Lindsey approached the podium on shaky legs. She set her neatly printed speech on the worn wooden surface where the priest had just stood moments earlier and adjusted the microphone. You can do this, Lindsey assured herself, although her heart vehemently disagreed. She cleared her throat and refused to look up at the packed church. It seemed that everyone who knew Emilee was there. Co-workers, college friends, friends from the gym, and neighbors. Eyes on the page. Just read it. “Good afternoon, everyone. We are…” Deep breath. “We are gathered here today…” Lindsey’s voice cracked, emotion gripping her breath, her heart, and her throat. She wasn’t supposed to be doing this. Giving the eulogy at her best friend’s funeral. Six days ago, they were supposed to be meeting up to go see the new Chris Hemsworth movie and swoon over him regardless of the what the movie was about. There was no way Lindsey could have been prepared for the call she got from Emilee’s phone that night. It wasn’t Emilee on the other end, rather a man who identified himself as a paramedic. He said Emilee's phone had Lindsey listed as her In Case of Emergency contact. Never before had Lindsey wished Emilee’s parents were still alive. Not that she wanted Emilee’s parents to be crushed from being the first to hear the news, but because Lindsey, admittedly selfishly, didn’t want to be on the receiving end of such a horrific call. The paramedic explained that a reckless driver missed a red light went sailing through the intersection at the same time Emilee happened to be legally in said intersection. He slammed into her car—specifically, into the driver’s seat. Twenty miles over the speed limit to boot, according to the security cameras at that crosswalk. When Lindsey got to the hospital, she was informed by the doctors that Emilee “likely died on impact.” The driver also died, also “likely on impact.” None of it made sense. Emilee was one of the good ones. The safe ones. Always cautious. And generous. She had the most benevolent, open and loving heart. “We are gathered here today to celebrate the life of Emilee Suzanne Porter. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Lindsey Brunswick. Emilee’s college roommate.” Emotions gripped at Lindsey’s heart, and cut off her words. Tears burned in her eyes and throat. This is it. When I say all of this, it’s official. Footsteps to Lindsey’s left drew her attention as Stuart ran to her side. Stuart had known Emilee almost as long as Lindsey, having gone to the same college, as well as Thomas who sat numbly in the pews. If it hadn’t been for Emilee, Stuart believed he might not have graduated. Emilee spent hours tutoring him in just about any class that didn’t have to do with numbers. History and English… Emilee made it seem easy. Stuart took hold of Lindsey’s hand and squeezed her fingers, lending her the last shred of strength he had. With the fortitude of her friend--their friend—at her side, Lindsey continued. “Emilee was my best friend, and I think I was hers.” Stuart interjected, “You were,” to which Lindsey gave a weak smile, the fat tears building in her eyes were going to break. This was all too much. Lindsey pressed her lips together between her teeth to stop the tears and re-directed her attention to the words in print before her. “Emilee and I were matched by State University to be roommates. The summer leading up to that first day when freshman moved in, we exchanged emails and then phone calls. I knew before ever actually meeting her that she was someone special. She was a good listener, excellent advice giver, and boy! Was she organized!?” Some in the ‘audience’ chuckled—no one could know Emilee and not know how meticulous she was about everything, from her appearance to her apartment to her lists and agenda—right down to the “junk drawer” of her desk. At that, Billy, who worked with Emilee at the same marketing firm lost his fight and the tears flowed feely. “We had no secrets through our years at State," Lindsey continued. "We shared absolutely everything—hopes and dreams, fears and disappointments. She was a partner in crime to anyone who needed a sidekick and she always but always had your back. You could count on Emilee whether you were doing something silly or serious. She was honest and kind. And she held everyone to a higher standard while making sure that they were true to themselves. ” Stephanie, who worked with Emilee, sobbed loudly. Stephanie had never had such a close confidant as Emilee—and doubted she ever would again. Yes. Emilee was a good secret keeper and the very best kind of friend. Across the church, Thomas also nodded, knowing full well Emilee's fierce friendship and the power she could give a person. Somehow, Lindsey was able to continue, talking about how Emilee’s parents would have been so proud of her graduating and getting hired at her first choice marketing firm—were Emilee’s parents still alive; her father having had passed when she was fifteen from a massive heart attack, her mother from an undiagnosed cancer shortly before Emilee started college. Lindsey talked about Emilee graduating at the top of the class, the two renting their first apartment in Chicago together, Emilee starting her career—and how much she loved her job. “She had a bucket list,” Lindsey continued swallowing the lump that had built in her throat. “On the list were some regular things,” Lindsey went on, her voice shaky and wrought with love, “like learn to knit, learn how to make créme brûlée, learn to fluently speak a foreign language—but she could never figure out which one she wanted to learn.” This makes Lindsey laugh. Emilee wanted to learn French before she visited the Eiffel Tower, but also Chinese before she went to walk The Great Wall. “Some of her choices were more adventurous like walking under waterfalls in Hawaii, visit an elephant sanctuary, and drive a race car—on a closed track.” Yes, Emilee was adventurous, but also cautious. And safe. She was always so careful! How could this happen? “Emilee’s number one bucket list item was to go to Ireland." Now it was Emilee's friend Madison to lose her battle with the tears. Madison, with her flaming red hair and deep Irish roots, with much of her family still in Ireland, was going to be taking that trip to Ireland with her. They were going to stay with Madison's aunts and uncles--when the got around to taking the trip, that is. Lindsey continued. "She was somehow convinced her husband was there.” The tears that had been hanging on grew so heavy in Lindsey’s eyes with telling everyone that, but she didn’t stop there. “She wanted to be a mother—the kind who made chocolate chip cookies and cupcakes. She wanted to sew Halloween costumes for those kids.” Lindsey’s tears finally broke, once again wetting her face for the umpteen millionth time these past six days. “It’s not fair,” Lindsey croaked, breaking from her carefully worded script. “She was only twenty-six. She had so much to live for!” The anger in Lindsey’s tone echoes through the hall and settles in the hearts of everyone present. How could anyone not be angry with God or whoever for taking such an amazing person from the world? Stuart wrapped his arms around Lindsey and let her sob it out, tears of his own streaming down his face. In fact, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place; some quietly weeping, some, like their friend Courtney, not holding much back, hiccuping through her cry. Knowing scenes like this, the priest had the kindness to step in and relieve Lindsey from finishing her speech.
