Chapter 21: Chapter 21

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 72

Blades of yellowed light sliced through the darkness as early dawn streaked across the Eastern sky. Kate's sixty-eight Chevy Sidestep sluggishly made its way up the pothole-laden road. The truck's whining and rumbling broke through the peace and serenity of the fading night. Once it successfully made the climb it was pulled to the side and the engine cut returning silence to the air. Slowly the two occupants emerged. They stood briefly along the fringe of the concrete and grass observing what stretched out beyond them.

An ocean breeze wrapped it way up the grassy hill of the pristine cemetery. Among the typically maintained graves were twin headstones that stood prouder and stronger against the neglect of time. They were the only pair that had more detailed care taken to them. The grass was leveled along the border of the markers and over the top of where the caskets of the two beloveds rested. No weeds grew within two feet of them and Katelynn made sure of that. The spot had been chosen with a purpose. The peak of the sloping hillside faced the rolling ocean in the near distance. It was a perfect view of the always-impressive setting sun.

Kate now stood as she had every day for the past year, but found herself apologizing for her late arrival and soon to be shortened visit. As she spoke she spun two gold bars in her palm. The early morning sun that slanted its way through the trees caught itself on the polished metal and glistened brightly. She studied them, but it felt empty. The objects had at one time meant something. Something important. Something she protected as she protected those in the city. Now it was just a cruel reminder of what was lost and taken from her. With one last look at her past life, she knelt down and used her hand to dig a hole between the two graves. She created a small mound over it with the pile of upturned dirt and grass she had made. After wiping the debris onto her pant leg she kissed her hand and pressed it against the larger of the headstones. Slowly she ran her finger over the etched stone and took in each letter that spelled out the name Richard Quinn. Below it was the symbol of the fire company he had dedicated himself to. Kate had thought that she had experienced the worst life had to offer the day he didn't emerge from the roaring flames that had persistently nipped at his heels. A fire that was set by the orders of Sloane though no one wanted to cross the man to prove it. She tried and found herself in a worse state.

She closed her eyes and imagined his smiling face and the glint that sparkled in his light brown eyes when he played with his son. Her heart ached as it had the day she received the call. It hadn't stopped there and she soon realized she was destined to live with a tortured heart.

"You said we would always be okay because we had each other. We're broken and lost, so how can it ever be okay?"

It was the same question she asked every day but never expected an answer. It was the only way she knew to transfer her pain back to him. She opened her eyes and ran her hand along the top of the polished stone. She let her arm fall as it reached the edge and her attention turned to his smaller neighbor. She read his name and her heart once again constricted in the relentless ache of sadness that consumed her. People had told her that over time it would get easier, that days would bring healing. The idea must have sounded reasonable or else why would they try to convince her it was true? In practice, it was not even possible. The words came from people who had no clue of the chasm created by the loss this great. She instinctively tucked the pain to the far reaches of her mind, but the hollow agony hovered on the surface always threatening to remind her what had been stripped away.

Slowly she leaned in and kissed the top of the stone as she would his forehead before bed every night. 

"See you in the sunshine, Tyler." Her words wavered as she fought the knot that threatened to choke her. 

She swiped at the tears, but let them fall. She allowed those moments to be the only time her true emotions were revealed. Emotions that made her feel weak and vulnerable. Feelings she vowed no one would ever see from her again. She’d force herself to swallow her pain.

As Kate rose another crisp breeze rustled through the thin blanket of dead leaves at her feet. She plunged her hands into the pocket of her coat in response to the chill that ran down her spine. A sudden urge to leave overtook her and she found herself looking around for her companion. He always spent the time there exploring the grounds for new smells or squirrels to chase. She found him nosing around the edge of the cemetery and became startled to see him allowing a stranger to approach. As the man put his hand out to reach for him Kate hastily whistled for his return. The large dog reacted immediately to the call. His ears perked up and at the same time, both he and the man's head turned her way. The stranger smoothed out his long coat and squared his body in her direction. Kate squinted to try and see if he was someone recognizable, but the morning sun left him in shadows. All she could make out was that he was tall and well built. There was an air of familiarity to him, but she had no desire to find out who he was. Her gut told her to leave, and she had learned over time that her gut was one of the few things she could trust. He didn't move and Kate straightened her back to stand taller as she tried to get a better look at him. Her focus was pulled away when the bulky gray dog nuzzled up next to her. His tail whacked her leg as it happily wagged side-to-side and he patiently waited for her next command.

"Haven't I told you not to talk to strangers, Rontu?" she scolded as she ran her fingers through his thick fur. When she looked back up the man was gone.

Unease rippled through her as she searched the surrounding area for him, but he had seemingly vanished. She shook off the discomfort and headed back to her truck. Reaching the lone vehicle she once again felt eyes on her. She searched the vacant cemetery and the bordering trees for someone, but nothing revealed itself. She felt the cool rush of panic begin to rise, but she held herself calm as she pried the old door open. Patting the seat she called the dog up. He happily obliged and settled comfortably across the middle and passenger side of the bench seat. With one last look around Kate hopped in and fired up the engine at the same time as she closed the door.

The man's appearance kept her mind occupied as she drove through the city of Ridgemont. She had immediately felt threatened by his presence but didn't know if it was just her paranoia. She thought back, but in the time she visited the cemetery scarcely anyone had crossed the fence line so early, so why now? The man was a valid concern and she couldn't ignore it. She tried to shake off the doubt, but a feeling that there was something bigger at hand nagged at her.

Moving outside the city lines, Kate drove over the dunes that separated the city from the sea. Her mind still lingered on the events at the cemetery as she pulled into a spot that faced the water and parked. She sat with the engine running and let her thoughts fade as she studied the undulating blanket of blue in front of her. The tide was in and the large waves pounded the beach. 

