The grown ups, as Tracy and Olivia still referred to their parents, were seated at the living room by the cozy fire Noah had helped start during dessert. Judging by the sounds of delight that had come out of everyone, her soufflés had been a success.
At the moment, she was loading the dish washer with the last of the plates that Tracy, Trevor and Noah were bringing in from the dinning room table. The men made their cowardly escape at the mountain of wine glasses and other bowls that Olivia hadn’t had time to wash before dinner.
As tedious as cleaning up after cooking a big meal was, she never liked to leave a mess. It was better to pick up now than to wake up tomorrow morning and be harassed by the daunting task on her day off.
“Hey, need a hand?” Tracy said while she leaned on the kitchen’s entrance wooden frame.
“Sure. You might as well start practicing for when you have to wash Trevor’s dirty dishes as the dutiful and desperate housewife you’ll become.”
Olivia knew her friend was aware she was only teasing her. If there was a woman who wasn’t going to let her husband become a slacker, that was Tracy.
“Only if I find me a cute gardener, then I wouldn’t mind wearing that label.”
Tracy rolled up the sleeves of her pink and black checkered angora sweater and began soaking the bowls in hot water.
“I’m sorry about Trevor and his pea sized brain. I swear he can be so thick in the head sometimes. Can you imagine he was appalled because there wasn’t going to be beer at the party next Saturday? Come on, beer? What does he think a wedding is, Monday Night Football?”
Olivia let out a chuckle and placed the soap stick inside the dishwasher’s compartment before closing the door and programing it.
“Believe me, I nudged him as hard as I could but a baseball bat would’ve been more effective. At least he would’ve been unconscious and unable to talk.”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s normal for anyone to ask that question to two people who have been together for ten freaking years.” Olivia felt like kicking her foot against the dishwasher’s steel door.
Detecting a hint of boiling anger starting to rise and spill over, Tracy turned to her friend and looked at her with sympathy shinning from her green eyes.
“You want to talk about it?”
Her maid-of-honor took two calming breaths before responding.
“I…….yeah, I guess I do. I’m sorry, I didn’t tell you when you asked me last Tuesday. I’ve been…..my mind has been in other things. Besides, as maid-of-honor, it is my duty that all conversations we have are about you, the bride. Listening to me whine about Noah is not part of my obligations.”
“Hey, you know I like being the center of attention but even I am starting to get sick of myself. Sometimes I see my nuttiness through Trevor’s eyes and I feel just a tiny bit bad. But thanks, anyway. That’s why you’re my best friend.”
Tracy’s arm came around Olivia’s shoulders and they held each other for a while before Olivia began soaping the rest of the bowls and pans, assigning towel duty to her friend.
She told her everything. From the disaster from Monday at her house, of course, skipping the part where she saw a woman Noah or no one else for that matter could see standing outside her house staring and speaking to her. Tracy was an understanding person but even she would frown upon the maid-of-honor discussing her life with a ghost.
Olivia also described what had happened Wednesday when Noah hadn’t been able to pick her up. Ignoring Emilia’s demands that she told her about Michael, she omitted the whole dinner and ride back home part. She hated lying to her best friend but Olivia wouldn’t say she was doing that. Merely, she was skipping certain details because one, it would make her friend go ballistic for not telling her about Michael the moment it had happened and second, because Emilia didn’t know the whole story.
The school teacher wasn’t quite sure she wanted to tell her yet.
Finally, in between gasps of horror and outrage and a series of swear words from Tracy directed at the man sitting in the living room with their families and future husband, Olivia finished with the still painful attempt at marriage talk inside Noah’s Malibu.
“I can’t believe he said that to you. First, blaming the whole thing on me, as if I twisted your arm to have that conversation with him. And then, that Nate guy is such a jerk. Oh I wish I could….”
“Way to go Tracy…..”
“What? It is not like she can hear me or anything.” The ghost glided to the kitchen window that overlooked the driveway, while she hugged her body with her arms. Emilia was glad Tracy was seeing what Olivia refused to see, that Noah was not suffering from the normal case of cold feet that warmed up eventually.
“……see his eyes pop out from their sockets and then use my nails to scratch his ugly face until he’s crying for mercy, which I’m not prone to having.”
Amazingly, Tracy did once punch a guy at the metro back in D.C. because he grabbed Olivia’s ass. The image of seeing Nate curled in a ball of pain was so alluring it lifted her spirits considerably.
“It’s no big deal, really. Nate is a jerk and will always be one, I think deep down Noah is aware of this charming aspect about his brother, only his loyalty is stronger so it will be a while before he admits big brother is more like five year old brother. Plus, I know how to handle him, don’t worry. But if I need it to look like an accident, I’ll definitely give you a call.”
“Jumping in front of a moving car did the trick for me.” The third and dead woman in the room muttered.
