The thing about a small town like Mercy is that everyone really does know just about everyone. So when the Sheriff, who happened to be a close friend of Kristin’s parents, told Nick and Kristin the particulars of Kevin’s accident, things got a bit awkward. “Kristin.” He began, trying his best to remain professional, “I think its best you sit down.”
Kristin had been in a daze all morning, but there was something in the sheriff’s tone that forced her stare from the window and she complied without questioning him. Nick took a seat as well but there was an unsettling feeling in his stomach as if somehow things were about to get worse. He wasn’t sure how they could, but he braced himself anyway.
The sheriff looked back and forth between the two people sitting in front of his desk and dreaded what he was about to ask. “Is there any possibility that Kevin may have done this… intentionally?”
Kristin froze in horror at the insinuation, but Nick stood so fast it sent his chair flying across the room behind him. His temper was enraged and he pounded his fists on the desk as he yelled, “What the hell kind of question is that?”
“I know this is hard Mr. Carter, but please try and stay calm.”
“Stay calm? You’re suggesting that Kevin killed himself!”
Kristin’s frail voice brought reason to Nick instantly. The way she looked at him, as if she simply couldn’t take anymore, made Nick’s eyes gloss over again. Kristin reached out her hand to him and he clasped it tightly. “Don’t you believe it Kristin, Kevin would never do it.”
The sheriff walked around the desk and picked Nick’s chair up for him. Once Nick was calmly sitting again, the sheriff heaved himself back into his own chair with a heavy sigh. “I don’t want to believe it either,” he said, “But it’s my job to look at all the facts.”
“What facts? What facts could you possibly have that would suggest something so insane?”
The sheriff sighed again, hesitating to answer Nick’s question. “You’re not gonna like it.”
“Dammit Sheriff my best friend is dead! I’m not going to like anything you tell me, but you can’t just suggest something so crazy and then not explain yourself!”
The sheriff looked up and both Nick and Kristin seemed so desperate for an explanation that he simply couldn’t deny them one. “Alright, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Nick and Kristin starred at him and when he was sure they weren’t going to change their minds he laid all the cards out on the table. “I have three witnesses that say he stepped in front of the truck on purpose.”
Nick filled with rage while Kristin gasped. She squeezed her eyes shut so tightly that her tears had a hard time escaping. “Mr. and Mrs. Myrtle were just getting back from Missoula and were driving past just as the accident happened and they said the exact same thing as the truck driver. They said he was walking up the side of the road and when the logging truck came over the hill he watched it for a second and then just walked right in front of it. They said the trucker never even had time to hit his breaks.”
Kristin broke down into tears again and Nick fled his chair, throwing his arms around her. “He was really drunk Kris. He made a mistake. He wouldn’t have done it on purpose.” Nick assured the devastated woman and then looked desperately back to the sheriff. “But the Myrtles are like a million years old and it was late, maybe they didn’t see what they thought.”
“I’m sorry Nick. Even if that’s the case, I’m not pressing charges against the driver. It simply wasn’t his fault.”
“What do you mean it wasn’t his fault!” Nick screamed, “The man drove a 35 ton truck into him!”
Kristin’s tears turned to uncontrollable sobs and the sheriff was beginning to lose his patience. “You’re not helping things Nick.”
Nick saw how distraught Kristin had become and settled into his chair once more, choking back his emotions. The sheriff again started with his explanation. “The man has an exceptional driving record. He wasn’t speeding and he’d just had a good sleep so he wasn’t tired. There was nothing he could have done; he broke no laws. Kevin’s blood alcohol level was .28. If he weren’t such a big guy he would have been suffering alcohol poisoning anyway. I also spoke to Mel over at the tavern and he told me about your fight.”
Nick’s face dropped at the mention of his last conversation with Kevin. Kristin was a little surprised to hear this and she questioned the guilty look in Nick’s eyes. Nick was overwhelmed with a sick feeling and could no longer hold back his own tears. “I’m sorry.” He whispered.
“I also found these at the scene.” The sheriff said pulling out a clear evidence bag containing a blood covered manila envelope.
Nick and Kristin both sat stunned as they stared at the divorce papers. Neither could take their eyes off the red smudges. The sheriff swallowed hard and then released all of his professional attitude and became just “Frank”. He came around his desk and knelt in front of Kristin. “Your parents never told me anything like this was going on.”
