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Bodily Harm: A Novel: Epilogue


HOLY CROSS CEMETERY

DALY CITY, CALIFORNIA

The other headstones were mostly gray concrete, some blackened and chipped with age. A few were marble, but none were blue, Tina’s favorite color. Sloane had wanted a headstone that would stand out and be easily found. He had succeeded.

CHRISTINA ANNE SLOANE

Seeing her name etched in the stone brought a finality he could not ignore, a proclamation for everyone to see. Tina had not left for the store. She was not on a trip. She was not coming home after a long day at the office.

She was not coming back, ever.

Sloane pulled tight the collar of his jacket, feeling the chill of the damp, overcast day. The sky seemed to mourn with him, emitting a persistent, light mist. Overhead he heard the hushed engine of a plane hidden somewhere in the fog, and the sky reminded him of so many of the mornings at Three Tree Point when they would walk along the beach in the marine fog.

It was time to go home. As hard as it would be to go back to the house that he and Tina loved, the house in which they had intended to grow old together, Sloane would not run from the memories. To do so would dishonor Tina.

He stood at her grave uncertain of what to say. Not having learned any prayers, he spoke from his heart.

“I miss you,” he said. “I really miss you. I miss holding you and seeing you smile. I miss the smell of your hair and the softness of your skin, and the way you used to giggle just before we made love. I miss feeling completely lost in you, and sitting on the porch holding hands watching the sunset. I still imagine us sitting there, old and gray. You told me once you had always loved me and always would. I didn’t understand what that meant, not completely, but I do now. You taught me to love selflessly.” He paused, catching his breath. “I couldn’t destroy Frank in court. I couldn’t do that to Jake. I love him too much to hurt him. Frank seems to have changed. He says he loves Jake, and Jake seems happy. He’ll have a family. I couldn’t give him that, not without you.”

He took a deep breath and pushed his hands deeper inside his jacket pockets. “It should never have been you. You were too good to die. It should have been me.

“I think about you and I wonder . . . if there is a heaven, whether you’re happy. I hope you are. I know that I have to stop blaming myself, Tina, not because I don’t still feel guilty, but because I have to be there for Jake. He still has his whole life ahead of him, and I have to make sure it’s as good as it can possibly be. I promised you that. I just wish I knew that you understood, that you forgive me.”

A noise drew his attention. Beside him an old woman had knelt on a wool shawl spread on the lawn and was brushing away leaves and picking at elongated strands of grass at the base of the stone where the blades of the gardener’s lawn mower could not reach. Perhaps sensing Sloane’s silence, she sat back on her heels. “I’m sorry. I hope I didn’t disturb you.”

At her side, hidden when she had been tending to the grave, Sloane saw a bundle of red roses. Some of the buds had bloomed wide, others were just beginning to open. Thorns traced the stems.

The woman considered the dates beneath the name on Tina’s headstone. “So young. So recent.” She got up from her knees. “Your wife?”

Sloane nodded.

“I’m sorry. I know how painful it is.”

The dates on the tombstone that the woman had been tending revealed that the man buried there had been dead more than thirty years.

“When does it stop hurting?” he asked.

A breeze swayed the branches of the oak tree, causing them to creak and click against one another. The woman brushed a strand of white hair from her face, revealing cobalt blue eyes. “The ache in your heart each morning when you wake to realize she’s really gone?” She held out her hand. When Sloane took it her touch caused his chest to radiate, despite the chilled weather. “It doesn’t,” she said. “Time doesn’t heal all wounds. But it does deaden the pain so that we can go on.”

“How?” Sloane asked. “How do you go on?”

She gave his hand a gentle squeeze. “The only way we can, dear. Moment to moment. Hour by hour. Because, what else are you going to do?”

They stood in silence, the breeze picking up. Sloane saw Frank Carter’s car winding through the cemetery. He slipped free his hand, thanked the woman for her words of comfort, and walked toward the curb. The passenger door pushed open almost before Carter had pulled over and stopped, and Jake was out of the car, running toward Sloane with a huge grin on his face. Frank Carter had kept his word.

Sloane’s arms engulfed the boy, the impact nearly knocking him over.

Frank Carter had stepped from the car but did not approach, the two men exchanging a nod.

“Are you ready to do this?” Sloane asked.

Jake stepped back, no longer smiling, the weight of their task sobering.

As they walked back toward her grave, Sloane searched for but did not see the woman standing amid the rows of rounded stones and assumed she had knelt again to tend to her husband’s grave. But when he reached the proper row she did not kneel there. The woman was gone, though the roses remained, the red a beautiful contrast against the blue marble.

“You remembered,” Jake said.

Sloane looked at him, uncertain.

“Roses. You always bought them for Mom after your trials.”

In his mind Sloane saw Tina standing on the outdoor patio at the Tin Room, hand on her hip, smiling up at him, coy.

“Roses? For me?”

And all was forgiven.

“She’s not here, you know,” Jake said, looking down at the grave. He pointed to his heart. “She’s in here, with us.”

“I think you’re right,” Sloane said.

“Frank says I can visit over Christmas.”

“I know. What do you say we go skiing up at Whistler?”

Jake nodded. “That might be fun,” he said. “But I think I’d rather just go home, Dad, you know? Do you think we could do that?”

Sloane nodded. “I do now.”


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