* * * * *
“I'm going to open a microbrewery,” Stuart announced staring at his pint glass, garnering looks from the group of friends. It had been a dreadfully long day. After the church service for Emilee, there was the burial, followed by a reception at a restaurant near the cemetery. There, hundreds of stories were shared of Emilee’s generous heart and quirky sense of humor by co-workers and neighbors, friends of Emilee’s from the gym and the children’s hospital where she volunteered reading books to sick children. Most of the well wishers had left hours ago leaving Emilee’s closest friends to console one another in a way that only close friends can. For them to all be together wasn’t so unusual, and the regular group of friends, less Emilee, lent a degree of comfort. The group had a standing happy hour meetup. A few of the friends, Lindsey, Stuart and Thomas, were friends with Emilee since college days, the four had many memories between them and stayed close friends. Billy and Stephanie worked with Emilee, the three of them even tossing around ideas to venture out and start their own marketing firm one day. Emilee met Madison and Courtney at the gym but before long, they were regular members of the small posse of Emliee's friends. The eclectic group got along like a well-oiled machine, all thanks to Emilee. But now, Emilee was gone. Yet still, the group was together… for Emilee. Thankfully, it seemed that wasn’t destined to change any time soon. “What?” Stuart continued unflinchingly. The fact that Stuart would want to open a microbrewery wasn’t so outlandish. He was an intense lover of handcraft beers. He’d been home brewing his own beer since his college days. “Emilee’s bucket list. It got me thinking.” Stuart continued. “If I were to start a bucket list, that’s what would be on mine.” Stuart continued to study his glass of commercial brew the restaurant served by the pitcher. “What about you guys?” “Ghost hunting,” Billy said. “Definitely. I want to go to a haunted place and experience a ghost. Or maybe write a book,” he added, getting into the spirit of things. “Oh, wait. Kilimanjaro. Right. Or run a marathon. And learn to juggle,” he rattled off, grabbing the salt and pepper shakers on the table and considers giving the a two-object juggle a try. "Oh! I know! Sit front row at a rock concert! Shit. Which band?" “Billy,” Madison said, shaking her head at Billy, but laughing softly at the same time. Nothing about Billy surprised the group. He was always on the go and into anything and everything, often not finishing one thing before he was onto the next. Billy shrugged. “What about you?” he asked. Madison chewed on her thumbnail and knit her brows together in deep thought. One thing popped into mind. Something she'd always wanted to do, but never had the opportunity when she was younger. "I've always wanted to go camping," she ventured. "Were you never a Girl Scout or anything?" Stephanie asked. Madison shook her head. “How about you, Stephanie?” Billy prompted. “Oh, um…” Stephanie sat up straighter, twirling a mahogany curl around her finger. “I want to learn how to cook.” Stuart laughed and said, “Yeah, I’m sure Dillon would want that, too.” “Har, har,” Stephanie responded, glaring at Stuart, but she knew Stuart had nailed it. Stephanie could barely make boxed macaroni and cheese or even a frozen dinner. Dillion, Stephanie's boyfriend of the past three months, tugged Stephanie into his side and said, "I won't complain," softening the comment with a kiss to her temple. “You know? I think I want to learn to ride a horse,” Courtney shared, lost in her own thoughts. She’d so badly wanted to take lessons when she was young, but her parents, full of fears, wouldn’t hear of it. Her ex-husband would have likely been of the same mindset. But she’s an adult. And divorced. She didn’t need permission from anybody anymore. Lindsey thought back to her college days with Emilee. She remembered the night they’d gone to see Little Women on stage performed live by the school’s theatrical department. It was incredible. The girls had talked about how amazing it was to be totally transported to another time and place. How the actors got the audience to feel things and think differently. “I’m going to audition for a play,” Lindsey proclaimed, her heart thundering in her chest as she said it. “You would be brilliant on stage,” Thomas encouraged, and Lindsey smiled shyly in return. “What about you, Tommy?” Billy asked, drawing an obvious bristle from Thomas who always but always insisted on his proper name, something Billy would never ever understand. Brushing off his irritation, Thomas bit down on his lower lip in thought, apparently having been more interested in his friend’s bucket list ideas rather than coming up with one of his own. His head toddled from side to side as he considered his options. Suddenly, his eyes brightened and his sparkling, trademark smile, complete with dimples, hit his face. “New Years Eve at Times Square.” The group ‘ahhed’ in agreement that Thomas had chosen a good one, and then they all fell silent. “We should do these,” Lindsey declared. “For Emilee. She believed in her bucket list. We should each do ours in her honor.” “A hundred percent,” Madison affirmed, the rest of the group agreed. “Look at you, Em,” Billy said to their dear friend, raising his pint of beer to the heavens, tears making his eyes glassy. “Making us all do amazing things.” On their way home, all seven friends got to plotting and planning their bucket list goal.
Now... READ THE STORIES OF THESE SEVEN FRIENDS AND OTHERS WHO WERE CLOSE TO EMILEE...
Just like all of my other books, the Bucket List Love Stories are high-heat contemporary romances. Enjoy! (Available exclusively at Amazon and in Kindle Unlimited)