short fiction

All the Empty Spaces

Heather Whited

Gravel crunch.

Auntie is here.

Wren runs to the window and peeks around the curtain. The fall sun is bright in her eyes and she squints. Her aunt steps from the car, a bag of groceries in her arms. Wren is at the door to open it before her aunt can get her key in the lock.

“Hey you,” says Auntie Jess.

“Hey yourself,” says Wren. She wraps her arms around her aunt’s middle and Auntie kisses the top of her head.

Auntie Jess goes to the kitchen with the groceries and sets them on the table while Wren sits in a chair swinging her dusty feet. It’s a bright day but the old house is dim; high ceilings and dark walls swallow the light that sneaks past the heavy, dark curtains pulled tight against the afternoon.

“Where’s your dad?” asks Auntie Jess. Wren inclines her chin toward the window.

Outside in the sun, under a tree in the backyard. Cigarette bouncing with every movement as he chisels at the wood he is carving. Sunlight caught in his hair and a sunburn glowing pink in his expanding part. A wooden carving of a face half finished sits on a table in front of him. He sets down his chisel and leans back, inspecting his work, smoke trailing him, spilling from his annoyed frown.

“Kevin,” calls Auntie Jess through the window. He raises a sunburned hand without looking up and Wren sees Auntie roll her eyes.

Auntie fills the nearly empty cupboard and the fridge with the groceries from the bag. A small pile of onions on the counter. A shining red pepper. A styrofoam package of ground beef that she sits in the fridge with a frown at the shelves bare of little but condiments and beer.

Wren’s stomach starts to rumble at the sight of the food and she grabs at a banana, happy Auntie remembered how much she likes them. Dad hates to go to the store so he gives Auntie the money for it, and between trips there’s normally just junk, whatever is leftover from take out or trips to the convenience store.

Auntie Jess’s long hair falls in front of her and she tucks it behind her ears as she rummages through the fridge muttering about how Kevin never remembers to defrost things when she asks.

“I called him hours ago,” Auntie says. She turns to Wren. “So much for having chicken tonight. Next time. Wash this pepper for me.”

The rhythm of chisel against wood carries from outside. The sizzle of meat on the stove, happy pops of grease, and Auntie Jess cursing when a drop lands on her wrist as she cooks. In the heat of the kitchen, Wren’s head starts to droop with tiredness, but Auntie snaps her fingers and says to shake a leg and set the table, so she jumps down and goes to the cabinet. A plate and cup at each seat, a fork to each side. The plates are plastic, with cartoon characters on them, the colors worn down and the texture slightly slick after years of meals and washing. There’s a smiling princess wearing a yellow dress on Wren’s favorite. Half of the princess’ skirt has faded away, her right cheek disappearing too.

“Can’t believe your dad still has those,” says Auntie Jess when she turns to look at Wren. “He and your mom got those from some fast food place when you were a baby. They’re gross.”

“Dad says she was Mom’s favorite,” says Wren, looking down at the disintegrated picture on the plate in front of her.

“I guess. Maybe.”

When the sun goes down, her father leaves his work and comes inside. He’s sweaty and pulls his shirt away from his chest as he comes through the back door, bringing in the smell of smoke and lawn clippings. A tan starts where his shirt sleeves end and dips down his neck as well, disappearing out of sight. He uses the end of his shirt to mop his damp face.

“Hey Jess,” he says.”Dinner smells good. Did you remember the cereal?”


It’s a man’s face he holds in his hands, a man’s face etched from the flat piece of wood. No eyebrows yet, he stares up shocked at the ceiling. A little worm of a mouth above a beard. Her father puts it on the table next to a plate that Wren has just set out.

“Away with that,” says Auntie. She does a mock shiver of fear for Wren, winking, and Wren laughs. Her tone becomes more serious when she talks to Kevin as she moves a pan from the stove. “And go change. You’re a sweaty mess.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“And your feet! I thought you were going to start wearing shoes when you went outside.”

“It’s hot today. Get off my back.”

Footprints follow her father from the kitchen. A few blades of grass fall from his feet. Wren grabs a paper towel and wipes the prints up. When her father comes back downstairs, he is in a fresh shirt and his feet are clean and pink. Her father and Auntie have beer with dinner. The house gets cold as night roosts over the neighborhood.

