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The memory keeper, p.18
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       The Memory Keeper, p.18

           Lisa Stowe
 

  Chapter 18

  Cody sat on a bench against a cold wall watching people come and go around her. Ten at night, yet the police station looked as crowded and busy as she assumed an afternoon would be. It would be so simple to approach the receiving area and tell the officer that Jess expected her. She thought of what River had said, and how easy it sounded in her little home. Deal with it, get it over with, leave it behind. It wasn’t so easy when her mother was in the same building. A wave of sadness pushed her down, becoming a weight she couldn’t get out from under. Where had that brief moment of courage gone? She’d stood up to Keith, she’d been unwillingly involved in murders, she had come so close to friendships and acceptance.

  It felt like a sham. She’d thought she was finally discovering who she was, but it was only because May wasn’t close by. The moment her mother neared, any courage and independence faded away. Is this what her future was going to be? She thought again of Rivers. Okay, one step at a time. She could do that.

  First, face it.

  Standing, she worked her way through the crowd, asked for directions, and once again found herself walking down an umbilical cord of a hallway pulling her to her mother. She reached for the door handle as memories washed over her, a flash of past life like those brief moments before death.

  Her mother’s cool hand on her fevered forehead when she had the flu. Brushing her hair into hated ringlets. Blushing when Cody asked about sex. Brownies when she came home from school. A hall May called her Love Wall, full of framed photographs of Cody growing up. There had been good memories after all. What had happened to them? Ashamed, Cody realized they had been buried under grievances and manipulations and sarcasm. Maybe she and her mother were both to blame. Maybe they could both change.

  Maybe. What was it Rivers had said? Second, get it over with. She tried to imagine that iron backbone Rivers had mentioned, and straightened.

  Inside the office, Jess sat behind her desk with a polite smile plastered on, fingers laced tightly in front of her. Matt stood leaning against a wall, arms crossed over his chest, and his face tightened into something between horror and fascination.

  And May sat in a chair facing the desk. Orthopedic shoes and swollen ankles. Huge purse at her feet. That slightly musty smell of a body with crevices that never get completely clean. A brightly colored caftan not long enough to cover the hairy legs May hadn’t been able to reach to shave in years.

  Cody couldn’t look away from the mother that disgusted her and terrified her.

  “Cody, there you are,” Jess said, standing quickly. “We were just telling May you should be showing up any time.”

  “Sorry I’m late. I didn’t expect to see you, mom.”

  “I imagine not,” May said. “I did tell you to call me. I was worried about you here on your own, on this foolish trip. I felt I had to come out here and help you in spite of the risks to my health taking that bus ride.”

  “Well, it was a wasted trip then. I don’t really need any help." Cody’s knees were shaking and shame weakened them further.

  “I knew you wouldn’t call,” May said, folding her hands over her belly.

  “You told me to call at six but you had to have been on the road by then." Cody rubbed her fingernails.

  “Of course I was. I left the message early this morning and then decided I was needed here. It wasn’t worth leaving another message telling you I was on my way since I knew you’d just be anxious worrying about me on the bus. Besides, you haven’t been very responsible about calling regularly.”

  Iron backbone, Cody told herself. Iron backbone.

  “I’ve been busy trying to get everything done before my vacation is up.”

  “You can’t accomplish anything on your own. You know that. Every time you try to do something you end up hurt. You know how that breaks my heart, seeing you hurt. Doesn’t it matter what you put me through?”

  “Cody’s doing fine,” Matt said. “Let’s get you set up in a hotel so you can rest from your trip.”

  “Who are you again?” May asked.

  “Matt Tanner, Forest Ranger." His eyebrows were drawn down as if in irritation.

  “Cody, please don’t tell me you have a crush again. You know how that always turns out.”

  “Mom,” Cody said, only to have words dry up.

  “Crush or not,” Matt said, drilling May with a steady green gaze. “It’s between Cody and me. And now let’s find you a hotel room." He took hold of May’s arm, heaved her upward, and handed her the purse.

  “You’ll have to bring a car to the door,” May said. “And Cody will take me. She and I need to have a talk about the realities of the world.”

  Jess came around the desk. “I think it’s best if I escort you, Ms. Marsh.”

  “I said my daughter will take me." May planted her feet, clutched her purse, and turned into an immovable obelisk.

  Cody saw the writing in stone. The weight of unsaid words crushed her.

  “I’m sorry, but she can’t,” Jess said firmly, exuding professionalism. “She has a report I need reviewed for a case she’s a witness for. She’ll find you in the morning. Shall we?”

  “I obviously have no choice. My own daughter won’t help me find a place to sleep when I’m so exhausted from my trip I can barely move." May sagged, one hand going to her chest. “I need someplace where I can put my feet up and get a decent meal. You have no idea how hard this trip has been on me. I knew you’d get hurt coming here, Cody. I told you not to do this, didn’t I?”

  “Yes, mom.”

  “If you’d listen to me, stay where you are supposed to, I can keep you safe. But you go off chasing the memory of someone who’s dead." May paused, sucking air as if it had become a rare commodity. “A man who did nothing to help raise you up, feed you, clothe you.”

  “Out the door before I forget my manners,” Matt said, and with a grunt, pulled tugged May forward. “Jess, plant her someplace. Now.”

  Jess took over with a grip so firm on May’s upper arm that Cody could see indentations, and propelled May out the door.

  Matt shut the door behind the two women, but not before Cody saw the expression of profound disappointment on May’s face. She gripped the back of the chair her mother had been sitting in.

  “What have you done?” she asked Matt.

  “Stood up to her for you,” he said.

  Her breath stuttered across shame. Her mother had slammed her in front of these people who were treating her with kindness. She lost the battle with the tears. “How am I supposed to do this?” Cody asked, as a finger flame of anger toward her mother flickered, caught, grew.

  “Do what?”

  “I hate this. I hate that I’m her daughter. I hate looking in the mirror and seeing her. Don’t you get it? How the hell am I going to ever get past her if every damn person I meet treats me like I need to be protected from her? I need to be able to stand up to her myself. Myself!”

  “I’m sorry Cody,” Matt said, holding his hands out as if in apology. “She’s kind of hard to be around.”

  “Try living with her!”

  “No thanks. Come on, look at it this way. She’s gone for the evening and Florence is expecting you. You can dry off, rest, deal with her tomorrow.”

  “Right. Tomorrow. Well, I’m not going to be here tomorrow. I’m leaving first thing." Cody pushed herself away from the support of the chair.

  “What? To where?”

  “What the hell does it matter? Who cares?" She headed for the door and Matt sidestepped out of the way.

  “Cody, wait, come on.”

  She didn’t respond, slamming the office door behind her so hard she heard something hit the floor. Rage was a cold silence freezing everything inside. She was wet, chilled, exhausted. She’d go to Florence’s for the night and in the morning she’d hit the highway soaring over Wallace. She’d fly east, away from home, away from May, away from memories. She’d drive until she found some town where May wouldn’t follow her. She could
get a job, start over. Maybe change her name. Didn’t people do that? Become someone new? If Cody was a failure, she’d find a persona that wasn’t.

  Or else maybe she’d just keep driving until the fury was gone. The third step, just like Rivers had said. Leave it behind.

 
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