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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1299061-Death-Side-Story
Rated: 18+ · Fiction · Death · #1299061
A death-flavored Romeo and Juliet parody. Entry for Troublesome Musings.
“Fwish, fwish, fwish.” Then, a slight giggle.

Cornelia allowed herself a momentary glance from her work to see exactly what her younger brother was doing.

For the last five minutes he had been standing over Bonnie Newman’s corpse, the next job in Cornelia’s line of incomplete bodies. Mysteriously, he was also making a low, quick whistle every few seconds, waving his hand around her face. With every whistle, his hand passed over her eyes, opening or closing them as if by magic.

Magic, if only Cornelia hadn’t seen it a million times before.

“Harry, stop that!” She insisted. Her voice came out as a hoarse bark, just like her mother’s when she was angry. His expression instantly contorted into shock and awe at the likeness. Seeing only his sister at work gluing the lips and eyelids of their clients shut, however, he let his expression relax into a mischievous grin.

“Look what brother taught me,” he chuckled, returning to fooling with the old woman’s face.

“I already saw! Why do you think I yelled at you?” Her hands clenched with frustration around the bottle of glue, ruining her careful application to a sixty-five year-old food-critic’s thin, pasty lips. Wincing, she put the bottle down carefully and wiped the excess glue away with her pinkie, then onto the hem of the old canvas apron she wore on Tuesdays. Tuesdays, she was on glue duty, among other things.

Despite her warnings, by the time she’d reached for the bottle again, Harry had gone back to his old tricks. Or, she thought, they were really Tobias’ old tricks.

“Stop it!”

“Stop what?”

“You know what I’m talking about!” She huffed impatiently, grabbing the eight-year-old by the arm. Suddenly, she had an idea, a change of tactics. “Hey, Harry,” She said, suddenly friendly but keeping her grip on the boy’s arm. “Come with me! I want to show you something… important.” Cornelia punctuated the sweetly persuasive sentence with an enormous grin.

“No,” he whimpered, rooting his feet stubbornly in the brown shag carpet that covered the floor. When Cornelia didn’t stop tugging at him, his protests escalated to screams. “No! I said no, Cornie! Mom! Cornelia’s trying to lock me in the big refrigerator again!”

“Refrigerator?” Cornelia wondered aloud, slackening her grip on Harry’s arm. Instantly he slipped out of her grasp and clobbered her shin with a swift kick before running for the pump room, where he’d find their mother, Nastasia.

Harry continued screaming in self-defense as Cornelia hurried into the room after him. Calm amidst this one-sided shouting match, their mother stood over another body, carefully monitoring the fluid replacement process. 

“I heard you, Harry, I heard you,” she sighed, not taking her eyes off the corpse or hands off the pump for a second. “And it’s not a refrigerator, honey. It’s a moratorium.” She pronounced each syllable with her rounded, perfectly red lips, elegantly, effortlessly spewing the difficult word into the air.

“Moruh--toruh--aim…” Harry stuttered, holding his hands out before him as if arranging the letters physically, instead of in his mind. “Moar--torah--eem.”

“That’s such an old-sounding word, mom.” Cornelia sighed, ignoring Harry’s continuing babble. “Why don’t we just say ‘morgue?’”

“Part of becoming a good grief associate is having your own flair, honey. They might not like the more old-fashioned words, but people don’t like it when you use those new, indirect, impersonal words, either. But now I’m just an old mortician rambling,” She chuckled. “Say it how you like once you own the place.” Her mother finished with a smile. “Just don’t change the place too much when your father and I are in the ground.” Her tone suddenly turned serious amidst this joke. “On the west side of the street. But yes!” The playful tone returned. “Don’t worry about it Cornelia, I know you don’t agree with me on everything, but when you’re older you’ll have your chance, too.”

Cornelia couldn’t help but wonder what her mother was implying. She wasn’t the oldest, so logically Tobias would be the one in charge when their parents passed away. God, Tobias in charge, oh, that would be the day-and-a-half!

As if summoned by her misery, Tobias appeared in the doorway of the pump room, stamping his thin-soled shoes on the immaculately clean tile and spreading his arms in an almost gaudy theatrical fashion, announcing his presence.

“Done for the day!” As he entered the room, his hands returned to the pockets of his baggy, brown corduroy pants. “That is, unless a citizen of our fair city chooses to go on a massive killing spree, in which case I will be at the ready…” He paused, taking pleasure in the annoyed roll of his sister’s eyes. “…in front of the television.”

“Fine!” Cornelia shouted after him. “But if I find so much as a smidge of stiffness in those bodies…”

“Oh, Cory, you’re just jealous you can’t prep as well as I can!” At this statement, the TV clicked on to The History Chanel at full blast.

Harry chuckled as Cornelia fumed. While their mother and father switched on odd days between the pump station near the beginning and the coffins and accessories station at the tail-end of the body’s journey through the back rooms of their funeral parlor,  Tobias and Cornelia swapped between operating the first station, sanitation and prep, or the next-to-last station, surface repair and makeup.

Their skills at makeup were equally decent, but Tobias excelled in both speed and thoroughness of the prep procedures. His hands seemed to expertly relieve rigor mortis with a single push or twist, and he, in his mind, washed every body as carefully yet thoroughly as he would a racy, lacy set of women’s underwear.  Not a drop of the solution splattered the floor or soiled his clothes, either. He had, against all preconceptions, turned out to be quite a prodigy in the art of embalming, and was already training under mom to learn the ins and outs of the internal procedures she did on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays this week. All this, at only a year and a half older than Cornelia’s 16, and he couldn’t even take it seriously.

Cornelia was indeed jealous, and also used to spilling the cleaning solutions on her shoes, which had left them the splotchy shade of blue-brown-green she was now staring into bitterly. Not only were her clumsy mistakes plain to see from her clothes after a long day of work, they also were constantly being corrected by none other than Tobias.

Move the joints in a firm, circular motion! How many times so I have to tell you! Fix these fingers too!  The hands are very visible at the funeral! …and so on. Constantly, constantly.

But it was all for the best, she thought to herself as she returned to the food critic, carefully applying the embalmer’s signature light pinks and reds in moderation for a natural look. She supposed she should put up with anything to improve, anything to destroy the competition, especially when it lived almost exactly across the street.

During a commercial break, Tobias came over and looked over her shoulder, pointing out each area that looked unnatural and exactly why they did. In the icy silence that followed his lecture, the list of symptoms for some erectile dysfunction medication ad rambled in the background, and Tobias soon found himself with the entire contents of the bottle of glue spread messily over his face.

