A sea of people outfitted in their Sunday’s best tried to pack into the small cathedral doors. The church’s drowsy atmosphere added to the seriousness of the occasion, as well as the carefully sewn expressions of deep sorrow into the fibers of the attendee’s facial muscles. It’s amazing how people can put on an artificial display of sympathy so quickly. Especially for funerals. It is as natural as putting on makeup, or tying shoes, or combing hair. These things aren’t necessary, but they definitely make a statement. A statement that plays such an important role in other’s perceptions that it almost does, in fact, become a necessity. This was true for all of those in attendance at the funeral. They didn’t bother to concern themselves too heavily with the loss of a degenerate teen whose own recklessness and self-pity would have lead to her demise anyways. So what if she had died? It happens all the time.
But while these were the thoughts of many, not a single one dared to utter the cold-hearted truth. Instead, they sat in orderly fashion on old wooden pews, with their overly starched clothes and their pathetic frowns. And they sat there. Listening. Listening and staring at the one man who was related to the deceased by blood. His remarks weren’t overly sentimental but weren’t dry and long winded. And if they were, nobody would have noticed. He was the town doctor who needed the moral support in a troubling time like this one. That’s the only reason why they were in a depressingly overcrowded chapel because of his prominence in the local community. Plus, he filled half of their prescriptions.
“I’m so sorry for your loss, Doctor,” one of his former clients said. “She was an outstanding girl that was well deserving of the eulogy today.”
“Thank you so much. I hope that you can keep my wife and I in your prayers,” requested the doctor.
“Anything you need, Doctor. Just let Karen or I know. It’s the least we can do.”
The two men shook hands and departed in different directions. This was undoubtedly his least favorite part of the service. Dr. Holden was one who prided himself in being self-sufficient ever since a young age. His story was a cliché rags-to-riches tale of rising to socioeconomic success from humble beginnings. From working multiple dead end jobs to put himself through college, to running one of the largest medical practices in the area, hubris had definitely grown out of proportion with his accomplishments. This is why he hated being at the funeral so much. He had to subject himself to the pity of others. It made him look vulnerable and weak. If anything, his daughter’s death was not a tragedy. It was an inconvenience.
Nevertheless, he kept a solid reputation because he wanted to avoid that type of unwanted attention. Equanimity was crucial now more than ever. All he had to do was keep a stern composure for another half hour, and then it would all be over.
The sad faces continued to undulate beneath the tent that engulfed the narrow, six-foot- deep hole, protected from the blazing sun by a faded green canopy. Only a very small and unfamiliar handful of people were able to stand in the shade. By this time, the facades put on by the dedicated bunch started to fade rapidly into a mess. Neckties were loose and dangling from the collar on the men. Mascara was running slowly through the tiny crevices of skin on the women. Similarly, Abigail Winters’ makeup was dripping fast. Blush stained the linen of her white blouse, just above the third button from her neck. Looking down at her misfortune, she took a small napkin out of her handbag and began to lightly daub the blemish without disrupting the service. Slowly, she removed all traces of the makeup that clung to the ice white linen just minutes ago, believing that she had attracted no attention to herself. Looking back towards the pastor, she saw Dr. Holden, standing off to the side, staring right at her. Their four eyes immediately locked on to each other as if they hadn’t made contact in years. The doctor hadn’t seen her in the entirety of the ninety-minute service and was quite surprised to see her there. Likewise, Abigail was also shocked. She didn’t want to be noticed. The ninety plus degree weather had foiled her mission for stealth. She was now left with no choice but to confront him, face to face.
The soft silky covering of the sofa made it easy to cling to—but a mess to cry on. Tears had stained the left arm so badly, that the neat, trinket-like patterns woven into the delicate fabric were unrecognizable. Saliva drooling from the corner of her mouth, she clinched her hands like a vice grip around the wooden legs. The noise emanating from the living room reverberated against the walls to create a deafening pattern that would push even the most collected person to the brink of shared agony. Surely any human would have sympathy for her. At the same time, a feeling of uncontrollable anger would counteract the sadness on the emotional scale, resulting in an equally balanced state of shock. Scott Winters, however, was more inclined towards rage. One could see it in his eyes, and even his hands, as he sat on the edge of the sofa, furthest away from his wife, and hastily loaded six rounds into a revolver.
“Please, just stop!” Abigail screamed in a nearly inaudible tone. “Just STOP!”
Pleading with her husband to not do anything regrettable, she clinched even tighter now to the legs of the sofa. Her face was a scorching red glow that was drained of all sanity and bled with sweat from her forehead, as it wrapped around her chin and drenched her clothes. But her effort to negotiate with an equally impassioned husband was failing.
“There’s no way that I’m gonna let anyone do that to you and get away with it! I love you, and you’re my wife. That sick bastard is gonna know that tonight!” He stuffed the last round into the cylinder and shoved it into his back pocket. Grabbing his keys off the center table, he spared no time in getting to the front door. Abigail, pushing herself upwards, leaped in front of him and used her body as a blockade.
