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Trade Paperback
288 pages
Jan 2005
Steeple Hill

Bad Heiress Day

by Allie Pleiter

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Chapter 1

Chocolate, Grease, & Diet Coke

September 15, 2001

"Lovely man."

"Such a waste. Sixty-five is still so young these days."

"I'm sure his faith was a comfort to him."

Platitudes--sincere and otherwise--were flying fast and furious in the narthex of the Ohio Valley Community Church. One woman spent a whole ten minutes telling Darcy Nightengale what a pillar of the community her father had been. The next woman smiled as she told Darcy how the universe now welcomed her father in his new state of pure energy. After that last "unique" remark, Darcy's husband, Jack, softly hummed the General Electric theme, "We bring good things to life" in her ear. It made her laugh A small laugh, but it was a gift none the less.

Somehow, the fact that a joke could still be made--in the current state of both the world and the family--was a foothold of hope. The Tuesday of this week, September 11, had been a day of national tragedy. Thousands lost their lives. Darcy had lots of company mourning a loved one.

For Darcy, though, September 11 was more still. September 11 was the last day she saw her father's eyes. The last day he spoke. For a man who'd been dying for months, Paul Harwell chose a really lousy last day on Earth. It was like a cruel afterthought to lose her father in the early hours of September 12. The day <i>after</i> the world shook on its foundation. Darcy remembered looking up from the hospice center bed in the roaring, breathless silence, and wondering if anyone would even notice.

But they had. The church was crowded with friends offering their sympathy. It had been a rough day. Between the ceremonial pressure, the endless handshaking and the spurts of intense conversation, Darcy was running on adrenaline. After the months of dying, Dad's death felt more like the finish line of a long and wary marathon than any kind of mourning. She had stood beside Dad and seen him through to the end. Literally. When she dared to be honest, Darcy admitted that woven in through all the grief was a clear gleam of relief. Jack put his hand on the small of her back, as if holding her up, as an older woman told tales of Paul's kindness to her little dogs.

"That's the last guest," came a deep voice behind her. Ed Parrot was the epitome of a funeral director, subdued and dignified. Except that he had a voice like Darth Vader and a body just as large. The fact that he always wore a black suit just intensified the effect. It made for a creepy image every time he spoke to her--as if the telltale Vader breathing sound effect would kick in at any moment. He took her hand in his with an experience clasp. With an exhale he looked into her eyes and said softly, "It's over."

<i>Over.</i> What a potent choice of words.

His expression told Darcy that he meant both the best and worst of it. Here was a man who knew how grueling the rituals of grief could be. The time would come soon enough wen the small box of shes would go the their final spot, but this day's duties were done.

<i>Done.</i> The word hung in Darcy's thoughts like the last chord of the Beatles' "A Day in the Life"--the one that echoed on at the end of the record for what seemed like forever.

"Kate's in the driveway," Jack said suddenly, loosening his tie. Darcy noticed that Jack and Mr. Parrot were exchanging looks. She raised an eyebrow.

"She's going to go take you to dinner. The kids and I will head back home--I rented a movie for them and bought a vat of popcorn."

She blinked. It hardly felt like time to hit a restaurant, but she couldn't even form a coherent protest.

Jack kissed her lightly on the cheek and pressed his hand into the small of her back again. "Go, hon. You need it."

In that moment, seeing her own weariness reflected in Jack's eyes, Darcy realized she did.

Boy, did she.