If I’d learned anything about scars from Graham’s novels, it was that they, too, could be beautiful.
He hadn’t smiled once, but that wasn’t shocking—after all, it was his father’s funeral—but when he spoke, his voice came out smooth, like whisky on the rocks. Just like everyone else in the arena, I couldn’t tear my eyes from him.
“My father, Kent Russell, saved my life. He challenged me daily to not only be a better storyteller, but to become a better person.” The next five minutes of his speech led to hundreds of people crying, holding their breaths, and wishing that they, too, were kin to Kent. I hadn’t ever read any of Kent’s tales, but Graham made me curious to pick up one of his books. He finished his speech, looked up at the ceiling, and gave a tight grin. “So, I’ll end this in the words of my father: Be inspiration. Be true. Be adventurous. We only have one life to live, and to honor my father, I plan to live each day as if it’s my final chapter.”
“Oh my gosh,” Tori whispered, wiping tears from her eyes. “Do you see it?” she asked, gesturing her head toward her lap.
“See what?” I whispered.
“How massive my invisible boner currently is. I didn’t know it was possible to be turned on by a eulogy.”
I laughed. “Neither did I.”
After everything finished, Tori exchanged numbers with me and invited me to her book club. After our goodbyes, I made it to the back room to collect my floral arrangements. As I searched for my roses, I couldn’t help but think how uncomfortable I felt by the lavishness of Kent’s funeral. It almost seemed a bit…circus-like.
I wasn’t one who understood funerals, at least not the typical mainstream ones. In my family, our final goodbyes normally involved planting a tree in our loved one’s memory, honoring their life by bringing more beauty to the world.
As a worker walked by with one of my floral arrangements, I gasped and called after her. “Excuse me!” The headphones in her ears kept her from hearing me, though, so I hurried, pushing my way through a crowd, trying to keep up with her. She walked up to a door, held it open, and tossed the flowers outside before shutting the door and walking off dancing to the sound of her music.
“Those were three-hundred-dollar flowers!” I groaned out loud, hurrying through the door. As it slammed, I raced over to the roses that had been tossed into a trash bin in a gated area.
The night’s air brushed against my skin, and I was bathed in the light of the moon shining down as I gathered the roses. When I finished, I took a deep inhale. There was something so peaceful about the night, how everything slowed a bit, how the busyness of the day disappeared until morning.
When I went to open the door to head back inside, I panicked.
I yanked on the handle repeatedly.
My hands formed fists and I started banging against the door, trying my best to get back inside. “Hello?!” I hollered for what felt like ten minutes straight before I gave up.
Thirty minutes later, I had sat down on the concrete and was staring at the stars when I heard the door behind me open. I twisted myself around and gasped lightly.
Standing right behind me.
“Don’t do that,” he snapped, noting my stare glued to him. “Stop noticing me.”
“Wait, wait! It—” I stood up, and right before I could tell him to hold the door, I listened to it slam shut. “Locks.”
He cocked an eyebrow, processing my words. He yanked on the door then sighed heavily. “You have got to be kidding me.” He yanked again and again, but the door was locked. “It’s locked.”
I nodded. “Yup.”
He patted his slacks pockets and groaned. “And my phone is in my suit jacket, which is hanging on the back of a chair inside.”
“Sorry, I would offer you my phone, but it’s dead.”
“Of course it is,” he said moodily. “Because the day just couldn’t get any worse.”
He pounded on the door for several minutes without any results then started cursing the universe for an extremely sucky life. He walked over to the other side of the gated area and placed his hands behind his neck. He looked completely exhausted over the day’s events.
“I’m so sorry,” I whispered, my voice timid and low. What else could I say? “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
He shrugged, uninterested. “People die. It’s a pretty common aspect of life.”
“Yes, but that doesn’t make it any easier, and for that, I’m sorry.”
He didn’t reply, but he didn’t have to. I was still just amazed to be standing so close to him. I cleared my throat and spoke again because being silent wasn’t something I knew how to do. “That was a beautiful speech.” He turned his head in my direction and gave me a cold hard stare before turning back around. I continued. “You really showcased what a kind, gentle man your father was and how he changed your life and the lives of others. Your speech tonight…it was just such…” I paused, searching my mind for the right words to describe his eulogy.
“Bullshit,” he stated.
I stood up straighter. “What?”
“The eulogy was bullshit. I grabbed it from outside. A stranger wrote it and posted it on the building, someone who’d probably never spent ten minutes in the same room as my father, because if they had, they would’ve known how shitty of a person Kent Russell was.”
“Wait, so you plagiarized a eulogy for your father’s funeral?”
“When you say it like that, it sounds awful,” he replied dryly.
“It probably sounds that way because it kind of is.”
“My father was a cruel man who manipulated situations and people to get the best bang for his buck. He laughed at the fact that you people paid money for his pile of shit inspirational books and lived your lives based on the garbage he wrote about. I mean, his book Thirty Days to a Sober Life? He wrote that book drunk off his ass. I literally had to lift him up out of his own vomit and filth more times than I’m willing to admit. Fifty Ways to Fall in Love? He screwed prostitutes and fired personal assistants for not sleeping with him. He was trash, a joke of a human, and I’m certain he didn’t save anyone’s life, as many have so dramatically stated to me this evening. He used you all to buy himself a boat and a handful of one-night stands.”
My mouth dropped open, stunned. “Wow.” I laughed, kicking around a small stone with my shoe. “Tell me how you really feel.”
He took my challenge and turned slowly around to face me, stepping closer, making my heart race. No man should’ve been as handsomely dark as he was. Graham was a professional at grimacing. I wondered if he knew how to smile at all. “You want to know how I really feel?”