Guy Meets Hope at the Funeral
I trail behind my dad, my head cast down. I don’t want to be here. All these people make me uncomfortable. I don’t know any of them. Outside of my family, the only person I know is lying in one of the coffins in the front of the room. Is that the right word? Coffin? It feels wrong somehow. Like Uncle Donnie is a vampire, ready to rise at dusk to suck the blood of the innocent.
A flash of color catches my eye and I glance over catching sight of a young girl with multi-colored hair. She’s small and cute, like I could tuck her into my pocket. But her eyes are the saddest things I’ve ever seen before. I can’t stop staring at her and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because she’s subtly falling back, letting the crowd hide her from the double coffins up front.
And then I realize who she is.
My eyes flick away long enough to glance over at the long, dark hair of Uncle Donnie’s girlfriend lying motionless in her satin bed.
I let my gaze slide back to the girl. Her name is Hope and as of today, my new foster sister. Someone up front makes an announcement and the crowd thins as people find seats. I tug the sleeves of my two sizes too small suit and that’s when she notices me. I watch her as she takes in my ridiculous outfit. And then she laughs. It’s one of those surprised snorts and it’s loud in the otherwise quiet room. Heads turn in Hope’s direction as her cheeks flame.
Instantly feeling like shit for making her laugh, I smile back apologetically as I wiggle the knot on my hot pink tie. Dad nudges me to the chair next to an older woman I’m apparently related to and I lose sight of Hope.
“I hate these things,” Dad whispers.
I raise a brow. Doesn’t everybody?
“I never know what to say,” he continues. “Everybody always says they’re sorry. But what are they sorry for?”
I shrug as I rake my eyes over the many heads surrounding us. “Maybe they’re sorry for being happy it isn’t them that died,” I say mindlessly.
“Hm,” Dad grunts. “Don’t say that to any of Jenny’s family.”
Now I grunt my agreement as I scrub my fingers through my hair. I finally find her again, sitting by herself in the very back. Family is supposed to sit up front, but I think she already knows this.
I lean into Dad’s ear. “I’m going to go sit with Hope. Nobody should be alone at their mom’s funeral.”
Dad follows my gaze before turning back to me and nodding. I stand up slowly as if that will be less disruptive to the Pastor. The chair squeaks loudly and I mumble an apology to the old woman beside me as I slip past her.
Hope’s head lifts as I slide in next to her. I smile and tip my head forward. “Hi,” I whisper. I know I shouldn’t be talking to her right now, but I get the impression she isn’t paying attention to the eulogy anyway.
“Hi,” she murmurs back.
She smiles as she pushes a chunk of rainbow hair behind her ear. “I know.”
“And you’re Hope.”
She laughs softly and looks down at her feet as they swing beneath her chair. “I know that too.”
I don’t tell her I’m sorry about her mom. She doesn’t tell me she’s sorry about my uncle. Instead, she inclines closer to me and extends one ear bud. I stifle a laugh as I realize she’s been listening to music this entire time. I press it into my ear and lean back, my shoulder touching hers comfortably.
After the funeral, everybody comes back to our house. I’ve never really understood this part. How does standing around with a bunch of strangers shoving food in our mouths help the grieving process? As if the unknown casserole—made by the strange lady stuffing crackers into her purse—will make me miss Uncle Donnie less.
I fill a plate to overflowing and shove a couple bottles of water into my pockets. Then I climb the wooden ladder leading up to the tree house. As soon as Hope spotted it she headed straight for it and I haven’t seen her since.
Now as I elbow the door in the floor open, my eyes meet hers. She lying flat on her back, her bare feet crossed at the ankle, hands resting on the middle of her stomach. And the ear buds are snuggly attached.
“Hungry?” I ask as I hold out the paper plate bending under the weight of the greasy comfort food.
She sits up, tucking her legs beneath her, and pocketing the iPod. “Not really.”
I set the plate between us and offer her a bottle of water. She takes it, her small fingers twisting the cap back and forth, but she doesn’t drink. I struggle with my jacket until my arms are finally freed. I ball it up and set it behind me to use as a pillow. The tie comes off next and I toss it to the floor before lying back with a roll.
