“We should go to the party,” I whisper to Kia.
She stares blankly at me. Her green eyes are unnaturally dim, and her lips are pressed in a thin line.
“You haven’t been to one in a long time, and maybe it’ll help.”
“No.” The single word seems forced and coated in grief and sadness.
“Not after what happened.”
Four. Words. I swallow my suppressed joy, usually she speaks in one word. Sometimes two.
I sigh slowly and look towards the mirror, at the ragged, tired woman that I am. I sip slowly from the chipped floral teacup. The tea has gone cold and tea leaves have pooled at the bottom, just like Kia likes it. I take another sip from the bitter liquid, unable to subdue my growing thirst. All Kia has, all she wants is bitter tea. She won't even let me, her own housekeeper, add a single grain of sugar.
I fold my hand over her cold fingers. “I know what happened, but that wasn’t your fault.”
Kia sucks in a breath and lets out a dark chuckle. “It was my fault though, I should have protected her.”
I shake my head. “The fire wasn’t your fault. And it wasn’t your fault she died.”
Kia covers her face and a quiet sob shakes her frail frame. I pull my hand away.
"I shouldn't have let her go to that party," She whispers after wiping her eyes.
I look away, unable to see the once formidable woman so broken and weak. A small droplet of water carves its way down my cheek. But then I tell her something I could have learned a long time ago. Something she needs to hear.
"Stop blaming yourself."
I exhale, pushing away the memories and everything else that resurfaced with the tear.
"I know it's the easiest thing to do when your hurting." I pull her in, rubbing my hand on her back. I can feel each bone of her spine against my palm.
"But it's not healthy, or good for you."
Kia presses her lips together hard and I can hear as she pulls them open. "I know."
"Mira would have wanted you to go," I add.
Kia looks towards me her eyes glistening with tears and hope. "Maybe we should go. Maybe it will help."
"If it's what Mira would have wanted."
I cover my mouth to hide the gasp that escaped from my chest.
"It might help," She pauses to smile, "and they might have decent food. Lord knows I hate your tomato soup!"
I'm so happy, I don't even mind her insult. Or count the words.
"You look...nice," Kia says, retrieving her purse from it's dusty spot on the counter.
I smile. For the first time she speaks without the heaviness in her words. "Thanks. You look good too."
It's true, she's wearing a dark blue dress with pearls on the waist line. I have no idea where she got that from since her closet is mostly an array or blacks and grays. She's tied her graying blonde hair in a nice bun at the nape of her neck.
I smooth a wrinkle in my skirt and start to unlock the door. The keys jingle as the the locks click.
"Go ahead and wait in the car while I finish up," I tell Kia.
I push the silver button and the car chirps it's unlock song. I hear the door slam shut as Kia gets in. I twist the edge of the key into the door and feel my body relax when I realize the reality.
We are going to this party.
Kia will stop blaming herself.
And I am going to find a new recipe to feed her.
I tuck the keys in to the pocket of my jacket and make my way through the overgrown hedge.
As soon as I spot the bright orange convertible, leaves, seeds, and acorns strewn across it, I realize it's been months since she's driven.
No, since I've driven.
Have I really spent the last five and a half months cooped up in that house door dashing groceries?
"Hurry up!" Kia shouts, banging her fist on the window.
I pick up my pace and yell, "Kia! No! Don't hit the glass-you're way too strong for-"
My eyes widen and Kia starts to suddenly realize her fist has broken through the glass and is now sticking out the window.
"Oops," Kia mumbles.
My lips curve into an O and a slow gasp rocks through my mouth.
"How is that even possible?" I ask as I get in and start the car. Luckily, none of the glass cut her and now the sixty year old woman is sitting in the back, arms crossed, and lips in a frown.
"Hey," Kia says, flexing an impressive bicep. "You're looking at an ex-body builder."
"Whaaaaaaaaaat?" I call, mouth hanging open.
Kia grins ear to ear. "You didn't think this old lady was that cool huh?"
"Ya' know, back in the day I could bench press one hundred fifty pounds."
I raise and eyebrow as we start to pull out of the driveway. "What's a bench press?"
The Miller's house was four blocks away from Kia's. On this particular day they were celebrating the graduation of their youngest son, Alex. Kia used to be very close with Katherine and Eric Miller. Alex was around Kia's daughter's age and they went to the same school. Often, when Kia was at work, Mira would stay at Katherine's. More often then not, Katherine would stop by Kia's house to drop off cookies or cards. When the invitation came to celebrate, Kia hadn't thought much about it. Until I started cleaning out Mira's room.
I brought the old yearbooks and her stuffed animals to Kia to see if she wanted to keep them. She did. And amongst the proposal to keep the books, she skimmed through her daughter's classroom pictures.
"We're here," I finally say, watching Kia's hopeful expression through the mirror makes me smile.
I see Katherine waiting at the doorway, she ebony colored hair hangs past her shoulders and her smile...
"Kate!" Kia says, jumping out of the car before I park.
That woman almost gave me a heart attack. But seeing her smile and the way the carried herself makes me want to cry. With each second she grins harder and harder, she takes another step on the road to recovery.