Across the street, Madeline was under conditions just as tedious and frustrating as Cornelia’s. At her family’s funeral home she usually worked opposite her twin sister, Michaela, on the final preparations for the day’s in-house funeral. They also prepared bodies for funerals held in churches or homes together, but being able to host a funeral on their family’s property brought in much more money, and was an opportunity those Dregels across the street lacked.

Yes, Madeline thought to herself as she slipped a tiny packet of tissues and a program onto each chair in preparation for the day’s first funeral. This year, the Tyrones are pulling ahead for sure.

The Tyrone-Dregel debacle was a silent rivalry, but each member of both families involved knew it was there. It became especially messy when someone well-known or, heaven forbid, rich, was the one whose funeral, embalming, and even burial location was at stake.

Yes, even in the peaceful, grassy cemetery at the end of the road that these funeral parlors occupied, Tyrone work and Dregel work was separated. On either the east or west side of the street, coordinating with the locations of their places of business, whichever family you trusted with your final days aboveground also decided where you were buried.

On the off chance a funeral by the Dregels would be held on the same day as a Tyrone funeral, the rivalry would reach a fever pitch. Hearses would fearlessly cut off other processions of cars on both sides, and reckless driving when they got too close was all too common. Thankfully, the collisions so far had only been minor, involving curbs, scrapes, or squirrels receiving unceremonious funerals of their own. Nothing had involved coffins being hurled through window shields and popping open, or 2-procession-30-car pileups. Yet. Though, in a roundabout way, Madeline thought, that might be good for business.

She stared over at her sister, who was lagging behind. Michaela was slow and extremely detail-oriented, and was now making sure each program was flush with the bottom of the chair, and that the package of tissues was precisely centered on top of the program. Madeline assumed her plodding pace was mostly due to her hearse-driving duties, though that awful Dregel, Tobias, had turned out completely differently.

What Madeline knew was that Tobias and Michaela both were the standard hearse drivers and each possessed the road skills of a street racer with years of experience, but only driving at speeds below thirty miles per hour. What she didn’t know was that neither could recall driving faster, even just cruising around town for kicks. It’s as the old saying goes, they both would think sadly as horns blared at them on the freeway. You can take the kid out of the funeral home, but…

And Michaela’s overbearing twin definitely didn’t know that on the days that seemed all too rare to her, when a Dregel procession arrived at the cemetery simultaneously with the Tyrones’, Michaela would, upon arriving with the funeral party to the gravesite, take a chance at a longing glance towards the west side of the grassy clearing, at the Tyrone plot.

With any luck, standing there in a beautifully crisp tuxedo in the golden evening, a single white carnation pinned to his chest, would be Tobias Dregel. Wonderful, wonderful. All in black from his dark, neat hair to his scuffed shoes, looking at him in the green field punctuated with brown mounds and white pillars made him a delicious, tall chocolate milkshake for the eyes.

Madeline definitely didn’t know that her sister had such an odd and obnoxiously flowery romantic imagination when it came to Tobias. In fact, she was fairly sure her sister was a lesbian, or just plain disinterested. If anything, she might have had a crush on the mayor’s son. Madeline privately hoped this, since she had tried to set them up a few months ago in hopes that he would fall madly in love with a Tyrone so they could nab his aging father’s funeral.

When she explained this plan to Michaela, she seemed extremely offended and wouldn’t talk to her or Adam, their older brother, for a week.

Ah, young love. Madeline sighed. She was just trying to protect him. How cute.

Michaela continued lining up the programs perfectly, all the while thinking of Tobias, and going with him to a quaint drive-in where they’d both order chocolate milkshakes… in the hearse of course. Neither family had any other cars.

Across the street, Cornelia grabbed the remote from Tobias, whose other hand was occupied with a washcloth, as an hour of UFO programming started. Flipping through the channels to a local news station, she froze in shock. Tobias looked up suddenly, still removing the glue from his face, as the sound of a reporter’s shaky voice filled the room.

“Women,” Adam said dully, in his invariable, unexcitable, low voice. Michaela, Madeline, and Marianne, their mother, all looked up. “I think you’d all want to see what’s on the television.”

“Mom!” Cornelia screamed as Tobias and Harry gaped at the TV set. “Mom! You have to see this, this is...” She struggled for a word to adequately describe the magnitude of the words on the screen, words coming out of the reporter’s mouth.

“This could be our big break!” Madeline squealed after taking in only a few seconds of the broadcast. “We’ll show those Dregels that no one throws a big ticket funeral like us Tyrones!”

“Yes, ah… yes. The police are calling this a robbery, but we have no word of any suspects at this time…” The words buzzed from the TV like beautiful music to Tyrone and Dregel ears alike.

The bottom of the screen read, in bold, capitalized text: MAYOR AND WIFE FOUND DEAD IN HOME.


“So when should we hit them up?”

A Dregel family meeting was already in full swing, fifteen minutes after the broadcast had concluded.

“As soon as we can, of course! I mean, those Tyrones are always a step ahead of us because of the in-house funerals.”

“First thing tomorrow morning?”

“There’ll be police all over the place! How can we even get to the kids?”

“Did you even think about what the condition of the bodies could be? We could be getting in over our heads without--“

“Quiet!” Tobias hissed over the rising argument. “Why don’t we give them a day or two to grieve before we go shoving coffins down their throats?”

“You always say that,” Cornelia said, unable to camouflage the slight disgust in her voice. “The fresher the body the better, with murder victims especially. We need to get on fixing the injuries right after the autopsy so we can get him in the ground still looking presentable.”

“She has a point, Tobias.” Nastasia had been listening quietly to the argument but felt that the discussion now needed moderation. “The purpose of a good funeral is to help the grieving, so the body should be in the best possible condition for their children.”

“Kids? How many?” Tobias asked. Things were always more complicated when the children were the only ones left behind.

“Two. Apparently, they were at a party when it happened,” Cornelia added, a shiver passing through her body. “Scary.”

“How old are they?” This was important too, Tobias thought. If they were really young, middle school even, it would be incredibly awkward, knocking on their door, dressed all in black, with their living room still marked with white chalk and yellow tape. In the midst of this scene they’d have the audacity to ask, “Hey kids, have you ever thought about where to put mommy and daddy now that they’re dead?” Tobias shuddered just like Cornelia.

“Eighteen and twenty-nine, the girl’s the older one.” Nastasia even had to admit that she was relieved by this. Though she had done it many times before, and others had complimented her on it, she still wasn’t entirely confident in her skills at consoling young children. “So this won’t be too hard.”

