The calendar never lies.
Kit Cooper stared at the hummingbird forever sipping from a pink
and purple fuchsia blossom that topped the black-bound, numbered
squares on the calendar. As it always did, her gaze slipped to the middle
week of June.
The worst week of her life, the worst day, the fifteenth.
Two years ago today Amber died. Kit sucked in a deep breath and
turned back to the silent kitchen. Surely she'd grieved enough, cried
enough. Some said today should be a day for rejoicing. After all, that's
what Amber was doing. At least that's what the Bible said people did
in heaven, spent their time praising God and singing heavenly songs.
Kit blinked hard and rolled her eyes to stare at the ceiling, a trick
she'd learned that helped ward off the tears. I will not cry again. It's bad
enough I woke up with a soaked pillow, thought I was part that. Her gaze
caught an errant cobweb, so she went to the closet to fetch a broom.
Opening the pantry door, she saw that the bag filled with plastic grocery
sacks had fallen down, so she reached to hang that back up and discovered
that the hook had fallen out of the wall. Bending over to search for
the hook, she bumped the broom and clawed her way up the handle.
Heavy air smothered her, air that held tears, shed and unshed, air
so thick and black it dogged her throat, burned her eyes, and set her
ears to ringing. She raked long fingers through shoulder-length hair,
now pepper sprinkled with salt, pulling it back away from her face and
fumbling in her jeans pocket for a rubber band that wasn't there.
"Dear God, not again. I cannot do this anymore." She leaned
against the wall, between the mop and the vacuum, her tears gushing
forth like a newly broken fire hydrant. "I . I thought I was beyond
this." She hiccuped and coughed. "God, I'm so alone."
She stepped out of the closet, snagged a dishtowel off the oven
handle to mop her face, then pulled a tissue out of the box and blew
her nose. While she so often felt the tears would never stop, at least
she'd learned one thing.
They did. But they left her feeling ravaged and raw, as if she'd been
mauled by a pit bull or a cougar. While she lived, so did the pain.
Missy, Amber's basset hound, whined at Kit's feet, then lifted her
muzzle in a tenor howl, her sad brown eyes a reflection of Kit's, sadder
than any hound's eyes should ever be.
Kit crossed long legs and sank down beside the dog, wrapping her
arms around the warm neck and resting her wet cheek on the boney
head. "Ah, Missy, do you still miss her, or have you forgotten how much
she loved you?" Kit stroked the dog's long, soft, black-and-tan ears.
Back when she was fighting the cancer and the pain was terrible
enough to make her cry, Amber used to say that Missy's ears were the
perfect tear mop. Amber had not only a high pain threshold but a will
strong enough to conquer most of life's hard knocks. Except for cancer.
Amber hated crying.
"She wouldn't want us sitting here, all maudlin and tear-soaked
either, would she, girl?" Missy twisted and planted her two front paws
in Kit's lap. She stared into Kit's eyes as if either seeking or giving reassurance,
then whined, a tiny sound, more whimper, more comforting.
Kit pushed herself to her feet, returned to the pantry for a puppy
treat, as Amber had called the dog biscuits, and arched one through the
air toward Missy, whose tail now wagged, as she jumped and neatly
"Ah, dog, if only all of life could be cured by a rock-hard, bone-shaped
The ringing of the doorbell made Kit wipe her eyes, give Missy one
more pat, and, dog at her knee, make her sniffing way to the front door.
The boy looking up at her wore his Mariners baseball cap with the
bill to one side, sported freckles across nose and cheeks, and a grin
made all the more charming by one missing front tooth.
"You got any kids to play with?" He stuck his hands in the front
pockets of hand-me-down jeans, the hems frayed to strings.
"No, I'm sorry, my children are all grown."
"Oh." The sparkle in his blue eyes dimmed. He started to turn
away, then stopped and looked over his shoulder.
"You got any grandkids?"
Do I look that old? Kit shook her head, wishing she had something
to offer him. "I have a dog that needs someone to throw the ball." She
motioned toward Missy, whose tail had upped the wagging speed to
"What's his name?"
"Her name is Missy."
"She's kinda funny lookin', ain't she?"
"Not really, she's a basset hound."
He peered in the doorway. "Can she run? Shortest legs I ever seen."
"Would your parents mind if you came in our backyard?"
"Nah, Dad's at work."
"Who's taking care of you?" Surely this boy isn't a latchkey kid, not
as young as he looks.
