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The memory keeper, p.28
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       The Memory Keeper, p.28

           Lisa Stowe
 

  Chapter 28

  It was almost noon but the sun didn’t have the strength to pull itself up over the mountains and so there was only cold wind in the canyon. Cody climbed the steps to Florence’s perch, hoping a fire was going that could dispel the outer cold and the inner chill. But inside, the home, while warm enough, was so quiet it seemed empty.

  “Rachel? Florence?" Cody called as she glanced in the kitchen. “I’m sorry I took so long getting back. Anyone around?”

  There was no answer, and Cody walked across the creaking wood floor to Florence’s bedroom. As she neared she could hear the quiet murmur of the television. Inside, Florence was sitting in a recliner, her feet up, legs covered by a bright afghan, and sound asleep. On a table next to the chair was a pill bottle with the lid off, and alarmed, Cody ran forward and scooped it up. The bottle was empty, the prescription for the sedative Ambien made out to Rachel. Cody sucked in a panicked breath, but as she reached for Florence, she saw her name in large letters on a piece of paper that had been beneath the bottle. Under her name was printed, ‘Don’t Panic!’ Cody unfolded the note.

  “Don’t worry, there were only a couple of these left. I wanted you to know what I’d given her. I was going to wait for you to get back but the fire marshal called and wants to talk to me about the museum. Keep your fingers crossed for me. I’ll pick up something for dinner.”

  Cody dropped the note back onto the table beside the pill bottle and took a deep breath wondering how long it would take her heart to slow back to normal. Florence was deeply asleep, and she had no idea how long that would last. There was no time on the note, so the pills could have been given to Florence two hours ago or five minutes. But at least for now it looked like Florence wasn’t going anywhere.

  In the kitchen, Cody rummaged through drawers in a small end table where the phone was until she found a local directory. Thumbing through the government pages took several minutes but eventually she found the number for the ranger station and dialed.

  “Wallace Ranger Station.”

  “Is Ranger Tanner available?” Cody asked.

  “No, he’s out in the field. Would you like his voice mail?”

  No, she didn’t want voice mail, she wanted to talk to him in person. But since that obviously wasn’t going to happen, Cody agreed, and waited through Matt’s voice delivering the standard greeting of not being available and to leave a message.

  “I hate voice mail,” Cody said at the beep. “But I wanted to let you know I got another hang up call on the cell Jess gave me. I’m at Florence’s if you need anything.”

  If you need anything. Cody snorted as she hung up the phone. What was it about answering machines that made people talk in expected clichés?

  How important were these hang up calls? If Matt wasn’t around maybe she should call Hailey. She didn’t want to talk to the bouncing blond but she didn’t want to make another mistake, like she had with the camera. Maybe it was better to be overly cautious. She redialed the station, asked for Hailey, and hoped she’d be able to leave some more clichés on another voice mail.

  “Cutler.” The voice was terse and professional.

  “Hailey? It’s Cody Marsh." She could feel the nervousness, the immediate feelings of inferiority starting, and ran a thumb over her fingernails. But then she paused, took an audible breath, and fingered a curl instead.

  “Yes?”

  “I just tried calling Matt but got his voice mail. I’m not sure if this is important or not, but thought I’d try you since I can’t get hold of him.”

  “Yes?”

  Hailey sounded impatient now, and it made Cody feel like an inconvenience that wasn’t very intelligent. But then her new baby spine starting to straighten.

  “Never mind. Sounds like I’m calling at a bad time." Cody unexpectedly felt a grin spread. Maybe clichés weren’t so bad after all.

  “Wait!” There was a pause before Hailey spoke again. “I’m swamped with work on this shooting and it’s making me tense. What have you got for me?”

  Cody filled her in and waited for a response.

  “I’m not sure if any of that is relevant or not,” Hailey said, and it sounded like the admission was pried out of her. “But I’ll record it into my database and make sure Ranger Tanner hears about it as soon as I can get hold of him. I appreciate you calling me.”

  “You did ask me to keep you informed of anything I told Matt,” Cody said, wanting Hailey to hear the unspoken message that she had only called because she couldn’t get hold of Matt.

  “Actually, what I said was for you to contact me before you called him, since I’m the one who knows what they’re doing. I just didn’t expect you to do what I asked. That’s why I appreciate the call.”

