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BECCA WINCED, SQUINTING AGAINST THE BRIGHT FLASH OF midmorning sunlight as it reflected off the impossibly shiny surface of her mom's coffin.
There should be some kind of law against sunny days and funerals.
Ten feet away, Reverend Hamlin's understated monotone droned on and on about God and servants and souls, and though Becca should have been grieving or mourning or at the very least recalling all the cherished memories of her dead mom as the polished brown casket was lowered into the ground, all she could think about was how stupid it was.
Why bother polishing the casket? That thing was literally getting buried in the ground where no one would ever see it. And the plush interior? Did the bloody, mangled remains of her mom's body give even half a shit that they'd splurged for the tufted velour lining over the base-model crepe?
"Earth to earth," Reverend Hamlin recited. "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust."
To her left, Becca's younger brother, Rafa, sniffled and swallowed while he gazed woefully at the giant hole in the ground, attempting to conceal his sorrow behind a mask of self-imposed manliness, which was probably what he thought dudes were supposed to do at their mom's funeral, even though he was only ten. Becca reached down and grabbed his hand, giving it a squeeze. She wished she could shield him from this misery.
Behind them, Becca could feel Rita's convulsive yet silent sobs as she watched her partner of almost twenty years laid to rest, her hand gripping Ruth's sapphire-and-white-gold wedding ring, which now hung around Rita's neck on a chain.
Her mom and brother were mourning. Because that's what normal people did at funerals. They cried.
Meanwhile Becca was trying not to stare at Reverend Hamlin's nose hairs as they fluttered in and out of his nostrils with every breath.
What the hell was wrong with her?
It wasn't that Becca didn't love her mom or miss her mom or desperately wish the car crash that took her mom's life hadn't happened. She had no idea why she was unable to cry, which only added to her guilt. Because Becca had looked forward to her mom's semi-regular trips to Arizona, which meant three days indulging in the things Ruth didn't approve of, namely plaid miniskirts and ripped tees, nacho cheese sauce eaten straight from the jar, and uninterrupted access to The Postman app. Her mom's number one pet peeve.
Ruth loved to lecture Becca on the dangers of violence and young minds and yada yada yada. Becca would smile and pretend to listen ... and keep watching. In secret.
Which is exactly what she'd been doing — alone in her bedroom, obsessing over the fallout of the Alcatraz 2.0 shutdown — when the phone had rung with the news of her mom's accident.
Guilt burrito, anyone?
"When our earthly journey is ended ..." Reverend Hamlin's nose hairs quivered dramatically as he brought home the final prayer. "Lead us rejoicing into your kingdom, where you live and reign forever and ever. Amen."
Amen, Becca mouthed.
The mourners began to disperse, voices low and mumbling as they offered final condolences to Rita, then picked their way around the granite slabs that marked the uniform rows of graves. Becca's best friends Jackie and Mateo, arms wrapped around each other for comfort, flashed Becca a tight smile before disappearing hand in hand down the hillside. Becca recognized other faces in the crowd — people from church, people from her school, parents who had known Ruth from the PTA. It looked as if most of Marquette, Michigan, had turned out for the funeral.
"Your mom loved you both very much," Rita said, her voice steady.
Rafa heaved. "I miss her."
"I miss her too," Rita said, pulling Rafa to her side and squeezing his shoulders tightly. "But she'll always be with us. I promise."
Becca reached out and tousled Rafa's wavy black hair. She may have been crappy at this mourning thing, but she was good at being a big sister. And Rafa needed her right now.
Rita smiled as she watched her children. Her warm brown eyes, though red-rimmed from crying, lit up her face. Her dark skin was luminous, her curly hair bounced around her ears, and Becca was struck by how beautiful her mom was, even in the face of tragedy.
"You look so much like her," Rita said, eyes fixed on Becca's face.
Becca fought the urge to cringe. Secretly, Becca had always wished she'd gotten Rita's genes like Rafa, instead of the pasty white skin and plethora of freckles she'd inherited from Ruth. No such luck.
"Believe it or not," Rita continued, reading Becca's mind, "you're more like her than you realize."
Don't call your mom crazy. Don't call your mom crazy. "Really?"
Rita nodded. Her eyes drifted to the open grave, glassy and unseeing, and when she spoke again, her voice sounded far away. "There was more to Ruth Martinello than you knew."
Becca wasn't about to contradict her mom five minutes after she'd buried her wife — even her penchant for deflective sarcasm had its limit — but she couldn't bring herself to agree. There was more to Ruth Martinello than you knew. For reals? If there was one person on this planet who was exactly what you'd expect her to be, it was Ruth Martinello. From her warm, ever-present smile to her sensible L.L.Bean cropped chinos and buttoned-up pastel cardigans, Ruth was the epitome of the friendly, supportive stay-at-home mom. She was the kind of person who helped everyone — neighbors, strangers, even her high school best friend in Arizona, who was dealing with chemo treatments for breast cancer. Ruth was always the first one to reach out with selfless altruism, which made Becca embarrassed of her own snarky edge and self-serving attitude.