After they eat, Auntie shuts all the windows against the evening chill and sends Wren up to have a bath. Warm water pinks her skin. Rusty streaks sliding down the side of the tub. The old gilded faucets that groan with each turn. The creasing of her skin. Auntie comes in to wash her hair, which Wren doesn’t need any more, but enjoys.

“How was school?”

Wren shrugs. Suds slide down her face.

“How’s Leo?”

“He wasn’t there today.”

“So who’d you play with outside?”

Wren shrugs again and scrunches up her face to look at a bubble on the end of her nose before closing her eyes so that Auntie can rinse her hair.

After her bath, she wraps herself in a towel and runs to her room. Goosebumps on her legs.

When pajamas are on and her hair is brushed, Wren goes downstairs. Her father switches the tv on and they all play cards until Wren starts to yawn and Auntie makes pointed looks to her father, who tells Wren that it’s bedtime. She likes it when Auntie is here. Her father would just say “up to bed with you” while he looked for his cigarettes or let her fall asleep in the living room, but Jess takes Wren upstairs and tucks her in. She relishes the ritual when Auntie Jess is here, the time alone with her, the security of the sheets being pulled to her chin. She likes being paid attention to.

“Everything okay?” Auntie asks.

Wren yawns.

“I just want to sleep.”

“Thanks for dinner,” says Kevin when she comes downstairs. “And for bedtime. She won’t go to sleep for me at all. She’s so damn stubborn.”

“No problem.”

Jess does not say that she remembers Wren’s mother, her younger sister, being like that when they were children. She doesn’t say that sometimes Bonnie flaring up in her daughter annoys her to the point of wanting to scream. It’s like being a kid again, reliving the worst of growing up with Bonnie.

He’s opened another beer. A small pyramid of cans stacked in front of him, a bit lopsided and tottering. The wooden face is laid next to him on the couch. It is no bigger than one of the dinner plates, almost like a mask.

Her eyes flick toward the carving as she takes a beer for herself from the six pack sweating onto the coffee table.

“Who’s that one for?”

“A church,” says Kevin. “It’s Moses.”

“Getting paid for it?”

He huffs his wordless response. Jess moves Moses and sits next to Kevin.

“Are you looking for work?” she asks. “Real work?”

Kevin scowls.

“Why do you have to be like that, Jess?”

“I care. What about your medicine?”

He rolls his eyes, playing with the tab on his can until it pops off.

“Let’s just relax, please.”

She sighs, takes a sip of her beer. Yes, she has earned the right to relax, and, she thinks, he has sold a carving as well, has worked all week on it, so perhaps she can worry a little less. Kevin smiles at her silence and reaches over to take her hand.

“Stay the night?” he asks. Beer-wet lips against her earlobe. His breath is warm against her skin after the initial chill. Kisses to her jawline.

She shakes her head. Not here. Not where he lived with Bonnie. Not with Wren upstairs.

Still, she lets him kiss her, has another beer and then kisses him.

Later, she has to make herself pull away, to collect her purse and move toward the door. When she leaves, he’s laying on the couch smoking and watching television.

“Bye, Kevin.”

He doesn’t respond.

Rain on the windshield. Her father drums on the steering wheel at red lights. Music makes him jumpy so the truck is quiet otherwise.

They pull in at the church, a little building, but long like a snake in the overgrown grass. Cracking white paint. Wren pulls her hood over her head and runs with her father to the door.

Inside, a young man with shining brown hair and a soft sweater takes the carving from her father and thanks him. His voice is warm and mild as a summer morning, and gentle like he doesn’t want to bruise the air with his words. Father looks huge and dingy next to him, and mean too as he grimaces and frets. Wren peers into the worship hall; a room with rows of long pews, their crimson upholstery worn, and an altar at the front. Stories told in glass in all the windows. On a gray day like today, the people in the windows are dead, no light shining through them to bring their colors to life, but she is still transfixed.

The man offers her a cookie and her father water or coffee, but her father declines for them, a few gruff words under his breath as he looks toward the door, clearly itching to leave. But Wren likes the man and his shining hair and she likes the church. She wants the snack too, wants to sit in the quiet of the pews with her eyes closed listening to his nice voice, so she stands at the entrance to the worship hall stalling, pretending like her father isn’t walking away and staring at her. At the front door, her father calls for her to hurry up. Wren ignores him and his voice is sharper the second time. She drags her feet, looking back to the brunette man in the sweater, and he waves at her.

“Come back again,” he says.

