She looked at herself in the mirror and was pleased with what she saw. She had chosen a simple but stylish black dress that was slightly clingy—just a hint of sexy, but still appropriate for the occasion. Underneath she was wearing lingerie, but he would never know.
This was going to be their last meeting. It wasn’t her choice, but she knew it had to happen. She wanted so desperately to continue seeing him, but she knew she could not, no matter how much it hurt, and it would hurt. She knew she was going to take this very hard after the fact. She would spend nights crying to herself, thinking of him and their life together. But today she needed to put on as brave a front as she could. No crying in front of him, he’d hate that. It always made him uncomfortable when she cried, and she was determined she wasn’t going to do anything that would make him uncomfortable today.
She had known him since their college days, and she had glorious memories. Going on study dates. Going to his frat parties. She remembered, too, the day he proposed to her, the day after graduation, and how they had built a life and a family together.
They had outlasted almost all their friends who had married either during or right after college, something she was secretly proud of. But then they had hit a rough patch they couldn’t recover from. As they grew older, they had begun to drift apart, each having their own interests and activities that kept them more and more busy, until eventually they became strangers to each other. The strain of trying to hold together something that their own neglect had broken was too much, so they decided to divorce after 23 years and one child together. It was the most amicable divorce ever, the kind that never happens. Each graciously agreed to anything the other asked, and their material possessions were split equally.
The divorce was so amicable, in fact, that they continued to see each other after the papers were signed. They still loved each other, they knew, and meeting here and there for dinner or a drink took the pressure off that marriage had put on. They found that they still very much enjoyed each other’s company. The time they spent together was light and fun. They each had their own lives and responsibilities, but they were now able to they were now able to put those aside when they got together. They laughed and smiled much more than they had in the last 5 years of their marriage. They went to movies, tried new restaurants, and did all the things they had done when they first met, those valuable but forgettable things that get sacrificed to marriage, and children, and careers, and life
At first, they met to discuss their only child, a girl who, at the time of the divorce, was just finishing up her undergraduate degree and getting ready to head into the world on her own. Soon their meetings turned romantic in nature, moving from simple hand-holding while they walked along the street to, eventually, sleeping together again, something they hadn’t done in years, when they were married. They never considered themselves back together and never told their daughter that they were seeing each other, but remaining as close as they were did make it much easier when it came to family functions they were both expected to attend.
She fussed with her hair trying to decide whether she was going to wear it up or down. He had always liked it down. He said it framed her beautiful face perfectly. She didn’t agree with him about her beauty but had been happy to wear it down nonetheless. Today she decided on a compromise, leaving it down but pinning it up on the sides.
She went to her closet and took out the black heels she had purchased special for today. Simple shoes with a heel that was somewhere between stilettos and flats.
As she sat on the edge of her bed putting on the shoes, her cellphone started ringing. She looked at the display and quickly sent the caller to voicemail. It was Peter, her on-again off-again lover. He was calling to ask her out, no doubt, but she couldn’t even begin to entertain that idea today. Going out with Peter meant sleeping with Peter, and that was the furthest thing from her mind today. She was sitting on the bed where she had been with her ex-husband just days before. She could still faintly smell him on the sheets, and that was something that she wanted to cherish a little longer.
They had met for drinks and then dinner at a new Italian place that had recently opened in her neighbourhood. It was a decent place with good food, but the best part of the night was the conversation they shared. With topics ranging from their daughter to their work to a host of current events, they had talked to each other like they once had. They listened to each other intently, as if they were on the verge of accomplishing world peace over cannelloni and Caesar salads. Occasionally one of them would laugh, a gentle laugh over an inside joke or story that the other was telling about their now-separate lives. The night had ended with coffee at a local Starbucks and him walking her home. He kissed her goodnight on the doorstep, but without saying a word, she took his hand and lead him inside where they spent the rest of the night in each other’s arms.
In the morning, she had awoken early and made coffee for him. She was a tea drinker but knew he loved his morning coffee. As he sipped the hot brew, he looked at his watch and realized it was much later than he thought. He gulped the rest and then kissed her goodbye. Outside, he flagged a taxi and headed to his place, ten minutes away, to get ready for work.
She drifted, lost now, in her recollection, across her bedroom and to her dressing table. She opened the jewelry box and started looking for the perfect accessories to go with her outfit. After trying a few pieces, she decided to go with the diamond earrings he had given her for their tenth anniversary together. They made her think about the day he had given them to her.
They were having a picnic in the park on a day that was warmer than normal for early spring. He was wearing just a golf shirt and jeans while she was wearing a sweater and jeans. They spent the day talking, laughing, and having a marvelous time, oblivious to the world around them. They were simply lost in each other that day, and as the sun started to set, he reached into the picnic basket he had prepared and presented her with the diamond earrings. She was dumbfounded at first, and then guilty when she thought about what a puny gift she had gotten him in comparison. Somehow a stationery set and a fancy pen didn’t seem to stack up in that moment. But he’d never let on for a second that he didn’t love the gift and, in fact, used the pen for years and years to come.
She finished with her jewelry and forced herself to focus on her face in the mirror. She wanted to look perfect today and realized her makeup was running. She was crying but hadn’t realized it until just this moment. How was she supposed to carry on without him in her life? She didn’t know but realized she must. For her own sake as much as anyone else’s.
She re-applied her makeup and looked at her watch. She had 40 minutes to get somewhere that would only take her 20 minutes. But she grabbed her keys, purse, and jacket and headed out the door. She didn’t want to be late today of all days.
Her lateness was a running joke between them for years. From the very beginning, she was always a solid 15 minutes late for anything. He would tell her that they needed to leave for wherever they were going a full half hour early in an effort to get her out the door on time. She grew wise to his trick early on and gave him a hard time about it, jokingly saying he was being mean to her and that she would take as much time as she needed. Besides, didn’t he want her looking her best on his arm?
As she drove to their meeting spot, she became overwhelmed thinking about how she was going to say goodbye. She had promised herself she wouldn’t cry in front of him, but how was she going to keep that promise when she was already choking back tears before she even saw him? She reached into her purse and pulled out a package of cigarettes. She wasn’t really a smoker and had only bought these that morning, knowing what lay ahead. She pulled one out of the package, lit it with the car’s lighter, and took a long, slow drag on the cigarette. The fact was it tasted like crap, but somehow it had a momentarily calming effect on her, and that was exactly what she needed at that moment.
As she pulled into the parking lot, she noticed a few groups of people milling about but paid them no attention. She pulled into a spot close to the door so she could make a quick getaway if she needed it. When it was time to leave she wanted to do it quickly and quietly with no fuss.
She turned off the ignition and sat in the car finishing her cigarette. The weather outside was cool and overcast, fitting for a final meeting. She stepped out of the car, put her jacket on, took a deep breath and walked purposefully to the door.
She kept her eyes down as she walked, not wanting to make eye contact with anyone. She didn’t lift her eyes until her hand reached for the door. She forced herself to read the gold-plated nameplate through the sting of tears:
“Welcome to Mackenzie and Sons Funeral Home”