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The memory keeper, p.17
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       The Memory Keeper, p.17

           Lisa Stowe
 

  Chapter 17

  “My mother?" Cody gripped the edges of the table.

  “She showed up at the museum looking for you, and pissed Rachel off so Rachel took her to the police department. Now Jess sounds stressed. I can take you to your car and you can head over there.”

  “No. I need to…I don’t know. Hide somewhere." She blinked against the heat of tears.

  “Hide?" The corners of Matt’s mouth turned up as if he was about to laugh, but the reaction died as he studied her face.

  “You don’t know my mother, Matt. If I see her I’m going to lose everything I’ve gained the last few days.”

  “What are you talking about?" Matt pulled out a wallet and handed the waitress a debit card.

  Cody could feel her cheeks warming. “This person I am here, it’s not…I’m different at home. I’m trying to be someone she won’t allow, and it’s just so hard. I don’t want to be the old Cody anymore, the one before my grandfather, but if she’s here…I can’t do it." Cody clenched her teeth in spite of the pain, needing to dam the words.

  Matt took the receipt, stood, and pulled Cody up by her hand. “I’ve got to meet your mother.”

  Cody jerked her hand away and he stepped back, looking startled as she spoke. “I’m not going. I’ll go to Florence’s. You already suggested I stay there. My mom will never be able to make it up all those steps.”

  “Hey, come on,” Matt said. “Are you that afraid of her?”

  “It’s not that I’m afraid of her." The words overflowed, flooding out. “It’s that I’m afraid of who I become around her. I never realized it until my grandfather showed up. Since he died, like I said, I’ve been trying to be better.”

  Matt held the door for her and she stumbled into rain. “I doubt you’re the same person you were when she saw you last,” he said. “You hadn’t seen two men killed.”

  In the Bronco, Cody hung on to the seatbelt across her chest as if it would keep her rooted. But back at the ranger station she had to let go when Matt opened the door and practically peeled her out.

  “It can’t be that bad,” Matt said, walking her to her car. “Tell you what. I’ve got a couple calls I have to make and then I’ll join you. Jess is there, too, so you’ll have friends for support. We won’t let her eat you alive.”

  Cody started up her car, watching him enter the ranger station. He said she would have friends for support. Friends. She rolled the word around inside, analyzing every angle, every letter, trying to decipher the meaning. He was being polite, obviously. But even so, the thought of having Jess and Matt behind her as she faced her mother was like realizing the cliff edge had a sturdy railing. She managed a shaky breath. Did that mean she wanted to see her mother? She pulled out, looking for traffic. Turning right would take her to the police station and May.

  She turned left.

  The road narrowed as she left Wallace and headed into the canyons toward Burke. Pain took root under her eye and she tried to unclench her jaw. Why was May here? What was she going to do? She couldn’t just leave her mother at the police station. It wasn’t responsible and it wasn’t fair to Jess.

  She should turn around and get it over with.

  The signs for Black Dog and Frisco flashed by in her headlights, the old abandoned buildings of the Hecla mine ghostly shadows against the night. She barely registered the scenery and slowed only when she reached the outskirts of Burke. She had a half formed idea of showing up at Florence’s and hiding there but when she got into town and saw Rivers in a pool of light from an open doorway, she slammed on the brakes and headed for the warmth of the home.

  “Cody,” Rivers said, picking up firewood. “Come in out of the rain.”

  Mutely, Cody followed Rivers as she used her shoulder to shove open a rain-swollen door. The window in the door was patched with duct tape and the lock clung to the wood by a single loose screw. Inside the tiny mud room, assorted coats dusted with cobwebs hung from hooks. Chore boots, snow boots, clogs, and sandals were scattered beneath the coats, and newspapers were spread in one corner, catching water from a leak in the roof. The place smelled of age and mildew. River, in contrast, was a bright spot of color in a striped wool cape that looked like it had been made from whatever scraps of yarn were to hand, whether they matched or not.

  “Tea?” Rivers asked as they went through to a tiny living room that was cobbled together with odds and ends and didn’t appear to have ever seen brand new furniture. Yet it was clean, cozy, and welcoming.

  “Please,” Cody said. “Sorry to just show up.”

  “No worries. I try to never be surprised by what life tosses up." Rivers opened a door on a wood stove and added a chunk of wood. “Though I usually fail at that whole Zen thing.”

  A cast iron kettle steamed gently on the wood stove and Rivers used a hot pad to lift it and pour water into two heavy mugs. The one she handed Cody had a distinct list to it.

  “My niece made these in her pottery class. She needs practice. But they hold water.”

  “This tea smells wonderful,” Cody said, as scents of long hot summer days rose up.

