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The memory keeper, p.23
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       The Memory Keeper, p.23

           Lisa Stowe

  Chapter 23

  “What?” Cold swept through Cody’s veins.

  “She was clear, doing better. She wanted a nap. She was asleep when I left. I thought it would be safe to go to the hospital. Now she’s gone! Her journals are open on the bed, her clothes are still on the chair. She’s out in her nightgown and robe!”

  “I’ll head up the road, you head down,” Cody said. “Call Matt, see if he can get people to help look for her.”

  “Right, right,” Rachel said, fumbling open the Jeep door.

  Cody took the corners of the mountain road slowly, afraid of rounding one and finding Florence walking down the middle. As she came into a relative straight stretch, she remembered the cell phone Jess had given her. With one hand she fumbled around between the seats until she felt it. She’d call 911, too, get some police or search and rescue out as well as Matt. She dialed the number but nothing happened, and glancing at it, she saw there was no service. The mountains, of course. Leaving Burke meant she was climbing higher into them. She tossed the useless phone on the seat.

  How far could a confused old lady walk? How long had she been missing? Cody kept expecting to see Florence as she crested each rise and rounded each bend but she saw only rocks and trees.

  The road ended in an open graveled clearing with a long abandoned power substation at its center and an older model Ford pickup parked near it. The tailgate was down, two boards were in place, and a man, made bulky by camouflage off loaded an all-terrain vehicle. The quad was also painted camouflage, as was the long sheath attached to the side, with the butt of a rifle protruding. Cody drove into the clearing cautiously, seeing no sign of Florence. But as she neared the truck, the man motioned with his hand for her to lower her window.

  “Need something?” he asked.

  “I’m looking for an elderly woman who wandered from her home in Burke." Cody watched the man come closer to the car. He looked familiar but she couldn’t place him.

  “Old lady from Burke?” he asked, putting a dirt engrained hand on the window frame. “You mean Florence Blaine.”

  “Yes." Cody resisted the sudden need to edge away. “Have you seen her?”

  “No, just know who she is. Like I know who you are.”

  “Really.” Cody shifted her foot from brake to gas. At least she hadn’t shut the car off.

  “You know, I just got here. She could have beat me and be up the trail. Come on, I’ll give you a ride on the quad. We’ll take a quick run, see if she’s up there. She’s pretty spry.”

  The words were innocuous. His brown eyes were not, and their intentness gave her chills.

  “Thanks, but I doubt she’d go hiking.”

  “Come on, you can’t know that for sure." He stepped closer, slid his hand slowly down the inside of the door, taking hold of the door handle. “You and me, on a ride to adventure. More exciting than visiting old folks homes.”

  Adrenaline spurted through Cody. She reflexively hit the gas and the car jerked forward, fishtailed in the gravel, and stalled. She twisted the key and got no response.

  “Put it in park,” he said, coming up beside the car again. “You don’t have to run, you could just say no.”

  Cody slipped the gear shift into park, put her foot on the brake, and twisted the key again. The engine caught as he reached through the window again, this time catching the steering wheel.

  “Though ‘no’ most of the time means ‘yes’." He laughed, and Cody caught the whiff of alcohol.

  She hit the button for the window and it whined upwards. “Move it or lose it,” she said, though her voice shook so bad she wasn’t sure the words were clear.

  “Big mistake,” he said, laughing harder. And then, as the window got high enough to touch his bicep, he pulled his arm out. “Check in Wallace,” he yelled through the closed window. “I saw her getting in a car with Cell.”

  Cody turned the car around and took the twists and turns back to Florence’s home shaking like fall leaves in a stiff wind. She hadn’t been in any danger. He was just teasing. Seeing if he could frighten her, maybe. But surely he hadn’t meant anything. She clenched her teeth to stop their chattering, and realized she wasn’t convincing herself. She’d been nervous when she’d first seen the man at the senior center. And now she was scared of him.

  At Florence’s house, Rachel’s Jeep was gone, but Cody kept going and caught up to it at the opposite end of Burke, where Rachel was out talking to a couple who were working on a dry stone wall. Cody honked and pulled up beside the Jeep.

  “A guy saw her getting in a car with Cell.”

  “Damn it, what was he thinking?” Rachel said, slamming her hand on the hood of the Jeep. “Park and get in. We’ll go together.”

  In the Jeep, Cody grabbed the seatbelt as Rachel hit the gas. The floor of the Jeep was still covered in papers and magazines, and Cody tried to shift some aside to avoid stepping on them. She was already sitting on others, and the back seat was hidden under toppled stacks of books.

  “I called Matt,” Rachel said. “But let’s raid the station Cell works at. I just can’t believe this.”

