“We are gathered here this evening to say our final goodbyes to a dearly departed friend. His kindness and friendship will be missed by all. The Lord has taken our dearly departed Joe to a better place,” the Reverend drones on in his repetitive, generic speech. If an audience had shown up, they’d be asleep by now. The church is much too big for a three person funeral; well, four if you count the stiff in the coffin.
Suicide, they said. Swallowed a bunch of pills and washed it down with a handle of Jack. Life was apparently “too hard to handle,” as it was put in the note. I never saw the note, but I know that none of it is true.
I look at my father in his open casket. His face is pale and lifeless, like you’d expect any dead person to look. I’m closer to my father than Piper is, which means that I get two calls a week instead of one. Despite a limited relationship, I love him more than anything else in my life. The news of his death rocked me into oblivion, I just didn’t let it reflect externally. In my mind, I’m crying, screaming, fighting, and dying all at the same time. I’m grasping at straws for any answer or indication foreshadowing his death. I comb through letters and phone calls and emails, but in all of them, he maintained his soft tone and polite disinterest. I scrutinize his body, looking for answers.
There’s a scratch on his cheek almost covered up by the mortician’s powder. The faint pink line reached from his right temple to his lips, which look fuller than normal. Even though he’s lifeless, blood still seems to be swelling under his lower lip. I look even closer… and a patch of his hair is missing by his ear.
“Piper!” I bark in the softest voice I can. Her gaze doesn’t leave the altar and she replies out of the side of her mouth.
“What? Pay attention!” I scoff at her manners.
“You know this is wrong.”
“What’s wrong?” She asks, with more interest this time.
“Why would dad kill himself? He just closed that new deal, we’re getting good grades, he even started talking to that waitress at the diner! What could have gone so wrong that he wanted to die?” A flicker of doubt burns in Piper’s hazel eyes. She tries to shake it off.
“We don’t know what he was thinking. He doesn’t tell us everything, you know.”
‘He doesn’t tell you everything’ I wanted to say, but I bit my tongue. I pressed on with my questions.
“Why would he have a scratch on his cheek then? A fat lip? And unless he started aging really quickly, I don’t remember him having a bald spot.” Piper ignored me until the ceremony was over. When we’re walking to our car in the deserted parking lot, I finally explode.
“Why are you acting like you don’t care?” I exclaim, letting my blood boil. “You’ve always been like this. You take things at face value and never question anything. It’s like you don’t even care that dad’s gone!”
Piper whips her head around, her eyes wide and mad with rage. It stops me in my tracks.
“You think I don’t care that dad’s gone? That we’re orphans? That we literally have nothing? I can’t believe you would accuse me of that. You didn’t even show up for half of the meeting yesterday! I was the one that found out first. They put all of the stress on me. They told me that dad went broke and never made a will, meaning we have nothing. They told me that they bank is taking the house as compensation for all of our debt. They told me that our tuition is going to run out after this semester.” Piper lowered her eyes to the ground.
“Larkin, they told me we have a half-sister.” My jaw drops to the cracked concrete.
“What? We have a sister?” I cry in disbelief. Piper still doesn’t look at me.
Her voice breaks when she answers. “She goes to Calton.”
We’re starting to attract an audience with our dramatic family problems, so hurriedly, we duck into the car and make the long drive back to Calton.
“Her name is Lissa, and she’s a grade lower than us. ” Piper starts. “They didn’t tell me any specifics, but I’m guessing dad’s business trips involved more than just business. Apparently, he started her at Calton when he started us.” A disgusted look spreads over my face. Betrayed! Lied to! I knew my father wasn’t a saint, but I didn’t think he was the devil.
“She doesn’t know either, though,” Piper finishes. “No one’s ever told her. She thinks her great aunt is paying for her tuition.”
Piper was calm now. Getting things off her chest always alleviates her stress. She turned some radio station on. Sound or static, it makes no difference to me. I know I have a problem to fix, and her name is Lissa.