A Sunday funeral was pretty much unheard of. But, as Uncle Jedd was great friends with his pastor, that worthy had agreed to accommodate us if we’d agree to an early afternoon time. When Aunt Lynore had been pressed for her reasons for insisting on this Sunday, she’d just said, “Because I want it to be!” And that was that. No one tried to change her mind.
Not even me . . . but that was because my wedding wasn’t happening today anyway, so it didn’t matter.
Black clouds spread ominously over the skies that afternoon. By the time we were all gathered at the gravesite, it was pouring heavily. On the one hand, it was a let down although it certainly mirrored our outlook for the occasion. On the other, it cut short the sermons of The Club—at least right then. No one wanted to be out in that soaking weather for any longer than necessary!
When Uncle Mitch tossed a shovelful of dirt onto Matt’s coffin, I sensed a change in Irvyn. Something in the way he held me wasn’t the same as even five minutes ago. Although, to be truthful, he hadn’t been himself since it happened. But today, when he arrived at the funeral home to help carry Matt out to the hearse and then to the gravesite, I could almost feel the invisible wall between us. Seemed like it got suddenly quite a bit thicker and taller.
Not used to this feeling of uncertainty with him, I looked up.” You’re coming to Aunt Lynore’s with us, aren’t you?”
Didn’t seem as if he’d heard me, so I asked it again. He glanced down, a closed look in his face. “I’ll come around later, Jo.”
My heart just bounced to my soggy Hush Puppies. “But I thought—”
He put the handle of the big black umbrella into my hand. “I’ll come around later, Joleigh. Okay?”
Without any explanations, kisses or hugs, he left me in the midst of my keenly observant friends, family, and relatives. Left me feeling as deserted as an abandoned puppy in a snowstorm amongst a pack of hungry wolves!
“I figured that was coming!” uttered Aunt Willa smugly. “With Matt gone, he probably doesn’t feel he needs to go through life tied to her! Too bad it took Matt’s dying to make him see it!”
“Well, did you notice that Dante DiSilva didn’t even bother showing up yesterday or today?” Aunt Wanda added in much the same tone. “Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Of course, I understand why Krista didn’t! Wouldn’t doubt, though, that David and Marsha are using Jaimee’s illness as an excuse to stay away!”
“And what is your son’s excuse?” I uttered under my breath. “I don’t see Craigie boy and his dear family!”
Lannette rolled her eyes and shook her head. They just didn’t get that she wasn’t as “in love” with Dante as I was with Irvyn. Dante’d just landed this assistant veterinarian position with Stephan Deverill only a day or so ago. Stephan’s new practice hadn’t yet officially opened. However, his reputation of being an excellent veterinarian was already spreading; thanks, in part, to the boarders at DreamWynd—all of whom had abandoned Dr. Ayer in favor of Stephan. So he was already getting emergency calls and some for the routine reasons. Dante had promised he’d make it if he could, but there were a couple of emergencies that couldn’t be ignored.
Lannette had received the news as she’d received it yesterday. As if it didn’t matter. I hoped he’d be able to get the chance to melt her doubts before they became granite hard. No telling how much time he had for that. My guess was not long.
Muttering, “I wish I had a sick kid I could use as an excuse!” she left the protection of Aunt Lynore’s umbrella to come under mine. Putting an arm around my shoulders, she instructed me not to listen to one idiotic thing they said about me.
At the same time, Mom deserted Dad to duck under with us. She, too, gave me the hug Irvy hadn’t. She said in soft low tones, “He’s just feeling lost, Joleigh. It’s not you or anything to do with you. They haven’t got a clue as to what’s going on! Lannette’s right—don’t listen to them!” She poked Lannette. “Don’t you listen to ‘em either! Dante’s a sweetheart! Don’t throw him away because his life happens to be a bit hectic just now. Or because he chose a different path from Matt’s. Irvy did, too, remember!”
Neither of us was totally convinced on either issue. Which was evident in the slight hunch of Lannette’s shoulder after Mom said this. The way she didn’t reply. As for me, with that look of Irvy’s vividly in my memory it was impossible not to feel any other way than I did feel. Like that lost deserted puppy tossed to the wolves.
I couldn’t help the new tears that rolled down my cheeks. The fears of losing Irvy mingled and came together with the tears of Matt’s loss.
Was going to be a long, long, sad day.
* * * * *
At the gathering at Aunt Lynore’s, Jace shut himself away from everyone—going upstairs to Matt’s room and refusing to come out. He let Jarrett in with him but no one else was welcome—not even Lannette or me. Which hurt almost as much as Irvy’s walking away from me. But in his grief, I don’t think Jace even knew about that or wondered at it if he had paid attention to it.
Lannette and I sat on the carpeted stairs where we could be out of the way of the press of people that’d squeezed into the house, but yet, where we could hear the various conversations taking place. We should’ve done what Jace had—just shut ourselves away in Lannette’s room, but we didn’t. Her room was directly across from Matt’s, and she hadn’t spent any more time in her room than it took to grab some clothes. Hadn’t slept in there since Matt died. Aunt Lynore had opened the couch for her and me to crash on. But now, the living room and the dining room, not to mention the kitchen and the family room in the basement, were full of friends and relatives bent on “cheering up” my aunt and uncle. And Lannette—when they could find her.
With Matt gone, they evidently felt they could attempt to break the bond between us. They’d’ve had better luck separating Siamese twins sharing crucial organs. She wasn’t impolite about it—but Lannette made it clear they were wasting their time.
We went through the whole afternoon with our arms linked about each other, only letting go when it was absolutely necessary. Pretty much Mom and Aunt Lynore did the same. Occasionally, they sought out Dad and Uncle Mitch, looking to be wrapped in their comforting arms but for the most part, they were each other’s consoler.
