Requiem In Passing
Soaked, creaking, the faded orange lifting strap wrapped under the statue's left ankle began to fray. None of the workmen noticed, their vision obscured in the dusk and driving rain. It was cold and wet and getting late and they wanted the job over and done with. Bryce would have quite liked them gone, too.
His eyes kept on the signals from his teammates, the crane operator pushed the lever forward and Lara's memorial statue, swinging slightly, began to move backwards towards its pedestal.
The team waved it in, viewing it from all angles, guiding the way.
With a sudden snap, the strap gave out and the statue fell a little way, hanging crookedly and precariously and drawing a few startled shouts, friction only just managing to keep its hold on the remaining two lifting points as the stone likeness threatened to slip out of their hold.
With nobody hurt and the statue now dangling stoically, the men dove forwards to catch it before it fell, shouting instructions to each other, bracing themselves underneath the weight.
Sheltering in the church, Bryce turned away sharply from the darkened window.
"I think you should come."
Pulled out of his thoughts, Bryce looked up to see Hillary leaning over him, his hand on the plate of half-eaten toast he was about to collect from the kitchen table. Bryce didn't answer, instead simply gently pulling the plate back towards him. The breakfast was relinquished, Hillary straightening up again.
"You owe it to her."
"Funerals are for the living, Hillary, not the dead. Lara won't care if I'm there or not and I don't need to be." He picked up a slice of the cold toast and looked at it listlessly as he turned it about. He dropped it back to the plate.
"Alright, then. But I think you do."
Bryce just shook his head.
Turning back to the washing up, the butler continued. "People might think you don't care if they don't see you there."
"She knew I did."
There was silence, then. Hillary stilled his hands in the suds for a moment, bowing his head as he gathered his patience. "I really think you should come."
Bryce slouched further in the pine kitchen chair, taking an unwanted bite of his food and chewing it with some effort.
"The statue's chipped, y'know. On the toe. The workmen told me."
"Yes. I've seen it. It caught the pedestal when the strap broke."
"I don't know how I feel about that. I mean, on the one hand, I think we should get a new one." He rolled one of his heels against the floor tiles and then braced his other foot flat against the floor as he began to slip further. "On the other hand, I'd feel bad about that. Sort of like this one's got Lara's spirit or something."
Hillary turned back around to clear the toast rack and jam. He gave Bryce an understanding smile. "Yes, I know what you mean. I've got somebody coming to see about a repair, and the installation company is going to pay."
After a moment, Bryce stood and went to tip the rest of his toast in the bin, before going to wash the plate. Hillary, wiping the table down, moved so that Bryce could get by.
"Do you remember that time you tripped on the stairs, and sprained your ankle, and Lara did the washing up because you had to rest it?"
"Yes," Hillary smiled. "Yes, I do."
"You're dead, y'know."
The picture – Lara smiling up towards the ceiling as she sat with her forearms resting on her crossed knee – just continued to radiate the same joy it always did, not reacting to Bryce's revelation.
He poked it, shoving the silver frame back across the desk a little.
"You hear me? You're dead now."
Pressing his lips together in a show of amicable resignation, he propped his chin in his palm and looked around the library, full of all sorts of books and papers and ornaments. He wasn't losing his mind. He was just…dealing, in his own way. Mourning was unique to everyone, after all.
He spied a dirty mug on a bookshelf half way along the wall. He didn't want to know how long it had been there, but it was most likely a good while. He hadn't left it, Hillary certainly wouldn't have, and Lara was just the type to put down a finished drink and forget about it when she was in the midst of her research. It was easy for Hillary to miss things like that.
Sighing, he got up and crossed to the bookcase, picking up the mug and looking inside. He made a noise of disgust, recoiling slightly. Whatever dregs there may have been in there had long since evaporated, and a culture of mould had taken root some time ago. Bryce sighed again, marching out of the library and along the hall, meaning to take the mug to Hillary and have him deal with it.
