The morning of Todd’s funeral, Peighton stood in front of her mirror, staring at the black dress that had once been a bit too snug. It now hung loosely over her frame, further proof of the many meals she had missed and hours of sleep she hadn’t gotten since Todd’s death.
“Kyle,” she yelled down the hall at hearing his footsteps retreating from the bathroom. She ran her hands over her pearls one last time, grabbed her darkest sunglasses off of her vanity, and turned to leave her room. She followed her son’s footsteps down the hall and stopped in front of his bedroom door. “Kyle?” she called again.
“What?” he asked, swinging the door open quickly. She gasped at the sight of him: wearing a dark suit, his golden hair parted perfectly to the left, he looked so much like his father in moments like this. She pulled him into a hug. His arms never went around her, but he didn’t pull away, so she considered it a win.
“You look just like him, Kyle,” she said, tears in her eyes. They were used to tears by now, they seemed to take up a large part of every day. In the beginning, they’d tried to avoid looking at each other when they were crying, giving the other a sense of privacy, but now none of that seemed to matter.
“Do you need something?” he asked finally, his teenage wall going back up.
“I was going to ask you the same thing,” she said, clearing her throat and wiping a tear from her cheek. She nodded toward the tie that hung loosely around his neck.
He clutched it protectively. “No. I can do it myself.”
“Okay, sweetheart, that’s fine. It’s time to go, though.”
“I need a minute, Mom,” he said, annoyance radiating in his voice, and shut the door in her face.
She backed up, starting to walk away, but stopped. Waiting. She listened to him shuffling around behind his door, mumbling to himself. She heard him sigh, huffing, before opening the door again. His face showed defeat, his eyes red. He stared at her for just a moment before looking down at the floor. “Dad always tied my tie,” he said softly, his voice breaking. His hands went to his face immediately, his palms covering his eyes.
Her heart broke, another small piece falling off what she was sure must be a shriveled mess at that point. She could literally feel the pain in her heart since Todd had passed growing deeper and darker with each passing day. She stared at her son, feeling completely helpless. Finally, she reached for him. When he didn’t stop her, she took hold of his tie carefully.
“Well now, who do you think taught him?” she asked, trying to extract a smile from both of their miserable faces. He looked up at her, allowing her to tie it. “There now, how’s that?”
He ran his hands over the knot, nodding. “It’s good.”
“Good.” She smiled at him. “You ready?”
“No,” he said, “are you?”
She shook her head. “I never will be.”
As they made their way down the staircase, Isabel paced in front of them. “You guys look wonderful,” she told them politely, wiping her eyes with a handkerchief. Peighton smiled, pulling her housekeeper into a warm hug.
“He called earlier, said he will meet you there. The pallbearers are all arriving early. He didn’t want to rush you.” Isabel patted Kyle’s shoulders, dusting them clean and adjusting his tie. “You are so handsome, wee one.”
“Izzy, I’m not little anymore,” he said firmly, though his voice had a softer edge to it than it would have had if he said it to his mother.
“You will always be little to me.” She smiled. “So little to be dealing with something so big today. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. When I lost my husband, I remember…I don’t think I left the bed for weeks. There is nothing like that pain.” Her eyes filled with tears as she spoke. “You guys are the only family I know anymore, and I have lost a part of that today. Mr. Todd was a good man. I am so very sorry for your loss.” She pulled the handkerchief back out, patting her eyes again.
“Our loss,” Peighton corrected her. “He was your family too, like you said. You’re coming to the funeral, right?” she asked, staring at Isabel’s casual clothes.
“Of course, Ms. Peighton, I wouldn’t be anywhere else. I just wanted to get the house extra clean before everyone is over this evening. I’ll go change now.”
“Great. We’ll wait for you in the car. The house looks great, Isabel.” With that, the housekeeper hurried out of the room.
When Peighton opened the door, she was surprised to see a familiar face waiting for her. “Officer Nealson, what on earth are you doing here?”
