Much love to Nicki, bellamarie117, cosmogirl7481 and ltlerthqak ... without whom this wouldn't be what it is. Thank you, girls.
No copyright infringement is intended, Stephenie Meyer owns these characters.
I don't like the unknown.
I don't care for what I can't control.
My life up until this point has been orderly and controlled. There have been little to no surprises. Mom still goes shopping with me to offer her opinion, and I spend my weekdays working in Dad's office as a receptionist. I live an easy (if not boring) life with my best friend, Rosalie in a condo that used to belong to my parents.
Nothing much ever changes, and I like it that way.
When things do change and I'm not prepared for it, I tend to freak out. And right now, I'm kind of freaking out. Everything and everyone has a place. Boots go on the top shelf, jeans go on the right side of the closet and dress shirts belong on the left.
And me? I belong in California.
Right now, I'm not where I belong, and I feel like someone has moved my jeans to the left side of the closet without my permission.
I have this compulsive need to fix what I can't fix, even though I know it's not really that far out of place. It's just… different. Still, it bugs me.
Rain is falling softly on my newly styled hair as I exit my car and look around. The fall breeze blows around me, raising goosebumps on my exposed limbs. I'm already frustrated and the rain is making me even more uncomfortable. This weather is so different from what I'm used to.
I don't really know what I'm doing here. Acting this rashly is really out of character for me; I know the consequences of careless actions. Something could change or break; falling out of reach of my control.
It's easier to keep things the same if you just go with the flow. Rocking the boat just isn't my style.
To my surprise, I was forced to park almost a block away. The cold wind slices through me, lifting the hem of my dress. I begin to shiver. Wishing I had thought to bring my dress coat, I take the first step, alone, like a lost fish in a sea of people. The strangers walking in the dreary weather alongside me offer soft smiles and looks of pity. There are hundreds of them—men, women and children, something I definitely didn't expect to see. I'm thankful for it, though. More people make it easier to blend in.
As subtly as possible, I peer around at their faces, wishing. Neither the things, nor the people I see are familiar. I'd hoped for some kind of spark, some whisper of recognition.
But I've got nothing.
There's a low murmur of sound in the crowd – a hum – as people take their spots and wait for the start of the ceremony. If I were smarter, or if I'd thought ahead, I would have chosen to hide beneath a tree and watch from a distance. Instead, I am swept into the cloud of sadness that lingers above us all. I keep my head down; both to keep the rain out of my eyes and to gather my thoughts. I don't truly belong here, and the feeling of helplessness spirals inside me.
I wonder if they can tell that I don't fit. I glance around, curious if my outfit tells them something about me. My dark blue dress feels like it may as well be a red flag; they're dressed in blacks, charcoals and browns. Some are wearing guns on their hips, complimenting the shiny badges on their chests. A few even have tear stains on their cheeks. I don't match, and to me I feel as if I'm sticking out like a sore thumb. I look for a place to stand.
Despite the throngs of people that surround me, my eyes are drawn to one. Standing in front of the casket draped in red, white and blue, there is a woman with dark skin and short black hair. Her eyes are rimmed in red, and the Kleenex she's holding in her hand looks like it should have been replaced several sniffles ago. Still, she's clutching it as if it's the last one she may ever have.
My hand twitches in a comfortable, practiced motion. Suddenly I'm desperate for a pen or a pencil. Her expression, so grave and desolate, is somehow beautiful to me, and I wish I had anything that would enable me to detail her pain on paper. It makes me wish I'd thought to bring my sketch book.
To her right, a large boy clutches an umbrella over their heads. On her left, a sour faced girl holds the sad woman's arm. Her face is fierce and determined, as if she's trying to keep the broken woman from falling.
I can't help but wonder who she was to him – who they were to him.
Even more, I can't help but wonder who I was to him.
When my phone rang two days ago, I'd answered it expecting James. My last date with him had been a complete failure. Our normally fun exchanges were off, and I had no explanation for why. I grabbed the phone eagerly to let him know I was running a few minutes behind for our date, instead, someone unfamiliar had been on the line.
"Hi, J," I answered, grabbing my bag from the table. "I'm on my way out the door now."
"Miss Dwyer?" It was an unfamiliar voice, and I paused, trying to place it.
"Shit," I murmured. "Sorry, I thought you were someone else. Yes, this is Isabella Dwyer."
"Miss Dwyer, my name is Jacob Black. I'm calling regarding one of my clients. I'm very sorry for your loss ma'am; I know how difficult this all must be for you. I was hoping you were planning to be in town to attend the reading of the will."
"I'm sorry, what?" I asked, confused. My heart picked up speed and worry crept into my chest. My parents... They were away on a trip. Images of terrible accidents flew through my mind, and I prayed that nothing had happened.
"The reading of the will," he replied. I stood there, puzzled. On the other end of the line I could hear papers shuffling, and then he said a name I didn't recognize.
"I'm sorry Mr. Black; I don't know anyone by that name. Are you sure you have the right person?" I asked, even more confused.
"This is Isabella Dwyer, Correct? You were born September thirteenth, nineteen eighty-seven in Seattle, Washington?"
"Uh, yeah… that's my— uh, that's me. Listen, I don't want to be rude, but how did you get this number?"
"It's listed in the paperwork my client left with me," Mr. Black replied, sounding a bit confused.
"I'm sorry Mr. Black, but I think you've got the wrong person."
I'd hung up before he could say anything else.
My date with James was another failure. Though I'd been committed to giving him one more chance, for some reason, I couldn't seem to get the phone call out of my mind, and I couldn't stop running the dead man's name over and over in my head, trying desperately to place it.
