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How to Die of Spanish Influenza

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The sun shone on the day of Charlie Swan’s funeral. Jacob was already waiting in the car, tapping his hands on the steering wheel and periodically glancing in the rearview mirror which was angled towards the front door. Police cars lined the street outside Charlie’s house, but Jacob had insisted on driving the family personally. As he’d pointed out to Seth, he had the nicest car out of everybody they knew.

He let out a sigh of relief when Leah forced the door open, and Sam wheeled Sue down the ramp they’d installed five years earlier, when she could no longer manage the stairs. Her hair was pure white, kept long down her back, and she was clutching a tissue in curled fingers.

When they were all inside, Jacob turned the music on, and Sue grinned at him through tears.

“What are you doing to me, Jacob? The Eagles are off-limits.”

The drive didn’t take long, set against the sound of gentle guitars and a love song Charlie had the band play at their wedding. Leah reached forward from the back seat to give his shoulder a squeeze as they pulled into the parking lot.

“And the kids are-“

“Totally fine. They left the house before I did.”

At Charlie’s instruction, the local cops were allowed to follow the funeral car, but nothing more. They gathered in their uniforms, but when Sue and the family took their places, they mingled amongst the other guests, finding their families. Jacob searched the crowd, finding the seat his own family had saved for him in the second row.

“Those two are not going to last five minutes in their own place,” his husband whispered, slotting his fingers between Jacob’s and giving his hand a squeeze. “You should have seen them fighting over who got to drive.”

Jacob smiled, winking at his daughter who was tugging at her brother’s arm, presumably seeking reparations for whatever he had stolen from her.

He was sure the ceremony would be beautiful. Sue had requested a few of her own family traditions be woven into the service, and Leah was hosting the reception at her house back on the reservation. Paul’s crew had finished the construction the month before, and it was the best place they could think of to host a wake, since Sue was making it her new home.

The most conspicuous part about the whole affair was not the floral arrangements, though they looked a little too refined to be Charlie’s pick. It was the scent, close by, but not part of the crowd.

All in all, the service lasted no more than half an hour. Afterwards, Jacob did the rounds, kissing Sue on the cheek and whispering his suspicion in her ear. He headed for the closest patch of trees, hidden from the sun.

“I missed you, Bella.”

She dropped from a branch, brushing needles from her leather jacket and pushing her dark sunglasses to the top of her head. The purple-tinged skin around her amber eyes creased, as Bella gave him a sad smile and stepped forward to fold him into a hug. Jacob heard a thud as Edward landed behind her, dressed predictably in a dark suit.

“How’s Sue?”

“She’s good. Strong. Sam and Leah are taking good care of her.”

Bella smirked.

“Sure,” she said, sarcasm heavy on her tongue. Sue was still very much the head of that family.

“It’s good to see you, Jacob,” Edward said, wrapping an arm around Bella’s shoulders. “You have a beautiful family.”

Bella looked up at him, then pressed a kiss to his pale cheek.

“What he wants to say is you look old, man.”

Jacob’s dark hair was shot with grey strands, but he hadn’t yet adopted his father’s affinity for headwear. His face, lined from years of wide smiles, was much different from Bella’s flawless young skin. Every year that passed, every visit she made, Jacob found it harder to pretend he was unfazed by it all.

“Alice told us when Charlie was going to pass away. Bella was able to be with him for a few hours, before Sue woke up.”

“Sue was holding his hand when he went,” Jacob assured her.

“I know,” Bella said. “I was listening.”

He scrubbed a hand over his face.

“So where have you been? Still Inverness?”

“Travelling, actually. I’m writing this paper-“

“Bella,” Edward admonished. “Jacob is actually invited to the wake.”

She laughed, and Jacob was momentarily stunned by her uncanny beauty.

“Call me,” she said, pulling a card out of the pocket of her jacket. It was nondescript, aside from the numerous letters after Bella’s name.

She stepped forward for a final hug.

“You’ve got a good life, Jake. And don’t think I don’t. Tell your kids to be nicer to each other,” she said.

Bella smiled, and it seemed to Jacob that she was full of life in that moment before they disappeared into the shadows.