Most of our particular friends, including the Tollefsons, had already put in a lengthy appearance and were gone by the time Tippy, Colleen, and Dante showed up in the early evening. I think they’d hoped to avoid the mob of relatives by coming later. Doesn’t work that way with ours. Funerals only make them want to stay longer. They’d probably stay until midnight—or until they were thrown out.
That’s what happened when Uncle Kevin and Lawron died. Everyone stayed down at Aunt Ruth’s for three days. She never showed her exasperation at anything said or done then. I guess, since she’d learned to deal with Uncle Kevin’s disposition, she could more easily put up with his sisters’.
Lawron probably would’ve been one of my favorite cousins if we’d had a chance to get to know him better. Lawron loved his cars too. But he’d never chosen to team up with Matty. Had worked exclusively for a wealthy family in Newport until he got fired for trying to elope with one of their granddaughters.
The Club had had a field day with that at the time. Imagine a lowly auto mechanic thinking he had a chance with a multimillionaire’s granddaughter!
About then, Aunt Ruth decided she wanted to go back to her home state, and Uncle Kevin gave in to her wishes. Lawron followed them after a while. Guess his present fiancée had been at the house the same time we’d been there. But, she’d not made an appearance even once. Auntie Ruth said it was just as well. The Club would’ve torn her to shreds. Or—more likely, she would’ve done them!
I’d’ve paid real money to have seen that!
My thoughts came back to the miserable present when Dante arrived just then, and straightway apologized to Lannette for having missed Matty’s wake and funeral.
No one blamed him—not anyone who mattered, that is. After all, if you’re a vet, and someone’s pet needs you, you have to do what you have to do. That’s what Matt would’ve told him. Of course, opinions about pets varied. Some of my relatives rated animals a level higher than most humans; others felt pets were lower life forms that ought to be kept outdoors at all times.
The French Alpine goats that’d gotten horribly chewed up yesterday, Stephan and Dante’d had to put down. Guess the dogs that’d done the chewing had gone the same route, too. Then this morning, Stephan had gotten no less than four new emergency calls, and while Dante had taken three of them, Stephan hadn’t yet returned from his call which had involved someone’s llamas, a bear and a tiger. Apparently, the people hadn’t a license to keep the bear and the tiger, so Stephan was hung up there, not only treating the animals, but trying to find someplace for them to go.
“He sends his condolences to all of you again,” Dante told us. “He’s sorry to have caused me to miss saying goodbye to Matt for the last time. But I did, actually, get to do that last night. They let me in the funeral home after I explained what’d happened.”
I was glad he’d had a chance to do that, and I said, “Was probably a better goodbye that way. Nobody to bother you or tell you things you didn’t want to hear!”
“Yeah, maybe. Not that I was totally alone . . .” Before either Lannette or I could ask him to expand on that, he put a hand to Lannette’s arm. “Look, can we talk? You know—someplace where there’s less confusion!” He passed a hand though his dark hair as he cast another glance about, hoping to search out a likely spot.
“Ah, you mean the bathrooms—or her bedroom,” I quipped. “Turdy and some of the others are in the basement playing pool.”
“He’s here? Never met such an—” Dante broke off, realizing Aunt Nedra was right close by. “Well, anyway . . . the porches are taken up with the smokers among you! I’d ask you out to my car but then they’d be gawping at us, wondering what we’re up to.”
“Oh, don’t worry; if I’m not with her, they might not think a thing of it!”
Lannette giggled, but said, “Well, yes, they will! I’ve been influenced too much by you!” She looked up at him. “What do you want to talk about? The stuff I said you could have of Matt’s?”
Dante’s blank stare suggested he’d forgotten about that. He shook his head and told her, “No. I want to talk to you about us!”
“Ah!” uttered Lannette, totally taken off guard.
Lannette cast me an unappreciative glance. She appeared to be of two minds about this deal—not ready to talk about “us” with him, yet unwilling to repulse him. “Will you be okay for a few minutes?” she finally asked me.
“Sure! How long can you be in there? Someone’s bound to need the facilities!”
I moved apart from her, pushing her toward him. “Go! I’m fine!”
“We’ll protect her!” Colleen promised, then amended, “I’ll protect her! Tippy’ll be stuffing his face with all this food!”
Tippy, who’d been eyeing the feast upon the dining room table during our exchange, turned his head to grin at her. “Alas—I’ve no willpower!” And off he went.
Dante put a hand out to Lannette. “Please!”
Guess she couldn’t resist the imploration in his earnest eyes. She put her hand in his, and went.
Seeing them go off together like that only reminded me that Irvy wasn’t here with me—or for me. Totally unused to being without him I was!
“My goodness, but they brought a lot of food, didn’t they? My relatives never feel as though they’re obligated!” Colleen remarked as she watched Tippy pile a plate high with every variety of casserole, salad, and dessert there.
“Well, some of this feast is from the Tollefsons. Brett and Thomi made the seafood salad and those tasty meatballs there. Their mom made the chili which is just about gone now. And one of Stephan’s cousins sent a pound of the best popcorn I’ve ever had! But, as for my family—heh! Most of ‘em have only the thought of outdoing each other in mind when they do their part!” I replied. “Guess that’s good in one way. There’s food for days afterward, and you can actually eat everything they bring. They’ve had lots of practice for this sort of thing!”
“Well, you come from big families,” Colleen pointed out. “Not like this when you’re from a smaller one!”
Colleen laughed. “Crazy, isn’t it? I’d’ve loved for such a press of people to have been assembled when my grandfather died! But Tippy was there, so I got through it!”
Which remark just served as a further reminder that I was going through this ordeal minus Irvy. If he didn’t show up pretty soon, I’d brave the miserable weather and go look for him. Course, I’d have to brave facing his mother, too. But I’d do it, if it would get his comforting arms about me again! I was missing those, big time, right about then!
