An azure blue-sky proclaims; “You can’t blame me for your delay,” though, for Mrs. Riley’s sake I’m glad the weather is beautiful.
But it was cowardly, I thought as I followed the procession from the funeral parlor to the gravesite, then, parked on a hill, instead of joining the gathering of friends.
This is sad. I should join Cowen and the others. Lend my support down there. But I continue to overlook the proceedings from the hill.
What would Cowen think? If he sees me, how would I explain myself?
To ensure that he won’t, I stand hidden by the trees. From my position, I observe every one as they, for a moment, bow their heads in silence for the deceased, while I kick myself for my actions.
At least I did pay my respects at the funeral parlor, I console myself, even if I couldn’t, at this time, bring myself to her gravesite.
But consolation is short-lived, when I view Cowen standing as part of the group, but alone. With no one’s arm linked through his the realization comes forcibly back to me that Mrs. Riley had neither grandparents nor parents or siblings to mourn her. There’s just Cowen. Come to think of it, the obituary did make mention of that fact.
I wish I’d gotten the chance to get to know her.
Another thought comes to mind as I continue to stand; one that I had subconsciously suppressed. Truth be told, I delay because of guilt. Stupid me went off and got attracted to Mrs. Riley’s husband and I have the audacity to show up at her funeral in mourning.
But why should I feel like a hypocrite, when Jackie blatantly pursued him, before and after she knew of Mrs. Riley’s illness? I ask myself.
But I know that what Jackie did or did not do doesn’t really concern me. My conscious bothers me.
They’re leaving? I wonder as my workmates disperse to their cars. Also, the funeral director and his limousine are preparing to leave. Mr. Peters wasn’t able to attend since he had already moved to Arizona, but at the parlor I noticed he and his wife had sent flowers. And Vie was in the middle of the one of her many crises; otherwise, she would have attended.
With everyone drifting off to the cars, Cowen now stands at Mrs. Riley’s gravesite, alone. So, I descent the hill. As I walk down to him, my knees quivering, I become afraid of rolling down the hill to his feet. I see me sliding, my heels digging up lumps of grass, my dress riding up my legs as I attempt keep it down, landing grass-strained decorated at Cowen’s feet.
That would be a sight. Another segment of embarrassing moments with Cowen.
I stop, worrying; maybe I should turn around and leave? Did he request from the others to be left alone with her?
If he did, I wanted to honor that; so I decide it would probably be better to meet him with the others at his home—if that was where they were headed.
Before I could turn around, he calls out, “Diamond?” Stunned, as he saw me as I turned around.
At first it looked as if he’d seen a ghost, but now he recognizes me.
We meet half-way—he walking uphill, me down. I see his eyes filled with unshed tears and wish that somehow I could hurry his grieving period; but verbal condolences alone seem inadequate, so I embrace him. His response is unexpected. His arms encircle me, but slowly with caution. Cowen seems wary.
“I’m really sorry, Cowen. I know this has to be hard for you,” I say into his shoulder, hoping to lower his guard.
I think, maybe he’s uncomfortable with me being here. Maybe this is too soon, so I back off against my will, to give him time and space.
“Cowen, if there is some way to help you ease the pain, please let me know what it is. I really want to help. You’ve been so wonderful to me and everyone else that it’s the least I can do.”
I want to comfort him, but my thoughts were at a lost at what I could do for him. This is because, against my will, I could only think about how much I wanted to be back in his arms.
“Diamond, I didn’t think you were coming. Thank you for being here,” he said, as he put his hands on my shoulders. “You’re coming over to the house? There’s plenty of food. Jackie has prepared quite a bit.”
No one could possibly feel more like a heel than me at that moment. I had totally forgotten the food Mom and I had prepared. When Mom had heard that my employer’s wife had died, she instantly began cooking. I was so impressed with her generous spirit. She made pasta salad, little sandwiches and Madame’s famous bread pudding. I had also baked a ham, made potato salad and rolls. I had to go back home and get the food.
“Cowen, I don’t know how I could have been so absent-minded, but I am coming. It’s just that Mom and I prepared food also and I forgot it. I’m just going to swing home and pick it up. It won’t take long.”
“But Diamond, I’m sure we have more than enough. Just come. You can bring the food you prepared later. Plus, I would like to talk to you.”
“Okay. But I’m sure that my Mom won’t be too happy when she sees that I’ve forgotten the food.”
“I’m sure she’ll forgive you. . . Where’s your car?”
Further embarrassed, I answer, “On the hill. . . Don’t ask. Maybe one day I’ll explain.”
He just smiles. That’s why I like him so much. He just puts you at ease.
“Why don’t you get your car and follow me home. We’ll talk later.”
Instead of allowing me to walk the path up the hill alone, he accompanies me to the car.
After reaching the top, he says, looking about, “The scenery is beautiful from up here. I would have enjoyed watching everything from this point too.”
Mortified, I nod.
“The navy blue Acura, right?” he says.
“Yes. How did you know?”
