“Yes,” I said softly and stunned, and then it grew louder and louder. “yes! yes! yes!” I said, kissing him. He was holding on to me tightly. I have no doubt that some of our neighbors thought they were overhearing something they shouldn’t have.

We fell back onto the bed and proved them right. “I love you,” he said to me over and over. He whispered it and he moaned it. He spoke it and he sang it. He loved me. He loved me. He loved me.

And just like that, I was going to be part of a family again.

November

by the time sunday afternoon rolls around, ana has been well indoctrinated into this new, luxurious lifestyle. she, susan, and I are lying out by the pool. the weather has started to cool during the nights, but the days are still hot enough to lie outside. Given that it’s early november, it makes me especially glad to live in southern California. Winter is upon us, and yet, I can barely feel a chill.

Ana read an entire book this weekend. susan cooked every meal as if she was a gourmet chef. I mostly lazed around like I have been doing, getting to the point where I am so bored that I yearn for some sort of life again. a couple of times yesterday I pondered whether to pick up a hobby. no final decision has been made.

We are all in a little bit of a food coma from the soufflé susan made for our “lunch dessert,” as she called it. We are all quiet at the moment, but I decide to break the silence.

“So what are you and kevin doing this week?” I ask.

“Oh, not sure,” ana said. “although, did I tell you? He asked me to meet his parents.”

“He did?” I ask.

“How long have you two been together?” susan asks.

“Oh, just a few months now. But I really like him. He’s . . .”

“He’s really sweet,” I say to susan. I mean it, so it comes across like I mean it and I think it touches ana. I still maintain that he’s a bit blah all around, but you don’t need spice in the boyfriend of your best friend. you need him to be reliable, kindhearted, and sincere. you need to know he won’t hurt her, if he can help it. you need to know he has good intentions. By all of those accounts, I like kevin. (But he’s boring.)

“Are his parents from around here?” I ask.

“He’s from san Jose. so it’s a few hours’ drive, but he said he really wanted them to meet me.”

This touches a nerve with susan. I can see it. ana probably can’t, but I’ve done nothing but sit around with this woman for five weeks now. I know her like the back of my hand. I also knew her son and I’m learning that they aren’t altogether terribly different people.

Susan lightly excuses herself as ana and I continue to talk. I remember when I was happy like she is, when Ben felt invincible to me like I’m sure kevin feels to her now. I remember how I felt like nothing in the world could take that feeling away from me. there was nothing I could not do. But instead of hating her for being happy, I can see now that I am feeling melancholy, nostalgic, and a little jealous. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly a lot healthier than last month.

Ana gets her things ready, and I walk her out to her car. she’s meeting kevin for dinner tonight in l.a., and I don’t begrudge her leaving early for it. I’m also exhausted from the company. I’ve been alone so many hours lately that talking to two people at once has been a struggle for my attention span.

“Oh!” she says, turning toward her car and digging through it. “I forgot that I brought your mail.” she finds it and hands me a big chunk of envelopes. I already know that some of them will have Ben’s name on them. truth be told, I was happy to let the piles accumulate in my mailbox hours away. If my marriage certificate isn’t in here, I’m gonna wig out.

“Awesome,” I say and give her a hug. “thank you. For this, and for coming here. It really means a lot to me.”

“I miss you, girl,” ana says, as she gets in her car. “But you seem happier. Just a little.”

I don’t want to seem happier, even if I do feel it a little bit. It feels wrong to be labeled “happier,” even if it is incremental. the woman that loved Ben as fiercely as I did would never feel any degree of happy after losing him.

“Drive safe,” I say. “tell kevin I said hi.”

“You got it.”

When she’s gone, I rifle through the envelopes looking for one from the County recorder’s office. I come up short. My stomach sinks, and I know that I have to call them tomorrow. I cannot ignore this problem. I cannot pretend it doesn’t exist. I need to know what is going on with the legality of my marriage. I have to face it.

At the bottom of the stack is a hand-addressed envelope. the writing is shaky and uneven. I don’t have to look at the return address to know who it is from.

Mr. George Callahan.

I put the other envelopes on the sidewalk and sit down on the curb. I tear open the envelope.

Dear Elsie,

I hope you don’t mind that I asked the library for your mailing address. They were hesitant to give it to me, but an old man has his ways. First of all, I wanted to tell you that I don’t know why you punched that guy but that I hope you won’t mind me telling Lorraine about it. It was the most interesting thing to happen in months!

The real reason I am writing is because Lorraine is not well. The doctors have taken her from our home and she is now staying in the hospital. Unfortunately, old age is really starting to catch up to her. I am staying with her here at Cedars-Sinai. Sometimes I take a cab back to our home and get some of her things, but most of the time, I stay right here next to her. She is sleeping most of the time, but that’s all right by me. Just being next to her, hearing her breathe, feels like a miracle sometimes.

I wanted to say that I am sorry for telling you to move on. I am now looking at the prospect of living without the love of my life, and I find it daunting and miserable. I do not know how I will live a day after I lose her. I feel like I am standing on the edge of a huge, black hole, waiting to fall.

Maybe there is one person for everyone. If so, Lorraine was mine. Maybe the reason I was able to get over Esther was because she wasn’t the right one. Maybe the reason you can’t get over Ben is because he was.

I just wanted you to know that even at almost ninety, I’m still learning new things every day, and I think I am learning now that when you lose the thing you love most in the world, things can’t be okay again.

I’d like to say I miss you at the library, but truthfully, I don’t get down there very much.

As I’ve reread this now, I realize it’s a little bit of a mopey letter, so I hope you’ll excuse my rambling.

Thanks for listening.

Best, George Callahan

I walk inside and ask susan where her stationery is. she gives me some, and I sit down at her kitchen table. I write until my hand feels like it’s going to fall off. My palm feels cramped, my fingers ache. I have been holding the pen too tightly. I have been pressing the pen down too hard. I read over what I have written and see that it makes absolutely no sense. It is barely legible. so I throw it away and I write what my heart is screaming at him.

Dear George,

I was wrong. You are wrong.

We can live again. I’m not sure if we can love again, but we can live again.

I believe in you.

Love, Elsie

May

We had filled the day with discussions about how to get married and where to get married and when to get married. I realized I didn’t know the first thing about marriage. logistically, I mean. How does one get married? What does one need to do?

I found out pretty quickly that Ben was thinking of a real wedding. He was thinking of a wedding with bridesmaids and white dresses, flowers in the centers of round tables. Champagne flutes. a dance floor. I wasn’t opposed to that; it just hadn’t occurred to me. His proposal felt unorthodox; our relationship felt electric and exciting. It seemed strange to seal it with something so conventional. It felt more appropriate to put on some clothes and drive down to city hall. large weddings with long guest lists and speeches felt like things that people did when they had been together for years. they felt rational and practiced, well thought out and logical—like a business decision. I wanted to do something crazy. something you’d only do if you were in as much love as we were.

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