By: Deanna Lynn Sletten



Danielle Westerly-DeCara stood stoically, clutching the folded American flag to her chest as the minister said his final words over the casket. She neither saw the minister nor heard his words; her mind only registered the fact that she had to get through this painful day, one moment at a time. The sun in the autumn sky belied the bleakness she felt inside. She was burying the man she loved and no amount of sympathy or prayer would comfort her today.

Dani lifted her eyes and glanced at the group of people surrounding the gravesite. Her dearest friend, Catherine, stood only a few feet away from her next to her husband, Richard. Dani knew Cathy was trying to be strong but tears welled in her eyes. Kevin Lindstrom, a dear family friend and Michael’s closest friend, stood with the other veterans from the Veterans of Foreign Wars in his dress uniform looking very serious and sad. Other veteran friends of Michael’s, as well as employees, neighbors and business associates, huddled around the gravesite, all dressed in black with somber faces.

“Oh, Grandmom.” Dani’s twenty-one year old granddaughter, Michelle, came up beside her and slipped her arm around Dani’s waist. Dani did the same and the two women who loved Michael DeCara the most held onto each other as the last prayers were said.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Amen. Dani heard the words being repeated by the group of family and friends but did not repeat them herself. She and Michelle held each other tighter as the coffin was slowly lowered into the ground. As it was lowered inch by inch, Dani’s heart sank with it.

The minister nodded to Dani and Michelle and the two women stepped forward. Dani bent and picked up a handful of fresh dirt and let it slowly fall through her fingers onto the coffin now resting deep within the earth. Michelle kissed the single red rose she was holding and dropped it into the open space. It landed softly on the center of the coffin. So, this is what it all comes down to after eighteen years of happiness, Dani thought. A prayer, a handful of dirt and a single rose. One lone tear trickled down her cheek as she reached out to embrace Michelle, and then the two women slowly made their way back to the small crowd of people.

The minister handed Dani a snowy-white handkerchief to wipe the dirt from her hands, then hugged her gently as she thanked him for the lovely service. In turn, she thanked the veteran members from the VFW for participating in the military funeral. She knew that the playing of Taps and the twenty-one gun salute would have made Michael very proud. She hugged Kevin, thanking him for arranging the military funeral for Michael. Cathy came up to Dani and hugged her friend close, the flag pressed between them. A quiet invitation to come back to the house for lunch was passed around the group as Dani held out her hand to Michelle and they walked slowly back to the limousine with Michelle’s boyfriend, Alex, following close behind.

All Dani wanted to do was go home, draw the shades and crawl into the bed she and Michael shared for the past eighteen years, but she knew that wouldn’t be possible for several more hours. There was lunch to be served, people to commiserate with and sympathetic nods and words to endure. It was all well-meaning, but draining nonetheless, but she steeled herself to make it through the rest of this heartbreaking day.

As the limousine made its way through the curving roads of the cemetery, Dani took one last look at the now deserted gravesite on top of the hill. She wouldn’t remember Michael this way, nor the way he looked just before cancer took his last breath. Her memories would always be of him exactly as he was the first time she loved him and the second time they found each other again. She reached for Michelle’s hand and looked into her green eyes, so much like her mother’s, and it brought all those memories flooding back to her.

Eighteen Years Earlier

Chapter One

Danielle Westerly cruised along the Wisconsin Interstate in her royal-blue Grand Am as the radio played softly from the back speakers. The midday sun felt glorious on her arm perched outside the window as the spring breeze whipped at her golden-blond hair. She had chosen to take the extra time to drive instead of fly to Chicago, and as she viewed the lush scenery around her, she was pleased with her decision. Although she had already been driving eight hours, and still had several to go, she felt happy and carefree sailing along the highway on this beautiful May afternoon.

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