The deaths of her mother and new stepfather leave eighteen-year-old Lorraine Mattina with many challenges.
Telling her twelve-year-old siblings their worlds are about to shatter.
Asking her estranged stepbrother for help.
The deaths of his father and his father's new wife mean practically nothing to nineteen-year-old Noah Mack—until the stepsister he barely knows comes begging for help. His response? Pretty much—"Get the hell lost."
But when he can't get his new stepsister out of his mind, he goes to the extreme and gives up the NCAA Wrestling Championship title and his college education.
That's when the real problems begin.
Lorraine and Noah face many obstacles when picking up the pieces of their parents' deaths, but none as big as the secrets they keep.
Lorraine sat on the couch in the back of the room, as far away from the caskets as she could be. She hadn’t yet taken a close look at her mother. That would take courage. Mimi was up front greeting everyone the whole time, but near the end, she came to check on her granddaughter. “Come on, Rainy. I’ll go with you.”
Lorraine shook her head. “Not yet.”
“It’s almost the end of the first session. Come on.”
Not budging from the seat, Lorraine asked, “Where’s Grandpa? I thought he was coming.”
“He is. His flight comes in at five. He has a car picking him up at the airport. He had to take care of the condo and stuff, since it’ll be empty for a while.”
“Grandpa and I are going to live with you for a while.”
Lorraine was relieved. “Thank God,” she whispered.
Mimi squeezed Lorraine’s knee. “Your mother left you kids to me in her will, and Norah's father left Norah to Tatum if something happened to him, so it makes sense for your grandfather and me to move into your house.”
“Yes. Don't worry. That’s why Grandpa is making arrangements.” Mimi patted Lorraine's knee. “Come on now. Let’s go see your mother.”
Lorraine did not want to see her mother. Not like this. She wanted to remember her the way she was when she was alive, not lying lifeless in a casket in a funeral home. “I really don’t want—”
“Rainy. Come on. Carter did it.”
Lorraine did notice Carter standing at the casket earlier. He stood there almost as still as his mother was lying in the casket. “Where is he now?”
“I don’t know.” Mimi took Lorraine’s hand and walked with her up to the caskets.
Lorraine stopped in front of Brick’s casket first. Her grandmother didn’t protest, but she did let go of Lorraine’s hand and back away. At least her mother and Brick were together. They could comfort each other, she thought as she looked at Brick, but it was getting difficult for Lorraine to breathe. She’d look at Brick and then side-eye her mother. She knew she had to do it, but how? Breathe, Lorraine. Breathe. One side-step to the right, and then she stopped. Inhale, exhale. Inhale. Exhale. If Lorraine didn’t remind herself how to breathe, she’d run out of air. She tried to take another side-step to the right, but before she did, a hand took hers. It wasn’t her grandmother’s; it was too large and not very soft. Noah. He didn’t say a word. He pulled her to the right with a gentle tug and brought her to her mother. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Her heart was pounding, her chest was tight, and it was getting even harder to breathe.
Still holding her hand, Noah took a step forward and knelt on the bench in front of them. Lorraine had no choice but to do the same; he was still holding on to her hand. Noah remained quiet as he exchanged one of his hands for the other, never disconnecting from Lorraine’s. With his right hand now in Lorraine’s, his left hand was free to run slowly up and down her back, a tender touch of encouragement. Lorraine didn’t know why, but this last gesture caused her heart to stop, her breath to halt, and her tears to gush. With her free hand, she covered her mouth as she let out what sounded like a grunt and a yelp.
“Breathe, Lorraine,” Noah whispered right into her ear. “Breathe.”
She wiped at her wet face, then reached out her arm to touch her mother. Her fingers lingered just above her mother’s shoulder, but she couldn’t bring herself to actually touch. The mint blouse. She should have picked the coral one. Maybe she wouldn’t look so pale. More of Lorraine’s tears leaked from her eyes. Noah’s hand was still on her back, and she could feel its heat through to her chest. “How am I going to live without you, Mom?” she whispered. “What am I supposed to do?” Her fingers never actually touching her mother, Lorraine brought her hand back to her face and wiped at the wetness again. “Please don’t leave me, Mom. Please come back. Please. Please come back, Mama,” she barely uttered out loud. She dropped her head onto the wooden stand and sobbed. Noah’s hand came up on her shoulder, while his other hand squeezed hers. She was sobbing so hard that it hurt in her belly. Noah let go of her hand and placed two fingers beneath her chin to raise her head, and without hesitation, Lorraine leaned into Noah and cried into his chest. It hurt so badly that her body felt paralyzed, yet all she wanted to do was scream and run and disappear into thin air. She couldn’t be here anymore. Lorraine didn’t know how to move on from here. The next minute scared her, never mind the next week, or month, or year. Her mother was her everything. How could she exist without her? How could she move on?
After soaking Noah’s shirt with her tears, for she hadn’t an idea how long, Lorraine pulled back only when her grandmother’s hand cupped around her arm. “Rainy,” she whispered.
“Oh, Mimi,” she cried as she got up and hugged her grandmother, a new set of tears pouring from her eyes.
“Come on. We’re going home.”