Ella is consumed by grief when her Grandma Dorothy dies. Left with Grandma's ashes in an alabaster urn, Ella dreams of rubbing it like a magic lamp and Grandma suddenly appearing. But it's only a dream. To protect herself from experiencing this kind of heartache ever again, Ella pulls away from Trey, the love of her life. Better to leave him than to lose him, she thinks. Slowly Ella learns to live again as she reads the letters Grandma left behind one for every day of the coming year.
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Ella could hear Grandma’s voice in her head. Whatever will be will be.
She started to cry. Screw whatever will be will be, she thought. What about what I want? Then she started to panic, afraid that Grandma’s voice would fade like her mother’s, and father’s, and sister’s. No matter how hard she tried, Ella no longer heard their voices.
They’d died when Ella was six. Killed in an accident on the way home from the zoo. Crash Kills Family of Three, the newspaper headline had said.
Ella could still remember that day, as if it was yesterday or the day before instead of eleven years ago. Ella had a stomach virus and was too sick to go. She’d spent the night throwing up and eventually fell asleep in her mother’s arms next to the white porcelain tub. Grandma had watched her while the rest of Ella’s family met her mom’s friend for their annual zoo outing.
Ella was so upset she couldn’t go that she cried the whole way through Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory—her favorite movie. Even watching Augustus Gloop fall into the chocolate river and being sucked out by the extraction pipe, and gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde blowing up like a balloon, didn’t make her laugh.
Grandma promised to take her to the zoo when she felt better, but Ella still cried. She wanted to see the monkeys with Sissy. And the bears, giraffes, and tigers.
After her parents and sister died, Ella wanted nothing to do with the zoo. Grandma brought it up a few times. She thought it would be good for Ella to go, but Ella refused. She wasn’t going anywhere near the zoo and, after a time, Grandma stopped asking.
Grandma’s best friend, Maddie, put her arms around Ella. Everyone else had left after the funeral service—her best friend, Emily, even Trey. Secretly, Ella had wanted him to stay, but she kept pushing him away. She’d been doing that for months.
It was better that way, she thought. Everyone she loved she’d lost. Losing Trey would be too much. She had to protect herself from ever feeling this way again. And if turning away from Trey was what she needed to do to protect herself, well, then that’s what she had to do.
“Ready?” Maddie asked.
No, Ella wasn’t ready. She wasn’t ready to move into Maddie’s house. She adored Maddie. Loved her. She was like the aunt Ella never had, but Maddie wasn’t Grandma.
However, Ella had no choice. Grandma had planned everything. Just like the hymns, and the readings, and the flowers. Maddie, a retired school teacher, would become Ella’s guardian and see her through her last year of high school and college. That was the plan—Grandma’s plan. As much as Ella hated it, she knew it was the only way.
“I hope that even in the rain,” Grandma always told her, “you find the sun.”
Screw the sun, Ella thought as she grabbed her coat and followed Maddie to the front door. There was no sun in sight. Only a razor-blade rain that sliced her aching heart and chilled her to the bone.