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The memory keeper, p.9
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       The Memory Keeper, p.9

           Lisa Stowe
 

  Chapter 9

  “Your crime scene barrier said ‘caution’, instead of ‘do not enter’,” Cody said sharply. “I was cautious when I entered. If you didn’t want anyone up there you should have barricaded the trail differently.”

  Cody made for her car. Heat scorched her cheeks as a fine trembling that felt like tears spread from knees to heart. She had lost her temper. Something she rarely did. It seemed like her control had been unraveling since her grandfather had first appeared. Until his arrival, she was certain she had come to terms with her father’s abandonment, her mother’s domination, her own position in the society of family. But Cody’s supervisor in the physician’s office where she was support staff had brought her news that made her realize how insubstantial all her beliefs really were. Her self-delusion had been laid bare.

  “Cody, there’s a man out at the reception desk looking for you. He says he’s family of yours.”

  “Family?” Cody had responded, turning away from her sack lunch of tuna and tomato slices. “A man?”

  Years of convincing herself she didn’t want or need a father were instantly swept away and she was shocked by the unexpected tidal wave of hope.

  “Right,” the woman responded. “Quite elderly.”

  The drop from wishful thinking to reality was made more painful because Cody hadn’t known that seed of optimism even existed until it was just as quickly killed.

  “Thanks,” she had said, standing with something that resonated inside like anger. Or maybe it was fear.

  In the lobby a man stood waiting patiently, shoulders stooped in an aged arc, thinning gray hair in an old fashioned flat top, work roughened hands with knuckles swollen and callused. He was a man carrying many years of hard toil.

  “Cody,” he said simply, the pale blue eyes lighting.

  “Yes?”

  “My name is Charles Mogen,” he said. “I’m your grandfather. I’ve been looking for you a long time.”

  Cody’s heart raced and an odd tingling feeling in her fingertips made her reach out for the back of a chair before she fainted.

  “I’m sorry to just show up,” he continued, “but May keeps hanging up on my calls. I’ve been afraid you would turn me away like your mother but I had to know one way or another, just for my own peace of mind. So I came by here…I know it’s a shock…and…you look so much like my wife." He interrupted the flow of words to pull a huge white handkerchief from the front pocket of his bib overalls and dab unashamedly at tears.

  Rather than looking comical, the handkerchief fluttered like a flag of surrender and Cody felt a sudden deep ache inside. Tapping into rarely used sick time, she quit work for the day, taking this stranger, this person of shared family, to a prosaic hamburger stop.

  “After my wife died, I couldn’t seem to move back into the same old routines,” he had said. “She had cancer. Fought like the dickens, but it was too much for her. All her hair was gone there at the end, and she had beautiful glowing hair like a campfire on a cold mountain night. Hair your color.”

  Cody’s breath had caught on the compliment, tasting the unfamiliar tang of it, not knowing whether to believe and swallow it whole to keep in her heart, or to protect herself by squashing it before it turned into a polite lie like so many others. She sat silently, feeling her life breaking loose.

  “So there I was one day, going through her things, and I found an old picture of Will. Our son had let so many people down, but he was all I had left, so I sold up the old place, got me one of those little cab-over motor homes and decided to go looking for him.”

  “Did you find him?” Cody asked, not sure what answer she hoped for.

  “Not yet. But I hired up a private eye and he found out Will had married and had a child. You can’t imagine what that was like, realizing I had a grandchild.”

  “I think I can,” Cody said. “I mean, finding out you have family.”

  “Well then, maybe you can,” Charles said after a moment. “Looking for you took me so long because I looked for Mogens. But that private eye finally thought to see if May might be using her maiden name, and that’s how we found you. I talked to your mother and explained who I was, but she wouldn’t let me talk to you. So I parked out at that old Troublesome campground by your place. I didn’t want to leave until I’d heard from you personally that you didn’t want a grandfather hanging around.”

  They sat in silence, Cody fingering cold french-fries until Charles pushed back his coffee, and stood.

  “So, you care to give an old man the time of day?”

  She was enfolded in a hug, arms strong and safe, overalls rough against her cheek. A large callused hand patted the top of her head as if he had never done it before. And even though he was a stranger, she had cried there, held by her grandfather.

  Cody’s cheeks were now as wet as they had been then, and she self-consciously blinked them away. She leaned against her car, not caring that she was getting soaked. Matt was nowhere in sight, but Rachel came out of the church, looked around, and jogged over to the car.

  “You okay?” Rachel asked as she pulled on a black leather jacket against the soft rain. “Matt just came back in looking pissed. He give you a bad time?”

  “Not really,” Cody said. “You’re not staying for the rest of the service?”

  Rachel leaned against the car next to Cody, wrapping her arms around herself. “Kelly’s not there.”

  “Like Rivers said, I don’t think he would have liked it anyway." Cody watched headlights of a car swing over them as it passed, simply to have something to look at rather than Rachel’s sad eyes.

  “No way he would have,” Rachel said. “He’d have hated all that fuss. It makes me so mad. It’s just a production for the mayor. You can bet that other guy, what’s his name?

  “Nate,” Cody said.

  “Yeah. Nate. You can bet he’s not getting some big hoo-haw. I think most people have forgotten two guys died out there.”

  “I wonder if Nate was the reason Kelly was killed,” Cody said, fingering the metal tag of her fleece zipper. “Or if Nate was killed because of Kelly, or if they were both just in the wrong place when some psycho was hiking.”

  “Ah shit,” Rachel said, boosting herself up onto the hood of the car. “I just keep going round and round about it. Matt says Nate was up there looking for his father. When I heard that, I thought about you looking for your grandfather, and how easily it could have been you. Shot I mean.”

