Everything changed, and I was powerless to stop it. But change was good, so I decided to go with the flow.
Walker died on June 20. It was now the beginning of August. At first, I had visited his grave every day. But soon, I began to lapse my time in paying my respects, noticing that I only visited once a week. I feared I would soon forget him, but I knew deep down I could never do that—even if I tried.
It was that day in August that I brought a fresh bouquet of flowers to lay in front of his tombstone. I noticed though, that someone always beat me to being the first to place flowers for him. I never found out who, but Lucy and Vern always denied this. It seemed almost like a competition, as I gradually arrived to the cemetary earlier and earlier. Still, I had no idea who continued to provide the small arrangements of flowers every morning. It seemed almost as though I was competing with a ghost, who was challenging my commitment to Walker. Of course, when I told Lucy this she said it was merely a bout of neurosis.
Despite everything that has happened, I fear that Lucy, Vern, and I have grown apart.
Speaking of Lucy and Vern, they moved. They took Walker's advice at heart, and planned to keep their promise of living a life without regret. They moved to Michigan, of all places. Lucy had been saving a lot of her money, and plans on opening a bar there soon. Vern and her have been going well, and I'm sure I'll be hearing wedding bells soon. All I can think of is good for them. I really am happy for them. I just miss them a lot, though. They offered me a job there as a waitress, but I turned them down.
I couldn't leave San Diego. My heart was desperately clinging to the last fragments of stability in my life, and if I moved away I felt it would only bury me in a deeper well of depression.
Of course, I still kept an intimate contact with Lucy and Vern. But phone calls and emails could only go so far. They told me I am always welcome, and I do intend to visit them soon once I have my life in order.
Because I couldn't afford the rent without Lucy, and since my funds were running low, I moved out of the condo. I was now renting a small apartment across town.
I was registered as a student at San Diego Community College, where I am studying for my associate's degree. I will begin taking fall classes and now aspire to be an engineer in either computer science or software. I have my previous employment for Ben Burgess to thank for the taste of technological entrepreneurship.
When I arrived at the isolated graveyard I noticed that far off, in the direction of the field, there was a tall figure at Walker's gravesite. I recognized the tall posture of the person, and being curious, I quietly approached him.
"Ben?" I asked as I looked up at him. Seeing him at the funeral was expected, but I was taken by astonishment that he was visiting. It seemed that a shadow was swallowing him, but when he turned to face me, I couldn't help but smile softly at the fresh set of flowers delicately arranged in a brass vase upon the slab of stone that marked his grave. "Hi."
He nodded passively, his eyes blank with the smoldering embers of a once passionate fire. "I'm sorry, I'm sure you want to be alone." He went to pass me, but I took the sleeve of his shirt.
"Wait," I quietly protested, my heart suddenly hammering in my chest. It felt good to see him again, for we hadn't spoken since the day Walker died. "How've you been?"
"Fine. You?" His eyes penetrated me as he patiently waited for me to finish. I noticed the imploration, but I was too numb and ill prepared to react properly.
"I'm getting better." I smiled, deciding to tell him that I knew of his actions. "I never thanked you for what you did."
"About what?" Burgess' eyes narrowed and his mouth slightly curled in the familiar sneer that masked his weaker emotions.
"You never did anything that night. You just gave away all that money."
Burgess blinked, then bowed his head. He seemed ashamed, as though he believed his selflessness was nothing but a sin. "So he told you."
"Yes. Even though you drugged me, you didn't take advantage of me." I hesitantly released my grip on his sleeve, noticing I had still tightly gripped it. I had been expecting him to snap at me for wrinkling his tailored jacket, but his silence was rippling through me powerfully. "But why?"
"I couldn't let you think I'd just hand over the money without a price. I'm… Ben Burgess, damn it."
I laughed, noticing my voice was dry and quiet from lack of use. I felt so tired; so drained. "You haven't changed that much, Ben."
Burgess smirked, sashaying his arrogance as a means to appease me. "I sure hope not."
"It's good to see you again," I volunteered more conversation hungrily after an awkward pause. I craved social contact. At the moment I was friendless. Adelmo, who I considered my friend, had returned to Germany. This time, with Lila Maddock. It seemed the two made a functional-if not peculiar-couple. I was happy for them-but at the same time I was left alone, without a person to spend my Friday nights with, to confide with, to laugh with, nor to cry with. Deep down, a pessimistic voice would echo in my head that I was abandoned.
In a way, I was a shell of my former self, merely attending school part time while struggling to find employment. I was surviving off of ramen noodles and bathing in the community college's locker room.
Burgess raised an eyebrow, a newfound smirk on his face. "How much do you need this time?" I lost my smile, and he quickly realized he went too far. "I'm sorry."
"No, don't be. But I do intend to pay you back. It'll take me a long time, but I'm a woman of my word."
Burgess nodded. "Do you have a job?"
I felt vulnerable now, and my cheeks flaming red. Lawrence had closed down the Neo Sushi Club shortly after Walker's death. He, too, had left town to start another business. It seemed without Walker's ambition or artistic ability, the Club had also died. "No, I still can't find one."
"Come work for me again." Burgess held out his hand, his brash nature catching me off guard. I knew that he still cared for me, and it was truly a bitter sweet thought that I tasted whenever I saw him. "I could use you."
"Ben, don't. You've done so much for me." I felt my heart hurt, but Walker's words went through my mind.
"Move on when I'm gone. For me, okay? Don't waste your love."
"I could use you. It's more of a benefit than an inconvenience," Burgess continued calmly. "And I…" he paused, as though not daring to say any more.
"What about Adelmo? Even though he's overseas, I thought he was still your assistant?" I was trying to make an excuse, as the temptation to return to Burgess Incorporated was unbearable. I didn't have much pride left, but I still had some fragments of it. I didn't want to spend the rest of my life taking handouts. And I wondered if my mind was strong enough to handle the stresses of Burgess' demands. Working as his personal assistant had been a labor of passion and pride, and I had neither left.
"He quit a while ago. But I was thinking of putting you in a more technical field. That, and I'll pay you to get certified. And college as well. We could work something out..." He was talking to me as though we were a couple again. I recognized that his compassionate offers of help were tangled in knots from his heart strings. When he caught my eye, he slowed down. "You miss him, don't you?"
"Pretty obvious," I nodded, looking down at the engraved words that spelled his name upon his tombstone.
"But you know I miss you too, don't you?" Burgess' hand fell to his side. "And I'll keep waiting for you."
My emotions were going array, but I felt so alone. I wanted nothing more than to let myself be in his arms. To let myself go. "That means more to me than I could ever describe."
"Promise me, you'll let yourself be happy."
"Mary?" Burgess broke through my sudden daydream. "Come on, I'll buy you some coffee." He put his arm around me, no longer letting me refuse him. And for once, I decided that I wasn't going to fight. I loved Walker, but he wanted me to love as much as I could. He wanted me to be happy.
And I promised to be happy, for him. And for me. Being with Burgess, though it was a tidal wave of trouble and chaos, being with him gave me the thrill and joy that was often missing from my life.
When I lost Walker, I thought I'd lose what made me happy. But that was never really the case.
I let myself not care about what was morally right or wrong at that instant. I knew that walking beside Burgess, with his arm around my shoulder filled my heart with comfort and security. And when I rested my head against his shoulder in his limo, I felt relaxed and at peace. I felt loved.
And I felt happy.