I hardly knew anyone at Kacie's funeral. I stayed close to the walls. There were high-backed wooden chairs with cushioned seats lined up like soldiers on either side of the room. I looked at the floor, at the green sea of carpet that spread along its length, at the beige swirled wall paper, the little woven baskets strategically placed next to tables that each held a box of tissue. The lamps looked old, brass maybe, and were dimly lit.
Kacie's family and friends stood in broken up groups, talking quietly. I could pick up parts of conversations, some of which had nothing to do with Kacie. Instinct told me I should go stand next to her mother, put a hand on her arm, but she was at the front of the room. Where the coffin was.
The minister asked that everyone gather around to say a final prayer for Kacie, to ask that God forgive her and may her soul rest in peace. The floor seemed to shift under my feet and my stomach tightened as I tried to remember the Hail Mary. My back itched with sweat. I couldn't breathe. The air was musty, stagnant, like a museum's. I felt like a criminal.
Kacie had a habit of counting things. At any given moment I could ask her how much money she had in her bank account and she could tell me. To the penny. Kacie was very proud of this fact, her consistently balanced check book. That, and the fact that she always paid her bills on time, ahead of time even. She used to get so frustrated with me and my "lack of order," as she called it. She'd drag her fingers through her short hair, raise her hands in the air and then let her arms fall and turn away from me.
"The phone bill is due next week," she'd say, crossing her arms. "What did you do with all your money?"
I'd look at the floor or at the television and try to explain that I'd spent it on this or had to get that and of course I had gone out on such and such a night, but I'd have the money this upcoming paycheck, I swear. God, she used to get so mad at me, but I wouldn't let it bother me. That was just Kacie. Responsible Kacie.
"Don't worry about it, " I'd tell her. She'd sigh and suck her teeth and walk away, her tiny, socked feet striking the hardwood floor with passion. I'd watch her disappear into her room and forget about the incident. It didn't bother me. Except for that last time.
"Mr. Warren called today. He said your rent check bounced again."
"Don't worry. The money's in there now. I'll call..."
"Danny, he's throwing us out," she said. She didn't yell, but her face was expressionless, her light brown eyes fixed on mine.
"I'll talk to him. It'll be okay."
She wouldn't stop looking at me. I knew it was done with.
I went to stay with this guy I'd been dating on and off. His name was Kyle and Kacie hadn't liked him very much. His roommate had just moved out and Kyle said that Kacie and I could take over his half, but Kacie wouldn't. She moved back in with her parents. That was the last time I saw her.
"There you are." Mrs. Sullivan was standing in front of me. She looked tired, the little spidery lines that branched out from the edges of her eyes looking larger. Her nose was pink and she held a wad of balled Kleenex in her right hand.
"Danielle, this is Kacie's father," she said, gesturing with the tissued hand to the tall man beside her. His posture was solid and neat like his dark blue suit, and Mrs. Sullivan looked broken next to him in her wrinkled black dress with her hair falling out of the knot she'd tied it into.
"Danny was the one Kacie was living with before," she explained to him. In all the time that we had been sharing an apartment, I'd never met him. I'd been to dinner at Kacie's several times, but he was never there. I was glad he wasn't. Kacie didn't like him very much, and because of that, neither did I.
"I'm very sorry, Mr. Sullivan."
"Jim, please," he said, taking my hand and holding it between the two of his.
"They are starting to line up the cars for the procession. Danny, you'll be in our car," Mrs. Sullivan said. "I'll meet you outside. I just want to...well, I want to go and say..."
I put my arms around her then and hugged her tightly.
"It's okay," I whispered. "I know what you mean. Tell her I love her."
I felt like I was trying to swallow my own tongue. My eyes were splitting. She pulled away from me and held me by the arms. She looked at me, her red puffy eyes glossy once again.
"I will," she said, brought a hand to her mouth, and walked back towards the front of the room.
"This is very hard for her. It's hard for all of us," Mr. Sullivan said, putting his arm around me, rubbing my shoulder. I looked at his hand on my shoulder, watched his thumb moving back and forth, back and forth, then dropped my gaze to the floor.
"Let's give her a few moments alone," he said, leading me outside.
