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From This Moment
Author: Melanie Harlow

One

 

 

HANNAH

 

I thought he was a ghost.

The same one I’d seen a hundred times in the last eighteen months, doing all manner of everyday things. Driving the car behind me. Crossing the street in front of me. Jogging along the beach, sweat soaking one of his faded green Michigan State T-shirts that seemed to multiply in the wash.

And it never failed. Every time, every single time, my heart would beat a little faster. I knew it! I knew he wasn’t really dead! They’d been wrong. I’d been right. He was still here.

Except he wasn’t. Of course he wasn’t.

“Hannah?”

But the voice was pitch perfect.

My breath caught as I experienced a euphoric millisecond of hope before I realized the man next to me in the produce section at Foley’s, the one with my husband’s face and voice and hands, was not an apparition at all, but his twin brother.

“Wes.” I recovered, managing a smile I hoped would pass for glad, if not happy. But my insides trembled. I’d been dreading this moment ever since I’d heard he was moving back to take over his father’s medical practice. Like Drew was supposed to. “Hey.”

We hugged, and I had to rise up on tiptoe, just like when I used to hug Drew. His chest was hard and muscular, and his shirt was dark blue. Drew had a shirt almost exactly like it. Don’t breathe. Don’t breathe. This has been a Good Day, and if he smells like Drew, it will slide the other way in a heartbeat.

Pulling back, Wes crossed his arms and looked at me with Drew’s gray-green eyes, unable to mask the sadness in them. “It’s good to see you.”

“You too,” I lied, twisting my wedding ring around my finger. It was a diamond eternity band. Eternity. What a crock.

“How are you?”

“I’m—I’m fine.” I wasn’t fine, I’d never be fine again, but I’d learned it was the answer everyone wanted to hear. “How are you?”

“Okay. Still a little jet lagged.”

I nodded. Wes had been in Africa working for Doctors Without Borders for the last several years. He’d come home for the funeral, but I’d basically been an automaton in those days. I don’t know whether it was my body’s defense mechanism or what, but I’d been so stunned, I’d barely felt a thing. It made no sense. A fatal heart attack at age thirty-four? But he was a doctor in perfect health! A man in the prime of his life! A father and husband and son and brother and friend! He couldn’t die—that was absurd. He had his entire life ahead of him.

And we had plans! We were going to have more children and plant a garden and take a trip to Europe. We had dinner reservations and his father’s retirement and a three-year-old child to parent for the next fifteen years. And we were only halfway through the third season of Game of Thrones! He couldn’t die now!

It took a week or so for the disbelief to subside into blind grief, and after that, I didn’t get out of bed for weeks, except to vomit. I have no idea who I saw in that time. Thankfully, my mother had stayed on to take care of Abby, and by the time I emerged from the haze, Wes was gone again.

And I’d been glad.

Even now, the sight of him still made the edges of my vision go a little cloudy. Out of nowhere, a bolt of anger shot through me. How dare you walk around with my husband’s face and speak with his voice and look at me with those eyes that are so like his I want to cry?

It was irrational and childish and unfair, but widowhood will do that to you—along with crushing all of your dreams and making the remainder of your life a Plan B you never imagined, didn’t want, and couldn’t escape.

“How’s Abby?” he asked.

At my daughter’s name, I softened. Took a deep breath. Abby was my reason for living. “Good. Can’t wait to start kindergarten next week.”

“Kindergarten. Wow.” He smiled and shook his head. His eyes crinkled at the corners just like Drew’s used to. “I can’t wait to see her. Okay to come by sometime this week? I have a few little gifts for her from Africa.”

No. Stay away from us. “Um, sure.”

“Great. I’m staying with Mom and Dad while I look for a place, so I’m not far.”

I nodded. My in-laws lived in a huge, custom-built home on the lake a few miles outside town. Still, it felt much too close.

“Hey, want to come to dinner at their house tonight? Bring Abby? I’m dying for a home-cooked meal, so Mom’s making smothered pork chops. That’s why I’m here. She forgot an ingredient and I offered to come pick it up.”

“No, we can’t,” I said quickly. “I have plans.” It wasn’t a lie, although I would have lied before going to dinner over there tonight. Nothing against Lenore’s cooking, but I wasn’t ready to sit across the table from this ghost. And my mother-in-law stressed me out on a good day.

“Oh. Another time then.” Wes glanced at my empty cart. “Well, I’ll let you get back to shopping. It’s really good to see you, Hannah.”

I gave him a tight-lipped smile and moved toward the exit, abandoning my cart and hurrying out the door without purchasing anything. Adrenaline coursed through me. Note to self, shop at different grocery store.

Inside the safety of my car, I took a few deep breaths, my hands gripping the steering wheel tightly. You’re okay. You’re okay.

But I wasn’t.

I pressed my lips together, waiting for my heart rate to return to normal. This would be hard, seeing him around town. I’d have to take precautions to avoid it. In my head, I made a list of all the places he’d be likely to go, living at his parents’ house. Which stores, which post office, which barber shop. Which roads he’d take to go to work, which routes he’d be likely to jog, which restaurants and coffee shops and gas stations he might frequent. I’d stay away from all of them, and pray he stayed away from mine.

What little peace I’d made with my life was too fragile to risk.

 

On my way home, I picked up a pizza and small salad for dinner, since I hadn’t bought any groceries. I also stopped at the liquor store, since tonight was my night to host the grief support group I was in. Wine with Widows, my mother liked to call it.

“Doesn’t it get depressing?” she’d ask. “Week after week of talking about nothing but losing your husbands?”

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