The service had been … nice? I’ve never been certain around funerals. Always felt uncomfortable, especially when people tried to cheer them up like today. At least with Emma’s I was a wreck, so much so that I didn’t have consciousness to spare thinking “am I behaving properly?” I was going through all the right motions.
Edi had enough time, when she was coming to the final few months, to arrange this whole thing herself. Pay for it too. I guess that’s the upside of cancer. You don’t have long to live, but at least you know it, right? She wanted to be buried here, at Nevada, shelled out for everyone to be put up in the hotel. Even covered travel expenses. Wasn’t cheap – our family is big. The broad wanted to be remembered, obviously, and remembered she would be. For the gaudy miss-me, mourn-me adios, perhaps not. I’d always remember her as the aunt who would slip me Oreo’s from her purse whenever I smiled sweetly enough.
I walk over to my parents, out of some morbid sense of sudden attachment, I think. They’re the same age as Edi was, not even fifty, and I guess the whole ordeal has freaked me out to the point of appreciating the fact that they’re still kicking. But when I find them they’re talking to some relative or another, a relative who looks definitely more cut up about her passing than me, that’s for sure, and I decide not to stop by. Grief sucks. I don’t want to be any part of it. Instead I continue to walk around the perimeter of the barbeque, waving to the people I recognize, returning the waves to those I don’t. Waving a lot, really. Wondering what Emma is doing right now. Wondering when Bobby was going to tell me he was going steady with someone. That was a shocker. Wandering and wondering.
I sit down on this bench next to a quiet girl I kind of recognize but mostly don’t. She looks like she’s probably a cousins kid or something – I’d ballpark fifteen at a guess. She’s dressed in black, obviously, and is sitting quietly reading a book. I don’t intend to disturb her but she looks up. She looks me dead in the eye without emotion and then looks back down at her copy of Wuthering Heights. This is a guest I can get on with. We’re on the very border of the large garden. I see Bobby has managed to convince Hunter and Bladder to shed their suit jackets and join him in the game. I’m glad I got away from that, at least. I lean back, my hands on the cold stone of the slab of a bench, into the shade of the grand oak behind me and breathe a sigh.
“It’s cool here, isn’t it?” the girl asks suddenly. I glance over and she’s looking at me, her book closed on a slender finger.
“Yeah, it’s pretty neat,” I reply.
“No, I mean it’s cool here,” she motions towards the tree and the shade.
“Oh, yeah,” I say, “yeah it is. You hot too?”
“Not here,” she says and returns once again to the book. I guess my conversation wasn’t stimulating enough for her. I look back at the rest of them.
“Did you know Edi?” I ask, doubting it. She probably got dragged along.
“I guess you could say that,” she replies, without closing the book this time. “Did you?”
“Yeah, I did,” I say, “I used to go round to her house when I was a kid. She had a bunch of old VHS tapes that I used to watch over and over. My parent’s didn’t have a TV so I used to drop in on Aunt Edi all the time.”
I glance back over and she’s looking at me again, book closed, no finger. This girl is hard to read.
“What else?” she asks.
“I dunno,” I laugh, “she gave me Oreo’s before dinner. My mom hated that.” The girl brushes her hair out of her eyes so she can look at me better and smiles. She has braces – those clear ones but I still see the wiring. I squint as the sun splits through the branches above and move away from it’s dappled light. By the time I can refocus she’s stopped smiling, covering her mouth with her hand, attempting to play it off as somehow natural.
“Don’t do that,” I say, almost reflexively. I’ve grown so accustomed to correcting Emma’s insecurities that it’s second nature.
“Do what?” she asks, knowing full well what I’m talking about.
“Don’t hide your smile.”
“Why? It’s ugly.”
I’ve known enough girls to realize when they’re fishing for compliments or genuinely unhappy with something. Sadly this girl is the latter.
“Are you kidding?” I say, “some scaffolding doesn’t change the fact that you have a stunning smile.”
She flushes slightly. She makes a hmm sound and that’s that.
“Seriously,” I say simply. She looks out over the garden and doesn’t say anything. I do the same. We sit like this for a while. She puts the book between us, gives it up for good. Even if she is just a kid it still makes me feel good that I won her over enough to commit to the conversation. I beat you, Emily Bronte. Eat it.
“This for school?” I ask, picking it up and flicking idly through the pages. I spot some familiar names from my time with it.
“Yeah,” she says, looking disdainfully at the tome, “I’m not a fan.”
“Neither was I,” I set the book back down. Just reading the first few lines make me think of my old classroom. The afternoon sun illuminating the dust particles floating above as we attempted to understand what was, to us, an impossibly alien world depicted through an impossibly alien lexis. We continue to talk. In the meantime the barbeque yields its final batch of meat and dies. The soccer is concluded. Some of the older guests head inside. The sun begins to wane, threatening to sink behind the skyline of trees surrounding the hotel grounds. The day draws to a close.
We’re called back by someone I know but can’t name and, obediently, we both stand and walk across the grounds towards the events room, no doubt for a speech and a toast and other such festivities. As we head up the steps she hops quicker than me and, level with my face, kisses me on the cheek.
“Thanks, Christian,” she says, and before I can ask what for she darts inside amidst the throng. Confused, I head in after her. Artie is already up, talking about his wife, getting choked up. My mom is waving me over from somewhere near the back so I excuse me my way over to her. Bobby and dad are no where to be seen.
“That was nice of you,” Mom says as I approach in that typical mom way.
“Huh? What was?”
“Hanging out with Kaitlin today. God knows she needs someone.”
“Who the girl?” I quickly realize I hadn’t even asked her name – and come to think of it I hadn’t told her mine.
“Yes the girl,” Mom says, elbowing me, “no one’s been able to really speak to her since Edi passed. How is she, poor thing.”
“Wait what?” I hiss, “that girl is Aunt Edi’s-“
“Daughter, yes,” Mom says, looking at me like I’m an idiot, “honestly Christian, she’s your cousin. How can you not know her?”
Guess I know her now.
To Be Continued (Tomorrow!!)