I took a deep breath of his scent, searching my heart. Was I okay? Sad, yes. Heartbroken for how sorrowful my mother must have been. Chagrined by her life had gone from a cheerful, happy existence to a black and grey shroud of depression. But okay? "I think so."
"It's good to know that she didn't walk away from us." I told Porters shirt front. "And horr-" my voice broke, and I took a big gulp. "Horrible to know that she couldn't."
He murmured something and brushed my lips with his. Dizzy, I tightened my grip around his neck and sighed.
"What are you going to do about Maud?"
"I don't know yet. I know things can never be the same between us. God, Grand Dad will never forgive her. No matter what happens between she and I, her life will never be the same."
"Will she tell him?"
He was really so, so kind. Did it make me a bad person that I wanted to lose myself in him and forget for a little while what had happened today? Tempted, I stared up at him and sighed.
He caught my look and his lips twitched. "Later, Katie. Right now I think you might need a little diversion. Come with me."
Taking my hand, he led me out to the disreputable old truck. "We," he said, smiling a bit, "are going for a drive. There is to be no talk about what happened. We'll come home in a few hours and talk it to death, I promise. But not now. Right now we need fresh air and something else to think about."
Although I thought it was a crazy idea, I was charmed.
Porter kept it light and casual as he turned the truck toward the hills that fringed the area. He pointed out squirrels and cows in a field and kids with fishing poles, all heading home for their suppers. He patted Wood when the hound insisted on laying his head in Porters' lap. It wasnt hard to follow his cheery statements with nonsensical replies until a swell of misery overcame me and I stared into my lap, ignoring his banter. I thought I was hiding my big fat treacherous tears well, but he slowed and stopped on a hill and reached out to catch one on his fingertips.
"Oh, Kate. I'm so sorry."
I was undone.
He tugged me closer, undoing my seat belt and folding me against his heart. I snuffled and snorted and wept against him until I reached a point where I felt marginally better, and then he kissed me long and deep and pulled me out of the truck to stand beside him.
"Look at the sky."
It was a fantastic display of pink and orange, shading down to grey. Here and there, tiny points of light showed through as the first stars peered out. In the valley below us, porchlights and streetlights were beginning to come on. It was a magical and comforting scene, and I sucked in a breath, sadness forgotten for a moment.
Porter took my hand, stroking my fingertips. "I know you're sad and sick and angry right now. But look, Katie. Look at the town, and look at the sky. Can't you feel your mother's peace? Look at the stars. She's with you, Katie. Every day. She always has been."
Looking out over the display, I felt something hiccup in my chest. Something creaked, like an old rusty door cracking open, and suddenly I knew...Porter was right.
Mama had never left me.
The next day was hard. The family was all there, Grand Dad looking older and sadder than I had ever seen him. Ford hugged me for a long time, his usual smile gone, all bonhomnie absent.
I drank a lot of tea with Clay, and listened: to the birds, the bonging of the grandfather clock on the mantel, Maud's explanations interspersed with her noisy sobs, Wood's tail swishing across the floor, Grand-Dad's voice, sore with unbelieving and despair, ringing through the closed parlour door.
It was a long, turbulant day. At one point Grand-Dad asked me to take him down through the gardens to the riverside. I nodded and walked beside him, matching his heavy step.
He paused at the lower field, smiling wistfully at a grove of peach trees. "Your Mama," he said, "started those trees with pits from peaches she brought from my house. She said they were the sweetest things she'd ever tasted."
He sighed, lost in the past. "You have her eyes, Katie-girl. And her laugh. She was always laughing."
At the bank, he stopped just before the dock. "So. It was here, then."
I nodded over the lump in my throat, missing the memory of Mama but more touched and sad for my Grandfather's breaking heart. He looked greyer and tired beyond compare.
He stepped out and looked at the rushing water, lost in thought. When he spoke it was with a heavy cadence.
"Will you leave me for a bit? I need to think."
I nodded again, stretching up to kiss his cheek. 'I love you, Grand-Dad.'
I wandered through the gardens past the clump of peach trees, topped the rise, and saw my house. I was taken aback suddenly by how much I loved this place. Everything -the curtains, the trees, the windows, the way the porch beckoned, the gingerbread of the house itself - created a picture that made me heart swell in my chest. This.....this was home now.
What would happen now? The summer was almost over. My life in Rowland waited. The house was finished - would Grand-Dad sell it now? It held no ghosts for me, but how could he bear to know that his daughter had died there near the spot his granddaughter was having her morning coffee?
And what about Porter? Did the summers' end spell the end of us?