Welcome to my story. For a couple people, it might be familiar: I've posted an earlier draft on the internets before. If so, great to see you again and I hope you like my revisions. Otherwise, fair warning that this story will be dark, adult, weird, and violent, but also--hopefully--funny, sweet and unexpected. I greatly appreciate constructive criticism of any kind, from typos to character issues or even if you just want to say Hi.
Phillip glanced up from his podium as two customers entered and the bells on the door jingled. They seemed to be just looking around. Which was unusual in itself; most people who walked into a funeral home were not window shoppers. But what attracted Phillip's attention was that the young man and woman, about his age, were chatting and laughing with smiles on their faces. That was a rare sight indeed here. His post was toward the middle of the shop, in a more dimly lit area, so that people had a moment to get their bearings before speaking. He watched them feel coffin linings and inspect the flower arrangements.
After a few minutes, they stepped up to him, close enough that he knew they were seeking direction. "Good afternoon," he said in his naturally calm, quiet voice. "What may we help you with?"
The man was the one who immediately grabbed your attention: tall, lanky, with a mop of black hair and clear gray eyes. His face was the angular, strong-featured kind that instantly reminded you of some celebrity, or at least a spokesperson. But its handsome earnestness was ruined by a cynical smirk. "A dead person," he said, and it took Phillip a moment to realize he was answering his question.
The woman was average height, but this was attributable to her heels: she was probably just barely five feet. She had very carefully tailored clothes and pathologically neat blond hair. She spread her hands apologetically. "We've been appointed the funeral planners for our friend, and we have no idea where to begin. We were hoping you could just show us what to do."
"Certainly. I'm sorry for your loss." He took them to a circular table in back, closed off by curtains from both the show room and the office. On a standard for, me took down their names--Tristen and April--and the name of the deceased: Billy. "Did he have any specific wishes for burial?" Phillip asked gently. He knew from experience just where his voice should go up and down, just how much concern to crease into his eyebrows. But he disliked the act.
"Billy is--was--a she." The woman, April, replied. "And no, not that we know of. There was no will."
"She, very sorry." Phillip took the papers back with a wince. Though his every move would seem careful and delicate to an outside observer, he felt like he was screwing the whole thing up. Introductions weren't his job--he owned the damn funeral home. And he hated taking over the greeter's stand when everyone else had left for the day. The lighting was too bright out there in the lobby, and people stared at him too much. He was much better at the business side of things--making orders, scheduling memorials, making sure the atmosphere stayed tasteful and professional. But with only three employees, sometimes you had to endure the clients yourself.
"Well, I'm the only person here at the moment," he said, "but I'll be done closing the front in about ten minutes and then I'll be happy help you make plans. For now, please feel free to look around and ask questions. All the floral arrangements and caskets are available."
April responded with an oddly cheerful "perfect!" and stepped through the curtain, back to the front. The man she came in with--what was his name? Tristen--hung back by the table while Phillip pulled some paperwork out of a drawer and re-filed it properly. He seemed to be reading a pamphlet, but there was obviously something he was waiting to say. Phillip snuck a covert glance at him, puzzled to no end at this man's outfit, in contrast with his girl's. He wore a long-sleeve black t-shirt over a lean, muscular frame, that advertised the name of some indie rock band. It just barely failed to cover a little black tattoo on his wrist, possibly an eye. His blue jeans and shoes were classic punk, torn and tight with safety pins and Sharpie everywhere. To top it all, he wore a sort of fedora with a black-and-white striped band. Probably not an outfit that had ever walked through the door of a funeral home before. Phillip would have thought of it as immature, except the man didn't give off a rude, sarcastic vibe; just earnest and interested.
At last Tristen coughed. "I'm sorry if she seems a little, uh, lighthearted about this whole thing."
Phillip shrugged, although that was exactly what he was thinking. "People grieve in different ways."
"I guess. I mean, we grieved before. Billy's been sick for a long time..."
"I understand. She's at rest now."
"Exactly." Tristen was looking closely at him as Phillip stood and moved to the front to lock the doors. It made Phillip glance at himself in the full-length mirror along the front wall. He made an involuntary face, and ushered the customers back to a little table by the caskets, where the lights were dim. They began glancing at the catalogues he pulled out for them, though Tristen still seemed to be looking more at him than the choices. Phillip was waiting for a question, but the one that came wasn't the one he expected. "Aren't you kind of young to work here?"
"I'm twenty-four," Phillip said, reattaching his polite host smile.
"Yeah, that's what I mean." Tristen replied, running a hand casually through his mop of hair. "I mean, it's a funeral home. You usually think of, like, some old white guy."
Phillip burst out in a surprised, nervous laugh that he managed to restrain into a light chuckle. Where was this conversation going to? He replied, "That was my dad. He passed away, my sister hated the job, and...I guess you could say it fell in my lap."
"The whole place is yours?"
"You're really good at it, though, right?" The man's gaze was a little intense now. "Comforting people, that kind of thing. Sorry, I'm just interested. Never done a funeral before."
April, glancing up from a guide to services, said, "Sorry. My brother's natural reaction to stress is to run his mouth." She grinned and smacked Tristen in the arm.
Phillip tried to return focus to the rows and rows of luxury coffins before them. "Not a prob--oh, your brother? I didn't realize you were siblings." He glanced at the papers he held, confirming that yes, they had last names. He supposed April might be married, but she had written "Miss," not "Mrs." He'd assumed they were boyfriend and girlfriend.
The two glanced at each other. It was a glance that Phillip barely processed at the time but would remember later, when he realized they had been lying about everything. After a pause, Tristen explained, "I was adopted. Never actually changed my name, so..."
"Oh, I see." The explanation didn't really make much sense, but Phillip was so used to the customer always being right that he didn't question it. He spread out some photos of basic choices for funeral arrangements toward April. She seemed the more focused of the two. "So was I, actually." Phillip murmured. "Adopted, that is."
Tristen nodded with what Phillip would later recognize as relief at not being caught. "Hence your dad being an old white guy when you are, in fact...Persian?"
"I am." Phillip offered an impressed nod, though he was slightly bothered by the fact that this stranger had looked at him closely enough to fix an ethnic heritage. He had to clear his throat, then he turned to April, who was inspecting the photos with one finger to her lips. "Anything catching your eye, Ms. Webster?"
She pointed to the deep indigo coffin with the matching irises and white lillies. "Billy loved purple," she muttered to Tristen, who smiled in a funny way and nodded.
Her choice happened to be the most expensive set the funeral home sold. Any oddness Phillip had detected in the pair was forgotten, and he switched completely into salesman mode, albeit a concerned, sympathetic salesman.
Also...(sorry, you'll find that I ramble on outside the narrative sometimes)
Also, if you have a story that might be in any way similar to mine: mystery, horror, sci-fi, character-driven drama...and it's good...I'd really love to read it. Comment here or tell me later, but I do want some excellent stories to start following on this site. Thanks!