I guess Mom hadn’t minded that my first word hadn’t been Momma or Dada. Come to think of it, probably before ever I’d uttered his name, I’d fallen in love with Irvyn Woodworth, with his sea green eyes, curly golden blonde hair, and sweet smile. Tiny, slender Irvyn who’d grown up even taller than Matt’s six foot two.
If you listened to Aunt Willa and Aunt Wanda, and dear Aunt Dorene, however, I’d taken advantage of him, seducing him with my wicked feminine wiles by the time I was three—and therefore, condemned as a brazen little hussy. Which totally ticked off my mother for when Turdy kissed the little girls, he was christened a young “Don Juan”, and they all sighed over what a Heartbreaker he’d be someday.
Dad only laughed at their double standards. As I got older, he’d tell me not to pay them any attention. That he had faith in me following the few rules he and Mom expected us to follow.
“We’ve never burdened you kids with a bunch of you “can’ts, “shouldn’ts” and don’ts,” he said, “You keep your rooms clean, treat others with respect, and do the same for yourself, we shouldn’t have to worry about you!”
Doubtful that any values had been instilled in my heart in the first place and dubious that I’d ever embrace them if they had been, the nucleus of The Club became exasperated with my father’s “lax” attitude. Wagging sage heads, they predicted for me next, three children by the time I was eighteen. (But no one would be surprised if it happened to me at fifteen!)
The circumstances for the whole sordid mess would, predictably, be all my fault—Irvy after all, being merely male . . . and all my respect going only for my little pleasures. It went without saying that all three infants would be taken from me and put up for adoption to be cared for by a more responsible couple. Naturally, that definitely left my parents out.
Irvy’d borne all this nonsense well. Showed his devotion to me by remaining a one girl boy all through our school years. For a very short time, Tina had a crush on Irvy—I mean talk about brazen hussy! She was all over him, thinking she could take him away from me, since she was the same age he was and not a baby like I was at the time, being about fourteen then.
I was getting ready to stick snakes in her pretty tote bag, one day, when he bluntly told her, “Look, you haven’t got the guts and courage Joleigh-Anna has. You haven’t got as much as Lannette has! And you definitely haven’t got the same curves! In fact, you look like a pumpkin!”
Which started the Jelly-Jelly Pumpkin Belly thing anew. Don’t think she looked at him quite the same way again!
Since he’d spurned her darling daughter back then, Aunt Willa’s attacks upon my relationship with Irvy increased five-fold. Started the such a burden to him, I’d be, should he ever actually marry me business.
“Be impossible for him to keep his mind on his patients’ worries if he’s neck deep in his own with her! Girls who scramble to the tops of trees quicker than any boy or monkey and who insist on learning how to race cars on dangerous tracks are bound to bring heart failure and disgrace to him—and everyone else who knows her!”
Yes, ma’am, sir! I was fated to become a permanent resident of the ER, my space divided from Matt’s only by a striped curtain. Of course, there’d be just one trip to the morgue for either of us. Irvy had to be a sad fool to waste his love on me, pure and simple!
Mrs. Woodworth termed my feelings for her son plain old Puppy Love, and prayed that by the end of my high school days I’d forget about him. That didn’t happen, so she prayed harder that Irvy would meet a more sophisticated young woman while away at med school, and his childhood fancy would fade into his past.
That didn’t happen, either. The summer I was seventeen and Irvy was twenty, I told him I loved him—seriously, passionately, let’s get married loved him. Told him so out there upon the cliffs just before we leaped into the sea. He’d just smiled and kissed me in a way he hadn’t before. When he kisses me like that, he doesn’t have to say anything else!
My parents took it in their usual stride. Wasn’t really news to them—only that I’d finally outright told him so was. We weren’t going to say a thing to Irvy’s parents. I mean it wasn’t like he’d asked me to marry him, after all. While we were pretty sure his dad wouldn’t have a fit, why wake the storm in his mother?
Matt, however, had thought that stupid, even chicken-hearted, and made sure they found out I’d declared myself, and that Irvy hadn’t put me off. While he cautioned us that we needn’t rush into anything right off, Dr. Woodworth gave us his official blessing. “And when you finally set the date, you be sure you save me the second dance.”
As for Mrs. Woodworth—instead of becoming angry as we’d feared, she treated the whole deal as if I were a five-year-old asking her son to play a game of “House”. After all, I actually was just a kid and Irvy had five more years of medical school ahead of him. Anything could happen. Plenty of time for him to find himself the girl of her dreams.
Which patronizing attitude seemed worse than any burst of anger. Once again, she refused to take us seriously. Was just another phase we were going through. Certainly nothing she had to take seriously! She didn’t, either. Irvy often showed me her current list of Eligible Women For My Doctor Son. Women with whom she tried desperately to pique his interest. We’d chuckle over her choices, making fun of them. As these girls took on careers and/or husbands, she revised the list and her hopes for her only son.
Well, once we left Irvy’s house that day, Irvy hunted up Matt, told him that from now on, he’d better mind his own business. Matt said he was minding his business. What happened to me—and to Lannette and Jace—was his business no matter what anyone thought. If he felt we weren’t being treated fairly by somebody, he’d be right there to put it right!
“So if you really care about her, you better yell it from the moon! Otherwise, you just walk away!”
“You don’t know how lucky you are that I am going to walk away right now without flooring you! Don’t you ever do anything like this again! Unless you’re ready to have me run to your mother and tell her some tales you don’t want told!”
He’d held his glance for a long moment, and for once Matt had kept silent. Guess he realized, then, that he’d been overzealous in his protection of me. Plus, there were several things Matt was keeping secret from Aunt Lynore. It was the only time I remember them having a serious disagreement. After two days of enduring Irvy’s cool formality, Matt begged his forgiveness and swore he’d never interfere again. And he never did. Good thing. For then his secrets could be forever safe with Irvy.
