“You’ve got some nerve,” Daddy seethed as I passed by him. I didn’t care. I just needed to get to my sister.
Collapsing over her, a pool of tears emptied from my eyes and onto the silk white dress she was wearing. Everyone was staring at me in shock. Mama was the only one who knew I was coming today. I couldn’t bear to look at Sevin again. The death stare he’d given me when I walked in was enough to tell me everything I needed to know regarding how he felt about my showing up. There wasn’t an ounce of shock on his face—just pure anger.
This whole experience was surreal.
I’ll never forget receiving that phone call from Mama. She was the only person who knew my whereabouts all these years. She told me that Elle developed an infection that spread throughout her body and poisoned her blood. Septicemia she called it. It took her fast.
Apparently, Mama didn’t tell them I might be showing up, because the rest of my family truly looked like they’d seen a ghost.
The funeral director had to pry me off of her body. I just couldn’t leave her. They needed to move her light blue coffin for the procession out of the church. Sevin was one of the pallbearers along with Daddy and some of the guys from Sutton Provisions.
Everyone followed the casket out except for me. Instead, I just stared vacantly at the empty pews.
My little sister Emily startled me. “Evangeline…”
Not so little anymore. I hadn’t even noticed her when I walked in. Emily looked like a grown woman. She was going on seventeen now and resembled Elle more than the little girl I remembered leaving behind.
“Hi, sis.” We hugged and cried in silence for several minutes.
She sniffled. “How did you find out?”
“Mama told me.”
“She knew where you were?”
“Yes, but please don’t tell anyone.”
“Where have you been all this time?”
“I’ve been living in Wichita.”
“That’s only a few hours away. Are you kidding? Is that where the guy you ran away with lives?”
Even though I hadn’t met Dean until after running away, it was easier to stick to my lie. “Yes.”
I wouldn’t let Dean come with me to the service. There was no way I needed that extra pressure today. He wasn’t happy about having to let me out of his sights on my turf, but by some miracle, he let it go.
“What’s the name of the person who’s so important that you had to leave your family?”
“His name is Dean.”
“We needed you. You left us when we needed you most for…some guy? How could you do that to us?”
“Em, someday I’ll tell you everything. Just know that I didn’t feel like I had a choice at the time, okay? Leaving you was the last thing I really wanted.”
“Elle is dead, Evangeline! She’s dead.”
Covering my mouth at the realization again, I wept and whispered into my palm, “I know.”
Emily and I held each other for about a minute before she pulled back. “We’d better go. There’s a car waiting to take us to the burial grounds.”
“Go ahead without me. I’ll follow.”
I was left alone in the church. I had no intention of going to the gravesite and watching as they lowered her into the ground. I just needed to see her one more time, and I had that chance. I didn’t want to make things even harder on Sevin.
Dropping to my knees, I prayed at the altar amidst the scent of burning votive candles. Nightmares about Elle had been haunting me every night. I knew they were only going to get worse after facing reality today.
Please, God. Give me the strength to face this.
Afraid to face Daddy’s wrath, instead of stopping at the house, I drove straight back to Wichita. Seeing nothing but flashes of Sevin’s angry stare, the ride back was a complete blur. The man who had my heart to this day probably wished I were the one that died. I really wished it were me, too.
The closer I got to our house, the more it felt like my insides were rotting. Rehashing this day to Dean was the last thing I felt like doing tonight. I just wanted to go straight to bed.
Dean was sitting on the couch watching television. “Evie, it took you long enough to come home. I’m starving.”
“Why didn’t you make yourself something?”
“You know I can’t cook for shit.”
“I just came back from my sister’s goddamn funeral. You think I want to spend the rest of tonight cooking a meal for you?”
“You hadn’t seen your sister in five years. If she hadn’t died, you wouldn’t have even gone back.”
“That means I’m not supposed to be devastated?”
All this time, Dean thought I was estranged from my family by choice. He didn’t really know the whole truth about the pain of my past and my reasons for leaving Dodge City. He couldn’t imagine how much I truly loved Elle. He definitely couldn’t imagine how much I loved Sevin.
God, even the thought of his name caused shooting pains to run through me. It was as if I could feel all of the hatred and anger he felt toward me within my chest. That, coupled with my own self-loathing, was now too much to carry within me.
Dean must have noticed that something was seriously off with me, because he softened, which was rare. “Sorry, babe. I didn’t mean to upset you. Go make us some dinner, huh?”