Today's Reading

The slice of pain surprised her, along with her sister's words. When was the last time they'd felt happy together? Holidays were now strained affairs, with all of them desperate to leave as soon as the turkey was eaten or presents opened. Dad had his own family and always looked uncomfortable when his old and new families collided. As the youngest, Bailey was stubbornly optimistic, seeing the tension through rainbow-colored glasses, which was part of her nature. If only Devon could blot out the bad stuff as easily. But it lay in wait every night, whispering in her ear. Taunting.

"Sure," Dev said. Her sister relaxed, the tension between them slowing from a burn to a slight simmer.

"Thanks."

"Found it!" Pris pulled the sweater from the closet with a triumphant grin. The fabric was worn—once a wide, loopy-type knit that reminded Dev of a handmade afghan. It was oversize, and the pattern was a swirling mix of bright sunset colors that was overdone, making an onlooker a bit dizzy. Pris slipped it on. The sleeves stretched out over her delicate hands, and the large rust- colored buttons only added to the clownish image.

Dev and Bailey burst out laughing. "It's just as horrible as I remember," Dev said with a grin.

"I don't care, I'm going to take it," Pris said.

"Enjoy," Bailey said with a wave of her hand. "I'm sure Mom would be happy someone actually wanted it. We'd better get working—I need to shower and change before my reading tonight."

Dev swallowed her retort and reminded herself to relax. It was a short weekend and then she'd be back to her busy life. For Mom's sake, she'd hold her temper. "Why don't you work on the bureau?" Dev suggested.

They focused on the work, mostly in silence. Each object Dev touched was like a sharp memory bursting into her brain, leaving shimmers of grief trickling through her body. She pushed forward with the methodical precision that had served her well. A lone silver-handled hairbrush. Mini albums filled with wallet-size photos collected over the years, mostly stuffed with awkward school pics. A bottle of travel perfume still in its box. Dev removed it and took a deep whiff, the floral scent light, with notes of citrus. Definitely a scent Mom would wear. Perhaps it'd been an extra, thrown carelessly in a drawer for later, because wasn't there always a later? A tomorrow?

Her fingers gripped the smooth glass tighter. If only Mom had told them she was sick. Why couldn't she reach out and ask for help? Why did she have to die alone in a hospital when all of them would have been there if she had told them?

The words escaped her mouth before she could bite them back. "Mom should have told us."

Pris kept her back turned as she gathered clothes off the hangers. "It happened fast, Dev. No one knew it would turn into pneumonia."

"No, before that. She'd been sick for a damn week and hadn't even seen a doctor. God, why couldn't she just have called for broth, or Mucinex, or anything?"

"Because she was afraid no one would come."

Bailey's voice whipped her head around, shock barreling through her. "What are you talking about? I'm under two hours away—I would've driven here right away. And you're under an hour! Why didn't she contact you?"

Bailey's shoulders stiffened, but she refused to meet her stare. "Not sure. Probably afraid we were all busy, which we were. She was stubborn like that."

"She didn't give us a chance." The frustration writhed in her belly like pissed-off cobras. "Not to say goodbye, or that we were sorry, or anything."

Pris cocked her head, a frown furrowing her brow. "Why would you need to be sorry? Did you guys have a fight or something?"

Or something. Like the thousands of patronizing questions she'd ignored, hating always being compared to perfect Pris and adorable Bailey. And God knows she despised her whining mind, which tortured her, but the truth was too terrible to avoid.

Somehow, her mother had made her feel completely unworthy.

And now there was no more time. No hope they'd finally have an honest dialogue about why Dev had been the one to disappoint her. Life wasn't a chick-flick rom-com with a neat ending.

It was more like a shit show.

"No fight," she said, dumping the perfume and shutting the last drawer. "Just a random thought. I'm just mad at the way it happened."

Pris gave her a sympathetic look. "Can't blame you. Getting a call from the hospital that Mom died was like a nightmare. I kept thinking someone would jump out and say, 'Kidding!' and I could hate them for a terrible prank."

"I didn't believe you," Dev said. "When you called me. It was too much."
...

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