Midnight Bayou Page 84

"Why are you doing it?”

"He's part of me. Through blood, and more. If I can find a way to accept who birthed me, if I can live with that, then I can find a way to accept this. To live with it.”

She stopped the car, took two of the bouquets. "It's a little walk from here. It shouldn't take me long.”

"I'm coming with you.”

He got out, but didn't-as she'd grown used to-reach for her hand. They wound their way over the paths between the tombs, the ornate grilles, the marble angels and through shadows thrown by crosses.

She stopped at one of the raised tombs. There were many, simple and unadorned. Her grandfather rested here, and others who were parts and pieces of her. But today she had come only for one.

Her hands gripped tight on the flowers. Marie Rose, she read. Blood of my blood, heart of my heart.

"Grandmama, she told me Marie Rose was a happy woman, she had a good life. She was content with it. That might not be enough to make up for what was done, but if it had been done different … Well, I don't see how I'd be standing here with you this morning.”

She started to lay the flowers, and Declan closed his hand over hers on the stems. They placed them on the grave-the baby, the girl, the old woman, together.

"He's a ways from here," Lena managed. Her voice was thick, her vision blurry as she turned away.

They walked through the sunlight, through the shadows of the tombs, in silence.

The Manet crypt was a towering square, its porticoes carved, its doors thick and studded. Topping it was a fierce angel, holding a harp as a soldier might a shield.

"Cheerful," Declan commented. "I'd say none of them went gently into that good night." He glanced around, saw the plain concrete box on a raised slab. The plaque read:

LUCIAN EDUARD MANET. 1877-1900.

"He's out here?”

"He wasn't to be forgiven," Lena explained. "Not for his marriage, his child, his embarrassing death. They called it accidental drowning, though everyone knew it was suicide. But though Josephine wouldn't have him in the family crypt, she wanted him buried on consecrated ground. Otherwise, there would have been yet another scandal.”

Declan looked back at the crypt. "Bitch.”

"He had no grandparents, as I did, to love him. To soften the blows. He had a twin brother who loathed him simply because he existed. He had money and position, education and privilege. But no love. Until Abigail. Then they took her from him.”

She laid the flowers for him. "He did the best he could. It just wasn't enough.”

"You're stronger than he ever was. Smarter, more resilient.”

"I hope so. And I hope he rests soon. The flowers won't last long in this sun, but … Well, you do what you can.”

She walked away without another word. Declan lingered a moment more, staring at the plaque, then the flowers. Then he went with his impulse, took a single flower out of the bouquet, and laid it on top of the tomb.

Lena put her sunglasses on because her eyes were tearing. "That was kind.”

"Well, you do what you can." This time, he took her hand.

They didn't speak on the drive back. Nor did Rufus or Odette come out of the house when Lena parked in front of it. He remained silent as she led the way through the marsh. Silent, as he remembered the way in the night, with the chill in the air, the flitting moonlight, the call of an owl. And the panting breaths of a killer and his accomplice.

"Do you want to go back? You're awfully pale.”

"No." Sweat ran down his back despite the cold under his skin. "I need to do this.”

"It's not much farther.”

There were marsh flowers springing up along the edges of the narrow, beaten path. He concentrated on them, on the color, the small beauty. But when she stopped on the bank, he was out of breath and dizzy.

"It was here. Right here.”

"I know. Marie Rose came here, to this spot. Her heart knew." This time she handed him the bouquet and drew a single flower out.

Declan let the flowers fall into the river, watched the color, the small beauty, float on the brown water. "Not everybody can put flowers on his own grave.”

"I'm sorry." Tears slid down her cheeks. "I'm so sorry." She knelt, tossed the flower where it would drift alone. She groped for Declan's hand. "I'm so sorry I hurt you.”

"Don't." He drew her to her feet, into his arms. "It's all right.”

"He didn't trust enough. I didn't. Too much grief and not enough faith. Then, now.”

"There's been enough grieving. Then, now." He tipped up her face. And said what he'd realized was inside him-inside Abigail-at the moment they'd taken flowers to Marie Rose. "I forgive you.”

"You're more forgiving than she was.”

"Maybe. Maybe that's why we keep going around. Gives us a chance to fix things we screwed up.”

"Or make the same mistakes again. I've got something else to give you. But not here. Back at the Hall. It's the right place to give it to you.”

"Okay." He kissed her hand. "We're okay.”

"I think we're getting there. I'd like to walk back, get my bearings.”

"Good idea.”

"There's something I'd like to ask you to do," she said as they took the path again. "I'd like to put up three markers, maybe near the pond. One for Lucian, one for Abby and one for Marie Rose. I think it's time they were together.”

"I think they are together now." Or nearly, he thought. Very nearly, because there was a lightness in his heart he hadn't expected to feel again. "But the markers would be a nice memory. We'll pick out a spot, put them in. Then we'll plant something there, together.”

She nodded. "A willow maybe.”

"Like the one she liked so much." He nodded. "Sometimes you put things back the way they were, sometimes you change them. We'll do both. Then when our kids come along, we can have picnics near there, and tell them the story." He waited a beat. "You didn't tell me to shut up.”

"Cher, you just wear me out. Looks like your soldiers are here.”

He glanced over, wincing when he saw the cars. "Won't this be fun? Look, let's sneak up the front stairs and lock ourselves in my bedroom. I feel like I could sleep for a week now.”

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