It was bright that afternoon and a cold sunshine was streaming in through the large windows, filling the hall with blocky areas of harsh light and paler shadow. His own shadow followed him quickly and he strode along the hallway and out onto the landing overlooking the main foyer.
Just as he got there, the doorbell rang. Bryce stood and waited for the sound of Hillary's approaching, hurried footsteps. He'd have heard the bell; it was piped all over the house.
Hillary didn't seem to be coming, however, so, sighing, Bryce went for it instead. Sheer laziness had stopped him initially, he supposed.
"Hang on, I'm coming!" he shouted, hurrying down the stairs and towards the door.
It was their usual postman, wrapped up warm in his winter uniform and weighed down by a heavy bag.
"Mornin'. Got a recorded delivery for ya," he said. He was holding out a handful of letters, which Bryce took and threw onto the end table just next to the door. The promised parcel was withdrawn from the postman's bag and handed over.
"It's for Ms Croft. I suppose she's away again, is she?"
Slightly open-mouthed, Bryce just stared.
The postman looked a little taken aback. "It's alright, you can sign for it." He held out an electronic tablet and, seeming rather dazed, Bryce took it and scribbled his signature with the stylus.
"Thanks," the postman said, taking it back and giving Bryce a curious look. "See ya." He turned and began to leave, giving another glance over his shoulder, his face almost wary.
Shutting the door first, Bryce picked up the parcel from the table and held it in both hands, looking at it, somewhat dumbfounded.
'L. Croft', it said at the top of the address.
Blinking furiously and his face growing hot, he swallowed back tears.
The parish vicar's voice gradually became audible to Bryce as he approached in the light rain, footsteps crunching on the wet gravel of the churchyard pathway from the road.
"…she was, and is, an inspiration to us all. Through the way she lived her life, she taught us tenacity, conviction, friendship and loyalty."
The funeral attendees – a small but committed gathering, reflecting Lara's insistence to keep only a few but especially worthy friends close to her – were standing in neat lines in front of the memorial statue. Hillary was at the front and centre; from his vantage point off to one side, Bryce could see him remaining as dutiful and stoically British as ever, back straight and shoulders back, eyes forward. He was trembling with the effort and it was clear, despite Hillary's determined lack of acknowledgement of them, that there were tears.
"We are all so much the richer for having known her, loved her, been influenced by her; I am sure that she felt the same about us," the vicar continued. Bryce, feeling rather numb, clenched his cold fists in his pockets and stayed where he was, unnoticed.
"With heavy hearts we must part with Lara – may she find as much brilliant adventure in Heaven as she did here on Earth. Let us now retire to the church to give thanks to our Lord who has most certainly received our beloved Lara into His arms."
Nobody spoke as the saddened group turned and made for the church, leaving Bryce behind. Hillary, though, glanced around quickly before joining them; he saw Bryce, standing there on the grass. They exchanged small smiles and then Hillary followed the others.
Bryce turned his attention to the statue. Approaching, he checked the toe that had been damaged and rubbed his fingers over it, testing the quality of the repair.
"I know you didn't really go in for that religious stuff anymore," he said to her, staring up at her as she towered above him, guns readied and gazing off into the distance on an eternal lookout for danger. "Hillary just thought that you should have something traditional, that's all." He sighed. "I don't know why – you were never traditional. Still, I suppose you're happy for him to have what he wants. You always were indulging him – him and his need to keep things proper."
Dropping his gaze, he flattened his lips in an attempt at a smile and the opening organ notes of a hymn sounded out faintly from the church building. Voices joined in, surprisingly loud for so few participants.
His fingertips were tracing patterns on the plinth, and he realised that if she'd been there, he'd have been squeezing her hand or touching her arm or making some other small movement to say goodbye. He looked up at her once more, blinking as a few of the fine, invisible raindrops fell into his eyes.
"I love you. Bye, Lara."
Bryce turned and walked back the way he had come, head down, hands in his pockets.