Everyone dispersed to their afternoon pursuits, leaving Charles, Tina, and Johnny at one table to discuss livestock, Cody and Kelly at another.
“I don’t understand why we can’t get water out of that creek up the road,” said Kelly, doodling on a notepad while Cody alternated looking at his hands and out the big window.
“Too much shit dumped in it for too many years,” said Cody, not looking at her. “It might be okay, but we don’t have any way to test it. Besides lettin’ someone drink it for a few months and see if they get sick. You wanna try?”
“Okay, okay.” Kelly wrote the word CREEK on the notepad then scratched through it. “You got any ideas?”
Cody just sighed.
“Fine. Maybe we could dig a well?”
“Depends. We might have to go a few hundred feet down. Diggin’ that by hand would suck. And we’d hit rock instead of water, probably.”
“Whatever. So you’re saying any water we can reach is no good, and we can’t get to the good water?”
Cody’s voice got even flatter as he looked at the table, wrapping his hands around his neck. “A spring would probably be okay. If it’s not next to some toxic factory shit.”
“Okay, hope springs eternal.” Kelly laughed and tore the top page off the notepad, wrote SPRING on a fresh page. “So we need to find a spring. Preferably by spring.” She smirked and looked at Cody.
Cody finally looked at her, and Kelly wished he hadn’t. If looks could kill… “Cut the cute. Let’s just get this over with.”
“Look — I don’t really like this either, but I’m trying to make the best of it. It would help if you came up with some ideas instead of just sitting there and shooting down mine!”
“Yeah, I’m thinking! Fine, you got a spring. How do we get the water back here?”
“I don’t… hey! I know. We could build an aqueduct!”
“Why the hell would you think that’s a good idea?” Cody yelled across the table, standing and kicking his chair back.
“Let’s see you come up with anything better!” Kelly yelled, standing in her turn.
“Hey!” Charles called across from the table he shared with Tina and Johnny. “Keep it to a dull roar, okay?”
“Whose idea was it to put you two on this water project anyway?” Tina barked.
“Yours!” Kelly snapped, turning to glare at her parents. Cody crossed his arms and alternated glaring at Kelly and Tina.
“Jesus,” Tina said, shaking her head, “why don’t you two just get a damn room or something?”
Cody turned his glare back to Kelly, arms folded across his thin chest. “Yeah right,” he said. “Your place or mine?”
“Mine,” Kelly said, returning the glare. “The memories are probably too thick at your place.” She turned and left, not looking back; Cody threw his hands up and followed.
“Hey!” Tina called, they ignored her. “I didn’t mean for you to actually —” she stood; Charles put a hand on her arm. Johnny sat watching goggle-eyed.
“Let them go,” said Charles. “They have to work this out themselves.”
“Look. You know as well as I do, Cody is going to be leading this community when it’s time for us to have a leader. I don’t know if they’ll call him king, mayor, or what, but he’s been the one who makes things happen. Don’t you want our daughter to be the queen, or whatever? Besides, they’re not… I think there’s too much animosity for them to be horny teenagers right now. They need to work out their differences first.”
“On your head be it, then. Ever heard of angry sex?”
“I’ll take that responsibility.”
Kelly banged the door open and stormed into #202. Shady hopped down from a sunny window sill to greet her, took a reading of his owner’s current mood, and decided that hiding behind the sofa with Cheddar was the smart move. Cody was about three steps behind her; he slammed the door shut and followed her back to her bedroom.
Cody stood in the doorway as Kelly pulled off her jacket and threw it across the room. “You coming in or what?” she snarled.
“I don’t know. I might just stand right here for a minute, until I figure out what the hell you’re up to. This time.”
Kelly unzipped her fleece; it shortly joined the jacket in the corner. “What I’m up to? What does that mean?”
Cody face grew even more angry — a small part of Kelly thought that was some feat — and began yelling. “What does that mean? Shit! You’ve been doing nothing but pushing my damn buttons for God knows how long! What the fuck did I ever do to you?”
“It’s the only way I can ever get you to react, you asshole!” Kelly yelled back, wrapping her arms around herself. “You dug yourself a nice hole and pulled the dirt in over you! You might as well be dead, for all anyone can talk to you!”
“Why not? The only good thing I ever had — in my entire! fucking! life! was taken away from me by some asshole who wanted us all dead!” Cody pounded the doorframe for punctuation.