"How many drinks have I had?" I asked Kacie. I was lying on the floor, my face half buried in the beige carpet and one arm under an end table. She was standing above me, sort of smiling, shaking her head. She squatted down next to me and took my arm.
"Enough. Come on, sit up," she said. "I'll go call us a cab. It's time to go home."
"Hokay," I breathed. "But tell me how many," I said, banging my head on the table as I struggled to get up.
She rubbed my forehead where I had hit it and sighed. She looked up at the ceiling, as if it were written there. "Two beers before we left the house, at least three more at the club, plus a shot of..."
"Here you go, gorgeous." Kyle appeared above the two of us, a beer in his extended hand. We were at his apartment, his party.
"I think she's had enough," Kacie said flatly. "We're going to go now, but thanks."
"Aw, come on, Danny. You're not leaving now, are you?" He exaggerated a frown, then grinned wildly.
"Well, maybe one for the road." I tried to take the beer from his hand but missed it completely. I giggled. "Ooh, I'm dizzy."
"Do you want to go lie down for a while, Danny? Come on, you can rest in my room," Kyle said, taking my hand.
"She'll be just fine," Kacie said, pushing his hand off of mine. "I'm going to go call us a cab."
She got up and weaved through the crowd of people, disappearing from my sight.
"Danny, you don't have to go. You can crash here if you want," Kyle whispered in my ear. "Why don't you stay?"
"I don't know. I should g'home with Kacie."
"You're a big girl," he said, kissing my cheek. "You can make your own decisions."
"Come on, Danny. The cab's on its way."
"Are you going to stay?" Kyle asked, rubbing my knee.
"Let's wait outside," Kacie said, helping me to my feet. "I think you need some fresh air."
"I'm gonna go," I told Kyle. "Call me tomorrow."
"Okay," he said. He stopped for a moment, eyeing Kacie, then moved away towards the kitchen.
"Do you think he likes me?" I asked Kacie once we were outside.
"I think he wants to get you in bed," she said, taking out her cigarettes and lighting one. She held it out, offering it to me, and I took it.
"Be careful with him. I don't like him."
"Well, I like him," I said handing the cigarette back. "He's nice."
"Yeah," she said, inhaling quickly, then tossing the cigarette on the ground and crushing it out with her foot. "Here's our cab. Come on."
Once we were back in our own apartment, she helped me undress and put me into bed; then she crawled in next to me. She pet my hair and told me that I shouldn't be so trusting, that I had to be more careful. I was on my side and she moved her arm down, wrapping it around my waist.
"You've got to watch out for yourself," she told me, rubbing my stomach, then sliding her hand underneath the tee-shirt I was wearing.
I felt hot and cold at the same time. I brought my knees up closer to my chest and she shifted, curling her body around mine. Her lips were just touching my ear and she spoke softly. A chill crept down my neck to the small of my back.
"You've got to be more responsible." Her breath was warm against me.
" You've got to take care of yourself," she said, tracing my ribs with her fingers. "Because no one else is going to."
"You've got to act like you are all you have." She ran her hand down my side to my hip.
My face tingled and the room seemed to be made of liquid, gently rocking me. This was where I'd usually drift off to sleep if I were alone. I gripped my pillow and stared at the wall. Kacie's body was so warm against mine.
"But we've got each other," I tried to joke.
"Nothing's forever," she whispered and her hand glided up my skin, over my stomach to my breasts. She held me gently and kissed my ear.
"Kacie, what are you doing?"
"It's okay. I know you like boys. I like them too, sometimes. Do you want me to stop?"
"No," I admitted.
In the parking lot of the funeral home, I sat close to the passenger door with Mr. Sullivan on the driver's side. I stared at the door of the building, waiting for Kacie's mother. I wished to God that I'd gone to see Kacie before this. I couldn't remember how many times I'd said I should call her or stop by, though I never did. It had been my fault that we lost the apartment and I was afraid she hated me. She'd left a message on the answering machine once, but I hadn't called her back. And then a couple of weeks had passed and I couldn't think of a good enough reason for why I hadn't returned the call.
"Kacie was different," Mr. Sullivan began. "She was always trying so hard to be different. I just don't understand this. Do you?"
"No," I said quietly, looking at my lap and not at him. Something about him gave me the creeps. It was one thing for Mrs. Sullivan to hug me. I knew her, but I'd just met Kacie's father. I didn't want to know him.