Oh shit, I’m sorry Emilia, I……
“No biggie. From what you told me about your brother in law from hell, I would push him myself if I could.”
Olivia shook her head.
“Besides, didn’t you tell me that you and Trevor didn’t speak for a week after he practically bolted out the door when you approached the subject a year ago?”
“Well, yeah. But Olivia, Trevor never said anything about being forced by me into making a decision.”
“I’m sure Noah didn’t mean it that way, Tracy. In a way, he is right. We had never really sat down and talked about the future and all of a sudden I’m going on and on about seeing houses and setting dates.”
Trapping her in an air depriving embrace, Tracy said to her friend.
“I just feel so bad you’ve been going through this on your own, sweetie.”
No I haven’t, right Emilia?
“Damn right you are. Hey, I’m gonna step outside for a moment, okay?”
When she turned to where her other friend had been standing, the ghost had already left the room.
“Tell you what? Why don’t I have a friendly mano a mano with Mr. McCourt? I can be very persuasive. A drink or two and I’m pretty sure I can convince him he’s wasting his time making up sorry excuse after sorry excuse.”
Olivia’s lips widened into a bright and grateful smile. Tucking her long hair behind her ears, the maid-of-honor reached for Tracy’s hand and said what she was hoping deep inside would happen.
“No, thanks. I appreciate the offer, though. Look, Noah is a sensible man, I’m sure that if we are both calm and rational, we can come up with a compromise that will please us both.”
“What?” Olivia somehow knew what was going to come out of her best friend’s mouth.
“Just don’t say yes because you’re afraid of losing him. There will come a time when enough is enough.”
“I know, I promise I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Not the answer I was looking for, but okay. Just because I wanted to make love to that chocolate soufflé, I’ll let it rest, for now.”
“What a relief.”
Together they left the kitchen and joined the others who were getting ready to play charades.
Two hours later, Tracy, Trevor and the Lowells had left her parents’ house. Noah was busy at her father’s study working. Suddenly, this whole new promotion was starting to suck, too.
That left her roaming the lower level of her childhood home. It was then that she remembered Emilia hadn’t come back inside. Grateful that her parents had called it a night, she grabbed her jacket from the entrance closet and opened the front door.
The night was quiet. The breeze that was a constant due to the proximity of the sea felt like a cool caress against her skin. Inhaling the clean air mixed in with the salty sea smell, she saw the dead woman’s ghost on the front porch step.
The house was located on a street named Seagull, just off the main street where all the cafes and antique shops were located. The cemetery was a couple of blocks away right next to the church, while other mode modern services such as ATM’s where scattered all along the sidewalk.
Since they were right in the middle of downtown, the flow of people outside the street was constant even during this time of year. During the summer for example, their street was always plagued with locals and tourists who took this route to get to the docks or visit the maritime museum just next to them. Her parents’ SUV was parked on the driveway to their right. Their house, as the rest that lined the sidewalk, had their own garage but as this was a small town and a pleasant one once the weather warmed up, they rarely kept the car inside and used it instead to keep their bicycles.
“I’d ask if you’re cold but that would be unnecessary not to mention stupid and rude.”
“You know? During the summer this state I’m in would come in handy. I wouldn’t be bothered with sweaty clothes or having to take a shower twice a day.”
“I know. I mean using the metro during August is like stepping into a sauna scented with an irreplaceable sewage aroma.”
“Tell me about it.”
“So, I hope the whole dinner thing was not too hard on you.”
“It was at first, as we were driving here. But I just focused on the insane things you said tonight and I forgot about it. You have a lovely family.”
“Thanks. They’re all I’ve got. What about yours?”
“They were great with me. Although, I couldn’t see them stuck in a small town like this. They were always more the city type. Our dynamic was less hugs and kisses unlike your family, but not because we didn’t love each other. That’s just how we were I guess. Despite just being the three of us, we were a happy bunch. You know, with the occasional yelling match or rolling of the eyes or slamming of the door to my room when I was fifteen and my dad couldn’t quite understand why I needed to go to Susan’s birthday party.”
“The reason being……?”
“That I had been the only freshman invited to it, of course.”
Olivia’s shoulders shook as she began to laugh. Her mind replayed similar arguments between her and her dad.
“A very mature reason to let one’s daughter roll with the senior crowd.”
“That’s what I said, but dad had a hard time seeing me not as her pigtail little girl anymore.”
“All fathers are the same, I guess. Mine threatened to lock me up in my room the second he spotted me wearing makeup. Thank God for my mother, or I’d still be up there,” she pointed her finger to the window above them, “like Rapunzel, waiting for prince charming to rescue me so I could do to Sephora and be happy.”
“Well, you can never go wrong with that store.”
“Any brothers or sisters?” Olivia inquired.
