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The memory keeper, p.8
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       The Memory Keeper, p.8

           Lisa Stowe

  Chapter 8

  The memorial service was due to start in half an hour and Cody was still undecided about going. The motel room was quiet, rain sheeting down the windows and blurring the world outside. She watched the water, thinking about Kelly and Nate, then picked up her keys. She’d drive to the church and make up her mind there whether to go in or not.

  The phone rang as she opened the door and she ran back for it, hoping for stories.

  “Hello Cody,” May said over distance that wasn’t, after all, distant enough.

  “Hi mom,” Cody said, keys biting into the palm of her hand. “I’m about to head out the door…”

  “This won’t take long. I need you to come home earlier than you’d planned.”

  “What? I still have over a week.”

  “Yes, I know. But I’m having these serious dizzy spells, and last night I had such a hard time breathing I had to sit up in a chair all night.”

  “Well, why didn’t you call 911?” Cody asked in impatient exasperation, knowing even as the words left her, that they were a mistake.

  “Never mind. I’m sorry if my health is taking time away from a search for someone you only knew a few months. Don’t worry about me, I’ll manage just fine. Just like I always do." The curt words were followed by the click of the phone being disconnected.

  Immediately Cody was flooded by equal parts anger at herself, anger at her mother, and guilt that she wasn’t a better daughter. She grabbed up the phone but halfway through dialing the number, slammed the receiver back down. Instead she headed for her old Subaru. She would not call her mother back. Her mother had used those same lines over and over throughout the years. The words, and Cody’s reaction to them, were all too familiar.

  In the past, those phrases had always elicited the same response. Cody would swear her undying love for her mother, and appreciation for all May had sacrificed to raise Cody alone. Then, still full of shame that she wasn’t good enough, she would atone by obeying May’s requests. By making her tea, brushing her hair, and most demeaning of all, sitting on the floor beside May, scratching her mother’s hairy legs, stroking from ankle to knee, watching the dry flakes of skin fall like snow, knowing they were collecting under her fingernails. Cody never let her fingernails grow, and the sight of long nails on others left her queasy.

  Cody brushed away tears she didn’t want, focusing instead on leaving the room, crossing the pavement, starting the car. Little steps took her further from the phone, further from the need to apologize. She wouldn’t go running to May this time. She had family out there somewhere. She didn’t need to cling to her mother, more fearful of being totally alone than humiliated by tasks her mother set before her. Yet guilt was a strong rubber band. She knew her mother still sat next to the telephone, fully expecting it to ring, and wondered briefly how long May would sit there.

  The memorial service was at the First Presbyterian Church and Cody recognized the name from the book on mining at the library. She turned the Subaru off and sat, watching people stream inside. The building was plain but the stained glass windows were impressive, a contrast with the ending day. She rubbed the palms of her hands down her jeans. Everyone was dressed up. It was like watching a flock of ravens descend. Black suits. Black dresses. Black hats. Even black umbrellas. And here she sat in jeans, gray tee shirt, and green fleece. It had been either that or a white tee shirt. She hadn’t packed intending to go someplace she had to dress up. Not that she dressed up normally anyway.

  She was delaying. Letting her mind wander, watching rather than participating. Letting indecision be her decision. Yet with so many people, would anyone see her? She could slip in the back and maybe no one would know she was there. The alternative was returning to the motel, giving in to guilt and calling her mother.

  The crowd thinned and only a few people still hurried to get inside. Cody thought again about May waiting for the phone to ring, and got out of the car. She ran her hands over her cropped hair, pocketed the keys, and tried to find something else that needed doing. When she came up empty, she reluctantly climbed the steep steps to the double doors, met by organ music and the low murmur of voices. The foyer was small and just inside the door was a stand with a pot of white lilies and a white cloth-bound book open to a page for signatures. It looked oddly like a guest book for a wedding, and Cody walked by without signing, averting her eyes from something that spoke of celebrations, or maybe boasting, rather than grief.

  Inside the sanctuary the pews were packed with rows of black clad people visiting with each other. A minister stood behind a dais, hands on each side, nodding to people in the crowd. The front of the church was full of wreaths, of the overpowering scent of flowers that would soon die. The sickening sweetness pulled her thoughts back to the funeral home and her grandfather’s body, and the memory became a deep ache she didn’t know how to handle.

