The service was beautiful. Father Barry spoke as if he knew Wendy, and Aiden suspected he’d spoken to some of their friends, in order to find out about her. Near the end of his sermon, he stepped in front of the podium, putting his hand on the coffin.
“I didn’t know this young lady personally, but after speaking to those who loved her, I feel as if my life missed something, not having her in it. The world has lost a loving spirit, but heaven has been given an angel. If you will, please, join me in our closing song. You’ll find the words in the program.”
The pall bearers walked forward and the organ soared around them. The congregation raised their voices in song. The words to I Shall Not Walk Alone had always brought tears to Deirdre’s eyes, but hearing everyone sing it for Wendy, was too much. She forced herself to walk out of the church behind the coffin, but she wobbled. Corin steadied her on her left, Burl on her right. The men set the coffin on the rack that slid into the hearse. She and her boys stood together, and were joined by Eoin and Fred. Watching the hearse pull away, the two young men broke down once more.
There was to be a reception at the fellowship hall, so they walked over. The family, and Eoin, were lined up to receive condolences. Aiden wished he were anywhere but there, but it was part of the ceremony. He felt he owed it to Wendy to see this through.
A couple came up to him. They didn’t speak right away, but the woman took his hand, staring into his face. They looked to be in their late thirties or early forties. She was blonde, elegant. He was swarthy and rugged.
“You must be Aiden,” she said, her voice a mellow alto.
“Yes…ma’am. And you are?”
“Amanda and Leonard Register. You gave us our daughter,” she said softly. “We debated coming, but we had to say goodbye to dear Wendy. We also wanted you to have this.” She took a framed photo from her handbag. It was a picture of his daughter, dressed in a pretty pink dress, a bow in her hair. “She will be three in a month and we would be pleased if you would come to her party. You can be Uncle Aiden, if that’s all right?”
“Yes. Yes, of course! Thank you! You have no idea what this means to me. To be a small part of her life. Thank you. My parents, Fred and Deirdre Partridge, my brothers and our dear friend, Eoin Reilly.”
“You’re Eoin?” Amanda said, taking his hand. “Wendy talked about you. She lived with us before Rowan was born.”
“You kept her name?” Aiden didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
“Such a lovely name, how could we not? Wendy spoke of you both so often, and fondly, we feel as if we know you. We are so very sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you,” Eoin said graciously. “May I come with Aiden? I feel…she talked of you and the baby, Rowan, so much these last few months. If I may?”
“Absolutely! And we would like you all to visit from time to time. Lenny’s family is mostly gone. He grew up in foster care, like Wendy. That was one reason we were drawn to her. I came from a huge family, but we can always have more, don’t you find?”
“I do,” Deirdre said softly, taking her hand. “Thank you for making the trip down. Gainesville is over three hours.”
“We moved to Ormond a year ago, so we’re much closer now.”
“Thank you, son,” Leonard spoke for the first time, taking Aiden’s hand. “She’s such a treasure and a joy for us. We could never have our own, and having Wendy choose us, was such a blessing.”
“I’m so glad you’re all so happy. Thank you again.” He shook the other man’s hand, and was pulled into a hug. Amanda hugged him, too, and they wandered over to the buffet table.
“Uncle Aiden,” Eoin said softly. “Not bad.”
“I can live with it. F**k, Eoin, I’m a dad!”
His emotions were in such a jumble, he didn’t know what to do with himself. He didn’t have time to figure it out, because Fonda and Inez walked over. They had both been crying and their makeup was in ruins. Inez hugged Aiden, and Fonda buried her face on Eoin’s chest. They held them gently, hardly knowing what to do. A few minutes passed, and they disentangled themselves.
“Sorry, guys. Lord, we’ve made a mess of your shirts.” Fonda wiped at it with a tissue, but it didn’t help.
“Not to worry,” Aiden said. “Are you okay? You both look pretty shaken up. More than just this.”
“Our folks are in jail,” Fonda said. “And it’s about goddamn time!” she said a bit louder than she’d intended. “Sorry. Our dads, especially, deserve it. Thank you for making me brave,” she said, touching Aiden’s cheek, then Eoin’s.
© 2019 Dellani Oakes
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