Chapter 40

It was decided, mostly at the insistence of Aldrich that they load up the casket of Kennedy’s father into his truck.  After that, he would take James and Alexis to their friends house, deliver the body to the crematorium and deposit Dustin and the woman back at the cemetery where the paperwork could be drafted and finalized for the transfer of the grave plots.

Dustin himself was an unwelcome necessity in this collection of plans.  Both Kitten Kennedy and the grocer refused to talk to him using any other manner of expression besides grunts and criticisms.  There was a general consensus among the two of them that he was the reason for all of their problems.

The air of complaint and accusation hung acrimoniously as they made preparations to leave.  The artist and his wife smiled, as was their way but the tension tainted everything.  No one was really where they wanted to be and no one’s problems had been solved.

Dustin wasn’t very happy.  In his eyes, he was being forced against his will to return to the cemetery.  The woman and Aldrich had put him in a position to where he had to push paperwork in front of the two of them.  Steve would be too lost to even begin to be able to figure out how to transfer a funeral plot or arrange to have a tombstone refinished.

Kennedy blamed him for being stuck out in the middle of nowhere unable to escape from the lingering reminder of her father’s existence while Aldrich blamed him for his own father’s soul ceasing to exist anymore.  Dustin pushed the cart up to the open tailgate under the weight of their accusing stares.  This was always how things ended up.

The three men surrounded the coffin.  James stood at the rear while Dustin and the grocer positioned themselves on either side of it.

“What did you say to him?”  Aldrich asked again.

Dustin felt a sickening feeling in his gut at the sound of his words but made an effort to give the man an understanding smile.  “I told him that everything would be okay.”

“Is that all?”

“I offered to help.”

“And he punched you?”

“No.”  Dustin replied.  “It wasn’t quite like that.”

“Then how was it?”

“I don’t know.”  Dustin moaned.  “Look, I didn’t expect him to punch me.  All I wanted to do was help him out.”

“Did he need your help?”

Dustin shot the grocer a look of confrontation.  “Do you need my help?”

With a quick lift and a push, the three of them shoved the casket into the trucks bed.  Metal scraped against metal.  It sounded like wailing.

Aldrich turned to Dustin.  “I don’t have a choice.”  He said.  “All I need you for is to help me get my mom and dad buried. “

“Your dad was sitting on the curb and your mom was sitting in a chair.”  Dustin continued.  “She was dead and he was upset.  I was just doing my job.”

“Did he ever ask you for your help?”

Dustin shook his head.   Unconsciously he flashed the man a sardonic smile that belied the frustration that he felt.  “You didn’t ask me for my help.”  He spat waving his arms helplessly.  “Miss Kennedy didn’t ask me for my help.  No one wants to act like they need help but they come to me to fix things for them because I bury their dead and make sure that their soap smells of lavender and honey.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about bro?”  The grocer grumbled, cocking his head in confusion.

“Do you like to stay in hotels?”  Dustin asked pointing at the man.

“No.”  Aldrich replied.  “The rooms always smell like smoke and people slam doors all night long.  They suck.”

“I’m not talking about those places.”  Dustin shot back shaking his head.  “I’m talking about the really nice places; the kind that have patterns on their bed spreads and moisturizer by the sink.”

“I don’t know.”

“Well have you ever stayed at a place like that?”

“Why?”

“Because it’s important.”

“To who?”

“Me.”

“Then screw you.”  Aldrich sneered.  “I’m not answering.”

“So you have!”  Dustin exclaimed.  “Where?”

Aldrich shrugged.  “I don’t know.”  He moaned.  “I stayed in a big hotel in Dallas a few years ago for a roll playing convention that I went to.”

“Did you like staying there?”

“It was pretty nice.”

“And was there moisturizer by the sink?  Soap laid out on a folded towel by the coffee maker?”

“Yeah.”  The grocer grumbled.  “Who cares?  I wasn’t there for the damned moisturizer and soaps.  I was there to play games.”

“Yes!”  Dustin exclaimed holding up a raised finger.  “But you probably used some of them right?  You probably bathed with the soaps or dried your hands with the hand towel.”

“I don’t remember.  Probably.”

“And even if you didn’t, they were there.”

“Sure.”

“And did you get mad at them for being there?”

“No, jackass.”  Aldrich barked.  “What’s your point.”

Kitten Kennedy interrupted with a low staccato laugh.  “He’s going to tell you that you secretly wanted the moisturizer.”

“I didn’t.”  Aldrich spat, slamming the tailgate shut and turning around.

Dustin followed him over to the driver’s side of the pickup.  “Maybe you didn’t.”  He acknowledged.  “Maybe you’re not the type to need moisturizer for your hands or towels to dry them with but the thing is they were there in case you wanted them and someone put them there.”

The grocer spun around.  “I don’t care who put them there.”  He said raising his fist in a threatening gesture.  “I never asked for them, I didn’t want them and my daddy didn’t want your help with momma.  I don’t know what you two talked about but you didn’t help.  You didn’t do anything but remind him that she was gone.  After 30 years of marriage he knew that he was going to be alone.  That’s why he hit you.  You aren’t moisturizer and you aren’t a towel, bro.  Don’t pretend to be like those things.  You aren’t a hero.  You know what?  I remember you from the store this morning.  You’re nothing but a pushy little prick and a coward.”

Dustin stood looking at Aldrich and his cocked fist.  His breath rose and fell rapidly in his chest as he let the words settle between them.  The air was filled with a tense silence.

Slowly, the grocer lowered his arm and turned around to jerk open the door with a heavy grunt.

“But just being there, the moisturizer couldn’t have hurt you.”  Dustin said almost in a whisper.

Aldrich replied by spinning and punching him in the same eye that his daddy had.  For Dustin, it was the last thing that he remembered before blacking out.

The End

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