their father’s death had taken a toll on both of them.

Poor Sambo was devastated when he barreled into the emergency room with his father’s limp body in his arms. My heart went out to him just thinking about how horrid the drive to Mercy General had been with his own father near death in the passenger seat.

He looked lost, broken. A hollow shell of the man I grew up with. Both he and Shawna were taking their father’s passing hard. I thought about my parents. I would be inconsolable if I lost either of them. Our bond was beyond tight. Would I turn into a walking zombie like Shawna and Sambo had if I lost them both in such tragic ways? Doubtful. I was much more animated and freer with my emotions than the two of them, so I would be wailing and whining like a crazed banshee. Probably make a fool of myself at the funeral, screaming out how much I loved them over the words of the pastor.

I admired Sambo and Shawna’s reserves—even if it was sort of odd. It wasn’t healthy to hold in all your pain and sorrow. They were letting their grief eat away at their insides by not expelling some of their sadness. There was such a thing as being too stoic. It was almost eerie the way they acted—somber and stone-faced, unwilling to succumb to their heartbreak.

Then again, their household hadn’t exactly been filled with lots of love like mine had been.

I grabbed the last of the dirty dishes from the living room and headed to the kitchen. Thankfully, most of the food was gone and it wouldn’t take too long to get things back in order. Sometimes, focusing on the mundane, ordinary aspects in life helped keep people rooted during times of crisis. I knew Sambo had never washed a dish in his life. His momma had taken care of him and Shawna until she passed last year. After she died, Shawna took over the role of housekeeper and cook. Sambo would probably break the delicate china with his meaty paws.

“We could use some more firewood. I think it’s supposed to snow tonight.”

“Oh yeah, good idea. I’ll go fetch some now.”

With a halting gait, Sambo shrugged on his coat and disappeared out the back door to the woodpile. I finished with the dishes and was just placing the last container of food in the fridge when he stumbled back through the door. The cold night air blew in, followed by flecks of snow.

Within minutes, the fireplace crackled with warmth and Sambo and I sat in front of the roaring flames, each with a beer in hand. I broke the silence first. I needed to get him talking. I could see the confusion behind his eyes. He wanted to speak, but seemed to be waiting on me for some cue to begin. I decided to talk about Shawna first, hoping it would segue over to him.

“I’m worried about Shawna.”

Sambo’s somber eyes never left the fire. He didn’t even blink. “Why? She’s just grievin’. Ain’t that what you’re supposed to do when someone dies?”

“Well, yes, but she needs to eat. So do you, for that matter.”

“That’ll happen so enough. Dontcha worry none. We’ll be okay.”

“Of course you will! Time heals. It’s as simple as that.”

Sambo finally looked away from the fire. His eyes swept the small living room and a slow smile formed on his lips. “When the prisoner sees an open door, it sometimes takes a bit for him to run away. Hard to break old habits.”

I simply nodded, my heart saddened from the veiled meaning behind Sam’s words.

Yes, you two are now free to live in peace. In sweet, blessed peace. And I'll be here for you both, as long as you need me. Mandy Russell's shoulders are strong and ready.

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