As we approached the iron gates of the cemetery, we filed in behind the other cars in a motley procession that wound its way through the plots. Since this was a relatively new cemetery, there were few markers, making Sella's gravesite both a relief from the bare, flat land, and a monstrous thing at the same time with its yawning pit torn from the tundra. A couple of people were removing the flowers that had been at the church from one of the cars and placing them around the head of the grave, offering the only spot of color for miles around.
I stepped out of the truck and immediately regretted having gone to so much trouble to borrow a dress. The cold wind whipped my skirt and chilled my legs, and the only things that kept me from jumping back in the cab were Cade's encouraging smile and the sense that I needed to make a good showing in front of Father Cash. Gritting my teeth and huddling in my coat, I tried to find a place among the small knot of mourners where I would be blocked from the worst of the wind.
Thankfully the priest didn't seem any more keen on the weather than I was, and hurried through the little ceremony, in spite of the annoyance in Father Cash's eyes. Well, what of it? We were all stomping our feet and shivering, and nothing said on earth was going to help Sella now.
Father Martinez asked if anyone wanted to say any words. Of course Father Cash did, and strode to the head of the grave. "Friends," he said, "Thank you for being here today." He went on to tell us a little of Sella's history. "When she called me from the bus station just a few short weeks ago, I went to meet her and found a girl much changed. She was nurturing a great hurt and a great fear, but deep inside, I know she was still the same sweet child. I believe that what happened on the waterfront was more than what it appeared, and although God longs to have each and every one of us by his side, this is not how He would have had it."
A few people in the crowd raised their eyebrows and Father Martinez gave him a warning look.
"Evil lurks in this world, and Satan tries to leave his mark." He caught Father Martinez's alarmed expression and gave a tight smile. "But we take comfort in knowing that evil cannot win, and even now Sella has her victory in the arms of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ."
"Amen," Father Martinez said firmly. "Would anyone else like to speak a few words?"
I ducked my head, hoping frantically that Father Cash wouldn't expect me to say anything. I had hardly known the girl, and my last attempt at public speaking had been in eighth grade.
To my surprise, Cade spoke up beside me. "If I may, Father."
The crowd parted to let him approach the coffin, and Father Cash stepped aside with chilly good manners. Cade hardly seemed to notice, and turned to face the group.
"I'm just a fisherman, and I don't always have the right words for things," he said, "but when I found Sella in the water, I felt like I was finding my own child. She was a beautiful young lady, full of potential for happiness and good works, and it's a sad day when someone like her is lost to us. The world can be a pretty mean place, and we need good, kind, wise people to balance things out. Even though I never knew her alive, I feel like she would have been one to tip the scales of good in our favor. Her departure is a loss to us, and a gain to Heaven."
There were nods of approval and a few amens as Cade returned to his spot by my side and Father Martinez asked if anyone else wished to speak. Getting no takers, he wrapped things up as quickly as he could, much to Father Cash's annoyance. After we had all filed past the lowered coffin for the last time, Father Cash took him aside with a frown, and I turned expectant eyes on Cade.
"I want to talk to him a minute," he said, gazing in Father Cash's direction.
Just my luck. A conversation with him right now could easily turn into a grilling as to why I hadn't offered to share a reminisce about Sella. "Could I go sit in your truck, then? I'm freezing."
Cade led me back to the truck and opened the door, still casting glances toward the two priests, who were deeply absorbed in what appeared to be a tense conversation.
"It may be awhile," I warned him.
"Yeah, he's pissed about something." With a sigh, Cade went to the other side of the truck and got in.
"It's just not how he would've done it," I said. Cade cranked the engine and turned on the heater. I stretched my hands toward the blast of warm air.
"How come he didn't perform the ceremony? Do Catholics have rules about what churches a priest can use?"
"Not that I know of. It's just that Father Cash is defrocked."
"Oh." Cade put the truck in gear and we backed out onto the cemetery road. "Do you know why?"
I tried to suppress a smile. "He likes women a little too much."
Cade gave a knowing nod. "That's got to be tough. He should've gone protestant. They would've let him marry."
"I don't get the impression one woman would've been enough."
"Old-school Mormon, maybe?"
In spite of myself, I smiled, imagining Father Cash trying to manage a bevy of wives. "I guess he missed his true calling."
"A lot of us do."
We both lapsed into silence and it was only as the gray clapboards of town came into view that Cade remembered to ask where he was taking me.
"You can drop me back at the church."
"I don't mind taking you home."
I hadn't been looking forward to walking in the cold in Donna's thin dress, but that didn't mean I wanted Cade seeing the run-down tenement where I lived, either. "Thanks, but the church is fine. Really."
"Suit yourself." He drove to the church in such a state of silence that I wondered if he was angry at me. But when he pulled up to the church door, he merely turned to me with concern in his eyes. "You sure you don't want a ride home? I really don't mind. I don't have anything else to do today."
For a moment, I reconsidered. Surely he didn't think I was well-off, so why should I be embarrassed at letting him see my poverty? Nevertheless, I shook my head. "I'm going to pray a little while."
Cade grinned, but didn't challenge my lie. Instead, he fumbled among some stray items in a cupholder and scribbled on a gas receipt. "Here."
I took the slip of paper. It was his phone number.
"Call me sometime. I'll buy you a cup of coffee." Then, misreading my hesitation, he added, "Just as a friend. I haven't met very many people here who I'd like to know better."
"Can I get your number, too?"
"No." I reached for the door handle. "It's nothing personal, I swear. And I'll call you. I promise."
I jumped out of the truck and darted into the church, my heart pounding. Wasn't it just my luck that in this, of all places, I'd meet a nice guy. And wasn't it my rotten luck as well that I wasn't the type of girl he should be getting mixed up with.