I waited after the game with Renee. (We opted out of the post-season speech from Coach Wright; seeing seventeen- and eighteen-year-old boys cry is never fun.) First out were Andy and Bear. The second Renee saw Andy, she was in his arms and they were gone. (“We’re gonna have a talk first,” Renee had said when I asked if they were back together. Yeah, right.) Bear hesitated, then gave me a small wave and wandered off. Lawrie came out not too long after and I ran into his hug.
“Congratulations,” I whispered.
He grinned back at me, and then his eyes focused somewhere behind me. I followed his gaze; Della was waiting patiently by the steps.
I rolled my eyes. “Go on.”
He gave me a quick peck on the cheek and hurried towards Della.
“Hey, Lawrie!” I called. He turned. “I love you, big brother.” I sent him a goofy grin. He blew me kisses back.
“Em,” I heard behind me. I turned to find myself face to face with Lane.
I opened my mouth to tell him how incredibly proud I was, but suddenly his lips were on mine. His hands were in my hair and I let my arms find his face. Finally, my brain caught up and I pushed back from his kiss, breathing hard.
“Lane,” I gasped, ridiculously confused and shaken up.
“Lane!” My utterance was echoed by a much more adult, more male, more urgent one. Farther up, by the parking lot, Lane’s step-father, Mr. Addy, was standing, hands in his pockets. His expression wasn’t exactly readable, but it wasn’t a good one. Lane took one look at him and immediately headed that direction.
Lawrie (and Della) came up behind me, laughing. “What in the hell was that all about? Did Laney seriously just kiss you?”
I didn’t even look at him; my eyes were focused on Lane. (Honestly, I was just pleased Lawrie wasn’t super pissed off. I mean, his best friend just kissed his sister.) “Lawrie, it’s Mr. Addy,” I said.
“Oh, now he decides to show.” He followed my gaze and we watched as Lane neared Mr. Addy. His pace slowed the closer he got.
“What’s going on?” Mom showed up just as Lane stopped, stiff in front of Mr. Addy, who looked a little beaten down.
I don’t know what Mr. Addy said, but he said something that made Lane jerk back. Then his knees gave out and Laney collapsed in super slow motion, his whole body loose. Mom brought her hand up to her mouth in shock and tears filled my eyes as I watched Mr. Addy crouch next to Lane as he lay crumpled, shaking. It was obvious what had been said.
Lawrie tried to go to his best friend, but Mom and I both reached out to stop him. “Give him a little space, Lawrie,” Mom whispered.
But then Lawrie was crying, and it was all too much so we let go. Lawrie staggered at first, but then we were behind him, following him, and he picked up speed, practically running. He stopped about ten feet away from Lane, and Mr. Addy looked up. Up close, I could tell that he, too, was crying.
Slowly, he held out his keys. “Go get the car, would you?” he asked Lawrie.
My brother nodded, but hesitated before walking close enough to take the keys from Mr. Addy’s shaky hand. His eyes never left Lane’s quivering body.
Mom, Della and I stood there, still a little distance away, waiting for Lawrie to come back. Lane continued to shake, his face hidden, shivering like he was cold, until his body relaxed into a slump that was somehow sadder than the shaking.
Lawrie pulled Mr. Addy’s car up to the curb and got out, but he stood back. Mr. Addy whispered something to Lane, then lifted him up and practically carried him to the car. Laney was dead weight in his arms.
I only caught one glimpse of his face, after Mr. Addy’s short, quiet conversation with my mom. Lane was hunched in the passenger seat, facing forwards, but just as Mr. Addy climbed in the car, Lane turned a fraction and the light hit just right and I could see him perfectly. He wasn’t crying, just staring. He seemed to see through me, but for a split second as the car lurched away, our eyes connected and the incredible, overwhelming desperation he sent out in his gaze almost knocked me over.
The car faded away and Mom stepped in front of me and Lawrie. “Kids, Mrs. Keaton passed away this morning,” she unnecessarily informed us.