I’ve no idea if Irvy ever dated anyone while he was away at college. Never crossed my mind that he might, so I never asked him when he came home for vacations.
As he had all through elementary and high school, he won high grades in medical school. His brilliance and determination allowed him to graduate early.
Broke his mother’s heart when, in front of everyone at his graduation party, he kissed me deeply and officially asked me to marry him! Matt had whooped his joy for us, shaking Irvy’s hand until it about fell off. Then he hugged me, squishing me like an Anaconda while he wished me all his best. Then, he’d hugged tiny Mrs. Woodworth, picking her right up off the ground and whirling once around with her!
He promised her she wouldn’t regret me in her family but you’d’ve had to’ve been dead not to have seen how she felt about that prediction! And deaf not to hear the opinions of my aunts. They’d insisted they’d been invited to Irvy’s party by Mrs. Woodworth herself. Pretty likely, though, they’d invited themselves. The only reason Mrs. Woodworth tolerated them within her exclusive circle of friends then, or any time else, was because they shared her feelings about the whole deal. I think Aunt Willa knew that, so she made sure to discover Valorah Woodworth’s opinion on everything else so she could kiss up to her whenever the occasion arose.
While she swallowed her disappointment and resigned herself to the inevitable, her arms were never outstretched to me when I visited there nor did she display anything but cool civility if I encountered her out and about some place. Irvy’s mom sure wasn’t one to pretend all was right in her world if it really wasn’t. Not like Aunt Nedra would!
Lannette and Dante had been in the bathroom quite awhile when Jarrett-Andrew dashed downstairs to use it. Finding it locked, he beat on the door. “I gotta go! I gotta go!” and danced around like a crazy person. “Pleeeeeeeeaase! I gotta go!”
“Someone’s in there, Jarrett,” Mom called to him. “You’ll have to wait.”
“Use the bathroom upstairs,” Uncle Mitch told him. “You were just up there—”
“Uncle Buck’s up there, and he ain’t gonna come out soon, he said, and I gotta go now!”
“Well, who’s in there?” Aunt Dorene wondered. “I didn’t see anyone go in!”
This, of course, started some speculative murmuring, which suggested that no one had paid any attention to Lannette going in there with Dante. I held my breath, waiting to see everyone’s reaction when they slunk out. Lannette bought herself some time though. Yanking Jarrett in through a partly opened door, she told him, “Hurry up, Squirt! I just got in here, you know!”
Colleen and I exchanged a look and bit our lips to keep from laughing aloud. Just got in there more than a half hour ago! Thought maybe she had a chance of pulling it off, when Jarrett, finished with his business, ran out, heralding, “Hey! Hey, Joleigh! Lannette’s in the baffroom with Dante, and they’re kissing cause they’re gonna get married!”
This, naturally, evoked a number of various responses from everyone assembled. But the one that bothered me the most was my own when Jarrett threw himself into my arms so happily blurting, “Now you and her can get married togedder, huh? ‘Cause Irby lubs you so much, huh, Joleigh!”
I laughed . . . and hugged him hard to me, burying my face in the crook of his little neck. So no one would know more tears than laughter lived in me just now.
Right about then, Irvyn showed up at the side door which opened into the dining room. I could tell by the looks on their faces, that The Club hadn’t thought they’d be seeing him at all today. He greeted everyone in his usual fashion, taking his time in making his way to me. Jarrett squirmed out of my hold and ran to toss himself into Irvy’s arms.
“Know what, Irby? Dante and Lannette are in the baffroom and they’re gonna get married!”
“In the bathroom?” Irvy asked, amused. “That’s a first!”
Realizing they weren’t going to get out of there undetected now, Lannette and Dante emerged from their unlikely haven. She wore his ring which everyone had to inspect. They chided her for becoming engaged in the bathroom and wondered about Dante’s timing.
“Hey! I’ve been reminded that Life is Short—and full of Sorrowful Regret! I’m not willing to wait years for this, and then have something happen that keeps us apart forever—like with Matt and Krista! Or Lawron, for that matter! I love Lannette, and if she loves me, we don’t need anyone else’s approval for this! Except yours, of course!” he said to Aunt Lynore and Uncle Mitch.
“Dante,” said Uncle Mitch, stepping over to shake Dante’s hand and to hug Lannette, “you’ve always had it. We’ve been saying all along that we’d be happy if you joined the family, and we mean it!”
“Yes,” agreed Aunt Lynore, slipping in on the other side of the group to hug them both. “I’m so glad for you both!” She took a half step back so’s to include me in her glance. “Maybe you will decide to make it a double ceremony!”
“We’ve always planned we would!” I answered at once. Then to tick off The Club, I added, “Might even happen for us the same way it did for you!” Although frankly, I hadn’t all of the details surrounding my parents and Lannette’s parents’ double wedding. Some of those who did didn’t seem to take my announcement too kindly. Mom and Aunt Lynore just laughed and said they doubted it would happen exactly like theirs. If they realized it was a hint for them to relate that story, they didn’t take it.
I glanced at Irvy to check out his reaction to all this. Not sure he heard it. Freddy was bending his ear just then. Jarrett jiggled in his hold, trying to get his attention again. Irvy set him down. But that’s not what Jarrett wanted.
“Hey, Irby! You gotta kiss Joleigh like Dante kissed Lannette! But you don’t gotta kiss all the buddies like that! On’y Joleigh, okay? Not Aunt Wi—”
“Jarrett!” Mom called out quickly. “How about some ice cream now! I think it’s time for that!”
Kisses owed only to me forgotten, my little brother sped to my mother’s side, and he dragged her out into the kitchen in case she suddenly changed her mind.
Waking up to the fact he was center of attention, Irvy excused himself to Freddy and moved to my side. He dropped a brief salute onto my lips. Wasn’t quite what Jarrett had demanded—nor what I wanted—but it did shut people up for the moment. Gradually, they drifted back to whatever discussions they’d been involved in before Jarrett had made his momentous announcement.