“They still could be psychopa--“ Cornelia stopped herself, receiving a quick glare from her mother and father alike. “I mean, they could still experience grief in a more… extreme…” She waited for more glares, but none came, so she assumed she was using the right words. “…manner than most people would. Especially since they weren’t there at the time of death and lost both parents at the same time.” She added the last part for good measure, even though everyone already knew this.

“I think we all agree it’s going to be messy.” Tobias watched as all the eyes at the table turned to him.

“But someone has to do it, right?” Cornelia said with a smile. “And you certainly sound confident, Tobias.”

“Then I’ll do it first thing tomorrow morning, with Cornie’s help of course.”

Cornelia’s mouth opened in indignant protest and Tobias grinned innocently at her in self-defense, but their mother stopped the imminent argument.

“Wonderful! That sounds wonderful!”

Similar events were ensuing in the Tyrone household as well. Michaela grimaced as Madeline volunteered them both, as if they were a single person, to wake up at the crack of dawn to scope out the late mayor’s house. Why couldn’t she have taken Adam, or even Mom? Sometimes she felt that to Madeline she was just a slightly disagreeable third arm, even lowlier than the second fiddle Cornelia played to Tobias.

If they hadn’t been trained from their childhood to be such awful enemies, Michaela Tyrone and Cornelia Dregel would have confided in each other at this development, or at least have not crossed over to the other side of the street and exchanged hostile glances the next morning when they spotted each other walking towards their single destination.

They finally could no longer move forward by simply dodging glances. A stalemate was met at the doorbell.

“Go ahead, ring it.” From Tobias’ angle, Cornelia appeared closest.

“No, you ring it. I’ve got all these stupid brochures I’m carrying, stupid!” Cornelia shot back.

“Then why did you walk in front?”

“Petty fools,” Madeline grunted, her hands occupied with a box of pamphlets on pricing and packages. “Ring the doorbell, Michaela.”

This snide remark only made Michaela feel even more like a third arm. Taking a glance at Tobias, she felt a sudden surge of determination. Starting today, she was in love, dammit, and wouldn’t get pushed around by anyone. With a nervous chuckle, she took her first small step towards independence. “You first, Toby.”

“What?” All three of them exclaimed in chorus. Madeline’s face similarly twisted into a grotesque mask of disbelief. 

Tobias’ eyes scanned the empty-handed girl who had called him Toby for the first time. He was previously so sure he would have hated anyone calling him by a nickname that he had been taken completely aback by how pleasant it really was.  His cheeks flushed messily under concealer that could have been used to a similar effect on one of their many sun-deprived Caucasian clients, and a confused but distantly happy grimace jumped onto his face so suddenly that Michaela was certain she’d said something wrong.

“Oh, no, no. Sorry, I’ll get it.” She dove for the doorbell.

“No wait! Don’t--“

Their fingers hit the doorbell at the same time, sandwiching them together, and Tobias pulled away violently. This brief exchange of body heat theoretically sent a squirt of chemicals through his brain that completely and irreversibly infatuated him with Michaela. Or maybe it was the nickname thing. Oh, he’d forgotten all about that, and was now rather torpidly taking a good look at her cans and pondering over what kind of underwear she wore and whether she was a virgin and other very important things like that while she stared dreamily into the distance, her finger still holding down the bell.

“Michaela! Don’t be rude!” Her sister whispered as the buzz continued faintly on the other side of the door.

“Oh! Sorry!” She pulled her finger away and all four of them quickly assembled their friendliest smiles possible, reconsidered the situation, and then decided on a dreary mask of feigned sympathy as the door creaked open.

Word after word was shoved aside and stepped on as pamphlets on the grieving process and the benefits of a hardwood coffin were shoved into the unlucky door-opener’s face.

The police officer had already pulled his gun 17 inches from its resting place, believing that he had entered into a deadly confrontation with the still-missing killer. Obviously, he hadn’t heard the buzz of the doorbell over the din of crime scene investigation work going on inside. If he had heard that, he would have known not to draw his gun but instead just his nightstick, because robbers very rarely buzz the homes they plan to rob first, and if they do, they’re usually addled and/or ill-prepared for the job.

“Oh, it’s just you kids from the funeral places,” he sighed, lowering the weapon. “Geez! You’re getting’ faster than them lawyers these days, eh? Chasing… you know… ambulances?”

The joke didn’t go over well.

“It’s funny, funny!” The officer insisted to the blank stares surrounding him. “Ugh, you kids have no sense of humor. God, it’s dead out here, eh?”

Tobias chuckled, and hated himself for it instantly.

“That’s what I like!” The officer grunted at last. “You’re a good kid, you know that?” Then going on his way, he chauvinistically brushed Madeline to the side to continue unhindered down the walk leading back to the driveway where three police cars were parked.

“Well, shall we go?” Cornelia sighed in relief.

“We shall go first,” Madeline insisted, frivolously shaking the skirt of the black dress she reserved for special occasions like this in an attempt to straighten it with no arms free. “Might as well have the pretty ones in front.” And she dragged her sister into the house after her, miraculously pulling a free hand out from under the formidable box of papers.

Cornelia, for the third time in less than twenty-four hours, had gone back to silent fuming.

“Come on, Cornie! Don’t let them get to you!” Tobias watched, waiting for a response as Cornelia’s hands squeezed the cardboard box she held with almost unbelievable strength. “Whoa, whoa!  You’re getting them all wrinkled! Come on, let’s go!” Desperately, he scooped the heavy box she was smashing under one arm, and used the other to drag her in to the house after the Tyrone sisters.

Upstairs in the guest room, which was the only room not being investigated, Madeline and Michaela Tyrone were already speaking with the children of the deceased.

“Anne, I presume?” Madeline sighed, putting up a front of open friendliness and extending her hand to the eldest, a daughter, dressed in mourning.

“No, that’s me. I’m Anne.” The boy in the corner snorted. “No, I’m kidding. Who the hell do you think is Anne?”

The Tyrone sisters seemed to be the only ones surprised from this outburst. Anne, who was sniffling into a wad of Kleenex, reacted with a simple, worn-out reprimand.

“Now, Kyle. We have guests.” Her voice was squeezed from airways that seemed to be continuously constricted by slimy, stringy mucus to match her gaunt, stringy figure. “Come here and sit next to me.” She thought for a moment and then added, “And please, please be pleasant.”

“Alright, let’s get this over with, ladies,” Kyle smirked, lowering himself next to his sister on the edge of the bed. “Give us your pitch, for her sake. I don’t see the purpose of this, honestly. Just putting them in any old hole would be closure enough for me.”