He shrugged. "My sister. She's bossy." He reached a tentative hand
to pat Missy and received a drooly kiss for his effort.
"She likes you." What's the best way to handle this?
The boy knelt and Missy made quick work of cleaning his face.
He giggled, laid his cheek against her ear, both arms around the dog's
"What's your name?"
"Thomas." Missy wriggled from nose to tail, her nails clicking on
the tile of the entryway.
"Where do you live, Thomas?"
"Over there." He pointed to a house three doors down on the
opposite side of the street.
She'd seen a U-Haul rental truck in the drive a few days earlier and
meant to bake something and take it over but just hadn't gotten around
to it yet. Like she hadn't gotten around to lots of things lately.
"How about if Missy and I walk you home and ask your sister if it
is all right for you to play in our backyard."
"She won't care none."
"Just the same, I'll get Missy's leash." She reached inside the coat
closet and lifted the blue nylon leash from the hook. Once she'd
snapped it to Missy's collar, she closed the door behind her and smiled
at Thomas. "How old are you?"
"When school starts. You think I could hold the leash?"
"Watch how I do it and then you may." She folded most of the
leash in her right hand and, as Missy took her place at Kit's left knee,
held the leash in her left hand at a heel position. "Missy knows to walk
on the left side like this."
"Did you teach her that?"
"Ah, no, my daughter Amber did. Missy was her dog." Together
they stepped off the porch and down the three wide wood steps to the
brick walk, which led to the maple-lined street named after the trees.
"So how come Amber let Missy live with you?" He looked up,
questions in his blue eyes.
Oh, Lord, how do I answer all these questions? I don't do questions
anymore. "How do you like your new house?"
"Okay." Thomas hung back a trifle as they started up the three
concrete steps to his yard. Overgrown junipers formed a spiky green
mat on either side of the steps. Missy's nose twitched, and she turned
her head to catch a whiff of whatever lived in the evergreens.
"Do you have a dog?"
Thomas shook his head, his chin drawing closer to his chest. All Kit
could see was the button on the top of his blue hat. Why doesn't he want
to go home? What's going on here? When she started toward the front
door, he motioned her to take the concrete walk around to the back.
"You wait here, okay?" His eyes beseeched her to agree.
"Of course." Kit sat on one of the green plastic lawn chairs, Missy
plopping down at her feet.
Thomas crossed the silvered redwood deck and opened the sliding
Kit leaned back in the chair, letting the slanting sun bathe her face
in golden warmth. Strange how comforting the sun felt, not like the
gloom in her house that felt cold and .
Trying to prevent the intense introspection that always brought on
tears, she opened her eyes to study the backyard. Like many of the
others in Jefferson City, Washington, situated halfway between Tacoma
and Mount Rainier, or "out in the boonies" as her son Ryan used to say,
the permanently white-crowned mountain sat like a sentinel on the
southeastern horizon. Towering Douglas fir trees flanked the peak, looking
like deep green, near-to-black velvet from this distance.
June in Jefferson City held the sparkle of the finest diamond.
Except for the fifteenth.
It's only another day, she reminded herself. The same twenty-four
hours as any other day. Even if you cry all day, which you aren't doing, it
will still turn into the sixteenth at midnight and the worst will be over.
"Please, God, let it be over."
Missy raised her head from the ground and bumped against
"Yes, I know, you'd rather walk than lie here. Let's give the kid a
minute, and then perhaps he'll play ball with you." At the word "ball,"
the dog's ears rose and her tail brushed the grass. Her head swiveled to
see the deck as a teenage girl followed Thomas outside. Straight hair,
badly in need of a trim, swung from a center part, partially obscuring
her thin face. She tucked one side behind her ear.
"Thomas said you live a couple of houses up on the other side of
the street. If you don't mind him playing with your dog, he can go."
Kit stood. "Is that all? Don't you even want to know my name?"
"Uh, yeah, I guess." Fingers hooked the hair back again. "He better
be home in an hour or so."
"No, I don't." Thomas stopped his forward motion toward the dog.
She glared down at him. "Yes, you do." Each word came out
clipped and hissed. "Or you can stay home."
"I'm Kit Cooper and I'll make sure he comes home on time. He'll
be doing me a favor, besides Missy. If she doesn't get more exercise, she'll
get fat." Why are you talking so much? You can see she's already tuned you
out, just as if she's turned on a radio to blast other sound to infinity.
