Authors: Jenny Allen
Lilith stared down at the leather bound pile of papers again, curiosity blossoming in her mind, but it would have to wait. With a heavy sigh, she made her way down to the gravesite, skirting the mulling crowd of people in suits. She kept her eyes on Chance who standing with Gloria and her daughters Erica, Sofia and Rose. Sixteen year old Erica just stared up at Chance, hanging on his every word as finished a story that had Gloria grinning from ear to ear.
Ray Valinski, the newest member of Gregor’s security team, stopped her to give his condolences, followed by Timothy and then a few guys from the police department. Nicci rushed forward for an awkward hug and offered to hold onto the mysterious files for her, which Lilith was eternally grateful for. The thing had to weigh close to twenty pounds.
"I have something for you." Nicci smiled softly and shifted the pile of papers into one hand, her other digging into the pocket of her little black dress. Her hand emerged clutching a small decorative tin box that brought tears to Lilith's eyes.
Nicci handed it to her and Lilith's fingers traced over the top before popping it open. Inside were the tiny portraits of Duncan, Gregor, Margareet, Finlay, Mirren and little Mary. Lilith's mist eyes flew up to Nicci with a shocked expression. "How did you..."
"Well, I convinced the FBI it wasn't relevant to the case and they cleared it from the evidence locker for me. I sent the blood sample to the lab for testing, but I thought you would want those." She flashed a sympathetic smile with a slightly embarrassed flush to her cheeks.
“Nicci... Thank you... for this and for everything you've done. I meant to stop by the precinct, but...” It had been a whirlwind of detectives, FBI agents, the police department had even required her to see a therapist before they’d approve her returning to work. Then there were all the meetings with Gregor’s business partners, accountants and lawyers.
“I did what any good partner would. When I arrived at Gloria’s…” A shadow passed over Nicci’s usually buoyantly happy face. “If Chance hadn’t tracked me down through the precinct and told me about Luminita, I may never have found you.”
“I have to ask, how did you think to check property purchases?” It was the one question that nagged at the back of Lilith’s mind.
“Honestly, it was a hunch. It was Phipps Bend. Ever since you told me about it, I’ve been digging it to the sale. Just like those checks, there were a half dozen shell companies. When Chance called, I searched each and every company for property sales or leases in the New York area. Eventually, I got lucky. I just wish I’d been able to get there sooner.”
“You did great.” Lilith squeezed her shoulder and Nicci flashed a reassuring smile from behind a curtain of chocolate brown hair.
“Maybe you can return the favor someday.” With a conspiratorial grin, Nicci stepped back into the group of cops.
Before Lilith could respond, she was suddenly surrounded by Gloria, Erica, Sophia and Rose in a huge group hug. She was completely overcome by the outpouring of love warming her to the marrow. They clung there in the chilly fall night until a purposeful cough sounded right behind Lilith. One by one they untangled themselves with tears in their eyes and Lilith reluctantly turned to see the funeral director standing there expectantly.
“Are you ready, Miss?” A balding man wrung his nervous hands as his beady eyes scanned the large crowd. Night funerals were fairly uncommon and one as large as this was highly irregular. Guess she couldn’t blame him for being nervous.
With a nod of her head, the skittish man rang a large brass bell and the dull roar of the crowd fell into an eerie silence. Lilith stepped forward, taking a deep steadying breath as hundreds of eyes watched her every move. Chance grabbed her hand, giving it a lingering squeeze, silently giving her all the strength he could. She needed every ounce of it. Lilith squeezed his hand in return, a loving smile gracing her lips, before facing down her father’s casket.
Lilith’s fingertips brushed along the steel grey coffin gleaming in the cool light of the full moon. The lilies cascading over it blazed a brilliant white, contrasting sharply with the dark red roses she placed on top. She stared down at the battered little tin in her hands. For just a moment, she forgot the looming crowd at her back as her mind flooded with memories.
“Ms. Adams wishes to say a few words before you pay your respects.” The booming voice of the director dragged Lilith out of her thoughts abruptly. She didn’t really need an introduction, but he seemed anxious to get this over with. Lilith bent and placed a kiss against smooth wood casket before wiping the tears from her eyes.
