She swiped at her painting, the bright colors blending and cutting mournful gray across the canvas in four long streaks. Those eager, smiling vehicles could not pretend to be all right anymore. The cars were frauds and liars anyway. They weren't happy. Nothing could ever be happy again. Andie used both hands, wiping and mixing until the entire scene vanished into unrecognizable, unknowable darkness. A dark reflection of how she felt.

"What do you think you're doing?" Blair's voice was followed by the music clicking off. Andie had been so engrossed in her pain, she hadn't heard him enter the house. She didn't turn.

His footsteps paced toward her but did not stop, his shoulder brushing hers as he strode to the window, squatted, and picked up the brush, careful to hold it away from his gray suit.

He turned. "Andie, if this dries, it'll ruin the sealant we just put down."

He dropped the brush into a cup of turpentine with a splash and snatched a rag. After scrubbing for some time, he stood and wiped his hands on the cloth. "I got it off the floor, but it smeared on the window. You'll need a razor to get it all."

Andie looked at her husband's handsome face. The salt and pepper of his hair only added to the lightness in his blue eyes. Eyes whose spark now dulled when he looked at her.

He hung the rag over the edge of the utility sink. "What is this all about?"

She wiped her eyes and choked on the words. "The painting for the fundraiser."

He brought her a towel for her hands and leaned over for a closer inspection. "No wonder you're in such a state. What are you thinking? No one expects you to do this now."

"Chad wanted me to do it. It was important to him."

Blair knelt before her, his eyes suddenly soft. "Andie, Chad is gone." He stopped, swallowed hard. "Torturing yourself over projects at his school—a school we no longer have a child attending—is not going to change that. This isn't healthy. You've got to stop."

"Chad was chairman of the committee. His dream was to double last year's fundraising. The least I can do is try to help."

She wouldn't say the rest, but Chad's words still bounced through her memory. "I'm going to show them all—just like Mom does with her cancer fundraiser every year."

"Oh, Sweetie." Blair wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close.

Andie sank into his arms. Sobs spilled forth, like a tube of paint bursting, splattering everything in its path.

Blair's arms trembled and she realized that he, too, was crying. Some time later, they pulled away from each other, tears spent. Blair's face was set in decision. "How much money did the scholarship fund raise last year?"

"Twenty thousand dollars."

Blair lifted her chin with his fingers so that she was forced to meet his eyes. "Okay, here's what we're going to do. Tomorrow, I'll go to the school office and tell them that our family is donating forty-five thousand dollars to the scholarship fund. We'll do it in Chad's memory. How would that be?"

She looked back at the smeared scene on the canvas. "What about the painting?"

"That goes away. Things like this will only pull you down. We need to be strong and keep going. For Chad's sake."

Andie nodded. Chad would want her to keep going. "Okay. For Chad's sake." I'm sorry I let you down again, Chad.

* * *

Melanie Johnston placed the stack of mail on the frayed bedspread, then settled herself on the lumpy mattress. She sliced through the first envelope. The cream-colored card inside was embossed with a shining cross on a hillside and glossy doves flying in the sky above. She flipped it open, not bothering to read the poem of five or six verses. Why should she care what some poet thought about grief? She knew grief, lived it, and there was nothing poetic about it. She skipped instead to the handwritten message below, scrawled in blue ink.

Jeff's absence has left a hole in all our hearts. My greatest comfort is knowing I will see him
again in heaven, someday. Please feel free to call or visit if you ever need to talk.