While Becca was pondering Rita's comment, she caught movement out of the corner of her eye Just a quick flash, like sunlight glinting off the side of a coffin. She turned as her mom lead Rafa to the car, and saw a figure standing near a sprawling oak tree about fifty yards from the grave site.
It was a girl, Becca could tell by the outline of her body against the bright blue sky, even though she was wearing pants and a boxy black jacket. Her dark hair was cut into an asymmetrical bob — the left side shorter than the right, which hung loosely in front of her face, and she was holding a video camera in her hand.
Why was this pervy chick filming at a cemetery? Who gave her permission to document Ruth's funeral? And who still used a video camera? What was this, 2009?
Before she could even speculate as to the answers to these questions, the girl slipped behind the tree and hurried off down the hill.
"What the hell?" Becca said out loud. She took a few steps toward the rapidly departing girl and shouted, "Hey! Stop! What are you doing?"
"Becca?" Rita called from the car. "Come on. We need to get home. People will be arriving for the reception."
Becca paused. She desperately wanted to sprint across the lawn toward the weird chick with the lopsided hair and demand to know why she'd been filming Ruth's funeral, but as she stood indecisively, a car rounded the cemetery drive. Becca saw the long side of the girl's hair flick toward her as she turned her head from the driver's seat. Their eyes met for a split second; then the girl made a hard left at a fork in the path and disappeared down the hill.CHAPTER 2
GOING BACK TO SCHOOL AFTER YOUR MOM DIED WAS THE fucking worst.
"Hey, Becca. Sorry for your loss."
"Becca, I am so sorry about your mom."
"It's Becca, right? Hey, tough break."
Becca hardly knew these people, didn't believe the sincerity of their comments for half a freaking second, and it took literally every ounce of self-control not to answer with "Fuck off!" each time. Like the true asshole she was.
The only things that would get her through this day from Hell were her friends.
"Hey," Jackie said the moment she saw Becca in the hall. Her bright smile contradicted the concern in her eyes. "How are you?"
Becca shrugged. "Fine, I guess."
Mateo, always by his girlfriend's side, folded his arms across his chest. "You guess?"
"That's less 'typical teenage avoidance strategy' and more 'I honestly don't know,'" Becca replied. "Emotions are hard." She appreciated that her friends were worried about her, but they should know her well enough by now to realize that a main course of genuine emotion with a heaping side of sincerity was not on the Becca menu.
Jackie's smile relaxed. "Hard for you."
Becca rolled her eyes as she dialed in her locker combination. Jackie had been studying psych books ever since her parents' divorce and loved nothing more than "helping" her friends with nonprofessional diagnoses. "Yeah, yeah. I'm stunted. We know."
Mateo gave his girlfriend a look that said Maybe not right now, Jackie? "You don't have to talk about any of it. We're just here to support you."
"Of course." Jackie nodded in agreement. "You know we love you."
Becca was grateful for her friends. Grateful that they'd offered to come over the second she'd told them about her mom's accident, even though it was the night Jackie's mom worked the late shift at the hospital, which meant she and Mateo had most definitely been in some stage of sexy times when Becca had texted. She was grateful that they'd both been at the funeral, and she was grateful that they hadn't made her talk about any of it. Until now.
"Okay, Dr. Phil," Becca said with a sly grin. She needed to nip all this sincerity in the bud. "I'll let you know if I feel anything less than one hundred percent supported. Or maybe ninety percent? I think I could probably handle only feeling ninety percent supported by you guys. But if we drop to eighty-five, I'm fucking out of here."
Jackie shook her head, her long blond ponytail swinging across her back like a pendulum. "Smart-ass."
"Always." Becca clicked her locker door closed. "Come on, tell me something fun on the way to bio."
Jackie slipped her hand into Mateo's as they threaded a path through the horde of students. "Apparently, Kasie McInerney's boyfriend brought a new girlfriend home with him from college for Thanksgiving break."
"Yeah," Jackie said. "He never even broke up with Kasie. They were together three years and he's only been down in Madison for three months."
Becca tried not to glance at her friends. Would their relationship survive the trip to college next fall? Becca doubted it. And then what, would she be forced to choose between them a year from now when Jackie brought a new boyfriend home from college? This is why I don't date.
But Jackie clearly didn't see the potential parallel as she barreled on with the post-Thanksgiving-break gossip. "And Darlene Ahlberg has been telling anyone who'll listen she's visiting her aunt in LA for winter break again."
Becca arched an eyebrow. "What agent supposedly wants to sign her this time?"
"Worse than that," Jackie said. "She wants to audition for that new game show. Who Wants to Be a Painiac?"
"Becca!" some rando sophomore boy in an oversize flannel shouted as he passed her in the hall. "I feel you, girl!"
"I could have you arrested for that," Becca called out in response, then turned back to her friends. "What's this about Painiacs?" she said, feigning ignorance.
