Come What May by L.K. Farlow

 

Chapter One

Seraphine

I crumplethe note for the hundredth time. I don’t know why I’m clutching it like a lifeline—I have the stupid thing memorized. The words are etched into my heart at this point, each sloppily scrawled letter pumping through my veins like the worst kind of poison.

He said he loved me. Over and over, he said that. And not to blame myself… that his choice was as much for me as it was him. But how? Actions over words, and at the end of it all, he left me. By choice.

Deep down—like marrow deep—I know I’m being unfair. But life’s not fair, and now, I’m alone. Completely and totally alone.

Tears fall freely, running unchecked down my cheeks as the minister drones on about the wonders of life after death. Which is bullshit, because there’s no wonder for those of us the dead leave behind, just a whole lot of fucking heartache.

“You okay?” My cousin’s whispered concern jars me.

I shake my head in lieu of an actual reply. I’m pretty sure I’m not capable of more than gut-wrenching sobs right now.

“Sweet girl.” She clasps my hand in hers, and while I want to pull away, I let her hold on to me, knowing she needs the comfort, too. He left us both, after all. “Do you want to stay with us tonight?”

I’m tempted to take her up on the offer—the thought of being alone in the house we shared is honestly crippling. But Magnolia and Simon don’t need me intruding, so again, I shake my head.

“It’s not good for you to be alone,” she says, tightening her grip on my hand.

Alone. The word fills me with bitterness, coating my insides with an inky darkness as it wraps around my heart.

“I’m fine.” I force my lips up into what I hope is a smile. “Promise.”

Magnolia sighs. “If you say so.”

“I do.”

She sighs again, and we both tune back in just in time to hear the minister ask me to come to the podium to say a few words. I don’t know what I was thinking when I agreed to this. Clearly, I wasn’t—because I’d rather eat glass than go up to the pulpit and tell all these people who didn’t give a single shit about my father while he was living how great he was. Because if they’d have spent even five minutes with him, they’d already know.

Sure, there’s a handful of people here who truly loved him—but these fools probably couldn’t tell you a single authentic thing about him. Yet they have the audacity to sniffle and cry into their tissues.

I shove my growing ire down as I make my way to the front. My knees wobble as I step onto the raised platform. On a shuddering exhale, I turn and face the crowd. “Y’all knew him as Dave, but to me, he was Dad. Those three letters were more than a title, more than a name. To him, it was a badge of honor.”

A tear-soaked laugh slips past my lips as I struggle to maintain my composure. “His two favorite things to talk about were cars and—” I slap a hand over my mouth as a sob overtakes my words. My shoulders shake as my grief barrels into me like a runaway train.

After a few moments, I wipe my eyes and continue, keeping my eyes cast downward—the last thing I need right now is to see any of these people feeling sorry for me.

“And me. He… he left us before his time, and in his illness, he left a lot of things unfinished, but through it all, he never once allowed me to question his love for me. Even when he was bedridden and too weak to talk, he’d hold my hand and I could just… feel… his love.”

I swallow hard and finally dare to look up. A shiver runs through me when my eyes lock with those of Mateo Reyes. His stare is intense and sorrowful all at once, and for reasons unknown, it makes me feel a little more at peace.

“Dad had a kind word for everyone, and he’d give you the shirt off his back. He believed in honesty and hard work. He was a blue-collar man, through and through. He is—was—” I shrug and sniffle at the same time, existing in that weird space between laughter and tears. “A good man. The kind who put others first and believed time was more valuable than money.”

As I near the end of my poorly planned speech, self-doubt creeps in uninvited and smothers any bit of confidence I was feeling. God, these people probably think I’m a blathering idiot.

Swiping angrily at my tear-stained cheeks, I power on, ignoring what feels like an elephant sitting on my chest. “He always said, ‘It’s what you do while you’re alive that matters.’ Honor him—” My voice breaks and my breath saws in and out of my lungs. I’m milliseconds from losing it. “Honor him by making the most of each and every day.”