  The phone disconnected before Cody could respond, and Cody put the phone down carefully, wondering if Hailey had any friends at all. But almost immediately after replacing the phone, it rang, and Cody scooped it up, assuming Hailey had hung up accidentally.

  “I don’t appreciate being hung up on,” she said, feeling childish for wanting to get the first word in with Hailey.

  “And I don’t appreciate your tone of voice, even if I have no idea what you’re talking about,” May said. “I didn’t hang up on you. Rather, I’ve been waiting here in the lobby for over an hour.”

  “I told you I wasn’t going home yet,” Cody said, frustration flooding her voice.

  “That’s not a decision for you to make,” May said. “You have to learn to think of others. I’ve checked out, I’m packed. When you get here, pull up to the door so you don’t have to carry my suitcases as far. I don’t want to have to try and walk all the way across the parking lot, like you made me do before. You know how hard that is on my breathing.”

  Cody had a sudden clear image of her mother sitting surrounded by her brightly flowered matched set of suitcases in the hotel lobby. She could picture the complacent expression on May’s face and the complete expectation of unquestioning obedience. The thought brought a bright flame of anger up into Cody’s throat, as if a coal had been smoldering in her heart for too long.

  “You have two options Mom,” Cody said. She reached a hand up and felt the infant curls, letting them cup her fingertips. “You can ask someone at the desk to get you a bus ticket, or you can see if you can get your room back and wait until I’m ready to leave.”

  “What are you saying? Everything I’ve done for you, giving up everything to raise you alone and you dare throw that tone of voice in my face? You dare treat me like this? Don’t you dare leave me sitting here!” May’s voice was escalating to a level that always rendered Cody broken and apologetic.

  “I’m throwing nothing in your face,” Cody said, as tears poured down hers. “I’m simply giving you options since I’m not leaving yet.”

  “Oh yes you are young lady. This place has never produced anything but people who abandon those who love them. Just like you’re doing! You get over here this instant.”

  “I can’t do that.” Cody’s burst of anger was instantly doused, quenched by understanding. “I’m not abandoning you, mom. I’m not leaving you like dad did. I’m simply staying here until my vacation is over. I think after all I’ve done for you growing up, you could give me a few more days. Once that’s over I’m more than willing to drive you home.”

  The heavy breathing on the other end of the phone was so labored Cody thought May was having a stroke. Maybe she’d gone too far. She should never have spoken to her mother like that. What had made her think she could stand up to May?

  “Mom?” she asked, opening her mouth to apologize, to swear her undying love and devotion, to use all the phrases May had trained her to say.

  “Don’t you ever mention your father to me,” May said, between gasps. “I understand this quest for your grandfather. Though I’m the only family who has ever loved you. Who ever will. I’ll give you two more hours. That should be long enough for you to finish whatever you still need to do. Then you come get me an
d we’ll talk about how you speak to me on our way home.”

  It felt as if Cody’s heart had become a large blockage in her chest, stopping words, stopping thought, stopping time. Very gently, she hung the phone up. She leaned forward, gripping her hands between her knees, and tried to breathe. Just breathe. To get one small breath inside. Tears dripped onto her thighs, and she stared at the tiny wet spots on her jeans. How could she be crying when she was dying inside? But no, she wasn’t dying. Something roiled and turned under her heart. She stumbled to her feet and barely made it to the bathroom, falling before the toilet and heaving up unsaid words, unhealed hurts, unlived years.

  Cody flushed the toilet and leaned back against the wall, drawing her knees up and shivering against a chill that had nothing to do with the hard linoleum floor.

  She was still sitting there when she heard the front door open and Rachel call her name. She tried to answer, but the awful taste of failure in her mouth made her cough instead. When Rachel stepped into the open doorway, Cody felt the hot warmth of tears overflow again.

  “What is it?” Rachel asked, dropping to a squat in front of Cody. “Oh god, is it Granny?”

  Rachel jumped up and ran from the bathroom before Cody could respond, and Cody could only sit there, too swamped with what she had just done.

  “Okay, she’s sleeping, so it’s not that,” Rachel said as she came back and filled a glass with water. “Thanks for scaring the shit out of me.”

  Cody shrugged an apology.

  “Drink this and tell me what’s going on." Rachel sank down to sit cross legged on the floor.

  Cody took the water, rinsed her mouth and spit in the toilet, and then managed a sip. She waited as the coolness seeped a track to her stomach, and when it didn’t come back up, tried another swallow.

