Chapter 25

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I straightened up and closed the refrigerator door. I looked around the empty kitchen. It would never be the same without her mother filling it with the smell of good home cooking. Nobody cooked like she did. I would miss that horribly.

After I had eaten lunch with Eric, I had decided to spend the night again out at the farm. To be honest, thinking of returning to Mom's room with Leslie and Mary there brought on a mild panic attack. Ann's derogatory comments had cut my nerves to the quick. I was close to giving her more than a piece of my mind. Mary could see it and had mouthed words begging me not to. I gave in. I deeply did not want to disappoint her. We were just starting to connect for the first time in my life. I didn't want to lose that. Oh, what we will do to earn the approval of those we love!

Eric had volunteered to drive me out to the farm. He needed to stop by and get something out of the barn anyway he needed to use at his own place. Since he didn't have a barn, he kept many things in Mom and Dad's. He also stopped at the small grocery store located on the way out of town to grab me something for dinner and to snack on. I so wanted to grab a wine cooler to drink but thought he'd kill over at the action. No one in the immediate family drank, or at least they all thought that. I knew my nephew did, and I knew I did. We just didn't let anyone else know. They would condemn us to hell in the blink of an eye.

With a sigh, I grabbed a bottle of ice tea from the counter where I had originally sat all the groceries and took my alcohol replacement drink out onto the covered front porch. The sun was still high in the sky, not even two o'clock yet. I sat down on the swing my father loved to sit on and took in a deep breath. Something about the country air felt so different to me. I felt like I had transported to another world.

Opening my drink, I took a long pull from the bottle and looked over the so familiar view. There was the large beech tree that every teen in the county fifty years ago had climbed over. I had climbed it many times and found their initials carved into the branched trunk that would take three or four people to stretch their arms around. In climbing that tree, I had felt a part of my siblings' world. Being born so late in their lives, I was always the outsider. By making my way up through the aged jungle of limbs, I moved into their world and hunted for their joy of youth. Maybe I would find their laughter or their smiles directed at me.

Then there was the tall oak tree that had once possessed a forked limb that was just low enough for me as a small child could jump up and grab onto. Many summer days would find me hanging from that limb where I would look at the world in a different perspective. Beyond the trees was the small hill that led down to the road. I often lay on that hill and hunted for shapes within the clouds. I'd watch birds and butterflies. Youth ruled. There was no nine to five demanding my attention. There were no bills to pay or family to tend to. I was free without a care in the world aside from what fun to do next. I visited far off lands in that yard. I made new friends. I created wondrous worlds that were mine and mine alone. Now they were distant memories.

The swing moved back and forth. I pushed it faster with the toe of my shoe. It was relaxing. Everyday, I had sat out here on the porch with Dad during my maternity leave with my youngest child. She had been born on his seventy-fifth birthday a few months after he had been diagnosed with liver cancer. My husband had graciously agreed to let me and my new baby stay with my parents before he died so he could get to know his birthday present and I could help out as much as I could.

Dad had sat in the glider across from the swing where he was more comfortable and could lean over to throw up when his stomach rejected anything he put in it. I would sit in the swing with the baby and talk to him, making memories. He was dead only four months later. Now we were facing the death of Mom. Life moved on despite what we wanted. We had no say in it.

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