RED SUIT SURPRISE
by Christine DePetrillo
She’d never seen a Santa suit used in quite that way. If the expressions on people’s faces at Finwield’s Funeral Home were any indication, she wasn’t the only one. Some people had furrowed brows, trying to figure out if they were really seeing what they thought they were. Others had wide eyes as if all their attending-a-wake expectations had flown out the window. Still others had their lips set in a grim line, disapproving of the entire display.
And then there was Cassie Shreaver in her simple black dress and mourning-appropriate heels, trying desperately to squelch an ear-to-ear grin.
“Uncle Sammy strikes again,” her cousin, Bridget, hissed in her ear. “I mean, a Santa suit? Really?”
Cassie had to bite her lower lip to keep from laughing. Only Uncle Sammy would insist on being buried in a full Santa suit. Red velvet pants, coat, and cap. All trimmed in white fur. Wide black belt. The whole shebang. He even had round wire spectacles perched on the end of his nose. Definitely missing the rosy cheeks being dead and all, but he was the best looking dead Santa Cassie had ever seen.
Okay. So he was the only dead Santa Cassie had ever seen. Still, the guy managed to make death look jolly.
“I’m surprised Aunt Rae isn’t wearing a Mrs. Santa costume as she receives people’s condolences. Dying three days before Christmas is bad enough, but this is morbidly crazy.” Bridget rolled her eyes and adjusted her purse on her shoulder. “Good thing our dads are the normal brothers.”
It was true. Of the three brothers, Samuel Andrew Shreaver was the odd one, and that was what had made him Cassie’s favorite uncle. Bridget’s father, Uncle Timothy, was a stuffy banker who was forever giving out financial advice. She’d been hearing the “Best to Invest” speech from him since she’d made her first dollar babysitting her younger cousins. He hadn’t let up on the how-to of money when she’d opened her café in town either. Cassie’s father, Henry, was a military man, and the only way he knew how to talk to people was to bark orders at them.
But Uncle Sammy? Heck, he was a barrel of laughs. He was the guy who sat at the kids’ table on major holidays and made balloon animals or corny jokes or, on occasion, juggled fire if you asked him nicely. He was the one who would challenge you to a snowball fight or push you higher on the swings than any other adult or make a quarter appear from behind your ear. He was the one always coming up with crazy names for new muffins for Cassie to sell in her shop. Names like Toffee Toadstools and Figgin’ Delicious. He was a living, breathing, human cartoon.
Or at least he was.
Cassie looked to the casket where Uncle Sammy now rested in the Santa suit. He didn’t look like a guy who’d had a massive heart attack and died while shoveling his neighbor’s driveway a week ago. He looked like a guy ready to open his sack and hand out surprises to the attendees. She half expected him to sit up and say, “Just kidding. Merry Christmas, everybody!”
The tears in Aunt Rae’s eyes were proof enough that Uncle Sammy was not, in fact, kidding. He was really gone and though Cassie would miss him, she had to delight in his final attempt to get a laugh out of the family, misguided as it may have been. A quick glance around the room told her she was the only one who’d gotten the joke.
Typical. They’d been kindred spirits and would always be.
Bridget wandered off to talk to some other cousins so Cassie approached the casket and kneeled before her uncle. Inhaling, she nearly lost the ability to remain appropriately solemn when she smelled peppermint.
Good Lord. Are there candy canes in there with him?
She scanned the casket, but didn’t see any candy canes. That didn’t mean they weren’t tucked in there somewhere. She had to keep a grip on her laughter. She’d need a casket of her own if her mother sitting in the front row of chairs behind Cassie heard her laughing at a funeral. Especially one that was already getting lots of tally marks in the awkward column.
“Oh, Uncle Sammy. If only everyone got your sense of humor.” She squeezed his lifeless, red velvet-clad arm, hoping he somehow knew she appreciated his attempt at levity on this dark day. “I love you.”
She rose and made her way to her aunt who dabbed a tissue at the corners of her eyes.
“Cassie, dear.” Aunt Rae folded her into a hug and sniffed loudly in her ear.
“How are you holding up, Auntie?” Cassie backed up to see her aunt’s pink, blotchy face. She could have rocked a Mrs. Santa costume.
“You’re smart not to get involved with a man, honey. All they do is die on you anyway.”
Zap. That was the beauty of Aunt Rae—the ability to deliver covert insults no matter the setting.
“I don’t think Uncle Sammy planned to die, Auntie.” Cassie offered her aunt a fresh tissue.
Aunt Rae swiped it from her hands. “Maybe not, but he sure as beans planned to wear that ridiculous suit. I couldn’t go against his damn final wishes. The fool.” Her voice cracked on the word fool, and she smiled a little.
That was it for Cassie. She couldn’t hold it in any longer. Laughter bubbled out of her throat and before she could rein it back in, Aunt Rae was right there with her, sounding like a hyena. They hugged each other again, and the rest of the room went silent as Cassie and Rae drowned in giggles.
Wiping her eyes, Cassie said, “I’m sorry, Aunt Rae. I shouldn’t have laughed.”
“Sure you should have. It’s what the kook would have wanted.” She took Cassie’s hands in her own. “Thanks for making me remember the Sammy I fell in love with. You were his favorite too, you know.”
Cassie kissed her aunt on the cheek, hugged her cousins, and made her way to the front row. Her parents and brother were seated there instead of in the line. Aunt Rae and Uncle Sammy had ten—yes, ten—kids, and the line was rather long. Her father and Uncle Timothy had decided to sit with their children rather than stand with Aunt Rae. There was a limit to the number of handshakes and hugs people were willing to dole out and receive at a wake.
“Are you insane?” Cassie’s brother, Devon, whispered as she sat in the empty seat next to him. “Mom is going to kill you for laughing.”
“I’m thirty years old. She doesn’t control me anymore.” She adjusted the hem of her skirt and smoothed her long blonde hair. “Besides, what’s so wrong about laughing?”
“At a wake?” Devon’s eyebrows sailed up to his blond buzz cut. “Umm, like everything.”
“Shut up.” She elbowed him and focused on the evergreen wreaths behind the casket. December wakes tended to bring out the pine and holly arrangements, which oddly enough, complimented the Santa suit nicely.
Hey, if you gotta die, why not go to The Great Beyond dressed as Santa?
Cassie pictured Uncle Sammy at the Pearly Gates giving his name. The bright red of the suit was in stark contrast to the all-encompassing white of Heaven. She was about to imagine her uncle convincing beautiful blonde angels to sit on his lap and tell him what they wanted for Christmas when a tap on her shoulder made her turn around.
She blinked once into gorgeous hazel eyes.
Twice at haphazardly arranged black hair.
Three times over a set of full lips encircled by a scant beard.
Grayson Northe?She looked back to her uncle. Had he somehow known what she wanted for Christmas?
Tune in tomorrow for Chapter Two. Find my other tales at www.christinedepetrillo.weebly.com.