Growing up as a girl to ran around with her grandfather as well I found The Grave of Lainey Grace to be a refreshing and fun novel, memory, mystery…
This adorable book did make me laugh and cry. There are many powerful lessons contained in these pages children of all ages ate going to want to get lost in Coldwater Cemetery!
-A Matter of Roses-
“Think they’ll come tonight, Doyle?” asked the girl.
Like the two groundskeepers she ate lunch with, the dark-haired ten-year-old wore a navy blue workman’s uniform. Like the workmen, she had a white oval patch over her left breast pocket with her name stenciled in blue, cursive letters.
The girl’s read Briar Ann.
A weathered and wiry groundskeeper not much taller than Briar glanced to the window, gnawing on his half-eaten chicken leg. Nodding, he swallowed down his food and set the chicken leg on the wax paper his wife had wrapped it in. “Might be.”
Grandpa Bob leaned back in the chair next to Briar, crossing his tanned arms over his big belly. “You ought not get her hopes up, Doyle,” he said, his voice gravelly and raw. “It’s too early for them still and you know it.”
Doyle winked at Briar anyway. Then he wiped his greasy fingers on his uniform and stepped to the office door.
Briar’s heart fluttered when the Kentuckian licked his thumb and put it to the October wind.
“Just might be, Little Miss,” said Doyle. “Weather’s right for it.”
Grandpa Bob shook his head. “There’s a few leaves on them trees yet. They won’t come ‘til the last leaf of summer falls.”
“I dunno, Bob.” Doyle sucked his teeth. “Only one way to be sure, I guess.”
“How’s that?” Briar asked.
“Wait for tomorrow…” Doyle cackled as he sauntered back to his metal fold-up chair.
“But why won’t they come until then?” Briar asked.
“That’s just their way,” said Grandpa Bob. “Everyone grieves different.”
“Shoot,” said Doyle. “You don’t have to keep hallowed grounds to know that. You ever tell her about the old woman who used to sit—”
“In the middle of the cemetery,” Briar droned. “Grandpa said you both thought she was a witch.”
“Thought?” Doyle scoffed. “That there was a danged witch if ever I seen one—warts, whiskers, and all. Why, if I had any money to my name, I’d put it down right now it was her what lays them roses on the grave of Lainey Grace each fall.”
“That woman was older than you, Doyle,” said Grandpa Bob. “How you suppose she’d get them inside and find her way in the dark?”
“She’s a witch, ain’t she?” Doyle asked. “Flies them in, I reckon. Prolly puts them in a basket on the back of her broom.”
Grandpa Bob took off his tinted glasses and cleaned their lenses with a napkin. “There’s too many roses for one person to bring them all in just one night.”
“Well I didn’t say she made just one trip, did I?” Doyle’s voice cracked. “She’s prolly got them all stored up in the woods somewhere. Just flies back and forth all night long.”
Doyle waved his finger around making swishing noises.
Briar giggled. “If not a witch, then who though? And how do they keep getting in?”
“You find that out, you let me and Doyle know,” said Grandpa Bob. “Been trying to learn their secrets all these years, ain’t we, partner?”
“Yessir,” said Doyle before attacking the last bits of meat on his chicken leg.
Briar’s forehead wrinkled. “But, Grandpa,” she said. “You know every inch of the cemetery.”
“I do indeed.”
Briar glanced out the window to the cemetery’s public entrance—a towering stone archway, two car lanes wide.
“And we lock up them gates every night…” said Briar.
“Yes, ma’am,” said Grandpa Bob. “Both of them.”
Doyle wiped grease from his chin. “She kinda sounds like Mr. Coldwater’s errand boy, Ted, don’t she, Bob?”
Briar crossed her arms. “I’m nothing like that grump you talk on.”
“Nah, I guess not,” said Doyle, licking the corners of his mouth to savor each spot of grease. “You’s more like the one over yonder.”
Briar glanced to her left at Doyle’s motion to where Grandpa Bob sat. She grinned at noticing they both sat with their arms folded across their chest.
“Why, lookie there,” said Doyle. “We got us a rose among two thorns, Bob.”
“I’m not some frilly rose,” she said. “I’m a Briar.”
