“Here, dear,” The man in generic black suit said. “You can sit in the chair. Some people find it difficult to stand the entire day.”
The man handed me a soft tissue and guided me to the burgundy chair that sat next to my father’s gold plated urn. I shoved the unneeded tissue in my pocket and sat down. I wondered how many people sat in that chair. How many tears must have absorbed in its thick, stiff cushion. My “funeral throne” may as well have been an electric chair. If it were up to me, we wouldn’t have had a funeral.
Funerals are traumatic. My brother had his own urn; it was in the shape of a slumbering child with angel wings. They extracted him from my mother when she died to try to save him. It was too late. So he had a funeral. It honestly did more harm than good.
I was present at my father’s funeral only because it’s what everyone else wanted. Death makes everyone feel so helpless and weak. It reminds them of their own mortality. People needed to come see me and offer support for their own well-being. They need to tell me sorry, and if there is anything I ever need, let them know. How I wanted to say the only thing I ever truly needed was parents. That I needed to go home and grieve in private, to protect my fragile mental health. But I put my needs aside.
I wore a loose, cheap, suit jacket that was my grandma’s. The style kind of circled back around to where shoulder pads were partially acceptable. Just partially. The Comedy and Tragedy masks glimmered on the front pocket. The sleeves were a little long on me, so it covered the ring. I thanked the 80s suit for that. I couldn’t take it off because Dillon was with me for my dad’s wake. Yet, I wasn’t ready for Rivertown to know how serious my relationship had grown.
Just when I thought I had it all figured out you had to go and die, I thought as I leered at the urn. You ruined my fucking childhood. Then, you had to go and destroy the most romantic night of my life. Now Dillon is here in Rivertown despite my every objection. And my worlds are about to collide. Eff you, you pile of dirt.
I cringed at my own internal dialogue. A few nuts and bolts must have gotten loose. It might have been due to the fumes that the funeral home’s flowers emitted. I rubbed my defenseless eyes that were absorbing all the allergens drifting around in the air. I hoped it made my eyes look normal and recently cried.
“Do you need anything, babe?” Dillon said running his fingers through my hair.
I shook my head.
“Okay, I’m going to go get us a couple drinks from the gas station across the street. Be right back.” Dillon planted a kiss on my head and asked my grandma if she wanted anything. She fluffed her shoulder length, stark white hair and declined.
“When does the wake begin?” My grandma asked the funeral director.
“About a half an hour, now. And you are certain you don’t want to provide any pictures? Music? Anything for your guests?” The director asked me.
“My answer isn’t going to change.” Pictures of my father in his younger years might send me into flashback, Mr. Walmart Suit. I’d be amazed if I didn’t have a flashback regardless. So many triggers.
“It’s Brie’s father, it’s whatever she wants,” My grandma said.
A few moments after Dillon left, an attractive dirty blonde haired gentleman in a pale green button up shirt, gray sports coat, and dark blue jeans slid through the doors. Dillon and Nash had to of brushed shoulders one coming in, one going out. They saw each other. It was happening.
“Sorry sir, it’s immediate family only–”
“He is family,” I said in a crackling voice. Mr. Walmart Suit’s eyes bulged. He did an awkward bow and left.
I need to start bowing to people. It should be a thing.
Nash rushed to me, and helped me out of the funeral throne. I didn’t notice how weak my body felt until then. I couldn’t keep down any food and Nash wasn’t around to give me his Dramamine and Benadryl potion that helped me sleep and quit the vomiting.
“Merritt!” Nash said as he wrapped his arms around me. My ears rejoiced at the sound of his voice. I couldn’t breathe under his crushing arms. That was okay. I didn’t need oxygen when my body was pressed against his. He was oxygen.
“Nash! I’m sorry I haven’t texted back much since it happened, it’s just –”
“Don’t apologize,” Nash said leaning back to look at me. Up close I could see the whites of his eyes were pink and they were puffy. “Don’t ever apologize for anything.”
