Following a dignified service, the mourners had filed out of the church after the coffin, which had now been lowered into the grave.
Stephen stood beside the grave and looked around at the hypocritical presence surrounding him. He could have laughed, but he refrained. He was aghast at how so many people could be so brazen as to show up at the funeral of someone that they had previously treated with such appalling disrespect.
The rain was pelting down, but he could not feel it. The sky was as grey as the faces of the mourners standing at the graveside.
He looked at his mother and felt a pang of heartbreak as he saw the tears flowing from her near-bloodshot eyes. His sister, Joanne, was standing next to her, practically holding her up by the arm the that she had wrapped around her.
Unsurprisingly, there was a sombre tone to the occasion but, more than anything, Stephen was overcome with a sense of anger. He was incensed that one man in particular had decided to make an appearance amongst them.
Scott Danielson was unashamedly lining up behind one of Stephen’s old friends, Gabriel Michaels, preparing to participate on the formalities that involved throwing a handful of earth onto the coffin in the grave before paying his respects to the grieving family. Stephen gritted his teeth and stared at him, but Scott did not look his way.
After a few seconds, Stephen scanned the rest of the gathering. His Uncle Harry was whispering something to his cousin, Donna, and his Aunt Deborah was speaking to the Vicar. Then he caught a glimpse of an unfamiliar face.
There was a woman standing beside his Uncle, someone he did not recognise. She stood out from the crowd as she was wearing a beige knee-length skirt over a white blouse and a grey cardigan. Everyone else was wearing black. He was surprised he had not noticed her earlier. She was mid-thirties, pretty. Moments later, the mystery woman noticed that Stephen was staring at her. She smiled.
Taken aback at her acknowledgement, Stephen blushed. He looked away, embarrassed as she began to approach him.
“Morning,” she said to him. “I’m Maria.”
“Stephen,” he blurted after a brief moment of hesitation.
“How did you die, Stephen?”
Stephen scowled. “I was murdered, but it was made to look like a suicide.”
“I’m sorry,” Maria said. “So, you’ve got unfinished business too, huh?”
“Too right I have.” He looked at Scott once again and glowered. “I got knocked out in a fight when I found out that my best friend had been sleeping with my fiancé. She’s not here today, but he’s had the audacity to show his face. Turns out I was found on the bathroom floor with my wrists slit. I didn’t do that.”
“That’s awful.” Maria turned to see who Stephen was glaring at. “Is that him?”
“What a nerve,” she said.
Stephen shook himself and looked Maria in the eye. “Anyway, what happened to you?” he enquired, realising he was being rude by not expressing an interest in his new-found acquaintance’s situation.
“Car accident. Two weeks ago now.”
“And you’re still hanging around?”
“We’ve all got unfinished business to take care of, Stephen.”
“I suppose,” he said. “You learned anything about haunting the living since you passed?”
Maria looked in Scott’s direction again and grinned. “Sure, I could teach you a few things.”