"She thought she had to prove something or other. I don't know. I don't know what was wrong with her, why she did this. Do you know what she told me when she moved out? I didn't want her to leave. I thought she was too young to be living on her own. I'm sorry, I know you lived with her, but that's how I feel. She said she was old enough and she didn't need me. She was always so defiant, like when she cut her hair. She looked like a boy. You wouldn't know by looking at her, but she was a very pretty girl. Like you."
"Here's Mrs. Sullivan," I said and opened the door quickly to get into the back seat. I stopped for a moment outside and put my hand on her arm, then we both got in the car. She sat in the front seat like a crumpled ball of paper, her body jerking, silently crying. Mr. Sullivan put his arm around her and pulled her to him.
"It'll be okay, Margaret. Our baby is in God's hands now."
The long, slow procession to the cemetery began and I sat quietly in the rear seat staring at the back of Mr. Sullivan's head, wishing to burn a hole through it.
It's strange the way they cover the grave so you can't see into the hole they've dug, like the way you can't see into death. I'd never thought much about it. I didn't have to. We gathered around this sight surrounded by the stones that marked so many others. I'd been in cemeteries before. In high school they were a haven from our parents, a place to drink beer on Friday nights and laugh at the world. It never occurred to me that there were coffins under my feet, that I was walking on skeletons.
"Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love..."
Unfailing love. I had failed Kacie. She had needed me, or at least my half of the rent, to be free. Maybe she'd needed more.
I'd met Kacie at one of the many "graveyard parties" I'd attended. She'd been a little drunk and I'd been even more so. She'd lost a sneaker and was frantic. She had to find it so she could go home. She was already late and sure that she was in big trouble. I tried to help her find it. We searched for half an hour to no avail, and she finally sat down on the grass in resignation, crying ridiculous, alcohol-induced tears.
"My father's going to kill me," she sobbed.
"What, for losing a sneaker?"
She laughed at that and said no, but for being so late. And if he figured out she'd been drinking rather than at the movies, she'd be done for.
"I'll show him," she said, sniffing and rubbing her nose. "He'll be sorry when I leave. I'm going to move out, you know. As soon as I graduate."
We were friends from that night on. I think Kacie was as much attracted to my aloofness as I was to her determination. She liked how little I cared about the world, the way I knew how not to worry, how to have fun. I liked how she always knew what to do. I believed there was nothing she couldn't handle.
We spent our entire senior year together going to parties or hanging out at the mall and talking of moving out of our parents' homes. We didn't actually do it until a year after we graduated. That was Mr. Sullivan's doing. He told her he wouldn't pay for college for her unless she stayed at home, so she did until she'd finally said to me that she couldn't take it anymore.
"...blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin." The minister made the sign of the cross and we all muttered our "amens."
I lingered at Kacie's grave with her parents while the rest of the mourners began to break up and move off to their cars.
Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name...
I still didn't want to believe that she was dead. A bottle of whiskey and a fistful of pills. Why?
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us...
I hung my head and bit my tongue.
But deliver us from evil...
In the car on the way home, Mrs. Sullivan asked me if I would still visit, come and spend time with her. I told her I would.
I avoided talking about the night of Kyle's party with Kacie. I spent a lot of time away. I had known about a girlfriend she had our senior year, but we never went into details. Kacie finally cornered me a week or so after the party as I tried to hand her my check for the electric bill on my way out.
I tensed, my hand on the doorknob with my jacket slung over my arm.
"Don't you think we should talk?" she said, sinking into the couch and folding her legs.
"Can we do it later?" I asked. "I'm sorry the money is late, but I've got to go meet Kyle now."
"That's not what I meant. I want to talk about what happened...with us."
Reluctantly, I moved away from the door and sat down beside her. I fingered the cuffs of the jacket in my hand.
"You're so silly." She laughed and leaned back.
"Danny, it just happened. I liked it. Didn't you?"
"Yes." I blushed. "But I just...well, I never...before..."
"I know. I know you're straight, and what happened between us isn't going to change that. That's cool, but I'm not sorry."
Kacie smiled at me. She was so beautiful, and I wondered for a moment why it would only be that one time. I loved her, but she was a friend. My best friend, but a girl.
"It's just that I guess I was curious, and I knew I could trust you. I just don't know what this means."
