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Authors: Ray Garton

The Loveliest Dead

BOOK: The Loveliest Dead
8.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub



For my wife, and my life,








I’d like to thank those who gave me assistance and support during the writing of this novel. My wife, Dawn, Scott Sandin, Derek Sandin, Brian Hodges, Susan Colliflower, Delia Clavere, my nephew Billy Tuschen, my brother-in-law Bill Blair, Jen Orosel, Bobby Mooney, TC, all my friends at the Shocklines Board, the Message Board of the Damned, and the Red Light District, my editor Don D’Auria, and my agent Richard Curtis.





How shall the burial rite be read?

The solemn song be sung?

The requiem for the loveliest dead,

That ever died so young?

—From “A Paean”

Edgar Allan Poe







Saturday, November 18, 2001


Dawn was just beginning to break when Jenna woke to the sound of Josh crying in his room. He was trying to be quiet, but the apartment was small, and Jenna had become a much lighter sleeper than usual lately. She got up quietly so she wouldn’t disturb David, but he turned over anyway and lifted his head.

“Whasmatter?” he said, facing her with closed eyes.

“Josh is crying,” she said, and David’s eyes opened.

She crossed the hall to the boys’ bedroom. Seven-year-old Miles was asleep in his bed. Josh sat leaning forward on the edge of his bed in his blue Bugs Bunny pajamas, head held in his small hands, blond hair spiky. It was an unnatural posture for a four-year-old boy— the posture of someone whose head throbbed.

Jenna went to Josh’s bed and sat beside him, put an arm around him. “Oh, baby, is your head hurting again?” she whispered.

He sniffled as he nodded once.

“Why didn’t you wake me, sweetheart?” It was not the first time she had awakened to find Josh up with a headache. He seemed to think it wasn’t important enough to wake her, and it broke Jenna’s heart.

David stepped into the room, tying the belt of his gray terry-cloth robe. “How’s my buddy?”

Josh did not look up.

Jenna whispered to David, “Could you get his pills from the medicine cabinet? He’s got another headache.” To Josh, she said, “Come on, get up on Mommy’s lap.” She reached for the glass of water on his bedstand as he got on her lap and leaned into the crook of her arm. David quickly returned with the orange bottle of pills, removed the cap, and shook one into Jenna’s palm. “Okay, honey, I want you to swallow a pill for me, okay?”

Josh slowly lifted his head and looked at her with puffy, barely open eyes. He opened his mouth and flattened his tongue, where she carefully placed the pill.

“A couple big swallows, now.” Jenna put the glass to his lips, tilted it back. For a moment, his gulps were the only sound in the room besides Miles’s gentle snoring. When he was done, she handed the glass to David, who put it back on the bedstand with the pill bottle. She put her arms around Josh and rocked him as she said, “Honey, you’ve got to wake me up as soon as your head starts to hurt, okay? I
you to, so I can give you your pill. The sooner you take it, the better it works. Okay?”

He said nothing, but she knew he was not asleep.

Jenna quietly hummed Brahms’s “Lullaby” as she stroked Josh’s back. After a couple minutes passed, she looked up at David, who stood silently beside her with his arms folded across his broad chest. “We’ve got to get a second opinion,” she whispered.

David spread his arms, then let them drop at his sides. “I know we do, but I don’t know how. We can’t afford the opinion we’re getting.”

“If I have to get on my hands and knees and
another doctor to take a look at Josh, I will. I mean, how long do these damned pills have to not work before Dr. Peters
they’re not working?”

“If we manage to get a new doctor, there’s no way we could afford to pay for all those tests again.”

“Even if we could afford it, I wouldn’t make him go through them again. The new doctor will just have to look at the results of the first tests. Those things scared the hell out of him, those big noisy machines.”

Jenna brushed a strand of her long blond hair from her face and put her cheek against the side of Josh’s head. He felt warm against her, limp in her arms.

Jenna and David had not been sleeping well. She was twenty-seven and David was twenty-eight, but constant worry and lack of sleep since Josh’s headaches began had added lines to their faces. The last three hours had made up the best sleep Jenna had gotten in as many nights. Her pale face was splotchy and puffy, her blue eyes half closed as she gently rocked Josh in her arms.

“Are you feeling any better, sweetheart?” she whispered.

After a moment, Josh said, “Uh-uh.” His voice was a moist croak. “Worse.”

Looking up at David again, Jenna said, “I don’t know why I even bother giving him those pills. I just don’t know ... what else to do.” She felt like crying, but she was too tired.