“And that’s what it always comes back to — poor little you! You act like you’re the only one in this entire subdivision who ever lost anyone! Well I got news for you — remember Tim losing his friend? He got over it! I had some great friends at school, not to mention a bunch of relatives — they’re all off driving now, and I got over it! Every single person here has lost people they cared about — people they loved — and you don’t see them doing the walking dead act!”
Cody crossed his arms. “Fuck you. You couldn’t even begin to understand… I’m surprised you didn’t drive off like your preppy friends.”
“I almost did.” Kelly shivered at the memory. “Must be nice, being so self-sufficient, not caring what other people think. Not needing anyone.”
“Yeah, well I found out I did need someone. And now… oh, fuck this shit.” He turned and walked out, picking up the pace as he got out of sight.
Cody ran down the hallway and dodged onto the stairs. He jogged downstairs, looked across the pool to the clubhouse, and shrugged. He turned and walked through the breezeway, out back. A low cairn stood waiting, like that damned truck outside the gate, but this he approached willingly — and if Kelly had looked out her window, she could have watched him.
He sat on the cairn and turned to read the inscription he’d placed just a couple weeks ago, brass letters laid into a pool of wet mortar:
B AUG 9 1993
D JAN 11 2012
B AUG 9 1993
D JAN 11 2012
He ran his fingers over the letters, then turned away and propped his arms on his knees and head on his hands. “Empty. All empty,” he muttered. “Nothing left.” Looking down, he saw something light against the rocks and dirt. He picked it up — their wedding picture, the one he’d laminated and slipped in between two of the stones. The winter winds must have dislodged it.
“Great.” He started to push the picture back into the rocks, but ended up just looking at her image. “Oh God, Sondra… what I would give to see you for real…” the tears began, as they had so often in the last month.
“I want to,” he sobbed. “But every morning, I wake up and I have to go through another day. Without you.”
Remember… throw away the leftovers.
“What? What does that mean? You’re not the leftovers!” Cody’s right arm tingled for a moment. “I can’t just — I love you —”
I love you too. But don’t —
“Don’t what? You never told me!”
Don’t push the world away. Don’t push away people who need you. Who want to love you.
He turned a defiant face to heaven. “Fuck the world! What did it ever give me that —”
“That’s just it! It gave you to me, then it took you away!”
Don’t push the world away. For my sake.
Cody shook his right arm, not noticing. “I love you, Sondra. I wish you could have been the one… damn.”
Live. Do it for me.
Cody shook his head, stood and looked around. “I thought you didn’t like her.”
Go. And all was quiet again except for don’t push the world away still echoing in his head.
“Is that what I’ve been doing?” He ran a loving finger across Sondra’s photographed face one last time, and tucked the picture back into the rocks. “God, I miss you. But if we’re gonna make it here, I guess I got to work with… people. I won’t forget, though.”
Kelly had her fleece and jacket back on, and was about to walk back to the Laurel Room, when she heard the knock.
“Cody,” she said, opening the door. “You coming in this time?”
“Yeah.” He stepped in, looking down. “Look, Kelly, I’m —”
“Cody, wait.” Kelly raised a hand. “I need to say something. I made a mistake, back at the beginning. I just didn’t… I wasn’t thinking. You… I… I couldn’t get my head around the idea that everything had changed. I thought you and I would — I had to get used to the idea. Then Sondra came, and it was like I’d thrown my chance away. Oh God, Cody, you…” her voice caught, “Oh God, you’re gonna hate me even more now, but sometimes I wished she would die — or had never come — because she took you away. And now… oh God, I feel so bad sometimes, I feel like it’s my fault she got killed — I’m so sorry —” she shuddered then broke into long sobs, right there in front of Cody and not caring anymore.
Cody stood for a moment, uncertain, then reached over and patted her shoulder. She leaned into his chest, still sobbing. “Hey,” he said over her head. “It wasn’t your fault. I’m sorry too… I didn’t believe it, but Sondra thought you… ah, crap.” He held her and let her cry, and found he still had a few tears of his own.
Shady slipped out of his hiding place and approached the two carefully, then stretched up Cody’s leg. “Hey cat,” he said, and Shady climbed his leg. He plucked the cat off his pants and set him on his shoulder. “Yeah… I guess the war’s over.” Shady purred.