Ru surveyed the other people gathered in the cemetery, over fifty of them. Her eyes fell on Tate, standing between his parents, his Lemony Snickett pale-faced daughters in front of him, his hands on each of their shoulders. His face was absolutely grief-stricken, so ashen and papery he appeared to be as dead as the wife he was here to surrender to the ground. Had he really loved her? Or was he grieving for his motherless girls? Was he going to miss her companionship, or the person who washed his clothes, cooked his meals, took care of his children?
. Ru fought back the tears. The last time she’d showed emotion—when she’d first seen Tate outside the church and broken down as they’d embraced and she told him how sorry she was for his loss—she’d garnered suspicious stares from those closest to Elaine, mainly her sister Eileen and best girlfriend Sassy Brooks.
. “So how did you know Elaine?” Sassy asked after catching up to Ru on her way to her car, courtesy of Enterprise.
. “I didn’t,” Ru answered. “I’m an old friend of Tate’s.”
. “Oh. It’s just that you seemed so sad. I thought you were an old friend of hers. Even though I thought knew I knew all of her friends. I’m Sassy, by the way. I was her best friend. We were like sisters.”
. Ru understood the message loud and clear. Nothing got past Sassy Brooks. Still Ru couldn’t help herself from observing snarkily, “Oh. I thought she and her sister were like sisters.”
. It was a remark that would bite her in her own ass more than Sassy’s, for now she’d put herself on the map as a woman who felt it necessary to defend herself against Elaine’s camp.
. Ru had originally planned on attending only the funeral, then perhaps arrange a private outing with Tate before she was set to fly home to Maryland. But Sassy had put her in a position of tailoring her behavior, and how would it look if she didn’t go to the cemetery and gathering afterwards at Elaine’s parents’ house? The only people attending in support of Tate were his parents and co-workers. Didn’t he have any friends? He’d had so many in his youth, too many almost. Most of them now were only Facebook friends, and perhaps would have made an appearance had Tate’s life path kept him on the east coast; only one, Ted Markham, had made the flight west. He remembered Ru once she reacquainted herself.
. “Weren’t you the one with the gingham beach blanket?”
. “Um, yeah,” she said, instantly becoming the embarrassed seventeen-year-old she’d been back then. “It was my aunt’s tablecloth.”
. No one thought it strange Ted had made the five hour plane ride to California. But when Sassy found out Ru had done the same she arched a suspicious eyebrow.
. “Wow. So how well do you know Tate?”
. “Not as well as I would like to,” Ru replied, looking Sassy right in the face, staring her down.
. “Well,” Sassy said, “looks like there’ll be plenty of time for that now.”
. Ru had moved away from her, intending to keep her distance—and her spiteful mouth shut—for the rest of the day.
. Now she surveyed the other faces gathered around the casket, thankful that none of Elaine’s immediate family or Sassy were surveying back. For a moment a thought crept in, one concerning her Facebook Elaine Pearson. Was he or she here? Was one of the people gathered in the real Elaine Pearson’s memory the one who had assumed her name and sent Ru that morbid message?
. Chop chop.
. Of course the following the person was off Facebook. The message remained, as did the email notification in her Hotmail inbox. Although the police could not tell her who this Elaine Pearson was, they could trace the ISP address back to a computer in a library right here in Burbank. They wouldn’t tell her which one, only that they were following up on it, and advising while she was here she not try and look for it or do any amateur sleuthing on her own.
. “Be careful,” is what Detective Roina Hathaway had advised when Ru called her to report the harassment. “We don’t know who sent it or the level of danger they may present. Just be aware of your surroundings, stay present and alert in every situation.”
. One thing they didn’t need to tell her: someone knew about her and Tate. Speculation over whether or not that person also killed Elaine was something she tortured herself with every waking moment of her day since receiving the message. Was it someone who directly knew her, Tate, or both? Was it someone from their past or present? Or was it someone completely random, some sicko who read newspapers, saw an article that mentioned her name—although she didn’t believe her name had been in print in connection with the murder—and decided to entertain himself by harassing her? Was she the only one to receive such a message? Whatever the answer, the whole thing creeped the shit out of her. If the police had no new information for her upon her return home she was seriously contemplating throwing herself upon Zane’s mercy until they did. For a moment she’d even considered the possibility that Facebook Elaine Pearson was Zane. But then Hathaway had told her about the Burbank library and she breathed a sigh of relief. In a crisis, there was always Zane.
. Of course the possibility occurred to her that it was Tate. That all of it was Tate. But her gut told her no, no way, he wasn’t capable of such a violent act. She believed him equally unlikely to be the one behind the Facebook message; the only way he’d be sick enough to do that would be if he was psychotic enough to ax murder Elaine in his own driveway, the one his daughters would now forever see as the spot where their mom was hacked to death. No way could she believe Tate was that kind of father, that kind of man.
. Ru wouldn’t exactly say she was ostracized back at the Fenton residence, but she was definitely left on her own to navigate the condolence terrain. Even grieving people had their cliques and Ru was part of none of them. She lingered in the kitchen, keeping an eye on the olive and pickle tray, pillaging it with such frequency it had to be replenished three times.
