From This Moment(2)

by Melanie Harlow


After she closed her eyes, I sat there a moment, stroking her damp hair back from her forehead. She looked more like Drew every day, although her hair was lighter and her skin more fair. No trace of my Italian ancestry at all, which my mother-in-law often pointed out. Not that she was openly rude, but I’d always had the impression she didn’t think I was good enough for her son.

I thought about Wes, and what it would do to Abby to see him. Would it confuse her? There was a picture of Drew holding her as a baby on the nightstand, and I picked it up. If only they weren’t so identical. But other than a few lines around his eyes and coloring deepened by the African sun, the man I’d seen at Foley’s today looked exactly like the man in this photo.

Sighing, I set it back on the nightstand and went downstairs. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror hanging near the front door, and was taken aback at how pale I looked, especially for August—my olive complexion was sallow, my brown eyes dull, my hair a drab shade somewhere between tree bark and dog shit. I leaned closer and saw the gray that was beginning to grow in at my hairline. Yikes. For a second, I wondered what Wes had thought when he saw me. Certainly I must have borne little resemblance to the girl he’d first met.

Not that she existed anymore.

I frowned as I took in my appearance. I’d aged ten years in the last eighteen months. Sorrow had etched permanent lines on my forehead and dark circles beneath my eyes. I considered it a good day if I remembered to brush my hair before throwing it in a ponytail. I’d finally lost the ten extra pounds I’d carried around after Abby was born, but then I’d lost ten more and all my curves.

What did it matter? Who would ever care again whether I had curves or not?

In the kitchen, I ate some salad and picked at Abby’s pizza crusts, then I did the dishes and straightened up the living room. At first, I’d wanted every rug, lamp, and stick of furniture to remain exactly as they were when Drew was alive, as if the entire house was some kind of memorial to him, or at least to the life we were living. Six months later, I’d moved all the furniture around in a vain attempt to feel in control of my life. I’d bought a new bed, repainted the kitchen walls, planted new shrubs in front of the house, and donated his car, his clothes, and his books. None of it alleviated my grief or my fear that nothing in life is actually within our control, and we’re all just flying blind in a vast, empty space full of uncertainty. God laughs at man’s plans and all that.

I wasn’t always this pessimistic. Once upon a time, I had hopes and dreams, and life stretched out ahead of me, full of possibilities. After all, I had love, and love conquered all, didn’t it? Love could solve any problem, heal any wound, move mountains, build bridges, tear down walls.

But it couldn’t save my husband. It couldn’t give my daughter back her father. And it couldn’t fool me again.

Give yourself time, friends said. And I had. I was doing much better day to day. I liked my new job at Valentini Farms Bed and Breakfast, enjoyed the company of people I worked with, had good friends, and was Mommy to an adorable, remarkably well-adjusted little girl. But I no longer harbored any little-girl illusions of my own.

Some problems were insurmountable. Some rivers too wide.

Love didn’t always win.

“I fucked the tree guy,” said Tess, a forty-year-old mother of three who’d lost her husband to a brain tumor ten months ago after a decade of marriage.

We all gaped at her. Everyone had only just sat down. I hadn’t even poured the wine yet.

But Tess was not one to waste time. “I totally did it. He came back to grind the stump of the tree they took down last week, and he was out there all shirtless and hot and male, and I completely lost my mind. I don’t even know his name.”

“What happened?” I asked, filling everyone’s glasses. There were four of us in the group. We ranged in age from twenty-eight to sixty-something, had different jobs and education levels and skin colors and interests, but we were connected by an experience that had radically reshaped all of our lives.

“I stared out the window the whole time he was out there working,” she began. “Then before I knew it, I was putting on these stupid short shorts, spraying perfume on my neck, and wandering into the backyard asking if he wanted to come in for something cold to drink.”

Perfume. Did I still own perfume? It was one of those things I never thought about anymore, along with bikini waxes and birth control.

“Where were the kids?” someone asked as I took a seat next to Tess on the couch, tucking my bare feet beneath me.

“They’re visiting their grandparents this week,” she said, tucking her blond hair behind her ears. “I’ve been alone in the house for days for the first time since Chuck died.”

The group murmured in sympathy. We knew how empty a house could feel. It could make you crazy.

“So then what happened?” Grace prompted. She was the youngest of our group and had lost her high school sweetheart to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. She’d been pregnant with their baby boy at the time.

“He came into the house and I threw myself at him. We did it right there on the kitchen floor.” Tess squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head. “It was over in three minutes.”

“Was it…good?” Grace wondered.

“Yes.” She blinked at us as her eyes filled. “It was fantastic.”

My mouth fell open. I’d totally expected her to say no. How could sex with a complete stranger compare to the sex she’d had with her husband? She didn’t even know this guy. But I didn’t want Tess to feel bad. I took a sip of wine and made an effort to keep my face sympathetic as she went on.

“I was almost hoping it wouldn’t be, you know? But it felt great. I felt…alive. For those three sweaty minutes, I didn’t think about Chuck or the kids or grief or guilt or anything—I don’t even think I thought about the tree guy! I just wanted something for myself, something that would remind me that I’m still here. That I can still feel. That I’m not dead. Because…” Her shoulders lifted. “Frankly, I’d started to wonder.”

We all nodded. It was familiar to us, that numbness inside and out, that fear that you’d never taste anything again. But the idea of being intimate with another man turned my stomach. I couldn’t imagine it. And who’d want me, anyway? A thirty-five-year-old bag-of-bones single mother in love with a dead man wasn’t anyone’s idea of sexy.

“But I feel horrible.” She sniffed, touching at the inside corners of her eyes. “I feel ashamed and disloyal.”

“You shouldn’t.” Anne, the oldest member of our group and surrogate mom to everyone, spoke firmly. “You know you shouldn’t.”

I murmured agreement, but secretly I was with Tess. I felt disloyal when I even looked at another man and found him attractive. I couldn’t imagine the shame I’d feel if I acted on it.

“But Chuck’s only been gone ten months. It’s too soon, isn’t it?” Tess asked.

“Says who?” Anne grabbed a tissue from the box on the coffee table and handed it to her. “The grief police?”

There was a collective groan. All of us had experienced it, well-meaning friends or family—or even complete strangers—telling us exactly how we should grieve and for how long, as if there was one correct way to do it and we were screwing it up. It was especially bad in a small town, where everyone loved to gossip.

“God, I fucking hate the grief police.” Grace made a face. “If one more person tells me it’s time for me to move on, I’m going to punch them.”

“Or it’s too soon to move on,” Anne said.

“Or they know how I feel, because they’re divorced and single too.” Tess took a big gulp of wine. “I wish I had a nickel for every time someone said that to me.”

“Or he would want you to be happy, and you’re not getting any younger.” I shook my head. “Do they think I don’t know that? And why is it that they think he would want me to jump in bed with someone else? That’s not going to make me happy.”

“Nobody gets it.” Grace shook her head. “My sister saw that I still had Mark’s cell phone number in my phone over the weekend and blew up at me. Told me I was crazy and that I didn’t want to get better.”

Tess closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Let’s talk about something else. Hannah, how are you doing this week?”

I took a deep breath. “Drew’s identical twin brother Wes is home from Africa. I saw him today.”

Grace gasped. “Where?”

“Foley’s.” I swirled sauvignon blanc around in my glass, a rueful smile stretching my lips. “I thought he was a ghost.”

“Fucking ghosts,” Tess grumbled.

“Yeah, I could barely talk, and I escaped as fast as possible. I didn’t even buy any groceries.”

“I don’t blame you,” Grace said. “No one would blame you. That’s a pretty huge trigger.”