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Shadows of the HeartOne Woman's Journey of Healing
By Sharinda L. Coltrin
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Sharinda L. Coltrin
All right reserved.
Chapter OneKuna, Idaho – City Cemetery
Katherine Alexander stood silently next to her younger sister, Helen, and watched as her step-father, James Sanderson, was lowered into the grave next to his wife, Leslie Catherine Laster Alexander Sanderson, her mother, who had been buried here a scant four years ago.
It had been an exhausting week since James' death last Saturday. It was Friday now, and the funeral had been long and stressful and Kate was glad it was nearly over.
It was a magnificent spring day. The warm afternoon sun cast dappled patterns of light on the greening lawn. Katherine could hear some birds calling to each other in the trees at the edge of the cemetery, and the chittering of the squirrels as they chased each other over and around the tree trunks.
The perfect day for his funeral, Kate thought emphatically, imagining the world was as happy at James' passing as she was. It all filled her with a sense of well being unlike any she had known since ... well, since she couldn't remember when. Probably since before Dad had died ten years ago. But she didn't want to dwell on sad thoughts today. No, definitely not today. All she felt now was relief.
As she watched James' coffin being lowered, she thought back to six days ago, last Saturday night, when she had been at home, expecting him to get home soon, and Helen had been at a church dance.
While everyone was gone, Katherine had been studying for a Calculus mid-term. It was just after 10:00 p.m. and she had been watching the clock anxiously, trying to predict when James would arrive. He had left to go to Ben's house at 6:30 to watch a football game, and she'd been relieved he wasn't home that night. She had been studying without a break for three hours and had decided to go downstairs and get a snack.
She had just entered the kitchen to get a glass of milk and a peanut butter cookie ~Sister Wilkes, their next door neighbor, had dropped them by earlier with a thank you note for James for mowing her lawn ~ when there was a knock at the door.
She slowly headed to open the door, figuring that James had forgotten his key, or that Helen had come home early from the dance. When she opened it, she was surprised to find a young police officer smiling kindly at her. She had noticed his name tag: Officer Bennett. Strange she would remember that now, but not his face.
She remembered he'd spoken kindly, "Is Mrs. Sanderson at home?" She had told him that "There is no Mrs. Sanderson; she died over four years ago."
The officer had seemed to hesitate then before asking if he might come in for a moment and speak with her. She had suspected in that instant that something was wrong. Frantically, she wondered if her sister was okay. Had something happened to Helen? She was all Katherine had left of Mom and Dad. She had to be okay.
But when she questioned him about her, Officer Bennett had assured Katherine that he was not here about anyone with that name, and she'd sighed with relief. He just needed to speak with her about a James Sanderson.
"Is that your father?" he had asked.
"No, he isn't my father. He is my step-father," she had replied, not allowing herself to let any of her distaste show in her expression. She had become very good at hiding her feelings over the years. She had felt so grateful knowing Helen was okay, that she had simply stared at Officer Bennett as he stepped inside, without closing the door, holding his cap in his hand.
As he started speaking, she forced herself to focus on what he was saying, feeling that something must be terribly wrong for him to have taken the time to come and speak with her personally. She could tell he wasn't happy to be there. He had been very young - not much older than her, and she had just turned eighteen.
"I'm sorry to have to tell you this, Miss, but a young man driving a pickup was texting and ran a stop sign on the corner of Juniper Street and Georgia Avenue. I'm afraid he hit your step-father's Sentra." He explained that James had been intoxicated, so both drivers had been at fault. He explained that James had been seriously injured and taken immediately to the hospital, but had died shortly after arriving. "There was nothing they could do, Miss. He was too badly injured. I am so sorry for your loss, Miss. Is there anyone I can call for you?"
She had been too stunned to answer. James was dead. James was dead! It had kept reverberating in her head until she had started crying. The tears kept coming until she could only gasp, trying to keep herself from hyperventilating. The officer, probably afraid she was becoming hysterical, had tried to calm her. He had kept repeating, "It will be alright, Miss. It'll be okay."
Little did he know she had not been upset, but unbelievably relieved – there was that word again - that James was never coming back. He could never hurt her again. And most importantly, he would never hurt Helen. She had been protecting Helen for so long, keeping James away from her keeping Helen busy at school and church, like tonight. Out of sight, out of mind, she had thought. The relief was so intense, all she could do was continue crying.
