It was slow and gentle, just feathering to and fro. It felt just like breath upon my flesh. It started easy and delicately, so breezy. Fluttering over my skin it lightly ruffled my hair and t-shirt. I wasn't sure quite what to make of it. But it wasn't often that eighty degree, slightly humid May air made the little hairs on my skin prickle skyward.

My grief wanted to convince me it was him, that it was his spirit with me now. But I knew better. He was gone and that was that. I just had to let him go and move on.

But loving someone like I loved him, I wasn't sure that I could let him go. I wasn't sure I was able to. Seventeen years was a long time. Seventeen years of falling in love with the same person, seventeen years of building a life together, of both big moments and moments so small not many knew they even happened.

No, I could not simply let go of him, or just get on with my life. Nor could I just stand frozen in time.

I blew out a breath as I turned away from the setting sun and wiped at my eyes. Jordan would be home soon. Becca too. I still couldn't find the breath in me, let alone the words, to tell them Daddy wasn't coming home ever again. How do you tell your babies that the last time they'd see their father - he'd be in a box?

I stirred from my reverie as a car pulled into the drive. I rubbed my palms over my face and started for the front door to greet my kids with the worst news they'd ever heard.

I found them in the kitchen instead. Jordan had brought in her two friends she'd spent the weekend with. The oldest of the three, Danielle, noticed me before the others.

"Mrs. Sinclair," Danielle said, even with the heavy weight of my husband's death on my mind I couldn't help but think her acknowledgement was more a heads-up for the other two than a greeting. She was slightly sunburnt from the girls' weekend, but still happy-go-lucky as ever. Instead of asking how their trip had went, I tried to swallow back the lump that had formed in my throat. Some people just were luckier than the rest.

"Jordan, have you heard from Becca?" I asked quietly after I thought I could speak without breaking down in front of her friends. Jordan shut the fridge door and turned to look at me. Whatever she saw when we made eye contact made her stop before she said whatever she'd been thinking.

"Mom?"

"Have you talked to your sister?" I asked again. She just stared at me blankly for a moment.

"Mom, you're freaking me out," Jordan told me slowly. "What happened?"

"Jordan, have you?"

"No," she stopped. "I thought she'd talked to you or Dad. Did something happen to her?" I shook my head, swallowing at a bigger lump in throat. I dimly heard her offer to call her as I started away from them.

Z

By the fifth time ring I felt like I couldn't breathe.

"What do you want?" she growled into the phone. I sagged against the counter in relief at the sound of her voice. Suddenly I could breathe. She was okay.

"Oh thank god!"

"Jordan, you have twenty seconds to become interesting or I'm hanging up," Becca told me.

"Oh don't give me that line, just get your ass home," I told her.

"Why?"

"Because our mother is acting like a zombie," I told her hotly.

"Meaning?"

"I don't know how to say it, Becca," I admitted. "Take my word for it, she's acting really weird."

"Weird like Mom weird or weird like somebody just upended her world weird?" Becca asked.

"Worse than when she moved out that time. I'm way beyond freaked," I said.

Z

When I heard someone come into the bedroom I thought it was him. Maybe the earlier news had been a really bad joke. I turned and it wasn't him. So this really was happening. It was a nightmare I couldn't wake up from because my nightmare was my horrific reality.

"You've really got the girls worried," he told me, keeping his tone low. Quickly, I realized that he was probably right and that it was extremely unfair to them. But I didn't know how else to deal with my own grief. It was no small thing and their father had always been better with them than I was. Even when they were little I fumbled. They frightened me, what they made me feel frightened me and that was no small thing. "Kid, you've gotta remember that you're not the only one. They're concerned about you." I swallowed back the grief, the pain, admitted he was right, and felt my emotional shield go up. And as I turned from him, I got angry.

He couldn't hurt me if I was angry. Anger gave me a shield, a buffer between me and the world that had taken someone from me. I couldn't hurt my pain, couldn't make it go away - but I could make him go away.

"You don't need to remind me of my responsibilities as a parent," I told him tersely, keeping my back to him. "However, maybe somebody ought to remind you of yours."

"Baby, don't get pissy with me," he replied tonelessly. I whirled around to face him again at 'baby'.

"Why are you even here?" I demanded. "My life goes to shit and suddenly you're back in my life like nothing happened. What makes you think that that's okay?"

