Thirty minutes later, Dustin found himself in the odd position of pushing Mr. Kennedy’s casket down an empty country lane. James steered the gurney from up front while he drove it at the rear. The two women walked on either side. The birds sat on top.
Kitten Kennedy had her hands in her jacket pockets. “So what makes you think that your friends won’t mind us showing up on their front door with a casket?” She asked.
“Like I said before, they’re just really great people.” James answered.
“But you don’t even know if they’re home.”
The artist shook his head. “No.”
As if taking a cue, Alexis cupped the fish under one arm and keyed her cell phone to life bringing it to her ear to listen for an answer. After a moment she dropped it back into her pocket shaking her head. “They’re probably just busy dealing with whatever damage the quake did around their house. I only have his wife’s number and she’s bad about leaving her phone in her car.”
“I’ve got the husbands number.” James laughed. “I left my phone at her mother’s house.”
Dustin grunted, pushing the casket over a loose stone in the road with a loud rattle. “So what do these people do to get to live way out here in the sticks?”
James glanced back to check on the birds. “Well, he’s a retired executive with the Bay Bank and his wife has never worked.” The artist answered amicably. “I think he still does some charity work and she spends all her free time at the country club in town or at the gym.”
Kennedy shook her head. “Some people have it made.” She said bitterly. “I’m always struggling to make ends meet.”
“Aren’t we all.” James laughed.
They walked for a moment in silence. Finally Dustin turned to the woman. “Your dad,” he said, pausing to figure out how best to frame his question. “He had a really nice tombstone with that ceramic inlay of the ‘Hang in there’ kitten on it. Didn’t he leave you any money?”
Kennedy snorted. “That tombstone was given to him by a family friend.” She spat. “I think it was out of some sort of guilt. My father never had any money.”
Alexis sighed. “I have a T-shirt with that kitten on it.” She smiled. “It makes me happy.”
James turned, pulling the cart along. “Don’t you have a poster like that?” He asked Dustin.
“Yeah.” Dustin replied. Then, turning to Kennedy he asked: “What’s the significance of the kitten at your dad’s grave?”
She shot him an angry glance. “I told you that’s really none of your damned business.”
Alexis looked down. “That silly little orange kitten’s been around for as long as I can remember.” She mused. “I wonder what ever happened to him.”
Dustin decided to change the subject. “So,” he said calling out to the artist over the coffin. “This really is all connected isn’t it?”
“What do you mean?” James asked as he turned around and gave the gurney a hard tug over a crack in the road.
“I mean you’re Bay Bank sculpture and this guy who once worked at the Bay Bank.” Dustin continued. “They’re connected.”
“He helped to get it installed.” James said.
“Does he know about your Jesus stunt?”
Dustin could see James looking up at the tree branches over his head as they passed by underneath. The artist didn’t seem in any kind of hurry to answer. Instead he kicked at some imaginary rocks in their path and continued forward.
Kennedy was the one who the silence. “So how did you meet these people anyway?”
James continued on as if he hadn’t heard her.
Alexis looked up flashing a nervous smile. “James and I didn’t always have such a great marriage.” She said clearing her throat. “When we first moved into the city we sort of fell in with the artist culture. I slept around a lot and he drank.”
James broke his reverie with the trees to glance over in her direction.
Alexis continued “It got to be so bad that I was planning on moving back in with my mom just to break the negative cycle that we’d allowed ourselves to get in to.” She said. “Thankfully, James felt the same way that I did and together we started going to marriage counseling and Bible study classes where we learned to work through our problems.”
“Like a 12-step program.” Dustin commented.
“Sort of.” Alexis smiled. “We’d talk about whatever ill feelings that we’d allowed to build up against our loved ones over time and how to correct for them using Jesus in our daily lives. I found out that James was angry because I was unfaithful to him. I was angry because I didn’t think that James was doing enough to see to it that our dreams of owning an aquarium were tended to.”
James chuckled. “I didn’t think when I married her that she was serious about that.” He admitted. “I just thought that she was so cool and good looking that’d I was willing to say anything to be with her.”
“But you promised.” Alexis reminded him gently.
“And here we are,” James smiled. “On our way!”
“I know!” Alexis said excitedly. She held up her fish, taking a quick look at them.
Kennedy glanced from the artist to his wife. “So how did you meet these people?” She asked.
It was James’ turn to answer. “Well, the husband was a member of the male support group that I was involved with. He was my sponsor.”
“So what was his deal?” She asked gesticulating towards the artist in a careless manner. “Was he a cheater or a drunkard or what?”
“He was actually a pretty nice guy.” James said sheepishly. “He hadn’t done anything wrong.”
“So why was he there?”
Alexis coughed. “I think that he thought that his wife was sleeping around.” She answered looking down at her extended belly. “We were never very clear on that.”
Dustin gave a hollow laugh. “You don’t know?” he asked.
“She probably was.” James said. He was no longer smiling. “Alexis would never ask her that type of thing. It’s rude.”
“And this guy, does he know about your Jesus stunt?”
“Yes.” The artist muttered.
His wife stopped dead in her tracks. “Oh my God!” She said sounding both stunned and hurt. “He knew and I didn’t?”
James let go of the gurney and turned to face her. “It wasn’t like that at all honey!” He replied apologetically. “It was his idea!”
“It was his idea?” She repeated, phrasing his words as a question.
Dustin leaned against the stretcher to rest. “Why’d he want to do that?” He asked.
James glanced back at him. “That’s none of your damned business Dustin.” He answered flatly.