I look around the church more slowly this time, corner to corner, and across the nave. I begin to recognize people. Margo from the bank. Veronica Beven and her husband from one of Maddie's book clubs. Lisa Generis...Jasper from the gas station. Maddie left her mark on the hearts of everyone here.
For the past couple years, she did more than that for me. She was Seth's friend first. Then, as everyone else in my life drew away, she pulled me close. I felt the press of her every day. She kept me from flying about like ash scattered in the wind. Now she is gone, and I fear blowing away.
Claire, the Printed Letter's only other full-time employee, plucks at my sleeve. "We're too late. There's nowhere to sit."
I gesture toward the first two rows. "Let's sit up there. We have as much right as anyone."
"We will not," she hisses. "It's reserved for family."
Always doing the right thing. If Claire weren't so nice and perfectly polite, you'd want to hit her, constantly. Instead I cast her a glance, head to toe. She wears a wool crepe A-line dress—'Who is she, Kate Middleton?'—pumps, not boots, despite the icy mess outside, and stockings. Real silk black panty hose, not tights. Only the red-rimmed eyes and a few flyaway gray hairs escaping the neat brown bob let me know she's human. I run a hand down my black pants to smooth the wrinkles. I don't dare look at my boots. I couldn't find the slim Ferragamos Seth bought me years ago, so I wore cowboy boots. They're black so it's okay. It's not okay, but it's the best I can do right now.
"They're probably not coming anyway. Remember Pete's service?"
"I didn't live here then." Claire glances across the church. "Besides, she has a brother and a niece. Remember? The one who lives downtown. They'll come."
I scoff at that. "The niece didn't bother coming to the house these past months. What makes you think she'll show up now? And if any of them do show up, they don't deserve those seats." I take a step down the aisle.
Claire tugs me.
"Fine." I step back and loop a finger into my blouse's neckline. I rarely wear more than one layer, but even this thin silk feels warm. I pluck again; it's sticking to me. "It's too crowded and it's hot. We'll never find seats...Why don't they have the air on?"
"It's thirty degrees outside. They probably have the heat on." Claire levels a measured look at me. "And we will find seats."
A man steps into the aisle in front of us. He extends his hand into the sixth row. "Please."
I want to object. Not because I don't appreciate his gesture or because I don't want the seat, but because I simply want to protest. I want to stamp my feet and yell.
"Thank you." Claire speaks for both of us. She slides in first and widens her eyes at me when I don't move.
"Thank you." It takes me that moment to focus and recognize him. Though twenty years younger, Chris McCullough has become a good friend. I squeeze his hand, and a wave of calm washes through me. It's his green eyes. Green eyes are wondrous things and will always make my heart jolt. Seth had green eyes, has green eyes. I simply don't look into them anymore.
'Seth'...He must be here. I settle into the pew and scan the nave— and land smack on him. On his eyes, looking at me. Moss in the fall when he pulls out his dark-green sweaters. Pale grass-green, citron almost, with flecks of gold, on a hot summer day or when he's really tired. Electric emerald, hard and unyielding, in anger...
I'm used to emerald. I have endured over two years of Seth's emerald eyes. Yet today...moss. Seth, standing against a side wall, acknowledges me with a nod. I feel as if he's been waiting for me to find him. Not because he's reaching out, but because it's a duty. Politely acknowledge the ex-wife. Check. Seth always performs his duty. He's kind of like Claire in that way, which is probably why I never bop her. There's something comfortable and secure about people who color within the lines.
He looks good, really good, in a dark-blue suit, blue shirt, and a dark tie with flecks of gray. Not flecks...tiny dolphins. He's wearing the tie I gave him for our twenty-fifth anniversary. We swam with the dolphins in Hawaii for our trip that year. It'd be our thirty-second anniversary in eight months...It'll never be our thirty-second anniversary.
"Where's Brian?" I shift my focus from my ex-husband to Claire.
"He couldn't miss some meetings in New York," she whispers without turning her head.
'Couldn't or wouldn't?' The question floats unspoken between us. I nudge her again. "Seth is here."
Claire leans around me and waves before I can stop her. "Of course he is. He adored Maddie."
She smells of gardenias. I open my mouth to snap at her. 'It's December! Change your perfume!' I clamp my lips tight before the words escape. Not to save her feelings, but because it's a beautiful spring smell—a green- blossoming, hope-filled smell, full of fresh new beginnings.
This excerpt ends on page 22 of the hardcover edition.