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Authors: Luanne Rice

Last Day (10 page)

BOOK: Last Day
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“You’re not going to tell me this is inappropriate?” Sam asked, touching her skirt.

“You want me to?”

“Well, Dad will.”

“That might be true,” Kate said.

“Mom gave it to me before I left for camp. This year’s summer dress.”

Kate nodded. She knew, because she’d been with Beth just three weeks ago when she’d bought it at a boutique in Watch Hill, after a barefoot walk along Napatree Point’s tide line and lunch at the Olympia Tearoom. Their mother had always gotten them each one special dress per summer, and Beth had kept the tradition going. They had sat at their sidewalk table on Bay Street, drinking fresh-squeezed limeade, and toasted their mother.

“We’ll keep it up,” Kate said now. “A new dress every June.”

“No more,” Sam said. “Not with Mom gone.”

Kate opened her mouth to say she’d carry it on, buy next summer’s dress, but the words caught in her throat. It wouldn’t be the same, an aunt trying to do what Sam’s mother had always done.

“We should leave,” Kate said. “Your dad wants us there by 10:00.”

“I’m afraid to see him,” Sam said.

“Why?” Kate said.

“Because it’s just him and me now. Our family is too small. We were always supposed to be three, and she’s not here anymore.”

Kate searched for something to say, but every word seemed trite.

Sam turned away and rinsed out her coffee cup. Kate tried to see if she was crying, but when Sam turned around, her eyes were dry, and she walked out to the car as if hypnotized. If she was upset that Pete hadn’t asked her to come home, hadn’t seen her yet, she hadn’t shown it.

The Bryer Funeral Home was a pale-gray Victorian house with white shutters, located improbably, and too beautifully, on the southern bank of Black Hall’s twisting Pequot River. Marsh grass rippled in the light breeze, and when Kate slammed her car door, she flushed a great blue heron, ungainly wings unfolding as it flew around the bend into deeper shadows. The last time Kate had been here, it had been for their mother. She and Beth had come together.

Pete had already arrived. Kate waited for Sam, but she was busy texting and said she’d meet them inside. Kate walked in the front door into a parlor that seemed designed for a tea party, with maroon velvet chesterfield sofas, burled yellow birch tables, a rosewood sideboard with crystal candlesticks at either end. The paintings on the walls were of cows and gardens, purchased from the gallery a generation ago by the first Edward Bryer—the current owner’s grandfather.

Kate thought of Mathilda, who had once owned these paintings, and she tried to feel her presence. It would have given her strength, steadied her. But before she could channel her grandmother, she felt a hand on her shoulder.

“Kate, why did this terrible thing happen?”

She turned around, came face to face with Pete. He hugged her in his typical stiff-armed clamp. She felt him pat her back in a there-there way, and she stepped back. She sought signs of grief in his pale eyes. His mouth was set, as if holding back emotion, or pretending to. Her blood was pumping hard. She thought about what Reid had said about him last night. Even without his suspicions, she was ready to explode with rage.

“Where’s Sam?” he asked.

“In the car. Coming in a minute.”

“I should go to her,” he said, staring at the door but not moving.

“I don’t know what to say to you,” she said through clenched teeth.

“What do you mean? We’ve both lost her. We all have.”

“You hypocrite,” she said, her voice shaking. “You liar.”

“If you’re talking about Nicola,” he said, “I get it. I’m a shit. But that was between me and Beth. She forgave me; I’m sure she told you. We were working things out.” His voice caught. “Now we won’t have the chance.”

She stared as his watery blue eyes filled with fake tears. She thought of the pain he’d put Beth through, cheating on her.

“Why would I believe anything you say?” she asked. “All you ever did was lie to my sister.”

“Don’t make me feel worse than I do.”

“Why did you have to go away?” Kate asked. “Leave for a week when she wasn’t feeling well?”

“Why did
you
?”

“I was working, not on vacation.”

“Look, I don’t like your tone, Kate. She was my wife. Not only am I dealing with her death, such a
horrific
death, but I’m going crazy over the fact she was probably raped.”

“It leaves you free to be with Nicola,” she said.

“Nicola had nothing to do with me and Beth!”

“Right. As if anyone believes that,” she said. And what if Reid was right? It would mean Pete had killed not only Beth but also Matthew.

“Hello, Kate, Pete,” Eddie Bryer said, entering the parlor in his black suit, hands folded across his chest.