He took a small step back, his gaze trailing her up and down, as if he were just as surprised as she was. “Oh—” he said, seemingly at a loss for words. “Oh, no. Is it…today’s the—”
“My husband’s funeral, yes,” she said, realizing his question before he could ask it.
“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Claiborne. I didn’t realize.” He looked genuinely apologetic and she couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for him.
“Peighton, please. Call me Peighton. And it’s all right.” She held her hand up, assuring him. “Is everything okay?”
“If this isn’t a good time, I can come back. I’m finishing up my second twelve-hour shift in twenty-four hours and I’m exhausted. I guess it just slipped my mind. I feel awful. I should have realized. I knew the funeral was today. I’m genuinely very sorry, Peighton,” he said, his voice soft.
“Would you like some coffee?” she asked. “I can fix you a to-go cup.”
He let out a laugh. “I’m sorry, that was rude. It’s just…today’s your husband’s funeral and you’re taking care of me.” He raised his eyebrows at her. “No, that’s very kind. I’m fine. It comes with the job. I can come back tomorrow, once this is all over, if you’d like.”
“Kyle, go get in the car, okay?” She turned to her son, who looked glad to get away from the obvious awkwardness of the situation. He disappeared through the door. Once he was out of sight, she continued. “What’s going on, Officer Nealson?”
“Well, to be frank, we found something troubling on your husband’s computer. I wanted to see if you could help us figure it out.”
“Okay,” she said, worry filling her chest. “Well, I guess you’re right that this probably isn’t the best time, although I can’t say this won’t have me worried all day.” She put her hands to her mouth, wondering what to do. “I’ll tell you what, we can talk about it after the funeral. I’m having a few people over for dinner, but we can sneak away. Isabel can manage.”
“You really don’t have to—”
“I won’t sleep tonight if I don’t know, but whatever it is…if you tell me now, I won’t be able to focus at the funeral. And I desperately need to be able to focus and say good-bye to my husband and be there for my son. It makes the most sense. I don’t really know what the right thing to do here is, nothing really seems right. I know that I need to be present today, mentally and physically, but I also need to know what you found.”
“I’m ready,” Isabel announced, walking into the room. “Oh, hello there. I didn’t realize we had company. Is everything all right, Ms. Peighton?”
“Yes, Isabel, this is—”
“Officer Nealson, of course. I didn’t recognize you at first. Are you bringing us good news on this dreadful day? Have you finally put the investigation to a rest?” she asked, words flying out of her mouth. Isabel was what Todd called ‘a fast talker,’ and with her Scottish accent, she could be hard to decipher to those who weren’t around her daily, but the officer seemed to understand.
“I’m afraid not, Isabel. It’s great to see you again, though I wish the circumstances were better.” He tipped his head to her. “Peighton, I’ll be back this evening. If you can’t deal with this tonight, feel free to call me. I can come back tomorrow if that’s easier for you.” He handed her his card, a separate number scratched on top that Peighton realized must have been his cell phone.
“Tonight will be—”
He held up his hand. “Just in case it isn’t. Trust me, you don’t know how you’ll feel when this is all over.”
She stopped short, seeing a hint of pain in his face she hadn’t noticed before. The words left her mouth before she realized they were coming. “You’ve lost someone before, haven’t you?”
He frowned, but held his head up, staring her directly in the eye for a moment too long before he spoke. “My wife.”
“I’m so sorry,” she said honestly. It was so easy for her to look at him as a cop, someone doing his job, without realizing he was a person too; someone who lived a whole life outside of the small window which she saw him in.
“It was a long time ago,” he said, his face unwavering. “Just trust me when I say…tonight could be bad. Worse than you can imagine. You think you’ve dealt with it all and that you’re ready, but you’re not. You can’t be. All I’m really trying to say is if you need extra time, it’s okay.” He turned from her, tipping his head in retreat, and began to walk away.
“Officer Nealson,” she called out, her words surprising her again. He turned back to her, his eyebrows raised. “I just wondered…I mean, would you like to come? With us?”