The woman in the kitchen gave a small jump, as if she had forgotten that there was a party of people for her in the next room. She turned to give him a warm smile. “Why Ryan, I didn’t realize you were there. Can I get you something? Are you hungry?”
Ryan shook his head. If anything, he should be reminding her and Rylie to eat. Rylie herself had been so silent, Ryan wasn’t sure if she had a bite.
“Someone was asking for you,” he said curtly.
“Who was it, dear?”
“I’m... not sure.” To him, everyone at the gathering looked the same. Same frowns, same murmuring manner of speaking, same apparel colour.
“Thanks for telling me Ryan, I’ll be out once I’m finished with the dishes.” She smiled in her black dress and returned to her view above the sink. Hearing the tap water running above the plates and mugs, Ryan knew that it was time for him to leave. But his feet wouldn’t budged. The funeral reception needed her presence.
“Mrs. Harris?” he spoke again.
“Can I help you dry the dishes?”
Her answer did not come quick. Her voice was sickly sweet when it said, “That would be very nice.”
Ryan made his way and picked up a wash cloth. For a few minutes, neither would speak or look at each other. When the plates were all done, Ryan took his time to wipe the last glassware. Rylie’s mum had placed her hands by the sink and leaned towards it, her eyes casted downwards.
“It doesn’t feel real, does it?” she said.
“Yeah.” Ryan replied somberly.
“I keep thinking that Bill is laughing as he looks down on us.”
Ryan cleared his throat. “Things will get better.”
“Now don’t you worry about me, dear.” She tilted her head towards him. “I’m good, and I will be. We’d known it will happen for some time... so -” she paused, drifted by her thoughts. Her expression grew darker, and she seemed ignorant of Ryan’s presence until he put the glass down.
Noting the concern on Ryan’s face, she quickly continued. “I am okay with it, you know. I knew what would change after he’s gone; I mean, we talked. We talked about you kids, the house, the garden, who gets the to keep his coin collection, the colour theme for his mother’s new kitchen - but somehow, somehow I’ve forgotten about the toothpaste. The one in the bathroom - Bill squeezes it from the center and I’ve always corrected it, but today - this morning I went in there, and there was no dent on the thing, so I -” she clasped one hand above her mouth, and inhaled loudly.
Ryan gazed at his feet, pretending to be oblivious to her muffled cries. He knew he should comfort her; hers was the family that didn’t hesitate to bring him in when he was going through the same thing. They were the reason he was not brought up to foster care. He brought up a hand to hold her wrist steadily.
“I’m sorry. I.. miss him too.”
The woman seemed genuinely surprised. She wiped her tear-stained face with a tissue and kneeled down to his height. “Thanks Ryan. It’s good to have you here.” She pulled him in for a hug, before walking out from the room.
“There you are, Laura -!” an elderly woman’s voice resonated through the living room. “Everyone’s been looking for you."
Ryan half-listened to the murmured chatter of adults who began to give their condolences to the widow. He leaned back towards a wall, when he spotted Rylie across the room.
He’d never seen her wore black. Even at his parents’ funeral, Rylie had adorned something blue that brought out her glistened eyes. Now, the somber hue contrasted her starkly pale face and short blonde hair. He reached out a hand when she walked over.
“Hey,” he said.
The girl nodded and suddenly hugged him. No tears, no words, just a life-gripping embrace. Ryan pulled her in, knowing the pain of void inside of her.
A few long minutes after, she pulled away slowly. “I don’t know how you did this.”
Ryan shrugged his shoulders, but knew deep down the answer was standing next to him. “It gets better,” he simply said. Taking hold of her hand, he guided her into the ceremony.