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The memory keeper, p.20
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       The Memory Keeper, p.20

           Lisa Stowe
 

  Chapter 20

  Cody woke early, tried dozing, and finally gave up on sleep, easing out from under the blankets and pulling on jeans and a black sweater, wincing as stiff muscles complained and bruises throbbed. At the window she saw the rain had eased and the wind had retreated, trailing its way through tree tops. The early morning sun remained hidden behind flattened, low clouds, leaving deep shadows in the canyons.

  As early as it was, Florence was up and standing in front of the kitchen stove in a heavy flannel robe, the hem of a flowered nightgown peeking out at the bottom. “You’re up early, dear,” Florence said.

  “So are you.”

  “Oh, you need less sleep when you get older. Would you like some tea?”

  “Please,” Cody said. She took a chair at the table facing the stove so she could watch Florence at work. “Is today going to be a good day?”

  “I hope so. I do hate worrying Rachel though. She’s all I have left. And she worries too much.”

  “I suppose with all the traveling Rachel’s parents do, they aren’t around to help.”

  “Traveling? Oh no dear. They’re dead these eight years now." Florence’s eyes teared up and she dabbed at them with the edge of her apron. “My son and his wife were killed driving that awful motor home. My daughter-in-law, Rachel’s mother, died instantly and my son lived a day or so longer, but we had to make the decision to remove life support. It was horrible, just horrible.”

  “I can’t even imagine,” Cody responded, confused. “Rachel told me they were traveling.”

  “Well, yes, she tells people that in order to avoid talking about it." Florence joined Cody at the table with mugs for both of them. “Her therapist tells her she needs to open up but she won’t.”

  “No wonder she’s so close to you,” Cody said, sipping her tea. She put the mug down but continued to hold it, cupping its warmth. “You’re all she has left.”

  “I imagine you would understand better than most. Losing your grandfather so recently. May I ask why you’re looking for stories about him?”

  “Well, to hang on to him I guess,” Cody said, trying to put her feelings into words. “Until he showed up I’d always thought it was just me and my mom. And that’s not the happiest relationship." She paused, and then added quietly, “He gave me history, made me feel like I belonged, like I fit in somewhere.”

  “And so it was hard to let go when he died.”

  “Very." Cody sat forward. “And who would be left to remember him except for me? I need to know who he was, where he came from. All of that contributes to who I am. Makes me something other than my mother.”

  Realizing she gripped the edges of the table in her intensity, in her need to make Florence understand, she forcibly relaxed and leaned back in the chair.

  “If family is that important, why are you staying here when your mother is in town?" Florence tilted her head, watching Cody.

  The pause was longer this time. “Because here, everyone treats me like I’m okay. Rachel and Matt both treat me like a friend.”

  “You don’t have friends?”

  “Oh, acquaintances,” Cody said, twisting on the chair to find a position that didn’t hurt her bruised hip. Or maybe she was just squirming under Florence’s gaze. She shifted again.

  “I’ll tell you this, my girl,” Florence said firmly. “Every child needs to find who they are as an individual. You’re just a late bloomer.”

  “On the other hand,” Cody said as the heat of self-consciousness washed over her. “One thing I’ve learned is the importance of family.”

  “Oh yes indeed." Florence spooned sugar into her mug. “I’ve always been proud of my family. Why, I don’t know how many generations the Blaines and Smithwicks have been around, but Mama can tell you some hair-raising stories about them.”

  Florence’s slides in and out of the present were so subtle and natural that Cody barely had time to grieve for her before the elderly woman was firmly back in the present. It made the conversation poignant and challenging. Cody wasn’t sure if she should correct Florence but the flow of conversation didn’t allow her enough time to decide.

  “Have you written down the stories your grandfather told you, or the things you’ve learned about him?” Florence asked, spooning more sugar into tea that was beginning to resemble sludge.

  “Well, there hasn’t been much time to do that,” Cody said, moving the sugar bowl away. “But I plan on it.”

  “It should be a priority, dear, before you forget details. Then years from now you can pull out your stories and he will be just as alive for you.”

  “Is that why you keep journals?”

  “Partly, and with my confusion lately, I’m glad I did. When I pulled them out and read them yesterday, it brought back so many memories. So you just make sure you write down your thoughts.”

  “My mother keeps journals, too, but the one time I read an entry it wasn’t very kind." Cody fidgeted with the tablecloth, rubbing the ivory material between her fingers.

  “Which is why you should never read another’s journal.”

  “True,” Cody said. “Kind of like eavesdropping.”

