Chapter One

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In her defense, it was her first dead body.

Perrie McPhee stared down at the black Converse shoes peeking out beneath the only dress she had ever owned. "Are you sure I can't wear them?"

"It's a funeral, Perrie," her mother explained for the fourth time that morning. She kept repeating the phrase as if it explained everything.

"I know, Mom." She wiggled her feet. "Look, they're even black and everything. It's not like I'm asking to wear my red ones."

"I can't look at your shoes right now. I'm driving. You need to wear the high heels I bought for you. Don't you want to look nice?" She flicked her blinker and slowed the car as she exited the Interstate.

"But I can't walk in them," Perrie complained, leaning her head against the window.

Her mother sighed. "Perrie, this is a really hard day for me." She glanced over at Perrie, her green eyes bright with unshed tears. "I don't have the energy to argue with you. Can you please just wear the heels?"

"Fine."

"Thank you."

They spent the rest of the drive in silence until her mom eased the car into the parking lot of the Hackbarth Family Funeral Home and pulled into a parking stall. She turned off the engine and opened up her purse. "Here," she said, extending a wad of tissues to Perrie. "If you run out, let me know. I have plenty."

"Thanks," Perrie said, stuffing the tissues into the small, black purse her mother had insisted she buy along with the black dress she was currently wearing.

At the time, she had told Perrie that every girl needed a little black dress. She'd probably hoped Perrie would wear both the purse and dress on her first date. Instead, they were now both parts of her funeral outfit.

Her mother opened up her car door and stepped outside. "I'll wait by the entrance while you change your shoes."

Perrie nodded and her mother closed her door.

She looks so graceful, Perrie thought as she watched her walk across the parking lot. Her high heels were a good two inches taller than Perrie's, but she sailed across the pavement effortlessly. Dressed in a 1950's vintage, black cocktail dress with her walnut brown hair swept up into a perfect coif, she looked like Audrey Hepburn.

Next to her, Perrie felt like a country bumpkin. Her shoulders felt too big for the dress, like they were going to burst through the material. She briefly imagined herself turning into She-Hulk

Smiling a bit at the image, Perrie exchanged her Converses for the instruments of torture her mother wore on a daily basis. With one last mournful look at her shoes, she exited the car and wobbled her way over to the front door.

"Ready?" Her mother frowned as she watched Perrie trip to a halt beside her.

Perrie hesitated. This was the first funeral she had ever attended. By rights, she should be sad. At the very least, she should be somber. The thing was, she had only ever met her great aunt, Agnes, once in her life. She'd been four months old at the time, so the woman didn't leave much of a lasting impression on her. In fact, the last time she'd seen any of her mom's relatives was when she was still in diapers. So, the idea of walking into a room full of sad people who were essentially strangers to her was unappealing to say the least. She'd tried talking her mom into letting her stay at home, but she wouldn't hear of it. A family member had died, and the two of them had to pay their respects.

"Sure," Perrie finally said.

The Hackbarth Family Funeral Home reeked of lavender. Apparently, it had been Great Aunt Agnes's favorite flower, and the funeral home director had taken it upon himself to cover every flat surface with vases full of the fragrant blossoms. This is so not going to be good for my allergies, Perrie couldn't help but think. Her nose twitched, and she dug one of the tissues out of her purse, prepared to sneeze. Thankfully, she was able to hold it back. The last thing she wanted to do was draw attention to herself.

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