My plan was going perfectly until I got to Eric’s house. I tried to input the code he had given me, but it didn’t work. Since I didn’t have my cell phone anymore I couldn’t send him a text to let him know I was leaving things at the gate for him, but Eric would figure it out when he left the house. I was able to squeeze the bag between the bars of the wrought iron gate at the edge of his property, and tuck it behind the wall so that it wouldn’t be easily accessible to anyone that happened by.
Not that I cared if anyone stole what was in the bag, but it wasn’t exactly common to find a sex toy on your neighbor’s law and I didn’t want any kids that might live nearby to find it. I did, however, leave the marigolds at the center of the driveway because I wanted him to see them. Once I had everything in place I got back in my car and drove home.
Gran still wasn’t there when I pulled up, and when I went inside there still wasn’t a note from her to let me know where she’d gone off to. By that point it was after noon and I was a little nervous. My first phone call was to Everlee Mason, in the hopes that she’d heard something. Everlee was also a member of the Descendants of the Glorious Dead, and one of Gran’s closest friends. Back in the day they had gone to one another’s houses for dinner parties, cheered their sons on together at football games and even attended the weddings of each other’s children.
Never in a million years would Gran admit that she was a gossip, mostly because she only listened to it instead of spreading it around, but just because she let Maxine talk her ear off didn’t mean they were best pals. I suppose from Maxine’s perspective they were, but I knew Gran didn’t trust her very much. I couldn’t blame her for that. Maxine wasn’t the kind of woman you trusted your secrets with. She’d sell you out in a heartbeat if it got her a little attention.
“Good afternoon, Mason residence,” Everlee said when she answered my call.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Mason, it’s Sookie Stackhouse,” I said politely.
“Oh, Sookie dear, how are you?”
“I’m just fine, thank you. I was calling because I haven’t seen Gran this morning and she didn’t leave a note. I was hoping maybe you’ve seen her or spoken to her.”
“No, I’m sorry dear. I haven’t seen Adele since last night. The meeting broke up late on account of Dixon and Jimmy Ray getting into it again,” she said with a hint of annoyance. “Those two fools argued for a good hour and a half over whether we should carpool or rent a bus to go up to Pennsylvania, and I’ll tell you by the time Mayor Hatfield stepped in to settle the whole thing Adele was about ready to spit nails. Of course she wasn’t the only one. Anyhow, we decided we’ll just be renting a bus to go up north and then there was a debate on hotels… it was just a big ole mess. By the time the meeting broke up we were all pretty worn down so as far as I know Adele went straight home to get some sleep.”
I was quiet for a minute. It was no surprise that Dixon Lembke and Jimmy Ray Purvis got into it. Those two were always doing battle when it came time to plan trips. Really it would just be easier if the rest of the club forgot to invite them. Lord knows it would save everyone a little frustration, and in a group that was mostly full of senior citizens no one needed their blood pressure elevated.
“Are you still there, honey?” Everlee asked.
“Yes, I’m still here,” I said. “Well if you see Gran will you ask her to call home? I’m just a little worried about her since I haven’t seen her yet today and I didn’t hear her come in last night.”
“Sure thing, sugar. You be sure to let her know that I’d like a word with her, too, whenever she gets in,” Everlee told me.
“Yes, ma’am. You have a good afternoon now.”
“You too, Sookie,” she said, and then hung up.
Everlee Mason was as sweet as a honey pecan pie fresh from the oven on a Sunday afternoon. I didn’t want to worry her about Gran being missing in action, but she was also my best chance at finding Gran. For a while I stood in the kitchen considering my options. I called Jason to see if maybe he’d heard from Gran, but I only got his voicemail. I left a message to let him know that Gran was still MIA and that I’d talked to Everlee Mason.
When I couldn’t stand around waiting anymore I decided to go into town and see if I could find her there somewhere. She could have been at the library doing research on the battlefields she was planning to visit, or maybe she was stuck in some awful line at the post office or the grocery store. With Halloween coming up soon it wouldn’t be the strangest thing if she had gone north to Ashley County, Arkansas to a pumpkin patch that we sometimes went to when Jason and I were kids.
It was times like those when I wished Gran had a cell phone. Usually I didn’t worry, but given all the odd things I was learning lately I felt like I had a right to be concerned about her. I got in my car and drove into town, making sure to keep my eyes open for Gran’s car. My first stop was the library, but Mrs. Beck, the librarian, didn’t remember seeing Gran come in that morning. I took a quick look around but there were no signs of her. After that I went on to the grocery store. Gran’s car wasn’t in the lot but that didn’t stop me from going in. I didn’t find her there, either.
It was a stretch, but I drove out to WalMart as well. Finding her there would be like finding a needle in a haystack, but it was worth a shot and better than returning home to sit and wait like a chump. Asking the greeter at the door would do me no good since the little old man had the personality of an angry beehive and the memory of a sieve. As I walked around the store I kept my eyes peeled, but again I didn’t spot Gran anywhere. After walking around for almost an hour I called off the search and decided to head back to Bon Temps.
