He could see the headlines now: “Backstreet Boy trashes hotel room.”
“Oh, who gives a fuck,” he growled and threw the glass across the room where it shattered explosively against the wall. The pieces fell to the floor to join the other remnants of similar throws.
He should have known when Todd told them about the accident and child being dead. Hadn’t he gotten several videos over the last two years that clearly showed that CJ was alive and well? That Kat was still hale and healthy (not that she showed herself on the tapes that much). So why had his heart plummeted when he’d heard that news? Why had he believed it was them?
“Because I am an idiot. A desperately-hoping, love-sick idiot,” he sighed as he fell back on the bed. “Because I thought that maybe, just maybe, the reason they never came back home was because something like what had happened to Jeanne was keeping them away.”
“Not that they were staying away because they don’t love me.”
He was not going to cry. He was stronger than that. He was not crying. It was just dust from the bedspread getting in his eyes. Housekeeping must not be doing their job.
When Todd had told them Jeanne’s story, Howie had crumbled. One minute fine, the next a ball of hysterical sobbing. It had taken both of them to get him up to the hotel room, and he hadn’t stopped there. It was clear they weren’t going to go visit the woman that night. Todd was busy trying to get Howie to keep breathing. Kevin had to give up and retreat to his room for a while. And once there he did about the same thing as Howie had.
His son was dead.
They were a much-subdued threesome in the morning at breakfast. All with bloodshot eyes, chugging back water and coffee frantically. No one had much of an appetite.
The drive to the little bungalow took only a few minutes, but it felt like a lifetime for each of them. And once there they all sat in the car, staring listlessly at the door, each afraid to be the first one to knock.
Todd finally took point, walking up the ramp to the doorway, past the little garden of snapdragons and other wildflowers. Howie glanced at Kevin with tortured eyes. He knew what he was thinking: snapdragons were Kat’s favourite flowers.
They waited anxiously for an answer to the doorbell. No one home. They were about to start looking in the window when a voice called out, “looking for Jeanne?”
An older man stood on the porch of the house next door, looking at them curiously. “Looking for Jeanne?” he asked again.
“Yes,” Kevin replied, his voice cracking a little. “Is she not home?”
“Not at this time of day. She’ll be up at the cemetery. Every morning, regular as clockwork.” The man looked them over. “You from the insurance company or something? I thought she’d gotten that all straightened out.”
“No, we have to see her on another matter,” Howie said. “Do you know which cemetery she’s at? We need to see her right away.”
“One at the top of the street.” He pointed down the street towards a patch of green. “That’s the entrance down there. She’ll be at Chris’ grave in the southeast corner.”
Kevin’s face when white and he looked like he was about to faint. Todd grabbed his arm quickly, holding him up. “Thanks very much for your help,” he said with a tight smile to the man, then practically pushed Howie and Kevin to the car.
“Did you hear what he said? He said Chris…” Howie started to shake.
“Stop it!” Todd’s voice echoed through the car. “Look, hold it together. Both of you. Kat’s not going to need you falling to pieces on her. She’s going to need you to be strong.”
Kevin just looked out the window, though Howie gave a quick nod, and let out a shuddering sigh.
The instructions were more than accurate: it wasn’t hard to find her at all. Just off the main path, a woman sat in a wheelchair, eyes focused on the gravestone in front of her. Her shoulder-length brown hair fell forward, blocking their view of her face, and she occasionally raised a tissue to her eyes.
This time it was he who made the first move. He got out of the car and walked slowly down the little hill towards her. He was almost right next to her when he finally saw the headstone up close and could read the inscription.
Christopher Robin Brown
Oh god! It wasn’t him!
He must have made a noise because she turned around quickly, looking at him with wide eyes. There was a dusting of freckles across her nose, and a series of small white scar lines on her forehead and across her left cheek. She wore glasses, yes, but they had thick lenses that made her blue eyes seem large on her face. It was not Kat.
“Can I help you?” she asked brusquely, her Midwestern accent making it sound flat.
“Ah… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb you. I was just looking for someone, and when I saw you here I couldn’t help notice who you were here to see. He was so young. Your son?”
She nodded. “My wonderful baby boy.” She looked down at the stone. “Yes, he was very young. But at seven he had a good life, and not enough time to really have many regrets. He left me to deal with those.”
“So am I.”
They were silent for a moment.
“Who were you looking for?” she asked.
“Hunh? Oh, some family. I don’t get to Austin often, but I thought I’d see if they were here.”
Her brow furrowed for a moment as she thought. “There are a few other there I think,” she said, pointing down the lane. “I’m sorry, I can’t really remember. I don’t look around much. I only come to see Christo.”
She nodded. “Its what his father used to call him. Larry was English, and preferred that nickname to Chris.”
“He must be very upset about this.”
She gave him a wistful sigh. “Actually, he’s probably glad. Larry died two years ago. So now he has Christo with him.”
Kevin didn’t know what to say, so he held out his hand. “Kevin. You are?”
“Jeanne Brown. Pleased to meet you.”
He’d chatted amiably with her for a few more minutes, then noticed that Howie had finally gotten out of the car and was approaching. The last thing Jeanne needed was someone else reacting to her, so he said goodbye quickly and intercepted Howie before he got too close.
“Not her,” was all he said.
At least until they had gotten back to the hotel.
Then he went nuclear. He yelled at Todd for setting them up, blaming him for the whole thing. Then he’d turned on Howie; saying things he hadn’t even known he felt. Ripping him cut after cut with his words. It was a wonder that Howie was still standing.
“That’s it! I have had enough,” he bellowed. “No more. No more hoping, no more looking, no more praying. Its over. I never want to hear another word about that woman again. I hate her. I hate her, do you understand? She stole my son away from me. She stole my heart away. I don’t want to hear anything more about her. She is out of my life.”
“And you! You did this to me. You got me so sure this was her. You had me convinced that CJ was dead. No more, Howie. You just stay the fuck away from me. Get out of my sight and stay out.”
Then he’d stormed out and begun his sculpture of broken glass in the hotel room.
After all, who really gives a fuck?