“Wouldn’t that kill everyone,” Lannette remarked, slipping in to join us and pulling Dante after her. “Of course, we’d have to share Jarrett as ring bearer—there’s no one else I’d rather have! We’d have to have all of Uncle David’s girls as flower girls, though! Hard to choose just one!”
“If we eloped like our parents did, we won’t need any ring bearer or flower girls!”
“True. This is hard. Should we continue in family tradition and elope—or break it so we can have Jarrett and the girls—Jaimee, if she’s able—in our ceremony! And Jace! He’ll probably be the choice for best man now, won’t he, Irv?”
“We’ve got time to decide,” Irvy responded in a tone that plainly stated So we’re not going to decide it today! “Where is Jace anyway?”
“Upstairs in Matt’s room,” answered Lannette. “He hasn’t come out since he got here. Only lets Jarrett go in. Uncle Jorden’s tried to get him to come out but he’s given it up. Says he’ll come out when he’s ready.”
“Well, why don’t I go up and see what I can do?” suggested Irvy, and he left us on the words.
“Now you’re not going to be able to get either one out of there,” prophesied Dante. “He’s not taking this so easy himself! It’s like he’s lost his right arm and can’t adjust to it. Although, I know it’s too early to expect him to have figured that out already! Be a while for all of us to do that!” He poked me. “Still, I’d hate to see how he’d act if it was you we were mourning!”
“Man,” uttered Lannette, her glance flickering to the staircase, then coming back to survey me worriedly, “I hope it doesn’t take him forever to figure out what’s what with him!”
Well, once, I’d been sure he’d have been practically face down on the dirt in inconsolable grief if something horrible happened to me. Now, I just hoped he wasn’t figuring his life would be better off without me in it. Sure felt like I was getting those kinds of vibes from him!
* * * * *
Depression is a soul-rotting thing.
So the day after the funeral, I thought if I went to see Krista, I’d feel better about my own situation. After all, Irvy wasn’t dead. So as long as he was breathing, I had a prayer of finagling a way into his life again.
Krista’s mom let me in, and told me I’d find her daughter up in her room . . . where she was practically living now. As I ran up to knock on her door, a fleeting thought that she and Jace could get together crossed my mind. Of course, that would mean they’d actually have to leave their rooms.
Mrs. Peters let me in and told me to just go upstairs. “I hope you can help her, Joleigh. I can’t seem to find the right words.”
I don’t know if it was a good thing or not but the instant Krista saw me, she burst into tears. Just dropped on the bed and cried. I sat beside her and held her the same way I had Lannette, and just waited for her to quit. Then for another long time we just sat together in silence, each deep in memories of a wacky, yet, caring guy we’d miss forever and always.
“Listen,” I finally said, “if—if you ever need to talk . . . you know you can call me. Can call Lannette, too. You don’t need to do this alone. Okay?”
She gulped and nodded. “Thanks for coming, Joleigh. For . . . not forgetting me!”
“No one’s forgotten you, Krista. No one will. Lannette had to go back to work today. She said she’d stop by once her shift let out.”
Krista smiled a little sad smile. “That’ll be great!” She glanced at me. “What about you? Aren’t you working today?”
“Yes, it’s one of my Seaton Hall days. Going to be working on a quilt with some of the ladies.”
She nodded. Another silence stretched between us, and finally I decided I’d better leave or I’d have no time to work on the quilt or anything else, that day. I hugged Krista and stood up. “I’ll come again, okay?”
Her eyes filled with tears afresh, but she blinked them back and nodded. Looked away from me. I dropped back down beside her.
“Look, you can cry, Krista, every day if you want to. I do! But . . . you shouldn’t stop living just because he has. What happened wasn’t your fault. No one could’ve stopped him—except maybe Irvy. Those guys have given him trouble plenty of times before. He’d probably finally had enough of it. Was dumb of him but that’s how it probably was. Okay? Don’t beat yourself up over it! Matt was responsible for Matt. I’ll always wish he’d had a brain in his head then but—I guess I can’t be mad at him . . . too much, anyway!”
I wanted to say that the morons who’d left him to bleed after running him down were to blame. They could have at least called for an ambulance or let someone know he was out there. I hoped they’d get theirs next month—but it wouldn’t bring Matt back. These were tough feelings to have to deal with. I could only imagine how horrible it was for Krista to fight them—plus her own feelings of having failed him.
She sucked in a ragged breath and drew her lower lip between her teeth. Tears drowned her dark brown eyes and dripped down her cheeks.
I said softly, “I gotta go. I’ll see you later, okay?” Getting up, I started for the door.
“He . . . he just lay there . . . awake at first . . . cursing himself . . . for . . . for letting them goad him. He . . . he kept saying . . . he was sorry . . . for making me . . . go through this . . . Said . . . he loved me!” Her voice cracked, and she sobbed. “Said . . . he’d . . . miss me. He—he’d miss . . . you and Lannette . . . Jace . . . and Irvy. Little Jarrett . . . and Jaimee. He’d . . . let us all down, he said . . . and his parents. I begged him . . . not to talk like that! I didn’t want him to die! But—but he did. He . . . kissed me . . . and . . . smiled . . . and . . .” She made a hopeless little gesture, ended on a whisper, “that was it . . .”
I turned back at that. Dropping back down beside her, I hugged her, and we cried together for a little while longer. I don’t know if I felt better knowing what’d happened at the end or not. But there was some relief in it. I guess there was for her too for she walked me downstairs and saw me out
“Irvy’s lucky to have you, Joleigh-Anna. You’re really a sweet person. Thanks for coming!
As the door closed behind me, and I stepped off the porch, my only thought to that was, “But does he still know that?”