“Kyle! How awful!” Anne winced and tears began forming at the corners of her eyes. “How dare you!” Utilizing all of the force she could manage to gather in her seemingly weak body, she punched her brother squarely in the chest, aiming to kill.

“Oww! Bitch!” Kyle hunched over under the force of the blow, his lungs aching and completely deflated. His face went slightly pink before he regained his ability to breathe, which turned out, Michaela and Madeline later agreed, to be much more troublesome than if he would have suffocated on the spot. “You’ll have to excuse her,” he spat, still slightly winded. “Fucking dyke’s still step two.”

“What? What did you just call me?”

“Step two, dumbass! Anger! Could you even read the papers they gave us at the station yesterday or did your lazy, flat ass just choose not to?”

“I was confirming the details of their wills, Kyle! You’re just so immature!” Immediately, she began beating him over the back with her bony fists. Madeline and Michaela were helpless to stop her, and this also happened to be the chaos Tobias and Cornelia walked into.

“Hey! What the hell?” Tobias waddled in to behold the violent scene, still leading Cornelia with one arm, and balancing the box under the other. Leaving his sister’s arm to droop to her side, he ran over to the feud in a fit a chivalry fueled by his recent surge of romantic feelings for another girl who happened to be one of the appalled spectators. “Calm down! Chill out!” Carefully, and with only one arm, he pulled Anna away from her brother, calming her down enough to return to sniffling into an ever-increasing wad of tissues.

Kyle looked up, daring to move his arms from protecting his neck and head. Seeing Tobias, a completely different brand of chemicals were released in the space between his ears. Specifically, they were the kind that produced a slight adrenaline rush at the satisfaction and eager anxiety of suddenly having a plan, most likely executable for profit.

“You- you saved me!” Kyle stammered, jumping up off the couch.

“It’s okay,” Tobias said, more concerned with regaining his grip on the box, which seemed to be growing heavier faster than a flourishing infant whale. He glanced nervously at Cornelia, who was still fuming, begging for help with the box as the mayor’s son drew uncomfortably close.

“You really saved me…” His eyes scanned Tobias intently from head to toe and back again, begging for a name.

“Tobias Dregel, of Dregel Funeral Homes In--“

He was cut off by a melodramatically teary embrace. “Thank you, thank you…”

“Um… No problem, sir.” Though he wasn’t particularly comfortable in this situation, Tobias was used to clients crying on his shoulders and what-not. He decided to use this to his advantage. “You’ll find we have a lot of great packages for couples…”

Pulling away, Kyle obviously wasn’t interested in his pitch. Feigning a rough, involuntary reflex, he grabbed Tobias’ unsuspecting free hand, and kissed it as a humbly grateful prince charming would Cinderella’s.

Michaela automatically let out a shriek consisting of equal parts surprise and despair, which was drowned out by the sound of a paper waterfall sliding messily from her love’s arms to the floor. Still afraid of not appearing to be an upstanding, accepting and open-minded citizen in the eyes of her family, clients, and, most importantly, Toby, she immediately corrected herself, exclaiming, “Wow!  I mean, that’s just fine!”


“I can’t say I understand any of this…”

“Cornelia, trust me, there’s nothing to understand. I’m not gay.”

“You don’t need to--“ she thought to herself for a moment, wringing her hands in excitement. They had taken every one of the pamphlets. “Oh, Mom will be so excited! He’s definitely a keeper, right?”

“Listen, Cornie, you need to calm down right now.” His sister was floating on air a few steps ahead of him, free from the burden of the overflowing cardboard box and being in the same room with the Tyrone sisters. He rudely grabbed her upper arm, grounding her.

“What?”

“Even if I was gay, that kid is creepy. He wouldn’t even be my type. Listen, Cornelia--“

“I always thought you were gay. You never liked anyone before.” She looked him up and down, almost as if she now had a different brother. “And I know for sure no one’s ever liked you!”

“Great, just great,” He groaned. “Come on, please stop. I need to think about this when we get home. Just… don’t talk about this until we get there, okay?”

“Fine.” The silence between them only held for a few moments before Cornelia squealed with triumphant delight at watching the Tyrone twins slink home with brochures lingering in their own box. “Oh, imagine how well we’ll beat them if you just play along!”

“I told you to shut up!” Tobias was much too busy shoving his hands angrily into the pockets of his only pair of black slacks and staring at the sidewalk to notice that Michaela was less than 20 feet away.

It was a rare occurrence that the identical twin sisters wore similar expressions, but now was one of those times. As both of them shuffled home, their faces wore the same shade of defeat, but for entirely different reasons.

“That… that was either a dirty trick or a damned coincidence,” Madeline sighed, trying to calm herself down. “But we haven’t lost yet, right? They took some of ours too, right?”

“Yeah,” Michaela said, letting out a dreary little sigh of emotional and physical exhaustion. The box she was now forced to carry didn’t seem any less full than when they had left that morning, but Anne had been a good sport in spite of it all, looking at their options closely. “We still have a good shot.” Her quickly diminishing will reminded her, though, that there was one thing she wanted even more than this funeral that she no longer had a shot at: Tobias Dregel.

“How are we going to explain this to Mom and Adam, I wonder?” Madeline held her thumbnail between her teeth, appearing genuinely upset. “We’ve never come back home with this much paper.”

“Do you think we should tell her about the… umm…” Michaela felt a lump in her throat just thinking about it. “That situation?”

“The Kyle-Dregel connection?” She raised a comically reticent eyebrow.

“Madeline, honestly! What else could I mean?”

“Well, you could have meant what a wreck Anne is.” Madeline, in an unusual moment of compassion, stopped walking for a moment and sighed heavily. “I feel sorry for her, I really do. Her little brother’s such an ass, and now she’ll probably be stuck with him forever. I don’t blame her for being so unstable.”

“Unstable?” She muttered stupidly, stopping with her sister. “No, no… She’s not a problem. Did… did Kyle give Tobias his--“ Her cheeks grew hot as she began stumbling over the delicate wording required to keep her secret. “Or, um… their number?”

“Of course! Don’t you remember that big to-do he made about calling that Dregel boy later to make plans? I mean, it sounded like they were just going on a silly date or something, but I can’t help worrying…”

Michaela didn’t hear.  She didn’t want to, and didn’t need to. Unlike her sister, for her both situations were causes of alarm.  She had reached a situation where winning was impossible, and even marginal gains for the Tyrones were unlikely.

But how could she stop it?

How indeed, when the events that had conspired at the mayor’s house were already spreading through the Dregel residence and each family member had developed a unique plan for netting the funeral with maximum profit, with the exception of Tobias and Harry.