  Cody scanned the benches closest to the door, wondering where she could find a seat. She had a sudden fear she would have to stand back here by the door, fully visible, looking like some sort of tithe collector or pew monitor. A flash of color caught her eye and she turned to see the exotic environmentalist from the deli coming through a side door. Between her height, her long glossy hair, and a flowing velveteen dress in patchwork squares of emerald, garnet, and sapphire, she was a pagan bird in a flock of black. Cody watched the woman scan the crowd, and felt her stomach curl up when the dark eyes found her and remained. Why had the woman singled her out? Did she recognize Cody as a stranger, and would she now ask Cody to leave?

  “Thank the goddess, someone who’s not in black,” the woman said. “Though with that gorgeous hair you should wear bright colors. I’m Rivers Rainwater and you must be Cody. Jess has told me all about you. I’m very sorry for what you’ve had to go through.”

  “Oh, uh, thank you. I mean, I appreciate your concern." Cody ducked her chin, as if to hide the blush she could feel starting. Should she also thank the woman for the comment about her hair? Why would someone compliment that? Clueless how to handle the kind words, she dropped banalities into the conversational pause. “It’s nice to meet you.”

  “Meeting new friends at a funeral of all places. Come on, let’s find a place to sit. Preferably near the back because I know this is going to be a fiasco. If I’m near a door I can get out before my mouth gets me in trouble.” Rivers tugged Cody’s sleeve.

  She followed Rivers to a pew and watched as Rivers simply squeezed in, shifting close to the next person, who moved away until there was room for Cody. Rivers was like a life preserver, something to hang onto that gave Cody’s presence legitimacy. Now she looked like she knew people and had a right to be there.

  “Have you been to fiascos before?” Rivers asked.

  “I don’t think so,” Cody said. “How do you know it’s going to be one?”

  “Oh, of course it will. A room full of politicians? What else could it be?” She grimaced. “This isn’t a memorial for Kelly. That’s not even the regular minister up there. If you look around, there are very few of Kelly’s friends here. Some of the rangers in that corner. The family will use this as a publicity stunt for Kendra’s reelection. The mayor in mourning. The old spider has even invited the governor, and you know damn well he never met Kelly." Rivers sat forward, gripping the back of the pew in front of her.

  “Spider?" Cody watched Rivers scan the crowd with a deep intensity clear in the tensed line of jaw and mouth.

  “My name for Kendra’s grandfather, the nasty old fart. Have you met him?”

  “Yes,” Cody said.

  “He’s a pervert,” Rivers said, releasing her grip on the pew in front of her and settling back. “I abhor funerals. But Kelly was a wonderful person and he deserves to have people here who cared about him.”

  “I think he could have been a friend,” Cody murmured. The sheer energy that came from Rivers overwhelmed Cody and made her feel like a small dark shadow, something insignificant.

  “Oh, he would have. Great, gr
eat guy. I just wish you could have known him. He’d be glad you were here though. And he’d be worried about how you were doing. He always followed up on people who had been through some sort of trauma. He wanted closure, to make sure people put their lives back together, managed to survive. He wanted happy endings." Rivers laced her fingers and cupped them around a knee as she sat forward again. “Happy endings,” she repeated, as sadness settled across her face like night sinking into mountain ravines.

  Cody looked away from the vulnerability, not sure how to handle someone else’s frailty. “How did you know Kelly?”

  “Through the forest service. They are always wanting to log or build another access road, like the world needs one more logging road. I’m always trying to stop them, so I spend a lot of time at the ranger station. Kelly was very patient with me, and listened, rather than humoring me to get me out the door. So many people hear ‘environmentalist’ and immediately brand me as one of those extreme types.”

  “The kind who chain themselves to trees?” Cody asked, and was rewarded with a smile.

  “Ah, you’ve met Sunny. She’s put me on a pretty high pedestal. I dread the day when I fall off. But between us, I’ve never chained myself to anything and have no intention of doing so. I prefer using best available science.”

  “Ladies and gentlemen,” the minister said, tapping the microphone. “We are gathered here today to honor the memory of one of our own.”

  “As if Kelly ever stepped foot in here,” Rivers whispered.

  “When a young man is taken in his prime, it is hard to understand why. Many of you will feel your faith challenged, and may even question a God who would allow such a thing to happen.”

  “If you believe in him to begin with,” came more whispered commentary.

  “But I say to you that this young man was such a good soul, the angels in heaven wanted him for themselves.”

  “I’m going to puke.”

  Cody stared hard at her folded hands, trying to force the highly inappropriate smile away.

  “Yes, what I just said is a cliché,” the minister continued. “But when we remember Kevin, what do we think of? Someone always willing to help others, someone with a ready smile, someone loved by all who met him.”

  “Did he just say ‘Kevin’?” Rivers asked, straightening. “Did he even know Kelly?”

