“So… I’ve been meaning to talk to you,” Taylor said seriously as soon as we pulled out of the driveway.
I turned to her, frowning slightly. “What’s wrong? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,”—she shook her head—“but I feel terrible and I owe you an apology.”
“An apology? For what?”
“For being the worst sister-in-law in the world.” Her voice cracked.
I tilted my head to the side and pursed my lips. “No you’re not. What are you talking about?”
“The whole reason I moved here in the first place was to help you with the kids and be around more, and then I met Isaac…” She chewed on the corner of her lip to try and keep from smiling, but when Taylor talked about her new boyfriend, it was impossible for her not to.
“Taylor, I get it. You don’t have to apologize,” I assured her. “You’re young and gorgeous. I figured it wasn’t gonna take long for some man to scoop you up.”
“We’re moving in together,” she said hesitantly, grinning at me.
My mouth fell open. “You are?”
She nodded as we turned into the cemetery parking lot. “His lease is up next month, and since we spend all our time together anyway, we figured why pay two rents.”
“Well.” I giggled. “At least he doesn’t have far to move.”
She put her truck in park and we grabbed two shovels out of the bed, linking arms as we made our way to Mike’s plot. Thankfully, there wasn’t too much snow on the ground yet, which meant the cleanup wouldn’t be too difficult.
I was staring at the ground, concentrating on not slipping on random pieces of ice, when Taylor stopped suddenly, almost knocking me to the ground in the process.
“What are you doing?” I looked up at her.
Her head was tilted to the side and she was staring straight ahead. “Look.” She pointed. I turned my head, following her finger toward Mike’s grave.
My head jerked back a little. “Whoa.”
Mike’s entire area had been shoveled clean already.
“Looks like someone beat us to it. A fan maybe?” she asked as we finished walking the rest of the way there.
As soon as we got close enough, we could see that not only had someone cleaned the snow off his plot, but the ice and snow had also been removed from his headstone, and sitting on top of it, right in the center… Lemonheads.
Taylor picked them up and frowned at me. “Who would’ve left these here? That’s weird.”
My eyes stung and I pinched my top lip in between my teeth, trying my hardest not to lose it right there.
“Don’t you think this is strange?” Her eyes swept up from the box to mine and then bulged. “Michelle, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” I sniffed and shook my head.
“What’s going on? What’s wrong?” Taylor’s eyes darted around the cemetery like she was missing something.
“Nothing. I’m good.” I cleared my throat, looking down at the box of candy. “Those are from Viper. That was their thing.”
She looked down at the Lemonheads and back up to me. “Wait, are you crying because of these? Because of him?”
“No, I’m not.” My chin quivered. “Can we just not talk about this right now, please?”
Her eyes softened and she took a step toward me, placing her hand on my arm. “Are you in love with him?”
“I can’t do this. Not here!” I swallowed a sob as I walked over and bent down, placing my lips on the cold granite of Mike’s headstone. “I love you,” I whispered before I stood up and hurried back to Taylor’s truck.
Taylor followed several steps behind me, not saying a word as she unlocked the truck and we both hopped in.
The drive home was horrible and awkward, and I just wanted to be out of the car. Panic flared up in my belly when instead of turning left into my subdivision, she turned right, headed toward the Starbucks.
“What are you doing?” I asked, looking out my window to avoid her eyes.
I felt her hand on top of mine and turned my head toward her. “This is long overdue,” she said with a tight smile.
We ordered our drinks—black tea lemonade for me and a chai tea latte for her—and found a small table in the back corner.
Neither of us wanted to start the conversation. That was obvious by the way we both stared out the window not speaking, but I also needed to get home eventually.
“Listen, I’m all for hanging out with you anytime, but this isn’t necessary right now. It’s really nothing, I swear.” I tried to smile convincingly as I shrugged.
“Michelle,”—she cocked her head to the side—“I’m not an idiot. Lemonheads don’t make most people cry for no reason.”
Just the mention of the candy made my face pinch together as I looked down at the table and tried to hood my eyes with my hand.
“Honey, what’s going on?” she said in a soft tone as she reached across the table and rubbed my forearm gently. “Are you in love with Viper?”
I couldn’t lift my head to look her in the eye, and if I opened my mouth to respond, I was going to sob, so I just nodded.
She got off of her chair and moved it around to my side of the table, where she sat back down and put her arm around my shoulder. “Why didn’t you tell me?” Before I could say anything, she lifted her hand and slammed it back down onto the table. “Because you haven’t been around in months, Taylor, you idiot,” she said to herself.
“You’re not an idiot.” I took a shaky breath as I wiped my eyes on a crumpled-up Starbucks napkin.
“How long has this been going on?”
I shrugged. “I don’t even know. One day he was just… Viper. Then eventually, the more we hung out and I saw him interact with Matthew, I don’t know, suddenly it was just different. I didn’t tell you because I’m ashamed. I don’t want you to hate me.”
“Why do you think I would hate you?”
I dropped my hands to the table. “Why wouldn’t you hate me? I was married to your brother.”
“Right, and you were an amazing wife to him for many years, Michelle. It’s not like you cheated on him and broke his heart. Then I would probably hate you, but this is different. So different.”
“I know, but Mike hasn’t even been gone a full year yet.” I stared down at the table, embarrassed at the words coming out of my mouth.
“Oh.” She nodded. “I didn’t know that was the magic number.”
My head lifted. “Huh?”
“One year. Three hundred sixty-five days. I didn’t know that was the official ‘you can’t fall in love with anyone else’ waiting period after your spouse dies,” she said sarcastically, making air quotes with her fingers. “Give me a break. There is no time frame. There are no rules. And people who tell you otherwise can go fuck themselves. You’ve known Viper for years. Had you met some random dude in a bar the week after the funeral, I might have thought you were a little nutty, but that’s not what this is at all.”
Taylor’s words made me want to break down all over again. Knowing that she didn’t judge me or think less of me meant more to me than anything else.