It’s always exciting for me, both as a
writer and as a reader, when the two main lovers in a book first meet. In THE
SECRETS WE KEEP, that first meeting is at a funeral home wake, for someone both
men loved deeply (and for whom many of the secrets in the book are kept).
When he stepped out of the
bathroom, someone was waiting for him. An older man.
Jasper tried to thread his way around
the guy. “Did you want to go in?” Jasper gestured toward the open bathroom.
“No. I was waiting for you.” The guy
eyed him. He was probably a good twenty years older than Jasper, but as
inappropriate as it was at a time like this, Jasper couldn’t help noticing how
sexy he was. Trim, a little on the short side, it was obvious, even in his
impeccably tailored black suit, he was in very good, and very powerful, shape.
Jasper was certain those weren’t shoulder pads testing the seams at the tops of
He had kind eyes. And they were the
most amazing shade of pale gray. Jasper had seen a husky once with eyes like
that; he couldn’t say he’d ever seen anything like it on a human being. Those
eyes were mesmerizing, arresting, and chilling, framed in long, black lashes.
His hair was silver, shorn close on the
sides with a bit more on top, spiked with some gel.
He wore a fashionable five-o’clock
shadow that Jasper couldn’t deny he wanted to feel—either with his fingers or
against his own smooth cheeks.
“For me?” Jasper smiled. “I’m sorry. Do
I know you?”
He simply smiled enigmatically.
“Probably not. But I bet I know you. You’re Jasper, Heather’s roommate, right?”
“Yeah. And you are?”
“I’m Robert. Robert Burroughs.” He
extended his hand.
Jasper gripped the warm hand, slightly
soft and a little damp. He didn’t take his eyes off Robert the whole time, and
the “whole time” was much longer than the duration of a handshake for most
guys. It sent a shiver through Jasper.
“Burroughs?” Jasper had a terrifying
thought. What if this is her dad? Good Lord, I’m flirting with Lacy’s dad! At
her funeral! The very thought caused beads of sweat to pop out on Jasper’s
forehead. He held in a giddy burst of laughter. “Are you, um, related to Lacy?
Please don’t say you’re her father.
“I’m her uncle Rob. Did she never
Jasper wracked his brain. One thing
neither of them did much of was talk about their respective families. They
liked to believe they were each other’s family now, “chosen family” was the
term they used. The idea, the memory of this, brought a lump to Jasper’s
throat, bringing home for real that his best friend was gone. “I’m not sure.”
“It’s okay if she didn’t. I hadn’t seen
her in quite some time. My schedule doesn’t afford me much opportunity to see
family, as much as I might want to.” He smiled, and Jasper noticed the sadness
around his eyes despite it. Robert went on softly, “I wish I’d had one more
chance to talk to her, to tell her how I loved her. I’m afraid she didn’t
Jasper nodded. “Me too. If I could just
talk to her one more time, maybe we wouldn’t be here.”
Robert cocked his head. “No?”
Jasper didn’t want to disabuse him of
the notion that Lacy had not killed herself, if that was what he was choosing
to believe. So he simply said, “Who knows?”
“Heather used to write sometimes, a
long time ago. She’d shoot me a text, you know, a birthday emoji or a holiday
one. We were close when she was a kid. I used to take her places with me
whenever I could. Her parents never really got her, you know?”
“Oh, I know.”
“They were always trying to change her.
Like, she was left-handed naturally, and they worked and worked and worked on
getting her to use her right. They tried to get her to hang out with what they
deemed the popular girls. They bought her American Girl dolls when all she
wanted was a set of paints and a good book, preferably horror. I could stand
here all day and tell you how little my brother and sister-in-law knew their
girl. But I won’t.
“I just wish I’d stayed in better touch
with her. Once my career took off, back when she was just becoming a
teenybopper, I kind of got preoccupied and we lost touch.” He paused and Jasper
noticed the tears standing in his incredible eyes. Unexpectedly, he laughed.
“When she was a little girl, and I mean like three or four, she would sigh and
say, ‘Woe is me.’ What little girl says that?”
“Lacy. It so figures.”
“You call her Lacy. Why?”
“That’s how she referred to herself.
She was even thinking of legally changing her name. She hated Heather.”
Robert nodded. “I get that. I never
thought of her as a Heather. I’m glad she found something else.” He glanced
over his shoulder into the viewing room. “I wish they’d respected that.”
I do too. Jasper felt, suddenly, even
sadder. For his own loss, sure, but more for Lacy’s loss. The rest of her life.
She could have done so much. She could have been happy. He just knew it.
He placed his hand on Robert’s
shoulder. “Look, I intended to stay longer, but I need to get out of here. This
place is too oppressive. And it honestly feels like someone else is being
waked, not the girl I know. So I’m gonna book. But it was nice to talk to you.”
Robert nodded. “Will you be at the
funeral tomorrow morning?”
The funeral was set for one of Rogers
Park’s Catholic churches. Then they’d fly the body back to California for
burial in the family plot.
It was all wrong. All not what Lacy
would have chosen.
Jasper shook his head. “No. I don’t
think so. This isn’t her. I think I’ll just remember her as I knew her.”
Jasper turned away, feeling on the
verge of tears. He didn’t want to cry in front of Lacy’s uncle—or anyone else
gathered at the funeral home, for that matter.
As he reached the door, Robert’s voice
“Would you mind if I came with you? I
need to get out of here too.”