They eat on the way home at her father’s favorite place. Big spacious booths with plastic seats that squeak when she slides in, and faded menus that stick to her fingers. Wren watches the cook at the grill behind the counter flipping burgers and the steam that rises from the food. The cook’s stained apron tight around his middle. The sound of his whistling that rises above the sounds of cooking and chatter and his smiles for anyone who talks to him. Her father eats without speaking and has a cup of coffee after. Wren dips fries in ketchup, going extra slowly to drag out lunch and annoy her father, whose foot is twitching under the table.

“You almost done?” he asks. A skinny young man with long black hair refills Dad’s coffee.

“Nope.” She swirls her fry in ketchup and her father raises an eyebrow at her.

“Is Auntie Jess coming over tonight?” she asks.

Her father sighs again. She notices a faint scowl just before he speaks. More anger than she knows what to do with spreads in Wren and she wants to scream at him.

“She can’t be there every day, you know,” says her father.

Wren rolls her eyes.

“Yeah, I do know.”

“Sometimes you just get me.”

She knows there’s a word for what she wants to say when he tells her that, but it doesn’t come to her until they’re in the parking lot.

Ditto. Sometimes you just get me.

“I want to go to that church,” says Wren as she jumps into the passenger seat. “On a Sunday.”

“Why?” The word mumbled around a cigarette just placed between his lips.

“I just do.”


She turns from him and gets tangled in her seat belt. The tap tap of her father’s fingers on the steering wheel again, his grumbling at other drivers.
Wren falls asleep in the truck on the way home. When she wakes next, she’s on the couch and covered up.

It’s cold now, the last of the lingering early autumn warmth gone. It’s after sunset when she opens her eyes, a few hours at least if the depth of the darkness tells her anything. The smell of cigarettes comes from the workshop and light shines under the door.

Her father can’t work outside anymore and she knows, if the last few years have told her anything, that soon he’ll be cranky about it. Not about the carving so much she thinks, as he makes small things that he can finish indoors, but about the grayness of the world, the cold and the rain. He complains about it all the time, will grunt more instead of speaking and annoy her and Auntie Jess with sarcasm. The house will always smell smokey and when she gets home from school, he will have already opened a few beers, maybe be asleep on the couch.

She dreads it. When Auntie Jess isn’t here during those times, he leaves her to figure things out on her own, and she misses having dinner at the table.

In the kitchen, Wren makes herself a bowl of cereal and then takes it to the living room. She eats watching her favorite show and then falls back asleep. She wakes hours later, the house dark and silent. The blanket that had covered her fallen to the floor. For a moment, her heart pounds, she is unsure of where she is, but then she orients herself. The rough fabric of the couch tickles her skin as she sits up, reminding her of a cat’s tongue. The suffocating smell of her father’s cigarettes. A hint of moonlight from the kitchen window guides her to the stairs. The door to her father’s room is cracked and his light is off as well. Wren stands at the door and listens, but no sound comes from inside. She goes into her room and changes her clothes before getting into her bed. Yes, the bad times are here again.

Last year, it was going to the dentist that was the worst. A card had come in the mail reminding her father to make an appointment for Wren. Auntie Jess had called for him but couldn’t take her, so she wrote the date on the calendar so they would remember. Her father was annoyed to wake up and find Wren still at home, dressed and waiting for him, annoyed to be told he had to go out in the rain and speak to people he didn’t want to speak to and do something he didn’t want to do. He didn’t come inside the dentist’s office but sat out in the truck smoking as Wren walked in alone and told the lady at the desk that she was here for a cleaning.

“Where’s your mom?” asked the receptionist.

Wren froze, suddenly mute and the receptionist frowned in such a sympathetic way that Wren wanted to hug her, wished she knew her name. She looked up hopefully at her uniform. Diane was stitched in cursive on the pocket of her scrubs.

“Who brought you?”

Wren managed to cough a cough that sounded like “Dad” and looked instinctively at the door.

Diane, her lips pursed, went outside to get Wren’s father to sign the check in forms. Wren stood frozen at the desk, watching through the window as she tapped on the window of the truck and spoke to him with her hand on her hip. Her father put out his cigarette on the ground and stomped toward the door. He filled out the form and when he left again after tossing down the clipboard, already putting another cigarette in his mouth as he reached for the door, Diane muttered something under her breath she thought Wren couldn’t hear, but Wren did. It gave her a powerful thrill to hear someone call her father a name.

