Inning 27 ★ The Big W

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The next day was the big day. The one year anniversary of everything.

My parents and I sat on a pew with the Mirandas. The mass was all in Spanish for the mostly hispanic community that attended the church. The Mirandas had been coming here since they came into the country as newlyweds. This was where the boys were baptized.

We stood up when everybody did and they began to sign an hymn. My hand brushed Santi's and we laced our pinkies. Less notorious that way. His voice was deep and strong, not precisely in tune but he didn't care and neither did it. I closed my eyes and let it envelop me. I prayed in the only language I knew that Seb would be happy for us, that he didn't worry about us and rested in peace.

Their mom cried during the ceremony as the priest read Sebastian's name and asked the congregation to pray for him. It was the only part I understood and the one that mattered the most. When the service was done, we traveled in separate cars to the cemetery. My parents had bought an enormous bouquet of blue carnations. It sat next to me on the backseat and I stroked some of the petals.

"This is so terrible," my mom said from the passenger's seat. "I'm so glad they didn't do this alone."

My dad nodded.

Our parents never talked about it much, but they were like family, more than just neighbors. We'd been at the hospital even as the news were broken to the Mirandas. We cried with them. It was my parents, actually, who had enough strength to make the funeral arrangements. The Mirandas never forgot the gesture.

All I remembered doing was holding Santi's limp hand and wishing he'd cry. He hadn't, at all. Not back then.

We got to the cemetery and I held the bouquet with one arm. When I found Santi I grabbed his hand, not caring for the funny look dad shot at me.

"How are you doing?" I looked up at him as he tried to pull the knot of his tie just a tad looser. From afar we probably looked like the two little dolls atop a wedding cake. Me, with the flowers and a white and baby blue dress. Him with his pressed white shirt and blue tie. We all had a touch of the color, it had been Seb's favorite.

"I'm okay." He amended himself. "Better."

We followed our parents to Seb's grave. It was bright and warm today, even considering that the season had grown chillier in central Florida. We passed a young mother and her child, carrying a flag carefully folded into a triangle.

"Do you think this will get any easier?" I asked, breathless as if I'd run all the way here from church.

"Probably not."

We stopped abruptly a few paces before his grave. Santi and I let each other's hands go to see what made our parents freeze. And then we saw a woman as she laid flowers by Seb's headstone. She was maybe in her late 30s, with short, unkept hair and a look to her face as if she hadn't sleep for several days in a row. I tried to remember her, see if I'd seen her anywhere. I came up blank. Why would a stranger lay flowers on my best friend's grave?

"Who are you?" I found myself asking.

My question broke the spell. The woman looked up at us, stricken with fear as though we would try to hurt her. "I'm so sorry," she said with a trembling voice.

I looked at Santi, but he was just as confused.

Barbara stunned all of us by saying, in the most menacing and vicious voice I'd ever heard from here, from deep in her chest, her soul. "Get the hell out of here, "Don't you ever show your face in front of my family ever again."

"Barbara, please," Domingo said, resting his hand on her shoulder gently but securely. "Let's not do this in front of the kids."

"Papa, what's going on?" Santiago asked him.

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