It Was Him

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8

“Just keep your head down,” Ellery suggests, offering me his arm. “There’s no reason they should suspect you’re anyone but our Miriam.”

“Except the fact I’m not.” I accept his arm, but I’m more focused on our surroundings. They’re still watching us.

“Lose the jacket and they’ll be convinced.”

“I don’t think so.” I use my free hand to tighten the collar.

“For the pink,” he explains. “The last funeral Miriam attended, she wore a bright purple dress.”

“Why do you remember that? Did you have a thing for your Miriam?” I press, lifting a brow.

“I’m not justifying that with an answer,” he mutters. We reach the gravesite and stand side by side at the mouth. Ellery may have gotten me early, but the funeral is already underway. I guess he wanted to skip at least part of it, that part is seeing his brother’s body.

“Ellery.” An older woman with long, exposed legs approaches us. “I came as soon as I heard. My house has been a wreck since the news. My girls have been absolutely beside themselves.” Ellery plasters on his fake smile, reaching a hand out to take hers. She dangles her hand in his grasp, expecting him to bow to kiss her hand. He does.

“And Miriam.” She turns to me. Really? I’m not stooping to Ellery’s level. “My condolences. He was such a wonderful man. I see you’re finally playing the part of a grieving widow. It’s good of you to take this incident seriously.” My fist clenches on Ellery’s arm, digging in. In order to act like this world’s Miriam, do I play along or fight back? Help me, Ellery.

“She’s come a long way, hasn’t she?” Ellery’s words are not just insulting, but degrading. This is not the help I asked for. Is this what their Miriam endured regularly? No thanks.

“She has,” the woman agrees. Her eyes wander to the pink that I can’t seem to keep hidden under my sleeve. “Or, perhaps she’s only learned how to hide it.”

“Sweaters, bodies, it’s all the same now,” I growl. I can’t help it. I’d almost let Boss walk on me, almost let Ellery’s parents walk on me, let Torres grab me by the knee, not this bitch too. My free hand brushes on the handgun in my pocket, but I take a deep breath. Putting her in her place is enough, I don’t need to kill her. Yet.

“Excuse me?” Her voice comes out shrill, panicked.

“She’s had a long two days.” Ellery covers for me, still smiling. I wrench my arm free from his. Almost an ally. He’s losing points at an alarming rate. “Forgive her for misspeaking. Theo’s death has taken its toll.” And they just keep falling. Walking my way to the edge of the grave, I stare down at Theo’s casket. He didn’t deserve to live the last three months knowing he would die. None of us deserved living with that knowledge.

“Miriam.” Torres rests a constricting arm around my shoulders. Compared to that woman, Torres is actually a welcome surprise. “How are you holding up?”

“As best I can,” I murmur, folding my arms over my chest.

“I’m glad Ellery came with you. I would have been happy to escort you both though. We need all the support we can get today.” While I agree with him, he’s not the one I want to hear those words from. Nor is Ellery. My sister is the first that comes to mind. My father is second. My mother...

“I’m sorry Ellery brought you late. It must be disappointing to have missed seeing his face one last time,” Torres continues. He can have a conversation for us both. I’d really rather not engage. My heart is stuck in my throat, beating itself to death. I’ve been to one too many funerals in my life. I miss them. My family, not the funerals.

“When I saw his pale face, I-” he chokes up, rubbing his free hand under his eyes. “-There’s nothing more painful than watching your best friend descend into the ground. Well, I suppose I contradict myself. My wife, she-”

“-Miriam,” Ellery interrupts him.

“We’re talking,” Torres grumbles. “Can’t you see she’s grieving?”

“Can’t you see your touch is unwelcome?” Ellery lifts Torres’ arm by his sleeve and tosses it away. Thanks, but it’s barely won back a single point. I breathe in angrily, grit my teeth, and then sigh it out. It doesn’t do me any good to blow up at him here.