Didn’t seem so. I hadn’t heard from him since last night. Maybe he was studying his mother’s list of Dream Dates. Maybe, he was making a Dream Date list of his own. But I still wore his ring. Didn’t that mean anything to him or was it now just a symbol of our past? A souvenir of the good times.
That night, Lannette and I invaded Jace’s space and dragged him downstairs to the family room to help us map out plans for our parents’ anniversary party. He wasn’t much help though. For to him, without Matt, nothing was worth doing. And he was worse now that Lannette and I’d discussed our separate visits to Krista—and told him what Krista had told us about Matt’s last moments. Made it tough on us.
“Look, this is all stupid! Who cares? Nobody’s going to come anyway! Wanna bet they’ve already forgotten the promises they made only a few days ago? They didn’t mean a word of it—they never do! It’s the same bull over and over! We’re wasting our time!” In his frustration, he tossed his notebook across the table where it hit my glass, spilling my lemonade all over.
“So?” I jumped up to avoid getting rained on. Grabbing a towel from the sideboard, I mopped up the mess. “So, let’s put ‘em to the test! Then when they don’t show, and they’re wimping through all their ‘we should’ve dones’ at the next funeral, we can point out to them—”
Jace had gotten up, too, when I had. Only he didn’t offer to help clean up the mess, nor did he utter any apology. Just thrust his hands into his pockets and watched me mop up as he said, “Ah, Joleigh—do they care? It’s just something to say at the time. They’ll come up with all kinds of excuses for themselves! It’s us that aren’t entitled to a defense of any kind for anything!”
He paced the room in agitated impatience for a second. Then with a helpless sort of gesture, he just walked out, uttering, “It’s just not going to be any good without Matt!”
Throwing the wet towel in the laundry bin for the washing machine was down here as well, I watched Jace run upstairs. Flopping into my seat, I rested my chin in my palm and sighed. “What? Doesn’t he know The Club thinks he’s the best of the lot of us?” Then with bitterness, “Doesn’t he know we feel the same way he does about Matt?”
“You’d think he would!” said Lannette. “I have to live in a house that’s haunted with all Matt’s memories. The way he teased me till I wanted to smack him with a frying pan. The time I finally did! Lucky for him I was only six! Then, there were all the times he’d hide on me and scare me half to death. I walk by those spots now and expect him to jump out at me!” She bit her lip, her eyes filling with the inevitable tears. “But, Mom says we have to find reasons to keep going. Or we’ll all be useless to each other and to ourselves. So . . . I want to do this . . . for them. And because Matt would’ve wanted us to do it. We know what he wanted for this. So . . . in a way . . . he’s here with us.”
“Yeah, imagine that!” I uttered with sarcasm. “Matt’s here with us, but Jace and Irvy aren’t! Nice!” I fixed Lannette with an intent gaze. “Would Matt have acted like this if either Irvy or Jace had been killed?”
“I don’t know . . .” then with more conviction, “No, I don’t think he would’ve! He’d’ve said, “You gotta do what you gotta do!” And he’d’ve done it. Wouldn’t’ve cared what anyone else thought about it either.” She buried her face in her hands. “Ah, man, I miss him!”
So much for party plans.
Since I hadn’t any will to plan this on my own, I put away the notebooks our ideas were written in. Plans for wedding anniversaries led to thoughts on the status of my own wedding hopes.
A new idea sparked in my brain—one that seemed a little crazy—even a little selfish.
I shelved it in some remote corner of my consciousness. Only, it kept coming out, trying to insist that it was a great idea. I mean, wouldn’t they all show up for a party on this grand a scale?
Not able to wait for him to make the first move, I called Irvy the next day, asking him if he’d come to supper. He accepted which boosted my low spirits a great deal. I used to look forward to him coming over before but not the same way I did now. I’d been taking his always being there for me for granted all these years. Now I wasn’t so sure of it. Made his accepting that much more dear to me, and I looked forward to it with all the anticipation as if we’d just begun going together.
Jace even graced the table with his presence for a change. The only thing he cared about now, it seemed, was work. Always before, he’d opt out of overnight field trips or anything else that’d take him away from being with all of us. Now he’d begun volunteering for these things.
Maybe I would too.
I wouldn’t be able to stand being home wondering what Irvy was doing. Feeling sure I had the right to know . . . but would he tell me straight if I asked. Would I want to hear the answer?
Mom threw together Irvy’s favorite supper—sloppy joes—her own recipe. A big platter of carrot and celery sticks sat in the middle of the table between the fresh crusty rolls and the potato chips.
Mrs. Woodworth would’ve died before she made anything so plain . . . so . . . lower class. But Irvy preferred the simpler suppers Mom and Aunt Lynore served. Munched junk food with evident pleasure right along with us.
He still loved a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as much as Jarrett did. As long as it wasn’t blueberry jelly! Up until a year or so ago, peanut butter’d been banned at the Woodworth’s. Irvy’d had enough of that law so he told his mom either peanut butter came in or he went out. She wasn’t ready for that step yet so now peanut butter graces their shelves.
Jarrett was especially animated, and that kept the mood cheerfully lighthearted. It almost seemed like old times again. Jarrett wanted to ride in one of Matt’s cars, so Irvy promised he’d take him sometime in one of the street worthy ones.
“I wanna go racing again!” he declared. He naturally hadn’t ever raced but that’s how he liked to term going to watch the races. “Irby, who’s gonna teach me to race now?”
“Joleigh can,” he told him. “Matt taught her!”
“But Uncle Mitch is gonna sell the cars, Irby. I don’t got no money for cars!” He spread his little hands wide, shook his head, and looked totally pathetic with those big blue eyes.
Irvy laughed and ruffled Jarrett’s hair. Jarrett had plunked his chair as tight to Irvy’s as he could get it. No way was he sitting next to Jace or me tonight! “Don’t worry about that, Squirt. If you’re good enough, you’ll have a car!”
“I want Matty’s cars! They’re fastest of all!”
