The Funeral Parlor.
The face in the casket was her own. It nearly freaked her out.
She stood between her brother and sister, knees wobbling. Her high-necked dress clung to her skin, choking her throat, squeezing her long, slender body tighter and tighter until she felt her lungs might explode.
Her siblings moved closer, tightening their grip on her when they heard her struggling to breathe. Together their tall frames—movie-star handsome—melded into a dark mass at the foot of the casket. It took all the energy the three of them could muster to keep her upright.
“Are you okay?” Melanie asked her.
“Try not to embarrass yourself,” Matt whispered.
Again, a nod.
She wasn’t sure she could get through the day without fainting. There were no breaks at a funeral, and she just wanted to get away from the grim whispery-whirrs of the bereaved and the sickeningly-sweet waft of the flowers. But she couldn’t leave. Matt would kill her and, besides, she had no cigarettes. Her sister was her supplier.
The parade of mourners stretched out of the room and down the hall and it was only 2:05. Some faces in line she didn’t recognize, which infuriated her. Her sister had no real friends.
She tried to ignore surrounding conversations and remain composed. But like Medusa’s venomous mane, muffled words of hand-covered comments serpentined toward her from all directions. She couldn’t block them. They echoed in her head like garbled phrases over a worn intercom. “Why did she do it?” “Like her mother.” “Was it suicide?”
That last question nearly sent her to her knees. Her body sagged. Melanie caught her and Matt pulled her close, so she could lean on him until it passed.
“Don’t look if looking makes you queasy,” Melanie told her, but her glance drifted back to her sister’s pasty face.
She, herself, had considered suicide for so long it was hard to believe she still feared death. She hated funerals, could barely walk through the front door of a funeral home without hyperventilating. Yet, she had to go to this one. Her own identical twin sister lie in that ugly copper box, her head sunk low in billowing white silk.
“I’m sorry for the three of you.” Her aunt Carol’s hoarse voice coaxed her attention from the coffin. Notably thinner—grief now topping her midmorning chemotherapy cocktail,— her aunt dabbed a tissue at tear-stained cheeks. She was in the third round with breast cancer and getting her butt kicked. “I can’t believe this is happening to our family again. Did you know she was that bad?”
“Well.” Melanie paused. “She’s always had those tendencies, but we thought—with the counseling—she was doing better.”
“Counseling?” Aunt Carol’s cheeks pinked.
“Yes,” Matt said. “Six months ago we started seeing a psychiatrist—all four of us.”
“We thought a counselor might help,” sweet Melanie continued. “We decided maybe we did have some baggage about Mom’s—” She took a deep breath. Her gaze moved to her sister.
“Death.” Melanie looked away.
“How horrible.” Aunt Carol straightened. She appeared appalled. “You should sue him—that counselor.”
“Her.” Matt shook his head, eyes glaring. “She’s a psychiatrist.”
“We will sue her.” The twin’s voice rose, but she stopped, glanced at Matt, and tightened her jaw. “She didn’t give a damn about us. Now my sister is dead. She’ll pay.”
It happened then—at 2:10 p.m. She felt Matt’s piercing gaze and watched as he released his grip on her arm. Her aunt Carol became so emotional that Matt had to help her to the back of the room. Family members congregated there amidst her wild sobs while Matt held her, and a rush of people came toward her and Melanie at the casket. One after another. Melanie let go of her, too, and she had to stand on her own.
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