  “Has she done this before?” Cody braced her hand against the dashboard as Rachel took a corner without letting up on the gas.

  “No. I don’t know what I’m going to do now." Rachel gripped the steering wheel with her callused and scarred hands, leaning forward slightly as if her body could push the car even faster. “If it’s getting this bad she’s going to need a full time caregiver. How the hell am I supposed to afford that? Sure as shit I’m not putting her on the State, or in some kind of home.”

  “Maybe she had a reason,” Cody said. “Maybe she’s clear and just wanted a walk.”

  “In her nightgown?” Rachel asked. “Get real.”

  “Sorry.” Cody gripped her hands into fists, feeling her fingernails biting.

  Rachel blew out air in a sigh that sounded like gale force frustration. “No Cody, I’m sorry. I’m terrified for granny and taking out on you. For god’s sake, don’t let me do that. It’s one thing with your mom, but don’t take it from others.”

  “I understand,” Cody said. “I don’t take it personal.”

  “That’s wrong.” Rachel said. “You should.”

  Cody was silent, with no words to answer the challenge.

  Rachel barely slowed down as they entered Wallace, speeding down Bank Street to the gas station. She jumped out of the car without shutting it off, or shutting her door. Cody reached across and turned off the engine, then followed, keys in hand.

  Cell leaned on the counter while Florence sat on it, swinging her slippered feet, drinking SoBe from the bottle and watching as Cell worked his faithful companion, the phone.

  “But I don’t understand where the cord is, dear.”

  “See, that’s the way cool thing,” Cell said, and jumped upright as he saw Rachel. “Hey! I was just calling you.”

  “Granny, what are you doing?”

  “She was hitchin’, dude,” Cell said.

  “You promised you wouldn’t tell,” Florence said.

  “Sorry, man. Forgot how much Rachel, like, scares me." Cell moved back as Rachel reached the counter. “I just asked her if she needed a ride. Being neighborly, you know? I mean, she’s an old lady. Old ladies shouldn’t have to walk.”

  “You were hitchhiking?” Rachel’s voice dropped, becoming quiet and almost calm.

  “Well dear, technically, no. I wasn’t standing exposing an ankle or anything. I heard a car coming and I flagged it down. I was a tad scared to be honest. I don’t recall leaving the house. I’m afraid I wandered away in one of my less lucid moments. Did I frighten you badly?”

  “Not at all,” Rachel said. “I’m used to having people I love just disappear.”

  “Rachel,” Cody said, wanting to somehow thaw the ice in Rachel’s voice. But Rachel overrode her words, turning to Cell.

  “And you didn’t think it was strange to find Granny in her nightgown? You didn’t cons
ider taking her back home?”

  “Is that what she’s wearing? I thought it was, like, some kind of old lady dress." Cell pushed tendrils of black hair behind his heavily pierced ears.

  “Oh my god!" Rachel pulled at her hair as if to keep her hands from reaching across the counter. “Where’s your brain?”

  “Hey, chill! What’d you expect me to do? I mean, she’s an elder you know? You’re supposed to respect your elders!”

  “Shit! You should have called me immediately!” Rachel spun away from Cell and shoved through the doors.

  “Dude,” Cell said. “She’s pissed.”

  “Cell, could you get hold of Matt and let him know we’ve found Florence? I’ll be right back.”

  “May I try dialing, dear?”

  Cody didn’t hear Cell’s response as she left the two seemingly new best friends behind. Outside the store, Rachel squatted down next to the wall, the palms of her hands pressed against her eyes.

  “At least she’s safe,” Cody said, knowing her words were lame but unable to come up with anything else.

  “What am I going to do?” Rachel asked, dropping her hands and staring at the pavement. “She could have been walking down the street thinking she was in her kitchen. What if she’d fallen down those stairs? What if she’d wandered off into the woods instead of sticking to the street? Everything’s fucked now. Everything.”

  “I don’t know what to tell you, Rachel. But it seems to me considering all the ‘what if’s’ is just a way to drive yourself insane. She’s okay this time, so maybe look at it as a chance to come up with a solution before one of those things happens.”

  “What kind of solution?” Rachel asked, and her voice was as thick with emotions as a creek bed was with rocks. “She needs full time care and I can’t give that to her.”

  “Aren’t there programs where you can be her caregiver and the state pays you?”

  “Probably, but I bet they take everything, including the house." Rachel stood slowly. “Look, I’m wiped. Everything with Jess, then Granny. I just can’t deal with anything else. I’m going to take her home.”

  “Probably a good idea for both of you.”

  It was only as Cody watched the Jeep pull away that she remembered her car was back in Burke.

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