Kristin looked away shamefully and Nick placed his hand on the sheriff’s shoulder. “They didn’t know.” He said and then added, “And neither do Kevin’s parents.”
The sheriff understood Nick’s meaning and nodded his head. “It doesn’t have to leave this room.”
“We would really appreciate that.” Nick replied.
“This is hard enough for everyone anyway. His parents would be heartbroken and there’s no need throwing fuel on a fire that’s already blazing.” The sheriff sighed.
Nick looked at Kristin and knew immediately what she was thinking. “It’s not your fault.” He said forcefully and the sheriff nodded.
“What happened to Kevin was nothing more than a tragic accident.” The sheriff added, “And that’s how I’m going to write it in my reports.”
Kristin and Nick both nodded and then rose from their seats. Kristin was still very upset and overwhelmed and was a little weak on her feet. “Let’s get you home.” Nick suggested and then put an arm around her for support and led her to the door.
“Thank you for coming.” The sheriff said as he held the door for them, “If you need any help with funeral arrangements or anything.”
Nick nodded and then led Kristin through he door. “There’s just one more question.” The sheriff said before letting them go, “Do either of you have any idea what he was doing three miles up route 40 when he lives the opposite direction?”
Neither Nick nor Kristin had a good answer to that question. Kevin’s actions rarely made sense anymore. Nick shrugged and then said, “He was drunk. He probably just got confused.”
“That’s what I thought too.” The sheriff sighed. “Thanks again.”
Nick and Kristin left the sheriff’s office in silence until they were almost outside. Just as Nick reached for the handle, the door was pushed open from the outside. Time seemed to stand still when they saw the figure standing in front of them and Nick’s face paled when they made eye contact. It’d been about six years since they’d last seen their best friend turned preacher, and the falling out that occurred was still a sore subject.
For a moment Brian seemed startled to see them but then offered a calm sympathetic smile to Kristin. She was less than thrilled to see him, but didn’t have the energy to fight so she forced a small smile back. “He missed you so much.” Kristin sighed and then suddenly became angry.
She balled up her fists and even though she didn’t have the strength to hurt him, she still pounded his chest as hard as she could as she cried. “How could you wait until now to come back!”
Brian was startled by her actions but he could tell she was releasing emotions that desperately needed to get out. Every time Kristin hit him she cried harder and harder so finally Brian wrapped his arms around her. She fell into them and even though she was angry with him, it felt so good to have him back that she couldn’t let go of him. “I’m so sorry Kristin.” Brian whispered in a shaky voice.
Hearing Brian speak brought Kristin back to the present and she pulled herself from his grip. She looked into his sad eyes with deep regret. “So am I.” she said coldly and then grabbed Nick’s hand. “Let’s go.”
Nick glared back at Brian who seemed to look at him with an equal amount of hatred and then led Kristin out the door. He helped her into his Jeep but when he put the key in the ignition Kristin placed her hand on top of his stopping him from starting the car. Nick looked at her concerned. “I can’t go back home right now.” Kristin pleaded, “I can’t face them yet. I need to go someplace quiet.”
Nick thought for a minute and figured that by now the news of Kevin’s death had spread around town and nowhere would be quiet, so he switched his jeep into 4-wheel drive mode and headed for Jackson Lake. The north shore was always quiet. Once they were there Nick hung back by the Jeep a moment while Kristin headed down to the water. He told himself it was to give Kristin her space, but the truth was, some of his fondest memories of Kevin took place on this very shore and he didn’t want to have to face them.
Even after everyone parted ways, Nick still made it back every so often to have a barbeque at the beach with his best friends. For a while Howie would make the drive back with him but then as he got more into his work, the less time he seemed to have for weekend getaways and pretty soon it was just Nick, Kevin and Kristin. Now it would only ever be him and Kristin. Nick looked out at the water and shivered at the thought. He wasn’t sure either of them would have the heart to do it without Kevin, it just wouldn’t seem right, but he was pulled from his thoughts as a rock sailed out onto the water.
Nick slowly headed down to the shore and joined Kristin in skipping rocks. Kristin sailed another beauty gracefully across the water and Nick laughed when his rock went hop, hop, plop. Kristin couldn’t hold back her giggle either and laughed as she thought of Kevin. “He used to get so frustrated when we did this. It was the one thing he could never beat me at.”
