Her abduction had been quite the news story. An adorable five-year-old with a terminal illness taken from an affluent neighborhood tended to get a lot of attention. By now, everybody had started assuming she was dead, so it had lost some fanfare.
The church was packed, and it was hot in the way all crowded places were. The heat and the sadness were stifling. The sounds of crying and heavy heartbeats filled my head.
The mahogany coffin sat at the end of the long center aisle, the lid flipped open. Looking at it from the back of the church had the same dizzying effect as looking down from a great height. From where we stood, I couldn’t see Jane, only the white lining of her coffin.
My knees felt weak. The moment felt so completely surreal. Jack squeezed my hand, and Milo moved in closer to me.
We slid into a pew in the back because it was the closest, and I felt unsteady. I had expected that strange numbness to come back over me, but it didn’t. I was nauseated, and all my emotions felt amplified.
Milo cried softly through most of the service. He had never been a huge fan of Jane, mostly because he thought she was a bad influence, but he’d liked her. She could be very funny and kind, and sometimes she was that way with Milo.
After her cousin delivered the eulogy, the pastor opened it up for anybody to speak, but I couldn’t do it. Anything I had to say about Jane felt sacrilegious. I’d let our friendship fall apart, and if I hadn’t, maybe we wouldn’t be here.
At the end, they called everybody up to say their final respects to her. Jack waited behind in the pew while Milo and I went up. I couldn’t have made it by myself, and I was thankful to have Milo next to me, holding my hand. He was the only one that knew her the way I did.
The worst part about seeing her in the coffin was that she didn’t look dead. It’d been almost exactly one month since I’d seen her, and she looked much better now. She had put on some weight, in a good way, and her skin had color again. Maybe that was just the makeup, but it didn’t matter.
Jane looked more alive than she had in months, and she was dead.
I reached out and touched her hand, her skin cold and stiff. Tears slid down my cheeks, and I wanted to apologize, to say goodbye, just say anything to her, but I couldn’t form the words. My mouth wouldn’t work. Milo’s choked sob was the closest I came to saying anything.
We were the last people at her coffin, and the pallbearers watched us. I’d already taken too much time not saying anything, so I gently steered Milo away from the coffin. I looked away from Jane, knowing that was the last time I’d ever see her.
Milo and I had almost made it to our seats at the back of the church, and I saw something that made my heart stop. Milo had his head bowed, but I looked up to make sure we wouldn’t pass our pew.
Our mother stood in the middle of the aisle a few feet in front of us.
I stopped short, and Milo lifted his head. Her mouth fell open when she got a good look at Milo.
We had both changed since we’d become vampires, but his was far more drastic. He’d been sixteen when he turned, but thanks to his pudgy cheeks and large brown eyes, he’d always appeared younger. With the transformation, he’d grown taller, broader, and gleaned off his baby fat.
Mom had last seen him over four months ago, but he’d aged several years, looking like he was eighteen or nineteen now.
Since we’d turned, we’d done everything in our power to cut ties with our mother. Milo still called her on the phone sometimes, but she couldn’t see us. It would be much easier for her if she went on with her life without knowing what we were.
For the funeral, Mom’s hair was still a frizzy mess, but she had draped herself in some kind of black garment. In an attempt to look nice, she’d put on bright red lipstick and heavy eyeliner.
“Milo?” Mom leaned in towards us, like she didn’t believe what she was seeing.
“Hi, Mom,” Milo swallowed hard. He squeezed my hand even tighter. His heart hammered in his chest, and so did mine.
“Is that really you?” She reached out as if she meant touch him. When her hand got close, she let it fall to the side and just stared at him. “When you walked past, I thought… You look so much like your father.” Mom never talked about our father, except occasionally to say that he had done nothing to help take us.
“Thanks?” Milo replied uncertainly.
Behind us, they had closed the casket and started wheeling it out to the hearse. The funeral had officially ended, so everyone filtered out around us, but we didn’t move.
“That private school must be sitting well with you.” Mom continued gaping at Milo.
“Uh, yeah,” Milo fumbled. Mom believed that he was attending a private school in New York, but that was a lie to explain his sudden absence. She thought I had taken off to live with Jack, and that was true.
“You’ve really grown.” Her voice cracked. “You both have. You look really good, Alice. You’ve grown up into fine young adults.” A thin smile spread out across her face. “You did blossom without me.”
“Mom, that’s not true,” Milo rushed to ease her guilt.
“When did you get in?” Mom asked, thinking that he’d flown in from New York for the funeral.
Her tissue was balled up in her hand, and I couldn’t believe that she had cried over Jane. I didn’t even know what she was doing here. She liked Jane well enough, I guess, but she’d hardly knew her.
“Yesterday,” Milo said, continuing the lie. “I was gonna visit-”
“No, I understand,” Mom shook her head. “Your sister needed you.” She looked away for a moment, then turned to me. “I wanted to call you on your birthday last week, but I didn’t think you’d answer.”
“You should’ve called,” I said.
“Would you have answered?” Mom asked pointedly, and I dropped my eyes. “I know you have a life of your own now. I didn’t mean to intrude on it by coming here-”
“No, you didn’t intrude,” I said quickly. Tears welled in her eyes, and I had never seen her look so fragile before. Drunk, tired, irritated, those were her three basic moods.
“Jane had been a very good friend to you over the years, and I thought I owed it to her to thank her for taking such good care of you.” Mom discreetly dabbed at her eyes. “I am truly sorry for your loss, Alice.”
“Thank you,” I said, unsure of what else to say.
“I don’t need to bother the two of you anymore, so I’ll be on my way,” Mom said rather abruptly and turned to walk away from us.