"What do you mean, dead?"
Billy heard her mother's voice rise to the point of hysteria. She put down her mystery and went into the kitchen just as her mother said, "Killed by unknown person or persons? You mean murdered!" She was all but screeching, and her tone was incredulous. Billy moved back towards the door, waiting for another outburst, but it never came. Her mother just nodded once, then unexpectedly, slammed the white phone down with a snarl, missing the receiver. Billy walked up, her intention to fix the phone, and ask what was going on, but when she saw her mother's face ashy and grave, she stopped dead in her tracks.
She stared at her a moment, and then said,
"Uncle Tim's dead." Then she burst into tears. Billy put her arms around her mother, but couldn't say a word. She could hardly believe it was true. No more Christmas caroling with his –always- off key baritone, no more summer barbeques at the lake house. No more silly phone calls about refrigerators, no more April Fool's jokes on mom and dad, no more laughing, smiling, funny Uncle Tim. No more…anything. Young, funny, kind Uncle Tim was dead. Dead. Dead.
"Mom?" Billy hesitated, "Are you okay?" It was her brother; it was her brother who was dead, no, murdered.
"Why, why, why…" Billy rocked her mother back and forth, too shocked to cry herself, still disbelieving. She hadn't heard the phone call; it hadn't taken grip. He couldn't have been murdered. Like her mother said, why? Why would anyone want to kill Uncle Tim? Billy rocked her mother in silence, the only sound in the sterile kitchen the heartless dial tone of the phone dangling off the hook, echoing off the cold tile.
"Billy, Billy. Give me the phone."
"We have to call your father." Her tone was flat. Billy watched as her mother composed herself, smoothed her short bob, wiped the tears from her cheeks. She saw a shudder run through her spine, but she took a deep breath and dialed.
"James. You need to come home. Now." Billy waited as her father replied with something inaudible to her. "No. Here. Billy's home." And her mother hung up. With no expression on her wan visage, Mrs. Detrionne stared out one of the windows a moment, and then walked over to one of the kitchen stools. And collapsed. Billy watched helplessly as her mother began again to cry, relentlessly this time. She had to get out of the kitchen, or she would lose it as well. What would it be like to have a brother who's suddenly gone? I can't imagine. She knew her mother and Uncle Tim were very close, she'd heard numerous stories about their comical childhood escapades since her own childhood, and they had continued the rest of her twenty years.
She wandered around the house aimlessly, not daring to venture back into the kitchen. One word replayed in her mind, over and over again. Murdered. Briefly she wondered whom the phone call had come from; who had broken the news so tactlessly. It hadn't sounded like the police. But no thought could stay in her head too long. They were all drowned out by one word. Murdered.
Billy heard the garage door's hum from her perch on the couch. Her father's footsteps coming up the stairs, his face appearing sharp with worry. Wordlessly, Billy pointed him to the kitchen-her mother had never left. Billy didn't move, her father would be more help than she would, she wasn't sure she'd be any help at all. The shock was doing strange things, she wasn't sure she was thinking well at all. She heard her parent's voices from the kitchen, but by the time the sentences moved from her ears to her brain the sentences were too garbled to understand.
The world was coming in glimpses and phrases, never the whole picture. Who would want to kill her uncle? Why? He wasn't rich; he wasn't mean, selfish, greedy. Billy'd planned to drive back to Princeton that afternoon, to meet Meg. Those plans were gone. Summer suddenly didn't seem so rich anymore; she stood and began to pace around the living room. She would have to call Meg, but Billy didn't trust her voice yet.
She walked to the kitchen door, steeling herself to go in, when she heard something that halted her cold.
"I can't just stop showing up. They'll know."
"So, okay, we'll move. Change our name."
"Honey, what about food, a house, a job? What about Bills? We can't just pack up and leave. It wouldn't help, in the end."
"I'm telling you, I don't want you going back there! That man is insane-so what if he knows? We'll hide."
"Deirdre, don't you get it? We can't hide!" Billy flinched as she heard her rational father slam his hand down onto something hard. "He'll find us, you know it. There are ways beyond even what I l know now."
"Tim?" Billy heard her mother gasp. She pictured her paling. "You think that's why-"
"Dee, no one can be sure, but,"
"Those bastards. James, I want you out. Go back, tell them, oh, I don't know, tell them I'm sick, I'm giving you a divorce, Billy is dying, just tell them something. Anything you want, but get the hell out of there!"
Billy heard footsteps, and in pure instinct, fled back to the living room. Just seconds later, both her mother and father entered with expressions bland and sympathetic. Her mother came over and gave her a tight hug, echoing Billy's own comfort hours before. But Billy felt a chill run down her spine. Whatever her parents were arguing about, it sounded nasty. And they were hiding it from her.