“No one can skip a rock the way you can.” Nick teased.
“Do you remember that one time when he got so mad that he mistakenly threw his cell phone into the lake?”
Nick gazed out at the water watching the scene play out in his mind. “That thing really flew, didn’t it?”
Nick and Kristin both broke out into laughter and then suddenly found themselves lost in the other’s stare. “It feels good to be able to laugh.” Kristin admitted almost as if she felt guilty about it.
“Yeah.” Nick agreed.
Kristin hugged Nick tightly and then they sat down together. Kristin sat quietly for a moment and then breathed in the fresh air. “We’ve had some great times here haven’t we? I am so glad that you came back to Mercy after college Nick. I don’t know what I would have done if you became some big pro football star and I had to live without you these last few years.”
“You wouldn’t have had to.” Nick laughed, “With all that fame and fortune I could have tricked you into thinking I was a better guy than Kevin and then I would have stolen you from him and taken you with me.”
Kristin didn’t join Nick in his laughter this time; instead she smiled sadly at him. “You are every bit the man Kevin was. You’re just different. Together you might just have been the perfect man. In fact I should have just become a Mormon and married you both.”
“That’s pretty sick Kris.” Nick said playfully shoving her.
Kristin shoved him back and once again they found themselves lost in the moment. As they got quiet, they both thought of the secret kiss they shared just the night before and the tension became so thick that Nick rose to his feet. “Maybe we should get back.” He said extending a hand to Kristin.
Kristin let Nick pull her up and then got in the car with only a nod as a response. Once they were safely driving again, Kristin finally broke the silence. “Thank you Nick. I really needed that, especially after seeing Brian again. I can’t believe I broke down like that.”
“You have a right to be upset.” Nick said trying not to let his temper flare. “We both do.”
“Maybe, but Kevin’s death is painful enough. Now’s not the time to be adding 6 year old grudges on top of it. Like it or not, Brian was his family and he’s probably hurting as much as we are.”
“I doubt that man feels anything.” Nick hissed through his tightly clenched teeth.
Nick wanted Brian to hurt the way he did. Part of him hoped that he was suffering even more, but deep down he knew Kristin was right. Once upon a time Brian had been his closest friend and Nick decided, if only for Kristin’s sake, he would try and remember those days instead of what the two of them had become now.
Kristin could tell how upset Nick was, but it was also clear how much he was trying and she was grateful for it. She picked up his hand and squeezed it tightly. “It’ll be ok Nick. Somehow Kevin will help us get through this.”
As Nick turned off the jeep trail onto the highway, he smiled and held tightly to Kristin’s hand thinking just how grateful he was to have her to get him through this as well. They drove peacefully for a mile or two until Nick noticed the highway sign on the side of the road. He slammed on his breaks and pulled off onto the shoulder of the road starring up at the sign as if it were a ghost. “Nick what’s the matter?”
“Route 40. Three miles out.” Nick whispered. “This is where it happened.”
Kristin and Nick both stepped out of the Jeep and looked around with a sick feeling. When Nick saw the sign for Jackson Lake behind him his brain put two and two together and his body began shaking. He held it together though, wanting to be strong for Kristin. When she questioned him he pointed at the sign. “I know where he was going.”
Nick shook his head. “Not the lake, he was going to Mercy.”
“The hot springs? We haven’t been there in years. What makes you think that’s where he was going?”
“That’s was talking about that last night we all went out there. He said he and I should make the trip again. He said life was simpler then, happier.”
“Maybe they were. Those were some of the best times he ever had. He really loved it out there.”
“Not just him,” Nick admitted, “I looked forward to that trip every year. Going to Mercy was better than Christmas.”
Kristin slipped her arm around Nick’s waist and hugged him tightly, knowing that a Carter family Christmas was probably not quite like you see in the movies. She knew Nick clung to his friends to get him through life and one by one they had all vanished, leaving him behind. Now with Kevin gone, Kristin knew that he really only had her. “You and me Nick.” She said, “Were going to make that trip out there for him.”
Nick was surprised but touched by the suggestion. “Are you sure?”
“If it’s what Kevin wanted then maybe it’s what we both need. Some sort of closure.”
Once again Nick was pushing back his tears as he pulled Kristin into his arms. “Count me in.” he said and then held the Jeep door open once more. Kristin climbed in feeling much more prepared to face anyone who might be there offering their condolences.