There were plenty of back roads she could have gotten a flat tire on, or maybe a deer had darted out into the road. As much as I hated to do it, I stopped at the sheriff’s office to talk to Bud Dearborn.
When I walked in Kenya was behind the desk with her usual grumpy expression fixed to her face. Being her had to be frustrating. Not only was she a woman in a male dominated profession, but she was an African American woman in a male dominated profession in the deep south. Unfortunately there were still a few assholes that hadn’t gotten with the times, and still drove around with confederate flags on their trucks, hoping to someday return to the days of separate but nowhere near equal. There were plenty of folks that resented a woman having a badge to begin with, but being at the mercy of a black woman?
No, I wouldn’t want to trade places with Kenya.
“What can I do for you, Sookie?” she asked as I approached the desk.
“Well, I’m not sure,” I said as I rested my hands on the desk. “See I don’t think Gran came home from her DGD meeting last night, and she wasn’t there when I woke up this morning. I haven’t heard a peep out of her so far all day and as far as I know, no one’s seen her or talked to her. I checked around town and even drove out to WalMart but I couldn’t find her. I’m fixing to go drive around the back roads and stop by the church, but I was just hoping that if someone sees her they could let me know?”
Kenya stopped what she was doing and said, “Adele’s a grown woman. She doesn’t need to check in with her grandkids for permission to do something.”
“I know that,” I snapped. “It’s just that it’s not like her to not come home or let someone know where she’s off to. She wears her schedule on her sleeve. I’m just asking for y’all to keep an eye out is all.”
“I’ll see what we can do, but I can’t go puttin’ a man on this for at least another twenty-four hours,” she told me.
“Well I’m hopin’ she comes home before that,” I said.
“I’ll let Andy and Kevin know since they’re out on patrol,” she said, but made no moves to go on over to the radio to put the call out.
“Thanks,” I said, and then turned to go.
If I was going to find Gran, I was going to have to do it myself.
Four hours later I was no closer to finding Gran, and I had been all over town. I returned home to find that Jason had called back, but Gran’s car still wasn’t there.
“Hey Sook, just got your message. I still ain’t heard from Gran, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled. Look, I thought about what you said this morning and I know you meant well, but I think I’m doin’ the right thing. It’s time I got settled, you know? Anyway… I’ll let you know if I talk to Gran. I love you,” he said.
I erased the message with a roll of my eyes. Jason was asking for a world of trouble by settling for Dawn, but whatever—it was his life.
The stress I was putting myself under was starting to get the better of me. I was hungry but couldn’t even think about eating. It was a useless activity but I started pacing around the house. This just wasn’t like Gran at all to go off without telling anyone where she was going or when she would be back. I remembered when I was about thirteen or fourteen and Jason took it upon himself to push back his curfew by a few hours. I remembered Gran looking out windows every few minutes, going back and forth from nervous to threatening to tan Jason’s hide whenever he finally showed himself.
My brother finally came home somewhere around two, and after she hugged him silly for being alright, Gran chased him around the house with a wooden spoon for a good half an hour. I’d been almost as angry as Gran was. Not just because Jason broke a rule, or because he was disrespectful to Gran, but because Gran had been through enough already. By that point she’d lost both of her children, her husband, her daughter-in-law and my cousin Hadley had already taken off with a band of misfits that did nothing but get her hooked on drugs and into some pretty bad trouble.
I had a brief moment of panic when I thought of Hadley. What if she came back looking for more money? It wouldn’t be the first time she approached Gran for a handout, claiming she was looking to get clean and sobered up. What if Hadley brought an enforcer with her that would make sure Gran paid up? Was Hadley capable of something like that?
The Hadley I knew wasn’t, but she was a different person when she was on drugs. Last I heard, meth was her drug of choice and it made her all sorts of violent and irrational. Gran could never turn her away because she was family, and I’d been taught from a young age that you never turn your back on your kin.
To that end, I decided a nap was out of the question. It was a longshot, but it would be just my luck that I’d find Gran in the cemetery next to the house. For all I knew that’s where she’d been all day, photographing old tombstones. It was a hobby of hers that she mostly enjoyed when she wanted a little peace and quiet. You couldn’t get much quieter than a cemetery. I grabbed a jacket from the front closet and took a flashlight from the mud porch with me. The wind picked up as I walked across the lawn.
Already the sun was setting, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it was completely dark by the time I got home. I zipped my jacket as I walked. Deep in my gut I knew Gran wasn’t at the cemetery, but it was worth looking anyway. I had nothing to lose by just checking it out.
If something bad had happened to Gran and I lost her because of it I didn’t know what I’d do. I owed everything to Gran. She’d given me the best life she could, and while we may not have been rolling in money or fancy material things I would take the lessons she taught me over shallow trinkets any day of the week. The thought that I might never see her alive again made it hard to breathe, but I kept walking. I was determined to find Gran and in this instance my stubborn nature paid off.
I listened hard as I walked the path that led to the cemetery, hoping to hear something that would give me a clue as to where she was. Our nearest neighbor, Jessie Compton, lived on the other side of the cemetery but I sincerely doubted he’d be out for an evening stroll. He’d had a pretty bad stroke not too long ago that left his left side weak. He wasn’t walking well on his own and the last I heard he had a nurse coming out to check on him every other day. I decided I’d go visit him the next day, whether Gran came home or not.
