Days after the funeral I return to my father's house-my house now, I suppose- But I still can't get used to it. Every time I walk through the door it's as if I'm entering someone else's home. I can no longer smell my father's sweet cigar smoke flowing from the family room. His worn out green chair remains empty, and nobody calls out to me from the kitchen.
I drop my purse to the ground and hang my dark overcoat over the railing of the stairs. The house is painfully silent. After removing my shoes the only remaining sound is the ticking of my father's treasured clock above the fireplace.
I keep hoping for a light to turn on in the kitchen. My father would come over to greet me in his soft maroon robe. He'd have a cup of coffee in one hand and his newspaper in the other.
I walk over to the record player and turn on his classical music. I close my eyes and for a moment imagine that he turned the music on himself. I'm back home after a long summer day at the pool with Carolyn and he has just gotten home from work. He's taking his "five minute rest" before we have dinner.
"How was your day today, Papa?" I would ask him.
He'd smile and say, "Better now that I'm here with you."
I'd sit on the floor beside his green chair and rest my head on his lap.
"Me too," I'd say.
A strong knock on the door wakes me from my daydream. I turn down my father's music and put my ear against the old front door.
"Who is it?" I say.
"It's me, Jack Davies"
Jack Davies? It's so familiar yet I can't place it. Everything before last Monday seems like so long ago.
"I'm sorry who?" I say.
"Jack-We—um-well we met at your sister's and Dale's wedding."
Oh that Jack-Dale's old friend from medical school. Other than two awkward slow dances he didn't show any interest in me the whole night. Yet now of all times he's feeling social. Typical.
"Just a minute!" I say.
I glance at myself in a small mirror next to the door. I quickly run my fingers through my hair, forcing my wild curls behind my ears. I lick my finger and attempt to rub away some of the dark spots my mascara left under my eyes.
I take a deep breath and open the door. He doesn't look like the same man I met at Carolyn's wedding. His posture is more relaxed-less menacing and cocky. His hair, although nicely combed, lacks the abundance of gel that left it overly stiff and foul smelling the whole night. His black suit is gone and in its place are khakis and a navy polo shirt. He keeps his hands hidden in his pockets.
"Jack?" I say, "What are you doing here?"
"I'm sorry to stop by without calling. I've been meaning to stop by for some time now and I was in the area…."
He pauses and his eyes wander for a moment before returning to me, "Do you think I could come in for a bit?"
I open the door a little wider and step aside, "Yes, of course."
He smiles with gratitude and steps inside. I close the door behind him and take his coat.
He takes a look around the entryway before breaking the silence "I had heard Dr. Asner's house was beautiful but I never imagined it would be as nice as this." He says.
"My dad was really happy here. Here have a seat." I say.
I sit down on the love seat in the corner. Jack walks past the couch and sits down in my father's green chair. My stomach gives a little turn and he quickly stands back up.
"I'm sorry is here not okay?" he says.
"No-no it's fine."
"Really it's fine," I say.
Despite my convincing protest Jack stands and scoots over to the couch next to mine.
"This better?" he says.
I nod. The two couches meet in the corner of the family room. Our knees nearly touch as we sit facing one another.
"I wanted to let you know just how sorry I am for your loss. Your father was an amazing advisor to me and I don't think I'd be where I am today without him."
I force a slight smile, "Thank you."
"He talked about you and Carolyn all the time at the hospital. He just gushed about you two everyday."
My throat grows dry and painful as I try to stop my eyes from reddening.
"I know how hard it's been for you with your sister moving out of town. Now you're in this house all by yourself—and I just wanted to let you know, if you need anything I'm here for you."
I can feel my eyes growing redder. I swallow hard and look down at my fiddling hands.
"Thank you" I manage to say.
"Are you doing okay?" he says.
"It's-it's been a rough few weeks." I say.
My voice cracks and soon salty tears are flowing down my cheeks. Jack takes a handkerchief from his pocket. He scoots over to the small spot next to me on the love seat and hands the cloth to me.