Grandpa Bob laughed and put his thick, hairy arm around her shoulders, squeezing her with his meaty paw of a hand. “That’s my girl. Pretty and sharp to boot, ain’t you?”
“Yessir,” said Briar as Grandpa Bob patted her on the back.
“We best get back to it, partner,” Grandpa Bob glanced at Doyle. “Still got a load of work needs doing ‘fore dark. Jesse finish up mowing the south lots yet?”
“Heh. What you think?” Doyle asked. “That boy’s lazier than my ol’ lady’s cat. Paycheck worker, he is.”
Briar nodded, despite not knowing what Doyle meant by paycheck worker.
“You keep on him anyway,” said Grandpa Bob. “I want it done ‘fore me and Little Miss here finish making our afternoon round.”
“Okay,” said Doyle. “But we both know how that’ll go.”
“Even so,” said Grandpa Bob. “Keep on him.”
Doyle sighed. “Speaking of stuff that cain’t be done”—he tossed his chicken bones in the trashcan—“what we gonna try this year to keep them rose-givers out, boss?”
Briar munched on her PB&J sandwich, her gaze flitting to Grandpa Bob.
“Hiding by the gates don’t work,” Doyle continued. “Setting up shop by her grave don’t work cause we cain’t ever guess when they’re comin’. And heck, I done already trimmed every tree branch around the wall so nobody can climb up them to jump over the—”
“We ain’t gonna do nothing this year.”
Doyle tugged at the collar of his uniform. “We best try something. I seen Jesse talking to his uncle Ted round back t’other day. Putting ill ideas in his head again, I’ll warrant. Lord knows he wants—”
The office door hinges squelched.
Briar spun in her chair.
The man in the doorway wore the same uniform as those around the table, but he kept his shirt untucked. Black hair curled out the sides of the sweat-stained hat and he tugged its bill low over his equally dark eyes.
Paycheck worker, Briar thought, her lip curling.
“Just what do I want, old timer?” Jesse Thomason asked, allowing the door to slam behind him.
“Them alarm do-hicky things,” said Doyle. “I’s telling the boss you’re big on installing them throughout the cemetery.”
Jesse sneered. “Yeah, well that idea got nixed real quick, didn’t it?” He glanced in Bob’s direction. “Someone said it costs too much.”
“It’d cost a man his job,” said Grandpa Bob. “And the cemetery don’t need them anyhow. We got along all this time with no trouble—”
“’Cept for whoever’s laying them roses on the grave of Lainey Grace after hours,” said Jesse.
Grandpa Bob waved him off. “They’re no trouble, whoever they are. Never once disturbed another burial space.”
“Says you,” said Jesse. “Seems you ain’t been keeping the big boss informed on everything ‘round here, Bob. I heard he weren’t too happy to learn somebody’s still laying them roses every fall. Might be he’s ready to put someone else in charge who can put a stop to them.”
“I’ll believe that when I hear it from Mr. Coldwater,” said Grandpa Bob. “Not some pup his dog hired on.”
Jesse grinned wolfishly and howled as he crossed the room.
Briar leaned closer to Grandpa Bob, safe in his shadow.
“What you got for lunch today, old timer?” Jesse snatched the worn paper bag Doyle used to carry his lunch.
“Had fried chicken leftovers, but they’s none there now,” said Doyle. “Done ate it all.”
Jesse tossed the bag. “Your woman’s always cooking up something good. When you gonna bring in lunch for us, man? Better yet, why not invite the rest of us over for dinner?”
“You wanna eat at my house?” Doyle asked.
“Well, sure,” said Jesse. “You eat good every day. Why not the rest of us for at least one night?”
“Okay,” said Doyle. “Whattaya want?”
Briar sneered at Jesse’s back as he took his lunch pail off the shelf then sat at the table with them.
“Ham and turkey,” said Jesse. “Mashed taters with gravy, noodles, and green beans with bacon.”
Doyle stroked his day-old whiskers. “That it?”
“Nah,” said Jesse. “I want fresh corn on the cob and baked carrots too. Sweet tea and lemonade, since I don’t know which I’ll have a hankerin’ for, and then for dessert I want apple pie with vanilla ice cream, and some chocolate-chip cookies, and angel food cake.”
Doyle blinked. “That it?”
“Yeah,” said Jesse. “Yeah, I think that’ll about do it.”
