Clay's mouth hung open. He sounded dazed and horrified. "You what?"
Porter's hand was still cold in mine, but his voice was clear and resolute. "I heard you, Dad. I heard you tell Mom to get the shovel. Now why did you do that?"
Clay looked at me, and I shivered. He still looked like the kindly man who had smoothed my transition here and helped me in so many ways, but was he? Was he my friend? Or had he hurt or (my mind shied away from completing that thought) done something to my mother?And if he had, how could I ever trust my instincts again? Suddenly the thought of knowing my mothers' fate wasn't as appealing as it had been.
But Clay was still speaking, his hands tight on the mug before him on the table, his eyes cast down, his voice far away.
"I think", he said, picking up the salt shaker and moving it around restlessly, " that I loved Alice from the very first time I saw her." He smiled across at me. "Not that she paid me any mind, though. She was always someone else's girl. I used to stare at the back of her hat in church and wish that just once she'd turn around and beam one of those wonderful haunting smiles towards me.But I don't think she ever really saw me.I was just the kid from down the street."
His grin faded. "She fell in love and married and had your brother the same year I married Grace. Gracie was a beautiful, kind woman - you have her eyes, son - who knew she wasn't the love of my life. I think, though, that she never knew who was. I tried to spare her that. We were happy."
Porter stirred. "I know Mom loved you, Dad. What happened that night?"
Shaking his head, Clay looked back into the years. "I'd spoken to Alice a few days before - we'd talked about her new baby girl and how happy she was - and then the river began to rise, and everyone's attention turned to filling sandbags and keeping the water out of the town. Your father was looking for your Mama, and he'd asked me to keep an eye out for her while I was around town." He sighed. "They....disagreed sometimes, Katherine. Your Mama spent some nights at Minna's house. By the time the waters weren't such a threat anymore, Alice was nowhere to be found."
"Porter" he said gently, "you don't really think I....." He broke off and then went on, his voice stronger."I looked for her every day. I wanted her to come home."
I could barely see through the tears in my eyes. He was telling the truth, anyone could see that. He'd loved and lost and he'd just laid his entire soul bare, and I believed him.
Porter stretched his arm out. "Dad. I'm sorry."
"But help us. Who else could it be?"