“I need to know something,” Cody told Patterson as they shoveled, filling in Sondra’s grave. Her final resting place was in the vacant lot behind the townhouses; Cody thought she would have wanted to be close to the place she’d called their home. He also insisted on helping with the burial, although he had paused for a long last look at the freezer before it disappeared under the clay.
“What?” Patterson was certain what — he’d heard what Cody was about to say many times over the years — but knew better than to say so.
Cody didn’t look up. “You talk all the time about your god and how he loves us,” he said, pushing a big lump of dirt in. “If he really loves us, why did he let Sondra get killed? Why not me instead?”
Patterson paused for a moment. “I’m just a man, Cody,” he said at last. “I don’t know His plan, or how this all fits into it. But I do know He loves us, enough to let us go our own ways and even mess up His plans from time to time. And he even loved the men who came at us, even if they’d been led astray by false teaching.”
Cody pushed his shovel into the dirt, then stopped and looked at Patterson for the first time. “Huh. Those last two, talking to each other… they said the same thing. ‘False teaching. Led astray’.”
“Too bad — if they’d lived, perhaps they would have repented.”
“Nuh-uh. Next thing, they were planning to slip in and wipe us out. I heard ’em.” Cody give the preacher a defiant look.
“You’re right, of course. I knew of Carlton Worleigh — he’d written his name inside the cover of the Bible you brought me — and I knew he was still abroad in the land, before the Truckalypse. But his…” Patterson shook his head. “His margin notes were bad enough, but he had gone so far to strike through those passages that didn’t support his twisted beliefs. I don’t use the word desecration often, but I can’t think of a better word to describe what he did to that beautiful old book.”
“What are you gonna do with it?” Cody looked genuinely curious.
“I’ll burn it, with prayer and fasting. It’s the best thing, I think. And by the way, you did what you thought was the best thing at the time with those two men as well. You avenged Sondra, and you may well have saved some more lives. I won’t judge the rightness or wrongness of that, it’s done and over. But I want to go back to the other thing you said: why not you instead?” He gestured at the grave, now half-filled. “If you could change places, would you want Sondra to feel what you’re feeling now? She would have, you know.”
Cody scooped up a shovel-full of dirt, took a deep shuddering breath, and threw it in. “No. But better that than her…” he looked down. “She would have gotten over me, sooner or later.”
“And you won’t? What are you going to do? Do you know what Sondra would want you to do?”
Cody stabbed his spade into the dirt pile with a chunk, then crossed his arms to glare at Patterson. A gust of wind blew his hair over his eyes, and he made no attempt to push it away. At last he gave a long sigh and shook the hair away from his face. “She’d want me to get over it too, I guess. I don’t know how the hell I’m supposed to do that, though.”
“Neither do I, Cody. But you’re making the right start. You were there for her at the end, you spoke at her funeral. And you’re here to make sure she’s laid to rest properly. Whatever happens, you won’t regret doing these things.
“Listen a minute,” Patterson continued; Cody paused, one hand on the shovel. “Delphinia… sees things, sometimes. She has a gift, I think, and I fear it may have driven her mad. She calls you ‘Father of Nations,’ and says you’re destined to be a legend —”
“Some father, lettin’ the mother die before she could have our kids.”
“— but legends are about nothing more than ordinary people who stepped up and did what had to be done.”
Cody shook his head and returned to shoveling, saying nothing for a long time. Patterson worked alongside, waiting for him to finish thinking. Finally, “I never signed up for this legend crap. All I ever wanted was to be me.”
“But if you’re to be a legend, you are signed up. For as long as you want to be yourself.”
Cody shoveled up the last of the dirt and poured it on the grave, now a low mound. “Yeah? So it comes back to the same question: what the hell do I do now?” He patted the mound with the flat of his shovel. “I guess first thing is to get some rocks from that stone place across the freeway and make some kind of monument. Some cement, if it ain’t all gone hard by now.”
“Continue to honor her memory, Cody. But don’t let it turn into an obsession. I’ll help you lay the stones, if you wish. Just let me know.”