The lady in black stood invisible at the far edge of the cemetery shaded in a veil of morning fog. From behind an enormous oak, she spied from a safe distance, the gathering crowd growing larger by the second.
It simply amazed her how many friends a person has when they’re dead.
The cemetery was small, barely covering two acres of land. Its lawn well maintained, mowed and weeded on a weekly basis. Several tombstones sanctified their existence with colorful, plastic floral bouquets, while a handful of others appeared wounded by the presence of stuffed bears, elephants, and final portraits, of lives taken well before ever having had a chance to live.
The lady in black masked herself behind one of the many ancient oaks in a forgotten part of the cemetery, well off to the left of the crowded gravesite. She would wait until the burial was over, the casket lowered, and the so-called mourners had left. Then she would pay her respects to the dead man lining the closed casket.
How long had she been waiting?
The morning air was chilled. Dampness hovered with the promise of rain. The lady in black pulled her black trench coat closer around herself to close off the damp chill that seemed to be invading her.
A single tear slid down her cheek as she watched the preacher take his place at the closed casket and begin his sermon.
How could something that was once so perfect end so tragically? She wondered, more tears following.
Although she couldn’t hear what he was saying, she did see through a blur of tears, the preacher’s hands reach high above his head. No doubt asking the Good Lord above to allow this man to pass through the gates of Heaven.
The first droplets of rain fell from the sky tapping the lady in black on her backside causing her to jump as though she had just been slapped upside the head. It took her a moment to realize where she was and even less time to know why.
She was shocked when she looked up ahead. Her heart began to accelerate and her pulse began to pound. She could hear the rush of her own blood loud in her ears. She thought she might hyperventilate.
The funeral service had ended...quite some time ago.
Don’t panic! This isn’t the first time you’ve zoned out.
The lady in black took a deep breath in and out, in and out, listening to her own advice. Once she was able, she stepped out from behind the oak tree, and with her head held high against the torrential rain, walked towards the patch of barren land indicating the newly planted grave.
At the puddled gravesite, the lady in black knelt down on her knees and began to pray.
“Forgive me father for I have sinned,” she began.
Ten years later
Twenty-seven year old Kaycee Beaumont tossed and turned, unable to sleep.
Haunted by dreams she had already forgotten and miffed by the beginnings of a headache, she sat up in bed and rubbed her temples. She glanced across Bradley’s motionless backside at the alarm clock resting on the nightstand and saw that it was just past five o’clock.
Careful not to wake her sleeping husband, she quietly slipped from the warmth beneath her covers, scrambled out of bed and tiptoed her way from the bedroom, gently closing the door behind her.
On her way to the kitchen, she stopped in the doorway across the hall to check on the twins and saw that they were sleeping soundly, as they always were at this time in the morning. She cherished the simple act of just standing there, watching her babies sleep, the two of them huddled together in a fetal position as though they were still embracing her womb. It was a pleasure she had taken great pride in ever since they were born prematurely, and later brought home from the hospital.
After emptying her bladder and brushing her teeth, Kaycee walked downstairs to the kitchen and started a pot of coffee. She reached inside the small wicker basket on the countertop under the telephone, removed a colored rubber band, and gathered her mousy hair into a long ponytail, instantly reminding herself of the pain that was escalating behind her eyes, spreading across her forehead. She opened the kitchen cabinet above the stove where she removed a bottle of extra-strength Tylenol, dumped out two of the white caplets into her palm, tossed them in her mouth, and washed them down with a glass of water.
She spent the next few minutes at the kitchen table with her head tightly cupped in her hands, looking as if she were trying to force the pain back through the crack it was bleeding.
To no avail, Kaycee forced herself up from the table and whispered, “Please, God, don’t let me be getting the flu.”
Last night had been a long and agonizing one she remembered, most of it being spent with the twins. Abigail had been the first to complain, only to be immediately followed by Christopher.
It was her job to protect her children—something she had once failed to do—it was a mothers instinct, a cougar protecting her cubs.
Kaycee had sat vigil at their bedside, cringing when Abby cried out in pain from stomach cramps that attacked her, and feeling the stab of pain deep in her stomach when spells of vomiting plagued Christopher. It had been torture on her as well as the twins. But eventually the suffering ended, with Abby and Christopher drifting off into a peaceful sleep. By the time Kaycee made it back to her own bed exhausted herself, it was nearly three A.M.; Bradley too, was fast asleep.
She was simply dog-tired, which would also explain the ambush of a troublesome headache. Willing herself to move, Kaycee eventually managed to drift to the laundry room and tiredly change into the black sweats she’d set out the night before on top of the dryer.
You can kick in anytime now! Slowly, she laced her running shoes then filled a thermos full of coffee. She grabbed her keys and purse from the kitchen table, as well as a bottle of cold water from the refrigerator, and somehow managed herself through the back door rather than fulfilling her dream of climbing the stairs and going back to bed.
Standing on the porch outside, Kaycee took a deep breath of morning air, its chill, a welcome expansion to her lungs. Its menthol coolness made her feel a little more alert, a little less tired.
And was the ache in her head actually subsiding?
Finally! She realized. The Tylenol was kicking in, doing the job it promised to do.
