They walked into their home, which was bright with lights and sweltering hot.
The first thing Jude saw was a shamrock-green sweater hanging from the antique hall tree by the door. How many times had she asked Mia to take it up to her room?
I will, Madre. Honest. Tomorrow …
She let go of her husband’s arm. She was about to reach for the sweater when she heard her mother’s voice.
Her mother stood in the entryway, dressed in an elegant steel-gray fitted blouse and black pants. She reached out, pulled Jude into her arms. Jude wished there was comfort in this embrace, but it was as cold and rote as everything else between them.
She drew back as quickly as she could, crossing her arms. She was freezing cold suddenly, even though the house was warm.
“I’ve put the food away,” Mother said. “Your friends have been so supportive. I’ve never seen so many foil-wrapped casseroles in my life. I’ve put everything in the freezer, marked and dated. I’ve also made all the funeral arrangements.”
Jude looked up sharply. “How dare you?”
Her mother looked worriedly at her. “I was trying to help.”
“We are not having a funeral,” Jude said.
“No funeral?” Miles said.
“Remember your parents’ funerals? And I remember my father’s. No way I’m going through that for Mia. We’re not religious. I’m not going to—”
“You don’t need to be religious to have a funeral, Judith,” her mother said. “God will be ther—”
“Don’t you dare mention God to me. He let her die.”
She saw her mother pale, draw back, and, just like that, Jude lost her hold on anger. Without it, she felt so exhausted she could hardly stand.
“I need to sleep,” she said. Clutching Mia’s purse and the single white rose, she turned her back on her family and stumbled down the hallway to her bedroom, collapsing on her bed.
Mia’s purse spilled out; the contents lay scattered across the expensive sheets.
Jude lay on her side, snuggled up to her pillow, staring down at Mia’s things.
The pink Juicy Couture wallet that had been last year’s Christmas gift. A tube of lip gloss, a bent and mangled tampon, a crumpled-up twenty-dollar bill, a half-empty pack of gum, and a used movie ticket. Inside the wallet was a picture of Zach, Mia, and Lexi taken at senior prom.
If only she’d hugged Mia right then, told her that she loved her. Or if she’d said no to the party. Or taught her children that alcohol was dangerous even though parties were fun. Or insisted on driving them. Or not bought the kids a car or …
The list of her regrets grew too heavy, weighed her down; she closed her eyes.
Behind her, she heard her bedroom door open and close.
Miles came toward the bed—she could sense that it was him, but she couldn’t turn toward him or open her eyes. He slipped into bed, pulled her against him. She felt him stroke her hair, and she shivered at his touch, freezing again.
“Your mother left. She said something about knowing when she wasn’t welcome, which of course is completely untrue.”
“That’s the first time you’ve asked about him.”
“Don’t tell me how to grieve, Miles. I’m doing the best I can.”
“I never planted a white rose,” she said quietly. “Why didn’t I ask Mia what flower she liked? Why didn’t I know?”
He stroked her hair. “We can’t do this,” he said. “Going through our whole lives, tilling it up, looking for mistakes. It’ll kill us.”
She nodded, feeling tears start again.
God, she was already tired of crying, and it hadn’t even started. She’d been without her daughter for less than three days. The rest of her life stretched out before her like the Gobi Desert.
“We have to have a funeral,” Miles said softly.
“Because it’s the thing to do?”
“Because Zach and I need it.”
Jude pressed her face into the pillow, blotting her tears. “Okay,” she said, overcome again by all of it. “I’m going to sleep now,” she said, closing her eyes.
Miles left the room and closed the door behind him.
* * *
Local Teen Killed in Drunk Driving Accident
An eighteen-year-old Pine Island girl was killed early yesterday morning in a single car crash on Night Road.
Mia Farraday, a Pine Island High School senior, was thrown out of a Ford Mustang when it hit a tree, authorities said.
The driver, eighteen-year-old Alexa Baill, of Port George, was reportedly intoxicated at the time. Another passenger, Zachary Farraday, was also injured in the incident.
Pine Island Police Officer Roy Avery is “tired of delivering bad news to parents of local teens.” He pointed out that before this most recent fatal crash, an accident in another part of the county killed a sixteen-year-old Woodside girl.
“Both wrecks happened on dark, twisty, two-lane roads, and both young drivers had been drinking,” Officer Avery said.
“We have to stop these teens from partying. That’s all there is to it. The consequences are tragic. Every year, there’s a grad-party accident. This year, someone was killed.”
The local chapter of MADD has taken a strong interest in this incident. President Norma Alice Davidson demanded publicly that charges be brought against this young driver. “Only stiffer penalties will make teens take notice of the danger,” she said.
