The heady smell of salt surrounded the small, dark bundle on the beach. A warm, comforting breeze wrapped around the people. The ever constant sun beat down on the mass of black material and the glossy oak casket. If the procession of cars led by a sleek hearse wasn't down the way lining the main street, no one would guess that this was a funeral.
Not on a perfect day, not on a cliff looking over the massive Pacific Ocean; and not while there were so many questions left unanswered.
Deanna's eyes were the only ones not gaping at Father Kai – as he struggled to hold his bible and grip his black robes in the relentless wind. The empty casket weighing in the sand was a focal point. Placed there merely for show. It was to appease the audience, prove that it was in fact a tragic event, and not an average day in paradise. The sermon was simple, quietly uttered by Father Kai and carried off with the breeze. The group of mourners coughed and cried on cue.
None of them cared. Not as much as she did, Deanna believed. No one wanted to know the truth.
Her arm looped tightly through Mako's, who had the sense to wear a shirt for the occasion. The row of people aligned in a circle – surrounding the local priest and a blown up picture of the man of honor – were informal. All decked in variations of black board shorts and dark sundresses. Deanna's free hand held her sandals. It was simple, just the way Kevin would have wanted it.
The young woman tried to remember when half of the spectators even spoke to Kevin in his life. Most, Deanna noted, only ever pointed their blame and glares; pinning Kevin as the source of all trouble. Most hadn't understood the twenty-one year old, and no one would be able to now.
Once the memorial was over, Father Kai mumbled his own personal prayer. He moved his calloused hand in a symbolic motion and shut his book with an inaudible tap. His eyes softly closed, his mouth barely moved.
The mass of mourners trotted their way down the hill after that. All rushing – as quick as the hot sand would allow – towards their cars. A common plan to convene at the Johnson estate on the other side of the island.
Deanna let the flock move her. There was a part of her soul that remained there, though. Overlooking the skyline, side by side with Kevin. She let her father wrap an arm around her, as she, with Mako close behind, headed to the clunky, rust ridden car that her father rarely used.
Though the island was small, and less than three thousands residence called the tropical oasis home, it was still prudent to drive to the Northern side of the island. The funeral procession caused one of the first traffic lines that Deanna ever witnessed. Kevin would have been pleased.
The drive across town was quiet. Deanna stared out the window while Mako appeased Mr. Piersanti. He gave him the status of prime surf action for the week to come. They sang along to the only radio station the Island got. It was like any other day, Deanna grimaced. The only difference was that Kevin wasn't there to spare her the boredom of listening.
The Johnson residence was one of the larger complexes in Galeo Reef. Built within the northern hill, it was on the wealthier portion of the island; where people like Deanna never felt welcomed. There was no sand leading up to the doorway and the sidings were made of slate and stucco. Some houses, like the Johnson's, had fountains centered within the inner gates. Kevin hated living there, Deanna remembered fondly. He was nothing like those people.
Todd was at the door, when Deanna, Mako and her father made it to the front of the line. He was all business. His dark suit pants pressed, his hair gelled. Deanna couldn't remember ever seeing a strand out of place on Todd Johnson's head. He smiled warmly at her when she fumbled into the entry.
While Mr. Piersanti hung back to chat with Todd, Deanna and Mako maneuvered through the crowd stuffed in the main parlor. Their hands tight together – searching for a familiar face. Deanna could feel the tentative eyes of Jonah Sloane on her as she passed the arch that housed Todd's study.
As they walked deeper into the foyer, Mako mistakenly waved at Ellie Reese, receiving an elbow to the gut courtesy of Deanna. The pair was intercepted before Ellie could shimmy her way towards them. Deanna looked up at a friendly face with a similarly limp smile.
“Hi,” Deanna breathed.
Alicia Johnson, Kevin's aunt, who was always the image of grace – grabbed onto Deanna's hand, giving her a comforting squeeze.
“Glad I found you two,” she smiled faintly. “There's someone I want you to meet.”
