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The Beginning After by Kiersten Modglin (5)

Five

PEIGHTON

As it turned out, Officer Nealson had been right. Peighton, as prepared as she thought she was, could have never been ready for the horror Todd’s funeral brought. The funeral home, clad with a giant picture of Todd, dark walnut casket, and too many yellow roses, was filled with a surprising number of guests. As Peighton looked around, she realized all too quickly she didn’t know most of the attendants. She took a deep breath, trying desperately to keep the tears from falling already. We’ve only just begun, she reminded herself, so much more to go. Pull it together. But it was no use, as she walked closer to the casket, the final place her husband would ever rest, the tears began falling without notice.

She touched the soft red satin that filled the inside of the casket, moving her hands to her husband. The pallbearers, men that Todd had worked with, one of his brothers, his father, and Frank, stepped back—allowing Peighton a moment of peace with her husband. She ran her hands through his hair, coiffed perfectly as usual. His skin had a strange hue, and she could see the makeup layered on to cover up the bruises and discoloration. She touched his cheek lightly, watching as a tear fell onto his skin. Quickly, she rubbed it away, hoping not to wipe away the perfect façade. She ran a hand down over his tie, tied by someone else entirely, remembering the many years ago when they’d turned to Yahoo to teach them how to tie the perfect knot for his first office job. She could almost laugh remembering how they doubted they’d ever figure it out. She laid her head down on her husband’s chest, all too aware of the absence of breathing, the lack of heartbeat. She would never rest her head on his chest again, run her fingers across the patches of hair that covered his heart. As she laid there, her body pressed on her husband’s for what she knew would be the last time, she let herself cry as loud and obnoxiously as she wanted. She let the surroundings fall away, let her guard down, and let herself grieve for what felt like the first time.

Finally, when she could catch her breath once more, she stood up, wiping away the last remaining tears on her face. She leaned down, pressing her lips to her husband’s cheek. “I love you,” she whispered. “I’ll miss you. I’ll think of you every day. Watch over us, teddy bear.” She smiled as she recalled the name she hadn’t called him since college. She could almost picture him cringing. Beside her, Kyle approached the casket, placing his hand on his father’s. He ran his fingers over his father’s gold wedding band.

“Do you think he can hear us?” he asked, surprising Peighton with how steady his voice was.

“I think so,” Peighton told him, watching his face. She saw his jaw quiver just a bit and stepped back. “Take your time, Kyle. Tell him what you need to.” She walked back to where the rest of the visitors stood, a somber silence filling the room as Kyle leaned down, whispering quietly to his father.

Across the room, Peighton locked eyes with Frank, whose gaze traveled to Officer Nealson questioningly. She shook her head slightly. Later she mouthed to him. His lips grew tight, staring between the two of them before he finally nodded, turning to face the doors as they were pulled open by the funeral director.

As the room began to fill with funeral attendees, Peighton and Kyle made their way to the side of the casket, condolences and hugs being passed out. The rest of their group made their way cautiously toward their seats. Through the crowd, Peighton couldn’t help but look for Officer Nealson, subconsciously keeping a check on him. He sat alone, in the very back of the room, a solemn look on his face. Every once in a while, his eyes would find her as if he too were drawn to her, and once their gazes would meet they would pull away quickly. Peighton could feel the blush growing on her cheeks, knowing he was watching her. Something about this man made her feel uneasy, her whole body on edge.

“I’m so sorry, Peighton.” Alexis stood in front of them, tears in her eyes. On her hip, she carried the baby. Peighton leaned down, kissing his forehead before pulling her friend into a hug.

“Thank you guys for coming,” Peighton said, rubbing her back. She held the hug for too long, allowing her friend to take some of the weight she felt like she was carrying. Behind her, Micah approached, his hands going to Alexis’ back.

“Peighton, Kyle, please let us know if there’s anything we can do for you,” he told them. “I mean that.”

Peighton nodded, watching as Kyle shook his hand. She stared at her son, realizing how grown up he’d become over the last week: years’ worth of growing in just a few days. She pulled him into her, feeling him stiffen slightly, but he didn’t pull away. When she looked up to greet the next person, she was shocked to see a familiar face.

“You,” she said, her pulse racing. “What are you doing here?”

He smiled at her, a small crooked smile that she remembered well. Her skin went ice cold as he began to speak. “Hello, Peighton.”

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