Streams of sunlight streamed through the branches of the tree behind the gravestone. One ray seemed to be pointing at the name: Jesse Duncan March 4,1978-July 11, 2015. Annie Duncan offered a sad smile in response. Nature was sending some sort of a sign. She wished she knew what it was.
One of the flowers in the vase was turned in the wrong direction. Annie bent down to readjust it to align with the others. It shouldn’t have mattered, but it for some reason unknown to her it did. She stepped away from the flowers to assess how they’d look from a distance. Pleased with the slight alteration, Annie gave them a nod of approval.
“Noah’s working at the clinic. They really needed another doctor. So everyone was happy about him coming back to town. But I suppose you knew that was going to happen.” She pressed her lips together. “You always told me that he wanted what we had. People say that sort of a thing all the time.” Annie threw a furtive glance at the car parked on the gravel path and took a deep breath. “Then again, you said you’d be back in time for supper.” Her frown was so deep she felt the dark cloud loom over her head. “I sold that four-wheeler as soon I saw Jesse eyeing it the way you used to. Like father like son.” Her chuckle was more from sadness than appreciation of the similarity. There was no way I was letting it take both of you from me.” Her anger dissipated as quickly as it appeared, “We’re using the money for a down payment on a pickup for him. You know he’s excited about that.”
She pulled a slip of paper out of her pocket. “Anyway, I came to tell you that once again you won. I should have known you’d argue with me even after you left. I didn’t believe it at first. But when Jesse and Noah started taking your side it took all the steam out of my boat.” It was as though her world was on mute and the sound had returned. Some birds in the tree above her chirped loudly. Maybe they were arguing with her. Annie’s eyes searched through the branches to find where exactly they were. The last thing she wanted was a present from above. Just in case she stepped out of the shadow into the sunlight.
When she heard the car door shutting she knew her time with Jesse was coming to a close. “I will love you always, Jesse Duncan. Nothing will ever change that.” The crunch of the grass beneath the footsteps counted down the time she had remaining. Annie took one last breath. “I’ll be by again soon. I promise.”
“Hey, Jesse.” Noah’s eyes clouded and cleared. He slipped his hand into Annie’s and fiddled with the diamond ring on her finger. “I’m sorry to have to cut this short. If we don’t leave soon we’ll be late for Jesse’s graduation.”
Annie nodded and pulled the slip of paper out of her pocket. She released her hold on Noah’s hand and noted how quickly the coolness from its absence discomforted her. “I’m bringing this back to you. To let you know you won.” She looked into Noah’s almond brown eyes. “And, I’m not mad about it anymore.”
A small smile formed at the corner of his lips. It was the same smile he gave her when he showed her the note the first time. Annie folded the note until it fit in the palm of her hand. It fit perfectly in the gap between the flowers and the vase.
With her task completed, she returned to Noah’s side and took his hand. They headed toward the car in reverent silence.
Noah stopped for one last looked at the grave. He whispered, “Thank you, Jesse. I’ll make sure to do right by her.” This time Annie gave his hand a gentle tug.
Her heart wasn’t as broken as she thought it was after all.