  “When a death like this happens, our first instinct is to demand justice. But I put to you, that we look to our loving Father who mourns with us. He will help us in our time of need if we have faith in him. And I know he will empower our mayor to find the killers of her brother and to bring those same killers to justice. Our own mayor, Kendra Naylor, will make sure violence is not rewarded, that killers will not be allowed, and that our town will remain a safe place to raise our children. She will do this by--”

  “Is this a memorial to Kelly or a campaign for re-election?” Rivers asked, loud enough that a few people turned around.

  Standing, Rivers eased past Cody and walked up the aisle, waving to the rangers. The sight of someone with so much courage and self-confidence caught Cody’s breath. Walking past so many judging eyes was something she would never be able to do. A hand came down on her shoulder, and a whisper jarred.

  “Scoot over.”

  Cody looked up to see Rachel Blaine from the museum standing at the edge of the pew. She slid into the spot Rivers had vacated, and Rachel sat next to her.

  “Rivers has balls,” Rachel said. “It’s one of the things I like about her.”

  Cody shook her head in amazed agreement.

  “I wasn’t going to come, but Granny thought one of us should be here and she didn’t feel up to it.” Rachel continued. “But I’m glad now I did. This will be right.”

  The minister hung on to the dais with one hand and covered the microphone with the other as Rivers stepped up onto the small stage. She said something to him, and he shook his head. She moved in closer and the minister let go of the dais, using both hands to cover the microphone as he continued to shake his head. Even from the back of the church Cody could see Rivers sigh.

  “Those of you who know me know I don’t need a microphone to be heard,” she said clearly. “Lots of experience with public speaking. Can you all hear me? Even in the back? Good. I am going to begin by telling you about Kelly. And then I’m going to encourage all of you who really knew him to do the same. He would have preferred to be sitting around a campfire out in the woods, swapping tales. But since we have to be here, let’s make the best of it.”

  Cody watched the crowd as Rivers spoke. No one stood to argue with her. People fidgeted, looked at each other, looked at the floor. But no one told her to leave and let the minister continue.

  “I first met Kelly when he arrested me,” Rivers said. “Or rather, when he tried to. He was just too soft hearted. Ranger Tanner. I see you over there. Did Kelly ever manage to arrest anyone?”

  Cody saw Matt, sitting with other rangers, shake his head.

  “Of course not,” Rivers continued. “He trusted every story, hoped for truth in every excuse, no matter how many times he heard it. He gave everyone second chances. And third, and fourth.”

  Over the next hour stories were told. Several by Rivers, several by the rangers. But none by the people in black. Cody sat through it all, feeling the thickness of tears in her throat, wishing she could join in. If only she’d known him long enough to be able to share, to partake in this long deep drink of grief. No one would have understood if she’d got up to tell them he had smiled at her, and then died, leaving like her grandfather.

  Where were the stories about Charles? Where were the friends and family gathered to speak of him, to keep his memory alive?

  The weight of tears made it hard to breathe. She stood, sidestepped in front of Rachel, and escaped.

  Outside, the rain still fell, and the air was rich with the scents of wet cement and old brick. There was no wind coming down off the mountains with smells of earth. It was dark, but streetlights had kicked on, illuminating the church in a halo. Cody stood for a moment at the top of the steps, sorry she had come but proud of Rivers. And overwhelmed by the meaningless loss of Kelly.

  The door opened and she heard the scuff of boots on concrete. She looked over her shoulder as Matt came up behind her.

  “Kelly didn’t like anything he had to dress up for,” Matt said. He shifted, put his hands in his pockets, pulled them back out again and crossed his arms over his chest.

  Intimidated by his height, Cody stepped back from the ranger, feeling irrational anger sweep through her.

  “I wouldn’t know,” she said. “And what about Nate? Has everyone just forgotten him? I don’t see any memorial service with fancy-dancy politicians scheduled for him, and yet he died the exact same way, in the exact same place. Both of them dead for no reason, and only one memorial.”

  Was she talking about Nate or Charles? She didn’t know anymore and didn’t care. It hurt either way and she palmed wetness from her eyes.

  “He’s not forgotten,” Matt said, as rainwater cobwebbed and darkened his blond hair.

  “Really? Then I have just one more question for you,” Cody said, starting down the steps. “Wouldn’t your time be better spent out looking for their killer then attending this?”

  “Kelly was a friend,” Matt said, following her. “And I have one question for you. What were you doing crossing crime scene barriers and going back up the trail yesterday? Interfering with an investigation, or revisiting the scene of your crime?”

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