They had been shooed up into Tobias' room by Cornelia, who had explained that the issue was too sensitive for either of them. Harry, obviously, was too young to be hearing any of this, and Tobias wouldn’t have any part in the planning and was generally being a wet blanket about the whole affair, so they were to be kept upstairs until a plan was properly formulated.

Harry occupied himself with pulling every magazine and book of Tobias’s off of the bookcase and rearranging them in a way that suited his fancy. Occasionally, he would stop to look at a particularly impressive ad for snack foods, but was otherwise focused. When the task was done, he’d get to pull them all down again.

Normally, (and this was definitely not a normal evening,) this activity on Harry’s part would inevitably cause much shouting on Tobias’ part, which would lead to plenty of punching, disagreeing, and even a little wrestling all around, but as the hours wore on Tobias knew it was no good to fight with his brother. Instead, he stared at an object that was decidedly alien in his room, the telephone receiver.

“If someone calls, take a message. If he calls… you know who I mean! Don’t give me that look! If he calls, answer as politely and as accommodatingly as you can, all right? He’s as good as a client now!” His mother’s instructions repeated themselves endlessly in his brain. Fortunately for Tobias, as the clock’s hands meandered their way to the nine and twelve, no one had called. His analog clock let out an unusually loud click as the long hand came to a temporary rest at the twelve, and instantly, the phone rang.

It must be him, Tobias thought. His stomach sank. Still, it was for the family business. There was the distinct possibility that whoever this guy didn’t pick to put his family in the ground would have their funeral home six feet under in a matter of months.

Mustering all the courage he could in the musty air of his room, and turning his eyes away from Harry, he perched the phone on his shoulder casually. Before he pressed the talk button with his thumb, an idea struck him. Well, it would be awkward, but it would definitely work. He’d get results from this approach, no doubt, even though it made him kind of sick. Forcing the nausea out of his body, if only for a moment, he worked up the mental endurance to press the talk button, and imagined Michaela on the other end.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Toby. What are you up to?” It was him all right, and he was using her nickname! Absolute bullshit, Tobias thought, Michaela was the only one he’d ever let call him Toby.

“Please, call me Tobias, Kyle. It’s nothing personal, I swear. I’m just more used to Tobias.”

“Okay. Tobias. How are you?”

“Fine. You?” Not so much ‘cool’ as creepily ineffectual. Oh well, he’d work on that.

“Okay. What are you doing?”

The conversation continued on woodenly like this for quite some time, which pleased Tobias immensely. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t been forced to use this alternate approach in ways that made him all kinds of uncomfortable. So far, it had been just like talking to one of the guys. Hell, a slightly creepy and boring one, but it was not really that bad.

“Oh, but I really do want to come over to your place tomorrow. Can I? Please?”

“Sure, fine,” Tobias grumbled into the receiver. “Anytime.”

“Right after lunch then, but you don’t sound so happy, Toby. What’s wrong?”

It was exactly forty-three minutes after eleven, they had been talking about nothing for nearly three hours, and this queer little nutbag had the balls to ask what the hell was wrong? “Toby’s” internal thought process was screaming to be manifested in a more extreme manner than a slight grimace.

“It’s nothing, Kyle; I’m just a little worried that you haven’t really committed one way or another yet.”

Committed, dammit! Tobias wanted to smack himself in the forehead but he was sure it would make some weird noise on the other end. Committed? Ugh, Tobias, you idiot! That’s a word women throw around when they’re getting hitched! If there was a worse wording, he couldn’t come up with it.

“So!” There was a long silence from Kyle’s end. “You really are… interested? In me?”

Gritting his teeth, Tobias spat out the word like a mouthful of splinters, all the while thinking, anything, anything to save the business.

“Yes.”

…And then he thought of Michaela. God, she was beautiful. What was he doing?

“I thought so,” Kyle responded after another moment of silence. Tobias could just imagine the kid’s awful, bratty grin sitting in the guest room of his damn crime scene mansion.

Michaela, Michaela, Michaela. Her name superimposed itself over Kyle’s next twenty minutes of idle chatter, allowing Tobias to only take in one word in every ten or so.

What was she doing now? Sleeping peacefully in her bed, probably, with ringlets of rich, brown hair framing her face, her lips perfectly round and pink, deep in a dream… Truthfully, she was nervously dodging headlights in the dark as she crossed the street, carrying a grocery store bag. As Tobias Dregel examined every facet of her being with his imagination, and Kyle yammered on into the night, and Michaela Tyrone reached the sidewalk in front of the Dregel funeral home, none of them were aware of what the other two were doing.

Michaela snuck around the side of the building, peeking in windows, looking for Tobias. Standing in the back yard, she looked up and saw his image silhouetted in an upstairs window. She reached into the bag, and, opening the first carton, pulled out a perfectly white egg.

Many emotions can be experienced from things like denial and deprivation, and Michaela was sure, at her age, she had felt all of them within the span of a day. Not to mention that Tobias had some nerve stealing Tyrone business and breaking a Tyrone heart, revenge seemed to be the only way to get what small shot at happiness she would have for a while. 

She shouted nothing as her liquid-filled, delicate missile hurdled down a path aimed straight at his half-open window. The egg hit the corner, sending half of it speeding into the room.

“Shit!” Tobias screamed into the receiver over some self-indulgent banter of Kyle’s. Kyle didn’t seem that concerned since he began lecturing Tobias on how delicate his rich prick ears were, or some drivel like that. Tobias really didn’t care. He watched in disbelief as Harry’s expression morphed from horror to confusion to disgust and back again in less than five seconds. Half of an egg had come out of nowhere to hit Harry squarely in the back of his head. As his hands lifted to examine the slimy mess, he began to bawl.

Michaela heard the racket and decided, out of the goodness of her heart, not to aim for the open window, even if it was Tobias’.

“Kyle, I have to go,” Tobias said in a hoarse whisper, holding the phone in a shaking hand that was almost touching his lips.

“What? Why, Toby?” Kyle’s voice came across innocent and confused, as if Tobias couldn’t possibly have anything better to do at midnight.

“Someone’s egging our house, and one just came in my window.”

“That’s rough.” And just as quickly as Kyle spat out the words, Tobias’ ear was assaulted with the crunch of a hang-up, then the dial tone.

The rhythm of crackling splatter continued on the wall, echoing up into the bedroom. Tobias, still slightly dazed, threw the phone down and ran to console Harry, wiping the yolk out of his hair as well as possible with an old t-shirt. Harry would have a bizarre section of hair sticking out from his head like a porcupine that feared for its life until the next time he bathed. Thuds still rattled the vinyl siding of the house after Tobias had calmed his brother down. 

