By: Melinda Leigh

“Mommy, where's Aunt Helen?”  Five-year-old Chris stood in the doorway of the bedroom.  His too-large footed
pajamas sagged around his ankles.  There were no tears on his face.  He wasn't mature enough to comprehend
the finality of his favorite aunt's death.  It would take a while, Sam knew, but he was starting to sense that
something terrible and irrevocable had happened in his world.  The stuffed puppy tucked under his arm had
been a Christmas gift from Aunt Helen.  He hadn't put it down all day.

“She's in heaven, honey.”  

“With Grandma and Grandpa?” he asked with more curiosity than sadness.

Oh, God.  Raw grief from her parents' sudden deaths the previous year in a car accident welled up into her
throat, but already, Chris barely remembered them.

Sam swallowed the huge ball of grief that choked her and tried to sound positive.  “Yes.  With Grandma and
Grandpa.”

“That's good.  I'm glad she's not alone.”  

“Me, too.”  Sam wasn't sure she believed any of it, but what else could she tell her kids?  The day after
tomorrow Aunt Helen was going into a box, which would be buried under six feet of dirt?  Yeah, that would
make for some pleasant dreams.  She made a mental note to make sure that neither Chris nor his seven-year-
old sister attended the graveside part of the service.  The children didn't need that visual in their heads when
she put them to bed at night.

She took Chris by the hand, led him back to his bed and tucked him in.  He clutched the dog tightly to his thin
chest.  Sam picked up the book on his nightstand, aware that Aunt Helen had read to him from its very pages
just two nights before.  Two chapters of Runaway Ralph put Chris back to sleep.

Sam hurried back to her room.  She desperately needed a shower before Chris woke up again.  Tina had cried
more than her younger brother, but at least she was sleeping through the night--so far.

“The funeral director needs you to select a dress for you aunt.”  Trevor barely masked the impatience in his
voice as he strode into the master bedroom.  He and Aunt Helen hadn't gotten along very well.  Okay, Aunt
Helen had thought Trevor was a pompous ass and didn't pretend otherwise.  

“I'll do it, Trevor.  Just not right this second.  It's late and I'm tired.”  Sam went into the bathroom and shut
the door in his face.  She wanted, needed to be alone to pull herself together.  She hadn't had a moment to
herself since she'd found Aunt Helen dead in her bed the previous morning.  Her two small children struggled to
comprehend their aunt's death and needed all their left-field questions answered about death and dying.   
Questions that Sam only pretended to know the answers to.

She'd dealt with the coroner and police.  And the funeral home.  She'd signed a hundred statements and forms,
made countless decisions that seemed so... unimportant.  Did it really matter how the flowers were arranged
beside the casket?  There hadn't been time yet for her own grief, which surged rock-hard into her chest as she
stripped off the slacks and sweater she didn't remember selecting this morning.  It felt as if her heart had
turned to stone.  Sam took a deep breath and willed her hands to stop trembling.  She'd grieve later, when it
was all over.  If she let go now, she'd never get through it.  

This evening's trip to the funeral home warranted a long, hot shower.  Her clothes were going right into the
wash.  They'd absorbed the smells of Lemon Pledge and carnations that Sam associated with death since her
parents were killed.  She'd had Aunt Helen to get her through their funeral.  She was all alone this time.

Trevor knocked on the door, then tried the knob.  She imagined he was annoyed to find it locked.  

“Just tell me what you want her to wear.  I'll go up and get it.”  First he'd go through all of her aunt's clothes
and comment on the cheap polyester pantsuits Aunt Helen had worn to church each Sunday.  Then he'd
probably suggest they buy something new to bury her aunt in.  Like Helen would care.  

Was she really at peace now?  Or was she simply part of some huge nothingness?

“He doesn't need it until tomorrow morning.  Just let it go for now.”  Sam's voice took on a sharp edge as she
called through the closed door and guilt tugged at her conscience.  Give him a break, Sam thought.  The past
couple of years had been rough on him.  He wasn't exactly taking his thinning hair or expanding waistline in
stride.  She knew he wouldn't let it go anyway.  Her husband was completely OCD about details and
appearances.

“I'm just trying to help.”  The closed door muffled his indignant reply, but the guilt came through loud and clear.

Sam opened the door a few inches and poked her head out to smooth his ruffled feathers.  “I know you are.”  

Trevor stood a few feet from the door, checking his appearance in the mirror over the dresser.  He tucked a
strand of hair back into place over his ear.  Despite chauffeuring her to and from the funeral home in the falling
snow, his wool trousers were still perfectly pressed.  His new Italian loafers bore no evidence of the wet
weather.  How did he do it?  Sam's hair was damp and frizzy.  Her mascara had run.  Not only had her slacks
been wrinkled, the hems had been coated with slush and road salt.

Sam shivered.  She closed the door again, turned on the shower and yanked a towel from the narrow linen
closet.  

“I just think the sooner you deal with it, the better.”  Trevor raised his voice to be heard through the door and
over the rush of water.  Still offended, his tone now bordered on condescending.  “Putting it off is only going to
make it worse.”

She stepped under the spray and drowned out the rest of the lecture.  The hot water sluiced over her head
and down her body.  Pressure built behind her eyes when she closed them, but she couldn't allow herself to
cry.  Not yet.  Two more days.

She stayed in the shower until she'd used every drop of hot water in the tank.  When she emerged from the
bathroom, Trevor sat on the edge of the bed, waiting.  She'd been right.  Mr. Anal-Retentive simply could not
leave an item unchecked on his mental to-do list.