  “Jess okay?” Rachel asked carefully.

  Cody nodded.

  “Hailey okay?”

  Cody nodded again.

  “Too bad. Then I’m out of guesses.”

  “I just hung up on my mom,” Cody said, and her throat felt scraped raw.

  “You’re barfing because you finally did something you should have done a long time ago? You’re shittin’ me.”

  Cody shook her head.

  Rachel leaned over and glanced into the toilet bowl. “Was it worth it?”

  Cody laughed, and the feeling was light, a surprise rainbow. “I told her no, too. And talked back to her. And mentioned my dad.”

  “Hell, nothing like giving her both barrels. Where is she now?”

  “Sitting in her hotel lobby. She’s given me two hours to finish what I came here for and then I’m supposed to pick her up and take her home." Cody took another swallow of water, emptying the glass.

  “And that’s when you hung up on her?”

  “Yes.”

  “Okay." Rachel stood up and offered a hand. “So we have two hours to shake up the world and solve all our problems.”

  Cody allowed Rachel to help her up. “I’m not picking her up in two hours. What happened at the museum?”

  Rachel led the way out of the bathroom and sank onto an armchair as Cody chose to stand in front of the woodstove. She was still shivering and the fire’s heat was as soothing as sinking into a hot bath.

  “The arson investigator had a lot of questions. Things like where was I last night, and was I the only one who knew the back room held boxes of flammable papers." Rachel rolled her eyes. “Like, what else is a storage room in a museum going to hold?”

  “They don’t seriously think you started the fire?”

  “Well, I’m not arrested, but I get the feeling that’s what they want. Oh, and after a conversation with Keith, I’m fired.”

  “That can’t be legal! Firing you as if you’re guilty before anything’s proven.”

  “Legal or not it’s been done. And I’m relieved. I almost feel happy. It’s like the worst that could happen has, so the waiting is over." Rachel lounged back in the chair, long legs stretched out, callused hands dangling over the lace antimacassars.

  “But, what are you going to do? This is way worse than me arguing with my mother." Cody hugged herself, the rough skin of her elbows warm from the fire, cupped in the palms of her hands.

  “Oh hell, who knows. Work at the Silver Café serving coffee. Millie must be close to petrified wood by now. I can ask Sunny for employment ideas. She’s always working.”

  “I know!” Cody said, stepping closer. “The Senior Center! I bet they’d love to hire someone who knows history, and you could take Florence to work with you. That would solve everything, wouldn’t it?”

  Rachel tilted her head to one side, studying Cody as she fingered the lace under her hand. “Maybe. That’s actually not a bad idea. Doubt they pay as much as the museum though.”

  “Something’s better than nothing.”

  “Damn straight, Pollyanna.” Rachel thumped the arms of the chair for emphasis.

  The phone rang and Cody, warm now, sank onto the couch as Rachel answered, not sure if she was annoyed or pleased at being called a label of optimism.

  “Hey.” There was a pause. “No, not lately anyway. I saw Keith though. Yeppers, down at the museum, when he fired me.”

  Listening to a one sided conversation felt like eavesdropping, with guilt for doing so filling the pause between each sentence. Cody straightened the lace, rubbed the old braided rug with her shoe, and finally stood up, gesturing toward the kitchen. Rachel shook her head.

  “Well, you kind of expected that, didn’t you? You’re asking me? Sounds like you are but what the hell do I know? She’s right here." Rachel lifted the phone away from her ear. “Matt wants to talk to you.”

  Cody took the phone as Rachel sat back down, but upright this time, no sense of graceful ease as she watched Cody.

  “I got your message about the phone call. You said it was on the cell?" Matt’s voice was staccato, and Cody could hear the sound of a car honking in the background.

  “Yes.”

  “I don’t think you have to worry about it at this point. But take a look at the cell and see where the call came from.”

  “You can do that?" Cody asked. “I thought only a land line could give you caller ID.”

  “Have Rachel show you. Listen, I have to be quick here, I’m on my way to Keith’s. Everything’s pointing to him, just like I thought from the beginning. I’m following the deputies to his place and sit in on what he has to tell them. Have Rachel tell you what I said earlier, I have to go.”

  “You’re sure, this sudden?” Cody was confused. “I mean, Keith?”

  “Either him or Kendra. I’ll know before too long. And hey, it may seem sudden to you, but I’ve been working my tail off on this.”

