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Grandma's funeral was on a Friday. Baby Carrie woke up with a stuffy nose that morning. Camden spat up his formula. Not a good day to leave them with a sitter.
But Sarah Sue Bookman had no choice. At home, alone with her kids, having a baby on each arm was relatively easy. The norm. She could do it in her sleep. Had done it in her sleep.
But inside the sacred walls of Saint Ignatius with Grandma Sarah really gone Having to say goodbye
She had to leave the babies with Barb.
Sitting in the second row of pews in the hugely imposing, historic San Francisco church, Sue could sense the ghosts of saints around her. In the Italianate architecture, in the candlelit altars lining both sides of the nave.
Approving? Disapproving? Did they know how angry she was? How unwillingly she was giving up Grandma to them?
She tried to focus on the priest, who'd known Grandma Sarah for many years, instead of on the open casket where her body lay.
Sue had expected this day to come eventually. Grandma was eighty years old. But it hurt worse than anything she'd imagined.
Maybe if they'd had warning. Maybe if Grandma had been sick for weeks or months, instead of a few days. Maybe then
The pastor talked about Sarah Carson's generosity, her need to love everyone who came into her sphere most particularly children. Just last week, when Sue had taken the babies on their regular visit to the house in Twin Peaks where her mother had been born and raised, Grandma had insisted Sue leave Camden and Carrie with her and hike a trail to the top of the peak. Something she'd been doing for as long as she could remember.
A hike she'd never take again. At least not from Grandma's house. Not coming home to iced tea and conversation with the only person she'd ever felt truly safe with.
Father John talked about the one child Sarah had borne, Sam, Sue's uncle. He was sitting in the front pew with his wife, Emily, and their daughter, Belle, who was two years younger than Sue.
Sarah had raised a fine man in Sam, the priest said, a man who could be relied on to lead the Carson family, to care for them, to carry on in the absence of his parents. With his car dealership that employed almost a hundred people, and his standing in the community, he was a testimony to the life Sarah Carson had lived.
And then the white-robed father looked at the woman sitting next to Sue. He spoke of the infant daughter Sarah Carson and her now deceased, beloved husband, Robert, had adopted. Jenny.
Sue gave her mom's handglued to her with their combined sweata comforting squeeze as the priest droned on about Jenny's life as evidence of the mother Sarah had been. Sue's father, seated on the other side of his wife with his arm around her, tightened his embrace, and rubbed the side of Sue's arm with the back of his hand at the same time.
That's how it had always been with them. Jenny and Luke together through every step of life, keeping Sue firmly within the bonds of their love.
Sue loved them. Yet she'd entertained the uncharitable thought, often enough for her to write her own sentence to hell, that if Jenny had had her way, all three of the Bookmans would dress like triplets.
All the time instead of just the vacation shirts. The Bookmans Take Manhattan. The Bookmans Do Hawaii. The Bookmans Visit Mickey.
When the Bookmans flew to ItalyThe Bookmans Roam RomeSue had refused to wear the shirt. She would never forget her mother's crestfallen expression as they'd left the house early that Saturday morning on their way to the airport.
She'd been nine at the time.
And she'd called Grandma Sarah from a pay phone at the airport in lieu of visiting the bathroom as she'd said she was going to do.
Grandma had told her she'd be embarrassed to wear the shirt, too. And she'd reminded Sue that Jenny loved her and only wanted what was best for her family. "Just follow that big heart of yours, my girl, share it, and you'll be fine."
It had sounded so easy.
When, in truth, nothing ever was.
"I'll be right back, Ma. I need some air."
How many times in the past twenty years, since that first rebellion back when she was nine, had Sue made excuses like that? I need to use the restroom. I'm going to the water fountain. I'll be right back .
As usual, they earned her the same concerned and loving looka glance from her mom that effectively shut out all of the quiet voices floating around them in the crowded vestibule outside the church sanctuary. "You okay, baby?"
Nodding, Sue gave her mother a hug. "I'll hurry." "How's Belle? I saw you talking to her." "About like me. In shock. Can't imagine life without Grandma." Sue glanced over to where her cousin was standing with her mother and father, just as Sue was. As it had always been.
Sam and Emily with Belle attached to Emily's side. Luke and Jenny with Sue right next to her mother. All that was left of the Carson family. Some of Sue's best childhood memories had been at Grandma Sarah's house when the adults would be involved in whatever adults did around the table, and she and Belle could escape.
Sue from claustrophobia. Belle from her father.
"I won't be long," Sue whispered quickly now as one of Jenny's longtime high school friends came up to offer condolences and ask how long she and Luke were in town.
Glad for the chance for a breather without having to leave her mom and dad unattended, Sue bolted out into the cool March air.
As the groundsmen lowered the cheap box into the public grave, he stood back, watching, but vowing not to feel. Not to try to understand.
If any mourners had attended the funeral, they'd since left.
Except for the lone onlooker who stood by the grave. A young black woman. A friend?
That he'd had a little sister he'd never known was not a surprise to him. The fact that his drug addict mother had been able to carry a second baby to term was a mystery. But that she'd been permitted to keep the girlthat, he could not comprehend. What kind of society, what kind of child services system, had allowed a mother already proven unfit to teach her daughter the ways of drugs and sex instead of ABC's?
The fact that the childa woman of sixteenwas dead, had killed herself, didn't cause the twitch that suddenly appeared at the side of Rick Kraynick's eye.
The fact that he cared did that.
