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Gilded Lily

By´╝ÜPauline Allan


Chapter One

Lily stood outside the funeral home with a cigarette clenched between two trembling fingers. The stale taste lingered against her lips as she blew the small billow of smoke into the warm afternoon breeze. It was only on rare occasions she needed to light up. The day her ex walked out. The reading of her grandmother’s will. When her mother called to state, matter-of-factly, that the lump in her breast wasn’t a caffeine deposit. This was another event to tag on to the growing list.

Cigarette teetering between her lips, she rifled through her purse for a mint. She should’ve pulled her hair up. Tony always knew what was best, she thought. Should’ve worn the flat sandals too, and definitely should’ve swiped on some extra deodorant. All the wishing in the world wasn’t going to bring Tony here. He didn’t care much for New York; besides, he was overrun at the office. But the patients could’ve waited. She’d been his submissive for three years, after all, and needed him more than ever.

Finally. She thumbed the tiny lid on the plastic container and shook the last green pellet into her palm. After grinding the fire-red end of the cigarette into the sand pit ashtray, she shoved the candy into her mouth. She stuffed the container into her purse and fished out the compact mirror. She checked her lipstick and hair. “Nicholas was right,” she said to herself, clipping the compact closed and dropping it back into her purse. “If there’s not a man marching with an umbrella and a band behind him, what’s the point of a funeral? Why else is the word fun in it?”

Two tall men stood by the frosted glass doors. Their gentle nods preceded their opening the doors for her to enter. Lily politely smiled and walked through into a hall lined with the other guests. Clutching her bag, she tightened her fingers together around the leather straps. The feel of leather was a reminder of comfort. The sensation of a supple belt snapping against her bare skin always led to the delicious heat of the sting.

The reel in her head played in repetition. It was Tony’s voice telling her she could do this. You can do this. Deep breaths… Follow the line.

God, Tony, I need you.

Deep breaths… Follow the line. You can do this.

Tony…

She slid the purse straps over her shoulder and tucked her hands to their familiar position behind her back. The silk blouse Tony had chosen for her to wear fluttered against her heated skin. Nicholas, God rest his soul, used to tell her she dressed like a schoolteacher and acted like a schoolgirl. Lily grinned, thinking about his handsome face, the way he’d pull his baseball cap down to shade his eyes from the bright sun. She stifled fresh tears and took a deep breath before stepping toward a small podium.

It was her turn at the guest book. She penned her name, then stared at the space next to her shaky handwriting. Affiliation. That’s all the title read. What should she write there? Friend… simply friend. That was as good a title as any, she guessed.

She moved aside to let the man behind her have access to the book. An older couple passed and she followed them through the archway. The line to the coffin was long. She decided it’d be best not to go up to see him yet. Seeing her friend lying in a box wasn’t something she was ready to face. Such a colorful man. Greenery and white roses? Lily gave a quiet snort. Anyone who really knew him would’ve brought hibiscus and daffodils. Choosing a folding chair in the rear of the large seating area, she inconspicuously sat down.

The overwhelming heaviness in her chest pushed her senses into a numb void as she scanned the room, watching people come and go through the wide set of French doors. Some stood at the coffin for what seemed like an eternity, wiping away tears as the person next to him or her held the weeper’s shaking shoulders. An older gentleman with distinguished salt-and-pepper hair stood at the head of the mahogany coffin. Nicholas’s father, she guessed. Nicholas had spoken of him often enough that Lily recognized the distinct features Nicholas had described. He’d say he got his father’s chiseled jawline and big hands, while his brother got his father’s brooding attitude and broad shoulders. The memory of long nights spent in two lawn chairs with a couple of bottles of red lingered after the summer had said good-bye. Lily was sure the last bottles they’d shared were still sitting on the stable-house porch.

Standing close to the gentleman’s side was another man, quite younger. The brooding brother. Both brothers shared striking features. Nicholas’s natural hair color was dark. He’d have Lily lighten it on occasion, but it was as chocolate brown as the man’s standing by the coffin. This man was a bit taller than Nicholas, with broader shoulders, but both had the same long legs and easy stance.

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