I'd been distracted the entire night, and when James dropped me off at home, with a vague promise to call me the next day, I nodded noncommittally. The earlier phone call was still ringing in my ears, a puzzle I couldn't find the missing piece to. I checked my machine again, finding that there had been more messages left by Mr. Black. The second one included details for not only the reading of this mystery man's will, but for his funeral as well.
I tried shrugging it off, pushing it to the side; tried to laugh at the fact that of all the wrong numbers I'd ever received, this one took the cake. I was sure that the man had me confused for someone else, or that perhaps Renee might have known the poor gentleman who had died. I reasoned with myself that maybe somehow their information was old, or incorrect.
Still though, I really disliked not knowing. In order to make sense of it all, I tried to contact my mother. I knew it wasn't going to be easy – the last number I had for her and my dad was a hotel in Prague, and their itinerary taped to the fridge clearly showed that they should be in France by then. On a whim, they'd decided to spend time backpacking through Europe like a couple of teenagers.
I always wondered why I never possessed their sense of casualness about everything. This trip was closest I'd ever come to emulating their carefree behavior.
Days later, after several attempts to reach her and my dad, I still hadn't heard from them. I'd left message after message at the last place I knew they'd stayed, hoping that soon enough, they'd return my calls. For my sanity, I needed to find out what was going on and put this whole mix-up to rest.
For two days, the whole thing just gnawed at me: the man's name, and the fact that my name had somehow been listed, not to mention the lawyer having my birth date. I tried telling myself it was just a coincidence, but after losing sleep to the questions in my head for those two nights in a row, and not receiving any kind of reply from my parents, I decided to take action. I impulsively found myself on the phone to the airlines.
The next morning, without telling anyone what I was doing, I was at SFO boarding a flight to Washington State.
It wasn't like anyone was going to miss the boss' daughter if she didn't show up for a few days of work. And the only way I could get answers – get some kind of control – was to be here.
Walking softly to keep my heels from sinking into the wet earth, I find a comfortable spot behind two taller men where I can peer through the gap in their arms. Somewhere in the distance, I hear music start. The high pitched notes of a bagpipe begin to carry on the breeze, weaving through the bodies and the air around me. The song is familiar and haunting, and I look to my left and into the crowd. The music makes the murmurs of the gathered mourners immediately disappear. I watch, taking a mental picture, as everyone closes their eyes and listens to each note and absorbs the meaning behind it.
As detached as I may feel, even I find that my chest is tight with emotion as I listen to the notes.
Soft voices whisper around me as the song concludes, until two men covered in neatly-pressed dress blues step toward the casket.
It's difficult to see their faces from my vantage point, but I can see their hands. One man in particular, the one who is turned opposite to me, catches my attention. I find my eyes glued to him. I'm mesmerized by the way his long fingers and strong arms move. His motions are precise, meticulous, as he and the other man fold the flag that adorned the top of the granite colored casket into careful triangles.
My hand twitches again, my fingers tracing the ghostly figure into the air as I commit each detail to memory; such beauty deserves to be on paper.
As they work, a new song begins, even sadder than the last. Everyone around me bows their heads, but I keep my gaze on the folding of the flag, and the precise movements of the beautiful hands.
...Through many dangers, toils and snares... I have already come; 'tis Grace that brought me safe thus far...
Impulsively, I count; when they've finished, there are thirteen folds. Both men move with military precision and care, each movement clearly practiced to make this perfect. As they finish, each takes a turn, offering a final salute to their fallen comrade. It's a gesture that not only says goodbye, but speaks volumes of how much respect they held for the deceased. Absently, I wonder how missed he will be.
...Yeah, when this flesh and heart shall fail, and mortal life shall cease, I shall possess within the veil, A life of joy and peace...
It's the man with the fingers my eyes are still drawn to; I can almost feel the respect he held for the man inside the coffin in the way his shoulders remain so straight. When the flag is placed in his hands, he's careful – keeping it level with his waist with his head held high.
He walks to the woman with the Kleenex, replacing the old tissue in her hands with the neatly folded flag.
...Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound...
With a final salute and a kiss to her cheek, he moves to stand at her side. And for some reason, I want to see him, to offer my sympathy with a simple look. But I can't. His face is shadowed by the brim of his hat, eyes cast down to his white gloved hands clasped in front of him. Murmurs pick up once more, and then the shots begin and everyone's eyes point to the sky.
I zone out then, biting my lip in thought. There's something about all of this: hearing Taps, seeing those thirteen folds, and the ringing that's left behind in my ears from the twenty-one shots made into the air. The imagery of it all, the careful ceremony so layered with respect and grief, makes my insides clench. Everything is traditional and holds so much symbolism. All signs of respect for someone who has died the way this man did.
The rest of the funeral goes by in what feels like a blur, and I'm startled when the crowd around me starts to move. As we all stand poised to exit the cemetery, person after person speak around me in hushed whispers about honor and nobility, offering their quiet praise to a fallen hero. Their words are heartfelt, and they help me realize and understand that every bit of what's happening today is a well-deserved tribute to someone who left this world too soon.
His accolades are passed from person to person, kind remembrances of the man he was lingering like their own entity amongst the crowd. Expressions of grief layered with stories of what a great person he was surround me on all sides, making me yearn in an odd way. I can't help myself from wishing that I had known him.
Because this man, the reason I'm here – Charles Swan – gave his life to protect another.
Chapter 2 will post on Wednesday 11/17/10. Keep an eye out for teasers on The Fictionators and Edwardville.
As per usual, I'm behind the couch right about now. Thank you so much for taking the time to read, I'd love to know what your impressions are (and if you have any questions).
Reviewers will receive a teaser for Chapter 2.