Nine Seconds

Nine Seconds

Part X

Carolyn had wondered where the Cherokee that had spoken to her had gone to. She realized now that he was the man conducting the service. Gunner had left her with Sadie's letter in hand and gone to change into his traditional garb of beaded robes and a small headpiece to speak. There was a short piece of piano music that was played as everyone waited. Carolyn found that a bit unusual, but she felt that Sadie had been very specific about her funeral arrangements. Sadie always had to have things in her life planned out. Carolyn was fairly certain that her death would be much the same.

Carolyn sat next to Gavin. She held tight the crumpled letter from Sadie that was still in her fist. She didn't know what to think about it. She didn't know how she felt about it. She knew that she was a realist, and that the fact that Gavin was standing in front of her when she'd read the letter must have been a coincidence. There was no way that what seemed to have happened could have happened. It was impossible for a dead person to reach out from the great beyond and tell someone about their future like that. After careful consideration, Carolyn decided that Sadie must have left the letter, hoping that there would be a man around at her funeral, where she most likely specified that it should be read, and dates would follow. Sadie always said that Carolyn didn't date enough. That had to be all it was about.

Gavin glanced at the caskets. Neither one of them were open. He felt that it must be because of all of the burn damage to the bodies. He also wondered if there was some kind of stigma that the Cherokee connected to death that made a closed casket some kind of a ritual. There was a photo of Sadie on top of her casket. It was the first time that he'd seen a real picture of her. Yeah, that was the girl that he'd met on the Blue Ridge Parkway the day after she'd died. He was losing his mind. He had struck up a friendship with a dead chick. Furthermore, he'd promised to come to her funeral.

How could he figure out what all of it meant? What if it meant nothing? What if it meant that he'd lost his mind? He knew that he was tired that night. How on Earth could he have conjured her up in his mind? There was no way that he could see that he could have hallucinated her. Gavin didn't know much at that point in his life, but he believed that he was a reasonable man. He wasn't into anything occult, he wasn't really even religious. There was nothing in his life that would have lead him to believe that he could have actually talked to a dead woman more than once in the last week. There had to be some kind of a crazy explanation.

There was a picture of Sadie's brother, John, on top of his casket. He looked a lot like Sadie. It was hard to tell in the pictures that were circulating since his death what he looked like. He was extremely damaged by the fire. Gavin hadn't seen a picture of him before he'd been so badly burned. He was a good looking guy. He could see why everyone that he'd met seemed so appalled by John's death. He was very young, as was Sadie. It was such a waste. Sadie seemed very nice, and Gavin had no reason to believe that her brother would have been any different.

Gavin shook his head. He was thinking of Sadie as this nice woman that he'd met. He couldn't wrap his mind around the shocking thought that he had met a dead woman. There was nothing on Earth that could make him simply accept that as he stared at the man who was speaking at the podium. Gavin stared at the pictures and stared at the caskets. He could not wrap his mind around what was happening to him. It was all too weird.

"So, who's the speaker that's staring at me?" Gavin whispered to Carolyn.

"He says he's the executor of her will. He's the guy that gave me the letter that she left for me," Carolyn replied.

Gavin watched the man. He felt that the man was staring at him. It was almost as though the man hadn't looked at a single other person in the entire room. Not that Gavin wasn't used to that, but he felt that it should be different at a funeral. It seemed terribly out of place to take a situation where people are trying to deal with their grief and turning it into some kind of star struck meeting. The whole idea seemed shallow and tabloidesque. Gavin wasn't sure, but he felt that a funeral should be more about the deceased than anyone else.

He wondered if the Cherokee felt the same way. He hadn't had a chance to talk to Sadie or anyone else for that matter about any of the Cherokee beliefs or customs. He didn't know what a funeral for a member of the tribe was supposed to be like. He was really winging it in that scenario. He wished that he'd had a chance to prepare a little better, but he'd spent all of his time taking care of business in Chicago. He'd barely made it to the funeral parlor on time. He would have to figure out what it all meant to the tribe at a later date.