  “Well, I’m not one to give advice, dear, as I have a history of doing the opposite of whatever someone advised me on. But I would suggest you get a place of your own.”

  Cody nodded, but she wasn’t sure if she was agreeing with Florence or just being polite. These people didn’t know May as well as she did.

  Someone knocked on the front door, and the sound was followed by the dull clunk of boots on the wide plank floors. Both Florence and Cody turned to see Matt duck under the doorway, carrying a box of donuts. His blonde hair was mussed from wind and his nose red from cold.

  “I’m hoping if I provide the breakfast you’ll make me some of your homemade hot cocoa, Florence.”

  “Of course I will,” Florence replied, with a giggle so sweet Cody turned to her in surprise. “I’ve been wanting Mama to meet you, but she’s having a lie in. Sit down and tell me how your shift was. Did you get to use the jackleg?”

  Matt faltered, a slight pause only, before putting down the box and pulling out a chair. His eyebrows were pulled down as if in pain as he reached across the table and took hold of Florence’s age spotted hand.

  “Promoted to jackleg today,” he said. “Drilling’s hard work. But the extra pay will be worth it.”

  The words seemed to be the right ones as Florence blushed and stood. “I’ll make that cocoa. Will your wages be enough for you to speak to Papa?”

  Matt coughed, looking to Cody and raising his shoulders in question. Cody didn’t know what to say. Did you go along with someone’s confusion, feed it, or try to reason them back to the right time? Could you reason with someone whose mind was fading? A deep tenderness washed over her, startling her with its unfamiliarity. She watched Florence pull a bottle of vanilla out of the cupboard and pause, staring at it.

  “Florence?” Cody asked. “Granny?”

  Neither name brought recognition into Florence’s eyes. Instead she looked at Cody with fear and confusion, and something like betrayal moved upward into Cody’s heart. It was as if someone she had just come to love had run away.

  “Mama?” Florence called.

  “I’m right here,” Rachel said, coming into the kitchen tying the sash on a teal bathrobe.

  Matt stood, but Rachel shook her head at him, once and sharply, and her hand came out as if pushing them away.

  “There are strangers in our kitchen,” Florence said, with a tremor in her voice. “Should I go for Papa?”

  “No, dear. They’re friends of mine. Let’s get you settled by the fire with your books.”

  Rachel led Florence out to the living room, and in the silence Cody looked to Matt.

  “What can we do?” she asked.

  Matt shrugged.

  “It’s best if you leave for a while,” Rachel said, as she came back into the kitchen. “Give her a couple hours alone with me.”

/>   Rachel’s words were brisk, no nonsense, as if she’d said them many times. But Cody saw the tightly clenched hands, the rigid shoulders, the flame of something in Rachel’s eyes that could have been fury or fear. Or both.

  “We can’t help you with anything?” Cody asked, standing awkwardly from the table.

  “No. Just go. Quiet helps. And…and I don’t like people seeing her like this.”

  The words had a breath of confession to them, and Cody knew there was nothing to do but honor the request. She picked up her wallet and keys and followed Matt out of the kitchen that no longer felt like home.

  “Have you seen Florence like that before?” Cody asked as she pulled the front door shut behind them.

  “No,” Matt said, staring down the stairs. “But then Rachel protects her. I think people only get invitations when Florence is doing okay. It’s like the real Florence has died. I don’t know how Rachel does it.”

  “How can she leave Florence alone when she’s like that?” Cody followed carefully, the steep steps slick with dew.

  “She can’t. Rachel’s used up almost all her sick time at the museum and she’s talking about having to hire someone full time to be a caregiver for when she’s at work. More than likely Rachel’s going to have to move back home. I can’t see Florence able to be alone at night.”

  “No,” Cody said. “God, no. Can you imagine if she wandered out some night with these stairs?”

  “I need to talk to Rachel later. See what we can do to help her out. It’s one thing to hear what’s happening and something else to see it.”

  The air was chilly and tangy, with a crispness that numbed Cody’s fingers. The most shadowed nooks amid boulders and tree roots held cups of new frost and little daylight reached down over the edges of the ravines.

  “Sure is cold.” Cody blew on her fingers, her shoes crunching across the gravel as she followed Matt to the cars.

  Matt’s cell phone rang before he could respond, and he flipped it open. “Yeah?”

  Cody went past him and unlocked her car, wondering about the best way to spend the homeless hours until her mother was up. It was too early to call as May was a late sleeper. She waved to Matt, but he held a hand up, holding her in place with the gesture. He flipped shut the cell and brought it up as if to throw it into the street then pulled in a deep breath and jammed the phone in a pocket.