“Wait Scott, please just listen to me…”
“Move away from the door!” Scott asserted. “You don’t know what you’re doing, just put the gun down!”
“Abigail if I have to tell you to move away from the door one more time…”
She instantly lost all of her energy. From the time spent at the doctor’s office, to the fight that had led up to this moment, and now the fight with her husband, her body was left drained of every bit of adrenaline, and in a manner that can only be described as utter defeat, her worn knees buckled under the weight of stress and her body crashed onto the unforgiving wooden floor. She was out cold.
Laying his gun down, Scott carried his poor wife’s body upstairs and laid her across the bed. Growing calmer, he soaked small towels in warm water to clean the drool from her face. She wasn’t lifeless; yet, the way her body was strewn across the bed sheets turned Scott’s condition from rage to pity. He couldn’t believe what had happened, and, in a way, blamed himself for not protecting her. “I should have known this would happen,” Winters thought silently. “The way he would always look at her was just…”
Something had caught his attention. Abigail’s brown Dooney was hanging over the nightstand about to fall. In it was a letter: an invitation to an evening gala to celebrate Dr. Holden’s twenty-five years in the medical practice. As he reached for the slip hanging out of the purse, the weight of the bag caused the rest of the contents to fall off the nightstand.
Scrunching on the floor to retrieve his wife’s various belongings—lipstick, makeup mirrors, a set of keys, a watch—he noticed a translucent, orange pill bottle in the disarray. More interesting, the bottle didn’t have a prescription labeled on it. “I knew she wasn’t taking the pill,” Scott thought with astonishment. “Why didn’t she tell me about this?”
His curiosity led to the opening of the bottle. Spreading the pills under the light of a bedroom lamp, he held a minuscule pill in the palm of his hand with the word Halcion etched onto its surface, followed by the numeral, 0.25. He immediately recognized the label from a pamphlet that he, coincidentally, read at Dr. Holden’s office a short while ago. Scott could even visualize the first paragraph in his head:
Triazolam (Halcion™) depressant used for insomnia treatment. Used only in rare cases as prescribed by doctor. May have adverse side effects. Do NOT mix with alcohol.
Indeed, Abigail had told Scott about having trouble falling asleep at night for the past few months now. But what she didn’t tell him is that just a couple of weeks ago she had begun stealing sedatives from the cabinet in the stock room at the office. Even worse, she did not bother to read the literature describing Halcion’s potentially lethal side effects. But Scott had. Looking back at the invitation to Dr. Holden’s celebratory cocktail party, which would be held the next night at 8:00 P.M., and then reflecting on the handful of potent pills, Scott sat on the bedside next to his passed out wife with an eerie smirk of reassurance. “Well, I’ll be…” he muttered softly. “That fool is gonna die by his own sword.”
On the fateful morning of June 27, 2011, Mrs. Huber, principal of Founder’s Classical Academy, phoned the office of Dr. Holden to report that his daughter failed to appear at school for her first two periods. Dismissing the situation as trivial, the doctor casually sent an office aid to his address an hour after receiving the initial phone call. At 10:30 a.m., the aid found his daughter, Julianna Holden, unconscious on the side of her bed. Not long after being admitted to a nearby hospital, she was officially pronounced dead at the age of sixteen years old. She would have turned seventeen just three days later.
The medical examiner finished the autopsy report hours before the funeral proceedings, but out of respect for the doctor, made sure that the report was kept secret from any prying eyes. Besides, everyone knew that she was a troubled girl. Rumors about a purported suicide began to swirl quickly around town. And if they knew that the official cause of death was a drug overdose, most people would believe it.
Even though Dr. Holden knew the truth, he wasn’t so much affected by it. In a way, it had all worked out to his benefit, and he made sure Abigail Winters knew of it. After an intense staring off between the two, the funeral crowd began to dissipate. Tepidly, the doctor closed the distance between himself and Abigail. He leaned over to her right ear, put his hand on her shoulder, and whispered.
“I know,” he said, in an almost computerized tone.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I swear if you don’t get your hands off of me…”
“Next time, you could at least wait for the refills to come in.”
Completely bewildered, Abigail was trying to figure the pieces of the puzzle. Was he really this narcissistic to the point that he was trying to make her feel like she was the one whom did him wrong? Or maybe—just maybe—some of this was her fault.
Raising her voice a tad, but still whispering, she replied, “Don’t think this changes anything. My husband and I are still going to the police.”
“Are you sure about that?” he responded.
The gaze he struck at her made her tremble, and secretly, she wanted to cry all over again. His fierce blue eyes left her with no choice but to turn and stare at the grave of his daughter. Confused, she began to think about what all of this meant: how the timing of Julianna’s death was so coincidental, and more importantly, how her husband refused to attend the funeral. Amazed at what could have happened, she then looked back at the doctor who continued to stare at her.
“I don’t drink at my own parties, Abigail. But apparently, my daughter did.”