Lavender, sweet and heavy, floated in the air. Not lavender from a field or a bar of drugstore soap, no the smell of one of those fancy candles. Sarah hadn’t known what to expect. The waiting area looked like a nice hotel lounge, of course it would. What had she expected a Halloween set with blood splattered walls, grey boughs of cobwebs, and maybe the coroner would be dressed in a slinky black dress ala Elvira. Sarah snorted a laugh.
She cackled. Her laughter careened into a painful wail. Rick gaped. They looked at each other for the first time since that 2 AM call from Elysian Crest.
Sarah had found the wilderness therapy camp online. She had done the research. She had made the call, talked to the camp director. Sarah had read the glowing reviews and even spoken to other parents who had sent their teens with behavioral issues to Elysian Crest. She had brought the idea of going away to get better to her baby girl. Together they convinced Rick to let Penny go to Utah, to Elysian Crest, more like Elysian Fields.
Sarah laughed louder. She was a siren. Wild eyed Rick stared. He blinked. Suddenly he grabbed his wife holding her tight enough to hurt. Over and over, Sarah screamed into his chest her nails digging into the flesh of his back. He squeezed tighter, flooding Sarah’s shoulder with tears.
Rick had been waiting to wake up from this nightmare. He had talked to the police. He had arranged for their flights and hotel. Rick had made the calls to his folks and Sarah’s. Rick had called the kids, explaining over and over again that Penny had died, no the cause of death hasn’t been determined, no no one knew exactly what happened in the desert, no no no. The camp director Linda Something had hinted at some overdose bullshit but Rick knew his kid. Penny was headstrong, angry, and Captain SmartAss. But his spitfire loved herself too much to fly too close to the sun. Rick did what needed to be done but as he watched himself Rick knew he would wake up and they would be a family.
Waiting, they fasten onto each other. Eyes shut tight, they rocked in the heavy sweetness. Sarah shuddered in his arms. Rick stroked and whispered, “I got you.” Sarah gripped Rich’s nape as his ocean crashed into her. This is real, Rick thought. Sarah’s hand was his lifeline.
A shadow fell. Sarah opened her eyes and saw Penny. She saw Penny’s dimpled face with that look when she had done something wrong but didn’t really think it was all her fault and just wanted everyone to get over it. Sarah took a sharp breath. Rick turned hoping one last time to wake up. They faced the stranger.
“When you’re ready, I can take you back to viewing room for the official identification,” the coroner said.