“I keep thinking of all the ways that it could have been different. If I stayed here for school, I could have driven dad to and from Louie’s Bar if he relapsed. He was trying to get better you know…”
“I selfishly wanted to keep you home next to me but I was overjoyed that you left. Your dad had issues that weren’t yours to fix. He was your dad that was never your job.”
“I never even got on him about his drinking, much,” I croaked. “In some fucked up miserable way, I understood. After that Christmas Eve, I would have sold my soul to forget about it, even for just a moment. I know why he drown is his bottle. I understand. How fucked up is that?”
“You aren’t fucked up, Brie,” Nash said. His eyes shone with tears that distorted the color of his green irises. “You are just ahead of all of us. You are a phenomenal actress, because you don’t really act. You just are. You go on stage, understanding in ways that the rest of us just can’t. You’re ahead. And everyone admires the passion we want to know, but never will.”
I nestled my head into his chest. Only Nash could take strands of pain and suffering and weave it into something beautiful. I wanted to be that girl he saw. “You really think that about me?”
“I always did.”
“I’m mad at him,” I whispered. “Is that okay?”
“You should be.”
“It’s bad enough he destroyed himself and what’s left of me…”
“Don’t say that. I’m gonna fix you, Brie.”
“…he had to destroy another family, too.”
“You are going to make it through this.”
“Do you think anyone is going to actually come today? Trina is back in town for the funerals. Her mom said that the other funeral is today, as well.”
“Anyone who shows today is for you. Not for him.”
“Jessica should have gotten out of fucking Rivertown when she had the chance. Once she graduated, I thought for sure she’d get as far away as possible. She was going to rush.”
“Um,” Nash said, cringing. “You couldn’t have known this, she wasn’t very public about it, but Jess’s mom was diagnosed with this very aggressive form of cancer and was dying. Jess stayed to be with her mom during her final days.”
Nash’s hand wandered underneath the God awful 80’s suit jacket, and he caressed my back over my thin white T-Shirt. His touch felt different that day. Although I may have forgotten what it felt like. It had been six long months. Maybe it was my imagination.
“Let me say hi to Grandma,” Nash said taking a reluctant step back.
I watched Nash go to where my grandma was sitting. I almost forgot that they knew each other fairly well. She had his phone number and Nash was her eyes in Rivertown. I think they even exchanged Christmas gifts.
He held my grandma’s hands and they both glanced my way a few times. It was awkward knowing that people are talking about you a few feet away. Nash sent a small version of his dreamy smile towards me. I felt my blood warm.
Nash returned. My heart panged. Out of the corner of my eye was my father’s damned urn. I pushed Nash back a few steps so that it was behind me. Nash had an unusual expression. I was so beside myself, that I slid my arms around his waist.
Turns out, grief is stronger than alcohol. Who’da thought, I said to myself, as returned my cheek to his chest and closed my eyes. Nash and I embraced in the past. But not like that. It never lingered past a minute and it was never so close. We were pressed together in new ways. Good ways. His hands returned under 80s jacket, and he caressed my spine.
“I still can’t cry,” I said. I could hear Nash’s heartbeat with my ear upon his chest. It was a comforting sound, like the trickling of rain while lying in bed. “I need to cry.”
“I know.” Nash kissed the top of my head and squeezed me. “But you don’t have to, I’ll cry in your place.”
I swallowed hard.
“You are seriously, the best fucking friend.”
“I’m just doing what I’m called to do. You weren’t meant to face this shit storm on your own. I’ll carry you.”
I peeked up and saw a tear trace a line down Nash’s cheek. I reach up and wiped it away. My insides turned into liquid. They felt like a hot, raging stream of chemistry. My heart was beating with extraordinary force, as I pictured what I wanted to do. I imagined myself, up on tip-toes, and closing my eyes. I saw myself holding the back of his neck and pulling him into me.
I had never kissed Nash. Not once. For some unknown reason, I felt as if he wanted it to happen right then. Maybe my mind was playing a trick. I was in too deep to think. The grief, the hormones, the lack of sleep, the agony, the malnourished body I walked around in all had a part in crazed idea.