“You pick it out, Squirt, and we’ll talk to your Uncle Mitch, okay?”
“Irvy—” Mom began and then stopped. Sunshine just poured out of Jarrett’s whole being. Her look went from Irvy and Jarrett to Dad—who wore one that said Irvy was old enough to make whatever promises he liked—if he meant to keep them. Mom obviously felt four-year-olds shouldn’t be promised fast cars. In the end, she decided to believe Irvy was just pacifying Jarrett.
Unaware of her traitorous thoughts, Jarrett ate all of his sloppy joe, plus some celery sticks—something he usually never touched with a ten foot fork—just so he’d be big enough tomorrow to collect on Irvyn’s promise. “I’m gonna race the new one Matty got and beat all the other buddies! You said it was the bestest one, huh, Joleigh?”
“Did really great when we tested it out!”
“I all done now, Mom!” He shoved his plate toward her and then stood up on the seat. “I bigger now, huh? I gonna be lots bigger tomorrow!”
“But your head is bigger tonight, that’s for sure!” remarked Jace.
Jarrett clasped his hands to his head. “No, it’s not! But when I get bigger tomorrow, it will be big like yours! But I don’t want big feet like yours! Girls don’t like big feet! And I gonna say I lub y’ to girls when they ride in my car with me. But not in the baffroom. Baffrooms are for taking baffs, and for peeing, and for pooping, and—”
“Thanks for the instruction manual, Squirt! Hasn’t Mom told you not to discuss that stuff when we’re eating?”
“Plenty of times,” replied Mom. “And just like you two, he’ll eventually get it. Sit down now, Jarrett. If you can’t behave at the table how’m I supposed to believe you’ll behave behind the wheel of a car?”
“I will!” he returned with confidence. “I gonna be a safe driver like Matty and Joleigh. And like Irby, too!” He jumped off his chair. “And like Thom’syna too. She drives fast cars too, huh? She drives Matty’s cars sometimes, and we saw her in the movies and TV too, huh, Mom? I all done! I going to bed so I be bigger quick!”
And he ran out without waiting for answers to his questions about Thomi. Was back in a minute to collect good night hugs and kisses from everyone. “I gonna be this big tomorrow!” He stretched his arms up as far as they’d go. “And we can go talk to Uncle Mitch, huh, Irby!”
“You got it!” Irvy assured him.
Probably was the earliest Jarrett had ever gone to bed—without any fuss!
I’m not sure what anyone expected the next day. That Jarrett would forget everything that’d been said, I think. But he didn’t. When Irvy didn’t show up right after supper, he badgered me to call him. My heart did that slow thump thing, dreading his mother picking up. Yet, I had a belly full of butterflies flitting in anticipation of hearing his voice which seemed to sound even sexier over the phone. So when his voice greeted me, my heart joined with the rest of my body in what could only be termed relieved rejoicing, making it hard for me to think straight.
“Hi!” I greeted him with all my old enthusiasm—and then suddenly became shy. “Uh, look, I hope I’m not bothering you . . . it’s just that Jarrett thinks you and he had an actual date with Uncle Mitch tonight.”
“We do,” he said. “I wasn’t kidding. I knew he’d think he was big enough today. Look, I’m a little tied up here . . . Tell him I’ll be over as soon as I can. I haven’t forgotten him.”
“Sure. See you then! Love you!” That slipped out from habit. I kept hoping it would spark a response from him. At least once!
Tonight wasn’t it.
He came to pick my little brother up in his own Porsche. I should have thought it sweet of him to do that for Jarrett, but I couldn’t help feeling hurt when he declared, “Boys night, tonight! Hop in, Squirt! Let’s go check out some cars!”
Jarrett pointed his finger up at me after Irvy fastened his seatbelt. “You can come next time, Joleigh! This car is too little for all the buddies! An’ you ain’t a boy!”
Neither one of them waved when they left the driveway.
Lannette and Dante showed up at our place a half hour later; found me moping in the living room. While Dante struck up a conversation with Mom and Dad—Jace having locked himself away in his room, having no place important to go himself—Lannette drew me apart.
“So what’s happening with you and Irvy? Jarrett told me you couldn’t come with them since you weren’t a boy and they were talking cars, but I can’t believe Irvy’d exclude you in something like this! I mean—Jarrett’s four—and you raced those cars too!”
“Yeah, I know.” I hunched a shoulder sadly. “What could I do? He promised Jarrett he’d take him, and then he shows up in the Porsche! I think he’d like to be like Jace and just hole up for the rest of his life. Just . . . forget it all right now.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know how to bring it up.”
“Just the way you used to,” she recommended. “Open your face and blurt! You’ve got a right to know what’s going on with him. You were supposed to be married to him by now! You let him walk away at the funeral and you never said a thing to him about it later at the reception. You just tried to pretend everything was the same. Might’ve fooled some—but not everyone!”
“I could drag him into the bathroom and discuss it!”
She flushed but laughed. “Hey, whatever it takes!”
She and Dante stayed for a while but then left to see a movie. I suppose I could’ve gone with them but three is such an awkward lonely number.
Around nine-thirty, the Porsche rolled into the driveway. I curbed the impulse to dash outside to greet them—at least, that is, after I reached the kitchen. Then I strolled, nonchalantly, out the door. Hoped I’d get a chance to talk privately with him before we joined my family in a game of Yahtzee. Which Jarrett had much earlier informed us was the plan when he and Irvy got back from getting his car.
My little brother was out of the Porsche in a flash to greet me. “Uncle Mitch said that if Irby wants me to hab the new car, it’s all mine! And I don’t gotta be all big tomorrow eider!” With that, he dashed inside to go tell this news to all the buddies.