“Damn! How many eggs do they have?” He asked himself aloud as he walked over to the open window, dripping with slimy egg white. The correct answer was four dozen, and Michaela had only just used thirty-two of the eggs she had spent most of her remaining pocket money on.

Fully prepared to reprimand whoever it was loudly, Tobias mentally readied himself for sticking his head through the open window. I don’t have to put up with this bullshit. I’m not going to put up with this bullshit. He repeated the sentences to himself until they seemed to be written in grey ink on the inside of his eyelids. He was ready.

“Hey! Why the hell are you wasting all these eggs?” He asked into the dark. Another egg flew at him and hit the side of the house inches from his ear, spritzing him with chunks of unfertilized chicken byproduct. His will crumbled as a wall of self-consciousness hit him when no one answered except for the wet drip of yolk and white sliding down the house. “Hey, what do you want?” He asked again, but much more softly.

“Toby?” The tiny voice that responded was vaguely familiar at first, probably only because Tobias couldn’t believe his ears.

“Michaela? Michaela Tyrone?”

“Toby!” Michaela shouted. “Serves you right, asshole! Taking our business…” Her stomach felt as if it were falling into a bottomless pit. “… with a dirty trick like that!”

“What… trick? I- I’m not an asshole!” He whined in self defense as more eggs hit the house. “I don’t get why you’re throwing eggs at me. Well, outside of the fact that you’re a Tyrone.”

“Yeah?”

The splatter stopped, and at last there was only a steady stream of the liquid dripping onto the grass below.

“Thanks for stopping,” Tobias said, finally feeling it was safe to stick his head out the window.

“No problem,” Michaela shrugged. “I’m out of eggs, anyways.”

“Well, thank God,” Tobias laughed, and realized below him that Michaela was also smiling, despite herself. After a few seconds of stupid grinning, she regained her sense of purpose.

“Don’t think I’ve forgotten about that stunt you pulled today, though. That was rotten!”

“I still have no idea what you’re talking about, okay? I’m sorry I crushed your finger trying to ring the doorbell or something. Damn! Are you Tyrones born with a stick shoved up your ass or something?”

“No!” Michaela’s face was turning an intense red from the accusations and the additional effort of yelling. “You’re trying to net his gay son so they’ll go to you for the funeral! That’s so cheap!”

“Michaela…” Suddenly he was at a loss for words. Allowing this to go on, even without his explicit approval, was indeed a cheap-bastardish thing to do. “I’m sorry. I’m not even gay.”

“Then you’re even worse! You gave him your goddamn phone number! What the hell was that?”

“Cornelia wanted me to! Come on, it wasn’t my idea. Listen,” He turned to look at Harry, but he was dead asleep in the exact same spot he was when Tobias had wiped off his hair. “This is the only way I can make sure our family stays in business! You don’t blame me for that, do you? I can’t tell you how many funerals we’ve lost to you with your in-house viewing shit. So this is a little less honest, so what?”

“We don’t lie about having an extra room for viewings!”

“Fine, so I’m a liar. Why am I even talking to you, again?”

A long silence, then Michaela finally remembered.

“I was going to egg your house, and you caught me.”

“Oh.” Another long pause.

“Why don’t you tell me to leave? Why don’t you go down and tell your parents what I’m doing?” Michaela asked, filled with curiosity. “I mean, I feel really bad. Your house looks pretty messed up now.”

Tobias chuckled, sending a delightful defibrillator shock to the cheesy-romance-novel center of Michaela’s brain, the part she would have sworn just moments ago was dead.

“I know, I’ll clean it. I just feel as if we’ll never have the chance to speak again if we don’t now. It’s just the way our families are. I think it’s terrible.” His face began to glow as he tried to piece together a sentence that’d make his momentous feelings proud. “It’s just… You, I mean-- You’re a good person, Michaela. I think.” Internally, he cringed amidst his weak smile.

In an explosion of flower gardens, horses, evenings in Paris, milkshakes, and all else romantic, the most unrealistic square-inch of her brain matter was revived and put back into full working order.

“Oh, my God! It’s so terrible, Toby!” She exclaimed with more vigor and a wider smile than the words coming out of her mouth would indicate.

“It really is,” Tobias frowned, oblivious to the thoughts running through Michaela’s mind and unable to see her grinning in the dark. “In this situation, we can’t both win, and the one who loses is screwed.” He thought for a time, but after a few moments only pretended to be thinking, and was completely occupied with fantasizing over Michaela.

Meanwhile, waiting for more words, and rather confused, she shivered in the cold, and slightly drizzly, night air.

“Toby?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s cold out here, so I’m gonna go, alright? I don’t want to be caught like this, anyways.”

“Alright. Bye then,” Tobias called, a tinge of disappointment in his voice. Today had been unique, certainly, but tomorrow would be the return to normalcy, only with one more disappointment hanging over his head and weaving in and out of his thoughts. Nothing had changed except the condition of their siding.

Then it struck him, as most ideas do, very suddenly. He grabbed a hold of it before it could get away.

“Hey, Michaela! Wait!”

She turned around where she was when he stopped her, and the lights of passing cars in the street illuminated her beautifully, revealing her damp clothes to be clinging around her chest in a most becoming way, at least to Tobias. He stammered a bit, almost losing his train of thought, but he finally managed to announce his offer to her.

“Why don’t you come over tomorrow, around two or so? Help me, you know, break up with my boyfriend? So both sides’ll be involved in the bad news then? We’ll level the playing field!”

Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open. For at least fifteen seconds, her mind swirled with images of a picturesque future with Tobias.

“No?” He asked miserably due to lack of response.

“No, no, no! Yes!” The words reached his ears, but before he could look up, she had disappeared excitedly into the traffic. Her exodus was marked with a blaring of car horns, a brief, spoken apology, and a triumphant “Whoo-hoo!” punctuated by the slamming of the Tyrone’s front door. Most amazing was the fact that this ruckus did not rouse a single soul from sleep.

Slowly, and unable to stop grinning stupidly, Tobias closed the window. He quickly proceeded, on the resulting adrenaline rush that comes from talking to someone you find yourself completely obsessed with, to smack his sleeping brother on the back to awaken him, which would have scared Harry out of the room, if only the door hadn’t been locked.

As Harry’s whimpers subsided after his incredible full-speed impact, the lock of the door turned, it slowly opened and Cornelia peeked in.

“We’ve got a plan, Tobias,” she said slowly, suppressing her excitement.