The funeral was a couple days later, on a Tuesday. The whole baseball team was there, but Lawrie and I sat in a pew with our family. It was the first funeral I’d ever been to, and it was one of the saddest days I’d ever experienced. The entire church was visibly upset, as much for Mrs. Keaton as for Lane and Mr. Addy. Everybody was crying.
Well, except for Laney.
He sat in the front, next to Mr. Addy and his dad and step-mom, who’d flown in from California. It was one of the few times I’d ever seen Mr. Keaton; it was easy to tell where Lane got his looks. They were almost the same build and bore a striking facial resemblance to each other. Except for his eyes. Laney’s gray-green eyes were exactly like his mother’s.
It took me a minute to realize it was the first time I’d ever seen Lane Keaton in a suit. (He’d never gone to prom and had managed to squeak by in khakis and a dress shirt at both of my sisters’ weddings.) He cleaned up nice, better than I cared to admit. A brief flashback of our kiss popped into my head, and a blush crept up my cheeks before I could push the image out. I was half hoping that Lane would come up and talk to me, explain to me, but I forced myself to acknowledge that he had much bigger things on his mind than a high school girl.
After the service, there was a brief graveside ceremony, for family and close friends. The entire Wilder family was in attendance. I watched Lane closely the whole time, but he stared blankly ahead until the end of the service.
The headstone was simple. It read
Cora J. Keaton-Addy
Beloved mother and wife
followed by her date of birth and the day she died. It was short and concise, but Lane stood, gazing at the headstone as if there were something there he desperately needed to decipher. The desperation was the first emotion I’d seen from him all day.
Lawrie and I didn’t even try to talk to him, not until later, back at his house. There were tons of people there, all trying to comfort poor Mr. Addy. But Lane was nowhere to be seen.
“He’s upstairs,” Mr. Addy mouthed desperately from across the room.
I took Lawrie’s hand for support and we casually snuck up the staircase. Upstairs it was much quieter, and we stood in the dimly lit hallway outside of Lane’s room (a room I’d rarely ever been in) and took a much needed deep breath. Lawrie glanced anxiously at me and I nodded. He tapped lightly on the door.
“Lane?” His voice was hushed out of respect.
Slowly, he opened the door enough for us to step inside. Lane’s room hadn’t changed since I’d last been in it, months prior. Lane sat pitifully on his bed in the semi-dark, shoulders slumped. He was still dressed to the nines, apart from his jacket, which was flung over his desk chair. He hadn’t even kicked off his shoes or untucked his shirt or loosened his tie.
“Lane,” my brother pleaded, and my heart broke at the emotion in his voice.
Lane didn’t acknowledge us.
“How you holding up?” Lawrie tried again, sitting down an awkward distance away from Lane on the bed.
Finally, Lane shifted his focus from the floorboards and looked up at us. His face was a hard slate, and though his eyes were focused in our direction, his stare seemed to go straight past us, to not even see us, much as it had the last time I’d seen him, at the game. Just as quickly as he’d looked up, he let his gaze slide back down to the floor. Lawrie stood up hastily and swept a hand across his face. He brushed by me and I followed him out, quietly closing the door behind us.
Lawrie was halfway down the stairs before I could stop him, so I just let him go. He walked straight over to where Mom, Coach Wright and Coach Levy were standing.
“I’m going home,” he said to Mom.
Coach Wright touched his shoulder. “Do you know where Laney is? Coach Levy and I’d like to pay our respects.”
Lawrie’s jaw clenched. “He’s not here.”
That night, I crawled into Lawrie’s bed after I’d showered. He rolled over and let me lay my head on his shoulder, our familiar position. But Lane’s side of the bed felt empty, and we both lay awake for hours, thinking.
I couldn’t get Lane’s kiss out of my head, or the Lane I’d seen today, distant and blank. I couldn’t get the two to mesh. Lawrie hadn’t been lying when he told Coach Wright that Lane wasn’t there. That boy upstairs in Mr. Addy’s house wasn’t Lane.
I slept in Lawrie’s room every night for a week.
Images of Lane’s kiss swirled around in my head, mixing with images of Lane at the funeral, Lane right after they won the game, Lane the day I’d picked him up from the hospital, Lane the day he’d warned me about Bear.
