The Last Goodbye, the First Hello (#2)

The Last Goodbye, the First Hello (#2)

TWO

As Pastor Duncan's footsteps faded into the distance, Sadie turned towards Uncle Cullen, her eyes still rimmed with red, and they felt so puffy she wondered how she could see through them. She wanted to lay on the floor forever, curled up with her arms wrapped around her legs where she could wallow in her agony. She knew, though, Pa wouldn’t want her to do that. She could almost hear him now.

“Sadie, get up off that floor and get to supper. It’s not going to make itself, child.”

Of course, he’d say it with amusement in his tone.

He always joked like that, even when the choice of what he’d say seemed as though he was mad or demanding her to do something.

He wasn’t.

“I should get us supper,” she said, moving to the kitchen. She looked around at the pots and pans hanging on the wall and remembered the day Pa had put them up for her mama. Oh, how they had laughed at how he’d wobbled on the stool because he wouldn’t get the ladder.

I suppose they are laughing again in Heaven, she thought.

A wave of sadness consumed her, and a lump formed in her throat. She felt the tears welling in her eyes and blinked them away.

Uncle Cullen watched her for a moment, then followed her into the kitchen. "I can help," he offered, his voice soft as though he was aware of the delicate balance between offering support and respecting her space.

Once a place of joy and family chatter, the kitchen felt different now, as if the walls absorbed the day's grief. Sadie pulled out the salt pork, cornmeal, and eggs, and as she sliced the pork, Uncle Cullen took to making the cornbread, mixing the ingredients in a bowl before dumping it in the skillet and taking it to the wood stove.

“So, do you cook all the meals?” he asked.

She nodded. “Pa helped sometimes, but he was often too busy with work and chores.”

“I see.” He paused. “I suppose those are my chores now. What animals do you have on the ranch?”

“There’s the cow in the barn that is separate from the ranch cattle. She gives us milk, and I make cheese and cream, and we have chickens, lots of them. There’s a few pigs, too, and the horses. Two of them. One for Pa and one to pull the wagon.” She threw the pork on another skillet she’d set on the stove, and the meat sizzled on the hot pan. Uncle Cullen?” she asked. “Do you think . . . do you think Pa is in a better place now? Is he in Heaven with my mama?”

Uncle Cullen set down his fork, and a crease formed on his forehead as he looked at her. “I believe he is. I know your Pa and I hadn’t spoken much since you were born and your mama passed. But the man I knew was a good man, and good men find peace in Heaven.”

“Pa said Mama was always looking down on me, watching me. I suppose he is now too.”

“I’m sure he is.”

“I think he’d want me to be strong.”

“I think so, too.”

Sadie nodded, and she reached for her fork. As her small hand wrapped around the utensil, she found a little comfort in Uncle Cullen’s words. “It doesn’t feel real,” she said, her voice quivering with the weight of her loss. “It feels like he’s just away on business, and I know it’s not true.”

“It will probably be like that for a while.”

“I’m going to miss him so much," she confessed, tears brimming in her eyes.

Uncle Cullen stepped back, leaning against the counter. He folded his arms across his chest and looked around the house, blowing a few breaths. He looked as though he had a mess of thoughts but was trying to find the right words. “Sadie,” he began after a couple of minutes. “I don’t pretend to believe this won’t be hard for us. But I promise to do right by you, but I can’t say I won’t make any mistakes. I’ve never been around children much.”

“It’s all right. I understand.”

“But you will be safe and warm in this house with food in your belly as long as I’m around.”

She stared at the wall behind the stove, not knowing what to make of his words. What would happen to her if something happened to him, too? She’d probably go to the orphanage, living the rest of her childhood like the other children who had lost everyone they loved. “Thank you,” she whispered.

It was all the words she could find in herself to say.

To be continued . . .
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