It was raining when she came back out to the smoke filled truck. The bit of the worn seat of the truck cutting into her leg until she shifted away from it. Dad pulled the truck onto the street and turned.

“Dad. Dad, you’re driving the wrong way. I have to go to school.”


“School, Dad. You need to take me to school.”

“Aw, fuck. Wren, sweetie, I’m busy. I don’t have time to drive all the way across town. Don’t you want to stay home?”

“I want to go to school.”

If you came late to school from the doctor or dentist, you were always supposed to come back to class with a fast food kid’s meal as a token, but she knew it would do no good to ask, because Dad was in one of his moods where he didn’t want to talk. Wren walked in class without even her backpack because she’d forgotten it at home. She forgot the excuse note from the dentist too, but since she had the sticker with a happy smiling tooth on, the teacher knew where she had been. This year, Wren thinks as she stares up at the ceiling, she’ll throw the dentist’s card away when it comes.

It’s three days before Jess comes again.

She has to let herself in because no one comes to the door when she knocks. Kevin and Wren are nowhere to be found. She puts down her bag and goes into the kitchen. A hamper full of clothes sits next to the door to the basement and she groans at the sight. She takes chicken out of the freezer to thaw and moves a cup to the dishwasher, then stands in the kitchen wondering where everyone is. She hears Kevin in his workshop and that mystery is solved, so she goes up to Wren’s room to check on her. Wren is lying on her bed, reading. It’s the second day of a cold snap and she’s bundled in an extra sweater and buried under her lumpy quilt.

“What’s up?” asks Jess.


“Want to help with dinner?”


Jess spends a moment watching her niece, who stares down at one spot in the book refusing to look up. There’s Bonnie, she thinks, the genetic desire to spoil for a fight that she was never able to resist. Jess notices as well the sadness on her niece’s face and for the first time, she is scared. Scared of her, scared for her. She holds back as much as she can, but as much as she can is not, in the end, much at all.

“Okay, fine,” says Jess.”That wasn’t really a question, but fine.”

Wren turns the page with an exaggerated flip and doesn’t say anything.

“Fine,” says Jess again and she turns from the bedroom door, shaking her head. Her cheeks are flushed with anger and as she walks away, she fleetingly thinks of leaving them here to their own devices and gets a thrill to think how satisfying that would be. Bonnie and Kevin had needed rescuing frequently and she is sure that if she left, it wouldn’t be long before things fell apart, just like back then. It would be just like when Wren was a baby and she was here everyday to take their screaming daughter from them and get her and the house clean, to scold and pick up the bottles and cans scattered around. She had felt so self satisfied then and she craves the pride of being right again, of being wanted. She plods down the dark stairs with the threadbare carpet.

There isn’t really a choice. Jess knows she will stay. She always has.

The sound of Kevin’s occasional coughs that carry from the workshop start to grate on her nerves. Jess’ feet stick to the floor and she decides, grumbling, to mop. It’s a pain, but less of a hassle now, she thinks, than it was when her sister was alive, lying on the couch all day crying or drunk and messing things up. Wandering off in the middle of the day for more drinks or whatever it was she wanted. Winding up in the hospital twice. Kevin, she tells herself, is better without her influence too, and certainly Wren is. Jess waits for guilt to sink in that she would think this about her sister, who was so young and vulnerable when Wren was born, but anything she feels is, after many years, light enough not to leave much of an impression at all. She loves her sister, and it is easier to love her now, as a memory. She throws the dirty mop water out the back door and starts dinner.

Jess cooks alone and when dinner is done she calls that’s time to eat. Only Kevin comes to the kitchen.

“Where’s Wren?” he asks.

“Her room. Did she fight with Leo? She’s in a real mood.”

Kevin’s expression is blank.


“Seriously? You’re fucking useless sometimes.”

“Jesus, what did I do?”

Jess goes to the stairs and calls up again. Wren slams her door.

“Oh leave it,” says Kevin. “She won’t starve this once if she doesn’t eat.”

His plate is already full and a beer sits opened at her plate as well as his. She sighs and joins him at the table.

“Does it scare you when she acts like this?” Jess asks.

“Like what?”

She can only sigh again. Jess has learned to swallow these arguments. The answer is “like Bonnie. Like you.”

Wren does not come down after dinner either and Jess is the one to go check on her at bedtime. She is already asleep, lights on and hair wet from her bath. Her face rests on the book she was reading.