Prosecuting attorney Uslan declined to comment about whether Ms. Baill would be charged with DUI vehicular homicide. A memorial service for Mia Farraday will take place Wednesday at Grace Church on Pine Island at 4:00 P.M.
* * *
All over Pine Island, there were reminders of Mia’s death: on the high school reader board, WE MISS YOU, MIA; on the movie marquee, IN MEMORY OF MIA. There were signs in store fronts and taped to car windows.
But those reminders weren’t the worst of it. Now, as Lexi walked up Main Street, she was bombarded by memories. She and Mia had painted ceramic platters together there, at the Dancing Brush … they’d bought designer jelly beans at the candy store and books at the bookstores.
That was what had brought them together in the first place, two lonely girls who, before each other, experienced the world from afar, through words.
Can I sit here?
Eva handed Lexi a wad of toilet paper. “You’re crying.”
“Am I?” She wiped her eyes, surprised to find how hard she was crying.
Eva touched her arm gently. “Here we are.”
The lawyer’s office was just off Main Street, tucked back in a tree-lined quad that housed a yarn shop, an antique shop, and an art gallery.
The small, squat brick building had big windows and a bright blue door that read: Scot Jacobs, Attorney at Law.
Lexi followed Eva into the office. The main room held a big oak desk, three plastic chairs, and a framed black-and-white photograph of driftwood on a beach. A tired-looking older woman with black horn-rimmed glasses sat behind the desk.
“You must be Alexa,” the receptionist said. “I’m Bea.”
“Hi, Bea. This is my Aunt Eva.”
“You both can go in now.”
“You ready for this?” Eva whispered to Lexi.
Lexi shook her head.
“Me either.” They walked down a narrow hallway, past a conference-type room.
At the back office, a youngish man sat behind a big glass desk. At their approach, he rose. In a crumpled blue suit and overwashed pink shirt, he looked like the kind of attorney they could afford, and of course they couldn’t really afford him. His hair was unstylishly long, a little tousled, and he needed a shave, but his brown eyes were kind and compassionate.
“Hello,” Lexi said, moving forward to shake his plump, slightly damp hand.
Lexi sat down in one of the two upholstered chairs that faced the desk. Beside her, Eva put her purse on the floor and sat down in the other chair. “Thank you for agreeing to see us,” her aunt said.
Mr. Jacobs steepled his pale fingers and studied Lexi. “You’re in a bad spot, Miss Baill. Your accident has sparked a firestorm around here. The regional MADD organization is fired up. They want an example made of you.”
“What does that mean?” Lexi asked.
“They think that if you go to prison, kids will get the message. And a lot of people want to see this message go out to kids.”
“Prison? Prison?” Lexi said, feeling the floor drop out from under her.
“But she’s a kid,” Eva said.
“Actually, she’s eighteen. That makes her an adult, and she was legally intoxicated at the time of the accident. Of course, at her age, point zero is the legal limit.”
“They send girls to prison for an accident like this?” Eva asked.
“When alcohol is involved, they can. They can also go for probation and community service. There are a lot of potential outcomes here, and a lot of choices along the way. That’s what I’m for: to help guide and defend Lexi.”
“So what should I do?” Lexi said quietly. She was shaken to her core by the whole idea of this. She’d seen what happened as an accident. It was a crime, though. Now she saw how much more she had to face, and it terrified her.
“Fight? But I did it. I drove drunk.”
“It wasn’t your car, and you were the least intoxicated of the three,” Scot said. “It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out what happened. You thought you were the safest among you to drive. And jurors tend to drink. They’ll know a thing like this can happen to anyone. I’ll need to hire an investigator, but you’ll definitely plead not guilty. Last year I defended a man who killed two people in a similar situation, and I got him acquitted. It’s not over till it’s over.”
Acquitted. Not guilty. How could Lexi ever face Zach in court and say she wasn’t guilty? How could she face anyone on the island and say that? “But she’s dead. I can’t pretend I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Prison isn’t the answer, Lexi. Believe me.” He collated some papers on his desk, thumped them into a packet. “Here’s the plan. You’re going to speak to high school kids and share your story. I’ll set something up for you. It’ll look good if you take responsibility for your actions. Show the community and the media that you can send a message to other teens without going to prison.” He gave her a sad smile. “I know your whole story, Lexi. People will respond to what you’ve been through.”
“What do you mean?”
He opened a file and looked at it. “Your mother, Lorena Baill, was first arrested in 1986, when you were three months old. You lived with seven foster families in your first fourteen years. Every time your mom got out of rehab or jail, she came back for you. The courts kept giving her chances.” He looked up. “You’ve had a hard life, Lexi. And you were with your mom when she overdosed.”
Lexi swallowed hard. It was a memory she tried never to remember. “Yes.”