Chapter 3: McRae
McRae had just dried her curly, shoulder-length red hair and wrapped herself in a soft, blue robe before sitting down to check her email. She scanned the list in her Inbox and her eyes landed on the name Matt Boyer. With a shaky breath, she opened it and read. Matt informed her that the funeral for Chesney Steele would be in two days at the Peachtree Church of Christ. The burial would follow at Chambers Cemetery. Tears spilled down her cheeks as she picked up the phone to call the florist in the next town.
“Thank you for calling The Floral Box. How may I help you?” a woman’s voice answered.
“I’d like to order some roses, please. Do you have rainbow ones?”
“Yes, we do. Is this for a special occasion?”
“It’s for a funeral.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. How many do you need?”
“I think a dozen will do. In a vase.”
“We could put them in a black vase with some baby’s breath and greenery. Maybe tie a green ribbon around it.”
“That sounds perfect.”
“And what would you like written on the card?”
“Oh, no card, please. I would like them sent anonymously.”
“That’s no problem, and where and what day are they for?” the woman asked.
McRae gave the woman all the information and paid for her order. Upon disconnecting the phone, she laid her head in her arms on the desk and sobbed. After a few minutes, she lifted her head. She knew what she had to do.
McRae looked at herself in the mirror. She couldn’t believe she was doing this. A voice on the news made her turn her head. The local news was showing outside the church where people gathered. It looked like the entire town was there to show their support. With a sigh, she picked up her purse and keys and headed out the door.
Grantland was not ready for what greeted him in the church. Flowers were everywhere, a hypnotic mix of scents filling the room. And right there, amid it all, was the casket. Made from bright cherry wood and encased in satin with a beautiful arrangement sitting upon it. The casket in which his beloved Chesney lay. Dalton and Matt quickly grabbed him as his legs went out from under him and he sank to the floor. He longed to just cry and cry and cry, but there were no tears left. Only tortured sobs echoed in the room. After a few minutes, they led him to a chair in the front. Aralyn, his sister-in-law, appeared with a box of tissues. The rest of his family came in and filled up the row he was sitting in and the one behind him. From there, people kept filing in until they packed the place.
The service was brief, for which he was thankful . There were many people he grew up with who came to pay their respects, and several of the country music stars he toured with the previous year. His mentor, Tanner Thompson, and his wife Laura also came. Grantland’s family and friends followed suit, and his heart broke into a thousand pieces as he watched Raven say his goodbyes, tears streaking uncontrollably down his face.
Alone in the church for the first time since his arrival, a deafening silence roared through his ears as he got up and made his way over to the casket.
“Oh God Chesney, I love you so much. You are everything I ever wanted. The first time I saw you, I was in love with you. I never dreamed that God would bless me with such a prize in my life. I miss you so much. Your smile, your laugh, your constant friendship and support, your love... oh my God, how am I ever going to go on without you? I can’t do this alone... I’m so lost...” He dropped to his knees, clutching the casket, and sobbed all over again. After a moment, he felt a firm hand on his shoulder. He looked up to see Matt standing over him. He wiped his face and got to his face.
“Hey,” Matt said. “Um, what do you want to be done with all these flowers?” Grantland took a moment to scan the room, taking in all the flowers sent.
Grantland blinked for a moment to clear his vision and took a moment to scan the room and all the flowers sent.
“Donate them to the local hospital-,” he stopped and pointed to a black vase with rainbow-colored roses in it. “Except those. I want those preserved,” he said, comparing their sheer beauty to a sliver of light in the darkness.
“Okay,” Matt patted him on the shoulder, and both men turned and headed out the door.
McRae pulled into the lot of the cemetery to find a horde of people already gathered at the burial. She got out and shut the car door quietly, as not to draw attention to herself, then walked across the grass and hid behind a trunk of the tree. McRae felt so childish, but she couldn’t stand to be any closer. She poked her head around and scanned the crowd. Grantland was in the crowd to the far left. Black shirt, black jeans, black hat. His head bowed solemnly as they prayed. Matt was standing right beside him.
A deep, wrenching pain twisted her heart just like all those years ago. Oh, how she longed to comfort him. To hold him in her arms and look him in the eyes and promise it would be okay. To sit beside him during the night, watching over him. Ready to comfort him when he needed it. But once again, all was just a sweet fantasy in her mind. She remained behind the tree, her mouth twisted in agony, tears coursing down her face for the man she still loved.
Memories of him started flowing back into her mind. She'd had a crush on him since their college days. She had always been a sucker for musicians and would often attend his shows, lurking in the back by the exit door. She and Grantland had been partners in their science lab class. He was so funny, making all kinds of jokes as they dissected a baby pig together. He also had music theory down the hall from her journalism class, and she would often watch him as he roamed the halls ahead of her. She and his friend Matt knew each other, but Matt did not know she had a crush on Grantland. She would often see Matt, Grantland, and his girlfriend, Chesney, around campus.
Late in the semester, she got a flat tire on the way home and it just so happened that Grantland pulled over to help her. It was pouring down rain, so he had her sit in his truck until he got it changed. That was the closest she had ever been to him. He was even better looking up close and personal and was just as nice and polite, too. McRae did her best to keep a goofy grin from forming on her face as she was watching him. She felt stupid feeling so giddy on the inside. They were mature adults for crying out loud, yet Grantland Steele just had that effect on her. She also knew she could never compete with the perfect Chesney, so she admired him from afar and throw herself into her classes.
McRae lost track of Grantland and Matt soon after graduating, but it hadn’t kept her from amassing all his albums on her iPod.
The crowd drifted in all directions, bringing her back, and it startled her to see Matt and Grantland heading her way as they walked to Matt’s car. McRae held her breath as they passed within five feet of her, praying neither one would look her way. Five minutes later, the narrow lot was clear, and McRae stepped out of her hiding place and walked to her car.
Sleep didn’t come easily that night. Even though she knew her feelings were in vain, all she could think about was him. He didn’t know she existed then-and he didn’t know she existed now. So what was the point? After tossing and turning for two hours, she drifted off to restless sleep.
Grantland hit the bed like a ton of bricks. His emotions were at the breaking point, and he was just done. He was hoping and praying for a deep, restorative sleep tonight. But his mind proved otherwise. The last thought he had was how was he ever going to live without her and how was he ever going to get his career on track again?
Copyright 2022 Carrie Lowerance
This book releases on 5/15/22
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