After a few minutes she had been able to pull herself together enough to ask the officer to explain the situation to Sister Williams next door. She had known that Sister Williams would immediately contact Bishop Pearson. She was the wife of his second counselor, and always seemed to be watching out for her and Helen. The officer had left immediately, probably anxious to escape the tears, and less than ten minutes after that, Sister Williams had come hurrying through the door, not bothering to knock, and found Katherine in the living room.
She heard the police car start up outside and back out of the driveway just as Sister Williams sat down next to her on the couch. Then, only a couple of minutes later, Helen had walked through the door wondering why a police car had been at the house. She was obviously already worried, but when she saw Sister Williams, she started to panic.
Sister Williams had gone to Helen and led her gently back to the couch, holding her close while she explained what had happened to James. After Helen had cried herself out, Sister Williams had turned to Katherine, saying that she had called the Bishop, and he would be there soon.
The next five days had passed in a blur. The Bishop had come and made arrangements for the body. He had taken care of everything for the funeral. The ladies in the ward had brought in meals and Helen had spent a couple of nights at Sister Williams' house. The ward had organized the funeral service and the luncheon. At least James had pre-paid the funeral expenses and had already bought the grave site next to her Mom's, so she didn't need to worry about that. Mostly, it was easier to let everyone do what they thought she needed. She couldn't have cared less if they had buried him in a pine box or dumped his body in the desert, but she tried to pretend she cared, keeping up the façade like she always had. In reality, the last week had been the best week of her life since Dad had died.
Stirring herself from the memories, Katherine shook her head slightly, noticing that the coffin had been lowered and the Bishop was speaking a few final words. Like everyone else, he seemed to have only good things to say about James.
Everyone had loved James. He had not been a member of the Church, but to all the neighbors and his coworkers, he was wonderful. He would help out when they needed it, even assisting with moving or car repairs; always saying hi with a ready smile. No one knew what he was really like, except her, and she was not going to tell anyone. Let them think what they wanted. She knew the truth - more truth than anyone should have to know.
"In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen," the Bishop finished the closing prayer. Knowing everyone would be coming to offer condolences, Katherine pasted an appropriately solemn, reserved expression on her face. Holding Helen close, she listened to friend after friend as they filed by, saying how sorry they were and what a shame James had died so young. She wanted to yell at them that he had been a monster, and did not deserve their sympathies, but instead, she did what she had been doing for over four years, and buried her anger and pain away, where it could not escape her control. Then she forced herself to tell them how she and Helen appreciated them coming, and thanked everyone for their help.
Nearly everyone had left when Katherine noticed Brandon standing nearby. Brandon Howard. She hadn't realized he had come to the funeral. He looked as handsome as ever. Especially in the stylish navy suit he was wearing. She absently noticed he had cut his unruly blonde hair since she'd seen him last, and tried to tame it, although it was still displaying its independence, especially in the light spring breeze.
As he approached, she thought of the last time they had spoken. Three weeks ago, he had stopped by her locker after school, as usual, in his everyday blue jeans and a t-shirt. He had been her best friend since kindergarten. They usually ate lunch together and met after school before heading home, so she was unsurprised when he stopped to chat. Busily cramming her books into her bag in order to catch the bus, she hadn't noticed his unusually hesitant, even shy, expression. She normally drove her old Taurus, but as happened frequently - it hadn't started that morning. Then, on top of all that, she had gotten out of her 6th period class late, with only ten minutes to grab her stuff and get to the bus.
She nodded vaguely as Brandon talked about the term paper due on Macbeth in their Lit class, and then he'd cleared his throat and had quickly switched topics. It caught her off guard a little, when he had asked her if anyone was taking her to prom yet. She'd mumbled impatiently, "No. No one," assuming he was just asking as a friend, wondering if she had a date. Like I ever had a date with anyone to go anywhere. So his next question came as a total surprise. "Well then, Katherine, would you do me the honor of going to the prom with me?" He had looked so hopeful, she had hated to have to tell him no.
Oh, Brandon. Thinking about that now, she started to cry. Well, no one would wonder why she was crying today, she thought cynically. There was no way she could have gone to the prom. That would have meant leaving Helen at home, alone, with James. Brandon deserved better than her anyway, even if he didn't know it.
