Life After Perfect(3)

By: Nancy Naigle



Katherine thought she might be sick right there, because if Peggy didn’t have any idea that Tucker Allen had hit on every woman in the neighborhood and beyond . . . she wasn’t about to be the one to tell her. It seemed like most of the women rebuffed his overly flirtatious ways, but the guy had to get lucky once in a while, else he’d certainly have abandoned the tacky actions by now.

Katherine’s heart twisted when they walked into the chapel. Bertie looked so tiny in the front pew by herself. No children. No one.

For a fleeting moment she saw herself sitting there. All alone. And boy, did her heart feel heavy, not just for the single loss of a devoted husband, but for the children she’d always wanted . . . thought she’d have by now. She tossed her hair back and swallowed the emotion. She didn’t know how Bertie felt about it, but that thought nearly made her crumble to her knees. No, she couldn’t give in to that kind of emotion.

Katherine looked toward Shaleigh and Peggy. If they’d felt that powerful punch, there was no sign of it. She forced herself to step forward, leading the others inside. She took the empty spot next to Ron in a pew midway down on the left. He reached out and squeezed Katherine’s hand as she sat.

Peggy’s comment still nagged at her. Maybe hearing about Donald’s infidelity had struck a little too close to home for Peggy. It wasn’t like Tucker was discreet. There were rumors. Lots of them, and even if Peggy didn’t have any proof, she had to at least suspect something. Didn’t she?

Peggy and Shaleigh slid into a pew near the front, next to Tucker. They were nearly the last ones to take their seats.

A short, portly man shaped like a bullet stepped to the front. He didn’t wear a church robe, just a dark suit not so unlike every other man in the room. Except for Donald. Although people wouldn’t know this unless Bertie told them, since it was a closed casket. She’d dressed him in his hip waders and a fishing hat.

The organist stopped and the preacher’s voice boomed across the space with the strength and vibrancy of a man eight feet tall.

His message, and the soothing cadence of the words, despite their volume, sent Katherine’s thoughts adrift.

What if it had been Ron rather than Donald who’d had that heart attack? Ron worked so hard. Never slowed down. Long hours. Type A all the way. Bertie had described Donald the same way, but of course that must have been years ago, before they moved to Preakness Heights.

The preacher waved a theatrical arm in the direction of the coffin, and then pulled his fist to his heart. “There’s a place inside each of our hearts where love lives on forever . . . always . . . and where nothing beautiful is ever forgotten. Those memories. They will remain with us always.”

Always?

Katherine wondered when the last time she and Ron had slowed down long enough to take in the moments that were supposed to become memories. She looked over at her husband. Was he even paying attention, or was he mentally checking off things on a to-do list a mile long? At least he didn’t have his phone out.

Katherine choked back a sob, unsure if it was for Bertie or herself. Were most of the people dabbing at tears in this room today missing Donald? Or, like her, was today a reminder of the mortality everyone all must face? The mistakes made. The fear of the unknown.

“As we grieve,” the preacher said with such emphasis that Katherine hitched in a quick breath at the power of that word. The finality of it. “Let’s share the stories, the hope, the moments that made our smiles touch one another, and be grateful for the lessons that Donald shared with us. Treasure those gifts.”

Ron patted her leg. She looked into his face and he gave her that gentle smile that always made her feel better.

“Let us pray.” Everyone bowed their heads in a rush of movement like a soft sheet floating in a breeze.

When the amens finally rumbled through the room, the organist played a hymn that Katherine didn’t recognize, but it pulled at her core in a way that made it hard to breathe.

The pallbearers came forward to lift the casket and carried it past on the way out of the church.

Donald had been a huge man, but once people die and their bodies are prepared . . . do they all weigh the same?

Could you even google that?

The funeral director, a handsome gray-haired gentleman in a suit only a shade darker than his hair, held out his hand to Bertie.

Katherine stuttered a breath as she watched Bertie place her trembling hand into his. He helped her stand, then walk . . . ever so slowly . . . her lips trembling, her eyes so pink that they looked like they must sting, her hand still clutching one of Donald’s handkerchiefs tightly in her fist. So tiny and alone. One woman. No children. All of her family gone.

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