Alicia walked ahead of Deanna and Mako, winding through the collection of townsfolk effortlessly. The woman was beautiful, tan skin, dark freckles and deep blonde hair. She was kind, no matter how successful her husband was. Deanna always admired that.
So many of the residence of Galeo Reef forgot that their little seaside community was meant to be shared, that it wasn't just elite businessmen who forgot to end their vacations.
Some residents were simple, enjoying only what was needed. They didn't all desire the grand houses and useless cars. Nor did they care to throw their money in anyone's face like so many of the north side families did.
Alicia led the two into the guest living room. It was strictly for show and when Kevin wanted to have friends over, they had to use the den downstairs. The living room was just off the hall, no doors, just another large arch that kept the house bright and airy. The couches were a satin white color, and the main focal point was the massive fireplace that wasn't practical for the island's tropical climate.
Standing in front of that fireplace was a man with his back to the world. Deanna noticed right away how tall he was. Mako was always the tallest person she knew, and this stranger was a head above him. Mako dropped her hand once they were in the relatively quiet place. From the open room, the two could still hear the rest of the guests, even some laughter. That set a fire in the pit of Deanna's stomach.
Smiling, Alicia walked a little closer to the faceless stranger. Mako stared down at Deanna, he looked as confused as she felt. He brushed some of his shaggy, beach blond hair from his face and stood a bit straighter. Whoever this guy was, he must have been important if Alicia was singling them out to meet him.
“Chris? This is Deanna and Mako, Kevin's best friends.”
The man, Chris, hadn't turned yet. His stiff posture gave away that he knew they were present, but he was studying the mantel, which from memory, Deanna knew was filled with pictures of Kevin.
Chris then dropped his shoulders, which Deanna noticed were broad and powerful looking. Probably from years of football and weightlifting, or some other fancy impractical activity that all these people needed to have in their lives.
He turned to the awkwardly awaiting patrons and immediately, Deanna felt like she knew him. The man, who she now noticed wasn't much older than her, had a stubborn set to his jaw and a hard look in his bright eyes. Kevin's eyes. He strolled towards the two and pushed out his hand, it was all rather robotic.
“Mako? What kind of name is that?” he snorted.
Deanna frowned, she didn't like his tone, or the attitude he seemed to secrete like poison. She couldn't tell if this was just his personality or if he was actually acting like a rational funeral attendee.
“Markov, actually. Mako is a nickname. Kev gave it to me.” Mako's voice slowly changed. No longer breezy but, solemn and faint.
Deanna was staring up at her friend. She could clearly see the sadness in his brown eyes. If she was right, Mako was remembering the day Kevin showed up on Galeo Island with that mischievous gleam in his blue eyes and a list of things to accomplish. Just like her.
Chris rose a brow, ignoring the tension. “And you're Dina?"
His mistake was innocent enough but Deanna was already full of resentment. Her father believed that this was just how she acted around people. She was never the social butterfly, but there was just something so reproachful about the apathetic Chris.
She met his awaiting hand with vigor. “Deanna.” she corrected.
She had a strong grip. It was the only way to be taken seriously around the Island. She liked that he noticed, repositioning his hand for a better fit. He didn't seem to like being challenged. Then he smiled, and the anger in his deep set eyes nearly vanished. “Chris Norris,”
He watched – and Deanna knew he watched – as a stunned realization formed in her cinnamon brown eyes.
“Kevin's older brother.” he finished. His cool blue eyes narrowed, gauging her.
Deanna retracted her hand almost immediately, as if his touch burned her. Mako made a strangled sound of confusion deep in his throat.
“Kevin doesn't have a brother,” he stated in a matter of fact tone.
Chris shrugged, as if not at all surprised he was never mentioned. Through pursed lips he muttered, “We had our differences.”
Alicia cleared her throat. “Well I'm going to go see if the food is ready. You three get to know each other. I'm sure Chris would love to hear some stories about Kevin.”
She gave one of her best smiles while pulling her glossy blonde hair into an elastic from her wrist. She walked out, her heels making a sound on the expensive Spanish tile for only a moment before the echo was swallowed by the commotion.
