Ah, Christine. Hair the color of a field of strawberries and skin white as cream. My ears always delighted in her lilting English accent, honeyed by, I presumed, from growing up in Yorkshire. Bright blue eyes swept the room, quickly taking in the surroundings. Never missing a detail or overlooking a need. She would sweep by, trailed by the scent of rose soap, forever fetching a morsel for my visit.

I blinked.

The dull, styled hair lay formed around her face. Concerns and cares a distant memory. Her skin, once transcendent, was waxy and cold. Eyes forever shut did not see the tears in the mourners’ eyes.

I let my eyes wander to her arms before catching myself. No, I don’t want to see the needle marks.

Why Christine?

The fruit has fallen from the vine. The cream has soured.

I turned away. My best friend in all this world sat next to his sister. Stoney silent. He stared blankly.

My heart aches, a dull echo of the faded trumpets.

Welcome to the brotherhood of motherless sons.

To the brink

Jack stared at the closed bedroom door before letting out a breath. The ringing words still echoed in his head.

“I hate you,” his youngest, Anna, had screamed.

Now what? Race in there and either throttle or lecture her? He knew the books said not to do that — but to be so disrespected by his own child, dug nails into his already fragmented pride. He had to pull back, separate, and get his wits about him. The danger he knew was that entering the domain of the ‘bitch’ meant that she had won — he would be on her turf — not his own.

So slowly he turned away, and stepped back down the stairs to the dining room. God bless it — I wish I had some wine — or at least a hard drink to fall back on. But he knew better than to get inebriated when dealing with the she-demon. Impaired judgement was bad enough when having to battle wills with a precocious terror.

Instead he slipped into a chair and stared out the window, hoping his anxiety would drain away like the sunlight already had.