I rush down from the platform, forgoing the steps altogether in my haste to escape. With tears streaming, I race down the aisle and through the parlor doors into the parking lot. The service isn’t finished, but I can’t bear to spend another second inside of the chapel.

The humidity outside is thick, as if the loss coating my insides is so great that even the air feels weighted with it. I wrap my arms tightly around my middle as I suck in a greedy lungful of air, trying with all my might to exhale even a fraction of my pain.

It’s no use, though.

My cries turn to heaving sobs as I break down in the middle of the funeral home parking lot, for God and everyone who might happen by to see. Uncaring of the show I may be putting on, I purge myself of the anger, sadness, uncertainty, and fear until all that’s left is a heaping pile of sorrowful resentment.

I’m so caught up in my grief that when a strong hand comes down on my shoulder, I nearly fall over.

“Seraphine.”

Mateo Reyes.

As it always has, the way my name rolls off of his tongue sends a little jolt of inappropriate excitement through me. As a friend of my father and sixteen years my senior, he’s well off-limits. Regardless, my heart never got the memo and always beats a little harder anytime he’s near.

“Turn around.” The barest amount of pressure to my shoulder accompanies the command, and I pivot to face him, inwardly cringing at the picture I must paint after breaking down so thoroughly.

I try to keep my eyes low, but Mateo’s not having it. “Look at me,” he says, skimming the knuckle of his index finger down the line of my jaw to lift my gaze to his. “Keep your chin up, mariposita. He wouldn’t like to see your tears.”

“Then maybe he should be here.” I sound like a little snot, but I can’t bring myself to care. Because I mean it—if my dad didn’t want my tears, maybe he shouldn’t have killed himself.

He gives me a long look, his deep chocolate eyes twinkling with the kind of knowledge that only comes with experience and age. “Death hurts. Like a motherfucker. You can either let the pain cripple you or you can own it.” He skims his knuckles back up my jaw and whispers, “Te esperan dias mejores.” He drags his eyes over me once more before abruptly turning and walking away.

My eyes stay glued to him as he retreats back into the funeral home, all the while wondering what made him come after me and what the hell he just said.

* * *

The morning after Dad’s funeral dawns bright and sunny. The birds are chirping, and there’s not a cloud in the sky. The temperature is perfectly mild, and there’s a nice breeze in the air.

It’s the perfect fall day, and it makes me want to rage. To kick, scream, and cry. To destroy all of the good and pretty things, to raze it all to the ground until nothing but charred ash remains.

I want the earth around me to match my pain, not to torment me with its beauty. I want the sky to weep right along with me.

However, the universe does not share my grief, and while I’m a little self-destructive, I have no plans to destroy anything other than Dad’s leftover beer in the fridge.

My cell rings right as I pop the top on the can. “Hey, Myles,” I say before gulping back a sip.

“Hey, girl. How are you?”

I take another healthy swallow before replying. “Tired. Sad. Angry. All of the above.” I should probably try to be a little more professional, but I’m hoping she’s calling as a friend right now, instead of as my boss. And if not, here’s to hoping she’ll give me a little grace, under the circumstances.

“I’m truly sorry for your loss, Seraphine. Your daddy was a good man, and those who knew him will miss him thoroughly.”

“Yeah.” I croak out the single word as my sadness lodges in my throat.

“Anyway, I was calling to tell you, if you need to take some time off, we understand.”

“No!” I spit the word out in a panic. The thought of sitting here, staring at our home without him in it, is too much to bear. “I’ll be there Tuesday when we open.”

“Are you sure?”

I chug back the rest of the can and open another. “Mmhmm,” I mumble around a mouthful of the hoppy liquid.

“Okay. Well, I’ll see you Tuesday then.” She sounds unsure, but luckily, she doesn’t call me on it. Probably because, like me, she was raised by a single parent, too. In her case, it was her grandmother after her mama abandoned her. Either way, I’m thankful she doesn’t question me.

“Yup, see you then.”

