The funeral was held at the country club. It was a closed casket. Although no body had been found, it was obvious to everyone where Gail’s final resting place was. It was where she would have wanted it. She was in her favorite place. In the water. In the cove. She had swam these waters almost every day of her life. As only Todd knew, she had swam these waters almost every night for the past four months…to come to him. He felt sick. He felt numb. Everyone around him cried. He just stared at the lake. None of them knew that he was in love with her. No one knew that she was in love with him. No one knew what they had done. No one knew about the fight they’d had the night before she’d died. No one knew. But Todd knew.
Bishop Mackenzie said a few words. Todd didn’t hear them. Patrick cried for the girl he had loved since Primary. Stephen cried for the woman he had intended to marry. Catherine and Fred cried for their daughter. All of their friends cried. Everyone cried. Except Todd. Todd just stared out at the lake. None of them knew of his pain. None of them knew that he had just lost his eternal companion. None of them knew that he would spend the rest of his life chastising himself for the choices they had made that led him to never have the chance to marry her in the temple.
The procession drove up the street to the cemetery where her casket would be laid and her headstone placed. Todd rode with the Pedersons. They still did not know the extent to which their daughter meant to this young man. They only knew that he didn’t want to leave their sides. They knew that he was attached in a much more meaningful way than anyone else in the crowd realized. They saw it is his blank stare. They saw the hurt. They knew that if it had been one of them who had died, that same blank stare would be in the other’s eyes. They suspected that Todd was very much in love with their daughter. They let him sit beside them.
A few more words were spoken by the gravesite, and the casket was lowered. Todd just stared. At last it was time for the family to stay with the casket and the rest of the mourners to move on to go prepare the luncheon.
No one moved. Everyone was waiting to see who the “family” was going to be. Who would stay beside the Pederson’s? Patrick and his parents? Stephan and his parents? No one thought twice about Todd. No one really noticed him there.
Patrick had planned to marry Gail for years. He had loved Gail for years. He had held her in his arms on the gym floor of the high school, in a tuxedo and boutonnière. He had spent countless days with her playing in the water in the cove, going for boat rides, taking her water skiing. He had sat by the poolside countless times watching her compete, watching her win. He had written to her every week for two years. He had come home to find her engaged to someone else. He turned his head and looked across at the man who had stolen her from him.
Stephan had publicly confessed his love to Gail. He had placed a ring on her finger. He had known the woman that Patrick had only dreamed of. He had attended college classes with her, sat across from her at Institute class, planned a wedding with her. He looked across at the boy who wanted her back.
Neither of them glanced at Todd. They had both been Todd’s friend. Either of them would have thought that Todd was there to support him. Neither of them knew that their biggest competition for Gail’s affection had been Todd.
Patrick narrowed his eyes at Stephan, suddenly feeling all the anger and rage at losing Gail, and directed it towards him.
“You stole my girl,” he said in a quiet accusatory menace. “I never even had the chance to get her back. You had her wrapped around your little finger. You wouldn’t even let her see me for two minutes to determine if there was anything left between us. You kept her away from me!” Suddenly, Patrick was turned towards Stephan and his father’s hand was across his chest, holding him back. Patrick’s hands clenched into fists again and again several times, trying to calm down, but wanting to direct his pain somewhere else, anywhere else.
“She wasn’t yours to begin with,” Stephan spat back. “She was never promised to you. You never had a ring on her finger!”
“Oh, and you made sure that you did before I even got back. That’s real classy! You knew she was writing to me! You knew even after I got home that she needed more time to decide. You just pushed her and pushed her. She didn’t even come and spend any real time with me since I got home. You kept her all to yourself!”
“I never kept her away from you,” Stephan told him. “If she stayed away, it’s because she chose to stay away. I would never have done that to her. I gave her space. She was distraught over what happened, and spent plenty of time alone to think things through. I loved her. I would never try to force her into anything!”
“Well, I’ve loved her a lot longer than you’ve even known her,” Patrick cried. By then the crowds had lost all interest in leaving. They were hanging on every word the two men yelled back and forth at one another. Still, no one noticed Todd until suddenly he stood straight up; knocking over the chair he’d been sitting in.
“Shut up! Both of you!” he cried. “You don’t love her! You don’t even know her! You don’t know how much she has agonized over the two of you. You don’t know how much she sacrificed what she wanted, to do the things that everyone else wanted for her. You don’t know how she pulls her legs up underneath her sweatshirt when she’s cold. You don’t know that she’s bashful at her photo shoots or that she hates to travel, even for swim meets. You don’t know how her nose turns red when she cries, or that she goes through half a box of tissues crying over you two. You don’t know that her favorite late night snack is a chocolate protein shake with half of a banana in it. You don’t know that she throws up if she eats a hamburger, or any other junk food for that matter. You don’t know that she wears her swimsuit all the time, even under an evening gown.”
Todd looked over at Patrick, “You don’t know how many times she wrote to you trying to explain how she really felt, but then tore up the letter, because she didn’t want to hurt your feelings or distract you from the importance of the missionary work that you were doing.” Then he turned to Stephan, “You don’t know how many times she wanted to break off the engagement, but reconsidered, trying to hold on to something that was never there to begin with.”
Todd lowered his voice, and looked down at the ground. “You don’t know how her hair smells when it’s wet, how her lips feel soft against your neck, how the firelight glows in her eyes…how the morning sun makes her hair look silver.”
The crowd that had gathered looked on with wide eyes and Patrick and Stephan looked across at each other in shock. Tears ran down Catherine’s cheeks and Fred reached a hand across to place it on Todd’s shoulder. Todd looked up at Patrick, and then at Stephan. He looked over at their Bishop, pain clearly showing across his face. Bishop Mackenzie nodded his head slightly acknowledging that he understood what Todd was feeling right then, and that the pain ran deeper than most people could see because of the heaviness of his remorse. Todd turned back around as if trying to see down the hill, see the lake, see her cove.
“You’ve never envisioned what her children would look like,” he whispered. Catherine’s quick intake of breath made him turn to look at her. She knew. She was Gail’s mother. She knew her daughter almost as well as he did. She knew in that moment that she had not just lost a daughter, she’d lost a grandchild. She leaned against her husband’s arm, trying to keep her balance. Todd looked at the woman who would have been his mother-in-law and touched the tears that ran down her face. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered.
As he turned to walk away, he muttered just loud enough to be heard by all who were close. “By the way, the name on the headstone is wrong.” Everyone turned their heads towards the grave, still an open hole with an empty casket inside, and looked at the stone. Gail Renae Pederson. Catherine didn’t turn her head to look. She watched as Todd walked away.
Read another excerpt from The Cove:
First Kiss…excerpt from The Cove
My next novel, The Farmer’s Daughter is almost complete! Check out an excerpt:
Excerpt from The Farmer’s Daughter…I told you that I tip well