I think of what follows as a short “sequel-prequel” to my book, False Guilt, because it fits between the first and second parts.
Between the minister’s sombre sentences, one of the wooden doors of Toronto’s Metropolitan United Church thumped shut. Paul turned to look from the front pew and caught his breath. Grace had appeared, five minutes late for the funeral service. She slunk into a back row and sat alone.
An hour later, Paul had helped carry the casket to the hearse and his duties were done. The burial was for family only. He stood on the front steps of the church and pushed a hand through his hair. He wondered if he was doing the right thing waiting for her.
It didn’t take long to find out. Her tall, slim body was one of the last to exit the church. As soon as she saw him, Grace stopped under the arch. Caution, not pleasure, crossed her face.
A surge of May air cleared some strands of black hair. “Hello,” she said.
“I saw you,” he said, clearing his throat. “From the front row. I just wanted to say hello.”
“I just beat you to it,” she said, testing a smile. “How have you been?”
“Oh, busy. With law school and stuff. But second year’s finished now.”
“How did it go?” she asked.
He shrugged. “They still haven’t told me yet. You been busy, too?”
“Very, yes. With dance and work and stuff.” She paused. “I was going to call you back. But I knew you had exams.”
“Of course,” Paul said. “That was very considerate of you.” He felt his face flushing red.
“This is all so tragic,” Grace continued, glancing for a second beyond the front lawn at traffic. “And you knew him a lot better than me.”
“I guess. This whole thing is like a bad movie that won’t stop. And for a guy who always made things work for him. At least until recently.”
“I just hope they find out who did it, really soon.”
“Me, too.” He looked down and pawed the step he stood on. “So, I was wondering, you know, now that I’m done with school, if I could see you again. I enjoyed the time we had coffee.”
“I did, too,” she said. “But I might have some travel plans.”
“Oh, I see, sure,” he said, pawing again. “Well, let me come right out and ask, because, to be honest, I’ve been thinking about you a lot.” He cleared his throat again. “Do you—do you have any interest in me?”
He wanted to say more. That he’d yearned for her since their coffee and intimacy six weeks earlier. That he was sure there could be a connection. That even the menace of the past several days hadn’t changed those feelings.
But her eyes held pity.
“I really did have a nice time with you, Paul,” she said. “It’s just not the right time for me now.”
She began to walk down the steps. He touched one of her forearms. “Are you sure?” he asked.
A hint of impatience joined the pity. She sighed and bit her lower lip. “And I just don’t feel the passion,” she added.
Gutted, his hand fell to his side. He was certain he would never see her again.
But fifteen years later, at the funeral of another friend, he would.
And she would feel differently.
Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze
Buy False Guilt.
Buy The Case for Killing.
Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.
Visit me on Facebook.