Laura wished Mark Sechrest didn't have such a large mirror on the wall of his office. She examined the wan features reflected back at her. The red-rimmed eyes, the chewed lips, the pallor stark against red hair all testified to what she'd been through over the past twenty-four hours. He was speaking in soothing professional tones about the complexities of multiple arrangements…everybody having to put their grief aside to coordinate logistics…he glanced at the empty chair by her side from time to time, as if he wished she had a husband, a partner, a best friend to help her through this.
She watched the woman in the mirror with distracted feelings of sympathy. She looked too alone for what she had to do.
"Miss Roslin? Can I get you some water? Coffee?"
"No. I'd like to get this done."
"Certainly." He leaned slightly to check the tissue box on the side table next to her. He seemed relieved it was full.
Laura imagined he went through lots of tissues in a week, a month…the realization that the chair she sat in was probably occupied daily with a shell-shocked man or woman reeling from loss made her body clench. So much death. She wondered if this had been the same office she and her father and sisters had been in when they made her mother's arrangements. It seemed bigger than it had been when the four of them had filled the guest chairs.
"Now, Cheryl's husband will be making her arrangements, is that right?"
The funeral director cleared his throat before starting again. "Your father had a pre-need contract with us, as you know. He left very specific instructions."
"I…good. That's good." She nodded once.
"Would you like to see the casket your father chose?"
No. I don't want to see his casket, or hear details about the construction of his vault, or pick a color for his frakking satin pillow.
"I suppose…yes, I should."
He rose and straightened his black suit jacket. "We have several caskets in the Athena Room that might be appropriate for Sandra."
"Appropriate." Her mouth barely moved as she spoke. Will it have a lighted mirror, a travel wine set, a loop of family stories set into the lid?
"Appropriate" and "casket for Sandra" was an obscene combination of words, the wrongness of it hitting her in her stomach, her throat. Somewhere nearby, in another branch of Sechrest Funeral Homes, her brother-in-law was in a similar room, trying to match finishes and brass handles and satin interiors to Cheryl and their unborn, now neverborn, baby.
Mr. Sechrest touched her elbow to guide her from his office to the long hall leading to the display area. Acidic tears seemed to gather in the back of her throat as she looked down the hall and saw double doors opening on to a showroom of open caskets. She jerked away, her tight control slipping. "Where's the ladies' room?"
He led her across the hall, opening the door for her as she bolted into the bathroom. She barely heard the stall door bang shut behind her as she bent and retched, gathering back her hair in one hand as she supported her shaking body with the other. Each time she thought she was done, the image of the officers at her apartment door floated in front of her eyes, twisting her inside out again.
Finally finishing, she flushed and went to the sink to wash her face and rinse her mouth. She stared at the back of the restroom door as she leaned against the cool metal side of the stall.
A minute. I just need a minute. A time-out…then I can go back out there and…
Her stomach quaked again and she closed her eyes, trying to focus on the words she could barely hear over the hum of the air conditioning. She idly wondered how long it was appropriate for her to hide in the bathroom before getting back to the business of burying her family.
Mark Sechrest had been doing this for years, like his father before him. There was always something that had to come out, he thought. Sometimes it was tears, sometimes it was throwing up, and sometimes it was a vase smashed against a bathroom counter in despair and anger. He checked his watch and stepped into his secretary's office.
"Check on Miss Roslin in a couple of minutes, would you? I'm going to review her father's file again. That poor woman needs somebody with her."
"Sure, Mr. Sechrest." The middle-aged woman finished her spreadsheet entry and turned away from her keyboard towards her boss. "Have you started calling the pall bearers on Mr. Roslin's list?"
"No, but that's a good place to start. I can't get her to identify any support person for herself, but maybe one of them can."
He went back in his office and opened the Roslin file again. The handwritten list Mr. Roslin had prepared was near the front of the folder. Mark smiled to himself. Meticulous old guy. He'd even put the names in alphabetical order, with contact numbers written neatly by each name.
"Wish me luck," he called to his secretary as she passed his door on her way to the ladies' room.
He'd start at the top, work his way down, he thought.
He reached for his phone and began dialing.
Bill kept one hand in his pocket, his other hand tight in Laura's grip as her fingers flexed and dug into his. He'd been out the door before Sechrest had stopped talking, throwing the phone to Helo to hang up as he headed for his bike. His hands still had grease in the creases, though he'd wiped the worst of it off on his jeans at stoplights. Laura had backed away from the hug he'd tried to give her, then grabbed his hands like they were lifelines. He had nodded at her withdrawal, trying to tell her without words that he understood her need to build walls around herself today.
He could help her dismantle the walls when this was over. Right now, she needed their protection against the mushy soft chords playing in the background, the air freshener and carnation scent heavy in the air.
She was looking at him, red-eyed and expectant. He focused on the swatches arrayed on the polished light oak of the casket.
