Tuesday, February 7, 2012
“You leave him alone!” Caitlin’s shout rang across the Laurel Room. Everyone turned to see the little redhead pushing up against Kelly, fists balled up at her chin, her face as red as her hair. “Why are you so mean all the time?” Behind her, Cody sat hunched over himself. He put his palms to his temples and sighed.
“Caitlin!” Jennifer rushed to the scene, Tim and Sara right behind. “What’s going on!”
“You just stop!” Caitlin hissed at Kelly. “I— I—” Tears finally broke through as Jennifer pulled her away.
“Okay, okay,” said Kelly, not sure if anyone heard, and stalked away.
“What was that about, Caitlin?” Jennifer asked through Caitlin’s sobs.
“It’s my fault.” Cody sighed again and turned to face them. Tim watched all three of them as best he could, while Sara reached and caressed Cody’s shoulder.
“What?” Jennifer gave Cody a dubious look.
“Kelly. She’s always runnin’ her yap at me. I just try to ignore it. Damn if I’m gonna give her any reaction. I guess Caitlin thought I needed defending.” He gave Caitlin as genuine a smile as anyone had seen since the day of the gunfight. “Hey. Just ignore her, okay? That’s what I do, ’cause she’s lookin’ for a reaction. But thanks. Thanks for caring.” Caitlin nodded. “You still workin’ on your moves?” She nodded again. “Good. We got class tomorrow.”
Caitlin gave him a thin smile and let Jennifer lead her away. Once they got some distance, Cody looked down and shook his head.
“You gonna be okay?” Tim asked him.
“Yeah. I guess. As okay as I’m ever gonna get.” He stood, still looking down. “I need a project, I guess. Somethin’ to do where I don’t have to think about stuff.”
“There’s a lot of things going on,” said Sara. “Jason’s trying to find more seeds for our gardens, Johnny and Max are clearing up all the downfall from the ice storm outside, there’s the patrols…”
“Yeah, and I help with all of that.” Cody stuck his hands in his pockets. “It ain’t enough. I still got too much time to think.”
“I’m sorry, Jenn-mom,” said Caitlin, looking at Jennifer’s feet. “But Kelly’s just so mean to Cody. She’s jealous because he married Sondra, and I —” she shook her head.
Caitlin grimaced and spoke in a rush. “I was jealous too, but I’m not mean to him like that.”
“I know,” Jennifer said, with an inward sigh. “But Cody’s right about this. It’s best to ignore it. He’s got a lot of stuff to work through with losing Sondra, and you don’t want him worrying about you too, do you?”
“Good.” Jennifer paused for a moment, considering. “You know Cody’s too old for you, right?”
Caitlin sighed. “I know. But that doesn’t mean I can’t care what happens to him!”
Again, Jennifer paused for a moment. “You’re right, Caitlin,” she said at last. “We all have to care about him. But don’t let caring about him get in the way — no, that’s not right. Caring and… infatuation. They’re two different things. Okay?”
Caitlin shrugged. “I guess.”
“What is your problem?” Tina asked from Kelly’s bedroom door.
“With Cody! What the hell are you trying to do, make him commit suicide? Even a ten year old girl can see it!”
“Caitlin has the world’s biggest crush on him, Mom.”
“That doesn’t matter! What matters is that you’ve been doing the equivalent of picking at an open sore, ever since Sondra’s funeral! You need to just back off, young lady.”
“Fine. I won’t say a word to him from now on. Satisfied?” Kelly turned and glared at her mother, her robe tangled up in her crossed arms.
“If you can’t be civil, anyway, that might be for the best. I hope this matter is closed; I’m sure Ben is wondering what’s going on down here. Good night.” Tina stalked away.
Kelly huffed, shook out the robe, and wrapped it around herself before undressing. From the living room, she could hear low voices, Mom probably telling Ben that they had a “discussion” and it wasn’t anything to worry about. She didn’t care. This evening had been one long embarrassment: a girl half her size had come at her and backed her down, everyone asking what was going on, then Mom having to come in and give her two cents. Dad would probably want to talk about it tomorrow, so it wasn’t over yet.
She slipped on her flannel jammies, still under the robe, and pulled on her thick sleeping socks and house shoes before ducking into the bathroom. At least she’d learned how to keep exposed skin to a minimum; guys were lucky that way. She returned to the bedroom and burrowed into the nest of blankets and comforters on her bed, pulled her book out from under the pillow, cranked her flashlight. The nest would warm up soon enough, then she could ditch the robe. Ben had it easy; the living room was the warmest place in the house as long as he woke up in the night to throw a few more sticks in the fireplace, and he was pretty good about that.
She tried to think. What was it that set Caitlin off? She honestly couldn’t remember what she’d said — probably just the usual smack talk, nothing to get so crazy about. Kelly was convinced she wasn’t in the wrong — didn’t anyone else see what Cody was doing to himself? He might not kill himself like Mom thought, but he might as well be dead already, the way he just lived in his own shell.
And now she’d cut herself off. How could she help him now?