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Wakes and High Stakes
Author: Trixie Silvertale

 

Chapter 1

 

 

I’ve seen more than my share of dead bodies since arriving in Pin Cherry Harbor, but there’s something different about this one. First of all, it’s in a casket, and, secondly, I’m not being accused of putting it there.

It’s also worth mentioning that I never met the deceased. She ran in the same upper-echelon of Pin Cherry society as my grandmother, so my father and I were invited purely as a sign of status. Ew. Attempting to hurry past the expertly coiffed corpse of Liliané Barnes, festooned with garish diamond brooches, earrings, and several massive rings, something catches my eye. I pause for a moment and stare at the inexplicable holes in this jet setter’s over-priced lapel.

Hmmmm. I chew the inside of my cheek. Two pin-prick-sized holes, about a finger’s width apart. An unusual blemish in an otherwise spotless cosmic-cobalt designer suit.

My father gently tugs my sleeve, and I follow him back to our seats in the quaint, musty chapel hosting the viewing.

While we wait for the line of mourners to thin down, my mind drifts to memories of my dearly departed mother. She was young, radiant, and full of life. No matter how much time passes, I can never understand why she was taken from me when I was so young. As I struggle to access any recollection of her funeral, I’m disturbed by the black void where those heartbreaking images should be.

It seems natural to me that the memory of her face is fuzzy, since no pictures of her survived my six-year stint in foster care. And I can even accept that the sound of her voice is fading with time, but why can’t I remember her funeral?

Sadly, she died in a horrible commuter-train-versus-automobile accident, so it certainly would’ve been closed casket, but I can’t recall a single detail.

No casket.

No chapel.

No tears over an open grave as they lowered her—

“Mitzy? Mitzy?” My father taps my knee and stares at me with growing concern. “Did you slip away into one of those, what do you call ’em, inside pictures?”

My throat is tight with unwelcome emotion. “I can’t really talk about it.”

An ache of regret knifes through his eyes. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you.”

I nod soberly and retreat back into my painful nostalgia. No one can blame him for not being there. He and my mother were a one-night stand, and she never bothered to track down the handsome out-of-towner who left her with much more than a warm memory of some Greek cheese. She happily named me after the dairy product that featured prominently in their “meet-cute,” raised me on her own, and never said an unkind word about my biological father. In fact, she never spoke about him at all. To the point when, I eventually believed he must’ve died. When the Grim Reaper truly visited the Moon household and took my mom, it came as no actual surprise to find myself in and out of foster homes for the next few years.

It wasn’t until I reached the ripe old age of seventeen that I successfully emancipated myself from the school of hard knocks. And by emancipated I mean ran away, and by successful I mean a series of dead-end jobs eking out a living on minimum wage.

Imagine my shock and disbelief when a frumpy man with an unbelievably enormous mustache showed up at the door of my should-be-condemned studio apartment in Sedona, Arizona, and handed me a manila envelope containing more hope than I ever dared wish for.

A lengthy journey, on a bus bursting with unpleasant odors, landed me in almost-Canada, and the moment I stepped onto the curb in Pin Cherry Harbor—my drab sepia-tone world exploded into Technicolor.

I lean toward my anxious father and whisper, “Maybe we can head over to the diner and get a proper breakfast after this. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll survive on a handful of Fruity Puffs.”

My suggestion brings a smile of relief to his face and a spark of hope to his grey eyes. “Sure. We should talk.”

I work hard to maintain a protective wall around my heart. On the outside, I nod pleasantly, but on the inside, the tightening in my chest confirms that I’m not eager to delve into mucky emotional territory. Keeping things easy breezy has pretty much been my trick to survival all these years.

The pencil-thin wisp of a funeral director gently calls the room to order as the last stragglers return to their seats.

“Friends and relatives of Liliané Barnes, welcome to the Chapel of Eternal Rest. The family appreciates your outpouring of sympathy and condolences. Liliané’s oldest daughter, Iris, would like to say a few words.” His voice is light and airy. It’s a version of Bob Ross, the happy painter, but with even less conviction. The man waves one of his oddly long arms toward a woman in the front row. He resembles a stick figure come to life.

The woman we’ve been told is Iris—severe bleached-blonde bob, late thirties, all angles—approaches the small podium, but her dark eyes are not rimmed with tears. Her sharp beak of a nose twitches once before she begins. “The family thanks you for coming.”

When she grips the edges of the wooden rostrum, I notice her surprisingly short fingernails. I would’ve expected her to have a perfect French-tipped manicure. Maybe the stress of losing her mother caused her to bite them to the quick?

“As most of you know, my sister, brother, and I have maintained rooms at the manor, despite being estranged from my globe-trotting mother for some time. We came to pay our respects, for what that’s worth. But I won’t stand up here and pretend to be sad.” Her crisp voice bears a shocking lack of emotion. “Lillian was a fairly horrible woman and I refuse to manufacture emotions that don’t exist. I appreciate the kind words, but there’s no need to feel pity for me. I’m not upset.”

And with that, Iris holds her arrow-like chin high and returns to the empty seat next to her frowning, thinning-on-top husband.

Well, she’s clearly not stressed. I also notice that Iris used her mother’s given name, Lillian, and did not adopt the recent change in pronunciation made by the addition of an “e” with the accent aigu. Which, according to my sources, returned with the deceased from Europe three years ago. There was the “e,” the accent mark, and husband number nine.

My mouth is hanging open like the clown hazard on a miniature golf course. Having my mom ripped from my life more than a decade ago broke me in ways I can’t even explain. To sit here and listen to a woman who appears to have no regrets over losing her own mother does not compute. I struggle to close my gaping maw and make sense of what I’ve just heard.

The funeral director returns to the front of the room and faintly calls the son. “Roman, would you care to share a memory?”

A redheaded man in his early thirties, with well-groomed facial hair, shakes his head vigorously.

Apparently, this Prince Harry lookalike isn’t even willing to make a hollow effort.

The oddly frail mortician swallows awkwardly and attempts to draw the middle child, Violet, from her seat.

Despite his nearly inaudible urgings, she shakes her brooding brunette ponytail, but her refusal seems to come from a place of emotional overwhelm. She’s weeping dramatically into a handkerchief and at least appears to mourn her mother’s passing.

The magic mood ring I inherited from my grandmother sizzles with heat on my left hand and I glance down in time to see a flash of the Acropolis. I have no idea what this psychic information means, but my ever-expanding extra senses do pick up on some genuine sadness coming from Violet.

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