"How about the peach? Looks kinda like the blouse she was wearing in that family portrait your Dad had in his office."
"It does, doesn't it?" Her tone softened as her hand eased its grip. "She did like that color."
Bill drew out her thoughts with careful words, guiding her through the process of all the choices that needed to be made. A part of him was amazed that they could be so comfortable with each other after so little contact over the past three years.
He looked at her lips out of the corner of his eye. He could still feel their smooth warmth after all this time, that goodbye kiss that had surprised them both. He hadn't seen her again after an asshole Gemenese judge had agreed with Carolanne that the boys shouldn't see their father in prison.
His last year inside, "Laura Roslin" had been a signature at the bottom of a handful of professional, encouraging letters that were screened by guards before coming to his hands. He sometimes wondered if she kept a small stack of his return notes in a desk drawer, maybe shoved to the back by more important correspondence. The "thank yous" for keeping him updated on the boys, the progress he was making on getting a degree in History by mail, his latest model-building, the counting down the days until he was free…the careful avoidance of making plans, of assuming too much.
He had kept every one of her letters, shoving them into his duffle bag as he left his cell for the last time. They'd gone into his personal safe in his room at the club, sealed away from the raucous celebration that shut down Adama Automotive Repair for two days straight.
He hadn't looked at them again since the day he had glanced down at some old newspaper under a drip pan and seen her, smiling and glorious, next to a tall, trim guy with a 20-cubit haircut and a carefully veneered grin. District Attorney Adar and Assistant School Superintendent Roslin attend Caprica City fundraiser for "Arts in Schools", the caption had read.
He'd pushed the letters to the back of his safe after work that night, focusing his energy on the club and his boys, and told himself to quit chasing after pipe dreams. It was their shared history and old promises to her father that had him flying to the funeral home, he told himself, not any hopes of re-kindling old flames.
By his side, Laura had grown steadier, calmer as she went over the list of options and arrangements. Her hand had finally loosened enough on his so he could run a soothing thumb over her palm. He noticed the lack of rings on her fingers and wondered what had ever become of that guy in the paper.
Laura's fingers left his grip to take up a pen as she started signing off on the pages of contracts and agreements. Bill stuck his hand back in his pocket and looked around the showroom. His eyes fell on the streamlined gray model that had been Mr. Roslin's choice—almost a military casket, with a few more carvings around the corners to give it a civilian flare. His wind-weathered eyes stung as he realized there would be no Colonial flag draped over Mr. Roslin's coffin, no final rifle salute fired over him. The wrongness of that made his chest tight.
"That's everything, Miss Roslin. If you could have the clothes back here by noon, and a recent picture of both, that'd be great." Mr. Sechrest took the papers and handed them off to his secretary. "And the makeup your sister usually wore, if you want. Whatever you feel she would have preferred."
"Of course." Her tone was cool and steady now. Bill could tell that Assistant Superintendent Roslin had taken the forefront, letting Laura retreat to gather herself together and prepare for the next tasks. He reached for her hand again, then paused as he heard a quavering "Laura?" coming from the hallway.
She clasped her hands in front of her as she blinked tears out of her glistening green eyes. "Bill, that's Cheryl's…my brother-in-law. I need to—"
"I know, Laura. You go do what you need to do." For a second he folded his big callused hands over hers and held her eyes. "I'm right here if you need me."
His hold tightened as one tear slid down her cheek and her breath shuddered. "I know," she echoed.
He pulled her towards him, their hands still together, and kissed her temple as gently as a priest's benediction. He wiped her tear with his thumb and returned her watery smile. She whispered a breathy "Thank you" as she turned away to comfort the grieving new widower.
Mr. Roslin would be proud of her, he thought, as he watched her walk away.
The next days blurred together as Laura went as she was guided, sitting or standing according to the direction of others. She had barely caught her breath from standing at her father and Sandra's gravesides when it was time to return to the chapel for Cheryl's service. Her anchor had been a broad back and squared shoulders in navy wool, a tanned hand gripping one of the steel handles of her father's final bed as she followed him one last time through the chapel doors.
She could still feel his presence from the back of the packed chapel, one of a number of men lined up along the back of the crowd, standing straight and silent. Knowing he was there felt like an old warm coat of her father's being wrapped around her shoulders, giving her the strength to comfort her brother-in-law as he wept beside her.
The sun was heading towards the horizon when Cheryl was laid to rest. The mourners began to say their last words of useless comfort and straggle out of the cemetery as staff began the tasks of finishing the burials.
"You look exhausted."
She turned at the rich rumble and gave Bill a half-smile. "I am." She looked over his snowy white dress shirt, his carefully pressed suit. "I don't think I've ever seen you in a suit before."
"You haven't. This is the first time I've worn it. I bought it when your Dad asked me to do this a few years ago."
She shook her head. "You and my Dad…"
"He was a good friend, Laura. To a lot of people."
