Stranger

By: Megan Hart



More importantly, for their sake as well as mine, my gentlemen friends were utterly discreet. My business was open to constant scrutiny. It had been hard enough not being the son of Frawley and Sons. The funeral-home business was still mostly male dominated, and though I’d spent my entire life in Annville and had been a part of the family business for just that long, there were still those who thought a woman couldn’t do the job a man could. There was far more to the work than sending death announcements to the newspaper and embalming corpses; a good funeral director offered grief support and helped each and every family through what was often the most difficult time of their lives. I love my work. I’m good at it. I like helping people say goodbye to their loved ones and making the process as easy and bearable as possible. Even so, I never forget that people won’t bring their loved ones to someone they don’t trust, or whose morals they felt were questionable—and in a small town, morals are easily questioned.

“Grace?”

Again, I’d been caught in contemplation. I looked up to see Shelly Winber, my office manager. She looked apologetic, though she didn’t need to be. I’d been off in la-la land. “Hmm?”

“Phone for you.” She pointed upward. “Upstairs. It’s your dad.”

Obviously upstairs, since my ever-present cell phone hadn’t done so much as peep from its place on my hip. “Great, thanks.”

My dad called me at least once a day if he didn’t stop in. For someone who was supposed to have retired, my dad sure didn’t take much of a break. I took the call at my desk while I listened with one ear and made the appropriate “Mmm, hmms” and scrolled through the columns of my advertising budget.

“Grace, are you listening to me?”

“Yes, Dad.”

He snorted. “What did I just say?”


I took a stab. “You told me to come over for dinner on Sunday and bring the ledger so you can help me balance the books.”

Stone silence meant I’d messed up. “How do you expect to succeed if you don’t listen?”

“Dad, I’m sorry, but I’m a little busy here going over some things.” I held the phone next to my computer mouse and click-clicked. “Hear that?”

My dad huffed. “You spend too much time on the computer.”

“I spend time on this computer doing work to help the business grow.”

“We never had e-mail or a Web site, and we did just fine. The business is more than marketing, Grace. It’s more than just numbers.”

His intimation stung. “Then why are you always on my case about the budget?”

Aha. I’d caught him. I waited for him to answer, but what he said didn’t make me happy.

“Running the funeral home is more than just a job. It’s got to be your life.”

I thought of the recitals and graduations and birthday parties my dad had missed over the years. “You think I don’t know that?”

“I don’t know. Do you?”

“I have to go, Dad. I’ll see you at dinner on Sunday. Unless I have to work.”

I hung up and sat back in my chair. I knew it was more than a job. Didn’t I spend nearly all my time here? Giving it my best? Giving it my all? But try to tell my dad that. All he saw was the new gadgets and logo and the commercials on the radio and ads in the paper. What he didn’t understand was that just because I had nobody to sacrifice but myself didn’t make my efforts any less noble.



“You’re looking sparkly today.” My sister, Hannah, raised an eyebrow.

I flicked one of my chandelier earrings until the tiny bells chimed. They matched the Indian-style tunic top I’d bought from an online auction. The deep turquoise fabric and intricate beading could be described as sparkly. “Thanks—eBay.”

“I don’t mean the earrings. They’re cute, though. The shirt’s a little…” Hannah shrugged.

“What?” I looked down at it. The fabric was sheer, so I’d worn a tank top beneath to keep it from being too revealing. Paired with the simple pair of boot-cut black slacks, I hadn’t thought the outfit was too outrageous, especially with the black fitted jacket overtop.

“Different,” Hannah amended. “Cute, though.”

I checked out Hannah’s demure scoop-necked shirt and matching cardigan. She was missing only a strand of pearls and a hat with a veil to be the epitome of a 1950s matron. The outfit was better than the cartoon-character sweatshirt she’d been wearing the last time we had lunch, but not by much.

“I like this shirt.” I hated the defensiveness that rose up, hardwired to the buttons my sister knew just how to push. “It’s…sassy.”

“It sure is.” Hannah cut her salad into precise, astoundingly symmetrical bites. “I said it was cute, didn’t I?”

“You did.” She’d said “cute” the way some people would say “unfortunate.”

“Anyway. That’s not what I meant.” Hannah never spoke with her mouth full. She gave me a dissecting stare. “Did you have a…date? Last night?”

At the memory of Sam’s hand between my legs a few days before, I couldn’t hold back the smile. “Not last night, no.”

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