My heart was burning as my eyes continued to lock with Nash’s. I felt like we transcended some barrier, like he actually knew what I was thinking. He knew I was going to kiss him and he didn’t back away. I was going to do it. I wanted to do it. He wanted me to. I hoped.
I slipped my hands behind his neck. His skin was so soft. I went up on my toes and leaned into his body. My eyelids fell. His mouth was inches from my own. I moved my waiting lips closer. They almost stroked his when…
“Your grandma told me your boyfriend got you a private jet to Rivertown,” Nash gently pushed me back.
“Oh!” I came crashing down from the clouds like a bird, chopped into pieces by the blade of a helicopter.
I back peddled a hugged myself, stroking my arms. I averted my eyes to the fancy navy blue wallpaper. My ears were on fire. The word ‘embarrassment’ was weak compared to what I felt.
God dammit Nash! I held it in for 11 years and then, when my father kills your ex-girlfriend, and when my serious boyfriend is going to waltz in at any given moment, I decided to finally kiss you. Bravo, Brie. Your timing is priceless. Why can’t you see, Nash? I fucking love you!
Nash held out his hands. In a sweet voice he said, “It’s okay, come here.”
He knows I’m mortified beyond belief. That makes it worse that he knows. Where is the bathroom? I have some stomach acid to purge.
I allowed him to hold my hands. I didn’t realize it until then, that my hands were shaking. The more I focused on them to make them stop, the more they shook. It took so much courage to cross that line. I was shell shocked.
“Y-you know, I’m not feeling myself today,” I stuttered. My eyes anywhere but on his. My stomach churned.
“Sit down, Merritt.” Nash guided me to the funeral throne and I collapsed. He knelt down next to me his hands holding my quivering excuses for hands. “Don’t worry, I don’t feel myself either. I’m in…a very confusing place.”
If Trina was here, she would smack me and say ‘Tell him, bitch’! She would kill me to know I almost kissed Nash, and he knew what I was doing, there was no mistaking it. Then I didn’t even speak my truth. I could absolutely not tell Trina about this. But who else can I tell? Leah just wouldn’t get it, and then there is Dillon…ha.
“Nash. I’m so fucking confused.”
“Are you feeling okay? You look like you are going to get sick.”
“You knowing what I look like when I’m feeling sick makes even more sick.”
The door squeaked open. Cue Dillon McCloud. I peeked down at my shining theater mask broach. Comedy is tragedy plus time. Can’t wait to laugh at this one. How much time till it’s funny, Mr. Twain?
Dillon walked in with two Sprites. I crinkled my nose.
Nash rose from his knees and gave Dillon a nod. “Hey, man, you must be Dillon.”
“Guilty as charged, bub.”
When Dillon got close enough, he raised his eyebrows and scanned Nash, head to toe. He set the Sprites under my nasty chair.
Dillon reached out his hand. I blinked a few times when their hands connected. My worlds had officially collided. I wasn’t ready. At all. I shot my dad’s urn an evil eye.
We should have discussed where you wanted to go, Daddy dearest. Do you prefer water or decomposition? Because you can choose a truck stop toilet or the Rivertown dump.
“I’m James Nash.”
“Here a lil early, eh? Beating the crowd?” Dillon said coming to the other side of my chair. James was on my right, Dillon my left. There was just too much testosterone for comfort.
Dillon cupped my head in his hand, leaned down and kissed my closed, stiff lips. When he pulled back, his palm brushed against my chest. I shook my head slightly. I just knew that his ‘accidental boob bump’ was on purpose. I knew what he was doing.
“Did you show him your fine jewelry?” Dillon asked.
“I can’t think straight.” My father killed a young, innocent girl on his way to hell. You fucktard! No I’m not showing off my shit. He’s a mound of sand now and I’m sitting right next him, but, look at my bling, Nash!.
“I had both pieces custom made. Unfortunately, I gave them to Brie the same night her father died.” Dillon pulled up my sleeve and held up my hand. I fixed my vacant eyes on the back doors. People should be showing up soon. Someone would save me.