. “Would you like the jar?” Sassy asked pointedly, the most recent filler-up task falling on her shoulders. Ru ignored her and left the kitchen, an olive rolling off her garden themed Dixie plate and onto the mosaic-tiled floor. She felt it squish under her black Jessica Simpson heels as she made her exit.
. She took a seat on the staircase in the hallway, sucking the juice off a soggy Vlasic spear, feeling the ulcers forming in her mouth. She hadn’t yet spoken to Tate; the last time she’d seen him he was in the living room, surrounded by sympathetic kisses and reassuring slaps on the back. She doubted she’d get to talk to him today. He didn’t seem to recognize she was even there. Still she felt she’d done the right thing in making an appearance. When she was finished with this fifth plate she’d slip out the door, satisfied with her choices. She still had two days left in Burbank. She’d have her time with him on one of them.
. She had popped the next to last olive in her mouth, a Kalamata, when Tate’s younger daughter Tilly entered the hall. The nine-year-old stopped abruptly at having found Ru on the stairs, regarding her as though she’d been looking for her. The girl paused a moment, studying her. Ru shifted uncomfortably, swallowing the olive. Should she say something? What did you say to a child whose mother had been murdered?
. She settled on a closed lipped half smile. One that didn’t patronize, yet didn’t pretend this was a happy occasion.
. “Are you pregnant?” Tilly asked.
. Ru widened her eyes. “Ummm, no.”
. “Cuz Aunt Sass says that’s who eats as much pickles as you.”
. Ru smiled, nodding her head. “Yeah. True. But it’s also who has a protruding belly like your Aunt Sass.”
. Tilly continued to study her, and Ru noticed how much the girl resembled her father. The shape of their faces and the expressions they wore: the same.
. “Actually,” Ru said, “that pickle thing is an old wives’ tale.”
. “What’s that?”
. “Something handed down from generation to generation thought to be true. Little stories, like, you can’t swim right after you eat or you’ll drown.”
. Tilly rolled her eyes. “You won’t drown. You’ll get a cramp.”
. “Right. Whatever.” Ru tossed the final olive—a queen stuffed with bleu cheese—into her mouth. “Wives’ tales, both.”
. Tilly considered this for a moment, then moved on to the all-beef patties in this social Big Mac.
. “Who are you?”
. “Ruthann Porter. You can call me Ru. I knew your dad when we were teenagers.”
. “Did you know my mom?”
. Ru shook her head. “Not well. But I wish I had. She seemed terrific.”
. “Oh? How?”
. Ru should have known better than to treat Tilly Pearson like a Cindy Lou Who that she could pat on the head and send back to bed. Tilly was shrewd enough to know this Grinch was here to crash the party, not save it.
. Ru shrugged. “I don’t know. Not really. It just seemed like the right thing to say. But all these people here sure love her, and you’re a smart girl. She had you. And she married a great man like your dad, got him to fall in love with her. So from all that, I can guess she must have been pretty terrific.”
. The child’s eyes began to well up and Ru sat petrified for a moment, frozen to her seat. Now would be a great time for Sassy Brooks to walk in.
. “What kind of a monster are you, making Elaine’s daughter cry? Why don’t you just leave!”
. But then something in her took over, something in her that wanted to hold and comfort Tate, something that knew it would be a similar healing to hold and comfort his daughter, and her arms were reaching for the girl and Tilly threw herself into them, softly sobbing into Ru’s neck. Ru smoothed her hair away, pulling it out from between them in damp strands.
. “It’s okay,” she said, swaying Tilly from side to side. “You’re going to miss her for a long time, and it’s okay.”
. Eventually the girl calmed, but she stayed in Ru’s arms, kneeling on the step below her, her body between Ru’s legs as they remained in their embrace. Ru lightly kissed the side of her head, her heart aching for a moment as she allowed herself to think of Tilly—just for a second—as her own child, the child she and Tate had made together.
. She felt another presence and she looked up to find Siobhan Fenton looking down at them.
. “I’m sorry,” she said, peeling Tilly away.
. “Oh, it’s all right,” Ru answered, but the girl’s grandmother already had her by the hand and was leading her back into the living room.
. Ru rose from the stairs with a sigh, smoothing out the black one shoulder fit and flare dress she’d purchased just yesterday at Bebe. Cut above the knee, it may have been slightly inappropriate for a funeral, but quite fitting for a blonde with Ru’s figure attending anything in Los Angeles. The top of it was still damp with Tilly’s tears.
. Ru thought maybe she should find Tate, say good-bye to him, even if it was just a wave across the room. But she took her leave instead, deciding she’d already made a difference in someone’s life today. She slipped out the door and closed it softly behind her, her heart still feeling the weight of Tilly’s sweet head as she emptied her body of grief.
. Like the pickle and olive tray, Ru knew it would soon be replenished.
Can Not Say on What I’m Riding . . . Wh… Anna Annie Schmidt on What I’m Riding . . . El… Nichole Thompson on What I’m Riding . . . El… whatimriding on What I’m Riding . . . so… whatimriding on What I’m Riding . . . so…
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