“Somehow it just fits,” he says, with a little sadness in his voice.
I look at him to see what he means, but he doesn’t say anything else. After I drive him to his car, I follow him home through tree-lined streets. Large colonial and Georgian homes set back off of well-manicured lawns were the surroundings—a nice suburban neighborhood.
We drove up the side drive to one of those Georgians and Jackie is in the doorway to greet us. Her posture is relaxed, but her eyes are furious, which is incongruent with the soft classical music floating through the rooms. It is a serene background for the polite conversation of the smattering of guests.
“Diamond, your Mom just left. She brought the food you forgot,” she says, as she holds the storm door for me. As I pass, I hear her say, “typical,” under her breath.
Cowen says, “Diamond’s mom was here?” sounding surprised.
I guess it would be surprising, since we’ve just discussed her and the food.
“Yes,” Jackie answers, continuing, “I told her that I hadn’t seen you,” nodding her head in my direction, but allowing Cowen to enter. “She seemed surprised. Wondered where you both were, and low and behold, here you are. . . She said couldn’t stay.” At this point in the conversation I am dismissed.
“What a minute. How did she get here?”
“She took a taxi. . . Cowen let me take your coat.” She walks him into his home, already assuming the position of ‘lady of the manor,’ while I find my way around. “You must be extremely hungry. Let me make you a plate,” I hear her say as her husky voice and Cowen’s drifts away into the kitchen.
Cowen glances back over his shoulder, mouthing the words, “We’ll talk later.”
I smile my agreement and take the opportunity to mingle, while looking around the house, trying to get a feel for Mrs. Riley. When Cowen and I first entered, I faced a staircase. Along the staircase wall were pictures. From where I stand they all look like pictures of a young brunette—the same one.
To the right of the staircase was the hallway, then the living room where one of my fellow co-workers leaned against a white stone mantel, talking with an elegant older woman, presumably a neighbor, while a cozy fire burned between them. From the looks of things the fire wasn’t just burning in the fireplace. I couldn’t blame her; he is an attractive young man and she looks well off. Who knows, maybe a match is being formed.
On a striking black and white striped sofa, sits my other co-worker with a plate balanced on his lap. He sits next to a portly older man who is incessantly talking. Their drinks are placed on a glass and chrome table in front of them. My co-worker catches my eye and offers me a seat. I wave to him, smiling and say, “Thank-you. I’m fine. I’ll seat down in a minute.”
My attention is drawn to the large portrait of a woman above the mantel. The woman is a brunette with disconcertingly piercing gray eyes, an extremely becoming young woman. I guess it’s safe to assume that she’s Mrs. Riley. She’s not quite what I would have expected. I don’t know why, but I would have supposed that she would have been a small woman with a less imposing demeanor. Especially since Cowen’s disposition is so even keeled.
Diamond, you’re being too critical, I say to myself. The artist probably couldn’t capture her spirit. And knowing how expensive portraits are, I would have displayed mine, too.
Though, the contemporary decorating of the room gives me the feeling that if she was the main influence in decorating, she was a modern woman. She looks like a career woman. I wonder what, if any, was her career.
Beyond the living room, I see the dining room where all the food that was brought in was placed. The large dining room table was covered in a variety of wonderful smelling dishes with a crystal chandelier hanging above it. I can’t see from where I stand any more of the room, but just beyond the dining room, in a small alcove was a small library that housed floor-to-ceiling bookcases. I could also see a beautiful mahogany roll-top desk. For some reason, I got the impression that this is Cowen’s spot. I would examine it further, later.
I wished I could go upstairs to get a feel for the rest of the house, but that seems inappropriate, so I walk down the hallway into the modern kitchen. There, Jackie is standing intimately at Cowen ’s side, but I disregard this and enter the dining room from here.
From this angle, I see more pictures of Mrs. Riley. I hoped at least that they were Cowen’s choice to display them. Otherwise, it bordered on the excessive. I could easily see Jackie just replacing her picture in every spot without a hang-up. I didn’t think it would happen, I just could see it.
While I stand at the table, I look for Mom’s food or mine. It hasn’t been put out. I turn around to question Jackie about it, when she volunteers the answer.
“Diamond, we already had so much food that I just kept yours together for you to take back with you, if you don’t mind? We really appreciate you efforts, though. Isn’t that right Cowen? Didn’t you say that you don’t know what you are going to do with all this food?” she asked him sweetly.
“It’s nice of you to be concerned, Jackie, but there is no way I’m going to let Diamond take her food back. For the next couple of days, I’ll be cared for.”
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that at all, Cowen. I’ll definitely make sure you’re cared for,” Jackie says.
“You’ve been wonderful Jackie, but you don’t have to worry about me. I’ll be alright.”
I never felt intimidated or usurped by Jackie, regarding Cowen. He had a way of making me feel at ease. That is why I can leave them in the kitchen, while I make myself a plate to take back to the living room.
Fortunate for me that the guys are here.
I mingle with them a large percentage of the evening, but it was getting late. So I leave before we could finish talking.