The burst of brisk air didn't alleviate Sue's claustrophobia as she stood on the steps of St. Ignatius. She had to get away. To take in long clean breaths of ocean breeze. To hear the waves as she watched them crashing to shore and rolling out again.
Grandma Sarah had promised she'd live forever.
Grandma, the one person who'd never judged her. Not that she'd known everything about her granddaughter. Some things no one knew. Or would ever know.
Sue's secret. Buried. Just like Grandma.
Recognizing the voice, Sue glanced up. "Joe! Hi." She'd phoned him. Left a message. She hadn't expected to see him, even though he'd been her best friend all through high school. The only best friend she'd ever had. But high school had been a long time ago.
Before she'd emasculated him.
Now he was mostly just her boss.
Besides, he'd never met Grandma.
"Your message said one o'clock. Is it over?"
"Yeah. There's no graveside service since her ashes are to be stored with my grandfather's in the family vault. Mom and Uncle Sam are having a meal catered at Grandma's house in Twin Peaks, so we're heading there next. Would you like to come?"
"I should get back to work. I only stopped because I was in the area."
Bosses didn't often stop by churches where employees' family funerals were taking place.
Old friends did.
"It would really help to have you there," Sue said, afraid her composure was going to desert her completely.
How in the hell was she going to be able to walk into the house her grandparents had had built back in 1946, and lived in for sixty-three years, without Grandma there?
There'd never been a gathering at the house without Grandma.
Hunched in his trendy, expensive trench coat, Joe stared at her for an uncomfortable moment. And then nodded.
"I can ride over with you, if you'd like," Sue continued. "Since you don't know where she lives." And then, feeling another unexpected stab through her heart, she added, "Lived."
He didn't meet her eyes a second time, but his nod was enough. Joe knew her. He understood.
Right now, he was the only tie to sanity she had.
Thank you for this.
Glancing at her as they pulled onto Grand View Avenuea street with eclectic and colorful million-dollar, postwar homes, a street known for its magnificent views of the city and not for it yards, which were almost nonexistentJoe merely shrugged.
He'd changed so much from the open-hearted boy she'd known, Sue hardly recognized him these days.
"Seems strange, after all this time, for you to meet my folks."
In her youth, she'd kept him hidden. He'd been her prize. The one part of her life that was solely hers. Until he'd wanted more than friendship. And while she'd been able to give him love, she'd backed out of sex.
Joe grunted. As he found a spot to park in the street just beyond Grandma's house, he added, "I won't be able to stay long." He didn't crack a smile.
She wasn't responsible for his divorce. Nor could she get him more time with the daughter she knew he adored. Those hurts had come long after she'd done her little number on him.
"Last week when I called the office, Thea said that you were with your father." People were going into Grandma's house. Some Sue recognized. Some she didn't. Heart pounding, she wasn't ready to join them.
Joe didn't comment. She studied him, his close-cropped black hair, his crooked nose and his linebacker body.
"Is he still in town?" She might not get another chance for personal conversation with him for a while. She cared about him.
Besides, Grandma wasn't in that house at the base of the famous Twin Peaks, wasn't welcoming her guests.
"How long's it been since you'd seen him?" During their four years in high school she could only remember a brief visit from Joe's fisherman father, who'd come down from Alaska for one of the holidays. The checks he was supposed to have sent to his mother, who was raising Joe, were only a little more frequent than his visits.
"A few years."
"So he knows Kaitlin?" Joe's ten-year-old daughter.
"They've met a time or two."
"Was he here just to see you?"
"So he says." The dry tone revealed more than the coldness in Joe's eyes. "He's been in town a couple of months."
"Did he stay with you?"
"Why do you think he came?"
"I'm not aware of anyone else he knows who'd let him sponge off of them."
"How much did he ask for?"
"You gave it to him before he asked so he'd get out of town, right?" It was what this new, emotionally closed Joe Fraser would do. Joe Fraser, commercial real estate broker, loner.
"I'm not giving the man one red cent."
"And he left without it?"
Frowning, Sue tried to decipher that one. Did that mean Adam had found a way to get the money without asking? That someone else had given it to him, after all?
Or that he hadn't left?
Her mom and dad parked their rental sedan across the street. Jenny stumbled as she got out of the car, and Luke hurried around to help her, steadying her with an arm firmly around her back. His gaze met Sue's. He whispered something to his wife and they both smiled over. Waved.
Sue waved back and Joe turned to see who was there. She had to go in. They knew she was out here. They'd come looking for her. She swallowed.
"Is your dad still in town?" she asked Joe, instead. Their conversations were generally short-lived, over the phone and strictly about business. Specifically, the books she kept for him.
Joe replied with a brief nod.
"Has he said how long he's staying?"
"For good. Are you going in there or not?"
A fresh wave of panic washed through her. "You're coming, aren't you? Just to meet my folks?"
He hesitated and Sue was afraid he was going to refuse. Then he opened the car door.
"Who was the hottie?" Belle asked. "Someone new you forgot to tell me about?"
Joe had met Sue's parents, a polite, uneventful moment considering all of the effort she'd taken in high school to keep them away from each other. And then, making sure they could take Sue home before heading back to their hotel in the city, he'd excused himself.
Sue gave her cousin as much of a grin as she could muster and shook her head. "That was just Joe."
About sixty people were milling around Grandma's huge living room, spilling over into the formal dining room and out onto the deck. Her mom and dad were there somewhere. Uncle Sam and Aunt Emily, too.
A lot of the rest Sue didn't know.