She pulled on a pair of flannel pajama bottoms and a worn sweatshirt and towel-dried her hair.  Trevor frowned
but showed a rare flash of common sense and didn't comment on her ragged appearance.

Then, with a sigh, she trudged down the hall toward the third floor.  Her aunt had lived in her own suite of
rooms up there since Sam was a child, rarely venturing outside the walls of the old family Victorian.

It would take less time to just go up and get the clothes than to argue about it.  She supposed he meant well,
but she didn't have the energy right now to deal with her husband's fragile ego.

Trevor followed.  “We should really think about selling this house.  It's way too big for us now that your parents
and aunt are all gone.”

Sam whirled around and held her hand up to his chest, palm out.  She drew in a deep breath.  “Please, Trevor.  
I haven't even buried her yet.  I am not ready to make any kind of permanent decisions about this house.”  She
wasn't going to break it to Trevor tonight, but she was never going to be ready to sell the huge Victorian.  She
loved this house.  It was all she had left of her family.  Any other house would be empty for her.

“It costs a fortune to maintain.  We could buy a brand new house.”

“We probably won't even have a mortgage.  A new house would be more expensive.”  She hadn't dealt with her
aunt's estate yet, but Sam assumed that she'd inherited the house free and clear.  Other than Sam’s children,
Aunt Helen had no living relatives.

Sam paused at the bottom of the staircase, then took a deep breath and climbed.  At the top, she turned to
speak firmly to Trevor, who was halfway up the steps.  “I appreciate you wanting to help, but I can do this by
myself.”  She turned into her aunt's sitting room, but heard his feet continue to tread up the steps behind her.  

Sometimes Trevor was thick as a brick.

Sam walked through into the adjoining bedroom.  When she looked at the bed where she had found her aunt
just thirty-six hours before, she was struck by a wave of grief that nearly took her to her knees..

How could she be gone?

“Are you sure you don't want me to do that for you?”  Trevor stood in the doorway, looking uncomfortable and
helpless with the weight of her sorrow.   

“I need to do it, Trevor.”

He opened his mouth to argue with her.  Before he could draw in another breath, a sudden gust of wind howled
through the room and hit him smack in the chest, forcing him two steps backward into the hall.  He stared
down at the invisible force pushing on his body; his eyes opened wide in shock.  Sam ran toward him, stopping
just a few feet away as the wind continued to shove him backward.

Oh, my God.  What was that?   Sam's question caught in her throat as the cold air whispered over her skin,
distinctly, almost carefully, circumventing her body without striking with its force.  

Her husband wasn't so lucky.  He swayed backward at the top of the staircase.  All color drained from his
face.  His lips moved, but no sound came out, just a choke of shock.

Sam's limbs froze as she watched him teeter, arms flailing, as he fought a whistling current of air strong enough
to move his six-foot frame.  Dust bunnies swirled around his feet and rose in a grayish cloud of debris.  

Sam's eyes shot to the octagonal window at the end of the hall, almost hoping to see a giant hole in the roof
or a broken windowpane, anything to explain the wind that was blowing inside the house.  But the window was
closed, the glass, walls and roof intact.  

The hair on the back of Sam's neck rose and goose flesh rippled up her arms when she realized the house was
secure.  Whatever was happening to Trevor, its source was inside the house.

Sam's gaze returned to her husband as the wind cranked up to what sounded like hurricane force, sweeping
down the narrow hall with a deafening, freight-train roar.  She stared, slack-jawed and paralyzed, as Trevor's
torso lost its battle with the determined wind.  His shoulders tipped back.  

Sam shook her head, closed her mouth and lunged toward him, even though her brain realized the futility of her
act.  Even on the outside chance she reached him in time, she simply wasn't big enough to offset his weight.  
Most likely, he'd pull her down the steps with him.   At the last second, he shot one hand out and grabbed the
handrail.

The wind persisted.  With his torso anchored, Trevor's feet went out from under his body and he fell to his
knees.

Sam opened her mouth to ask him if he was all right, but all she could managed was a hoarse croak as she
stared down at him, her voice and breath locked in her throat.  She reminded herself to breathe.

Was that dust or frost that coated his hair?

Keeping both shaking hands latched on the railing and his bulging eyes fixed on a point over Sam's shoulder, he
backed down the staircase.   At the bottom, he released his death grip on the banister, only to turn too quickly
and trip over his own feet.   Sam winced as his cashmere-clad body hit the wood floor with more of a splat
than a thud.  He scrambled to his feet.  

“Sam.  Get down here.  It isn't safe up there!”  But as he shouted, the sound of the wind faded away to dead
quiet.  

Sam turned and surveyed the third floor hall, now deceptively silent and still.   Newly disturbed dust motes
floated through the air and settled on the hardwood.  Her rational mind suggested that she should follow Trevor
downstairs, but something held her back.  An invisible force pulled at her trembling body and rooted her feet to
the floor.  As she stood and listened for the return of the wind, her breathing steadied.  Her pulsed slowed.  
The calm that settled over her was as inexplicable as the terrifying wind had been just moments before.  The
feeling was unnatural, yet familiar in a way that seemed to soothe the sharp edges of Sam's grief.

A warm breath-like air passed over the back of her neck.  Unlike the arctic wind tunnel released upon Trevor,
the air that caressed Sam's skin was gentle, warm, and not at all frightening, almost like an affectionate
mother's hand passing over her child's hair.  It only lasted few seconds, just long enough for the heat to
smooth the goose bumps on Sam's arms.  Then it was gone, and Sam was left feeling strangely bereft.

She stopped and slowly rotated her head to look over her shoulder.

The hall was empty.  
The Last
Goodbye