Firstly, thank you all for your thoughts. It means a lot.
Last Thursday when I saw her, she gave me her hat, the same one I'd given to her years ago. I protested, saying it was a gift, but she just rolled her eyes and said, "Yeah, and it took me losing my hair to finally wear the stupid thing. After all, why do you wear that jacket?"
I shifted slightly in the jacket that once belonged to my best friend. "I don't know."
"It makes you feel safe, doesn't it?" she said. "It makes you feel like she's with you even if she's not. Now you can wear this, and I'll be with you too. I'll always be with you, Celie."
I blinked back tears and said, "I know."
The services for Aunt Michelle were held in the last two days. Her viewing was yesterday, and the funeral and wake were today. For the last week, most of my mom's family and some of my dad's have been pouring into the city, along with a lot of people I've never met before; people she'd met through work, I guess.
I feel...heavy. Every part of me feels like it takes conscious effort to move. For the last week or so I've been accepting condolences, greeting family and friends as they come into town for the services.
The funeral today was...especially jarring. We held it up in the country rather than in the city, at Saint Ignatius. There has been a tornado warning all day, so every now and again, a siren would blast out, interrupting the service. About a year ago, the county decided to switch the siren from its former setting, Vaguely Creepy, over to its current one, Gut-Fuckingly Horrifying, so every now and again Father Kelly would stop and we'd all have to listen to the siren start low, go up, and stay up for a good minute or two before going back down again.
It sounded again as we went up to pay our respects at the end. Nikki was right beside me and it went off just as I came up to the casket. For a moment, I was almost lost in that horrid sound, dazed, until she nudged me and I walked back down on legs that didn't feel like my own.
Spring is lovely here; for a month or so, the entire area seems covered in bright green and colorful flowers. The wind was wicked strong and the clouds were the kind of gray that makes everything somehow seem brighter rather than darker, washing out a lot of the color of the grass and flowers. Loose pink and white petals whipped through the place from a large cherry blossom tree in the corner of the cemetery, and every now and again a few drops of rain would fall.
As people were heading out for the wake at my Aunt Karen's house, I couldn't move. Soon enough, it was just me standing there as it started raining harder. The wind picked up and the siren blared out again, but I couldn't move. For what seemed like hours, I listened to that siren. It sounded like a live thing, screaming. If the Slender Man could speak, his voice would sound like that. Hell is that noise. It shouldn't have anything to do with Aunt Michelle -- not one thing, not even playing at the same time as her funeral.
"Celie." Nikki materialized beside me and touched my arm. I noticed that the rain had picked up even more. "Come on. You'll catch your death."
Nikki has really never thought too much about her phrasing.
The wake was pleasant enough, although exhausting. An entire house full of people who thought they knew the whole story, but didn't. About halfway through, I realized I was one of them. I'm realizing more and more than when I think I know the whole story, I don't.
The reading of her last will and testament will be held tomorrow morning, because everyone who attended the funeral and is mentioned in it will still be in town. I met her attorney -- and, it turns out, her business partner and longtime friend -- at her viewing, where he introduced himself as Scott Monaghan. He looked about as old as Aunt Michelle, late forties or early fifties. Gray speckled his black hair and goatee, and he was large in a jolly sort of manner, which was only reinforced by his deep, booming voice.
Mr. Monaghan told me that he was well aware of how fond Aunt Michelle was of me, and that he would do anything in his power to make sure that her wishes were filled out.
"I assume you know what I'm talking about?" he said. I nodded, almost sure that he meant the promises she'd had me make.
At the wake tonight, we drank dessert sherry -- customary for a mournful event -- and he told me about some of their adventures.
"Well, I met Michelle while we were still in college," he said. "At a lacrosse match, of all things. I hear that your brother is into lacrosse, isn't he?"
"He really is," I said. "He wants to go to Syracuse to play, but he would have to get his grades up."
"Well, with a school like that, of course," he said. "Anyway. Michelle and I became thick as thieves pretty quickly. I went off to law school as she started traveling, and eventually we entered into real estate and investing together. Did she ever tell you about the first time she saw Paris?"
I shook my head.
"Well, we took the plane from BWI with a stopover in Heathrow, and by the time we reached France, the sun had set. It was a beautiful clear spring night -- you could see all the stars above, and all the lights in the city below. And then we saw the Eiffel Tower, over a miniature ocean of light that was Paris. Michelle started crying and I asked her, 'What's wrong, what's wrong?' Do you know what she said?
"She said, 'I will never love a man as much as I love Paris right now, at first sight.'"
I was enthralled. Mr. Monaghan is a fantastic storyteller, and kept my mind off of the gloominess of the event with tales that sounded as wondrous as they did far-fetched (one involving a doctor, a soccer match inside a pub, and a screwdriver). Maybe he was even where Aunt Michelle got her own gift of gab -- and, indirectly, where I got mine.
When I asked him why we'd never met before, he got a sort of faraway look and said, "Well, we have met before, but you were just a tiny thing. At some point, Michelle and I decided that it would be better if we distanced ourselves personally speaking. The business can be a bit of a rumor mill sometimes."
"I see," I said, even though I had the feeling that I really didn't.
We only just arrived home from the wake not long ago, and already I'm nervous about tomorrow. I know, more or less, what Aunt Michelle left me -- she told me so herself -- and I have an idea of what to do with it, how to use it to help the fight. But that's for another time. Right now it's only an idea.
What will people say, when they hear that I've been given an inheritance? I tense up just thinking about how Angel may react. Aunt Michelle told me not to give up what's mine...but is it really mine in the first place?
I know it's early, but I need to get some sleep. I feel so heavy that it hurts to even type.
I don't know if I've told you lately, but I love you guys. Stay safe. I don't want to lose you, too.
After all, lately, I seem to be losing everyone.