She had told him she couldn't go, that she needed to be home with Helen, and that she needed to study, which was at least a valid excuse. She knew he wouldn't understand, but then, no one did. She never went out, and never had anyone over. Most people assumed she was a nerd and studied all the time, and she had always just let them think what they wanted. It was easier that way - easier than making up more excuses.
He had argued with her for nearly fifteen minutes, saying how James could take care of Helen, that Helen was fourteen and old enough to take care of herself for awhile even if James wasn't home. Katherine had seen hints of how Brandon cared about her over their years together in high school, but had always managed to keep him at arms length, hard as that was to do, because she felt the same way about him. She couldn't think of any good excuses on such short notice. It was especially hard because all she wanted was to tell him how much she would love to go to the prom with him. But each lame excuse just made him more frustrated, and he finally said "If you don't want to go with me, why don't you just say so!" and strode away angrily. She had just stared after him, watching him go, wanting to go after him and apologize, and tell him she'd love to go, to make everything okay again, but knowing that in the end it would only make things worse. She remembered she had missed her bus that day, but luckily only lived a half hour's walk from the school. That was the last time they had spoken. He had totally avoided her these last three weeks, and yet here he was, come to support her when he thought she needed him, just like when they were kids.
"Hello, Katherine, Helen. I am so sorry about... everything," Brandon whispered fervently.
Staring into his eyes, she could see how miserable he was, and knew he wasn't just talking about James. She was sure that the last three weeks had been as hard on him as they had been on her. He seemed totally dejected standing there. My dearest Brandon, she thought. She could never tell him just how dear to her he was. But she couldn't just watch him suffer, either.
She started to tell him how sorry she was, but before she could say anything, she found herself being hugged tightly. His arms were so gentle, yet strong and protective - all Brandon. He had always tried to watch out for her, sheltered her from the inevitable bullies at school, and any overly friendly boys. Brandon. Always there, always needed and loved, but just a friend. Because that was all she could ever allow him to be. He could never know.
She felt him kiss her gently on the cheek as he released her, and realizing there were more tears in her eyes, she wiped them away with her fingers. "You always seem to know just what I need," she told him quietly.
She tried to smile bravely for him, but by the expression on his face, didn't succeed. Helen spoke then, saying, "We're glad you could come, Brandon. Thanks."
"Are you coming to the funeral luncheon? The sisters in the ward have put together a nice meal for everyone," Katherine asked him.
"Ah, no. Sorry, but I have to get back to school. I have a World History mid-term to take. I got permission to take it after school, so I could come, but I have to have it done today. Otherwise, I would be there. I know how hard this must be for you." Kate could tell he regretted not being able to come, but maybe it was for the best, and yet she couldn't help sighing a little as he left and headed towards his car.
Turning towards the last few people waiting to shake their hands, she greeted them, and when they had gone, led Helen to her car to make the trip back to the chapel for the lunch. Her stomach had been too unsettled this morning to allow her to eat before the funeral, and now it was 1:30 in the afternoon, and she was starving.
* * *
Arriving at the chapel after nearly everyone else, Katherine was glad the cemetery was so far away. The forty-five minute drive from Kuna to Eagle, amidst the busy traffic, with Helen dozing in the passenger seat, had given her a chance to compose herself for this last part of an extremely arduous day. Perhaps the hardest part was everyone visiting, offering sympathies which she did not want to hear, and talking in glowing terms about a man she detested.
After entering the church, Kate turned left down the corridor and went straight to the ladies bathroom while Helen stopped to talk with one of their neighbors. She was relieved to find it completely empty. After leaving the stall, she tried to calm herself, fixing her makeup and adjusting the skirt of her dress. She brushed through her hair slowly, trying to get rid of the windblown look from the cemetery, drawing out these few quiet moments for as long as she could.
Sighing, Katherine realized she couldn't avoid everyone forever, as much as she would like to just go home and curl up on the couch and get some rest.
As she entered the cultural hall, she could see Helen was sitting at one of the tables that had been set up, and was visiting with Sister Williams and another lady from the ward that she remembered seeing, but couldn't recall the name of.
She got in line to get something to eat. It all looked good, but her stomach was still queasy, so Katherine just took a scoop of the funeral potatoes and a slice of ham.
Excerpted from Shadows of the Heart by Sharinda L. Coltrin Copyright © 2011 by Sharinda L. Coltrin. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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