Gunner spoke volumes about Sadie and her brother. Gavin learned a lot about his new dead friend during that talk. He had no idea that she had played football in high school herself. She'd been the first kicker in her high school that was a girl. She also solved three murders all by herself when she'd been a state trooper before she'd become a park ranger. She'd raised her brother after her parents' deaths, which was one of the murders that she'd solved. She was also an artist of some note, with works in some of the downtown galleries. Gavin had had an inkling that she was a remarkable person when he'd met her. Now he was learning the extent of her amazing character. He felt privileged to know her. He wished that he'd known her before she died. He guessed that her ability to talk to him after she died was just another item in a long line of truly amazing gifts that she was blessed with.

Gavin and Carolyn sat silently while a few family members and friends talked about the deceased. When the time came, everyone rose to leave and proceed to the cemetery. Gavin had no idea where they were going, so he followed Carolyn to the door to ask her.

He touched her on the shoulder as they left the building and entered the parking lot. "Do you know how to get to the cemetery?" he asked Carolyn.

She smiled at him. "Why don't you just ride with me? It's a long trip out to Cherokee."

"How long?" he whispered.

"Almost an hour. It's in a valley in the Smokies. You don't even know that?"

"Hey, I'm new here. I told you I don't know much about places that don't have football teams."

Carolyn began to walk to her car. "You are something else. I don't get it. You don't even know where the reservation is, but you're friends with Sadie. There's something weird about the whole thing."

"You wouldn't understand," he rebutted.

Gavin followed Carolyn to her car. He decided that he would take her up on her offer to ride to the tribal burial grounds with her. It would give him a chance to spend some time with her, and maybe calm her down a little. He could tell that she was unhappy with him. He wasn't sure if he could fix things, seeing that they didn't exactly have enough history to make it worth her while, but he hoped that she would give him a chance. He hadn't thought of anything but her since he'd left.

Carolyn wondered why Gavin was still following her around like a puppy. He'd gone away for days and not called her. She felt that she couldn't possibly be important enough to him for him to have actually left Chicago for her. He said that, but she was a big girl and that was ridiculous. She wasn't her sister. Men didn't go to the far corners of the Earth to impress her. That was for her sister. There had to be another reason why Gavin would come back to Asheville. She wondered what it was.

Carolyn also wondered why Gavin was so interested in spending time with her. She felt that it must just be because he didn't know anyone else. At least he didn't know anyone except apparently Sadie. That was weird to her too. Gavin had told her that he'd never been to Asheville before the day that she'd met him at the hotel. If that was the case, he had to be lying. Sadie had died the night before. That made her feelings simple. Gavin was some kind of a player that had decided to take a vacation from his world and play with her. He'd obviously lied about never having been there before. Everything that he'd said to her must have been a lie, and she must just be his latest off season distraction.

The two didn't say a word in the car until they were well out of town on their way to the reservation at Cherokee. The procession had turned into a vastly spread out group of cars that were all making their way to a common destination, and Gavin was finally seeing that it was a rationally good idea to ride with someone that knew the way.

"I'm kind of glad that the group started to break up for the rest of the drive," Gavin said. "I was feeling kind of stupid riding with you to find my way in the middle of a funeral procession."

"It's okay," Carolyn replied. "I've heard of stranger pick up lines."

"It wasn't a line. That's disgusting."

"Oh, so you didn't use this to spend some time with me?"

"Aren't you just a little bit arrogant?" Gavin asked, getting annoyed. He hated that she was right, most of all.

"I would never think that a guy would do anything out of his way to spend time with me. I'm not my sister. I just couldn't come up with any other reason for you to have to ride with me."

Gavin had no idea how to reply to that. She'd left him no place to go as far as bantering was concerned.

"I do want to spend time with you. Maybe you should accept that," he told her.

Carolyn didn't quite know how to reply to that. She wanted to believe that it was that simple. She really liked him. She wanted him to stay around. She wanted to believe that he was there because of her. She just didn't want to believe something that sounded too good to be true. Too good to be true was always just that.

"Things have been a little rough around here this week," Carolyn said. "I knew Sadie a long time. She's one of a kind. It's not like we were best friends for life or anything, but she was awesome, and I'm going to miss her. I don't think I ever appreciated her enough, because I really miss her way more than I ever would have thought."