"The girls called. Apparently they don't think you and Captain Amazing have bonded well. Either that or they don't know his number."

"That's a nice theory," I said dryly. "Now, I'm just dying to know what theory is behind you actually coming over. Did you think you were just going to come over and make it all better?"

"Look, they needed to have somebody to figure you out, to figure out was wrong, and I happened to be available," he told me. "Where the hell is your saintly husband anyway?"

"He's dead," I said flatly as I felt hot tears stinging my eyes.

"Jesus Christ," he breathed. "Why the hell didn't you say something?"

"Just go away, Dacian, just go away," I murmured. Watching his face fill up with pity was almost too much for me to take. The last thing I wanted was pity. What I wanted was to be left the hell alone, alone with the pain. But I'd been alone with myself and my pain for the better part of thirty-two hours and it hadn't gotten me anywhere I wanted to be. "You of all people should know it ain't that easy to get rid of me," he said. "So you haven't told them?"

"No."

"Well I hate to state the obvious, but, you have to tell them," Dacian said. He quietly crossed the distance between us, but appeared hesitant before he finally touched my arm.

Z

Becca stared at me like I'd sprouted a set of horns and a forked tail. Her mouth had dropped open and her widened eyes were blinking slowly. Jordan just shook her head as the tears started falling.

Z

I turned the car off. For a moment I just stared at the house, but I got out, shut the car door, and headed into the house. I was just in time to walk in on them eating dinner. Ironically, I had just walked out on my own family dinner. Becca had gone into her room, cranked the music, and locked the door within twenty minutes of finding out. Jordan had curled up with a pillow and watched a romantic comedy with Dacian and pizza.

Shortly after she'd convinced the boys to wait until after dinner to mob me, Holly offered me a chair and a plate. I turned down both but sat on the edge of the counter.

"So how've you been, Jil?" Holly asked. She took a bite of food and looked at me like she expected me to respond. I sighed.

"Things have been better," I muttered as I looked at her family. A husband and two identical twin boys. Matteheiu and Liam, two laughing five-year-olds. Holly's husband, Tyrone, eyed me casually from his chair between Liam and Matteheiu.

"Girl, you look like death warmed over," he said, his tone was nonchalant, even lazy but his eyes were worried.

"Now's not a great time," I told him quietly. I softly cleared my throat to speak again. "How are things?"

"Our unholy terrors got the latest baby-sitter to quit," Holly volunteered. I had to grin.

"Becca did the same thing when she was four," I said, with a smile, remembering. Becca, who at the time insisted everyone call her Rebecca Ann, had made cookie dough with the sitter. And then Rebecca Ann put the cookies on a plastic tray when the sitter's back was turned, into our brand new oven no less. As I related the story to them, I got a jaw-dropped gasp of horror from Holly as she looked worriedly at her new oven then back at her 'unholy terrors'. Tyrone chuckled but turned serious fast when he looked at the boys as they exchanged a co-conspiratorial look. He scolded them lightly and then looked at me.

"Don't you go givin' them ideas," Tyrone told me sourly. I found it difficult to keep a straight face as I tried to look ashamed. I watched silently for the remainder of their supper, missing my husband more and more.

I dimly heard the clinging clatter of a fork hitting a ceramic plate just before I felt a mass launch onto me. Surprisingly that brought me back to planet Earth. Liam had latched onto me, his arms flung around me and his chin pressed against me as he looked up at me. Looking at that young, exuberant, hopeful child's face I felt the same thing I'd felt the first time he'd curled his tiny fingers around one of mine when he was two weeks old. I felt my heart melt in my chest, and as I choked on emotion I felt fear. But when Matteheiu joined his brother my love for the two of them drowned out my fear.

I scooped the pair of them up in my arms, only to have Holly scold the three of us.

"They're getting too big for that," she told me after the scolding. I looked between the boys and Holly. What she meant was they were getting too big for her to carry. She was petite and delicate-looking, but Holly was fierce. I was torn between my sense of self-preservation and my need to interact with Mathieu and Liam differently than their adoptive mother could. It was selfish but I couldn't help it. Holly was gifted in ways I could never be. I could carry a baby to term and sadly she couldn't. But she knew her way around kids and I hadn't a clue, and I could never bring them home with me. She was raising my babies and dammit, sometimes it just hurt just in knowing that.

So I held them a moment longer but I put them down.

Z