  “Sorry, didn’t mean to sound like I was questioning your decision.”

  “You didn’t. Oh, and before I forget, your mom called the station. Said you’d be picking her up and heading out today. You weren’t going to say goodbye?”

  “No, because I’m not going yet,” Cody said, liking the sound of defiance in her voice.

  “Good. When I get done here, I’ll call. If you can lose Rachel maybe we can have dinner or something and I’ll let you know how this all pans out.”

  “Okay,” Cody said, this time with no defiance, no confidence, no spine. She sank to the edge of the chair as she hung up.

  “What’s wrong?” Rachel asked, picking at a callus on a knuckle.

  “He said he’s on his way to talk to Keith. Sounds like it will all be solved today.”

  “He thinks Keith killed his grandson? No way.”

  “That’s what it sounds like. He says Keith or Kendra.”

  “That’s even less likely,” Rachel said. “Keith’s mean enough. But Kendra? Like she’d totter up some trail in her damn heels. But what did he say to make you lose color like that? I thought you were going to barf again.”

  “He wants to get together for dinner.”

  “No shit! A date!”

&n
bsp; Cody didn’t blush so much as incinerate. “No! Nothing like that. He said to go over everything, let me know what’s happened.”

  “Yeah, right,” Rachel said. “Notice he didn’t invite me along to catch up on stuff. I’m not the one who’s caught those pretty green eyes of his.”

  “Stop it Rachel,” Cody said, standing up and heading for the kitchen.

  She turned on the cold water at the kitchen sink and let it run over her wrists a moment before filling a glass. She shut off the water, took a drink, took another one, and felt her cheeks cooling, the heat of embarrassment giving way to the paleness of old familiar feelings.

  “Seriously Cody,” Rachel said at the doorway. “You need to lose this specter of your mom clinging to your back. You think you don’t deserve someone like Matt? You think you’re not good enough?”

  “It’s not that,” Cody said. “Or not all. I mean, look at me. Short, overweight, frizzy hair, freckles.”

  “That’s your mom’s voice. You saying there’s something wrong with freckles? And think carefully before you answer, girl.”

  Cody studied Rachel, tall and lanky, those eyebrows that slanted elf like, and the smattering of freckles over her nose.

  “Okay, on you freckles look…I don’t know, outdoorsy somehow. On me, they look like I’ve been walking behind cows.”

  Rachel laughed so hard she had to grab her stomach and slide down the door jamb.

  “That’s what kids would tell me growing up,” Cody said, feeling close to tears again. “It’s not funny.”

  “The hell it isn’t." Rachel snorted. “Okay, Matt aside, we need to celebrate. I mean, this is finally something good happening, right? Keith and all that. Give me a second.”

  Cody watched the glass of water as Rachel left, to have something to look at she didn’t have to see. What was it about people that they felt like they had to be polite all the time, instead of honest? Rachel wouldn’t be saying those things if she was honest. And Cody could handle honesty. She could handle the truth about herself. After all, she’d been hearing it for enough years. Her fingers traced the dampness on the side of the water glass. Well, she’d been hearing something from May for years, but who knew what the truth really was? She sure didn’t anymore.

  “Okay, we’re hitting the road. Come on.”

  Cody followed Rachel into the living room and watched as Rachel opened a closet and started hauling out clanking gear. A beat up back pack, ropes, bits of metal.

  “I don’t know how to swim,” Cody said, looking at a pair of odd thin shoes like someone would wear in a pool.

  “Not swimming idiot. Climbing. I called up Sunny and she’s going to come baby sit Granny.”

  “I don’t climb, either." Cody backed up.

  “Don’t you think it’s time once and for all to lose that shittin’ voice of failure?" Rachel turned on Cody with something very like anger flashing in her eyes. “Don’t you ever get tired of being a failure? Of trying everything you can think of to keep people happy and still not succeeding?”

  “Of course I get tired of it,” Cody said, as answering resentment stirred. “What would you know about it anyway? I bet you never had to put up with kids spitting on you in school, or co-workers who don’t even know you’re an employee.”

  “Oh god, May has so brainwashed you. Listen to that pity me stuff." Rachel yanked on a zipper of the backpack. “You need to hear how much you sound like your mom. Go fill these water bottles for me.”