“No need!” He said happily. “I’ve got him coming over tomorrow afternoon, right after lunch.”

“Really?” Cornelia couldn’t hide her shock. “Well, that was our plan but… You really seem to be getting into this!”

“Oh, you don’t even know the half of it!” Tobias beamed, pushing a drowsy and miserable Harry into his sister’s arms. “Now, someone has to get their beauty rest for the big day, so--“

Without another word, the door was slammed shut.

“I always knew he was gay,” Cornelia groaned as she led Harry to his room.

“Huh?” Harry murmured.

“It’s nothing, kiddo. Let’s get you to bed.”


The next day, it went without saying that Tobias’ lunch of a roast beef sandwich and diet cola weren’t sitting well with him. The rest of the Dregel clan had decided upon eating out for lunch and returning at an “undisclosed” time. Shortly afterwards, Kyle arrived, surprised by the near-emptiness of the house, and the downright ill appearance of Tobias.

“Are you okay, Toby? You look absolutely green.”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Tobias was only about to crack under the pressure from all sides: his family, his new-almost-maybe-kinda-girlfriend, and now this creep. “So!” It took effort not to wince as he got off the chair. “You want the grand tour of the place?”

“Sure!” Kyle smiled, and under his skin there seemed to boil a newfound enthusiasm, just waiting to crack the surface, and then…

It creeped Tobias out.

“Okay, then! First stop, the coffin display area.” Tobias put on his best sales pitch as he and Kyle walked to a nicely-furnished room in the back of the house. “We have lots of options, actually, including metalwork and hardwood. Maybe you could make your decision today?”

“Any old box will do. You know me, Toby. I’m not particular.” His interest seemed to have entirely diminished as quickly as it appeared.

“Flowers, then?”

“I’ll trust your taste.”

“Do you even want anything to do with your parent’s funeral?” Tobias asked at last, bewildered by his indifference. “I mean, they’re your parents! You should at least give them some respect!”

“You’re just saying that, aren’t you?” Kyle snickered, leaning up against a particularly expensive coffin that was on display. “It’s just a sales pitch. You don’t care about dead people.”

“I don’t…” He feared his skin could be seen crawling as Kyle scanned him from head to toe, as he had before.

“Tell me the truth, Toby. You’ve never been close to anyone who’s dead now. You’re working a field in which you have no experience.”

“Yeah, so?” Tobias felt his voice rising more than he would have liked. “What are you saying?”

“I’m just wondering how someone like you views death. You've been raised around it your entire life! So, then, is it just something that happens to everyone?”

“I- I guess so.”

“And some people make a little money off it. So it’s like getting a traffic violation or something?” He tilted his head in an attempt to look honestly curious but instantly chuckled, giving himself away. “It even happens to good people… sometimes.” Kyle smiled to himself, peering inside the coffin he’d been leaning on. “This one’s nice. I like it.”

“It’s oak,” Tobias said automatically, which made him sound calm when actually he was backed against the cool of the flower case like a deer in the headlights of an SUV.

“How much?” Kyle raised a pleased eyebrow.

“Let me check the cata--“ A hand slipped over his mouth.

“Never mind, I was just messing with you, Toby.” Kyle chuckled again, raising his other hand, a sickeningly pretentious hand, to his mouth in amusement. “Could I ask you something?” Slowly, he pulled the hand on Tobias' mouth away.

“Sure.”

His palms were together now, as if her were praying, his fingertips tapping lightly on his lips as if he doubted the tactfulness of his question. Tobias knew that was the last thing this bastard cared about, though. How long until Michaela got here? He found himself trying to sneak a look at the clock, as if Kyle would smack him across the face if he caught him looking.

It was almost in view when Kyle demanded his attention again.

“Okay, I got it.”

“So where do you want to go?”

“Oh, you know… the rose cottage. Could you take me there?”

Tobias gaped at him cluelessly, his fear drifting out of the windows for a moment in favor of slight confusion. “The what?”

“You know, the moratorium, the morgue, the big refrigerator where you put the dead people.” He rolled his eyes and made a funny snorting noise, curling his lip and revealing some yellow, crooked teeth. “Come on! Let’s go look at some corpses.”

“What?”

“Please, Tobias,” He whispered, leaning up against him, putting Tobias miles from his comfort zone.

“Fine! Fine!” Tobias slipped clumsily under one of Kyle’s arms and back towards the door. “Follow me.”

“This is going to be so, so cool,” Kyle mumbled, brimming with his red-hot enthusiasm again.

Tobias stalled, giving him the hard sell on every possible funeral amenity available on the way to the lowest level of the house, where the entry to the morgue could be found. Kyle showed no interest at all, often telling him to shut up and keep moving. When they had almost reached the door, Tobias took a glance at the nearest clock. 1:15. Shit. Michaela wouldn’t come for another forty-five minutes. Forty-five more minutes with this freak, and Tobias was fairly sure he’d be wearing a toe-tag.

“This is the door, then?” Kyle asked, almost unable to stop himself from rubbing his sweaty palms down the sides of his black trousers. “Wow, it really is like a fridge, in a way.”

“Yeah.” Hesitantly, Tobias pulled down the key, which was attached to a string, on the top of the doorframe, and unlocked the door.

“Just one, I just wanna see one. I promise.”

“I heard you! God…” Tobias shivered more than usual as the chilly fog blew over both of them, revealing rows and rows of what looked like amusement park rental lockers on their sides. Randomly, he pulled one open, sliding out the body of a female in her early thirties. The bruises around her neck indicated either strangulation or suicide by hanging. Personally, Tobias wasn’t good enough to tell yet. She was pale as milk and completely naked, only her waist was wrapped around by a clean, white cloth for modesty. Tobias didn’t even cringe. That was one drawback to preparing corpses, you really were not that shocked by naked people. He probably wouldn’t look twice at a streaker, male or female. He’d seen most of it many times before.

Apparently, though, it was a new thing for Kyle.

“Do… do you know how she died? Can you tell?” He asked, a red tint forming across the bridge of his nose.

“See those bruises around her neck?” Tobias’ finger hovered expertly two inches away from her skin. “I’d say hanging or domestic abuse.”

“Wow,” Kyle murmured, bending down and caressing the corpse from shoulder to neck to cheek. “So sad…”

“Hey! Don’t touch her!” Tobias batted his hand away in disgust. “You don’t even know who she is! You wouldn’t go out on the street and try that on some random--”

The hand flew over his mouth again. This psycho certainly had an interesting negotiation style. “I get it; it’s gross.”

The hand pulled away again, and much to Tobias’ chagrin, Kyle had gone back to being even more friendly with the body. Tobias was at a loss for words.

