Regardless of everything else going on, I still had to get ready to go to Dee’s funeral. I wandered back up to my room and sat on my bed. HP, as usual, followed a step behind me, but maybe he understood I wanted to be alone because he curled up in front of the bedroom door. I ran my hands through my hair, and I finally had to admit I was overwhelmed. I’d let myself be distracted by all of the preter-nonsense, but it didn’t change anything, I was still going to Dee’s funeral today.
I was scared and confused, and the one person I wanted to talk to was dead. Even my manual had said I couldn’t call forth a recently dead relative, but more than anything I wanted to talk to Dee.
I shook my head, “stop moping,” I said and I began to put on the black dress that Jenny had picked out for me. I tugged a brush through my hair and headed downstairs. I wasn’t sure I was ready to confront Kate, or even to see her, but Jenny had solved that problem.
When I got downstairs only she was waiting for me.
Jenny looked up at me, “I sent Kyle with the hecate twins to Aidan’s.” She smiled, “I wasn’t sure if you wanted to deal with any of them right now.”
I sat heavily on the couch next to her, “Thanks.” I glanced around, “What’d you do with Vic?”
She grimaced, “I sent him outside.”
I nodded, “Do you want to talk about him?” I wasn’t sure how to approach the topic. I knew she was upset, but I still hadn’t forgotten her freakout in the restaurant parking lot. It seemed so long ago that she had gone all hungry bird on me, but it had only been a few days.
Jenny sighed, “No, at least not now.” She fiddled with a bracelet, turning it round and round her wrist. “Maybe after all of this.” She made a weak waving gesture, “But not right now.”
I swallowed and nodded, “Ok, later.” I glanced at my watch. I wasn’t sure about funeral etiquette, but I assumed I was supposed to be there before guests. “Maybe we should go?”
Jenny looked at me, “You’re probably right. Kyle and I talked a little before he left.” She paused, “He’s going to keep an eye on Constantine and Kate, and he…” she paused, “We, think me and Vic should stay near you.”
I nodded, “So you guys are like my bodyguards?”
Jenny shrugged, “It could be worse, at least I’ve got fabulous shoes.” She stuck her foot out and twisted it, so I could see her black leather stiletto. “Oh, and I managed to get a Vic into a suit.” She glanced at the closed front door, “He cleans up quite nicely.”
I tried not to laugh but couldn’t hold it in. We both broke into giggles.
Jenny stopped first and stood up. She offered me her hand and I got off the couch.
We started towards the door, “Hey can you clue me in on what people are at the funeral?”
“Huh?” she asked with her hand on the doorknob.
“You know, do your siren thing and tell me what kind of preter the guests are.”
She shrugged, “Yeah I can manage that, what are you thinking?”
I shrugged, “Nothing specific, but I think I’d feel better knowing what I’m up against.”
She stepped outside and Vic looked up from the steps.
Jenny was right, he did clean up. His thick, dark hair was a little shaggy, but he did manage to look less surly. I thought about what my mom had said about dangerous men and realized that Vic fit that bill. Dangerous and predatory. I nodded at him, “Hey Vic.”
He started to say something but stopped. He looked away, “You may not believe me, but I am sorry about your aunt, and everything.”
Jenny stared at him and back at me.
She clearly hadn’t expected an apology from Vic.
“Um, thanks.” I managed to mumble. “And I’m sorry that you ended up…” I let my words trail off.
He looked back at me, and for a moment he looked so very alone. He gave me a small smile, “Occupational hazard.”
Jenny shook off her confusion, “We should go.” She glanced at Vic, “You remember your part of the plan?”
He shook his head, “The one we went over, ten minutes ago?” He paused, “No, I already forgot it.”
Jenny seemed comforted that Vic had reverted to his old sarcastic and surly self. She simply laughed and led the way to the car.
The drive to Aidan’s was uneventful. We parked and Jenny took the lead. Vic offered me his arm.
I raised an eyebrow at him, “Seriously?”
He rolled his eyes, “Bird-Girl’s orders.”
I smiled at him, “Sometimes she’s a little bossy.”
He laughed as I took his arm. Jenny glanced back at us, quizzically, but I just shook my head at her.
The interior of the funeral parlor was a surprise. After seeing Aidan and Travis’s apartment, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But the rich mahogany-lined walls and burgundy couches weren’t it. A small book stood open on a stand. I glanced at it and saw that Kate and Constantine had signed it, but that Kyle had not.
I met Jenny’s eyes, and she gestured at the book.
I shook my head, not trusting myself to speak. It was like walking into the building somehow made it all real again. Like all the distractions and the mystery had kept me from really thinking about Dee’s death. Stepping into the mortuary made it real, painfully, couldn’t breathe real.
Vic tightened his hold on my arm, “breath,” he whispered.
I took a deep breath and sent him a silent thank you.
We followed Jenny through the main entry hall and into the chapel. A stained-glass window dominated one wall. It was an abstract pattern of mostly blue and green glass. I remembered reading once that some colors were supposed to be soothing and wondered if green and blue made that list. Mostly, with the sun still coming through, the colors made everything seem cold.