“Wow, that is beautiful,” Nash said leaning down to inspect the prettiest ring in the world. “It suits her hand.”
“Custom is always best. Don’t you agree?”
Nash grinned. “Wouldn’t know.”
“Speaking of which, Brie, I will have a better suit tailored for you when we get back home. Heaven forbid anyone else perishes, but we all have to have that dreaded funeral outfit in our closets. One that fits.”
“I don’t intend on going to anymore funerals. My whole family is officially dead. I should get a mercy pass.” I glanced up at Dillon whose face was frozen in shock.
“If someone you know passes, you must to their funeral,” Dillon said. “It’s only proper.”
I jutted up out of my chair. Enough was enough. “That’s one good thing about not coming from high society. In Kansas we do what we want and set our own moral compasses. I get. A mothafucking. Pass.”
I heard Nash trying to disguise a chuckle as a cough, as I stormed away from my living nightmare. I saw Lauren Cunningham fold her arms and narrow her eyes in my head. I was supposed to be a perfect trophy girlfriend, she instructed.
Lauren, I warned him. And I’ve shielded him from 99 percent of the true Brie Merritt. That must count for something. And my father crashed through a windshield and snapped his fucking neck. That’s a pass right there.
“Brie! My sweetest Brie!” Trina bellowed throwing open the front doors of the funeral parlor. Her eyes scanned the room. When she saw me she let out a wail. I pressed my lips together. If Theatre ever morphed into human form, it would transform into the body of Trina Lubble.
Trina’s mother slinked in behind her and gave me a shy wave. I returned her wave and felt comfort looking at her familiar, friendly face. I turned to Trina. She was wearing a black lacy ankle length dress and a black hat that actually had a short trimmed veil. I was supposed to remain somber at my own father’s wake, but I wanted to smile. She approached me, already crying streams of black mascara.
Trina scooped me up and kissed each of my cheeks. She let out a loud sigh. “I am so sorry.”
“Thank you. And thank you for coming,” I said, giving Trina another hug. I whispered in her ear, “Nash and Dillon are in there by my dad’s urn. Together. I think.”
Trina’s arms flailed around. “No!” Trina said in a scream whisper. She studied my face and she stepped back. “There is more.”
Well, my resolve to not tell Trina didn’t last long. I grabbed Trina’s hand and led her to the downward staircase. “Down here is the family refreshment area. Come on. We need privacy.”
“Sweet baby Jesus this is big,” Trina said with her hand over her heart.
I pulled her down past the mini kitchen and into a dark spooky hallway.
“I almost kissed Nash,” I said, my heart accelerated as I heard the words spoken aloud.
Trina put both of her hands over her mouth and her almond eyes grew ten times their normal size.
“He knows I was going to kiss him. He cut me off by saying something about Dillon.”
“I know. So then Dillon comes in and I can just tell, he had no idea that Nash looks like, well, you know.”
“Oh honey, I know.”
“So, then he kisses me and is acting all possessive-ish. You saw the pics I sent you of the ring, so you know. Well, he showboats it off to Nash. I never saw that side of Dillon, but I hated it.”
“What a douche!”
“So I snap at Dillon, for the first time ever, like, in front of Nash and my dead dad. My grandma probably heard it too; she was off in the back of the room sitting down. Then I rush out of the room and have been too afraid to go back in. And I think they are both too afraid to follow me. I feel so bad.”
“Pssh, Dillon is yesterday’s trash, as far as I’m concerned. I need more deets about the almost Nash kiss. I’ve been waiting for this all my life. Oh that sounds so creepy. Hashtag, sorry, not sorry.”
I laughed. For the first time in weeks I laughed. A couple of fuzzy, snuggly, endorphins slid through my veins like a water slide. “Trina! No using hashtag in sentences. We’ve been over this.”
Trina snaked her neck. “Um, excuse me, I was being ironic.”
I threw my arms around Trina. “Thank you for not killing me for not telling Nash I love him.”
“Oh you will,” Trina said with the corners of her mouth curving up. “You will.”