“Kevin would have told us if he had a brother,” Deanna reasoned. “We were best friends. Why would he keep you a secret?”
Chris strolled around the glass coffee table, taking a seat on a plush chair that was never meant to feel a person's weight. Deanna and Mako stood, not comfortable with the situation.
“Really?” he paused, “Kevin told you everything?” Chris bated.
Deanna crossed her arms, completely defensive. She was not in the mood to take this stranger's attitude on the day of her best friend's funeral. She opened her mouth, but Mako beat her to the punch.
“I'm sure he had a good reason not telling us,” he shrugged once he felt Deanna's glare.
Mako always had an uncanny ability to stop Deanna from going overboard. Now that she was cut off, she could see that maybe Chris felt just as burned about not being mentioned, as Deanna did. Maybe he really was just acting like a mourning brother.
Then the sinking feeling weighed her down.
“I'm really sorry for your loss,” she mumbled, stepping closer to Chris.
He glanced up, and then back at his hands. His shoulders hunched. The black polo shirt hugging his arms gave away how tense he was.
“Thanks,” Chris grunted. The darkness almost evaporating.
Deanna wanted to say something else. Anything else. But, being an only child left her limited. Mako was the closest thing to a brother she had. Turning her head to find him, she caught a mess of ginger waves flying towards the arch.
“Oh god,” Deanna mumbled hoarsely before turning back to Chris, panic in her eyes.
“Here you guys are!” the cheery voice, followed by the nasally snort-chuckle combination left Deanna's skin crawling.
“I've been looking for you,” the redhead moved into the room.
She started by running a palm slowly down Mako's bare arm, a sympathetic sheen in her green gaze, before heading into the center pit of the room, to stand beside Deanna.
Where Chris was solemn and bruiting, Eleanor Reese was animated and lively.
“Who's this?” the shorter girl asked, coming closer to Deanna.
Tensing considerably, Deanna did little to hide her scowl and moved her hand back and forth for introductions. “Chris Norris, meet Ellie Reese.”
Ellie's pale green eyes widened in surprise. Deanna watched as the girl realized who she was meeting. “Norris,” she echoed, “As in..” she whispered, looking at the Deanna for reassurance.
Deanna looked away. Ellie was a lot of things, but one of her most vexatious qualities, was that she actually cared.
“Yeah,” Chris grunted, looking up at the redhead with curious eyes. “Kevin was my brother.”
The was made all the air leave the room. Deanna could feel it.
Mako stood a bit taller from the border of the hall, Ellie's eyes glistened with tears, and even Deanna, emotionless and angry couldn’t stop the shutter from running through her veins.
Darting towards him, Ellie barked out, “I am so sorry,” before launching at Kevin's brother.
If they weren't at a funeral, in a room that shouldn't be touched, without one of the most important people in her life, Deanna might have laughed. Chris looked petrified when Ellie, a virtual stranger – threw her arms around him.
Everything was so strange, almost normal, but in the same instant – completely upside down.
Chris, flustered and startled, did his best not to appear rude. He pat the slim girl's back, her black, skin tight – yet remarkably conservative cocktail dress bunched with his large hand's movements. Mako walked over, ready to intervene. Ellie refused to move, squeezing Chris, just as Mako's hand softly touched her arm, signaling for her to release.
Deanna heard herself laugh – one that she was so used to issuing. A superior sound that her father never appreciated. But then, as if realizing what she was doing, she paused. For a second Deanna forgot that Kevin was really gone and laughing was impossible.
Smiling awkwardly, with tears prickling her eyes, she quietly left the room -- softly shaking her head, so Mako wouldn't follow. Deanna needed air.
The back patio overlooked the rocky edge of the sea. Whereas Deanna lived near the sand, always smooth waves and populated shores, the north side was dangerous. Salty waves crashed against the rocks, choppy and unfamiliar. No one frequented the rough shore, boats wouldn't brave the current.
It was like a different world. Deanna was maybe ten minutes from the beach, but she felt like she was miles away.
