So I sat down this morning to work on something.

This emerged instead.

Not a clue. Only thing I can tell you is that it appears to be yet another step in my writing evolution.

 

And in the End…

“In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our brother Thomas—”

 

Lillian flinched. Outside of their wedding ceremony, she’d never called him Thomas. He’d been introduced to her as Tom—a solid, straightforward name that fit him like a glove to a hand. As their relationship evolved and became more, names were replaced with endearments. Honey, sweetheart, babe—light and sweet, words she might not ever have imagined directed toward her. Endearments she had quite honestly considered ridiculous and would have felt horribly self-conscious being on the receiving end of had they not come from him.

He had always found ways to challenge her—make her reconsider long-held stances and beliefs—and in doing so, had softened her. Made her more tolerant and understanding.

 

“And we commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

 

This, however… this she didn’t understand. They’d never discussed it. He’d given her no warning—shown no signs.

And she had no idea how to reconsider this. Or why she should even have to. An event of this nature had been so far beyond anything she’d ever expected to consider.

A funeral.

Her only experience with them had been via reading—dry, dusty history texts or the occasional novel. Certainly, she’d never expected to attend one. And had definitely never expected to arrange one, let alone for her own husband.

They’d long since had their plans in place. Cremation, then life was to go on as usual. Simple, straightforward, like the man himself—she’d thought. But then Tom had gone and gotten in that damned accident and all their carefully made plans had taken, as he was so fond of saying with that crooked half-smile, “a left turn to Albuquerque.”

It had never failed to draw a smile from her as well.

But not this time.

The officiant—a wide-eyed scholarly type she’d discovered dwelling in the ancient history department of the university—consulted the fragile text he held reverently in gloved hands. She’d told him it wasn’t necessary—he could simply read off a tablet or if he insisted could print the words and she would be more than happy to absorb the extra cost of using paper—but he’d been adamant on using the text itself. Lillian half-suspected the academic, never expecting to put years of study to practical use, was bound and determined to wring every ounce of ritual from what was likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

 

“The Lord bless him and keep him, the Lord make his face to shine upon him and be gracious unto him—”

 

They were approaching the end—she thought. With each word, the officiant’s voice seemed to slow, as if reluctant to bring this rare moment to an end, each syllable seemly dragged through a pool of molasses to emerge sticky sweet and thick with unfamiliar emotion.

 

“…the Lord lift up his countenance upon him and give him peace. Amen.”

 

He paused and stared at Lillian, his eyes behind the lenses of the old-fashioned round-framed glasses owlish, the light glinting off them, giving them an expectant gleam.

Ah, yes—he’d told her about this part.

“Amen,” she repeated softly, lips and tongue clumsy around the word, an unfamiliar bitterness flooding her mouth in its wake.

“Dr. Banks?”

She turned back to the officiant. “Yes?”

“This is when you place a handful of dirt on the coffin.”

She stared at the gaping hole in the ground—an ugly brown scar bisecting the pristine sea of gently undulating green—and felt the weight of every moment of this godforsaken day come to rest on her shoulders.

“Dr. Banks?” The young man’s voice was hesitant, yet oddly firm. Damn him. Damn herself for ever showing him the document outlining the extent of Tom’s requests—every instinct recoiling against the invasion of her privacy and the crudeness of what he was asking—and wanting to know if all of it was absolutely necessary.

Once the thrill of academic discovery had worn off, the young scholar had assured her that it was, indeed, all necessary. Not the individual steps in and of themselves, he’d explained, but rather, the spirit of honoring of the deceased’s final requests. That was the most important element of all—the honoring.

“It’s the last step,” he said softly. “I promise.”

Damn Tom.

Damn Tom to the hell she’d also only ever read about but in this moment desperately wished existed.

He’d known she wouldn’t be able to refuse. Had counted on her absolute inability to refuse him. Mostly because his requests were so few and so far between. And only for something intensely desired.

The officiant’s gentle urgings a sequence of nonsensical sounds buzzing in her ears, Lillian approached the mound of dirt piled next to the hole. Ignoring the curious stares of the groundskeepers, the only other witnesses to the proceedings, she scooped a small handful of earth into her hand, her nose twitching as the thick, unfamiliar smell tickled her nostrils. And if her eyes watered a bit as she released the mass it was because of the cold dampness of the dirt against her skin, the slight grittiness it left behind—not the crude, soft thump of it hitting a solid surface, the sharper report of a stray pebble against wood.

That would be ridiculous.

Wouldn’t it?

Swallowing hard, she accepted the officiant’s offer of a handkerchief with which to wipe her hands, murmured her thanks or some inanity, and as quickly as possible, made her escape—only to find escape wouldn’t be so easily achieved.

Because nothing about this day could be easy.

He leaned against her car with a casual insouciance betrayed by the dark suit and an air about him that suggested this visit was anything but casual. Finally.

“Lillian.”

“Seamus.” She nodded as she retrieved her keys. “I expected to be seeing someone today, but not necessarily here and certainly not you.” She hit the button unlocking the doors. “This is a bit below your current pay grade, isn’t it?”

“We figured a friendly face might not go unappreciated.”

Her brows drew together. “It’s been… odd, to be sure, but nothing I couldn’t handle.”

“Odd?” He laughed, the sharp sound startling a bird from a nearby tree with a squawk and an indignant ruffle of feathers as it flew off. “Only you, Lillian. You know, you don’t have to be a superwoman. The entire thing’s been a bizarre anomaly and there’s not a single person who’d blame you for being angry.”

“Anger’s a waste of energy.” Never mind that what she’d been feeling just moments earlier had skirted dangerously close to anger.

Seamus laughed again, softer, as he shook his head. “You’re some kind of woman, Lillian Banks.”

She sighed, even as a reluctant smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. “I’m some kind of tired, Seamus. So I’m sure you’ll understand if I want to get right to the point and learn why you were sent?”

He straightened, his eyes narrowing as he took stock of her with the sharp-eyed gaze with which she was intimately familiar. She should be. That same gaze had annoyed her no end growing up in the way that only an older brother’s could.

“This has to do with Tom, doesn’t it?”

He nodded, watchful gaze never leaving her face. As if concerned.

“Well?” Impatience made her movements jerky as she pulled the door open. “What is it?”

“There’s a problem.”

She gripped the door frame, idly noting how white her knuckles grew, how her wedding band stood out, a thin strip of rose gold, stark against her pale skin.

“With?”

But she already knew. And Seamus knew she knew. But he humored her and said the words anyway.”

“With Tom’s clone. He’s… not what you’re expecting.”