The next few days ran together. Occasionally Howard would ask her questions, but mostly he and Connie handled the plans by themselves. Try as they might, they were unable to find relatives closer than third cousins who lived in Colorado. They were a family who knew all they had was each other. It was something they had learned to accept. They all leaned on each other in hard times.
Lisa came home from the hospital the day before the funeral and Connie insisted on staying with her for a while. Other than the fact that she and Howard had already disrupted their lives enough for her, it was comforting to have her there. As she stared at the caskets she knew she should feel something – should cry. And yet the numbness hung over her like a thick fog. Through it she heard the mumbling of the reverend, but not the words. Len and Howard took turns at her side throughout the funeral and at graveside. Together they led her away. They watched her with matching troubled expressions, asking the same questions and getting the same answer. It was so surreal that it was almost mundane.
Connie and Howard talked to the school, making arrangements for graduation. Their efforts relieved her of concern about the ceremony. The diploma was given to her in the privacy of the principle’s office.
Connie had moved into the house for a while. Her presence was reassuring but she was driving extra miles to work every day. Lisa got up every morning and fixed breakfast. After the dishes were done and the beds made, she usually wandered around the house or sat in the yard, soaking up sun. Twice Len came to visit and Howard was there every night. Once someone from church came by to see if she needed help. They hadn’t seen her in church for a while and they were worried about her.
Gradually the numbness gave way to pain. The antidepressants didn’t help that much, but maybe they were responsible for the fact that she had not lost control yet.
Lisa was making the beds one morning and Connie was in the bathroom brushing her teeth.
“You know,” Lisa said, “you don’t need to stay here and take care of me any longer. I can take care of myself.”
Connie looked at her in the mirror. “You’re not ready yet,” she said around a mouth full of white foam. “You haven’t even cried yet.”
“I’m as ready as I’m ever going to get,” Lisa responded without emotion. “And what does crying help? It won’t bring them back.”
Connie rinsed her mouth and put her toothbrush up before she responded. She came to the doorway. “I like being here with you,” she insisted. “I could be a room mate – help you with the bills and pay rent.”
“I don’t need help with the bills. Thanks to the insurance, there aren’t any.”
“But you have to eat. That costs money – and gas . . .”
“I don’t eat much – or go any place.”
“That’s just it. You don’t do anything but sit around and stare. You answer me, but you don’t hear me.”
Lisa sighed. “I’m sorry I’ve been such a poor companion. As for sitting around doing nothing, I’m going to do something about that.”
“What?” Connie’s tone was pensive.
“I’m going back to the old place in the mountains.”
“Well,” Connie hesitated. “Maybe a vacation would be good right now, but don’t go back there. It will only make you feel worse.”
Lisa shrugged. Having everyone run her life was getting old. Maybe that was a good sign. “I don’t think so.”
“OK, if you have to go, take someone with you. I’ll take off work and . . .”
“Thanks,” Lisa said as she pulled the bedspread over the pillow. “But you haven’t been working there all that long.”
“Ask Len to go with you.”
Lisa swung around and stared at Connie. “Len? We barely know each other. And he’d have to leave work too.” She eyed Connie suspiciously. “Or do you think he’d consider it part of his job to watch me?”
Connie smiled. “I know you’ve been preoccupied, but everyone else has noticed his interest in you.”
Lisa rolled her eyes. “I don’t need a boyfriend. I’m not very good at that anyway.”
“Allen was no good. You must know that by now.”
“I don’t know that, but it doesn’t matter. I should have known.”
“Maybe Howard . . .”
“No.” Lisa interrupted. “I’ve taken up enough of his time.”
“He doesn’t think so.”
Lisa sighed. “I have a cell phone.”
“Oh great. If someone tries to attack you, just point it at them.”
“Would you rather I took a gun? Dad has one.”
Connie looked stricken. “No, of course not. But you’re not thinking right. You’re still grieving.”
“And I will be for a very long time. But life goes on . . . for some of us.”
Connie threw her hands up in defeat. “At least tell Len where you’re going, or Howard.” “All Len wants out of me is information about Allen, and Howard couldn’t care less where I am.” “Don’t be silly. They both care a lot. Do you think everything they have done has been with the single ambition of getting third-party information out of you?” Lisa stared at Connie. It was a selfish thought, showing no appreciation for everything they had done. “I hadn’t thought of it that way. I didn’t mean to be so disrespectful.” “I know. You’ve been in a fog since the accident. I think you still need someone here, but you’re definitely getting better. Maybe a little time to yourself is a good idea.” “I don’t mean to chase you out. You’ve been a comfort to me. I just think it’s time I stopped leaning on everyone.” “I know.” Connie hugged her. “And I’m glad I could be there when you needed me. Just remember, I’ll always be there – whenever you need me.” Connie packed and left that evening after work, still expressing her concern and insisting that Lisa call her if she wanted to talk. Lisa thanked her for all the help and assured her that she would be fine.