"Danny, I told you I didn't expect anything. I'm not even sure I want anything from you in that way."
"So you're not upset with me?"
"No," she laughed. "It's okay. I don't want this to be a problem between us, okay?"
She took my hand and gave it a squeeze.
"Okay," I said and smiled. "I do have to go now. I'm meeting Kyle."
"Oh, yeah? Where are you guys going?"
"I think we're just going to hang out at his place."
"Danny, I hope you know what you're doing with him."
"Why do you hate him so much?"
"I don't hate him. I just don't trust him and I don't think you should either."
"You just hate all men," I teased.
"That's not true, but I don't think you should rely on them. If they know you depend on them, then they think they can do whatever they want."
"Okay, mom," I said and stood up to leave.
"Promise me you'll be good," she said as I opened the door.
I just smiled and closed the door behind me.
I took the next few days after the funeral off from work and spent them in bed, staring at the walls. I barely ate and didn't shower. I kept thinking about the funeral, the wake, her coffin. I dreamt about it, sitting in the back seat of Kacie's parents' car, the hearse in front of us, the back of Mr. Sullivan's head, the hearse turning slowly, his large hands wrapped around the steering wheel.
Kyle knocked on my bedroom door and I told him to come in.
"How are you feeling?" he asked sitting on the bed.
"All right, I guess."
"Beth called. She said she had your schedule covered for tonight but she wants to know if you're coming in tomorrow. I told her I'd have you call her back."
"So are you going?" he asked.
"To work. Tomorrow."
"I don't know," I said, rolling over. "I probably should."
"The mail came. There's a letter for you in the living room."
It wasn't a letter, but one of those thank-you-for-coming-and-your-sympathy kind of mass cards. She had written a note in thin, neat lines, telling me I was always welcome in her home. The cold knowing surged inside me again and broke into hot, buzzing pain that drizzled back down me from my shoulders to my feet. Kacie was gone. I choked and swallowed hard, then drew a deep breath.
"Who's it from?" Kyle asked.
"It's a thank you card from Kacie's mom." I noticed the envelope with the red line across the bottom balancing precariously on the edge of the table next to the couch just as I was sitting down. "What's this?"
"Oh, yeah. The phone bill is late," he replied. "That was all there was."
"Kyle, I gave you that like two weeks ago," I snapped.
"Jesus, Danny. Relax," he said. "They're not going to care if it's a little late. The bill's in my name, anyway."
I knew this was true. The phone company wouldn't actually shut off your phone for a couple of months after you hadn't paid. They'd send you a dozen reminders, too. I curled my legs up on the couch and gave in to the burning in my lungs. The tears came gracefully this time. I didn't have the strength to sob anymore. I hung my head. Kyle came and put his arms around me.
"I'm sorry," he offered, kissing the side of my head. "I didn't mean to. I know you're upset. I just didn't think it was that big a deal."
"I don't know," I said, burying my face in his shoulder. "I'm just...I don't know. It doesn't feel like it's true even though I know it is. I just don't know, I don't know..."
"Sssh." His hands gripped my sides and his lips pressed against my collar bone. "It's okay. Let me help you."
His hands traced the length of my rib cage and lingered on my hips. The sobbing returned and I clung to him, burying my fingernails in his arms until exhausted, I slipped into dreams of hands much larger than myself, hands that could keep me easily cupped in an effortless gesture. I jerked fully awake a half an hour later, my muscles cramped and aching. Kyle looked down at me and stroked the back of my head. I got up quickly.
"What?" he asked.
"Nothing. I'm going to take a shower."
I went back to work. I went back to everything I used to do. I guess I'd expected things to be different or to look different, but they didn't. Everything was the same. The plastic video cases were in the same place; people still wanted to know my opinion on a good rental for the night. Maybe I'd seen too many movies and expected some sad song to be playing in the background. But if this had been a movie, the credits would be rolling, and I knew wasn't going to get off that easy.
I think I'd expected to look different too, that somehow the emptiness I felt would register on me physically, that I'd hold my shoulders a little differently. If I did, no one noticed. Well, that wasn't exactly true. People who knew me, knew Kacie, tried to offer their sympathy. Every apology made me cringe, though, because then I had to tell them it was okay. And it wasn't.