(December 15, 2010)

The air was chilly, especially for southern Florida; despite the clear skies, it had reached a record low early in the morning hours. The wind was light, but it nipped at their faces. Despite this, it was nothing a light jacket and jeans couldn’t handle, although it certainly helped set the mood.

     Fiona found it hard not to cry, but she held back her tears nonetheless. To her, it was a weakness–one she couldn’t allow herself to show. With what she had learned the prior night, doing so would only break her anyway.

     An undecorated urn had been set upon a table beside Anne’s casket. The thought that it contained her sister’s ashes repeatedly intruded into her head. Perhaps the shock of the two deaths so close to each other had delayed it from registering, and the horrible realizations that had occurred in their wake had kept Fiona from accepting it. Now, however, it had broken through. Neither Princess nor Anne were coming back.

     Just a few feet away, Pepper stood, silent and emotionless. Beside her, Carter presented himself with collected dignity, but his eyes and ears betrayed his sorrow. On her opposite side, Roderigo stood with his usual stern appearance, his posture recalling his time in the service. Every once in a while she could see him forcing back a smirk, but Fiona forced herself to remember that his affect was only his disease; Fiona wouldn’t have been surprised to find Roderigo taking an antidepressant with his Ziprasidone.

     Of all the people at the funeral, Ash was the most public with his emotions. He kept a faint smile to try and hide his grief from his daughters, although he could not stop his tears. Sabbath herself looked very morose, half depressed and half confused; she was old enough to understand death, but she had never experienced it before. Twitch, however, seemed bored.

     Before she could focus on Steven’s face, the casket was raised. The following interment was awful, with a mechanical grinding echoing in the air. She gripped Carlton’s hand, unaware of how tightly she was squeezing. To her, it was the most agonizing moment in her life.

     As quickly as it began, it was over. The casket and urn were both in the ground. Fiona felt a hand on her shoulder–her father, now standing beside her with tears in his eyes. He smiled, and she returned the gesture. “There’s no wake,” he said. “Princess would hate to see us cry over her, and Ash just wants to spend time alone with his kids.”

     “I understand,” Fiona said. The two headed toward the parking lot.

     As they reached the crossover, Carter gazed down at Fiona, who remained solemn and quiet. Although she had always been emotional, the depression he saw on her face was upsetting to him. As he reached for the car door, he asked, “Are you doing okay?”

     “Not really. Not many people came. Not John, not Deni, not even the rest of the family. The whole turnout was for Anne.” She finally began to break, but quickly caught herself. As she wiped her eyes, she said, “You can’t tell me that doesn’t bother you.”

     “It does,” Carter said. “but I’ve got other things on my mind.”

     “Like?”

     “Oh, stupid things,” he said as the two of them climbed into the front of the vehicle. “Like how your mother may have been lucky after all. That’s a parent’s worst nightmare, you know, to lose a child. No parent should live to see that.” He frowned. “It makes me feel bad, but I know Amie would probably agree. She was kind of strange when it came to family. I told you how I met her, right?”

     “Not really,” Fiona said. She broke eye contact.

     “Your mother was doing a paper on aggression. She decided to travel to Brazil, to observe a Vale Tudo bout.” He paused. “Maybe some things are better left unsaid,” he mused, reaching for his keys. He paused, and a funny look crossed his face.

     “Something wrong?”

     “I was thinking about what your sister said to me the day we buried your mother.”

     “What’s that?” Fiona asked.

     “On the night of your mother’s funeral, she approached me with her wishes. She said, ‘Dad, if I die, I want it to be in the bible belt. I should be cremated and my ashes scattered on the floor of the funeral hall. They should play Sympathy for the Devil on the organ while dancing on top of the pews, and instead of a wake you guys should use a Ouija board and hold a mock seance. That’s the way I want it to be.'”

     Fiona smirked. “She almost got her wish,” she said.

     “Yeah, well, I couldn’t bring myself to desecrate her ashes or risk everyone breaking their necks, and I’m pretty sure that using an organ to play rock would sound horrible.” He smiled again, this time with a bit more cheer. “Now the seance, that I can do. Amie had a spirit board that she used for her book club’s Halloween gatherings, and I’ll get it out of storage just for this occasion.”

* * *

     The car ride home was the worst part for Sabbath. She was stuck in the back seat, unable to see her father’s face. His posture told her he was still crying, but he was dead silent. Beside her, Twitch was playing some noisy shooter on her handheld–she seemed more frustrated than sad. It was the first time Sabbath could remember where she hadn’t been able to read her sister.

     Sabbath knew what death was, but she would have never guessed that the aftermath would be so painful. The idea that her mother had chosen to die was distressing, introducing thoughts that she knew weren’t true. The act didn’t make sense without malice involved, but Sabbath couldn’t see her mother doing anything to hurt her. Instead, she found herself wondering why her mother would choose to leave them in such a way.

     She did know that her mother was Catholic, and that the church’s stance on suicide wasn’t very optimistic. She knew her father’s faith was different, and that unlike in Catholicism the soul did not go to either heaven or hell. She wanted to ask her father about this, but she didn’t know how he would respond. After some thought, she decided it couldn’t hurt to try. “Dad?”

     “Yes?” As she’d thought, his voice was scratchy, a sure sign that he had been weeping.

     She was now unsure about whether or not her question would be out of line. She didn’t want to upset him, so she asked the first question that came to mind instead. “Would it be okay if I was baptized?”

     “Of course honey.” He looked into the mirror and smiled. It was an unexpected response; she knew he’d say yes, but he seemed genuinely happy about it.

     Twitch chuckled. “Good for you, Sabby.” She shut off her handheld and leaned back in her seat. “So, if you’re up to it,” she said, half-smug, “Mind if I ask you something myself?”

     “I don’t mind,” Sabbath replied.

     Twitch handed her handheld to Sabbath and grinned. “Wanna play a game?” For some reason, the question seemed sinister.