“What you need all that food for anyhow?” Briar asked.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Jesse. “When you having us over, Doyle?”
“Couldn’t say,” said Doyle. “Take some time to wrassle up all that food and cook it too.”
Jesse unwrapped his cold bologna sandwich. “Thought your wife had everything on hand. She must have, for you to bring in all this heaven every day of the week to rub in our noses.”
Doyle stood from the table, folding his paper bag, creasing the sides. “Guess I best call her and find out,” he said quietly. “She might need to run in town.”
Jesse barked a laugh. “I seen your ol’ lady loads of times, Doyle. She don’t run nowhere.”
“No, she don’t,” said Doyle, his eyes flashing. “That’s what I like about her. Don’t never have to worry about her running out on me. Might be the answer to your problem is you need a big woman too, Jess.”
Briar would have laughed had it not been for the warning look Grandpa Bob shot her.
Jesse stood and adjusted his ball cap. “You say something like that again, old man, and I’ll knock your tail plumb in the dirt.”
“Now what you know about dirt, boy?” Doyle asked.
Grandpa Bob stirred beside Briar. “Knock it off, you two. There’s a little lady here with us.”
“Ah, it was just a simple question, boss,” said Doyle. “This pup thinks to teach me a thing or two about dirt.” Doyle eyed Jesse up and down. “Trouble is, I don’t never see none on his uniform. Just how you stay so clean while the rest of our knees is covered in it, boy?”
Jesse sneered. “Guess I’m smarter than you two.”
“Why you just might be.” Doyle laughed as he got up and ambled to the office door. “Looks like I’ll be needing me a lesson after all. Why don’t we just step outside and you can teach me everything they is to know about dirt.”
Briar grinned at Jesse’s wavering.
Doyle turned back. “You coming?”
“Sure thing.” Jesse rubbed his nose and sat down, then picked up his sandwich. “Right after I finish my lunch.”
Doyle hooted then walked out, leaving Jesse to tug on his hat bill to cool off.
Briar took another bite of her sandwich, hoping a full mouth would keep her from laughing.
“You best eat quick,” said Grandpa Bob to Jesse. “Lunch break’s over in a couple minutes.”
“It’s over when I finish my sandwich.” Jesse snarled.
“Not according to the clock,” said Grandpa Bob. “Gives you the same thirty minutes the rest of us get. Might be you shoulda thought of that ‘fore taking that smoke break.”
Briar bristled when Jesse waved him off.
Grandpa Bob cooled her anger with a pat on her shoulder. “You go on outside and wait with Doyle, Little Miss,” he said. “Need to make me a trip to the men’s room.”
Grandpa Bob leaned heavy on the table to help him stand, groaning as he stood. “Go on now,” he said to Briar. “I’ll be out in a minute.”
Briar hesitated, watching Grandpa Bob shuffle into the bathroom and close the door behind him.
“Don’t know why he won’t quit already.” Jesse gulped his soda and belched, long and loud. “He’s slower every day.”
Briar clenched her fist. “My grandpa loves his job.”
“I love cigarettes,” said Jesse. “Don’t change the fact I need to quit smoking.”
“Why don’t you?”
“Still got years to think on it.” Jesse shrugged. “But your grandpa’s time in this job’s almost up. ‘Specially if them roses wind up on the grave of Lainey Grace again.”
“They will,” said Briar. “Grandpa Bob says nothing can keep out the ones who bring them roses.”
Jesse laughed. “You know why that is, don’t you?”
Briar stayed quiet.
“Shoot, everyone around town does.” Jesse propped his feet up on the table. “Them roses won’t stop coming ‘til your granddaddy’s good and ready to quit laying them on that grave each fall.”
Briar felt her cheeks flush. “He wants to find out who’s doing it same as everybody else. Grandpa Bob and Doyle both been trying to figure out who brings the roses since before even my daddy was born.”
“Them two pranksters mean to keep people hemming and hawing each year,” said Jesse. “All them fool farmer friends of theirs what get together every morning for coffee and donuts. God knows they ain’t got nothing else to talk on ‘cept the weather and who died.”
“Sulk all you want,” said Jesse. “Everybody knows it’s Bob laying them roses each year.” Jesse leaned forward. “But he does it one more time and he’s done for. I got that on good authority.”