  “Quit telling me what I need to do!” Cody said. “And quit bossing me around!" Her hands were fists, her breath coming in short gasps. She’d trusted Rachel. She was starting to think of her as a friend, and now it felt like she’d been betrayed. She put a hand to her chest, and could feel the pounding of her heart all the way through bone and muscle and skin. She couldn’t breathe.

  The silence stretched between them, Rachel squatting before the backpack staring up at Cody, with some expression Cody couldn’t read struggling to mold Rachel’s mouth. Why didn’t Rachel say something? All Cody could hear was her own breathing. Until it stopped in a moment of understanding so brilliant it stole the remaining air from her lungs.

  She could see herself.

  Gasping, hand to her chest.

  Angry, self-righteous.

  She sucked in a deep breath as Rachel collapsed back on her rear end, obviously giving up the battle to not laugh.

  “You see it, don’t you?” Rachel asked, now mimicking Cody with a hand to her own chest as laughter stole her words so that they were barely recognizable.

  “My mom,” Cody managed to say.

  “Now that you’ve summoned her, is your head going to start spinning in circles? I mean, you’ve already spewed.”

  “Very funny,” Cody said, as anger drained.

  “Would you please mind going into the kitchen and filling these water bottles for me? If it’s not too much of an inconvenience. If you’re sure it’s no trouble…”

  Cody grabbed up four water bottles held together by a metal ring. “Give me those." She turned her back on Rachel, who was still giggling, and returned to the kitchen.

  As she was filling the last bottle Rachel came in. “Sunny will be here any minute. I think we’re okay to go.”

  “Not climbing.”

  “Yes climbing." Rachel stowed the bottles. “Quit worrying, I’ll have you home in time for your date. We’ll just do an easy route off Bounty Trail. Something you can handle. Think of it as a way to celebrate your new independence. You might even like it. Besides, what else will you do? Sit here all afternoon waiting for Matt? I’m going to do something to take my mind off my problems, and so are you. Climbing helps get your head on straight.”

  “I’ve got some stuff from the Oasis to read through. They had a book with Ethel in it.”

  “Oh?" Rachel’s face sobered, the laugh lines smoothing into a frown. “Cody, don’t go digging into that stuff anymore. I mean, yeah, Matt may be right and taking care of Keith, but why take chances? Can’t you just let it lie and quit pissing Keith off?”

  “I’m not doing it to piss Keith off. I’m doing it to find out about my grandfather.”

  “Yeah, but you just don’t get what you’re digging up." Rachel slipped an arm through the backpack strap, slinging it from one shoulder. “Come on. Let’s leave all this emotional shit here and go climb. It’s the only way I know to shut the brain off.”

  “Think we should wait for Sunny? Or I can stay here with Florence while you go climb.” Cody wondered if her voice sounded too desperate.

  “Nice try. The point is for you to try something you’d never do on your own. Besides, she’ll be here any second.”

  Giving up, Cody went into the bedroom and pulled on her fleece, then picked up her wallet. If they fell and died out there someone would be able to identify her. Maybe she should add a note about her mother. The only big woman sitting in the hotel lobby.

  “Get out here,” Rachel yelled. “You’re delaying the friggin’ inevitable.”

  Reluctantly, Cody left the house.

  Rachel was stowing gear in the back of the Jeep when Sunny pulled up and Cody walked over to the beat up old Fiat. Sunny got out of the car and tucked a battered Monopoly game under one arm. She was wearing a tight black tee shirt and a necklace that looked like a spiked dog collar.

  “Monopoly?” Rachel asked.

  “Florence loves it,” Sunny said. “We build towns with all the hotels. So Cody, you’re going climbing? That’s like, so cool. I did the Crazy Gremlin route with the Climb Naked guys yesterday at sunset. What a trippin’ experience. It was like communing with rock, you know? No barriers, free style, no gear.”

  “And no clothes,” Cody said dryly.

  “Right. Like, nothing between you and earth.

  “That’s what I’m afraid of. I’m going to die.”

  Sunny laughed. “Nah, you’ve got Rachel leading. She’s one of the best climbers around here. Just look at her hands. She’ll keep
you safe. What route you doing?”

  “No idea.”

  “Nothing hard,” Rachel said, coming around the back of the Jeep. “And it’s got to be short. Cody’s got a date for dinner with a certain tall blond ranger.”

  “Matt? Oh my god, that’s like, so cool! He’s a hottie." Sunny started up the stairs to the house and then paused with one hand on the rail. “See Cody? No worries.”

 
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