23 I'm Proud Of You

A knock sounded on Keeley's bedroom door. "Honeybun? I have a surprise for you, can I come in?"

Light streamed through the slats in her blinds and she blinked sleepily. Morning already?

She sat up and rubbed her eyes. "Yeah."

Her dad opened the door carrying a large tray of blueberry pancakes with bacon and a wine glass filled with orange juice. Keeley beamed at him. "What's the occasion?"

He set down the tray and joined her on the edge of the bed before reaching out to muss her bedhead.

"It's not every day your daughter gets into a top thirty university. I'm sorry I couldn't celebrate with you yesterday. Why don't we go check out the campus and get dinner today? I might even be persuaded to get you a t-shirt at the bookstore."

"Really?" she asked excitedly, nearly knocking over the orange juice as she lunged forward to hug her dad.

"Careful," he chuckled. "You should eat your breakfast first. Where's the letter? I want to see it."

Keeley pointed to her desk before chowing down on her pancakes. They were delicious but oddly shaped. She smiled a bit wistfully. Her mom always managed to get perfectly round, identical pancakes every time. When asked, she would simply wink and say it was her superpower.

As hard as Keeley's father tried, he could never quite get the proportions right. His pancake stacks were always a bit lopsided.

"We should put this in a frame so I can hang it in my office. I can brag to everybody who walks in," he joked.

She stared at him like he was nuts as her cheeks bulged with pancake. After swallowing, she complained, "Dad, you're so embarrassing!"

"I'm only teasing. But I hope you know how proud I am of you."

Tears formed in Keeley's eyes as she nodded. There was so little to be proud of in her previous life. She gave up going to a good school, never used her degree, and drifted farther and farther away from him as she tried to fit into Aaron's world. She wouldn't let him down this time!

"I'll do even better, Dad, I promise. I'm going to go all the way and become a researcher for Kaleb."

A lump grew in his throat as he witnessed his only remaining child's earnestness. Keeley reminded him so much of her mother.

"I'm sure he would love that, honeybun. Should we go visit them while we're out today and share the good news?"

Keeley couldn't remember the last time she had visited her family's graves in either of her lives. She nodded. "That's a great idea."

"We'll make a day of it. Get dressed once you're done with your food. We need to go buy some flowers."

He shut the door behind him while she rushed to finish her breakfast. After brushing her teeth, she threw on a pair of jeans, a long-sleeved teal shirt, and a beige beaded scarf.

As she went to put her phone in her pocket, Keeley noticed she had one missed message from the night before. 'An echo. I win. Got any more?'

Ugh. Hadn't she told Aaron to go entertain himself? She never should have responded in the first place. She would block his number if she didn't think he would cause another scene at school over it.

He had to get out of her head! Today was a day for family and focusing on her future. There was no room in her life for him anymore.

The cemetery wasn't anywhere near a subway stop so they drove there and sang along to one of her dad's old classic rock CDs in the car.

When they arrived, it was quiet and peaceful with hardly any other visitors. They had to walk for a while to reach the middle of the plots where their loved ones were buried.

The first headstone was meant for a couple. Robert Joseph Hall, February 3rd 1964- and Monica Krelman Hall, April 17th 1967-July 28th 2001. The smaller headstone next to it read Kaleb Andrew Hall, December 11th 1990-July 28th 2001.

"Hi, Mom. Hi, Kal," Keeley whispered as she set down the flowers and crouched in front of the graves. Her father placed shaking hands on both her shoulders from behind as she began talking to them.

"I got into NYU yesterday. The applicant pool was huge this year and I still made it in! I'm going to work hard and become a geneticist so I can help kids like you, Kaleb! If you were here…you'd probably call me a nerd."

She sniffled a little bit before laughing. "We're going to go check out the campus today. I wish you could be here. I would've gotten you an NYU baseball cap. You always loved baseball even though you weren't able to play…"

Keeley broke down crying. Kaleb would be fifteen right now. She always used to complain about going to baseball games with him because she thought it was boring. She would give anything to listen to him chatter on about players' stats as they went up to bat now. Her father's hold on her shoulders tightened.

"It's okay, honeybun. I'm sure he watches all of the Yankees games from heaven," he said thickly. "He would be proud of you. So would your mother. You hear that, Mon? Our daughter is brilliant, just like you."

He reached out and gently traced his late wife's name on the gravestone with his fingers.

They stayed there hugging for a little while as they tried to dry the tears. It was supposed to be a happy day but missing half of their family members always made special occasions bittersweet.

Eventually, Robert stood and offered a hand to help his daughter up. "Come on, we should get going if we want to have enough time to wander around before the bookstore closes."

Keeley accepted his help and shot one last wistful glance at the graves behind them as they walked away. A horrible thought struck her and she almost let out a bitter laugh.

What happened to her body after she died? Had she been buried here with the rest of her family or did Aaron have her cremated and scattered somewhere so he didn't have to think about her? He certainly didn't care about her in life.

There was no way he would have buried her in his family's plot since he had just filed for divorce but it would be too nice of him to return her to her own loved ones. Maybe he never claimed her body at all and left her as a Jane Doe.

A shudder ran through her. Her thoughts were far too morbid. Thinking about the past was useless. She was alive now and that was what mattered.

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