Kyle was standing off to the side with Kate. Constantine was nowhere to be found.
I turned and found Travis leaning on the wall next to the door. He stood up straight as I was turning.
“Hi, Travis,” I noticed he was wearing a suit and looked professional, but tired. He was also holding a stack of papers.
His eyes flickered to Vic.
“Oh, Travis, this is my…” I paused, “Friend, Vic.” I could have slapped myself. I’d totally made it sound like Vic and I were having some sort of affair. “Vic,” I nodded at Travis, “This is Travis.”
I noticed that neither man offered to shake hands, but I felt Vic stiffen.
Travis handed each of us one of the papers. I glanced at it and realized it was the funeral program. Was that even the right word? Did funerals have programs?
“It’s exactly as Dee wanted,” Travis said. “Even the pictures she wanted.”
I looked up from the program, “Thanks Travis, I’m sure it’s great.” I paused and glanced around the chapel. “Um, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do.”
Travis set the programs down on a small table next to the doors, “If you feel up to it, you can greet the guests.” He gave me a quick look, “Or I can take you to your seat.”
Vic looked at me waiting for my choice.
“Um sitting sounds good,” I said grateful for Vic’s solid arm. I suddenly wasn’t sure I could keep standing.
We followed Travis up the aisle of the chapel, and he gestured at the first row of seats. Vic steered me toward a middle seat and claimed the aisle seat for himself. HP hopped onto the seat on my other side.
Travis glanced at HP and he seemed to pale a little. I’d expected some sort of clever quip from him, but he just hurried back to his place by the door.
“That was weird.”
Vic looked at me, “What, a kid creeped out by a hell hound?” He paused, “Or do you mean the kid is weird?”
I patted HP, “You’re not creepy at all.” I turned back to Vic, “No, it just seemed weird for Travis.”
Vic glanced back at Travis, “Are you guys friends or something?”
I shook my head, and I had to admit that I’d only ever spoken to him a few times. Maybe he was just in work mode and didn’t want to be rude. Or maybe HP had freaked him out. That idea made me feel better about the whole funeral. If cocky Travis was scared by HP, I hoped everyone else would be too.
“Hero,” Vic began and stopped when we both noticed Jenny and Kyle.
Jenny had stopped to talk to Kyle and Kate and was making her way back to us. Kyle, I noticed, would not look at me. Jenny slid into the seat next to HP. I glanced at Vic, but he gave a small shake of his head.
I decided he’d say whatever he was thinking later. “Where’s Constatine,” I asked Jenny.
“He’s meeting with Aidan.”
I cocked my head at her, “Are we suspicious of that?”
Before Jenny could answer, the murmur of voices reached the door.
Travis welcomed the newcomers and handed them programs. I looked over the couple entering the chapel. Older man and woman, probably Dee’s contemporaries, but I couldn’t place their faces. If I’d ever met them, I’d forgotten. Jenny made a small sound at the back of her throat.
She leaned over HP and whispered to me, “Hecate. Both of them.”
They said a few words to Travis and Kyle sauntered over and shook their hands. He nodded toward me and returned to Kate’s side. The couple made their way up the aisle and almost stumbled.
My limited interaction with the preter world made me unsure of their hesitation. Was it HP, Jenny, or even just me that made them hesitate? Or maybe it was funeral etiquette?
I gave them a small nod and stood up and offered my hand. “Thank you for coming. I’m Hero, Dee’s niece.”
The woman took my hand, “of course, Hero.” She gave me a teary smile, “I doubt you remember us; we haven’t seen you since you were a child.” She prattled on, but and I tried to feign interest, but more guests were arriving. I saw Mrs. Finch come in and John Nix, the lawyer, close behind her. Oh and Mr. Call-me-John-Nix had brought a date, or maybe a wife – she was a stunning redhead whoever she was. The trickle of people quickly became overwhelming.
I managed to drag my attention back to Mr. and Mrs. Hecate. I hadn’t even managed to pay attention long enough to catch their names.
“Um thank you again,” I managed to mumble and quickly sat back down. I didn’t want to get stuck talking to everyone. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be here. This was the part of Dee’s life that she had kept hidden from me. These are the people who knew her, not me. I hadn’t known about them or anything about this world at all.
My eyes started to burn with tears. HP rested his head in my lap. Jenny was busy looking over the crowd, without trying to look at the crowd. Vic was busy trying to look casual but just looked scary.
I looked down at the program. I hadn’t realized that I’d crumpled it in my fist when I’d been talking to the old couple. I opened it and smoothed it out. A picture of Dee smiled out at me from the page. It was one from a few years ago, a picture I had taken. I’d caught her working at the dining room table, and in the background were piles of books and she’d looked up just when I took the picture. She had an almost dreamy smile, at least in the picture. She’d scowled at me after. Dee had never liked having her picture taken. I remembered and felt myself smile begin to smile.
Then I noticed the background of the picture. The table and the books were all the same, and the picture had been poorly cropped to fit onto the page, and I’d have something to say about that later, but there was something else. Almost cut entirely out of the photo. The purple orbs. I stared at the photo, I’d seen it a million times, I’d taken the damn thing. How had I never seen this?
