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'The Colours of Orange' excerpt


He was only twenty-nine. Why, Lord?


Cilla woke with a start. It was no longer early morning. It was way past breakfast time and Cilla’s stomach was protesting, queasy and hungry even though her tastebuds were in no mood for food. Lately, everything tasted bland. She didn’t want anything, and who could blame her. If she could, she would stay in bed, away from people, away from compassionate eyes that she knew loved her and felt for her. But for some time, particularly when it felt raw, she didn’t want sympathy, kind words or even food. She wanted Michael back.


Their persistence in bringing her food, visiting her even just to sit and pat her head as she cried, or take her rubbish out … had melted her heart.


Those kind souls from church, Michael’s colleagues and patients, her friends … they helped her break out of the darkness of her sorrow and self-pity while she grieved. Yes, she was still grieving, but she could breathe again. Most days.


She picked up her phone and clicked on the list of her most recent contacts. There was only one. She pressed on the photo and listened while the call connected.


‘Hello?’ The voice that answered her was gravelly. Cilla wasn’t surprised that Susan had been crying.


‘I’m going to pick you up in fifteen,’ Cilla began with the same words she’d uttered for the last week.


‘Can’t do it … yet.’ Susan’s voice broke on the last word.


Cilla sighed. Still the same response, but she wasn’t going to give up. Susan needed to come up for air, she was wilting, spending days in her darkened home and not accepting visitors the last couple of days. She’d attended church only once more after the funeral. That day she had shown strength, even comforted those who cried on her shoulder, giving her own words of comfort, and assuring them she was fine. That should have been the biggest hint.


But Cilla had been in a wilderness of her own. In fact, she thought she’d be the one who would never recover; that Susan was going to be her pillar of strength from then on.


‘We need to eat.’ Cilla was firm.


Susan choked back a sob. ‘I’m … I’m not hungry.’ She cleared her throat.


Cilla picked up her bag and walked out of her bedroom. ‘Have you got anything left in the fridge or freezer to re-heat?’ They both had been well-provided for by the commiserating families.


‘No. No more.’


That was a good sign. At least she was eating the meals given by well-meaning friends. She had already had some obvious weight loss.


‘OK, I’ll get something and bring it over instead. I’ll be there in about half an hour.’ Cilla continued to the garage. She was going whether Susan agreed or not.


‘You don’t have to.’


Cilla got in the car. ‘I need to.’ Cilla needed her mother-in-law to get back into living as much as she did. All they had were each other now. Susan didn’t have family in Sydney as far as Cilla knew. No siblings, and her parents were both gone. When Cilla and Michael wed, there were some distant relatives introduced to her. But the day had been a blur of ecstasy, joy at marrying the man who made her feel loved to the core, her gift from God, the answer to her prayers. At the double funeral, she was numb and walked in a blur for days prior to and after the event. She didn’t have a clue who was whom.


‘Why don’t you go see your friends?’ Susan’s suggestion was gentle, but Cilla knew it was a brush-off.


‘I want to have brunch with you.’ Cilla pressed the remote control and sunlight began to replace the dimness of the garage. Truth was, Cilla didn’t want to hang out with her friends either. Not yet. She wanted to be able to give them a genuine smile when they next saw her. She didn’t want to lie or see their pitying looks.


‘Okay.’ Susan always relented. As though she didn’t have the strength to say no anymore, at least to Cilla.


Ending the call, Cilla took a deep, shaky breath and adjusted her mirrors. As she reversed out of the garage, the sun, in all its glory, shone on her, warming her whole body. It was as though God was caressing her hair and saying, ‘I have not left you. I love you still. And I have a great plan for your future.’


She stopped as nausea hit her. The world spun a little. But she knew it would pass in a moment. With another controlled breath, she headed to the bakery Susan liked. She could share her news with her mother-in-law over croissants and Danish pastries and strong coffee.


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