Mack Hazard stood near her parents’ coffins. Though side by side, they seemed too far apart. Her hand glided across the marbled texture that swirled over each top, but she kept her attention on the approaching crowd. Without fail, each person reached out to touch the caskets.
Mack grew rigid every time it happened, but took a cue from her oldest brother, Mitch, and tried to seem courteous.
Mitch shook hands and patted backs, reassuring everyone at the graveside that things would be okay. Except he hadn’t reassured Mack. He had called a family meeting for later. Maybe the reassurance would come then.
Mack tried to ignore her sister Cassie, who continued to wail louder than a windstorm. Thankfully, that meant Cassie attracted most of the hugs.
Hank stood by a tree he’d retreated to after the service, tracing the grass with his toe. She could see his solemn features, and she swallowed to hold back tears. Cassie was crying enough for everyone.
Mack looked through the crowd to find Hayden, her younger sister by two years. Of her six siblings, she was closest to Hayden, and being separated from her now caused a strange tickle of panic.
Suddenly, two arms reached from behind and pulled her into a hug. Mack’s first instinct was to body slam the owner of the arms–she didn’t like hugs, and she detested anyone grabbing her from behind. But after all, this was her parents’ funeral. It had always bothered her mom that she was so physical. After one brutal game of Thanksgiving flag football, Mack answered her mother’s worries with, “Then you shouldn’t have had any boys.”
Her mother replied, “Go get an ice pack for your brother’s forehead.”
Mack pulled forward, causing the arms to release. She turned around, forcing a smile. When she saw Cassie, she dropped the smile. “You know I hate that,” Mack said.
“You should try it,” Cassie said. “It brings out your eyes.”
“I’m talking about the hug.”
“Oh. I thought you were talking about my mascara.”
“That’s kind of tacky, isn’t it?”
“Blue is tacky. Black is classic.”
“I mean wearing it at all. Mom wouldn’t approve.”
Cassie glanced at the coffin beside them, and tears rolled down her face. “If you must know,” she said between sobs, “Mom once told me it looked nice, but that it would put Dad in the grave if he ever saw me wearing it.”
Mack gestured to the other coffin. “Well, he’s right here.”
“Our parents are dead and all you can complain about is my mascara?” She blotted her eyes.
Mack sighed. “I’m going to check on Hank.”
“You should try crying,” Cassie said. “It’ll make you feel better.”
“No, it won’t.”
“How would you know? You never cry.”
“That’s because it never makes me feel better.” Mack left Cassie and approached Hank, who now fiddled with a piece of bark. “Did Mitch tell you about the meeting?” Mack asked.
Hank didn’t look up. “Yes.”
“What do you think it’s about?”
“It’s what families do when their parents die. They have meetings.”
“We already had two meetings. One at the coroner’s and one at the funeral home.”
“Maybe he’s going to reveal a deep, dark family secret.”
Mack offered a wry grin at Hank’s statement. She was the only sibling who appreciated his
“Oh no,” Mack said suddenly.
But Mack was already elbowing through the crowd toward Hayden. She could only see half of Hayden’s face–the other half was blocked by weird old Mr. Stewart, who had the breath of a man expired twice over.
“Excuse me,” Mack said, squeezing through a circle of well-wishers. “I’m sorry,” she said as she pushed through another cluster. She touched Hayden’s shoulder. “Mr. Stewart,” Mack said, “I’m sorry, but we have to go. We’re having a family meeting.”
“A family meeting? About what?” Hayden asked.
“I’ll tell you on the way,” Mack whispered and headed toward the car.
Mr. Stewart wasn’t easily thwarted and he followed behind, hammering them with one question after another. He was a nosy man, too, a character trait his DNA seemed to anticipate by placing a large mole at the tip of his nose. Mack opened the door for Hayden, nearly pushing her in, and closed it. She turned around and was nearly bowled over by his breath.
“Mackenzie,” he began. Mack bristled. She hated being called Mackenzie. No one in her family dared to use her full name. Her parents had taught her to be kind and courteous to those who didn’t know her well, but Mack’s idea of kind and courteous was letting Mr. Stewart keep the blood inside his nose. “I am one of your company’s best clients.”
It was true. Mr. Stewart hired more clowns in a year than a circus used in a lifetime, which was exactly why Mack kept a very close watch on him. There was something odd about a person who liked clowns that much. She should know. Her parents’ clown company had been successful, and Mack, like all the Hazard kids, had been a clown since she was young.
Mr. Stewart peered at her. “I demand to know what’s going on. First of all, were your parents murdered?”
Mack clenched her fists behind her back. “Why would you think they were murdered?”
“The rumor is that they went to Las Vegas for their vacation, and we all know what kind of city that is.”
“Mr. Stewart, they were not murdered. It was just an unfortunate incident.”
“Incident? Accident? What?”
Mack glanced at her sister, who offered a feeble smile. If Hayden hadn’t been nearby, this would be the moment for Mack to take things to an entirely new level. But Hayden didn’t like violence and would probably faint if Mack got aggressive.
“Well?” Mr. Stewart asked.
“Look, we don’t really understand it ourselves,” Mack said through clenched teeth. “But it boils down to an overly ambitious serenading guitar player, a hundred-foot extension cord, and a rack of mood lighting.”
She felt no need to mention the hot tub.
Mr. Stewart’s jaw dropped. Mack shook his hand and said, “We’ll talk soon.” That’s what her father used to say, and he meant it literally. For Mack, it meant Mr. Stewart would not end the afternoon prostrate on the grass. She walked around to the driver’s side door while Mr. Stewart continued blabbing his concerns and Hayden tried to answer him with kindness.
Mack didn’t wait for the conversation to end before she pulled away from the curb. As she rolled down her window for some much-needed fresh air, she got the feeling that the family meeting hadn’t been scheduled just so they could trade more condolences.
Her instincts proved right. Mitch stood in front of the family in their parents’ living room and announced the sale of their clown company to Clowns Inc. As a result, every Hazard would receive enough money to go to college if they wanted to, and to start a new life.
Hayden bolted from the room in tears, and the rest of the family didn’t seem to be taking it much better. Mack spent half an hour in the backyard calming Hayden, reassuring her that everything would be okay, and then she went back inside to see how the rest of her siblings were coping.
Cassie was crying on Claire’s shoulder. Mitch had mentioned Claire’s pregnancy along with the announcement of the sale, but the news that they were all going to be aunts and uncles wasn’t the main topic of conversation. Mack lingered by the mantel looking at family photos until Cassie went into the kitchen, then approached Claire.
“Congratulations,” Mack said.
Claire looked surprised. She touched her belly and smiled. “Thanks,
“I always thought it would be great to be an aunt. Mom’s sister, Aunt Nell, was fun. Every summer we would spend a week at her house. Some of my best memories…” Nell died a few years ago, and Mack still felt the hole in her heart.
“I told Mitch not to announce the pregnancy today, but he wanted everyone to know. He kept calling it a sign of hope, a sign that life was going on.” She shrugged. “I just didn’t think it was a good time.”
Mack glanced at all the somber faces. “We’ll look a whole lot more excited once the shock wears off. The shock about the company, I mean. This is a lot for everyone to take.”
“You don’t look upset,” Claire said.
“I’m learning to control my anger.”
“Oh. Well, uh, good. What will you do now that you’re no longer a clown?”
Mack smiled. She knew exactly what she would do.