When she turned around, the words froze in her throat. A sea of anonymous faces stared back at her. Some were bored, some impatient, some confused and even a few of them looked genuinely sad. How was she supposed to speak to these strangers? Her eyes scanned frantically over the crowd. Cohen was standing with the group from the precinct, a supportive smile on his scared face. Nicci, Timothy, and Ray all wore the same smile on their attentive faces.
Then Lilith’s eyes caught on two familiar faces standing stiffly at the very back of the crowd, her uncle Aaron and his son Michael. Goose bumps suddenly raced up her arms at the sight of their cold, emotionless faces. They may be blood relatives, but they held less warmth than the snow-scented wind biting at her skin. Lilith forced her eyes away from them and finally found solace in the familiar faces of Chance and Gloria. This was her true family, her heart, and her eyes never left them.
“My father was not always a good man. There was a time in his life where most people would have justifiably called him a monster…” A rumble of murmurs sparked through the crowd, but Lilith kept her focus and with an encouraging nod from Chance, she continued.
“Someone told me once that it doesn’t matter who someone used to be, it only matters who they are to you.” A small smile crossed her lips to mirror the one on Chance’s handsome face.
“To me, Gregor was a generous father, a prolific philanthropist, a loving friend…” Lilith swallowed her tears. “He was my whole world and when he died it felt like everything I knew died with him. But he also taught me that as long as you draw breath you can fight to build a new world. Life is not a game of chance and it’s not just about survival. Life is an excruciating ballet of experiences and trials. It’s a world of mediocracy filled with people that simply want to be heard, even when they are scared of the sound of their own voice. So this is my message to you. Create your own world, find the people that hear your voice even when you can’t, and never let your love for them be mediocre.”
Lilith turned away from the crowd again and caressed her fingertips over the cold wood. Her eyes misted with tears as she said her silent goodbyes to not only her father but the person she’d been less than a month ago. Warm hands circled her waist and she relaxed into them as the heavy weight on her heart began to slide away.
“Do you want to get out of here,
?” The invitation was irresistible considering the warm rumble of his voice tickling over the fine hairs at the back of her neck. That and the prospect of not standing there for two hours as an endless parade of strangers told her how sorry they were. It was time for her to let go of the past, leave the guilt and the pain here with the dead. The true lesson she’d learned from her father was that it didn’t matter if you survived traumatic events. If you let guilt and hatred poison you, then survival was just a painful stay of execution, a slow and excruciating form of suicide.
Chance and Lilith ducked past a few business men animatedly talking about stock prices and broke free to the moonlit path lined with trees. Away from the huge crowd, Lilith finally felt like she could breathe. She stopped at the top of the hill, casting one last look down to the casket below with a resolution firmly in her mind. She would not follow in her father’s footsteps. Instead, she would create the world that he had always wanted for her and fearlessly fight to protect it.
About the Author
Jenny Allen is the author of
Rose of Jericho
as well as several published poems and short stories in University journals. She also spent time as a reporter and photographer for the Chattanooga State College newspaper. Ms. Allen has studied forensic science, done extensive research in world cultures and myths, and is currently pursuing a degree in Registered Nursing. Her background as a published photographer and an award winning artist helps her visualize the scenes when writing, contributing to her unique style of vivid imagery.
Born on a Royal Air base in Lakenheath England, she left the U.K. at the age of 9 to travel all over the United States and Germany. She turned to writing poetry after the suicide of a close friend in her sophomore year of high school. She graduated to short stories and narratives until, in 2002, she wrote her first novel, Lilith in London, which was never published. Over the course of twelve years the novel underwent a lengthy metamorphosis, eventually becoming her first published novel,
Jenny Allen attributes her success to the people in her life that provided not only encouragement, but constructive criticism including longtime friends Jason Ratcliff, Emily Kirk, Matthew Pace, Travis Tramble, Adrian Stranik, Chris Howard and Robin Sullivan.
Currently, Ms. Allen is a single mother living in York, Pennsylvania, writing between semesters of college. She hopes to continue her book series while pursuing her medical career.