  Cody stared at Rachel a long moment, not sure if she wanted to laugh at the words or shy away from them.

  “I never thought about that,” she said finally. “I mean, I was scared at the time, but I never thought about it like that I guess.”

  “Sorry. The whole thing just has me brooding on the randomness of life. You know what I mean? It’s so, so sad, and there’s no understanding it." Rachel slapped the palms of her hands on the car. “I’m going rock climbing tomorrow, see if I can get my head back on straight.”

  “That guy at the gas station climbs,” Cody said. “Cell? He mentioned rock climbing routes. And some Climb Naked group.”

  “I’ve bouldered up a few routes with Cell, and he’s an amazing climber,” Rachel said. “But hey, you know what? Rivers goes with the Climb Naked group.”

  “You’re kidding. She seems so…”

  “Exotic? Eccentric? I’m sure she still is when she’s naked." Rachel laughed. “But I’m not going to go along and find out. Hey, thanks.”

  “For?”

  “Trying to distract me from all this heavy stuff. You’re okay. Want to come climb?”

  “Rachel, I can barely hike. There’s no way I’m going to shinny up some rope.”

  “Fine, girl,” Rachel said. “You stay grounded. For now.”

  People trickled outside and umbrellas opened against the drizzle, looking like round black thunderclouds in the light from the church. Matt’s height and blond hair made him stand out, and Cody and Rachel watched him walk to the green For
est Service Bronco.

  “Matt seems pretty angry.” Cody, damp and chilled, suppressed a shiver. “I think he’s mad at me for not being more help.”

  “Matt? He doesn’t work that way. He’ll be pissed at himself for not saving Kelly and taking it out on everyone else. I want to be there when he finds the guy. It won’t be pretty." Rachel poked Cody’s shoulder. “Hey, did you know Matt’s dad was a ranger?”

  “No. It’s not like we’ve socialized or anything,” Cody said. She slid her cold hands up her sleeves in an attempt to find warmth, watching the Bronco back out of the lot.

  “Yeah,” Rachel continued. “In his dad’s day rangers did everything. Talks for kids, stories around campfires, nature walks, policing, restoration, preservation. Now they’re all specialized. A ranger like Matt, who does the law enforcement, won’t be the one teaching people about native plants. I sometimes think Matt would have been better off he’d gone with the flowers.”

  “Why?” Cody tried to picture the angry man surrounded by wild flowers, and failed.

  Rachel shrugged. “In a small town, you know everyone. I think he gets tired of arresting people he grew up with. That shit would get old after a while.”

  “You said Matt asked questions about Nate, and his search for his father?”

  “Yeppers." Rachel blew on her hands and slipped them into the pockets of her jacket.

  “I suppose in investigations you get all the information you can and then decide what’s important.”

  “I suppose,” Rachel repeated.

  “Do you know Hailey?”

  “Some. Like I said, in small towns you know pretty much everyone. I’ve run into her a couple times climbing, but I don’t know her well enough to call her a friend or anything.”

  “She’s…focused." Cody couldn’t come up with a more accurate word that wasn’t unflattering. “Maybe she’ll be able to solve this. I just wish there was something more I could do.”

  “Hey, you’ve done plenty. Not to sound too blunt, but we’re all strangers to you. You came here looking for stories about your family. Hang on to that and don’t get sucked into such a horrible event any more than you have to.”

  “You’re probably right,” Cody said, rubbing a thumb over fingernails. It was time to trim them down again. “I just feel some kind of connection to Nate and Kelly. Probably because everything lately seems tied to death.”

  Depression washed through her, leaving in its wake a profound sense of hopelessness.

  “Oh, I don’t know,” she continued. “Why should I care about people I never had a chance to know? Even my own grandfather. I don’t even know why I’m here.”

  “It’s because of what might have been,” Rachel said, not meeting Cody’s eyes. “We dream about possibilities but end up left with this emptiness of not knowing. I think it makes us look for answers where we can, some way to hang on to those dreams. Or make them more of a reality. At least, that’s what I tell my therapist,” Rachel added with an attempt at a laugh that came out sounding more like trapped tears.

  “I’ll take the dreams,” Cody said. “Reality sucks.”

  “Reality bites the big one,” Rachel responded, rubbing her temples as her mouth relaxed into the slightest beginning of a tremulous smile.

  “Reality’s a dish best served cold.”

  “Reality’s the shits,” Rachel said. “I think that’s supposed to be revenge. Served cold. Something like that.”

  “Oh?” asked Cody. “Revenge, reality, boils down to the same thing. Anger and abandonment.”

  “Hell, yeah." Rachel straightened. “I’m freezing my ass off. Think I’ll go down to the bar and get plastered. Want to come?”

  It had been surprisingly easy to talk to Rachel. But even so, Cody couldn’t see herself walking inside a bar, let alone drinking to the point where she let go of self-control.

  “I think I’ll pass,” she said. “Stay grounded, like you said.”

  “Smart girl,” Rachel said, sliding off the car hood. “No hangover tomorrow.”

  Cody watched Rachel head down the sidewalk, swallowed by a pool of darkness, haloed by a streetlight, and swallowed again. And wondered if she’d just let an opportunity for adventure and friendship walk away. Resigned to the familiar feeling of not knowing how to grasp life, Cody got in the car and started the engine, cranking up the defrost fan against the damp that fogged the windshield.

  She swiped a clear spot with her hand so that she could see out. And shook her head. Too bad it wasn’t as easy to find a way to see life more clearly.

 
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