Van stood silently, head bowed. The voice of the minister washed over him, a distant buzz of noise. He stared at the ground in front of him, desperately avoiding looking at the square hole or the stone with the simple words engraved on it.
Wendy Garret, beloved of Van, adored mother of Carol. It was all she had wanted, and he had never been able to refuse her, not after that blue haired thing had kidnapped her in an attempt to get Dann. He had wanted her to at least acknowledge her brother, or her parents.
A small hand slid into his and he pulled his daughter closer to him. He glanced at her. Tears streamed from her green eyes. He flinched. She looked so much like her mother. She leaned her head against him, reaching just over his elbow.
They both stood silently as the casket was lowered into the ground.
Van’s fingers tightened on the flowers he held. As far as he was aware, they had no particular significance, Wendy simply liked them. And that was enough for him. It always had been.
The minister stopped speaking and made a small gesture. Carol moved first, slowly, so hesitant; so different from his usually loud, excitable daughter. She released the flowers after standing for a moment, her lips moving silently as she said her own goodbyes to her precious Mama.
Van stepped up, still with his head bowed. Oh sweetheart, why did you have to leave? I knew I was going to outlive you, I just never planned on it being so soon, nor did I expect it to hurt so much. I’ll take care of our Carol. I promise. He released the death grip he had on the flowers and stepped back, allowing the rest of the town of Evergreen to pay their final respects to the woman who had helped bring the town to what it now was.
Everyone slowly left, clasping his hand and hugging Carol before leaving them to themselves.
Van collapsed onto a stool at the bistro that Wendy had managed until only a couple of months before she... Van’s thoughts stopped, he couldn’t even think it. A glass of milk was placed in front of him. He glanced up to see the sympathetic eyes of the new manager, Alice, one of the women he had gotten used to having over every Sunday morning for brunch.
“We can look after the place if you and Carol want to go wandering.” Her voice was soft.
Van shook his head, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” He lifted the glass, watching the milk shift.
The doors opened and a visitor strode in. “What the hell is this entire town so depressed for?” It was a female, and her voice was loud and abrasive.
Van found it offensive. His hand tightened on the glass until it shattered, spraying milk all over the bar. He silently picked up all the pieces, dropping them into a bag that had been conveniently placed. “What’s the problem, good looking?” She sat on the stool next to Van, ignoring all of the free seats. The entire Bistro stilled watching for his reaction. He determinedly ignored her. You didn’t hit women. No matter how much you wanted to. No matter what they did. You didn’t hit women.
“Well?” She rested her hand on his arm, leaning over.
Van shook her off, tapping to request another glass of milk. It was placed in front of him. “Try not to break this one,” Alice almost smiled, resting her hand lightly on his for a moment.
“Dating the bartender, eh? Does it work?”
“Would you shut up?” Van snarled, almost at breaking point. He could feel he was more emotional than normal, something Wendy had been trying to get him to be for almost thirty years. “I just buried my wife.” His voice was back to calm, although it was considerably colder than usual. “So if you would kindly get the hell away from me, I would appreciate it.” She froze, staring at him. “I’m going to see how Carol’s doing. She hid herself in her room.” Van rose, downing the last of his milk as he walked away from the still silent woman. He heard the conversations start back up, still muted, after the door closed behind him.
The room Carol was staying in was still locked. “Open the door Carol.” It slammed open, to show him his daughter, cheeks still stained with tears.
“I can’t stay here anymore, Daddy.” She shook her head, “Everything in this town is filled with Mama; I have to go.”
Van stared at his daughter for a long moment. “You’re older than she was, at least.” His voice was soft, expressionless. “Are you ready to go?”
“You’re not going to argue?” She stared at him, shocked, “No trying to convince me not to go, no father’s law?”
“I’m leaving anyway. I’d rather you were with me than here by yourself.” He shrugged. “I’ll just let Alice know, she can rent the place out. I’m sure you’ll want to come back to it someday, you’re like your mother like that.”
Two figures stopped on their way out of Evergreen at the cemetery. One was tall, lanky and dark, in a swallowtail tuxedo, the other a shorter girl, with long orange hair tied in pigtails, in a simple dress and sturdy shoes.
“You never kept your promise, you know Wendy,” Van mused aloud. “But that’s okay, I think it was better the way we had it anyway.”
He turned and walked away from Evergreen. But this time, he matched his pace to the other person as they left.