The Spanish tile flooring poured out to the top deck of the mansion. Terracotta and olive green designs painted the slabs, expanding to the wrought iron fence that closed her in. It was a beautiful cage. Pretty but untouchable to someone like Deanna.
She focused on the waves, white foam lathering the top of the water with too much movement – it disrupted the gulls. Deanna was lost inside her thoughts. The same questions circling around her head like the sharks down in Tiger Cove. Two weeks without answers. Two weeks without Kevin to save her from herself.
Deanna was so absorbed, she didn't hear the heavy footsteps or smell the expensive cologne. She left herself open for an ambush. She didn't really care who was there. No one would be able to make her feel better, though bless him – Mako tried.
“I'm sure you're expecting a charming story about my time with Norris.” the charismatic voice admitted with a mocking edge.
Deanna's skin crawled and whatever serenity she found out in the salty air dwindled with the stranger's presence.
“Go away,” she mumbled with a groan.
“Come now, Deanna, this is a time to celebrate.”
Deanna's head snapped up, a hand that wasn't hers lifted to move hair out of her face. The wind on the north side of the island was chillier and stronger than down by the southern edge.
Getting a good look at the man bothering her, Deana felt nothing but rage. She swiped his hand away and glowered incredulously at him.
“Celebrate?” she mimicked with a nod. “We should be celebrating that my best friend is dead?”
With a coy chuckle, the man moved closer taking the seat at the end of Deanna's lounge. “Now you know that's not what I mean.”
“Do I?” Deanna wondered coolly, glaring at him. “From the moment he got here all you cared about was getting him in trouble. Tell me, Mr. Mayor, why were you so threatened by Kevin?”
Jonah Sloane, Galeo Reef's mayor and pain in Deanna Piersanti's side, was mustering all his effort not to show his true, menacing colors. Sloane never had any patients for Kevin, and Deanna realized that it was nonexistent for her as well. She wasn't impressed by him and his charms or money. Deanna wasn't one of the women filling out surveys around town, naming him the hottest bachelor on the Island.
Mayor Sloane's dark eyes grew ominously dark. The sparse clouds covered the sun at the exact moment he began to speak. His jaw tightened as he rose to his full height, intimidating the woman in front of him.
Leaning down, a safe distance away from her, but still entirely too close, he whispered, “Are you still looking into your arrogant and deranged notions?”
Blinking, Deanna stared up at him numbly.
“Yes, I know.” he shook his head with an intense nod. His face, which was devastatingly handsome for someone so cold, inched closer.
“Now I want you to listen to me, Deanna.” his deep voice had an air of friendliness, but the threat was evident.
“What happened to your friend was a tragic accident. We both know who Kevin was, and you can hold him up on that pedestal all you want but do not go looking for things that just aren't there, girl.”
The Mayor's voice was low and intimate, but dangerous all the same. He loomed above her, trying to over power Deanna with his mass and threaten her into compliance. She was starting to realize that she was a pain in his side, too.
He moved away, his fake, ribbon winning smile back in place. “Now, I think dinner is ready. If you care to join me,” he extended a large hand.
Deanna looked up, angry and stunned. He rose a thick, dark brow, challenging her.
Ignoring his offer Deanna shoved away from the mayor and stomped back into the house, only to crash into Chris Norris in the hall. He wasn't looking at her, but his hands came up to steady Deanna on instinct. His eyes, Deanna noticed, watched Jonah Sloane as he followed behind, adjusting his orange tie and smiled kindly at the two before entering the throng of people.
Deanna shrugged out of Chris' hold. He didn't ask if she was okay, not like Kevin would have. But Deanna relaxed, happy that he wouldn't pry. When Chris finally looked down at her, there was only a flicker of confusion in his eyes.
“Food's out, Alicia asked me to tell you,” he explained, stepping further away from Deanna and walked down the hall, away from the dining room. Deanna watched him go, as he headed for the steps that led to the den, and Kevin's room.
It was as she walked towards the collective chatter, Deana realized Chris had the better idea.
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