Jess covers her niece up and turns out the light. Downstairs, Kevin is smoking. He pops open a beer and hands it to her. Not knowing why, she drinks it quickly, as quickly as she can, and then reaches for another, and again a third after that. After three beers she becomes too loud and Kevin tells her to be quiet. He’s smiling though and in the trails his fingers leave over exposed skin, goosebumps flower. To be smiled at and touched is better than to be alone. Choking back a laugh, she almost slips from the couch, but Kevin grabs her hand. She blinks away dizziness and coughs into her hand to kill the rest of the laugh, her head rested against his chest. A pause before he moves in to kiss her. Allowing her body to meet with another releases pressure in her, so much pressure, and she responds forcibly. More kisses and more drinks.

She doesn’t realize that it’s too much beer until it is. Her stomach hurts and her head is fuzzed over, but Kevin is there. There is comfort in knowing him, in knowing that he wants her. This time, when the kisses continue, she lets them. When he asks her upstairs, she says yes. Her heel lands in a puddle of cold beer that she doesn’t remember either of them spilling.

They don’t turn on the lights coming into the room. She knocks her foot against the bed frame before falling to the mattress. More kisses. The room is cold, the sheets icy against her skin.

Jess sleeps with Kevin curled against her. Later, she wakes with a start. Darkness. Light breathing at her shoulder. A powerful current of nausea that leaves her with sweat on her forehead. Jess pulls on her shirt as she darts from the room. She’s sick into the toilet and then rinses her mouth and splashes her face.

Cold water on her face, dripping down into her shirt and down her chest and stomach. Another splash and now her hair is wet as well. In the mirror, Jess sees that she looks queasy, exhausted. Her eyes are red from the smoke of Kevin’s cigarettes. She should go now. This is her sister’s house and she’s done something she said she never would.

When she opens the bathroom door, Wren is standing in the hall watching her. She can’t help that she stumbles even just standing in place. Her throat burns.


It is a croak only, one squat syllable pushed up through the bile coating her throat and the dizziness rocking her head. She squints at her niece.

“I hate you,” says Wren.

She turns and walks away. Jess tries to follow her, but she totters again, and as she puts her hand against the wall to keep standing, she hears Wren’s door slam.

Fighting tears, Jess pauses to orient herself and then slowly makes her way back to Kevin’s room, where he is still asleep. She dresses, stumbling for her clothes, nearly falling to the floor, and leaves without waking him or even wanting to. Her foot slips on the first step and she sits with her head on her knees, crying. Finally, several minutes later she makes it to the living room. After a few tries, Jess yanks her shoes on and finds her purse.

The air outside is cold and prickles her skin. A dense and wet fog leaves water droplets in her hair. A groan when she wretches into the ground and then wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. Her head rested against the cold window as she pants, each breath offering up a new curse at herself and Kevin and at Bonnie and the world she left.

Jess gulps back the last of the tears and closes her eyes. She sleeps in the front seat of her car, her coat as a blanket, for a few hours until she wakes, her tongue thick in her mouth, her head spinning. It’s 5:00 in the morning, and the cold has silenced everything. After a few deep breaths and rubbing at her eyes, Jess decides she is sober enough to drive home and reaches for her keys in her purse on the floorboard.

Do you know, she wants to tell Wren, that once your mother got busted for shoplifting. I had to go get her and when I got to the little room at the back of the store where she was sitting with the security guard, there was no baby in sight. Just Bonnie with her arms crossed, looking smug and put out. I almost screamed ‘Where’s the baby?’ but I knew that would be worse so I waited until we were in the car and I cried and sped to get to you. When we got there, the house was empty because Kevin had wandered off too, empty except for you in your crib, almost hoarse from yelling. I was the one to run up the stairs to you.

There are no lights on in the house when she backs from the driveway.

In the morning, her father is still asleep when she wakes up. Wren goes downstairs, making sure she is very noisy, and turns on the lights.

Beer cans cover the coffee table. One is tipped over, a small pool formed at the lip. Tears come to her eyes again.

Wren says every bad word she can think of to herself as she makes breakfast, slamming cabinets to accentuate each one. After eating only a few bites of cereal, Wren pushes it away. She leaves a note for her father too, telling him how much she hates him. His wallet is on the table and she pockets a ten dollar bill. She takes a moment to rifle through the wallet after she’s tucked the money away, just because she knows her father won’t wake.

