Pack Up the Moon Page 2

However long or short a time that would be.



Twelve days later

February 26

WAS IT WEIRD to look for your wife at her funeral?

But he was. He kept glancing around for Lauren, waiting for her to come in and tell him what to say to all these people, what to do during this service. Where to put his hands. How to hug back.

She would know. That was the problem. She knew all about these things—people, for example. How to act out in the world. At her wake last night, she would’ve told him what to say as her friends cried and held on to his hand and hugged him, making him uncomfortable and stiff and sweaty. Classic spectrum problem. He didn’t like crowds. Didn’t want to hug anyone except his wife. Who was dead.

She would’ve told him what to wear today. As it was, he was wearing the one suit he owned. The same one he’d worn to propose to her, the same one he wore to their wedding three years ago. Was it a horrible thing to wear your wedding suit to your wife’s funeral? Should he have gone with a different tie? Was this suit bringing shit up for her mother and sister?

This pew was hard as granite. He hated wooden chairs. Pews. Whatever.

Donna, Lauren’s mother, sobbed. The sound echoed through the church. Same church where Josh and Lauren had gotten married. If they’d had kids, would they have baptized them here? Josh was pretty much an atheist, but if Lauren had wanted church as a part of their life, he’d go along with it.

Except she was dead.

It had been four days. One hundred and twelve hours and twenty-three minutes since Lauren died, give or take some seconds. The longest time of his life, and also like five seconds ago.

Lauren’s sister, Jen, was giving the eulogy. It was probably a good eulogy, because people laughed here, cried there. Josh himself couldn’t quite make out the words. He stared at his hands. When Lauren had put his wedding ring on his finger at their wedding, he couldn’t stop looking at it. His hand looked complete with that ring on. Just a plain gold band, but it said something about him. Something good and substantial. He wasn’t just a man . . . he was a husband.

Rather, he had been a husband. Now he was a widower. Utterly useless.

So much for being a biomedical engineer with numerous degrees and a reputation in healthcare technology. He’d had two years and one month to find a cure for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a disease that slowly filled the lungs with scar tissue, choking off the healthy parts for breathing. He had failed. Not that a cure was easy, or someone would’ve done it before. The only devices on the market were designed to push air into lungs, work chest muscles or clear mucus, and those weren’t Lauren’s problems.

He hadn’t figured it out. He hadn’t created something or found a drug trial that would kill off those fucking fibers and scars. Since the day of her diagnosis, he’d devoted himself to finding something that would save his wife. Not just slow the disease down—they had those meds, she’d been on them, plus two experimental drugs, plus the Chinese herbs and traditional medicine, plus an organic diet with no red meat.

No. Josh’s job had been to find—or make—something that would cure her. Restore her. Keep her.

He had not done so.

A large picture of her was placed on the altar. It had been taken on their trip to Paris just before Christmas that first year they were married. Before they knew. Her red hair blew back from her face, and her smile was so full of fun and love and joy. He stared at that picture now, still stunned that he got to marry her. She was way out of his league.

The first time they’d met, he’d insulted her.

Thank God he’d gotten another chance. Not that God existed. Otherwise, she’d still be alive. Who the hell took someone like her at age twenty-eight? A merciful God? Fuck that.

It didn’t seem possible that she was gone forever. No. It seemed like Lauren, who had enjoyed childlike tricks such as hiding in the shower and jumping out at him as he brushed his teeth, could pull off the biggest trick of all—jump out from behind the altar and say, “Boo! Just kidding, babe!” then laugh and hug him and tell him she was just testing him these past few years. She’d never been sick at all.

Then again, she’d already been cremated.

Apparently, Jen was done, because she came down from the altar of the church and stood before him.

“Thank you, Jen,” he said woodenly. His mother, sitting beside him, gave him a nudge, and he stood up and hugged his sister-in-law. Former sister-in-law? That didn’t seem fair. He liked being related to Jen and her husband, Darius, not to mention their two kids. He even almost liked Donna, his mother-in-law, who, after a shitty start, had been great at the end there. When Lauren was actively dying.

Now, his wife was ashes inside a baggie in a metal container. He was waiting for the special urn to arrive from California, at which point he would mix her with an organic soil mix. He’d plant a tree in the bamboo urn, and Lauren would become a dogwood tree. Cemeteries were unsustainable, if beautiful, she’d said. “Besides, who wouldn’t want to be a tree? Better than compost.”

He could almost hear her voice.

Everyone began filing out of the church. Josh waited, being at the front of the church. His mom slid her arm through his. “Hang in there, honey,” she whispered. He nodded. They both watched as Ben and Sumi Kim, his mother’s best friends and next-door neighbors, went to the altar and stood in front of Lauren’s picture. Ben bowed from the waist, then knelt on the floor and pressed his forehead to it, then rose and bowed again while Sumi sobbed gently.

Josh had to cover his eyes for a minute at the reverence, the heartache in that gesture. Lauren had loved the Kims, who were essentially Josh’s second parents. Ben was the closest thing to a father he’d ever had. Of course Lauren loved them. She loved most people, and they all loved her right back.

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