Chapter 16

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"It was a riptide. There wasn't anything anyone could do. A riptide."

Candace's stepmother sounded like a broken record the day of the wake.  She was obviously very emotionally shaken by the events of the last few days, and while Mischa and I both wished she would just stop talking, neither of us felt empowered to put an end to her tirade. She looked like a younger, thinner version of Candace's mom, blond and tan, in a blue and white wrap-around dress that seemed inappropriately informal for a wake. Mr. Cotton, quite possibly the only person who stood a legitimate chance of silencing his wife, seemed to be in a daze, picking at his fingernails, nodding to acknowledge everyone arriving at the funeral home but barely saying a word to anyone.

Candace's mom, on the other hand, was simmering in a corner, nearing her boiling point. The veins in her neck stood out like metal rods supporting her head, and her sisters swarmed around her like bees, attempting to calm her. At times the corner of the parlor where Candace's mom had been corralled by her sisters looked like a cluster of permed blond hair, bare swinging arms, and black stocking legs.

"We never even saw her fall under water! The tide just took her out to sea. Who would have known?" Candace's stepmother continued on, despite Father Fahey, the priest from St. Monica's who was scheduled to deliver a short service later that evening, trying to quiet her down. "I mean, who ever thinks a riptide is going to carry someone away from a resort that costs six hundred dollars a night?"

"Shut that woman up!" I heard Candace's mom say from her corner. Her sisters swooped in, circling her more tightly.

Mischa, Matt, Trey, and I sat on the same floral couch Mischa and I had occupied during Olivia's wake. Candace's memorial was very different from Olivia's, which had been somber and respectful. A second memorial for a high school student, following Olivia's by just a few short weeks, seemed to be more than the good graces of our town could handle. By late in the afternoon, it was evident that the Richmonds would not be arriving to pay respects, probably because it would just be too difficult emotionally to set foot in Gundarsson's again so soon. Just like at Olivia's wake, the casket was closed, and the flower arrangements were so abundant that the funeral home director had run out of places to put them. A few were in the hallway, flanking the entrance to the parlor where everyone was gathering for Candace's memorial. Her extended family seemed endless, with tall blond relatives of all ages comforting each other and fetching cups of coffee from the lounge area. The wake was held on Monday, and classes had been suspended at Willow High School for the day so that students could attend, but because of Candace's erratic behavior in the weeks leading up to her death, the turnout was significantly less than the number of students who had shown up for Olivia's wake.

"Candace's mom is going to knock her stepmother over," Mischa muttered, impressed by the potential for violence within the Cotton family.

"I don't think I need to see that." I got up from the couch, smoothed out the skirt of my black dress, and moments later Mischa stood to follow me out into the hallway and toward the lounge. I felt awkward seeing Candace's mom under such terrible circumstances. She had been holding herself together the night she found out that Candace had drowned, the very same night we had taken the Ouija board to the abandoned lot. My mom had driven us over to the Cottons' house to see if there was anything we could do to help. I either hadn't known or hadn't remembered this, but at one point when Jennie and I were very little, Mom and Candace's mother had played together in the Willow ladies' bowling league. As soon as Candace's mom had called my house to tell us that it was Candace on the news who was missing, my mom insisted that we pile into the car and drive over.  We had been there, in Candace's kitchen, keeping our eyes open all night with piping hot coffee, at three in the morning when the call had come from Hawaii confirming that Candace's body had washed up at high tide, nearly ten miles from where she had disappeared.

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