“I’m not gay, so sorry,” Kyle said frankly in a rare apology as he ran a flat palm between the cold breasts. “I feel kind of bad for using you.”

“I- I’m not gay either. I’m actually in love with the one Tyrone girl.” This was all Tobias could think to say as the room spun around him.

“Madeline? What are you, master doormat?” He asked, his hands pausing on the skin for a moment.

“No, no, no… The other one. She’s quiet, but-- But no! That’s not the point! Stop--“

“Oh, she’s kind of creepy,” Kyle murmured, his hands going into motion again as Tobias continued to reel with disgust. “But your families totally can’t stand each other. I could feel it in the air yesterday. It was awkward.”

“You’re one to talk.”

“And your whole family must think you’re gay,” he continued candidly. “Shit, this is like some kind of fucked-up musical, isn’t it?”

“Who would sing about this?” Tobias leaned up against the closed lockers, absolutely dazed.

“Puerto Ricans? I don’t know.” He made a short laugh that sounded more like a grunt. “Now if you’ll excuse me…” The rack holding the woman’s body creaked under his weight as he tried to climb on top of it. “How much do these things hold, by the way?”

“Four-fifty… What the hell!” Tobias broke out of his trance and pushed Kyle’s shoulders with all his strength, desperate to get him away from their client. Crap, Tobias thought as Kyle successfully fought back. He was pretty strong for a mama’s baby-papa’s pet type.

Just as Kyle began utilizing his legs as both a weapon and as a system of bracing, and it seemed all of Tobias’ sanity would be inevitably lost to this stubborn necrophile, in through the refrigerator door burst Michaela Tyrone, armed with a rather dangerous-looking flower holder, meant for plunging into the ground at gravesites. While her entrance was more action-adventure than romance novel, she was okay with it for once.

“Michaela!” Her Toby exclaimed in relief. Then, worried, “What are you doing with that?”

"I came early," she explained. "and I knew he'd try something, but..."

Kyle took advantage of the distraction to climb all the way on, stealthily straddling the corpse in an unbelievably short amount of time. Michaela screamed and pointed.

“I know!” Tobias yelled, exhausted. Desperately, he went back to the chore of pushing Kyle away from the object of his affections.

“I thought he was…” Michaela gawked, then, regaining a sense of her surroundings, dropped the makeshift stake and ran at Kyle, leaping gracefully over the body and pulling him off in a spectacular tackle. While the body was unharmed, Tobias was inevitably pulled, with the others, into a painful collision with the cinderblock walls.

Kyle had a gash on his forehead. Tobias has a sprained wrist, and Michaela managed to escape the tangle with a bloody nose.

“I didn’t know you’d take it so goddamned personal, Toby,” was Kyle’s excuse for the entire gruesome situation.

“Get out,” Michaela said, already back to brandishing the flower stand.

“Hang on!” Tobias said nervously, stepping in between them. “Calm down, Kyle. I-- Well… Y-you know what? I bet some day, you’ll find a nice girl of your own. A nice pale, girl who’ll take cold showers for you whenever--“ 

“Yeah, fine. Fuck you, Toby,” Kyle groaned, holding a square of modesty cloth Tobias had found for him to his bleeding forehead. “And I’ll get back to you guys on that oak coffin,” He sighed, turning to Tobias. “I didn’t mean everything I said back there. I meant some of it. All things considered, though, you’re a good guy, Toby. Not great, good.” He turned briefly back to Michaela. “Now, you’re a completely different story.”

“Leave!” She repeated.

“Yeah, yeah. I get it! Geez!” He went out, closing the door behind him. As his face disappeared in the shrinking gap between the door and the wall, Tobias swore he saw a cocky grin. He didn’t think much of it, until the lock clicked.

“Shit!” Tobias ran to the door and tried it, just to make sure he wasn’t imagining things. No good.

“Are-- are we going to suffocate?” Michaela screamed in a panic, the plastic stake clacking as it fell from her hand to the floor.

“No! Calm down. It’s just cold in here.” Slowly, he willed himself to place his hands comfortingly on her shoulders.

“Yeah,” She sighed happily, readjusting the bloodied tissue she'd stuffed up her nostrils. “Well, actually, I’m not that cold.”

For the second time in the past day, some great inspiration struck Tobias. “Well then, would you mind…” Tobias paused, his face growing hotter every second. She had just saved his mental stability in an act of almost superhuman agility. He owed her! And yet… in the end… “I’m sorry, but would you mind taking your clothes off?”

After discussing their plan, she agreed, under one condition.

“You go first.”

So, Tobias went first, of course, and they stripped down to their underwear in the thirty-seven degree climate.

“You’re gorgeous,” He whispered, his eyes moving from lavender panties to matching lavender bra as he imagined washing them. Tobias sat cross-legged at her feet, and she was lying down, reclining against the bottom row of doors.

Silently, he took one of her legs in his arms, massaging it gently at the knee.

“Toby!” She jerked away suddenly, almost kicking him in the face. “That’s… you‘re…”

It took her stopping him for Tobias to realize what he was doing. He was removing rigor mortis from a beautiful, and, more importantly, living member of the Tyrone family. Michaela, Michaela, Michaela…

“Sorry,” he apologized, slipping her leg to the side so that there was one with its toes toying with the elastic of his boxers on either hip. His face was a deep red from embarrassment at his unusual mistake, but also from the all-around exhilaration that comes from the true affection one can’t get from a corpse. That, and he knew this would open all sorts of lines of communication between the Tyrones and Dregels. They wouldn’t do anything for now, he thought, because they both knew the true point was getting caught.

As this was happening in the morgue, Cornelia caught up with Kyle, still holding the gauzy fabric to his forehead, on the street.

“Kyle!” She called, waving and crossing the street to draw adequate attention to herself.

“Oh!” Kyle blinked, focusing with his still-bleary eyes on the girl approaching him. He absolutely could not for the life of him remember her name. “Um… hello. You’re Toby’s sister, right?”

“Yes.” As she stood in front of him, she gave him a look of grave curiosity. A “you-know-what-I-want-you-to-tell-me” look.

“Ah, yes. Well, I’m not really gay, so you don’t have to worry,” he admitted for the second time that day.

“Really?” She looked delighted. Her placid face grew only slightly pink before she continued.“Then are you free for a movie tomorrow night?”

Surprised, Kyle gave her a quick once-over.

“Sorry. You’re sweet; I mean that, but…” He trailed off, wishing just a little that things could be different. “You know, and I’m hoping this with all my heart, that it’ll be a long time before I’m interested in you.”
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