She turned the key and let the engine die to listen to their rhythmic crashing. With it, she closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath. She could always count on the natural beat to calm her frayed nerves. She somehow found peace in their violent assault along the shore. The panting and foul breath of her canine passenger brought Kate's mind back around. His hot and sticky tongue hovered impatiently in front of her face. Getting the hint she threw her weight into the door as she pulled the handle to open it. She didn't bother locking the truck and the two strolled towards the pier. Halfway to the end she just stopped and collapsed on the nearest bench and stared mindlessly at the swells. One by one they'd rise up and curl within. The result was a tumultuous wash that echoed inside her.

In the time after Kate recovered, there were days of lost time that seemed to stretch into months. Time became an absent entity. Nothing made sense anymore. She survived something no one had expected her to and was faced with the reality that maybe she had not wanted to. All that remained was the pain and tormented nightmares that pounded into her in a patchwork of bits and pieces. At times she began to believe the lies and cover-up. Had her mind really played tricks on her? No matter what others tried to convince her of, she'd never forgot the light eyes staring down at her. They were empty eyes, that echoed in his cold calculated voice. One that hummed a promise of her death. A death that never came, but one she begged for after feeling the last beat of Tyler's heart fade.

Rontu's sharp bark had her jumping but settled when she saw it was out of excitement and not a warning. He galloped towards an incoming dog that matched his gate and enthusiasm. Kate breathed out and watched the two friends interact. It wasn't long before the gold and grey fur were intertwined and rolling in the sand. She didn't look beyond them to acknowledge the woman strolling towards her. It wasn't until she was speaking that Kate faced her.

"For not hiding, you're hard to find," Hazel stated, and sat at the edge of the bench. She kept a respectable distance but her energy spoke to her wanting to engage closer.

Her kind and sincere face eased Kate, but it was hard to talk, accept, or even be around anyone. "I keep trying to leave but I can't seem to get far for long."

Hazel let them sit in silence for a moment and watched Rontu and her Golden Retriever, Callie, chase seagulls along the surf.

"You keep Richard's truck in good condition."

Kate looked over to where she had parked. "We'd spend weekends working on cars, and that old thing is all I have left of him."

"Where are you staying?"

"Here and there."

"You know you always have a place with me."

"I know, thank you, and thank you for taking such good care of Rontu."

Another stretch of strained quiet extended until Hazel leaned closer to Kate to capture her eye. "Have you spoken to Alex?"

Kate looked away and out to the horizon. She felt that she had been thrown by the after-shock of it all. It became hard to believe anything and she stopped asking the question when the answers never seemed to change. Alex's accident was the final blow. She couldn't fight when the monster wasn't playing fair. And, now there she was in an abyss of unanswered questions and a disinterest to re-engage in the world around her. She had reluctantly accepted that it was easier to go at it alone instead of facing anything or anyone.

"Hey, Earth to Kate."

Kate blinked back and shook her head. "I don't see the point."

"Closure, maybe."

"Closure," Kate repeated with a hint of sarcasm. Even the idea of meeting with Alex had her doubts rolling. There was no closure or escape.

"You two are too damn stubborn. You both have to face this to beat it. She's too guilt-stricken to talk to you and you-"

"And me what?"

"Angry."

"I'm not angry at her."

"Maybe not directly, but you're angry and it's a wall that blocks you. You've lost so much, and you think her accident is your fault. Distance won't keep her safe, it doesn't work like that."

Kate didn't respond. There was truth to her words, but she had a right to be angry and didn't see an end in sight to her new reality.

Hazel pointed out to the sand. "See that lifeguard tower?" With Kate's nod of recognition, she continued, "That's Alex's spot."

"I don't understand."

"You two are so close, yet so far away."

"Okay, I get what you're saying and doing. I appreciate it. I appreciate you, but it's not a fix with a hug and a beer."

"Fine, let's start small. Why don't we go get something to eat, really reconnect, I miss you."

I miss me too, Kate thought, she missed everything that had been when it was all good, but she never was going to be the person anyone remembered. Her mind kept her in that time and space when Tyler was ripped from her. She felt paralyzed and consumed by anger and guilt.

"I don't know."

"Ugh!" Anger flared in Hazel’s voice. "I could just slap you!"

"Hazel?" Kate was genuinely surprised by her reaction as she shot up and stood over her.

"Look, I'm not asking you to pretend you're even okay. There is one thing in this shit storm that is a step in the right direction and that you and Alex need to be okay. You both have guilt and pain but there's too much history to just toss to the side."

Kate was shocked at the intensity of Hazel's delivery. She was always honest but had a gentle way of delivering thoughts and feelings. She had jumped to a new level. Kate reached out and grabbed her hand. 

Hazel settled and squeezed back. "Please."

"Okay, but let's start with us," Kate whispered.

“Lunch then?” Hazel asked and smiled brightly pointing down the strand. "A nice cozy bar isn't far from here, just a mile down. They have an amazing burger.”

"Okay."

"I have to take Callie home. If you get there before me will you get me a double of Dos Lunas Grand?"

Kate turned in slight shock at the request. "You don't drink."

"Times change." Hazel stood and whistled for Callie. The Golden responded immediately and the two dogs sprinted back to the pier. Hazel greeted Rontu first giving him a good rub before she called for her dog and took her leave. Kate watched her, she wanted to say more, to do more, but she was anchored in her turmoil. Maybe Hazel was the one that would pull her out. She had always been there. Maybe it was time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Submitted: October 17, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Kathrynmp. All rights reserved.

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