There was just the edge of an orb directly behind Dee and one possible two more across the table. I wanted desperately to check the original photo. I know that the orbs hadn’t been there before.
“Jenny?” I hissed at her, “What do you see in this picture?” I passed her the crumbled program.
She glanced at it, “That awesome Mona Lisa smile picture of Dee.” She squinted at the photo, “Are you going to complain about the cropping?”
I blinked, “You don’t see it?”
She shrugged, “Ok, so maybe the cropping screwed up the composition or whatever you call it, but it’s still a great picture.”
I pointed at the orb behind Dee, “So you don’t see anything behind Dee?”
“Um the wall behind her? What do you see?”
“Remember the purple orbs in the wedding photos?”
“There’s at least three in this picture.” I was confused. She had seen the wedding photos, hell she’d used them to prove the whole preter-thing was true. So why couldn’t she see these?
“Hero, I don’t see anything.” She whispered at me.
I frowned and glanced up at her, “Those orbs, they’re shades right? What does that mean?”
She handed the program back to me and leaned closer to me. “Yes, they’re shades, but is this the place to talk about this?” She whispered.
I continued to frown, but whispered back, “Shades? And those aren’t ghosts?”
She shook her head, “Not ghosts. From what I’ve heard they’re something else, kind of like HP. They kind of hang around lemuira.” She kept her voice low, “And this is a bad time to be talking about this. It advertises how much you don’t know.”
I sat back in my seat. She was right. I didn’t want to be broadcasting how much I didn’t know about my powers. I had no idea what shades were, other than window coverings – and something I kept doing that freaked out everyone else. I suddenly wished I’d spent more time with the manual Dee had left me. I made a mental note to read it cover to cover sometime soon. I wondered if I hadn’t seen them in my photos before because of the spell Dee had put on me. But that didn’t explain how Jenny could see the ones in the wedding photos, but not see the ones in the photo of Dee.
I folded the program in half and shoved it into my purse. I was considering asking Jenny to go outside to explain shades, but I heard someone shouting. Everyone turned toward the entrance of the chapel. Somewhere in the building, two people were arguing. Then silence.
A few seconds later, Constatine came stalking into the chapel. His face was flushed and he looked pissed off. I shot a glance at Jenny, wondering if she had any idea who he was angry at.
Constantine walked in, and I realized that Travis had left his post by the door. Constantine took a seat in the back of the chapel. I noticed that Kate tried to catch his eye, but he ignored her. He stared fixedly at the front of the chapel.
Aidan came calming walking in not far behind him. He was the picture of calm and composure. He paused at the entrance and quickly scanned the crowd.
I scrutinized him. Yes, on the surface he was his calm, cool self. His black suit was perfectly pressed and his tie was so straight I wondered if he used a level. His hair was in its usual slicked back style, but it wasn’t quite as tidy as usual. Nope, I told myself, his hair is definitely out of place. It’d been re-combed but was just the slightest bit untidy.
I started to turn away, realizing that I was staring at him, but he began walking down the aisle of the chapel. His eyes were red and puffy. Like he’d been crying, and he was a little unsteady on his feet.
Had he been arguing with Constantine, or was it just his grief showing? Aidan had seemed genuinely sadden when I told him about Dee. Maybe, like me, today, the funeral, made her death all the more real? Or maybe Constantine had argued with him?
I didn’t get a chance to even try and whisper my thoughts to Jenny, because Aidan had made his way to the front of the chapel. He stood at the podium and took a deep breath.
“Thank you all for coming, today.” Aidan began. He began a spiel about Dee and how we had all come to know her in different ways and at different times. I heard some sniffles and sad sighs from the guests. I even caught Jenny blinking back tears.
I let go of my concerns and questions for the time being and realized that Aidan was giving a heartfelt eulogy. His voice broke a few times, and I heard his tears echoed behind me. I didn’t realize that I was crying until Vic pressed an honest-to-god handkerchief into my hand.
I gave him a watery smile of thanks and wiped away my tears. Aidan concluded, with a brief reminder that Dee hadn’t wanted a formal wake after the ceremony.
He paused and then added, “We are all aware that Dee is survived by her niece, Hero,” he gave a slight nod in my direction. I wondered suddenly if he’d done that make sure that everyone saw HP, or so that everyone saw me.
Once all eyes were on me, he continued, “I believe that Dee would have wanted us to respect Hero’s privacy and to give her time to grieve in peace.”
I could have kissed him. He’d guaranteed that no one was going to offer to shake hands and give me their condolences. I gave him a small nod of thanks, as he walked past me to wait at the door.
I kept my eyes on the front of the chapel. I listened to the other guests begin shuffling around, and starting to leave. I heard snatches of conversation, mostly about Dee, but some of it about me. It seemed a grieving lemuria was a little scary to everyone else. I heard a lot of snippets of stories of other lemurias and opening rifts and calling forth ghosts and something about life transference.
I shut out all of the voices and continued to absently pet HP. Once the chapel was empty, I had every intention of finding out what Aidan and Constantine had been up to.