After a short debate—something she did every morning—she chose not to check on the twins one last time before she drove to the beach for her daily run. After all, it had been a long night for the two of them and she didn’t want to take a chance on waking them.
Let sleeping angels lie.
She took a few more gulps of the medicating air and then stepped off the porch. She walked the short distance to the driveway, got into her Honda, and drove away, giving a final glance in the rearview mirror.
Nearly one mile into her run, Kaycee could smell the rain heavy in the salted air, heavier still with each wave that rushed towards the shoreline. She increased the speed of her morning jog to a sprint hoping to complete the last half of her run, as well as escape the downpour she saw riding in on the angry surf. She was nearly to her halfway mark when the first spray of rain spattered her back, turning in moments into a wind-driven volley that pricked her skin like fine needles.
Up ahead, even through the slanting sheets of rain, Kaycee could see the “For Sale” sign at the edge of her parent’s property, rising up out of the sand like a grave marker.
What was recently so full of life was now so empty, so dark, so...eerie, she thought, looking straight ahead.
Knowing it was useless to run in the wet sand, now tugging like quicksand at her feet, she stopped and took off her running shoes. Instead of walking the short distance to her parent’s quiet house—her halfway mark—she turned around and slowly walked back towards her car, enjoying the way the saturated sand oozed between her toes with each step she took.
By the time she made it back to her car, Kaycee couldn’t have been any wetter. Cold, she started the engine and immediately turned the knob for the heater to full-blast. She rubbed her hands together in front of the rush of warming air, instantly feeling the blood in her hands begin to circulate.
Her dripping body shivered in the increasing heat.
“God, I miss you!” She suddenly blurted out, shocked that she did.
A single tear slid down her cheek.
It had been a long time since she’d allowed the escape of grieving tears for departed loved-ones useless deaths.
So why am I doing it now? She asked herself, wiping away a stream of tears.
She allowed a lid-full of the caffeinated coffee—a big no-no—from the thermos she had brought with her and took a lengthy sip of the still warm liquid. Normally she drank decaf but after last night’s lack of sleep, she appreciated every drop of caffeinated energy she could muster. Although she was still wet, the warmth of the coffee swimming down her throat—along with the blaring heat—instantly warmed her insides. The severe shivering too was losing ground. Kaycee finished off the single lid of get-up-and-go, turned the key in her ignition, and slowly pulled out on to the main road.
Outside, from a darkened sky, rain was falling in torrents across the windshield making it hard to see, even harder to drive.
At the first stop sign, Kaycee reached out in front of her to turn the windshield wipers from low to high. By the time she placed her hand on the left arm of the steering wheel, the rain stopped, just as quickly as it had started.
A flood of relief washed over her as well as a feeling of something...well, different.
Luckily, she had gotten an hour’s head start on the day. Instead of going straight to the bakery to pick up the pre-ordered cake and ice-cream—which she had intended to do right after her run—she now had an extra few minutes to spare. It would be just enough time to drive back home, change out of her sopping sweats and into something dry, preferably warm.
It was Abigail and Christopher’s second birthday.
Sitting idle at the stop sign smiling, Kaycee looked to her left, then to her right. Before her foot reached the accelerator a sense of panic suddenly washed over her, causing her heart to pick up a notch, her pulse to quicken.
Then she heard it. Distant sirens, loudening with each passing second. Her heart dropped to the soles of her feet. Her pulse pounded. Blood rushed through her veins like a raging flood out of control. She slapped her hands over her ears to mask the screeching sounds closing in on her. She began shaking her head back and forth, back and forth. The noise was getting louder and louder. Closer and closer.
One by one, in a convoy, medical emergency vehicles screamed past the Honda, no doubt desperate to put out a raging fire, or save a soul from dying. Or—Kaycee knew as she looked up in time to see a coroners van speed by—to pick up the already deceased.
Kaycee was breathing so hard she thought she would hyperventilate, or worse end up having a full-blown panic attack. She leaned across the passenger’s seat, grabbed an empty McDonald’s bag from the floor, and then immediately began taking deep breaths in and out of the paper sack.
In time, she managed to pull herself together. She made a right at the stop sign and in a daze drove towards home, in the back of her mind terrified of what would be waiting for her when she got there.
The instant she made the final left-hand turn onto Chelsea Lane she knew that something was wrong. She felt it deep in her gut. That feeling of dread that sits heavy in your stomach, like an old anchor buried knee deep in the sand at the bottom of the ocean, unable to move.
She couldn’t see her house yet, but what she did see terrified her. Beacons of flashing red screamed silent up ahead.
Feeling as if she were being smothered, Kaycee gasped for air as though each desperate breath she took depended on living or dying. Pain flooded across her chest. Her heart raced. A sudden rush of dizziness assaulted her, instinctively dropping her head into her hands. Immediately, she felt the moist onslaught of fear dampen her palms and she began to cry.
Without having to drive any further, Kaycee Beaumont knew without a doubt, that her family was dead.
Instead of racing home, Kaycee turned in the opposite direction, and through a blur of tears, she drove away.
She wouldn’t allow herself to be questioned by the police. It was too big of a risk. She would grieve for her family later. But for right now, she just needed to get as far away as she possibly could.
She would start over somewhere else...again.