The walk home didn’t seem quite so cold and my apartment building not as bleak as before. Even the stray I had been feeding seemed a little friendlier and purred when I knelt to scratch its ears before going inside.
Was Cade really going to forgive my evasiveness and bad behavior? I climbed the creaking steps and fumbled with my key. A romantic relationship was still a little too much to ask, but maybe we could at least be friends. A normal friendship with someone who had no agenda would be a nice change. As if to make a nasty cosmic joke of this last thought, I heard heavy footsteps on the stairs below.
“Judith? Do you have a minute?”
I hesitated, half-in, half-out of my doorway. “I was just about to have dinner.”
Father Cash appeared at the top of the stairs. “I’m sorry to interrupt, my dear. I’ll only be a minute.” He offered a conciliatory smile. “How was work?”
“Great. We’ll be ready for that audit in no time.”
“That’s good to hear.”
If he was pleased, it didn’t show in his voice.
“I’ve had some news about my sister.”
I set my dinner, still in its paper bag, on the table. “Everything’s okay, I hope.”
“She’s alive.” He sat down on my hard wooden chair. “It would appear she hadn’t been coping well for quite some time, though. She’s been in rehab. Didn’t want anyone to know.”
“And now she’s out and you had to tell her what happened.”
Father Cash sighed heavily. “In seminary, they train us in these types of situations, and certainly my time in Cold Haven has given me plenty of opportunity to practice, but…”
“There are some things nothing can prepare you for.”
He nodded and buried his face in his hands.
I cast a wistful look at my dinner, suppressed a sigh and went into the kitchen to heat a kettle of water. A few minutes later, I handed him a cup of tea.
He took it in his hands but didn’t drink any “Lena blames herself, of course. She says Sella ran away because of her.”
“That may have been part of it,” I offered, “but lots of kids have parents with substance abuse problems. They don’t generally run away unless there are other problems too, and when they do leave they usually don’t go any farther than a friend’s house.”
“I know. I assured her there must have been other factors, but she was in no mood to listen.” Father Cash took a sip of his tea. “She wants Sella sent home.”
He set the cup on the floor. “I have no money to do that. I had to borrow just to give that poor child a proper Christian burial. And Lena has no money after being in rehab for three months, but somehow she thinks this is my problem.”
“Well, it’s not like there’s any great urgency,” I pointed out. “Sella’s not going anywhere. When your sister has the money, she can make the arrangements then.”
Father Cash fixed me with a look. “That’s not how she sees it. She even suggested that this was all my fault; that I hadn’t watched Sella properly.”
I glanced again at my dinner. “People say crazy things when they’re grieving. She just needs time to process.”
“I hope that’s all it is. Tragedy is supposed to bring people together, not tear them apart.” He got to his feet. “Thank you for listening, dear. And I’m sorry to have interrupted your dinner.”
I told him to think nothing of it and accepted his blessing. Once he was out the door and I could hear his footsteps on the stairs, I ripped open my bag from the diner, my stomach growling in anticipation.
As I ate my cold burger and fries, it occurred to me that having a simple explanation for Lena’s disappearance and Sella’s decision to run away might convince Father Cash to quit imagining that Sella’s death was anything more than an ordinary suicide. But of course there was still the matter of Crazy Eddie seeing her talking to Arlo before her death. Like mother, like daughter, it would seem.
Why did it still seem fishy though? It was a little too convenient, too obvious. I wiped my greasy fingers on a paper napkin. There was something about all this that didn’t add up, and in spite of my previous assertions that it was a business I wanted no part of, my curiosity was now starting to get the better of me.