Kate felt jarred at the sound of his voice, pulled away from her dark thoughts about Pete. Eddie belonged to the same beach club as her family, and she’d seen him swimming with his kids, showing them how to crack shells on Lobster Night. Kate was used to seeing him in a bathing suit, not looking like a mortician. His father had handled her mother’s funeral.

“Hi, Eddie,” she said.

“Words can’t express how devastated Barb and I are. We loved Beth; we just can’t believe this really happened,” he said.

Kate took his hand. His eyes were leaking; he sniffled loudly. He was their family friend, not just a funeral director.

“Thank you,” Pete said. “We’re all in shock.”

And at that moment, Sam walked through the door. She saw her father, and Kate swore she hesitated before walking over to give him a hug. Pete grabbed her in a hard hug, whispering in her ear. He started to cry, and the sobs rose and fell. Sam stepped back, and the look on her face was blank, skeptical.

“Oh, Sam,” he said. “Sweetheart, your mother. God, I loved her so much. What am I—what are we—going to do without her?”

That set him off again. His crying sounded the way someone thought grief should sound, and Kate didn’t see any actual tears.

Eddie walked them into his office, arranged three plush red-leather chairs across from his desk. Sam sat in the middle.

“These are very hard decisions, I know,” Eddie said, his voice still unsteady as he fanned brochures on the mahogany surface. “Now, Kate, I know the family plot in the Heronwood Cemetery has space reserved for you and Beth and your families . . .”

“Reserved?”
Sam asked. “You mean you’ve already made plans to put us in the ground? Like a dinner reservation?”

Kate put her hand on Sam’s arm. She knew how weird it must seem to a kid—just as it had to her and Beth. Facing death young took hold and made you into someone else. “It’s okay, Sam. Your mom and I talked a long time ago—we both said we wanted to be cremated.”

“Whether that’s true or not, Kate—it’s up to
me
to say,” Pete said sharply.

“Of course,” Kate said, kindly for Sam’s sake, breathing deeply to keep her heart rate down and to keep from saying what she really felt: that he didn’t deserve the right to make any decisions about Beth.

“As it happens, Kate is correct,” Pete said. “Beth will be cremated, per her wishes, her ashes interred with her mother’s and Mathilda’s. Eddie, I want to purchase the best urn you have.”

“Okay, Pete. Count on it,” Eddie said. His eyes were red. He shifted in his seat, making an obvious effort to control his emotions.

“Fine,” Pete said. He checked his watch. Kate’s pulse started racing again. If he had killed Beth, it was obscene that he would be here, picking out a container to hold what was left of her. She watched his eyes flick at the time, knowing he had somewhere else to be, and she turned away so Sam wouldn’t see how furious she felt.

“Thank you, Eddie,” Kate said. “Excuse me, will you?” She left the office, Pete and Eddie murmuring behind her, and walked out of the building.

A slight breeze ruffled the tall green marsh grass. Two egrets stalked along the opposite bank, gleaming white, their long yellow bills pointing downward, ready to spear silver fish. She breathed the fresh air and tried to feel less furious, for Sam’s sake.

She started the car to get the AC running and checked her phone for a message from Lulu—nothing. But there was a text from Scotty—no words, just four red hearts. She watched Sam and Pete emerge from the funeral home. They stood close to each other, obviously arguing. She had opened the car door and started over when they came toward her.

“Kate,” Pete said. “I think it will be very traumatic for Sam to return to the house where the tragedy happened.”

“Where Mom was murdered,” Sam said. “Just say it.”

“The point is,” he said, “I don’t think you should be staying there right now.”

“It’s home,” Sam said. “It’s where I live.”

Kate almost smiled. Contrary Sam: just last night she hadn’t even wanted to talk to her father.

“Of course,” he said. “But for the time being. Just for a while. Don’t you agree, Kate? That it would be better for Sam to stay with you for now?”

Kate remembered the smell of the house. How even before she had approached Beth on the bed, some ancient part of her brain had registered her sister’s death. Even now, a day later, she tasted decay in the back of her throat. She wondered how long that smell would stick to the house. She didn’t want Sam to know it. And she didn’t want Sam staying with him. Because, if she hadn’t wanted to believe it before, seeing Pete cry his crocodile tears was convincing her that he really had killed Beth.

“Sam, please come back with me. I’d love it if you did,” Kate said.