"Can I hold the leash?" Thomas looked up, his blue eyes pleading.
"Sure you can." Kit handed him the loop and watched as he carefully
mimicked what she had done, then turned and walked down
back around the house. Missy waited until Kit said, "Heel," then, tail
in the air, picked up her broad feet and skipped in rhythm alongside
the boy. Kit shot another look to the deck and saw that the sister had
disappeared inside. Kit shrugged and followed her new friend back out
to the street.
"Now, you walk good, Missy, you hear?" Thomas ordered. "Don't
you go chasing no cats or nothing."
Kit let them into the backyard, showed Thomas Missy's box of
toys, and went on in the house, only to stop and watch out the window.
If she closed her eyes, she could pretend it was Ryan out there
with Skip, the basset they'd had before Missy. Ryan throwing the ball,
Ryan tumbling in the grass with a dog, him laughing, the dog barking
in the bass tones of a hound. Amber coming around the corner to join
the fun. Amber and Ryan playing keep-away from the short-legged
dog that could still jump to catch the ball and then, ears flying, keep it
away from them. The phone's ringing broke into her reverie.
"Speak of the angels, I was just thinking about you. I have a little
boy playing out in the yard with Missy."
"Where did you find him?"
"He showed up at my door asking if I had kids. His family moved
into the Snyder place. So how are you?"
"Not good, how about you?" His voice dogged for part of a
"Cried some earlier. Thomas's coming by helped."
"Mom, sometimes I miss her so much I ."
Want to hit something? Scream? Curse? "I know." Oh, how I know.
Ryan, two years younger than Amber, thought his big sister could do
no wrong. She had been the person he loved most to tease in this
world, one who gave as good as she got. Now Ryan was in college at
Washington State University in Pullman, the last one to leave the nest.
His sigh matched her own.
"What's Dad doing?"
"I . ah, he hasn't called yet today, still on that last consulting job."
"When's he comin' home?"
Oh, please stop asking questions I can't answer. "Not sure." That's
right. Not sure, not even sure where he is.
"So nobody's with you?" His voice went up a couple of notes on
the last word.
"No, I have Missy and now Thomas."
"You know what I mean."
She could hear music in the background. Ryan always needed
music on when he studied. Amber liked everything quiet. That used to
be one of their bones of contention.
"I thought Jennifer would come home, or Dad."
Me, too, but no such luck.
"Jennifer didn't dare ask for time off right after starting a new job
like that." Jennifer had graduated from college in mid-May and
started her new accounting position the first of June. "So how is everything
"Cool. Thanks for letting me stay on for summer school. You rattling
around that big house?"
If you only knew. Kit could feel tears burning at the back of her nose
and eyes. "Yeah, well, maybe I'll take in boarders." She listened. "Hang
on, someone's at the door." Laying the receiver down, she headed for
the front door and found a young woman hiding behind an arrangement
of mixed flowers in vivid pinks, reds, and whites with yellow
mums in a milk glass bowl.
"Flowers for Kit Cooper."
"Thank you." Kit reached for the vase and inhaled the spicy aroma
"Make sure you add water."
"Thanks, I will." She closed the door with her foot and crossed to
set the arrangement on the coffee table. Taking the card from the
pronged plastic holder, she headed back to the phone, opening the card
as she went.
"Jennifer sent me flowers," she told Ryan. "And in a milk glass
bowl. You know how much I love milk glass."
"Good old Jen. What kind?"
"Carnations, mums, and some others." Kit read the card aloud.
"Dear Mom and Dad, just to tell you how much I love you and how
I wish I could make this day easier for you." Kit's voice broke halfway
through, and she had to gulp to finish. "All my love, Jennifer."
"That's Jen. You think she likes Dallas?"
Kit finished wiping her eyes with a tissue. She'd learned to keep
boxes of tissues handy at all times, including a pull-out packet in her
"Yes, I'm all right, Ryan."
"I should have come home." That was her Ryan, the tenderhearted
"No, I'll get through this. If I was too bad, I'd go out to Teza's and
have a cup of tea." Her aunt Teza had bandaged many of her owies in
life, many more than her own mother had. Teza had stood by when
Kit's mother died of cancer and then when Amber followed in her
Aunt Teza could fix anything.
Except a daughter dying.
"I better get going, talk to you later."
"Thank you, dear." She sniffed again and sighed. "I love you, son.
Take care of yourself."