The familiar scent of incense and old wood envelops me as I slide into the pew beside Gran. Despite my protests, she insisted on attending the after-Christmas Mass since being in the hospital “robbed” her of coming on Christmas Eve. I couldn’t let her come alone, not so soon after her discharge.

I shift uncomfortably on the hard wooden seat, acutely aware of my surroundings. The congregation is probably only a fraction of what it was on Christmas, but that doesn’t help nearly as much as I’d hoped it would. It’s been years since I’ve stepped foot in a church, not since my parents’ deaths. The thought flits through my mind that I might burst into flames at any moment, divine retribution for the objectively sinful weekend I spent with the devil. But nothing happens. No lightning strikes, no spontaneous combustion. Just the quiet murmur of the congregation and the soft glow of candlelight.

Gran seems oblivious to my discomfort, her eyes closed in silent prayer. Her lips move silently, and I wonder what she’s asking for. What comfort she’s seeking in ancient rituals after yesterday’s emotional revelations.

My mind wanders as the priest begins the opening prayers. I pretty much dropped religion after I lost my parents. It wasn’t enough that the only request I ever made went ignored.

Please make mom better.

Three weeks after she was in the ground, my father…

I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to block out the memory of the gunshot, the awful silence that followed.

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