"I'd like for us to talk about that someday."
Her head jerked towards a low rumbling coming from a distance. It seemed to be getting closer.
"What's that noise?"
He looked in the direction of the noise. "That's…some people who wanted to do a last service for your father."
Rows of black motorcycles roared into view and pulled into the now-deserted cemetery parking lot. Rough men in leather and denim dismounted, walking towards the funeral director as a few more cars and pick-ups pulled up carrying older men, some missing a limb, others still carrying the thousand-yard stare. Over half wore a piece of Colonial Fleet uniform: a jacket, a cap, an old dress sash.
"We didn't want to disrupt the services." Bill explained. "The director said it would be okay for them to finish the graves."
She watched the younger men take up shovels left by groundskeeper's shed. A man in red and brown raiment read from a scroll as they pulled the artificial grass back and started to work.
"That priest…he's from the House of Mars, isn't he?" She found herself whispering her question to Bill as they watched from a distance.
"Yeah. He's Tauron…he's a friend of the club."
He tucked her hand around his crooked forearm, covering her chilled fingers. "Let's get you home."
He had dreamed of this…walking into her apartment, knowing that there were no barriers to their being together. No bars, no Carolanne in the way, no one to judge them unsuitable for each other. He looked around the cluttered comfortable room and wondered if this space would ever become part of his world.
She'd squeezed his hand as she went to her room to change out of her funeral clothes. He thought of the soft curves that would be revealed as she undressed and flushed red as he remembered their last frantic coupling in her father's Mustang. So many years ago and yet it seemed so clear…
He was staring at a familiar object on her bookshelf when he heard her bare feet whispering against the carpet behind him. He turned and his breath caught for a second—she looked almost like the teenager she'd once been, in faded jeans and a man's shirt falling past her thighs. The day had added to the fine lines at her eyes and around her mouth, but she was still the girl who part of him had never stopped thinking of as "his".
"What're you doing with this?" he asked with a smile as he nodded towards the bookshelf.
She ran a finger down the mended wing of the model Viper. "It took some damage on the ride back from the…from seeing you. I tried to put it back together."
"I bet this was Lee's."
"How did you know?"
He smiled. "Lee was pretty mad at me back then. Mad at a lot of things."
He watched her straighten up, going from one area of the living room to another with no plan or purpose, just shifting a few books, some condolence cards from one spot to another. He could feel the heaviness in the air, like the stillness before a thunderstorm…the thickness that silences the birds' singing and sends wildlife scurrying for cover. He accepted the glass of wine she offered him from a half-full bottle on the kitchen bar, then watched as she drained the bottle into her own glass. She was developing a thousand-yard stare of her own, he thought as he sat beside her on the couch.
She pulled her bare feet up under her and leaned back, taking a deep swallow of the light red wine as she looked past his shoulder.
"How are the boys?"
"Well, Lee's riding now, and Zak's been begging to start…School is good, although I don't think they'll ever have a teacher they like as much as they liked you…."
Her eyes had closed as she listened. He thought he could go on talking for hours if it meant she could keep that calm expression on her face, the corners of her mouth barely turned up as he rambled about his sons, his mundane descriptions of everyday life. Her shoulders had started to loosen, and she turned her cheek against the afghan folded over the back of the couch. He was just thinking that she was handling everything almost frighteningly well when he saw the wine's surface start to quiver against her glass as her hand began shaking.
Her face was pressed into the woven wool afghan, eyes screwed tight and nostrils flaring as she inhaled increasingly desperate breaths. He took the glass out of her limp fingers and moved closer. As he brought his face closer to hers, he got the scent of a light floral perfume, still clinging to the afghan. Not anything she would have worn…he watched her throat work and the first tears started to slip through her closed eyelids. More like something one of her.… Oh. He raised his hand to her cheek.
"They were right here." He voice was thick with tears and disbelieving horror. "They were right here, Sharon on one side, Cheryl on the other, me in the middle." Her eyes were open now, begging him to make this make sense. "How could they be right here, not even a week ago? I had dinner with Daddy last Sunday...how can they be here one minute and then just…gone?"
Laura was gulping air now, the thin threads of shock that had been a veil between her and her feelings snapping one by one as she shook her head against the wrongness of everything. Bill could feel sympathetic tears welling up as he remembered that gutted feeling of watching a fellow Viper pilot singing through space one minute, then watching their light on the DRADIS blink out. He remembered a faint mix of scented soap and gunmetal on a thin pillow in his rack that had come and gone for weeks before finally fading.
Swallowing hard, he moved closer to pull her into his arms as her body began to shudder in waves of wracking sobs, the strangled words of denial, of impossible wanting slipping out between the gasps. He ran his broad hands over her back over and over as she moaned into his chest, begging for her family back. They were in the thick of the storm and he was helpless to shelter her. He stroked her hair and pulled her tighter into his chest, and hoped he could keep her from drowning.