The rest of my day is spent on the couch, drinking Dad’s beer, watching mindless television until I fall into a restless sleep.

* * *

Monday was spent in much the same way—drinking, crying, napping, and all-around avoiding doing anything important. Like dealing with Dad’s shop or figuring out the bills or his life insurance—though, I’m sure with him taking his own life, that’s a moot point.

At one point, someone knocked on the door, but I didn’t bother checking to see who. The one person I want to see is no longer here.

Now, it’s Tuesday, and that storm I wanted a few days ago is here.

Rain falls from the sky in sheets as lightning flashes wickedly through the dark clouds. It’s perfect, really, because the storm can totally explain not only why I’m an hour late, but also why I look like crap.

It’s a win-win, really. Mostly. Though these wet shoes can go right to hell, along with my headache.

I push open the door to Southern Roots—the salon I’m apprenticing at—and promptly slip, landing hard on my bottom. “Shit!” I moan, making no move to pull myself back up.

“Seraphine!” Myla Rose rushes over to me, her mom-mode activated. “Are you okay?”

“Peachy,” I mumble as she helps me back to my feet.

“Have you been sleeping?” Azalea, Myla Rose’s business partner, asks from the stool behind the desk. Jesus, I didn’t even notice her.

A shoulder shrug is my only reply.

“Are you sure you’re up for working right now?” Myla asks. “You were over an hour late, and if you need some time—”

“It’s the rain. Cats and dogs. It made me late.”

“Forget about sleeping,” Azalea says, rounding the desk. “Have you been drinking?”

“No!”

“Liar!” Azalea leans in and sniffs me. “You reek of alcohol. Are you freaking drunk?”

“Fine, yes.”

Myla Rose takes my hand in hers and squeezes gently. Something about her soft touch has me tearing up and before I know it, I’m a snotty, sniffling mess, blubbering like a madwoman in front of the entire salon.

“What’s going on?” Magnolia asks from somewhere deeper in the salon. “Oh, Seraphine.” She comes to my other side and pulls me into her arms.

Azalea watches us for a moment before speaking up. “I don’t mean to sound like an insensitive bitch, but, S, maybe you should take some time off.”

It’s on the tip of my tongue to refuse, to demand she allow me to stay and work, but I don’t. I know she’s right. I’m a mess right now—and a poor representation of the salon she and Myla Rose have worked so hard to build. I won’t let their hard work be consumed by the black hole that is my grief.

“Yeah, okay.”

The three women—my only real friends, even if they are older and my co-workers-slash-employers—fall into conversation, talking about me as though I’m not here. Making plans and such. It’s a blur really, until Myla Rose addresses me directly.

“Cash is on his way here. I’m gonna drive you home, and he’s gonna follow in your car. You’re in no state to drive. We will figure out your apprenticeship hours later, and I’ll handle moving any appointments you may have had, and the three of us will split your other duties. We love you and want the best for you, you know that, right?”

I nod.

“Do you really though?” she asks, her hands on her hips as she glares at me with what can only be described as mom-eyes.

This time, I shrug.

“Seraphine. We. Love. You.” She guides me over to one of the waiting room chairs, away from the prying eyes of the nosy ladies of town, who are no doubt watching my train wreck with rapt interest.

“You’re hurting, I get it. When Grams died, it felt like someone cleaved out a part of my soul. Like you and your daddy, she was literally all I had. I remember, so vividly, in the weeks after she passed, I wanted to follow after her, if only to bring her back and yell at her for leaving me. I spent weeks in this deep, dark pocket of grief. It felt like a personal affront to me that the world kept turning without her living.

“I was angry and mean and lashed out at anyone who tried to help. Thank God AzzyJo stuck with me, or I might’ve never come around.”

“True story,” Azalea cuts in. “Sister-girl was a damn mess, but look at her now. A business owner, a wife, a mama. It’s okay to miss your daddy and to grieve, but don’t let it swallow you whole.”

“Yeah,” I say hoarsely. “Okay.”