“Nope. Like you, I am an only child. My mom wanted to keep on working and still take care of her kid. She just knew that if she had a second child then she wouldn’t be able to be a mom and a working woman at the same time.”
“It makes sense. My parents just decided one kid was enough.”
“It’s weird how we have that in common.”
They remained silent for a moment, both their eyes staring into the dark night, while the air around them filled with the noises of cars driving by on the main street and the sound of the water hitting on the docks.
“You’re lucky you have someone like Tracy.”
“Yeah, I am.” Without hesitating, Olivia asked. “Did you? Have a best friend?”
“I didn’t. At least not as close as you and Tracy are. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I had friends but it was more like I had a group of friends for each period of my life. Never any lifelong lasting ones. I wasn’t miss popularity back in high school but I wasn’t exactly with the rejects either. I floated, ha imagine that, even alive I floated through life…anyway, I was like Sweden, everyone was my friend.”
“But maybe if I’d had one of those, then maybe I wouldn’t be here talking to you.”
“Can I ask you about Sam?”
Emilia stared straight ahead to the street, before she said.
“I suppose, since I know all about you without you wanting to share everything.”
She paused to make sure her emotions were in check before talking about the man she longed to see one more time.
“Sam and I met in high school. He was part of the popular kids, a jock all the way, but he was never a jerk to the members of the lower social pyramid. Since I was in the middle, we talked regularly at class and if we saw each other at the lunch line. Then, one day I had to walk back home and he asked if he could go with me and I don’t know……there was never a moment when we said let’s date. I guess we enjoyed each other’s companies and we started hanging out more often.”
“Just like me and Noah.”
“Yes, another thing we have in common. I met Noah when he transferred from Phoenix to our school and then we also started hanging out and it sort of happened, the whole dating thing.”
“It’s weird, I never thought of us as a couple or at least a serious one, even when I was panting from having made love to him in the back of his old beetle for the first time. After the fifth time it happened, I sort of realized that we were in a relationship.”
“Maybe my first time was at his house while his parents where on vacation but yeah, I know what you mean.”
In that moment, the front door opened and Noah stepped outside. Both women turned their heads over their shoulders to stare at him. With a sigh, Emilia stood up and used the open door to go back inside, leaving Olivia with a hard to read Noah.
“What are you doing here sitting on your own?”
“I was just taking a rest. I’ve been on my feet all day, I just needed to unwind. Did you finish your work?”
“Most of it. Listen, Olivia there’s something I have to say to you.”
By the way he stepped away from her, Olivia knew beforehand that she wasn’t going to like it.
Here we go.
“Remember yesterday when you called me at the office and I was starting to tell you something but I stopped and said I would tell you later?”
Nodding her head, she waited for him to continue.
“The thing is…….remember I also told you I had to take a trip to Boston on business on Monday?”
So that’s where he is going. Okay, so what does Boston have to do with anything?
“On Wednesday, my boss said that he needed me there for two weeks instead of one.”
“Okay…….” Then, like a ton of bricks, the implication behind his words fell down hard on her head.
“You mean…..that you won’t be here for Saturday?”
“I won’t. I’m sorry, honey. I tried to make them change the dates but it was all so spur of the moment. It is an important assignment and they need me there for the entire two weeks. I’m sorry.”
“But, Noah, it is my best friend’s wedding. I don’t care. You can take a plane on Friday night and then fly back on Sunday.”
“That’s insane, Olivia.”
“Well it’s right there on the nutty house with the fact that I will have to go without my boyfriend to this wedding. We’ve talked about it for months, Noah. Don’t do this to me.”
“Do what? This promotion is very important, Ollie. I have a business dinner on Friday and there weren’t any flights on Saturday to make it in time for Tracy’s thing. I swear I tried to get out of it but I couldn’t.”
“And what I am supposed to do?” White smoke was coming out of her mouth as the temperature was starting to drop.
“Olivia, come on. Aren’t you the one whose been talking about getting married? Like I said, we need more than just you thinking we are ready for this. Besides, I can’t give myself the luxury of just leaving the work behind. I am doing this for you.”
It felt like he’d slapped her on the face. In all of his detailed explanation he never mentioned the word us, it was only her. Like she’d been directly responsible for making him go away on a business trip for two weeks and for the extra bulk of work that had fallen on him since his promotion was made effective.
We need more than just you thinking we are ready for this. So nothing had changed. All those things he said to her parents seemed so far away now. Without saying another word, she moved past him and went inside the house. Before closing the door she heard Noah’s groan.
So her crappy week had just extended itself into two more weeks of pure hell. And just like all those times before when she and Noah had a fight after he dropped her off after a date, Olivia rushed upstairs to her bedroom with a silent Emilia behind and shut herself in her room and for the first time she, too, wished Emilia was made of flesh and bone so she could hug her.