Wren misses the bus, so she winds up walking. Hood pulled down low, feet quickly soaked and cold, she kicks rocks as she walks, stops to smash a half dead flower in a lawn and curse some more. The neighborhood is otherwise silent.

A few blocks from school, a lady she doesn’t know stops to let her pet her large dog, a dog as soft and black as the rain clouds in the sky, and she feels better when the dog licks her hand and nuzzles against her. A red frown of concern meets Wren when she looks up at the woman, making her nervous that she’ll have to answer questions, so she backs away into a puddle and says she has to be off to school now.

When she passes the convenience store across from school, she goes inside and buys a bag of chips and a soda and a stupid, colorful keychain that plays music. She holds it in her palm and knows she wants to ask her teacher to send it to Leo.

Outside the store, Wren opens her soda and sits watching traffic. The clouds develop a thick, bunched up look and she knows it will rain soon, but she doesn’t care. She presses the button on the keychain several times and suddenly, she starts to cry.

The woman who works the counter at the store taps on the window and frowns when she sees Wren sitting alone crying and Wren can tell she is going to come check on her. Maybe even call her father or the principal. She jumps up and runs for school.

At Wren’s school that afternoon, Jess waits outside in her car at dismissal until she sees Wren come through the doors. Hunkering down in the middle of a crowd of students, Wren wears a grubby gray hoodie of her father’s, falling nearly to her knees, and her hair is in a messy ponytail. A loud honk of the horn and a shout and Wren turns.

“Go away!” screams Wren when she sees her aunt in the car. Several people turn to look and their eyes follow Wren’s words to Jess’s car.

Jess rolls down the window and cold rain splatters her face.

“Just come here for a second will you?”

Wren pauses but in the end she shuffles with slow defiance over to Jesse’s car, a sullen look on her face. More her mother’s daughter every day, thinks Jess. An image of Bonnie as a teenager, dark circles under her eyes, the day after sneaking out for a party. A few months later the same girl, shaking on the bathroom floor after finding out that she’s pregnant. Jess does not want to see this ghost again.

“What?” asks Wren as she approaches the door.

“Get in.”


“Get in,” says Jess. “We need to talk.”

By the time she does, after a long pause and more slow steps, Jess is nearly ready to scream in frustration, but she remains outwardly calm.

“Where are we going to talk?” asks Jess.

Wren doesn’t stop to think.


She halts, looking over to see Wren with her face set in a frown, but Jess does as she’s told and starts the car and pulls out onto the street.

“Okay. Fine. Which church are we going to?”

“I don’t know,” says Wren. “It’s a little white one. Sort of near that one shoe store?”

“I think I know what you’re talking about.”

The ride across town is silent and soon they approach the church that Wren wants to visit. She parks the car in the weedy lot outside the church and while the wipers squeak to a stop, she readies her defense of the night before. Her mind is blank though. She cannot tell Wren, still very young, that she is lonely and angry and that what happened with Kevin has nothing to do with Kevin. She can’t explain years of Bonnie, a woman Wren does not remember, and she can’t blame Wren for the fear she feels when she looks at her and sees her mother. Wren is not Bonnie at seventeen when she got pregnant, or Bonnie at nineteen when she died, she reminds herself. Jess waits for that to comfort her, but it doesn’t.

The two of them go quiet and while Jess thinks of what she wants to say, Wren shifts in her seat, a nervous motion that catches Jess’ eye.

“Leo is sick,” Wren says. “His family moved to be close to the hospital.”

“Oh,” says Jess. She’s frantic for a good response but knows there isn’t really one. “I’m sorry.”

Wren tugs at the strings of the hoodie, wrapping them around her pointer finger and bites at her lip.

“He might die.”

The wind rattes the car windows and Jess can think of nothing else to say. She is cowed by her niece’s sadness and the gravity of the situation. Silently, she parks the car. By the time she turns to look at her, Wren is reaching for the door.


The car door slams. Jess watches her niece run to the door of the church and start to pound on it. She holds her breath and as she steps from the car to run after Wren, the church’s door opens.

A young man emerges and looks down at Wren. The care on his face is visible to Jess even from the car. Jess steps out onto the parking lot and shuts the car door behind her.

“Hello again. What’s your name?” Jess hears the young man ask.

Stones crunch under her feet. She reaches the first step. Wren stands in front of her, staring up at the pastor.

“Jessica Wren,” they say together.