“Can you have an ounce of sorrow?” Torres readjusts his sleeve. “You’re brother just died.”

“I left my sorrow with the funeral home,” Ellery snarls. “I’ve suffered my loss long enough.”

“Theo would be disappointed that you feel that way.” Torres takes a step away from Ellery, before leaning to me. “Theo would love that you’re here, no matter how painful it is.”

“Theo would care less.” I meet his gaze. “Just like his brother.” I walk through both of them, heading for the road.

I hate funerals.

Even if their world crumbles, I can’t be here anymore. Instead of wallowing over Theo, all this funeral is doing is bringing up painful memories. When I stared down at his casket, all I could see was my sister’s face. Her features were pristine, pale, dead. And in that woman, I saw my sister’s murderer.

And I just wanted to tear her apart.

“Miriam.” Of course, Ellery’s following me.

“I don’t want to talk about my feelings right now,” I announce, continuing forward. I’m not one for running away, but I do like to be alone when I’m about to fall to pieces. “As it is, I’m sure you could talk for them just fine.”

“I deserve that.” He stops walking. “You’re not here as an ornament.”

“Yes, I am. I’m here to play Miriam’s part.” I glance at him. Both of his hands are pocketed in his jacket, the way they always are. I mirror him. My hand rests on the handgun. Ah, so that’s why. He’s not acting aloof, there’s just a second gun in his pocket. The eyes are drawn to the one on his belt, the mind is then convinced he doesn’t have another. He’s sly, maybe too sly. Maybe that’s why I’m struggling to trust him.

“Okay, you’re here as an ornament.” He lifts an eyebrow at me. Is that supposed to be charming? I’m prepared to rattle out a full comeback, but I’m interrupted.

Bang! Bang!

I drop to the ground, hand already clasped tight on the gun. But it wasn’t gunshots.

No, it was two explosions.

Standing, I give a hard spin until I see the smoke. My sanctuary! I start into a sprint. I had been right, that object was meant to destroy the ground I stood on. Had they mistimed it? Was I supposed to be in that blast? I’m halfway across the yard when Ellery’s voice brings me back.

“Miriam, don’t tell me that’s where I think it is,” He snaps.

“I can’t.” I still, staring into the distance.

“If they’re after you-” Ellery is stern.

“-It’s...” I sputter for words. It’s my sanctuary. Even if I wanted to pretend the device didn’t cause this, my subconscious is awake and alive. It’s screaming for me to stay away. It knows as well as I do. But is that because it’s connected to whoever caused this?

“We’re on-call.” Torres makes his way to us, phone in hand. Turning away from both of them, I try to gather my wits. Why are they targeting me anyway? All I did was visit Ellery’s parents. I doubt that’s an unusual occurrence for their world’s Miriam.

Unless it is.

“I guess we’re going. Miriam, are you coming with us?” Ellery asks me.

“Of course I am.” I spin to push past him, back to the car.

“We’ll meet you there,” Ellery explains.

“Just don’t let her out of the car,” Torres warns him. “I don’t want her in danger.” He probably hasn’t put together the facts. He doesn’t know I’m already in danger.

As soon as Ellery unlocks the car, I lower myself inside and slam the door shut. He joins me after a brief minute. “I didn’t mean what I said to-” He’s instantly entering an apology.

“-Not right now. You can apologize later.” I absently spin the ring on my finger again. He sighs and starts the car.

“Did something happen before I came?” he inquires.

“Like what?” I can’t seem to control my anger with him. Since I was already annoyed with him, he’s just my victim right now. He certainly deserves some of it, maybe not all.

“I don’t know,” he stammers, “something? I’m a detective, Miriam.”

“No, you’re a shamus,” I correct him. “Just drive.” He clams up, hands tightening on the steering wheel. I should have told him about the device. If I had put just a small amount of trust in him, he could have helped me. But it’s too late. And I’m not going to admit the truth to him now.

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