Authors: Linda Budzinski
Tags: #Teen & Young Adult, #Literature & Fiction, #Social & Family Issues, #Death & Dying, #Romance, #Contemporary
THE FUNERAL SINGER
Linda Acorn Budzinski
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The author makes no claims to, but instead acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of any and all wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction.
Copyright © 2013 by Linda Budzinski.
THE FUNERAL SINGER by Linda Budzinski
A teen girl who works part time at her dad’s funeral home as a funeral singer, becomes an overnight Internet sensation after her rendition of “Amazing Grace” goes viral.
All rights reserved. Published in the United States of America by Swoon Romance. Swoon Romance and its related logo are registered trademarks of Month9Books.
No part of this eBook may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Editor: Amy Garvey
Publisher: Swoon Romance YA
Cover designer: Morgan Media
To Joe – my moon and my stars.
The New Moon
Day, you have bruised and beaten me,
As rain beats down the bright, proud sea,
Beaten my body, bruised my soul,
Left me nothing lovely or whole—
Yet I have wrested a gift from you,
Day that dies in dusky blue:
For suddenly over the factories
I saw a moon in the cloudy seas—
A wisp of beauty all alone
In a world as hard and gray as stone—
Oh who could be bitter and want to die
When a maiden moon wakes up in the sky?
Normally I didn’t attend my father’s funerals unless I was scheduled to sing, but it wasn’t every day Dad buried a rock star.
No way would I miss Mick Nolan’s service. It was by far the coolest thing to ever happen at Martin’s Family Mortuary. I rifled through my closet full of black dresses—eight in all, but none quite right for today. I wanted to look good, but of course, this was a funeral, not a concert, and I
in mourning. Mick was my second favorite member of The Grime, behind bassist Zed Logan.
Ah, bass players. Soulful, brooding, background guys.
I finally settled on a knee-length dress with long, sheer, flowing sleeves. Its neckline dipped low enough to be sexy but not, I hoped, disrespectful.
Turned out, I shouldn’t have worried. Downstairs looked like the set of a music video. Girls in miniskirts, midriff tops and strappy heels pranced around guys in torn jeans and t-shirts. A sea of tattooed arms, legs, bellies, and backs clashed against the lobby’s soothing rose-and-tan striped wallpaper.
My dad walked around solemnly shaking each person’s hand and intoning over and over, “Thank you for coming,” and “So sorry for your loss.” His dark blue suit, which usually helped him blend into the background, had the opposite effect, and he stuck out like … well, like a funeral director at a rock concert.
“There you are, Melanie.” My mother thrust a wreath of red and white chrysanthemums into my arms and pointed me toward the chapel. “Set this with the other arrangements and then head out front to help Dawn hand out the programs.”
The wreath was so large I could barely see around it, but I knew every inch of the chapel as well as I knew every word of “Candle in the Wind.” I wound my way down the aisle and toward the front, where Mick’s Grecian-style urn, hand-painted with The Grime’s logo, sat on top of his keyboard. I waded through dozens of wreaths, sprays and bouquets until I found a place to squeeze in the new addition. The sweet scent made me dizzy. Never before had I seen so many flowers. Of course, never before had we held a service for someone famous.
I stopped by the urn and said a quick prayer. Mick had overdosed on cocaine at age twenty-one. My first reaction when I’d heard the news—and I wasn’t proud of this—was:
What would happen to the band?
That was almost a month ago, and there had been a small, private service a few days later. Today’s event, “A Celebration of Mick’s Life,” was open to everyone.
As I turned to leave, I spotted an older woman seated in the front row of the chapel fingering a delicate gold cross around her neck. I’d read somewhere that Mick’s grandmother had raised him. That had to be her. I turned, hoping to escape before she noticed me, but she stood and called out. “Excuse me, sweetheart. Do you know how long it will be before the service begins?”
I glanced at the clock on the back wall. “About twenty minutes.” If I were my father, I’d offer her some water or ask if she needed anything while she waited. Maybe I’d even sit down and take her hands in mine and ask how she was holding up. Instead, I turned and ran.
Avoid close family.
That was my rule, and though I’d been to hundreds of funerals in the past few years, I’d somehow managed to follow it—most of the time, anyway.
The trick was to sneak up to the chapel’s balcony just before the service began, perform my songs, and disappear as soon as it ended. Let my dad deal with the dearly beloved. The
. The very word felt heavy, loaded down with a heartache and pain and emptiness I had no clue how to handle.
I made my way down the chapel aisle, through the lobby, and outside onto the porch, where Dawn, our receptionist, shot me a panicked look and handed me half of her stack of memorial programs. “Thank goodness you’re here. This place is a madhouse.”
The Grime hadn’t had a hit in almost two years, but they still had plenty of fans here in their hometown, just across the river from Washington, D.C. The line wound all the way down and around the end of our block. “No way all these people will fit inside the chapel,” I said. “Dad’ll have to come out and shut the doors soon.”
Dawn pointed toward a pair of cop cars parked across the street. “That’s why I called them to come out early.” The police normally didn’t arrive until the end of the service, so they could escort the funeral procession to the cemetery.
“You don’t think we’ll have any problems, do you?”
Dawn looked around. The crowd was large but tame. “No, but better safe than sorry.”
A few girls from my high school called to me from halfway back in the line. “Hi, Mel! Love your dress!”
I pretended not to hear them. They treated me like the Freaky Funeral Girl at school, and now they wanted to act as though we were best buds?
