CJ stopped in front of Jubalee, hugging her lightly before moving on to Aunt Ed. I was last, and as CJ looked me up and down, her smile faded. “This ain’t my Tallulah, is it? As tall as me now?”
It was true. Our eyes were exactly level with each other but I was unable to meet her gaze.
“Welcome home, CJ,” I heard myself say, my eyes never leaving the tops of my scuffed up boots. CJ’s shoes, which were toe to toe with mine, were the prettiest and tallest pair of black high-heels I’d ever seen. It was like looking in the mirror at the exact opposite of myself—of what I should or could have been but wasn’t. I felt dizzy.
“Since when do you call me CJ?” she asked.
“Shh!” Aunt Ed hushed us, taking each of us by our arms as the old priest began to climb the steps up to the podium. Gently, Aunt Ed pulled CJ and me over to where Jubalee had already taken her seat on the front row pew opposite Harvey’s family. CJ sat next to Jubalee and Aunt Ed sat down next to her, for which I was grateful. I couldn’t have been that close to CJ just yet.
The priest had been as fond of Harvey as everyone else and pointed out that he’d never heard anyone say a bad thing about him. We all listened, squirming slightly in the heat as the priest talked about Heaven and Hell.
Next to me, Aunt Ed cried intoa man’s cotton handkerchief, while CJ, who held Jubalee’s hand, nodded and blinked back tears I never saw fall. Jubalee just cried. It was strange to see her so vulnerable.
Standing in Sawyerville Memorial Cemetery an hour later, waiting for the old priest to make his way up the winding path from the parking lot, I kept my eyes on CJ. Everything I’d ever wanted to say to her, could not be remembered now.
Harvey’s kids and their families, still speaking to no one, took up almost all of the white, plastic chairs lined up near the coffin. Jubalee and CJ sat in the two remaining chairs next to them. Aunt Ed and I stood over to the side. I was thankful to be a few feet away. The sight of Harvey’s coffin hovering above the hole that had been dug especially for him was terrible to see. As the priest said a prayer, a man I did not know slowly turned a crank and lowered sweet Harvey down.
On the way home from the funeral, I sat in the front seat of the Lincoln Town car next to a driver who didn’t speak as the car sped past endless fields of green soybeans. Jubalee, CJ and Aunt Ed sat in the back seat. I sat sideways watching them, listening.
“You gonna come back to Randolph, live with me again?” Jubalee asked CJ. “Been a long time since you been home. Might be nice bein’ back.”
“Sorry, Mama,” CJ laughed. “Ain’t no way I’m comin’ back here. That’s crazy.”
“I can’t imagine why that’s so crazy. Just how long you think it’s gonna be before you do come back?” Jubalee seemed shocked, her head cocked to the side. “Can’t stay gone forever.”
“Mama, my whole life is back in Vegas. Everythin’ I know is there. I ain’t never comin’ back to Randolph. Whatever made you think that?”
The driver turned into the parking lot of State of Grace Funeral Home. Parking the car, he motioned for us to get out.
“Still got The Green Bean, Mama?” CJ asked, laughing as we stood in the parking lot. Jubalee ignored her, unlocking the car door as a dark brown Dodge pulled up next to us.
“Hey, CJ, you still want that ride?” Tina Faye, CJ’s favorite cousin, called from out her car window.
“You bet, Sugar,” CJ said, hopping into the car with her. “See ya’ll back at the house,” she hollered as Tina Faye sped off in the opposite direction of Jubalee’s trailer.
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