The first rays of the sun reached Zoë’s backyard shrine. They bathed the structure in slanted, golden stripes, as light filtered through the branches of the maples. Zoë knelt in front of the assembled stones and the small, smiling Buddha. She didn’t claim any religion, but she liked the way the Buddha looked, the way he seemed to know her thoughts, even if he was just an eight-inch-high statue from a local curiosity shop.
The rubber garden kneeling pad made the knees of her leggings damp, and she could feel the slight breeze from the south, from the foothills, as it lifted her bangs. Shivering slightly, Zoë placed her hands on the broad granite that formed the base of the shrine. The coolness of the rough stone added to her chill. By midday, she would walk through the yard in only shorts and a lightweight tee, but at this early hour, the temperature hovered in the forties.
Still, it was important to be there, as the sun rose, to let Daniel know that she remembered.
“Happy birthday, Danny,” she said. She stared at the smiling Buddha as though he were a stand-in for her friend, who had been neither short nor fat, nor a god. Daniel’s smile had buoyed her more times than she could count, though, and she missed him for that and for other reasons.
He was buried four hundred and twenty-three miles away, and because that was an inconvenient distance to visit his grave often, she had erected the shrine.
“It’s been four years, and I miss you still.”
The small things matter in friendships as much as the cosmic ones. He knew her preference for horror films (always and ever after The Shining); he brought her Ecuadoran coffee by the half-pound and ground it precisely for her French press pot; he was the only person who held her confession that she regularly cheated at poker. He might have been her lover—she held that truth deep in her heart.
Zoë dipped her fingers into the font next to the Buddha and kissed her fingertips before massaging the statue’s round belly. “This is for you, Danny. My luck is holding, but I’m sure you could use more wherever you are.”
In addition to the Buddha, the font, and the stones, the shrine had room for a ceramic vase filled with several red roses. The sun, now full above the horizon, made the moisture on the rose petals glisten and sparkle. The day would be a fine one, and Zoë would not left herself be dragged down into dark memories: his frail hand as it lay in hers, she waiting there beside his bed as his body shut down.
“Happy thoughts, Danny,” she said, her voice catching in her throat.
And then, as she watched, her mouth open in astonishment, the rose petals released one by one from their sepals, drifting down toward the granite. Instinctively, she turned her palms up, letting the back of her hands rest on the shrine, and felt petals settle there.
She brought her cupped hands to her face and inhaled the scent. Except that it wasn’t the lush aroma of roses but the nuttiness of coffee—Ecuadoran coffee. When she opened her palms to look, her hands were filled with coffee beans.
The Buddha smiled at her. Or maybe it was really Daniel’s smile.
Laughing, Zoë carried the handful of beans inside and made a pot of coffee.
Darci waved the embossed certificate under her sister’s nose. “Don’t you realize it’s a red-letter day? I’m not letting you mess this up.”
Malcolm Treadwell stood on the steps outside Saint Dominic’s Church—or rather, what had been Saint Dominic’s—hands in his pockets, rehearsing the words he needed to say.
Bethany opened the milk jug to douse her morning cereal and almost gagged. “Sour already?” She’d just bought the jug three days before.
Dianna writes short stories and poetry, and is working on a full-length novel about a young woman in search of her long-lost brother.
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