Copyright © Grace Harper 2021
The right of Grace Harper to be identified as the author of this book has been asserted by the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Copying of this manuscript, in whole or in part, without the author and her publisher’s written permission, is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved
“My God, this is fucking grim,” I said while I pulled Tara closer to my side. My arm hadn’t left her back the whole time we stood in the chapel for the funeral service.
“Catherine Devlin would like to say a few words,” Father John said.
The vicar had opened the service with a reading, talking about Errol Thomas like he knew him. We’d given him small pieces of information from when Tara and Erin lived with Errol. It didn’t take long for us to conclude we knew very little about the man we were laying to rest.
And that included Ivory.
Erin walked to the podium and faced us. Her back was ramrod straight like she was afraid if she relaxed, her body would fall apart. She took a white paper bag from her coat pocket and placed it on the lectern in front of her. It took her a minute for her shaking hands to open the bag, roll the sides down and arrange the contents like they were precious jewels. Erin grinned then took something from the bag, tossed it in the air and caught it with her mouth.
I was proud of Erin. Faced with grief, she still had her humour.
“Errol knew I loved these sweets,” she said, holding a yellow square piece of jelly. “They’re midget gems, if you’re wondering. And I’m not sharing. You’ll have to get your own.”
I smiled at her outward selfishness, the exact opposite of who she was. Erin took another sweet and made fast work of eating it.
“Errol and I had a complicated history, but I always loved him. I kept fighting for him until the very end.”
Erin grew silent for a few beats, opening her mouth and then closing it again. My heart ached at the anguish on her face.
“We would meet in this graveyard every Friday, rain or shine. We’d chat with the dead if we couldn’t find the words to speak with each other. I’d chat with my family, and he would gossip with his friend Jane.”
Erin ate another sweet before she continued talking.
“We’d come and lean against our family’s headstones. Often we would sit in silence for hours, enjoying the company and quietness. He brought me a packet of midget gems every time because he knew me visiting my parents and little brother is the hardest thing I ever do. I stuffed my face with these glorious sweets, and he ate an apple. Errol knew that the tiny square pieces of jelly would make me happy. He used to laugh when he said he had brought none with him, and I acted like a spoiled kid, patting him down to see which of his leather pockets the packet was hidden in.”
Erin grabbed a handful and stuffed them all in at once. I couldn’t hide my laugh as she chewed her way through the sweets, finding her groove and delivering her point of the story.
There was always a point.
“Do you know what hurts me the most about eating these sweets?” she asked us.
A sob left her mouth, and she bent forward. One hand on the lectern and the back of her other hand pressed against her mouth.
“I don’t,” she said, tears streaming down her face, her mouth contorted in anguish. Her voice was just above a whisper, “I don’t ever remember saying thank you.”
Erin let out a short wail and waved Alex away, who was on his way to her side. He ignored her, holding her hand while she carried on.
“Thank you, Errol. For being a friend when I needed one, for making me laugh, and for trying to make me happy. I wish I could’ve returned the favour.”
Alex moved with Erin as she grabbed the bag of sweets, and they returned to their seats at the front of the chapel. The vicar took his bible from the podium and read the final sermon while the curtains closed in front of Errol’s coffin.
Tara gripped my arm as she shuffled out to meet everyone at Errol’s grave.
A small group of mourners huddled at the graveside to say their final farewell to Errol Thomas on a freezing cold Saturday in January. I found it strange that it was only Red & Black staff and friends at his funeral. Not for a moment did I think Quinn or Valentino would rock up, but I expected his parents to come. Ivory stood under a giant black umbrella, wearing a scowl.
“I think it should be a law it rains like hell when you bury someone. It seems fitting for the misery I feel,” Tara said.
Tara sniffed for the millionth time but hadn’t shed a tear. The anger I felt for Quinn, Valentino and God, drove me to a level of fury I feared I’d have a heart attack.
“I agree, misery and miserable,” I said to Tara, but mostly to myself.
We all stood around the grave of Errol Thomas, heads bowed under umbrellas. Father John was the only person who didn’t bother with any coverings, even when Tom tried to hold the umbrella above his head. As soon as he had uttered the religious words, the coffin lowered to the ground and the rain stopped. It was like someone had turned off a tap. Erin sobbed her heart out into a handkerchief, cuddled by Alex. I looked at Tom, who was looking at Bonnie. I followed her eye line, and she was staring at a tree on the other side of the graveyard.
Father John said the final words at the gravesite, then Ivory threw in a handful of dirt.
“Let’s get back to the mansion,” I said to Tara.
Becky came towards us with bloodshot eyes and a watery smile. “Are the cars coming back for us?” Becky asked.
She hugged Tara and then me.
“Yeah, they’re waiting at the gates to allow the other services to get in. We didn’t want to draw too much attention,” I said.
“Ok. It’s such a depressing day, isn’t it?” Becky stated, not requiring an answer.
“The worst,” Tara replied, giving Becky her best smile that looked lopsided.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been to a funeral on a Saturday. They’re usually put aside for weddings,” Becky said.
“We wanted to keep the service and burial as private as possible. No one expects a funeral on the weekend,” I replied.
We’d all arrived separately in case any of the press were at the Red & Black mansion. We didn’t delude ourselves that the press couldn’t find out where we lived, but it would take someone with too much time on their hands to stake out our addresses and co-ordinate someone at our homes to follow us around. We were lucky the hospital, and the police, released Errol’s body to us quickly, and with Ivory as next of kin, we could arrange the funeral with relative ease. Erin called Errol’s parents, but no one had picked up the phone. Erin didn’t want to leave a message on his parents’ answering service, even though Errol’s parents were bound to have seen the story on any news channel.
Once we had strolled down the narrow pathway, huddled together, Mickey called for the cars to pull up. When they came to a stop, we all piled into the two minivans.
“Hey,” Payton said, with one leg getting out of the minivan. “Why is Bonnie walking in the opposite direction?” she asked me.
I turned to see Tom striding after Bonnie, aiming for the tree she was looking at earlier.
“Tom’s with her. They’ll catch us up,” Mickey said.
“Is she ok?” Flynn asked.
“I’m sure she’s fine, come on, get back in the van, Payton,” Mickey said, pointing to her foot dangling out the side, preventing him from sliding the door shut. “Payton, move your foot. We haven’t been spotted, so let’s keep it that way.”
“You are way bossier than Tom,” she muttered.
“Damn straight,” he said. I climbed in once Payton had obeyed. It gave us all the first laugh of the day as we pulled away from the curb. The other car stayed behind to wait for Tom and Bonnie, and we took the fast route back to the Red & Black mansion.
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