"Thank you." I say.
He gently puts his hand on my back, "It just takes time, Beth"
I nod and use his handkerchief to the dry the corners of my eyes.
"It just feels so-empty." I say.
I can feel Jack slowly rubbing the small of my back.
"What does?" he says.
I shake my head, slowly sifting through my mind for the right word, "Just-everything…" I say.
He looks at me sympathetically. He puts his arm around my shoulders and pulls me in closer.
"I know. It's going to be okay. I promise."
"There's nothing left for me here." I say.
"That's not true…"
"It is true. First my mother, then Carolyn, now Papa. There's nobody left."
"You still have your sister." He says softly.
I shake my head, "Carolyn doesn't need me anymore. She has her husband and her rich in-laws now. She'd rather be with them."
"That's not true either. I saw you two together. She loves you very much."
"No, what Papa said was true. What's mine is hers and what's hers is hers. She found something better and she went for them. What does she need me for anymore?"
He shakes his head, "Shhh, don't say that. Of course she wants to be with you."
I look up at Jack with my red, swollen eyes, "Then why isn't she here?"
He guides my head down to his shoulder, "I know. Sometimes, our families can really let us down. They lose site of what's really important and let us down- but I saw how much she adored you. And I have to believe that one day she'll come around. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but she will."
"I just can't be alone anymore." I turn to face Jack, "Do you know what it's like to have so much love to give and have nobody that wants it?"
His face stiffens and he doesn't respond.
"I don't even know where to go from here." I say.
"You don't have to go anywhere. You've got a great home right—"
"I can't stay here."
"I just can't."
"How am I going to take care of this place by myself? Even if I knew what I was doing I could never keep up with it the way Papa did. There's the lawn and the pool and the…"
"It's just for a little while. One day you'll have a husband to take care of all that."
"I don't really see a husband in my future."
"What's your excuse now?"
"Before it was Carolyn. You didn't have time to date me because you had to look after her."
"That was years ago."
"Then you didn't have time because you had to take care of your dad."
"I did have to take care of my dad."
"At the wedding I saw the way you don't notice me."
"Am I the first?"
He nods slightly, "I'm a catch."
"And the cockiness returns."
"And you know what else? You didn't seem to notice any of the other men at the wedding either."
"I was a little distracted. My only sister was getting married."
"I think it's more than that."
"What does it matter to you? Why do you care what I feel and what I don't feel?"
"Because you're not the only one who has something to give. You have options."
"Options? I don't have options."
"Yes you do."
"No I don't! I can be alone or I can be an outcast. Those aren't options!"
He stands powerless against my outburst.
"My God this was supposed to be easy! I grow up, I find a husband, I make a life for myself-A family for myself. The most basic thing a person is supposed to be able to do I can't."
"You can still have all that."
"Marry me, Beth."
"I don't even know you."
"Then let me tell you a little bit more about myself. I'm going to be twenty-eight next month. I've never even had a girlfriend that lasted more than a few dates. More than one date, really."
"That's ridiculous. The women were all over you at the wedding you could have had any one of them…."
"Of course they were fond of me-I'm a catch! But they just-they weren't for me."
"Then you'll find some other girl who's crazy about you. They're all over."
"You're not listening to me, Beth! I'm telling you, those girls weren't for me."
"Oh my God….you don't feel it either?" I say.
"You think that's any easier for me? You think it's easy at work? Every office party, every family event, every friend's wedding I have an empty seat next to me."
He takes my hand in his "I know it sounds crazy, but I think you and me—we could build a life together."
I pull away, "I can't."
"Think about it! Nobody would have to know the truth. We can be a part of them. We can be one of those couples who bring awful wine to parties and brag about their kid's mediocre baseball skills."
"You want kids?"
"I know how this sounds. We'll never have love but we'll never have loneliness. And I promise, I'll give you a good life. The kind of life your father wanted for you.
"I don't know."
"Yes you do! You do! We can make it work I promise you. We can make this house our home. Our family's home. Isn't that what you've always wanted? What do you say?