LAURA TAYLORFantasy and Romance Writer
Nicole stared at the casket as the dull, tuneless funeral music droned on. The room was fairly full, Dee having been a sociable and likable woman. Her workmates were here, her boss having been nothing but supportive since her disappearance. Her hockey team had come – every member bar two, who were unfortunately away overseas at the moment, and couldn’t make it back in time. A bevy of aunts, uncles and cousins had shown up, some more welcome than others, and in a dark, sardonic moment, Nicole was grateful that her sister had had nothing of any great financial significance to leave to the world. Disapproving relatives squabbling over monetary gain would have been the last straw.
The music faded out and the celebrant took to the stand and said words that bore little meaning to Nicole. Thank you all for coming, such a sad day, but let’s remember the good things about Dee’s life, blah, blah, blah. In all honesty, the truth of Dee’s death hadn’t quite caught up with Nicole yet, numbness filling the space where grief should have been. There was no body in the casket, of course. Dee had been kidnapped, taken out to sea on a boat, and then she’d vanished overboard without a trace. No body had ever been found. Nothing to bury. No physical evidence to provide closure to an entirely inexplicable series of events.
Nicole felt her mother nudge her and she looked up, pulling herself together as she realised that it was her turn to speak.
From across the isle, her father looked at her with watery eyes. He’d flown in from the United States a few days ago, and ever since, Nicole had been doing her best to keep him and her mother away from each other. The situation was bad enough without the pair of them bickering every minute of the day.
Pushing herself stiffly to her feet, Nicole stepped up to the casket. She placed the bouquet of white roses in her hand onto the smooth wood, not really sure why she was doing it. Dee wasn’t here, not even the hollow shell that remained of who she had once been. The casket was a lie, for show only.
That duty done, Nicole stepped up to the microphone, fishing her notes for the eulogy out of her pocket and spreading them out with surprisingly steady hands. The words flowed from the page to her mouth and out to the ears of the solemn audience with little thought or effort, so Nicole’s mind was free to wander as she read.
There were so many things about this whole situation that made no sense to her, things that came flooding back as she remembered who Dee had been, her quiet determination, her rare but fiery flares of temper. Dee knew how to defend herself. She knew to avoid dark alleys and how to punch a guy hard enough that he stayed down. How had she been kidnapped so easily?
The police had said she’d been lost overboard from that little sailing boat, leaving a blood smear, a pair of jeans and a driver’s licence behind.
Why had she left the jeans behind? Nicole didn’t know much about sailing, but she knew that out on the open water, it would have been cold. Even if that Hinge guy had raped her, after she’d killed him, surely she’d have put the jeans back on?
Why had she left the boat? Nicole had checked the weather reports, and there had been no storms, no unreasonable swells coming through in the days that Dee had been missing. Her falling overboard by accident seemed unlikely, and Nicole knew her sister well enough to know that she’d never have done anything so foolish as to try and swim to shore when there was a perfectly good boat beneath her. She might not know how to sail back to shore, but every boat had an emergency radio, didn’t they? Or at the very least, a flare gun to signal for help.
The conclusion that Dee was dead had seemed a rather sudden one, from where Nicole was standing. She could have been rescued by another boat. Maybe she’d ended up in another country, depending on where her rescuers where heading? Maybe she’d been injured, unable to explain who she was or why she was there. Wouldn’t it have been wise to wait a few more weeks, see if any Jane Does showed up in international hospitals?
Nicole finished the eulogy and took her seat, ignoring the empty casket as she passed. Dee was no longer alive, that much was certain. Her job had been given to someone else. Her flat was being packed up, her possessions stored in boxes as her mother couldn’t yet bear the thought of selling them or giving them away. Her life, to all intents and purposes, was over.
But the trouble was… Nicole wasn’t entirely convinced she was dead, either.