That night exhaustion did what no pill could do, and she finally slept. She was awakened later by the door bell. The alarm clock beside her bed indicated 2:00 am in large orange numbers. She sat up and reached for her robe, wondering who might be visiting at this time in the morning. The doorbell rang again. “I’m coming,” she grumbled as she pulled on her robe and walked down the hall. The peek hole revealed Allen standing on the porch, a cigarette hanging from his lips. For a moment she hesitated, remembering their last discussion. He rang the doorbell again and pounded on the door. She sighed and opened the door, leaving the storm door locked.
Allen stared at her form a minute. “Well, are you going to let me in?” “No,” she said. He frowned. “Why not?” “You’re drunk.” He grunted. “I’ve been drinking. I’m not drunk. I just want to talk to you.” “So talk.” He was drunk - maybe not staggering drunk, but drunk enough to impair his judgment. Otherwise he would have waited until a reasonable hour to visit. “Come on, let me in. This is between you and me, not the entire neighborhood.” She shrugged. “Then don’t talk so loud.” “I’m not going to hurt you. I just wanted to ask you a question.” “Ask.” He peered behind her. “Is he here?” “He? Who?” “He’s staying here with you, isn’t he? I heard someone was staying with you.” “No one is staying with me,” she answered sharply, and then realized she had revealed she was alone. “Only Connie,” she amended. His smile was smug. “Connie or Howard?” She should shut the door, but her temper flared. “For the last time, Howard isn’t interested in me. Now go home.” He grabbed the storm door and jerked on it. “I’m not going home until you talk to me. You owe me.” Fear clutched at her throat. “How do you figure I owe you anything?” “Why did you tell Howard about the books?” “I didn’t tell Howard or anyone else anything about you. Now go away or I’ll call the police.” His eyes turned cold. “Yeah, you do that. If you put me in jail again, when I get out there won’t be a safe place for you. Remember that. I’ll go, but this isn’t over.” He turned and walked stiffly to his car. The engine roared and his tires squealed down the street.
She stared after him. Anyone could have told the police about the books. Why would he suspect Howard? She hadn’t said anything to anyone, not even Connie. All this attention from Howard could be due to a guilty conscience. Maybe Howard had been involved in an investigation. Maybe he knew something and that was why he picked up Connie that night. She shut the door. It was like Allen to think only of himself. He didn’t even mention her family. Her throat constricted and she pushed the thought from her mind. Back into the fuzzy recesses of her mind she crawled – back where it was safe.
The sun got up before she did the next morning. Once up, she cleaned the house and threw a few clothes into a soft bag. Things were getting complicated here and the mountains were calling. She wandered around the house with a foreboding that this was the last time she would see it. Finally she pulled the door shut and locked it. In the garage, she paused at the old car. It was the first time she had even looked at it since the wreck. The letter from the auto insurance company lay abandoned on the kitchen cabinet. She should be looking for a replacement vehicle, but having another car in the garage would only be a reminder that there was no one left to drive it. Maybe when she got back she could replace her old one. As the garage door lifted, sunlight reflected off the polish she and her siblings had applied that last day of their lives.
Pushing the thought from her mind, she focused on Allen’s visit last night. Instinct told her his threat wasn’t simply the liquor talking. It might be a good idea to tell Len or Howard about it. But they had been inconvenienced enough with all her problems. It didn’t really matter. If he came back, he wouldn’t find her there. It wasn’t as if they could do anything anyway. A 24-hour guard wasn’t possible and arresting him would only make him more dangerous.
Dropping the bag in the back seat, she sank into the driver’s seat. The car had been shut up long enough that it smelled of old upholstery. Rolling down the window, she backed out of the garage. Once the garage door was secured, she pulled away from the house. As she passed a neighbor boy, he waved at her, his two missing front teeth displayed in a sweet smile. For a moment she hesitated, and then accelerated. In every toothless smile she saw Nick. In every brunette she saw Angela and Mom. Dad had passed on his curly blond hair to Nick and Lisa. She was the only one left now. Right now it was like being the last person on earth. Maybe that would change, but it would take a while.