“Do I even have a choice?” Sam asked.

“For now, no,” Pete said. “Let the adults make the decisions. You’re in good hands with your aunt.”

“Okay, fine,” Sam said, sounding annoyed to comply, just like she had at ten, when Beth would make her eat broccoli or tell her she had to stop reading under the covers and get to sleep.

“I’m really glad,” Kate said.

“I want to go to Isabel’s for the afternoon, though. We’re just going to hang out,” Sam said.

“That’s a good idea,” Pete said. “I’ll drop you off.”

“No,” Sam said while texting. “Rebecca’s meeting me at the soccer field. She’ll drive me over.”

“Stay close to your friends during this time. Kate, can you pick her up when she calls later? I have some things I have to take care of.”

“Yes,” Kate said. Pete’s words, “during this time,” rang in her ears. During this time when your mother is dead for the rest of your life, during this time when you realize nothing will ever be the same.

“I’m going now,” Sam said, her voice catching as she wrapped her arms around herself. “I hate this place. I want to get out of here.”

“Just text when you’re ready to come home,” Kate said.

Sam gave her a sharp glance. “It’s not really home,” she said. “Where I live, lived, with Mom. That’s home.”

“I know,” Kate said.

Sam headed down School Lane to meet Rebecca, and Pete got into his black Mercedes S560. Kate hung back while he drove out of the parking lot. Then she put her car in gear. She stayed a quarter mile behind Pete’s car as he headed north along the river.

Kate didn’t know where he planned to go, but she was going to follow him and find out.

10

Sam slouched in the front seat of Rebecca Dwyer’s rust-pocked VW Bug as they headed toward Hubbard’s Point, the most magical beach in Connecticut. Driving along the main road, you’d never even know it existed—there were no signs. But once you went under the train trestle, everything changed: the real world slipped away. The security guard leaned toward the car window to ask whom Rebecca and Sam were visiting.

“The Waterstons,” Rebecca said.

“Isabel!” Sam said, leaning across Rebecca. “And her sister Julie, too, that cute little unicorn. You know her, right? We’re all going to build sandcastles and live happily ever after.”

The guard smiled and shrugged and made a notation on his clipboard. He waved them in, and Rebecca drove down the narrow beach road.

“Why did you act like that?” Rebecca asked.

“Like what?”

“I don’t know, sarcastic. Kind of rude,” Rebecca said.

“I’m sorry,” Sam said, her throat tight. Coming to Hubbard’s Point, no matter what was going on in her life, had always made her feel happy and safe. But right now, entering this haven of sun and sea, she felt as horrible and dead inside as she had since Kate had given her the news.

“It’s okay,” Rebecca said, giving her a concerned look.

“You know what that funeral jerk said? That they had a place
reserved
. Her spot in the ground. Like at a death hotel.”

“That’s horrible,” Rebecca said.

“It is,” Sam said, closing her eyes. She had the feeling she might fall off the world. Everything felt dangerous; she wasn’t sure her skin could hold her bones and blood and heart inside.

“Do you want to go home?” Rebecca asked.

Sam shook her head. Hubbard’s Point and the Waterston family were her second home. “I just really, really hope Isabel has some weed.”

“Sam,” Rebecca said, sounding helpless. “I know this is a terrible time. But you got weird last year, and, well, your mom hadn’t even . . .”

“Been murdered yet,” Sam said. It was true. Rebecca was a very straight arrow and didn’t smoke or drink, but she was right. Sam didn’t used to do those things either. She used to take honors classes. She had been chosen as one of only ten students in Connecticut to take a special Saturday seminar in stage design at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford. Her mother had been so proud—a subspecialty of the gallery were paintings of opera sets by Dr. Elemer Nagy, artistic director at Hartford’s Hartt School of Music decades ago. They were perfect, delicate watercolors of productions such as
The Princess and the Vagabond
, and Sam had loved them since she was a little girl.

But things in her family were going downhill fast, and so was Sam. She had stomachaches too many Saturdays, so she dropped out of the O’Neill seminar. Her straight As plunged to B minus, then dropped more, and it was clear she had to leave the honors program.

Her family pretended they didn’t know what was wrong, but she couldn’t believe they hadn’t figured it out. Her mother took her first to Dr. Alonzo, her pediatrician, then to a gastroenterologist at Yale-New Haven—but all her tests came back showing she was totally healthy.

BOOK: Last Day
3.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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