It was a day that Connie would have celebrated. The weather was warm and the sky was sunny. San Francisco never looked better.
A crowd gathered at the cemetery. Many people from the newspaper, former classmates, relatives and her parents' friends came to show their support for Connie and her family. The family sat near the coffin which was poised to be lowered after the ceremony. The crowd surrounded the family and spilled out beyond the sitting area and tent.
Steve and Maya walked up and stood near the back.
"You should be closer," the tall brunette said to her younger brother.
"No," he whispered. "I can't. This is fine."
Mike had arrived earlier and frequently looked around to see if he could find Steve. He caught a glimpse of the young man who was staring down behind his sunglasses. The older man made his way through the crowd to his friend's side.
"Hey, how are you holding up?" Mike said as he placed his hand on his shoulder.
"I just want to get through this, that's all."
"You should be closer," the older detective advised.
Steve sighed. "No. It's fine, really," he responded a little shorter than intended. "Mike, meet my sister, Maya."
"Miss." he said as he shook her hand. "Sorry to meet you under these circumstances."
"I agree," she smiled shyly. "But it's good to meet you finally."
Maya was older than Mike imagined. She had to be in her early forties, at least. She bore no resemblance to her younger brother. She was tall, probably naturally taller than he. In fact, with heels, she had several inches on him. Her skin tone was olive and her features were broader. With her long brunette hair and incredibly round and dark eyes, Mike quickly wondered if they were full blooded brother and sister.
She held her brother's hand in hers and had her other arm wrapped around his waist as the service began.
They listened to a pastor deliver an eulogy that spoke of a hopeful and optimistic Connie who loved everyone. Her heart was compassionate and her spirit kind. Steve fixed his glance downward. Later, friends came up to speak a few words and share their memories of the young woman.
Maya squeezed her brother in a small hug for support.
The service closed out with music. Instrumentalists performed a couple of traditional songs, "How Great Thou Art" and "Amazing Grace". Her parents also selected a pre-recorded version of "Ave Maria" done by an Italian baritone. But at the end of the funeral, in honor of Connie's fondness for the Beatles, three friends sang "Let it Be" a cappella.
It was during the last song, that Steve lifted his hand to wipe a tear. He tried so hard not to let his emotions get the best of him. His sister drew him closer and Mike lay his hand on his shoulder. A few more tears fell, but for the most part, Steve was determined to hold it together and succeeded. It was the hardest thing he ever did.
At the receiving line, he shook the hand of Professor Mathers. "I'm so sorry, sir, for your loss."
"And I am sorry for yours. She loved you and I can tell you loved her very much."
Steve looked at Connie's mother and simply said, "Ma'am" and walked on.
He gave one last look at the coffin, reaching out for a quick touch. Mike and Maya stood back as their friend and brother paid his last respects.
As the trio walked back to their cars, Mike asked if Steve was going to the Mathers' for the after service reception.
"No, I'm not. We're heading back now to where Maya lives."
"You're not going home first?"
"No, I'm packed and my stuff is in her car. I never planned to stay any longer than the funeral."
"How long will you be gone?"
"I just don't know. I can't begin to tell you what this has done to me."
Mike wanted more of an answer, but didn't want to push. "Take some vacation time. A couple of weeks, perhaps. Just whatever you need."
"Mike," Steve paused for a moment, "I'm not even certain I'm going to come back," he admitted.
Mike was stunned and heartbroken. Maya walked off to let the two men talk freely.
"You need time, Steve. Don't rush this and don't make any decisions right now. I can arrange for any time off you need through Rudy. I can get Lenny to talk to you, too, if you think it might help. Maybe he'd be willing to take a trip out to your sister's."
"Thanks," he said quietly. "But I don't want to talk to Lenny right now. Honestly, Mike, I don't want to be a problem. I just don't know if I'll be worth anything if and when I come back. If you need me to resign, I will."
Mike snapped quickly. "Of course not. You're grieving and you've been through hell and back. Please, just give yourself time."
Steve simply nodded.
Mike's voice became gruff. "You call me, do you hear? You stay in touch with me. Take a week and then let me know how you're doing. We'll figure this out. Is your sister in the book?"
"No, but she's my emergency contact, so if you need to get a hold of me, you can call her."
"All right. Buddy-boy, please take care of yourself. And call me in a week, okay? If I don't hear from you, I'll call you."
Maya returned and took Steve by the hand as they walked to her car. "I'll talk to you in a week," the young man confirmed. He looked very sad at that moment.
Mike nodded and stood there until they drove away. "You'd better. I'm not going to lose you like this, Buddy boy. Not like this…no way," he whispered to himself.
A/N - And so it ends with Steve leaving and questioning whether he'll be able to return after all he's been through. A sequel story is in the works, so please stay tuned. I appreciate all the reviews, feedback and support. Thanks!