Blind her with blissBy: Nina Pierce
To Alan, the real hero of my life—who’s taught me to laugh and love without reservation and the true meaning of soul mates.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…”
How could this have happened to someone so young? Julie Tilling dabbed at the tears ruining the makeup she’d meticulously applied to her rounded cheeks. She stared at the coffin suspended eerily over the marred earth of the cemetery, not sure what to make of this farce. Her best friend from high school was dead, and it seemed everyone in the small town of Delmont, except her, believed Jason McCarty had perished at his own hand. There were rumors circulating about gambling debts, medical school cheating scandals, and even unrequited loves, but Julie didn’t believe any of it. Jason simply had had too much to live for to take his own life.
She’d known Jason for—well, she couldn’t remember a time when the McCarty and Tilling families hadn’t been friends. And though she’d graduated from high school nearly a decade ago, memories of her and Jason still made Julie smile. She’d shunned the backbiting and name calling of her female peers, and he hadn’t been the jock type. The two of them had spent four years running the thespian and honor societies, Key Club and yearbook. Though he’d gone off to medical school, and she’d studied her way to an MBA, they’d always found time for each other over the years.
The loss of her best friend had ripped away a piece of her heart and Julie doubted the ache it left in its wake would ever subside.
Like a good sheep, Julie joined her parents in the procession of town’s people paying their last respects. But unlike the other mourners filing between the coffin and Jason’s father, Julie was not avoiding the man’s vacant stare. Julie wanted old Doc McCarty to know she would not let her questions over his son’s senseless death be buried with the coffin.
Hunched into an overcoat, Doc McCarty looked much older than his sixty-two years. As if reading her thoughts, his head lifted, and he caught her eye. Lines of misery morphed his normally serene features into a grotesque mask of pain and anger. The menace in his eyes speared pain straight to her heart. Of course, he was angry; the poor man was now alone in the world. Julie choked back a sob as someone stepped in front of him, breaking the string of tension momentarily connecting them.
Repeating the action of others, she pulled a white rose from one of the arrangements flanking the casket and placed it on Jason’s coffin and made a silent promise. She would continue to dig for information about his death—even if the local police hadn’t bothered.
* * * *
The sun was well past its zenith, but that didn’t diminish the weight of the July heat glistening on Julie’s skin. A couple of weeks had passed since Jason’s funeral, and she still couldn’t shake the unsettled feelings about his death. Perhaps today it wasn’t grief making her sluggish as she dragged out of her tiny car, but the oppressive humidity. It must be somewhere around ninety-five percent. Maine summers weren’t very long, but they could certainly be uncomfortable.
Julie trudged across the parking lot into the floral shop at Tilling Garden and Plants. She ran her fingers through the thick strands of hair she’d meticulously straightened that morning. There was nothing left of the salon-sleek hairstyle save for a rusty mass of frizz. What a pain in the ass.
“I’m here,” she called out in unison with the bells jingling over the door. The scent of eucalyptus and jasmine filled her nose and she breathed deep, letting the calming aroma fill her.
“I’m out back.”
“No shit, Sherlock,” Julie mumbled, winding her way through the displays of silk flowers and potted plants, past the empty front counter to the back work room.
“That’s a pretty outfit, Jules. Not everyone can wear grey. But it’s definitely a good color for you.” Her sister Meghan barely turned away from the assortment of roses scattered on her workbench.
Julie wasn’t sure that was a compliment, but she knew her younger sibling had intended it that way, so she took no offense. “Thanks.”
Younger by a year, Meghan looked radiant as always. Nothing ever looked good on Julie. Her sister’s chestnut curls were pulled back in an elaborate French twist with tiny wisps framing her pixie features. Meghan didn’t need to wear the makeup accenting her almond eyes and high cheekbones. Her flawless skin would have been beautiful without the subtle strokes of color. Unlike Julie who attempted to cover the smattering of freckles across her nose and thicken the sparse eyelashes she’d been blessed with.