Home Sweet Home was the final resting place to thousands of former Bon Temps residents. All Saints Day was even more important in Louisiana than Halloween, and our church was getting ready for the ceremony that was held every year to mark the day. Families gathered at the cemetery to decorate the graves of their loved ones, spend time together, have lunch, reminisce about the family members who had passed and at the end of the night the reverends would do a small services right there at the cemetery. It was tradition to go, and Gran was always a part of the committee of women who made the wreaths to adorn the graves.
They’d started on the project the week before, and I knew Gran had a personal quota of two hundred to finish. So far she was only somewhere around twenty-five, but her hands started to bother her after a while—arthritis, and all. If I knew how to do it I’d take up the slack for her, but then I stopped myself.
Gran was coming home.
There was no reason for me to take up the slack when she would be coming home. Taking over her chores meant giving up, and I wasn’t ready to do that just yet. I prowled around the cemetery, starting with the section where the Stackhouses were buried since that was where Gran was most likely to be. Once a month she went out to Granddaddy’s grave to have a talk with him. I don’t know what good it did, but it seemed to unburden her soul a little when she got home. Sometimes I thought maybe she had the right idea. Maybe sharing my burdens with my parents wouldn’t be so awful of an idea.
Of course Gran wasn’t there in the cemetery, and I’d spent enough time wandering through it from the time I was a child to know the place with my eyes closed. I walked around for quite a while, only coming to a stop when I reached the section where the Comptons were buried. That family went back almost as far as mine did. Once upon a time Solomon Compton was the town’s undertaker and oversaw all of the burials in town. The Comptons used to own the land where the cemetery was located, but it was sold back to the parish when William Compton inherited the land from his father not long before The War started.
By all accounts William Compton was a nice southern gentleman who had married well and served the confederacy when the time came. He did the right thing in turning the land back over to the parish. It was a good thing, too, because William died in The War, and the property would have most likely been seized from his wife once the union soldiers made their way into town. Then again, there were no records to indicate that the Comptons had ever been slave owners. In fact, there was a little compartment under their staircase where they hid escaped slaves.
That wasn’t common knowledge, but something I knew from visiting Jessie from time to time with Gran. As kids Jason and I had played in that little hidden spot, playing games of make believe together until we got too big for such things to be fun for us anymore. We never gave much thought to what that compartment was for, only wished that Gran’s house had something cool like that for us to play in.
In the distance I could see lights on at the Compton house, but I wasn’t about to go over there and bother old Jessie. He had bigger fish to fry and he wouldn’t exactly be useful in a search party. Besides, I told myself, Gran was going to come home anytime now.
Once it was full dark I decided it was time to head back home. I couldn’t put off filling my belly any longer, and it might be nice for Gran to come home to a hot meal. I turned around and started back toward the old farmhouse, still racking my brains, trying to figure out where Gran might have gone. If she had gone up to Arkansas she would have been back already. She wasn’t in any of her usual places and so far there had been no phone calls letting me know that anyone had seen her.
Back at the house I looked in the fridge to see what was there for supper. The night before Gran had pulled out a package of pork chops so I took those out of the fridge to get the chill off of them. I pulled potatoes from the pantry where Gran kept them and a bag of frozen green beans from the freezer. There was a little transistor radio Gran kept on top of the fridge to keep her company while she cooked and cleaned, and I got that going to keep the silence at bay.
It was just a small station that was operated by parish volunteers. Since it was suppertime the news was being read, and I listened keenly while I peeled potatoes for something that might help me figure out where Gran was. Local headlines included town budget meetings, detours that were being set up while the road crew worked, church gatherings and talks the mayor might be giving in the near future. Edwin Hatfield had been the mayor of Bon Temps for as long as I could remember, and he always ran unopposed. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if his son didn’t just slide into his father’s spot after old Edwin passed on.
I got the potatoes peeled and into a pot to start cooking. The oven preheated while I breaded the pork chops, and just because I was feeling fancy I decided to make some cinnamon apples as well. Through it all there were no cars coming up the driveway, no phone calls from anyone and I was no closer to figuring out where Gran was. My stomach rumbled as the smell of my dinner started to permeate the house. I set out two places at the kitchen table, praying that by the time everything was ready Gran would arrive.
Cooking was an easy way for me to turn my mind off and just let my hands do the work. When the potatoes were fork tender I strained them in the sink. I added butter and a splash of milk to the pot before dumping the potatoes back in, and then I went at them with the old masher Gran had been using since before I was born. I strained the beans and when the timer went off I took the chops out of the oven to rest for a few minutes so they didn’t dry out on me as soon as I cut into one.
I poured myself a glass of sweet tea and spooned some of the sautéed apples onto my plate to let them cool off before dishing up the rest of my meal. Still there was no Gran, and as I took my plate back to the table to start eating, my heart sank even further.
Something was very, very wrong and my gut told me it was only going to get worse before it got better.