I ditched last period to go to Aaliyah's funeral. I caught a ride with Chrissy, and I decided to bring up the fact that I kissed her boyfriend on the cheek before anyone else did. What a way it would be to start a friendship if she were suspicious of me!
"Tom drove me home the other day, and he was quite nice to me. Said some sweet things."
"Well, he IS that kind of guy."
"Yeah, I know. And um, I kind of kissed him on the cheek as a thank you. Just a thank you... cause he was so sweet. I don't like him or anything." She was quiet, so I rushed on. "He really likes you. It was just a friend thing, I promise. I didn't really think of how it might look till after -"
"It's okay, Rhea, I get it."
"Oh. Oh good. That would have been a hell of a way to start a friendship, huh?" I laughed nervously. She seemed kind of on edge.
"Yeah, I know, right?" She laughed vacantly. Her mind was obviously somewhere else. "So... uh, how did you know Aaliyah?"
"I lived next door to her until she moved here. We, uh... kind of lived in the poor section of town. Then the Parkers got money and moved away." I tried not to let it show how much it had hurt when Aaliyah had moved, but it was hard to hide. I forced myself to concentrate on the good things. "She and I would play pick up games of football with the neighborhood boys... We'd race and play hide and seek in her house... She knew all the things that I didn't tell anyone else." And the bad memories all came rushing back. I fell silent.
"Oh, wow... I've basically picked up where you left off. Isobel and I were her first friends when she came here. She never mentioned where she came from, though."
"Yeah, I think the Parkers don't like to advertise their beginnings. So I guess could you not mention it?"
"Yeah, of course." We pulled into the funeral home and trotted in in silence.
The funeral home was dimly lit and depressing, as they all are. We moved silently through the queue to view the open casket - her face hadn't been damaged in the crash, the injuries were all to her torso. Chrissy was wiping her eyes and crying quietly into a tissue. I just felt numb. The entire situation was so unreal.
As we stepped up to the coffin, I was almost afraid to look in.
What they say about dead people looking like they're sleeping is bullshit. Nobody sleeps with their mouth shut so tight or with such a severe look on their face. Sleeping people look relaxed, dead people look... different. Chrissy choked on her tears as she looked in, and I put my arm around her. Awkwardly, I patted her back. Then we moved on to greet the family.
Chrissy gave Mr. and Mrs. Parker a watery smile, then hugged Tom. As the both cried gently, I gave the parents an awkward smile and shook their hands.
"And you are... ?"
"Rhea. Rhea Padgett."
Recognition tinged with a bit of fear swept over Mrs. Parker's face, but Mr. Parker didn't recognise the name. He nodded. "How did you know Aaliyah?"
"We were next door neighbors for ten years." I said flatly. Realisation dawned on his face.
"Oh, right. From back... there. And how are your parents?"
I couldn't lie, but I didn't want to make his day any worse so I spared him the details. "Separated. Mom and I moved here about two years after your family."
Fortunately, at this point Tom saved us any more awkward polite conversation. "Mum, Dad, this is my girlfriend, Chrissy."
Mrs. Parker looked dubious. She was the type to be protectively suspicious of any young lady who claimed to like her oldest child. However, she nodded and smiled politely as Mr. Parker said "Oh, how nice to meet you. I've certainly heard about you!" Oddly, Mr. Parker seemed to be the half of that couple with all the social graces.