© 2021 by Sara Leanne Adams
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any manner without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Warning: this book contains sexual content not suitable for persons under 18 years of age.
Seventeen Years Earlier
I ran through the big room with the really old furniture, glancing over my shoulder to make sure he wasn’t following me. The floor creaked with every step, threatening to reveal my location. I reached for the door handle, turning the brass knob slowly.
The casket room was a perfect place to hide. I wasn’t afraid anymore. I’d been hanging out in funeral homes for almost a year. I climbed into one of the open caskets and waited for Paddy to find me.
When I first learned my big sister was a mortician, I wasn’t too sure about her. But she wasn’t creepy at all. Quite the opposite.
My parents said Daisy and her husband Silas were hippies. I didn’t know what that meant. I was only seven, but sadly, I already knew what death was all about.
The summer before second grade, my best friend was killed in a car accident. My parents took me to the funeral. I don’t think I really grasped the entire concept of death until the moment I saw her lying in her pink casket. The image was burned into my brain for eternity. There are some things you never forget.
I didn’t know how to deal with my grief. My parents tried to help, but they were at a loss. They had their hands full with my autistic sister, Cleo. She was ten years older than me. I resented Cleo. She got all the attention, and I got none. I had another sister. There was a five-year age difference between me and Hannah, and we had nothing in common. She was a goody two-shoes who did everything right.
I started acting out at school. All I wanted was some attention. The Big Sister’s Program was the best thing that ever happened to me. It was supposed to be a one-on-one friendship with Daisy. But my big sister wasn’t big on rules. She introduced me to her husband and son. Paddy was the same age as me. We hit it off right away, becoming best friends.
I laid in that casket for donkey’s years. Did Paddy give up and quit? He had a habit of doing that when I found a really good hiding spot.
I giggled when I heard footsteps. But they weren’t Paddy’s. It was Daisy. And a customer! Maybe they wouldn’t notice me.
No such luck.
Of all the caskets in the room, the lady decided to check out the very one I was hiding in. She let out a bloodcurdling scream before running from the room.
“No more hide-and-seek in the funeral home,” Daisy ordered, placing two tall glasses of milk on the table. Milk tasted so much better in a glass than the plastic tumblers we had at home.
“Sorry, Mommy,” Paddy said, snatching two of the oatmeal cookies from the plate she set in front of us. “Daddy said there were no appointments or services today.”
“Sometimes customers drop in unannounced, Paddington,” she explained tousling his brown curls. “I have to go downstairs and make some calls. Can I trust you two to behave?”
“Yes, Daisy,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
“What should we do now?” Paddy wondered before tipping his glass back.
“Let’s play the wedding game,” I suggested.
“We dress up as a bride and groom and pretend to get married,” I explained. “Hannah used to play it with me. She’d be the groom and I’d be the bride. Then she got her boobs, and now she doesn’t play with me at all.”
“I’ll be your groom,” he offered.
“Okay! Let’s go!”
“Are you sure there’s no dead bodies down here?” I whispered as we snuck down the backstairs to the basement of the funeral home.
“What?” I hissed.
“Of course there are dead bodies, silly,” he laughed, shaking his head. “This is a funeral home.”
I froze on the bottom step. “I’m not going any further, Paddy.”
“It’s okay,” he whispered, capturing my hand. “I’ll protect you, Alexis. Always.”
We crept down the corridor to the closet where they kept spare clothes for bodies that arrived without any.
“This will work for my dress,” I said, pulling a white blouse from a hanger. “I just need a white pillowcase for my head.”
Paddy grabbed a suit jacket and we headed back upstairs to the apartment the family kept over the funeral home. They didn’t stay there all the time. The Wallingford-Yargeys lived in a big mansion in Shaughnessy Heights. Paddy’s family was rich. They owned several funeral homes in Vancouver, including a huge one downtown that reminded me of the castle at Disney World.
I’d been looking up pictures of Disney on the internet ever since Daisy and Silas invited me to go with them. The trip was less than a month away, and I was super excited. Hannah and Cleo were so jealous.
We went to Paddy’s room to change into our wedding clothes. I stripped down to my underwear and slipped into the blouse. It went down past my knees, which was perfect. Paddy handed me the white pillowcase from his bed. I wrapped it around my head and tied his sheet around my waist for my train.
“You sure are a pretty bride, Alexis,” he said.
“And you are a very handsome groom, Paddington.”
“Shall we get married?” he asked, holding out his arm.
I looped my arm through his, giggling when we both tripped over my train and fell on our faces.
“What on earth is going on in here?” Daisy asked, appearing in the doorway of Paddy’s room.
“We’re getting married,” Paddy announced.
“I think you might be a little young, son,” Silas chuckled from behind his wife.
“It’s just pretend,” I said.
“I like to think of it more as a practice run,” Paddy said. “How old do you have to be to get married?”
“Legally, eighteen,” Daisy replied. “But that’s way too young. You should wait until you’re at least twenty-five.”
He turned to me and dropped to one knee. “Alexis Annabelle Taylor, will you marry me when we’re twenty-five?”
“Yes, I will,” I declared.