The fact that Irvy had made these arrangements for a four-year-old just made me burst with renewed love for him. The moonlight made him seem even taller somehow, made his golden curls appear to be haloed in silver, which gave a romantic illusion to the moment. I wanted to kiss him out here in it. In the end, however, I simply informed him, “You’re on a plane with God now you’ve done this for him, you know. Was sweet of you.”
He wouldn’t accept the tribute. “Your parents have often gone out of their way for me. So have your aunt and uncle. Why shouldn’t I return the favor if I can?”
“Not many four-year-olds can boast of their own Porsche!”
He smiled, and my heart yearned for the way things used to be. “He’s a good kid, Joleigh. It wasn’t difficult to sway your uncle—he felt that I owned the Porsche anyway since I’d paid for it for Matt. But the car’s not just Jarrett’s—it’s yours too. As well as the Beetle and the Subaru. Don’t crack them up before he gets a chance to drive ‘em!”
I stared up at him, stunned. “Mine? You bought . . . but . . .”
“Did you think you’d have to give up your interest just because Matt is gone?”
“Well . . . yeah. Mom wants me to be a girl. And . . . the cars weren’t mine.”
“They are now, and she’ll come around. You’re the best one to teach Jarrett everything he needs to know. Matt didn’t hold back anything when he instructed you. What he knew, you know. You aced the course at the school yourself. Jarrett’s thrilled with the arrangement—whatever he actually understands of it. He’s talking about going to rally school now. I believe he thinks it comes before kindergarten!”
“I’m sure he does! You know what The Club is going to say when they find this out?”
“Yeah! Isn’t it great?”
I laughed. “Perfect! Thanks, Irvy. I appreciate this.” Oh, in the worst way I wanted to fling myself into his arms and kiss him! Wrapping my arms around myself, I blurted instead, “So . . . what about your interests now?”
“Mine?” More a statement than a question. The reserve shadowed his eyes and touched his tone with a certain coolness. The lighter moments were banished.
“Yeah. Set me straight here! Have I dropped out of your top one hundred?” I hadn’t meant to phrase it quite like that; it just slipped on out.
Must’ve hit a nerve. “You know you’ve been further up the line than that,” he told me after a slight pause. “But—this is hitting me in a way I never expected it would, Joleigh. I wish I could explain it—or how to . . . but I—I need some time.”
“Yeah? How much time? We were supposed to be married now! I had this idea—I thought we could get married on my parents’ anniversary. Everyone would already be there, and it’s only—”
“Ah, Joleigh . . . that’s really not a good idea. Let’s just have a party for them and let that day be theirs.”
All right, I’d figured it was too crazy and selfish a plan myself. But I was hoping he wouldn’t mind that. So while it was a small comfort that he’d said, “Let’s just have the party. . .” instead of “You just have . . .” I wanted some real assurance I wasn’t a page in his ancient history book. Wanted to hear we were yet a couple ourselves. An assurance our marriage would go forward—soon!
Which prompted me to challenge, “Fine! Tell me our license isn’t going to expire before we even discuss our day!”
By the look in his eyes, it was evident he hadn’t a clue how to answer me. Which was sad. The license was valid for another couple of months. He needed more time than that?
Bewildered and feeling pretty much like old Fritz had slammed me in the gut, I dared to reach out and touch him. “Why does it have to change just because Matt’s gone? Why can’t we help each other through this? Why’re you backing off? Why’s Jace? At the wake—”
I stopped, suddenly, recollecting what he’d said to me at the wake. How he’d stayed pretty much with Jace until Tippy persuaded him over. It’d already started changing between us, and I hadn’t recognized it. Just had thought it was grief and that kind of thing. I mean, who could miss it in Jace’s behavior because it was so obvious. But still, he’d treated everyone in the same angry manner—except Jarrett and Irvy. Irvy’d been—well—like his mother . . . sort of.
A horrible notion swept over me, and I vented it. “This feels a whole lot like good bye! That why you’re doing this for Jarrett and me? Because you think it’ll hurt less?”
“It’s not like that, Joleigh.”
“No? You haven’t acted like you wanted to be around me since before we buried Matt! Maybe you haven’t noticed but we’re all hurting here! Just because you don’t need me to hold you doesn’t mean I don’t need that from you! I’ll always need it from you!”
The romantic quality of the moonlight faded away . . . showing me something else totally unexpected.
How utterly unapproachable he appeared . . . untouchable!
The moonlight illusion and the chill I detected in his manner curbed my desire to be in his embrace. When he didn’t reply to that, I wrapped my arms about myself once again, suddenly needing him to leave—right now—so he’d never see my heart bleed.
But no, he moved a step closer, and he cupped my face in his hand, caught my tears on his fingertips. For a second I thought he’d kiss me. His hand dropped away, and with just a look I think was regret, he walked quickly to his car and left.
“Joleigh!” Mom stood on the back porch. “I thought he was coming in.”
I tried to compose myself, give the illusion nothing out of the ordinary had happened. “Ah, no. He—had to get back.”
Did a bad job of it. She wasn’t fooled, and she came off the porch to wrap an arm about me, pull me into a hug, holding me close like I was Jarrett’s age again.
“I don’t know what to do, Mom. He—he says he needs some time! Why? We’re engaged? Supposed to have been married by now! Am I supposed to never call him? What if he never calls me?”
“Send him cards. Write him letters—scent them with the cologne you wore when you went out with him. Send him flowers. It works!”
I looked up at that. Mom smiled at my skeptical frown, and held up her left hand. Her wedding band caught the shimmer of a moon beam. “Don’t give up yet, Joleigh. When he’s figured out that there is life after Matt, he’ll be back. Losing Matt has been like losing a brother to him, he’ll need time to adjust just as Jace will. I doubt he’ll be able to stay away forever.”
“Mom—a week is forever to me! Two days! I don’t want to lose him, too!”
“Then, don’t!” She steered me toward the house. “Come on. I’ve got these really cool cards I want to show you!”
Get the rest of the story right here!!