Briar stepped closer. “You want my grandpa’s job.”
“Now why would I want that?” Jesse asked. “You think I wanna be a cemetery groundskeeper all my life, you got another thing coming, Sister Sue.”
“No,” she said. “You just want my grandpa’s house because you ain’t got one no more. Not since your ex-wife took it and everything else you had in this life.”
Jesse scowled. “Least I ain’t no snot-nosed kid whose parents drop her off at the cemetery ‘cause don’t no one wanna keep watch of her.”
“They don’t drop me off,” said Briar. “I like being here.”
“Nobody likes being here.” Jesse thumbed his nose. “Surrounded by the dead all day. It’s depressing. What’s a girl like you want here anyhow? You should be off playing with dolls, not planting flowers in graves and locking up them stinkin’ gates.”
“I like locking the gates each night,” said Briar. “That’s my favorite job.”
Jesse scoffed, “You ain’t got no job.”
“I do so.”
“Your grandpa pay you in anything other than candy and chewing gum?” Jesse asked. “It ain’t work unless you get paid, girl.”
“It ain’t work if you like doing it.” Briar moved to the door and sunshine. “That’s what Grandpa Bob says.”
“Why, ain’t you just one of them hippy-dippy types? Full up with hopes and happy thoughts.” Jesse took out a box of Marlboro Reds from his pocket and packed it against his palm. He took a cigarette out and put it to his lips, lighting its end, inhaling its toxins deep.
Grandpa Bob will read him the riot act for that, Briar thought. He knows better than to smoke in the office.
Jesse blew a cloud of smoke in her direction. “Keep them hopes up long as you can, girlie. Won’t be long ‘til the world kicks you square in the teeth and knocks all them dreams right out of that pretty little head of yours.”
Briar watched the end of his cigarette burn brighter. “Is that what happened to you?”
“Me, nah. I weren’t never one for dreaming.” Jesse took another drag. He blew it just as quick, waving the smoke away with his hand. “Find it awfully hard to when you ain’t got no place to lay your head at night.”
Briar snorted the foul scent away and stepped outside to the cleaner smells—earth and freshly cut grass. She felt her nose twitch with the chilly air.
Leaves crunched under her feet as she approached the wall, covered with English ivy. A teeming wall of evergreen, the wall towered near thirty feet in the air and snaked around the whole cemetery, save for two stone gateways—the main entrance to the north and the private one reserved for Mr. Coldwater to the west. The wrought iron gates hung open for now, held fast to driven stakes by coarse wire.
Doyle knelt near the wall, poking around in the dirt with a stick.
“Whatcha doing?” Briar jogged over to join him.
“Them ground squirrels is back again.” Doyle pointed to a hole and the lumpy patches of earth leading away from it. He stood and adjusted the flat bill of his hat. “Looks like I’ll need to get them traps out this afternoon.”
“Do you have to?” Briar asked. “They ain’t hurting nothing.”
“So you say.” Doyle pointed his stick to the main gate. “Just past that arch is hallowed ground, Little Miss. Even ground squirrels got to respect that.” He mussed her hair. “Don’t worry. I won’t kill ‘em all. If they’re smart, they’ll move on, once I get one or two of their kin.”
“But ground squirrels ain’t that smart!” she said.
“Nope.” Doyle cackled then headed toward the equipment barn across the yard.
Briar knelt in the dirt, mesmerized by the dark hole tunneling into the earth, bending close as she dared. “Best move on,” she whispered. “Doyle’s coming back with traps and you won’t want none of their bite.”
The ivy rustled.
Briar sat up quick and fetched the stick Doyle left behind. Her mouth dry, she poked at the ivy with the stick’s end.
The ivy shuddered with movement deep inside its hidden, lush greenery.
Briar smacked the stick against it.
Something hidden by the ivy fled in the opposite direction, rustling a straight line across the wall base.
She wheeled at her name being called.
Grandpa Bob stood beside the cemetery work truck. He waved her over then closed the tailgate of the cemetery’s tried and true Chevrolet.
Briar glanced on the ivy, its leaves still fluttering down the row.
“Come on, Little Miss,” said Grandpa Bob. “Work day’s wasting.”
Briar ran for the truck.
Thank you for reading the first chapter of The Grave of Lainey Grace.
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