“Are you sure you don’t wanna come stay with Simon and me?” Magnolia asks, kneeling on the floor in front of me so we’re eye level.

Just like the first time she asked, I want so badly to say yes, but some sick and twisted combination of pride and pigheadedness has me declining her offer.

“I promise you won’t be putting us out. We have a guest room and everything.”

“I know y’all do, Mags, but I need to learn to be on my own.”

My cousin stares at me for a beat before rising back to her full height. “If you change your mind, the offer stands, ‘kay?”

The bells over the door tinkle, saving me from having to reply.

“Oh, good, you’re here,” Myla Rose says, hopping up from the chair next to me to go to her husband.

“Glad to see you, too, darlin’,” Cash says, wrapping his muscled arms around her. He holds her to his chest with his face pressed into the space between her neck and shoulder. It’s such a tender moment that it makes my heart ache a little more, knowing there’s no one out there to hold me like that.

After he releases her, Cash turns to me. “I’m sorry for your loss, Seraphine. Dave’ll be missed.”

“Thanks,” is all I can squeak out without breaking down again.

“Why don’t we get you home?” Cash holds his hand out, presumably for my keys, which I pass him. He pockets them and extends his arm down again. I stare at it dumbly before Azalea clues me in.

“He’s trying to help you up, girl.”

“Oh.” I feel my cheeks heat to nuclear levels.

I place my hand in his, and he hauls me to standing with ease. And, the gentleman that he is, Cash walks us out to Bertha, Myla’s mint-green Land Cruiser. He opens the passenger door for me before walking his wife around to the driver’s side.

He presses his lips to hers in a completely-indecent-for-public kiss, breaking it only when a random catcall from across the street rings out. “I love you, darlin’. I’ll follow behind.”

“Love you, too,” she replies breathlessly as she joins me in the cab.

A wistful sigh escapes me as she cranks the engine. I hope the sound of the crankshaft turning and the pistons firing is enough to cover it, but luck’s not on my side.

“What’s the sigh for?”

“I don’t know. Nothing… everything?” I shrug and rest my head against the cool glass of the window.

“Talk to me, Seraphine. It’s not healthy to hold it all in.”

“It’s just… between the salon and taking care of Dad, I never really dated or anything. When Dad was healthy, the boys were all scared of him, and when he started getting ill, I just didn’t have the time for it. And now, it’s just… me.”

God, could I sound any more pathetic?

“I’m gonna give you a little tough love, ‘kay?”

“Sure.”

“I was your age when I got pregnant with Brody. I was single and alone and scared shitless. I remember sobbing when I saw those two pink lines. And then I did what Grams would’ve told me to do—I put on my big girl panties, pulled myself up by my bootstraps, and dealt with it.”

“I remember.” I roll my head against the back of the seat to look at her. “But what does that have to do with me?”

“You need to pull yourself up, sister. I know your daddy’s death is fresh and that you’re hurting something fierce. I get it—I do. But I also know Dave wouldn’t want to see you like this.”

I turn back to the window, not wanting to hear her, even though she’s right. If Dad was here, he wouldn’t hesitate to tell me what an idiot I was being.

“Look, I know you don’t wanna hear this. You’re hurting and angry, and you have every right to be.” She turns into my driveway and throws Bertha into park. “But you need to hear it all the same. It is okay to grieve, to mourn, to miss him. It is not okay to throw your life away. You said it yourself at his funeral, that your daddy always said ‘it’s what you do while you’re alive that matters.’ Well, Seraphine, you’re still alive—act like it.”

In my heart of hearts, I know she is right and speaking from a place of love. Unfortunately, my brain and heart aren’t on the same page. “Thanks for the ride.”

She sighs. “You’re welcome. Take the week off and we’ll go from there.”

“Sure thing.” I unbuckle and throw open the door. “Bye.”

Myla Rose gives me a long, sad look before backing out of the driveway so Cash can park my car. He drops my keys into my waiting hand before climbing into his wife’s car.

They don’t drive away until I’m safely inside, alone once again.