  “Matt?”

  “That was Hailey,” he said, running a hand over his face. “Wants me to come up to Jake’s place. You okay on your own?”

  “Sure,” Cody said. “Think I’ll drop in on Rivers.”

  “You’ll have a nicer time than I’m going to. Jake’s probably stirring something up. Damn it all to hell!" Matt slammed his hand into the side of the Bronco. “Trouble sticks to him like flies on shit, and shit’s something I don’t need.”

  Cody watched him pull out, wheels spinning and spitting gravel at her car. She flinched away, her hand pulling up to protect her face. When she straightened, the Bronco was already rounding a corner heading back toward Wallace.

  Why would Hailey want Matt at Jake’s place? Something connected to Nate and Kelly, or something totally unrelated? Whatever the reason it didn’t concern her. She was in Burke with nothing to do, so hopefully Rivers didn’t mind early company.

  One of the advantages of tiny towns was that it didn’t take long to go from one place to another. A warm yellow light shown from the main room and smoke curled up from the leaning chimney as Cody shouldered through the swollen outer door. She stood in the chilly box of an entryway and knocked on the inner door. It only took a few moments of shivering before Rivers peered out the window then opened the door.

  “Cody. Would you like some breakfast?" Rivers held the door wider, wearing a large flannel shirt and red long john bottoms.

  “No thanks. I was looking for some company though, if it’s not inconvenient.”

  “Of course not. Come in, we’re letting all the heat out. Chilly this morning.”

  Cody followed Rivers inside and stood clutching her keys, shifting her weight from foot to foot.

  “You can sit down you know,” Rivers said, pushing up the sleeve of her shirt to stir oatmeal in a pot on the woodstove. “How’s your mother?”

  “Sleeping, I’m sure. She’s always been a night owl so doesn’t get up until late. Plus she doesn’t sleep well so she’s tired all the time. It’s hard for her to breathe in bed so she’s up and down a lot at night.”

  “It would probably make a difference if she lost some weight.”

  Cody shrugged, suddenly aware of her rounded edges and the willowy gracefulness of Rivers.

  “Mom says the weight is in our genes.”

  “Horse pucky,” Rivers said.

  The casually spoken phrase pulled a laugh up out of Cody, and the unexpectedness of the sound eased tension away. She sank onto one end of the well-used couch. It had a permanent hollow where it was obvious Rivers was most comfortable.

  “I spent the night with Rachel and her grandmother. Florence was not doing so good when I left.”

  “Dementia isn’t it? What a horrid thing.”

  “Yes." Cody fingered the afghan on the back of the couch. “Am I keeping you from anything?”

  “No. My niece called from Seattle so that got me up. I have some appointments later this morning though.”

  “Chaining yourself to trees?”

  This time it was Rivers who laughed. “Poor Sunny. Some day I’m going to take her along with me so she can see what I really do. For instance, I have to suffer through a meeting with Kendra and her grandfather at eleven. The only bright spot about that is Jess will be there. She thinks I need a mediator. I’ll tell you something though Cody. One of these days I’m going to get Burke cleaned up and the working mines around here up to environmental standards.”

  “How?”

  “One step at a time. It’s all I can do.”

  The phone rang and Rivers followed the sound into the kitchen. Cody held her hands out toward the heat from the wood stove. There was something about this place, or maybe it was Rivers, that made Cody feel content and restful, as if her whole body had just taken a long deep breath.

  “That was Jess,” Rivers said, frowning. “She’s cancelled out on our meeting. Something about Jake’s place. A death, or a body. I couldn’t quite make it out.”

  “Jake’s place?" The contentment solidified and froze.

  “She just got the call,” Rivers said. “I wish she had a different job.”

  “Matt was going up there." Cody stood, digging in her jeans pocket. Where had she put her keys?

  “To Jake’s? You’re sure?”

  “Hailey called him earlier. I need to get up there." Cody pinched the bridge of her nose. “What if it’s Jake? Or Matt?”

  Rivers slipped her hands up the sleeves of the shirt in a self-contained hug. “I’m not sure you want to go into some police activity. You can wait here and Jess will call me back.”

  “No. Thanks, but what if it has to do with Kelly or Nate?" Cody found her keys and gripped them. “I can’t wait. Can you tell me where Jake’s place is?" Her words came out fast, with no thought, with hardly any breath.

  “Let me throw on some clothes and toss this nasty oatmeal, then I’ll go with you. You’ll never find Jake’s on your own. It’s a hell of a place for a hell of a man.”

 
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