"Sometimes that happens when people die," Gavin replied. "My dad always said that he felt that way about my mom. I kind of did too. It was like there were all of these things that I wanted to tell her, and I didn't get a chance to. Not even important things, you know, just stupid stuff. I remember that when my mom died, my dad was so distraught that one of the first things he said was that he wished that he'd told her that they'd won $20 on the lottery. I thought that was probably the strangest thing that I'd ever heard come out of my dad."

Carolyn smiled. "That's probably the most human thing I've ever heard."

"The most human?"

"Yeah. It was like he was saying that he wished that nothing had changed and that life could go on as usual."

"I never thought of it like that. That makes a lot of sense." Gavin turned to look at her. "You're extremely smart."

"Thanks, I think," Carolyn replied. "So, what did you want to tell her?"

"What?"

"What did you want to tell your mom? You said that you wanted to tell her things, but you never got a chance. What things did you want to tell her?"

Gavin sighed. "I don't know if I want to tell you. You'll have some answer for why I thought the way I thought back then."

"Come one, it's a weird day, give."

"Okay, well if you must know, I wanted to tell her two things in particular. I remember it like it was yesterday. I wanted to tell her that I hadn't cheated on my test. I'd taken a test in my ancient European history class and got an A. My mom presumed that I'd cheated. I didn't. I never told her how much I loved history. Maybe that was what I really wanted to tell her. I don't know."

"Maybe," Carolyn replied. "So, what was the other thing?"

Gavin blushed. Carolyn didn't comment on that. She wondered where this was going.

"My mom had been lecturing me on the way that I treated girls," Gavin said. "She and I had had an argument about the whole thing a couple of days before she died. She said that I had to start viewing women as people instead of objects, or I would spend my life alone and lonely. I was planning on revisiting the issue once I'd had a chance to think over what she'd said. I had a chance to think it over, but I never got to tell her that I'd realized that she was right. I never got to tell her that I would never treat a girl like a possession again."

"That's a real shame," Carolyn said. "I bet that she would have been really happy to hear that from you."

"She sure would have," Gavin replied. "It's too bad you can't talk to people after they die."

Carolyn pulled into the parking lot at the tribal burial grounds. She and Gavin weren't members of the tribe, so they would be allowed to stay for the service and prayer, but they would have to leave after that. Tribal rituals of burial were private, and the tribe preferred that others respected the family nature of the proceedings.

Carolyn and Gavin, along with many other non tribe friends, stood quietly by through the remainder of the public service. Afterward, they made their way to their cars. Carolyn looked around and didn't see Gunner. She thought that it was strange that she hadn't seen him since the funeral service in Asheville. If he was a speaker there, why wouldn't he even show up here?

"Gavin, don't you think that it's strange that the main speaker from town isn't here at all?"

"He did disappear, didn't he?" Gavin looked around at all of the people, but didn't see Gunner. "That is a little strange."

"Oh well, how about I treat you to a little Long John Silvers before we head back? I'm hungry."

"What's Long John Silvers?" Gavin asked.

"Seafood made fast," she replied.

"I'm game," he answered her.

Gavin and Carolyn climbed into her car. Gavin accidentally sat on the letter that Gunner had given to Carolyn at the funeral home in Asheville.

"What's this?" he asked.

Carolyn's eyes grew wide. She held out her hand. "Hand that over. That wasn't meant for you."

"Come on, it's just a letter." He opened it and read it. He looked up at Carolyn, but she was looking down to avoid his eyes. "What's this? I thought this was what you were reading when you ran into me at the funeral parlor."

"It is," Carolyn said, looking up at him.

"I thought you said that it was a letter that Sadie had left with that Gunner guy to give to you after her death."

"It is."

"So, am I supposed to believe that this dead chick sent this at the precise moment that you ran into me to tell you that I'm the man for you?"

"Of course not, that's insane."

Gavin thought back over everything that had happened to him in the past week. Insane had suddenly fallen into a whole other category from where it had resided most of his life.

"What if I told you it made perfect sense?" he asked.