  “Let’s see. Some oat grass, young nettles. Chamomile. I may have put some licorice root in there. Can’t remember. And honey made with lemon balm and spearmint." Rivers sat down on one end of a small lumpy looking couch and curled her feet up under her.

  Cody sat gingerly in a rocking chair across from Rivers.

  “You have the look of someone running away,” Rivers said, sipping her tea.

  “I guess I am. My mother’s down at the police station.”

  “Really? How interesting. What did she do?”

  “Followed me." Cody took a swallow of the tea and sighed. “I guess I didn’t look at this trip as running away until she showed up.”

  “Oh, I see. She didn’t do anything, she’s just looking for you. And you don’t want to see her.”

  “How awful is that? She’s done so much for me, raising me alone, and I sound like an ungrateful brat.”

  “Not at all,” Rivers said. “You do, however, sound like you have a serious case of the guilts.”

  The words surprised a short laugh out of Cody, and shocked by an action that felt so disloyal to her mother, she let the simple sound of fire snapping in the stove fall around them.

  “How did you get that bruise?” Rivers asked after a few moments.

  Cody told her briefly what had happened.

  “And so I was at dinner with Matt when he got the call from Jess about my mother.”

  “Jess is entertaining her then?” Rivers asked, with a broad grin. “That should be interesting.”

  “Kendra was at the café, too,” Cody said. “She doesn’t seem to like Jess.”

  “She doesn’t like me, either,” Rivers said. “She has a hard time with people who don’t fit defined roles. And I suspect her grandfather has planted some bigotry in her, though she probably doesn’t realize it. Her grandfather pitched a fit when Jess was hired. He didn’t think it suitable that a First Nations woman be in a position to arrest white men.”

  “That’s horrible, teaching that kind of prejudice.”

  “He’s a horrible person." Rivers pulled her long hair over her shoulder and began braiding it, as if her fingers needed something to do.

  “He thinks I’m threatening him. That looking for stories about my grandfather will impact him somehow.”

  “I imagine it could,” Rivers said. “There are layers and layers of old stories here, and they overlap just like the flat stones we use to shore up the canyon walls behind our homes. Tell me what you’re looking for.”

  “Any stories about my grandfather that will help me remember him. I’d like to find out who his mother was. I think his real mother may have been Ethel Stevenson." Cody settled back into the rocking chair, resting her mug against her thigh. The heat from the tea seeped through her jeans and eased some of the soreness in her muscles.

  “Ah, the madam of Silver Haven. Now I see the connection to
the old spider. Keith’s father was involved with her for many years. Everyone knew it except the wife of course. Keith wouldn’t like people reminded of that. It was a stain on his father’s career as mayor, and came up when Keith ran for the position. You should tell Jess about this." Rivers let her neat braid fall from her fingers and reached for her tea.

  “Why?”

  “He’d be the first person I’d think of for breaking into your room.”

  “My camera was stolen. They seem to think it’s connected to Kelly and Nate’s deaths.”

  “Could be. Could be not. I’ve been thinking about Nate lately,” Rivers said. “We all knew Kelly, so he’s the one we’re mourning. Who’s mourning Nate? Who’s missing him, wondering where he is, when he’s coming home? Oh, I’m sure Jess is following up on tracing his family. But people here need to remember him, too.”

  “It’s like my camera,” Cody said. “With it gone, I have no pictures. How long before I forget what my grandfather looked like? If we don’t remember them, they’re truly gone.”

  “Exactly.”

  “Nate said something that made me think he was looking for his father. When I saw him the first time. He wanted to know when my grandfather had been here, and when I said the 1940’s he said it was too early for him, and that his father had been here, too.”

  “Like I said, layers of old stories." Rivers put her mug on a side table. “Now, tell me why you keep your hair so short. It’s such a lovely shade of red.”

  Cody flushed. “It’s frizzy and ugly.”

  “And that, I imagine, is your mother’s voice. Let it grow and decide for yourself.”

  “My mother,” Cody said, feeling the cocoon of comfort disintegrate. “I suppose I need to deal with her.”

  “I’ve found that’s the best way to move on. Face it, get it over with, leave it behind.”

  “Easier said than done." Cody stood, putting the tea mug down.

  Rivers walked with her to the door and she was amazed that her feet moved forward when her heart dragged like an anchor. She faced the black night and downpour of rain, and rubbed her fingernails with her thumbs. Somehow, over the past few days, her nails had gotten longer and she hadn’t noticed them. She needed to cut them away.

  “Cody,” Rivers said, putting her hand on Cody’s shoulder. “You’re not who your mother wants you to be. You are the granddaughter of a Wallace man. That gives you iron for backbone. Remember that.”

 
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