I scanned the parking lot. Only one news van—our local Channel 4. Too bad. I’d hoped TMZ would show up, or MTV, or at least Entertainment Tonight. Then again, Mick had two strikes against him: First, The Grime’s second album had tanked, after which Rolling Stone had labeled them a “one-hit wonder,” and second, he played keyboards. Keyboardists got no respect.
A woman with poofy blond hair rushed over, signaling a cameraman to follow. “Hey, you! Girl with the programs! Can you tell us where the band members are?”
I shook my head. “They’re not here yet.” The Grime’s crew had come by this morning to set up their equipment and tune their guitars, but the band was nowhere to be seen.
The woman sighed and turned back to her cameraman. “Fine. Let’s keep doing fan interviews. One of these idiots is bound to have something interesting to say.”
They cornered a girl with pink-streaked hair and a pierced lip. “Hello, I’m Andrea Little, Channel 4 News. Mind if we ask a few questions?” About halfway through the interview, the girl started sobbing, her makeup forming two dark tracks down her cheeks. Now, there was a girl who didn’t go to many funerals. Should’ve gone easy on the mascara and made sure it was super waterproof.
My mom was big on the value of crying. She said holding back could make you sick, and that her job as a grief counselor was to get people to let it all out. That was one thing we had in common. When I was singing up in that balcony, I wanted to make people
something—sadness, anger, relief—whatever it was they needed.
One thing was for certain: Pink Hair Girl didn’t need help from me, my mom or anyone else. As I watched, she fished a tissue out of her bag, wiped her cheeks and blew her nose with a loud honk. Andrea Little backed up and grimaced, but she motioned at the cameraman to zoom in closer.
Dad came out and called over one of the cops. “We’re at capacity,” he told him. “We need to shut the doors.”
“But, Dad …” I said.
“Fire marshal’s rules, honey.” He pointed to the speakers mounted at both ends of the porch. “We’ll pipe the sound from the service out here. Everyone is more than welcome to stay and listen.”
“But, Dad, the band members aren’t here yet. We have to let them in.”
Dad glanced at his watch and stepped back inside. “Right. When they show up, send them into the chapel. But no one else.”
While the cops explained to the crowd what was happening, Dawn and I walked around and passed out the rest of the programs, souvenirs for people to take home even though they couldn’t get in. As I handed out the last few, I spotted my best friend, Lana, making her way through the crowd. Apparently she’d gotten the memo about the miniskirts.
“This is insane,” she said when she reached me. “Mom had to drop me off a block away.”
I nodded toward her oversized purse. “Let me guess. Your Randy-approved outfit is in there.” No way would her uber-strict stepdad have let her out of the house wearing so little.
Lana grinned and opened her bag to reveal a full-length black skirt crammed inside. “What Mr. Control Freak doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”
“Well, you look great, as always.” I led her up the stairs onto the porch. “It’s standing-room only inside. Dad shut the doors, so I’ll have to sneak you in.”
She ran her fingers through her tight blond curls and adjusted her sweater to bare her right shoulder. “Is Bruno in there?” Lana was obsessed with The Grime’s lead singer, Bruno Locke. He seemed like an arrogant, self-absorbed jerk to me, but then again, that would fit right in line with her dating record.
I shook my head. “No sign of the band yet.”
Just as I opened the door for her, a limo pulled up. It was longer, sleeker and somehow even a little blacker than my dad’s limos. And unlike my dad’s cars, it had shiny chrome bumpers and chrome-spoked wheels.
Lana grabbed my hand. “That must be them.”
A huge guy with a shaved head stepped out from the driver’s seat. Andrea and her cameraman rushed over. “Back up,” he yelled at them. “The band will not do any interviews. You can film them walking in, but they won’t stop to talk.”
I held my breath as lead guitarist Jon Marks and drummer Ty Walker stepped out. Next came Bruno, and Lana squeezed my hand so tightly I thought my fingers might break. Bruno paused for a moment and eyed the crowd. When he noticed the camera, he tilted his head and gave his signature sneer. Oh, please. Couldn’t he give it a rest, even for one day?
Finally, out stepped Zed. Shorter than he looked in their videos but otherwise even better in person. The messy dark hair, the brown eyes, the scar on the left side of his chin. So hot.
I held the door open and they filed past.
Zed shot me a half smile. “Thank you.”
You, too? Ugh. Real smooth.
Lana and I were the last two people to squeeze into the chapel. Dad had pulled out every folding chair in his storeroom for this, and every seat was filled.
“This way.” I led Lana through a “Staff Only” door and up the winding staircase to my balcony.
I liked it up here. Close enough to the guests so that I could see how they reacted to each song, but far enough away so that I could slip away into the shadows without anyone noticing.
The crowd settled down as the band members approached the front of the chapel. They kicked the service off with an amazing set. With everyone clapping and shouting and taking photos with their cell phones, it felt more like a nightclub show than a funeral service. That is, until they played “Altogether Blue.” The ballad sounded eerie and hollow without Mick’s keyboard, and when they got to the part where he usually played his solo, the band stopped and waited in silence through two imaginary chord progressions before coming back in for the end of the song. Half the girls in the chapel lost it, and even some of the guys were wiping their eyes.
The only person who seemed unmoved was Mick’s grandmother. She sat quietly, still fingering the cross around her neck and looking a bit lost. When Ty stood up behind his drums and screamed “Smokin’!” the way he always did at the end of “Merry Jane,” she squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head.
I cringed. Perhaps not the best song choice given Mick’s history with drugs.
After the service, Lana and I rode with my mother to the cemetery. Just ahead of us, Mick’s grandmother sat in a funeral car with one of my dad’s drivers. My dad brought up the rear of the procession so he could make sure everyone made it to the cemetery safely.