The funeral home smelled a little too sweet to be a house of death. And it was quiet — almost too quiet, like some stupid old movie full of ridiculous cliches.
And it made absolutely no sense to be sitting in an uncomfortable chair as people milled around and chuckled at the bulletin board full of old pictures of Mom. Jeep didn’t know most of these people, although some of Mom’s work colleagues were there and some kids from school. Most of them were people Dad and Mom must have known from a long time ago, or her work friends, so it was like being in a room full of strangers who wanted to tell her they knew how she felt.
Everything about the place felt artificial. What was that sweet smell, anyway? It was like some special air manufactured for funeral homes, some sort of chemically induced fresh air that sucked the sound out of the room. It was furnished like a living room from 30 years ago with couches and tables that looked brand new but hopelessly out of style.
And the urn on the table? Wrong, just wrong. That little container of dust wasn’t substantial enough to hold everything that Beverly Thompson was.
Jeep Thompson’s mom was dead. There. It’s said. She was sick for a long time, made it a little past her high school graduation, and started to tell her daughter the stuff she had been waiting for the right time to tell her, and died just before she told her the most important part.
Now it was time to say goodbye and all that, with the pomp and circumstance and the solemn looks and the “I’m so sorry for your loss,” yeah, right. At least being cremated means no one was standing around and saying how peaceful her mom looked and all.
Something warm and fuzzy poked her hand, and she looked down to see a German shepherd with that wide-eyed, open-mouthed look dogs get that feels so much like a smile.
“Oh, Blaine,” she said, kneeling and throwing her arms around the dog, which nuzzled her ear.
She held on until she heard a polite cough behind her.
“I’m very sorry, Ms. Thompson,” the funeral director said with the sincere expression that funeral directors always have. “We don’t allow animals except for service animals, and while I understand this is your friend …”
“Sorry,” said the dog, who quickly stood on his hind legs, grew less hairy and transformed into a tall young man with a droll expression who somehow managed also to be fully clothed. She once asked how he did that, and all he would say was, “Vampire trick.”
Even here in the funeral home, Blaine looked like he was fighting to keep his mouth from turning up at the corners, and even though his face looked entirely sober, something about his eyes twinkled almost as if he wanted to say “How silly is this, a world where your mom is dead?”
What do you want from a vampire, anyway?
Jeep brushed hair out of her eyes and shrugged at Blaine.
“Thanks for coming,” she said for the 43rd time that evening, meaning it for the first time. The big guy wrapped his arms around her and she felt safe. “I can’t believe she’s gone.”
This won’t do, this welling up of the eyes and the little break in her voice. Why wouldn’t Blaine say something? He always has something droll to say. Instead he just sighed and squeezed a little harder, which made her eyes tear up even more, so she pushed him away.
Blaine blinked. “What?”
“I’m not in the mood for crying.”
OK, now his face went full Blaine. That was more like it. His half-closed eyes and his little smile like he was seeing the whole world as his own private joke, and now Jeep Thompson knew the world was going to go on, just not for Mom. Mom —
“You are so in the mood for crying, G.P.,” Blaine said. He was the only one who called her G.P. anymore. “Might as well get it over with.”
“No, thank you very much, I’m trying to hold it together here,” Jeep said. “Maybe later when it all seems more real than this. Right now I feel like I’m having some sort of ridiculous dream and I’m not allowed to wake up.”
“Hmph,” Blaine said. “Run with that.”
“What, start running around the room screaming, ‘Let me out! Let me out! I want to see my moth—’?” Jeep said, and her voice choked and her face scrunched up and she swayed on her feet and grabbed the front of Blaine’s sweater and buried her scrunched-up face in his chest.
“That’s better,” he cooed, and maybe his voice sounded a little choked, too. “You need this, Jeep. I know.”
Who was making that sound, Jeep thought? That muffled wailing sound like all of the hurtful things that ever happened had been bundled up in one place and discharged like some horrible siren against the cardigan. She realized it was her, of course, but a piece of her soul detached and felt the scene unfold with fascinated wonder: So this is how deeply she loved her mother, so much so that losing her unleashed a quivering, sobbing little girl from somewhere untapped since the beginning of time.
“There, there, dear, let it all out, you’ll feel better,” said a new, grandmotherly voice from somewhere behind her, and the spell was broken. Blaine was holding her as if she were made of gossamer, but somehow firmly enough that she felt safe, but Jeep stopped shaking, opened her eyes and looked to see who was trying to comfort her.
The woman wasn’t all that old, maybe a little older than her mother, so almost 50, and she had a kind expression on her not-quite-wrinkled face with a twinkle in the green eyes behind rectangular eyeglasses.
“Are you all right?” the woman said. “Dear me, that’s such a silly question, of course you’re not.” From somewhere she produced a tissue, and Jeep nodded and took the offering with a half-smile.
“I’ll be OK,” Jeep said. “I don’t know where that came from.”
“Oh, I do,” the older woman said. “We all loved Beverly, and you’re her daughter, after all. You loved her most of all.”
The pain wanted to well back up and overflow again, but Jeep forced it down and nodded again, blowing her nose and using the tissue to its fullest use.
“I’m Diane Jacobus,” the woman said, touching Jeep on the shoulder and looking her in the eyes. “Your mother and I go way back.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know if she ever mentioned you.”
Ms. Jacobus laughed. “No, of course not, dear, she wouldn’t have been allowed to. We worked together on some very heady research.”