My favorite was a memory I had of him hunched in the floor in Lawrie’s room. He was laboriously following along as I read Macbeth aloud. I had stopped for a second to look at him. His eyes were scrunched in concentration, but at my pause he looked up, and all the frustration melted off his face. His smile was contagious.
I sat up suddenly in the bed. It was barely morning (I hadn’t slept a wink), but the sun couldn’t penetrate the blankets still hanging on Lawrie’s windows.
I had come to a conclusion. I had to talk to Lane, to get it out in the open and figure out what the hell was going on between us, what the hell I was feeling.
Lawrie and I had been giving him space, but a week was space enough. No visits, no calls, no quick little texts, “Hey, I’m okay. I’m alive.” Nothing. I was suddenly more than a little pissed.
I threw on a pair of shorts and headed downstairs. I was starving, but I had finally worked up the courage to confront Lane, and I ignored my hunger. Mom and Dad were watching the 6:00 news in their pajamas; I don’t think they even heard me leave.
I walked to Lane’s house. (It wasn’t that far if you cut through the Summers’s back yard.) I knocked on the door at 6:17. I heard a shuffling as somebody pushed back a stool. I found that I was very, very nervous.
A haggard Mr. Addy opened the door, his surprise at seeing me so early evident in his expression. “Emma Gray?”
“I need to see Lane.”
His expression changed, but I cut him off before he could say anything.
“I know he’s going through a hard time – a very hard time,” I continued. “And I’ve been trying to give him time, but neither Lawrie nor I have heard from him in a week and there’s something I really need to talk to him about. I promise I’ll be quick. I won’t stay long.
“I just need to see Lane,” I spat out.
Mr. Addy sighed. His head was bowed. “I’m sorry, but-“
“Please, Mr. Addy? I promise-“
He held up a hand. “Emma. I’m really sorry, I am. But Lane’s not here.”
Well, boy did I feel dumb. “Oh. I’m so sorry.” I turned to leave. “I’ll just come back, you know, later or something,” I mumbled.
“He really didn’t tell you two?”
I stopped. “Tell us what?”
Mr. Addy sighed again. “Lane went to California. His father thought it would be best.”
The air around me disappeared and I struggled to take a breath. “What?” I rasped.
“They left the day after the funeral. I’m really sorry, Emma Gray. I thought he’d told you.”
“For how long?” I managed to get out.
Mr. Addy shrugged. “The rest of summer, I suppose.”
Finally my shock ebbed and I found my voice. “But that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard!” I exploded. “That’s not fair! His dad can’t just move him away. That’s not fair to Lane! He needs to be here, with people who love him and need him. He can’t just come back eighteen years into his son’s life and start making important decisions for him. That’s not fair.” I was practically sobbing.
Another shrug. Mr. Addy looked highly uncomfortable with a crying seventeen-year-old girl on his doorstep. “He didn’t exactly complain. I think Lane just wanted to get away for a little while.”
“Of course he did,” I muttered. “All Lane ever does is ignore the problem.”
I ran the whole way home, crying. Mom and Dad looked up as I blew through the door.
“Emma!” Mom exclaimed.
I didn’t pause to talk to her. I stormed upstairs and into Lawrie’s room, followed by my oh-so-concerned parents. I guess I made enough noise to wake Lawrie up, because he peeked open one eye, took a look at me (tears streaming down my face) and sat bolt upright.
“Laney’s gone,” I sobbed. “He went to California with his dad.”
I crumpled onto Lawrie’s bed and he held me while I cried and recounted my conversation with Mr. Addy. Mom and Dad had vanished by the time I was done.
Between Lawrie and I, we tried calling Lane 12 times in the next two days. Add that to the myriad times we’d tried him in the past week, and I’d given up.
Lane was gone.
Thousands of questions raced around in my head. There were the practical ones. What was he doing all summer? Why wouldn’t he talk to us? Was he still going to school next year? What about all the stuff he’d left at our house?
But worse were the what ifs. The what could have beens. What if I had said something to him earlier, at the funeral? Why couldn’t he have kissed me three months ago?
Would I have been ready?