The next morning I woke up late. Disoriented, I jumped out of bed and scrambled to check on Tyler before getting ready for work. I found him in the kitchen, eating a bowl of cereal.
“There you are,” I said, relieved. “Thank God you’re up and ready to go.”
“Did you oversleep?”
“Yeah. But I’ll be ready in ten minutes, and then I’ll take you to school.”
I rushed through my morning routine quicker than I ever had. On the drive to school, I remembered promising my son I would take him shopping for colored pencils and paper. Drawing was one of his favorite things.
“We’ll stop after dinner to get you those art supplies,” I told him, smiling.
He smiled back, then I kissed him goodbye before he got out of the car. I felt so happy, seeing him excited about a hobby and enjoying life again. It had taken a long time–too long, I’d thought, but he was almost back to himself.
I managed to make it to the office, clock in and be at my desk just before my boss, Dave, walked past. He had some new clients scheduled today, so it was important we looked organized. It was a busy time of year for tax accountants, and, even though we did well, Dave never stopped drumming up new business. He was a real hustler.
Luckily, Dave never gave me any trouble. He told me once that I accomplished the work of two people. Although I appreciated the compliment, what I really needed was a raise. Things had become pretty tight with only one income.
Fatima walked up to my desk and stood silently for a moment, the way she did when she was about to ask a question. “Did you happen to see Dancing with the Stars last night?”
“No,” I said. “I went to the cemetery.”
The words were out before I could stop them. I had over-shared. Again.
Fatima opened her mouth as if to say something, then closed it. She shifted her weight—all ninety pounds of it—then finally said “It was a pretty good episode,” and continued on to her seat behind me, next to Barb, the third member of our accounting trio.
“Everything okay?” asked Barb. I thought I detected a tiny bit of exasperation in her voice. I knew they both wished I’d stop reminding them how much I miss Justin. They’d never say it, of course, because even though they were pretty much opposites—Fatima, a just out of college, stick thin beauty, and Barb, a woman who embodied the dictionary definition of “matronly”—they both were much too kind to complain. But they were probably right. Two years is a long time to grieve out loud.
I mumbled, “I’m fine,” pressing the words through a forced smile.
“I think this morning needs some music,” Barb said. She patted my shoulder as she walked past me to the ancient radio that was balanced on the tallest filing cabinet. She turned the knob in search of a static-free station, but the reception predictably faded in and out. We could only count on two channels: Oldies and a Spanish station. Today she chose the former. On the way back to her desk, Barb smiled warmly at me. Her sweet round face and closely-cropped hairstyle reminded me of a garden gnome. She was the kind of person it felt comfortable and safe to be around.
As the day went on I cranked out one document after another, working like a machine, but my mind still managed to wander. I decided to take a break and email Justin’s mom in Phoenix. I had stopped trying to reach her by phone when she started replying to my voicemail messages with an email. I got the hint that it was her preferred form of communication… at least with me.
I sent her a message asking if she had been in town, and telling her I had been thinking of her recently. I didn’t mention the flowers. Since Justin died and they retired and moved away, we hadn’t managed to stay close.
Later in the day I read her reply. She hadn’t been in, but would let me know if they planned on coming up to Chicago. No “miss you,” no “how’ve you been?” She was an odd bird that way. Always somewhat distant with me, she was a bundle of sunshine and laughs with her son. A split personality, I thought, but I’d never shared that opinion with my husband. I liked Justin’s dad, though. He was sweet. Unfortunately, he never made calls or went on the computer much. He was more of an “in person” charmer. Once you were out of his sight, it was like you didn’t exist.
As I drove home from work, I thought about the flowers again. Knowing for certain that Justin’s parents hadn’t left them stirred an uncomfortable sensation in my gut.
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Genre – Women’s Fiction
Rating – PG