“It was a nice service,” I utter because I don’t know what else to say. All I know is I want to talk to her. I want to take some of her sadness away if I can.
Hope snorts and rolls her eyes. “Yeah, it was great. We should do it again sometime.”
My lips lift in smile at her sarcastic remark. And with the utmost certainty, I know Hope and I are going to be good friends.
“Any excuse to wear this suit,” I say. I tuck one wrist behind my neck and let my head roll in her direction. She’s watching me closely, not sure what to think of me yet. I wink and she grins before reaching over and plucking the roll out of my hands.
I can’t sleep. My mind is busy with too many thoughts. Like how I’ll never see my Uncle again. How I was just getting to really know him before he died way too young. How that one motorcycle ride we took will be the only I’ll ever have with him. My heart hurts and I don’t want to feel this way.
I know Hope’s just a floor below. She’s probably having trouble sleeping too. If I’m this tore up over my step-uncle, I can’t imagine how much she’s hurting over her mom.
I try to think about losing my mom or dad and quickly push it away.
I decide I’ll just go check. If Hope’s asleep, I’ll come back to bed and count sheep or something. But if she’s awake, it’ll be proof, like a sign that she needs someone. And since I need someone right now too, why can’t we be each other’s someone?
I maneuver around the creaky step and pad down the stairs. She sits up immediately and I plop down beside her like it’s not weird.
“If you could go anywhere right now, where would you go?”
Hope’s brows draw together and she shakes her head. “Huh?”
“Anyplace in the entire world…where would you go?”
She blows out a breath, lifting her hair. “I’d go back in time five days ago and stop my mom and Donnie from leaving.”
Her answer catches me off guard, but I nod quickly, trying to cover my surprise. That was a damn good answer. So I ask another random question. And then another and before I know it, it’s four in the morning.
I yawn around my next inquiry. “Who was your first kiss?”
Biting her lip, she looks down at her folded hands in her lap and shrugs. “I’ve never kissed anyone,” she whispers. And even in the darkness, I know she’s embarrassed.
I don’t know what possesses me to do it, but I lean over her and brush the hair off her shoulder. Maybe it’s because I want to do something for her. Maybe it’s because I feel really comfortably close with her right now. Hell, maybe it’s just because I’ve never kissed a girl before… But I place my hands on each side of her face and tilt her head so I can reach her better. And then I kiss her. She doesn’t react at first, so I slip my tongue between her lips until it’s touching hers.
Hope kisses me back and I’m torn because even though I’m not attracted to her, I like kissing her. But it’s not so much the actual kiss that I like. I like that I’m her first. I like that I was able to find something on this horrible day to make her forget, even if only for a moment. To make us both forget.
I drop my hands to her neck, letting my fingers graze her warm skin. I trail them over her shoulders and down her arms. I consider for half a second going further just to see what it would be like, but before I can really entertain the thought, she pulls away.
“Interesting,” I sigh. My eyes flick over her face, searching for some reaction.
Finally she wipes her mouth as she utters, “You’re my cousin.” But she doesn’t look repulsed. She looks as confused as I feel.
I shake my head slowly, smiling. “No I’m not. Jenny is my step-mom, not my real mom. You aren’t even related to her, technically. Besides, foster parents aren’t real parents anyway.”
She stares at me as she considers my words and I hope I didn’t freak her out. When the silence gets to be too much, I grin at her, trying to put her at ease.
“Did you like it?”
“Like what?” she asks quietly.
“Yes,” she replies so softly I almost miss it.
“It wasn’t bad,” I muse. “I usually just kiss guys.” I wait for the result my words will have. This is where I’ll find out if we’ll be the friends I’m hoping we will be.
“Wait. What? Really?”
I nod, my lips lifting in a smirk. Here we go. This is why I don’t tell a lot of people. Once they find out I’m gay they treat me differently. “Yeah. Do you have a problem with that?” My palms start to sweat as I hold my breath. The next words out of her mouth are extremely important.
“No,” she says as she shakes her head. “But why would you kiss me if you’re into dudes?”
Good question. One I don’t have an answer to.
“I don’t know. Maybe we should do it again so I can figure it out.”
© Cheryl McIntyre