Still rocking Josh, Jenna hummed the lullaby again. She glanced up at David and saw he had his arms folded over his chest again and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. His angular face looked sleepy and his thick, curly, chocolate-brown hair was wildly mussed on one side and flat on the other, but his muscles were tense and he was agitated. His sleepiness could not hide the concern in his eyes. Jenna wanted to hold him, too, but she kept both arms around Josh.

The boy startled her by sitting up suddenly and looking directly into her eyes. He frowned, but it was not an upset frown, or even a painful one. It was thoughtful, and a little frightened. She stopped rocking.

Josh said, “Mommy—”

It was the way he always said it when he had something important to tell her. Jenna recognized the tone immediately. But he did not continue.

“Yes, honey,” she said.

Clenching his eyes shut, Josh opened his mouth and screamed so loudly that Jenna’s ears rang. A dog barked outside. The scream stopped after what seemed a deafening eternity, and his body became stiff in her arms across her lap.

Jenna said, “Josh?

David knelt in front of her and put an arm around Josh’s shoulders.

Miles sat up in bed, clutched the blankets in his fists, and looked over at his brother.

Josh’s body fell limp again. His head flopped backward and his eyes opened. The glow of dawn was coming through the window above his bed, and in the soft light, Jenna saw the pupil of Josh’s left eye suddenly dilate, but only the left.

She screamed, “He’s stopped breathing!”

“No!” David said, his hand on Josh’s chest. “He’s breathing, but it’s very weak. I’ll call an ambulance.” He rushed out of the room, and his bare feet thumped through the small apartment.

Sobbing, Jenna pulled him to her and began rocking him again. In her mind, all she could see was that single pupil dilating over and over. She did not know what it meant, but knew it could not be good.

Miles did not move, just sat in bed gripping the blankets in white-knuckled fists.

“C’mon, honey, c’mon, Josh,” Jenna said between sobs. “Hang on, Josh, hang on. Tell me what you were going to say. What were you going to tell Mommy, sweetheart? Huh? What was it? C’mon, tell Mommy, tell me what—”

A shudder passed through Josh’s small body and a gurgle rattled in his throat.

Jenna performed CPR on her son until the ambulance arrived and a paramedic took over, but Josh never recovered. He was pronounced dead at 7:48 A.M.

Hardly a day had passed since without Jenna Kellar wondering, at least once, what Josh had been about to say to her.







Wednesday, 7:52 A.M.


“Okay, sit down,” Jenna said. “Nobody leaves until you’ve had breakfast.”

The kitchen smelled of eggs, bacon, waffles, and coffee—it was their first real breakfast in the new house. For the first few days, before Jenna had been able to stock the kitchen, they’d been having cold cereal and Pop-Tarts. She finished setting the table in the breakfast nook, where her mother, Martha, had already settled in with a cup of coffee. The nook had a greenhouse window with a broad sill, where Martha had set her radio, which played George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” on a tinny AM big-band station.

Jenna suspected the breakfast nook would become one of her favorite spots in the house. A built-in bench with blue vinyl-upholstered cushions on the seats and backs went around the table on three sides. The cushions needed re-upholstering, but it was cozy. The window looked out over the backyard and through the pines, Douglas firs, and redwoods to the ocean beyond. The view was obscured by gray morning fog.

“Smells good, Mom,” Miles said. “Morning, Grandma.”

“Hi, kiddo,” Martha said with a smile. She scooted over on the bench and patted the spot beside her. “Come sit next to Grandma.”

Miles sat down and poured a glass of orange juice for himself. He had his father’s wavy brown hair and square face. Jenna knew it was her imagination, but he seemed to get taller every day.

Jenna stood at the stove in a baggy red sweatshirt and blue sweatpants, with her long, honey-blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. She scooped scrambled eggs onto one half of a platter, the other half of which held-freshly cooked bacon. David came up behind her, put his hands on her shoulders, and kissed the back of her head.

“Morning, honey,” he said.

She put the platter down, turned around and smiled, kissed him on the mouth. “Good morning.”

He looked weary and preoccupied. She knew he was already worrying about a new day of job-hunting. So far he’d had no luck, but he had been unable to devote much time to it because they’d been so busy moving in. This would be his first full day of applying at garages in Eureka and the surrounding area.

“I’ve made a big breakfast,” she said.

“I’m not really hungry.”

She poured him a cup of coffee. “Come on, you’ve got to eat something before you start pounding the pavement. Sit.” She handed him the cup of coffee and the platter of eggs and bacon.

David took the platter and coffee to the table and seated himself. “Good morning, Grandma,” he said. David always called Martha Grandma. “Hey, Tiger,” he said to Miles. “Ready for your third day at school? Wait... this
Wednesday, isn’t it?”

BOOK: The Loveliest Dead
8.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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