"I forgot you've been unplugged," Mateo said. "Some production company is crowdsourcing a game show based on the Painiacs from Alcatraz two-point-oh."
"Oooh," Becca said. Only she didn't need Mateo to explain Who Wants to Be a Painiac? to her. She knew exactly what it was. The members of her Postmantics Facebook group had been discussing it nonstop since the Instagram post went live Saturday morning.
The day of your mom's funeral.
She really didn't want to explain to her friends that she'd been obsessing over her Facebook group feed instead of processing her grief, so it was easier to just pretend she had no idea what they were talking about. "Interesting."
"Disguting is more like it," Jackie said, sounding as if she was about to vomit. "I can't believe someone thinks that's a good idea."
"Thankfully, we'll be up the mountain over winter break when it airs," Mateo said, then smiled expectantly at Becca. "You're still coming with us, right?"
Becca hesitated. A couple of weeks ago, she'd jumped at the chance to spend a week with Jackie, Mateo, and his family at their cabin near the ski resort at Keyes Peak, but now she wasn't sure if she should leave her mom and Rafa alone so close to Christmas.
"It'll be good for you," Jackie said, sensing her uncertainty. "You need to do something fun. What's the point of having two weeks off from school if all you do is stay home?"
"I don't know," Becca said. "Sleeping for two straight weeks seems kinda exciting right now."
"You're coming," Jackie said. "That's final."
"Fine," Becca said with a grin as she ducked into the Bio lab. "But I won't like it."
The rest of the day was a blur. Bio to calculus. English to humanities. Government to art history to study hall. Becca was on autopilot for most of it, moving from classroom to cafeteria to hallway like she'd done for days and months and years. For the most part, everything was the same: the same people, the same lessons, the same hallway chatter, though the daily conversations had shifted from The Postman's most recent kills to the latest police reports about vigilantes hunting down the Painiacs' families or reports on the whereabouts of the Death Row Breakfast Club. Still, the same fevered pitch of pop culture enthusiasm infected the halls of Marquette Senior High School, and yet somehow, today felt different.
It wasn't just the stream of "Sorry, Becca" or her friends' attempts to keep their conversations buoyant and substance-free that was weird. An out-of-body sensation haunted her. For a few moments, here and there, Becca almost forgot that her mom had died. She'd be laughing at one of Mateo's jokes or internal-monologue-ing about how boring Mr. Cartwright's lectures were, and in that instant, her life was exactly the same as it had been two weeks ago. It was as if she was floating above the tragedy that was her life, gazing down upon it with an objective eye. Then a memory would come flooding back, punching Becca in the gut and momentarily knocking the breath from her. She'd be graveside again, her mom and brother weeping, while Becca did nothing.
By the time the final bell rang, Becca had a throbbing headache. All she wanted to do was go home and collapse into bed.
Usually — which meant every single day — she went to Jackie's after school, but today Becca couldn't handle two hours of good-natured gossip and animal memes on YouTube. She dashed off a quick text of explanation to her best friend, then headed for the parking lot.
Becca stomped across the asphalt toward Rita's old Ford Explorer, a beat-up hulk of nonecologically-friendly SUV, and practically ripped the door off the hinges as she opened it, angry that school hadn't offered her a complete escape from reality. She tossed her backpack across to the passenger's seat, then climbed behind the wheel. But she didn't start the car. She just sat there, panting, waiting for the tears to stream down her face.
They never came.
What the hell was wrong with her? Why couldn't she cry?
The lot began to empty out. The furor of post-school chaos crescendoed, then dissipated, leaving Becca alone in her car. But as stillness settled around her, Becca became keenly aware of someone standing in the trees, watching her.
There was a sharp sound, a foot snapping a dried twig in half that Becca could barely hear through the cracked car window, but it was enough for Becca to look up into the trees. Standing much as she had at the cemetery, half-obscured by the thin trunk of a white pine, was the girl with the camera.CHAPTER 3
SHE WORE THE SAME BOXY BLACK JACKET, THE SAME JEANS, but she'd added a pair of sunglasses, which obscured most of her face. Her dark, asymmetrical hair was tucked behind her ear on one side and hung down across her face on the other, and her hands, partially covered in purple fingerless gloves, held the same camera.
The girl stood frozen, the camera shoulder-high with the lens aimed at Becca, and even though they were close enough for Becca to discern the jeweled stud of a nose ring in the girl's left nostril, the girl didn't move, didn't speak, didn't make any attempt to explain why the hell she'd been following Becca around.
Following me around. On Saturday, Becca had just assumed the girl was filming her mom's funeral. Some kind of death fetish maybe. But now here she was at Becca's school. It wasn't the funeral this chick was interested in — it was Becca.
Becca had seen a movie like this once — a sociopath stalks his coworker, taking video footage of her, which ends with him filming her murder ... as he was murdering her.
Yeah, that was so not going to happen.
Throwing open the car door, Becca squared her shoulders and marched to the end of the asphalt.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "#MurderFunding"
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