We both turned in early that night. I wanted to get as much packing early to rest up good for the funeral on Monday. Jennie asked me about Mass, and I told her there was too much to do, and not enough time. Father Oliver would be over in the afternoon to finalize the rest of the funeral plans. I didn’t tell her St. Anne’s was the last place I wanted to go to church. I hadn’t been much older than Jennie when I started to feel like St. Anne’s was
less about God, and more about gossip.
The church I had in mind in Minneapolis was St. Ignatius, a large church I had snuck in a couple times at Christmas and Easter, and once when Frank had left for several days and I had suddenly felt a strange need to pray.
Even with my reservations about St. Anne’s I had none about Father Oliver. He had always been a good man and a good priest despite his congregation. Thankfully, he was the same as I remembered him, far more forgiving and less accusatory than Molly had been. Another priest may have refused to perform her funeral mass, since she had caused her own undoing.
He explained to me that no matter what her death certificate said that he understood there was much more to it.
“She was a woman of God,” Father Oliver explained. “How can I deny her this?” I thanked him, but apparently with less enthusiasm than the father would’ve preferred.
“I hope you have not lost God,” he told me. “Your sister was concerned.”
“But Father,” I answered. “How can I lose a God who is everywhere?”
We made the last of the arrangements and I agreed to be at the church by 8:30 even though the service wasn’t staring until 11:00. I wanted to be prepared for anything, and I figured with the way Molly had gone it might turn into a circus. The only people that mattered, as far as I was concerned, were Denny, me and Jennie.
I could hear people whispering and gossiping all through the service. How could Molly do something like that with her little girl in the house? Why couldn’t I put together a decent luncheon for my only sister?
I’d kept things simple on purpose. Molly prided herself on a certain amount of humility. I only served coffee, juice, and rolls. No matter what the townspeople said, I wasn’t going to feel obligated to give them a party. The only person I did feel sorry for was Mrs. Johansen, whose husband had been disfigured trying to pull Molly out of the fire, and I made a point to thank her for his efforts.
The burial was better; just Jennie, Denny and me. I laid her to rest next to Nate and the baby she lost. Jennie held tight to Denny, and I don’t think either of them noticed my tears as I looked down at the three graves, a
tiny slab next to Paul Martin’s, Molly’s and Nate’s too recent for stones, or for the earth above them to level itself.
Jennie was hungry, and I wished that I had set up a proper luncheon after all. The alternative was to eat in town, and I wanted to get out as soon as possible. But Jennie and Denny were grieving as much as I was, so I agreed to Jennie’s suggestion to go to Bixby’s for lunch. We were sipping our sodas waiting for our food when my nightmare walked through the door.
Larry Lutzen looked cleaner and far more sober than the last time I had seen him, but my skin still crawled in his presence. He feigned politeness and came over to offer his “sympathy.”
He went to Denny first, who was a perfect gentleman about the whole thing. I’d never known Denny to be less. He was polite, but as brief as possible; he could probably feel my blood boiling across the table.
I tried my best to stay calm, but when Larry spoke to Jennie I couldn’t help myself. I stared at him, a hard sharp stare that would’ve made him bleed, if he had been human.
“Stay away from Jennie,” I warned.
Larry smiled. “Why, Lucy McMillen, if you aren’t as fiery as you were as a little girl.”
I remembered what Larry had been like when I was little. He spent more than his share of time at the farm playing cards with my Daddy. For a while he brought Molly and me presents and candy, but for the most part,
Larry Lutzen walking into a room was a good excuse to leave it. I spoke louder, more forcefully, trying to stop short of screaming, for Jennie’s sake.
“I said, stay away from her! Stay away from both of us! Don’t you so much as look at either of us, or so help me…”
Larry shook his head. “Damn McMillen girls. You’re as mad as your sister. Setting herself on fire. Casting the Devil out of the tractor engine.”
“You’re right. The Devil can’t be in the John Deere. He’s too busy possessing you.”
“I see you’re still the same little bitch you were ten years ago.” he huffed.
“Leave them be, Larry,” Denny pleaded. “It’s a hard day.”
Larry gave a satisfied sniff and headed back to the counter to refill his coffee cup.
“Maybe you should head back to the farm awhile,” Denny suggested.
“I’ll look out for Jennie. I’ll bring her by later.”
I became more and more infuriated watching Larry sit at the counter with his coffee like a model citizen, and I knew Denny was right. It wasn’t a good idea for me to be there.
“You’ll stay right with him?” I asked Jennie. She promised she would.
“You too,” I told Denny. “Promise me you’ll keep her right with you. Swear to God you’ll keep Jennie within arms reach of you every second.”
“I thought you weren’t religious, Lucy,” he said.
“I am when it comes to Larry Lutzen. I pray every night that the Good Lord sends him off to the fiery pit where he belongs. So far the Good Lord’s not showing much sense.”
“I swear to God. Jenny will be safe. Head on back. We’ll be along later.”
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