Today's Reading

I hope we can present a united front for her this week. It's always best to hang on to the one you know, at least until you find something better, that's what my mom told me. And we were so good together, David and I. Meant to be.

"You set the table for four. That's just creepy. Are you trying to upset us?" he asks, his voice thick with emotion. Is it anger, too? I don't know.

"No, I'm trying to have a family dinner. Dr. Rosenthal told me to. I'm sorry, I must have made a mistake. Subconscious. I miss her so much." I look out the window. It's safe now because it's dark outside and the ocean is invisible. All I see  is my reflection. Tight, formfitting white T-shirt, sparkling heart. I do look good.

"How do you make that kind of mistake? Really, Jane?" David's shaking his head. I need to woo him, not disappoint him, and I should try to refrain from spooking him.

Focus, Jane.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to, darling." I dig my fingernails into the palm of my right hand and smile at my husband. David's watching me admire my reflection. What does he think when he sees me? He can't deny that I'm beautiful, but I know he doesn't see me with the same loving thoughts of the past, that much I know is true. We all change, especially in the face of unimaginable tragedy like we've been through. It's understandable. That's why I'm giving him one last chance. Starting tonight.

I turn to face him and take a step closer. He crosses his arms in front of his chest, tilts his head. His jaw is clenched, eyes dark. He thinks he's a tough guy. I take another step toward him and he backs away. Ha!

I smile and ask, "Let's start over. This is a special night. Darling, do you know when Betsy will be home? She knows how important tonight is to me." Truth be told, I'm not sure I told her about our dinner. But she's a senior in high school, she still lives in my home. She should be home for family dinner. This is part of my plan to do everything I can to make this graduation week extra special, for both David and Betsy. I hope Betsy knows that even though Mary is gone, we are still a family. None of this is easy, it never has been. I mean, it's hardest for me trying to be so selfless, the perfect wife and the perfect mother. I spoiled the girls, of course. Sometimes when you give them everything, they take you for granted. My mom warned me about that, too.

David bites his lip, another new habit. It's not really a good look for him—it shows doubt, weakness, condescension. I hate that. David says, "Betsy has art class tonight. It's every Sunday night, has been for a year." He says the words sharply, and with a big exhalation, as if he's had to say them every week to me. As if I'm an idiot. He hasn't. I'm not.

"Right, I forgot." It's hard to keep her schedule straight, especially when time shifts and moves with those pills. Don't worry. I'm not taking them anymore, like I told you, it's just that lately Betsy is acting more like her father. She's hardly ever home, and has one excuse after another. Besides, David should remember that Dr. Rosenthal explained to him that grief, like many other strong emotions, makes it hard to think straight. I've read a lot about the grieving process. I am a textbook case of complicated grief. I know, I've researched it.

Betsy only has ordinary grief, of course. Betsy's grief has made her tense, angry. She's focused on school, making sure she graduates. She's hired her own tutor, and actually seems to care about grades for the first time in her life. She hasn't even spent much time with her boyfriend, Josh, which is fine with me. He's a bit of a loser, not the kind of boy we'd choose for our little girl, but he's the type Betsy attracts. Poor thing.

Before I can leave the kitchen to retrieve my socks, David says, "Did you actually make dinner? There's nothing cooked. I don't think you even told me you were doing this." His hand sweeps over to the table, to include the broken glass, and captures the stovetop devoid of dishes and meal prep, the counters pristinely clean. 

"Oh, darling, of course I told you about tonight. I didn't want to overdo it, so I ordered in, from Salerno's, your favorite. Delivery arrives in half an hour. Pasta Bolognese just for you. Hope you're hungry." I smile. I've thought of everything. I'm back. "If it's just the two of us for dinner it will be so romantic. I hear Italian food is made for lovers." Before I turn away I watch David's face flush, his cheeks a rosy pink. He recognizes the phrase, and the restaurant, of course.

I walk away before he can respond. Perhaps I will slip into a sexy dress for our date, because just maybe, tonight, he'll decide to do the right thing. I know he loves me. We were such a good team. He remembers those days, too. I know he does. We just need a fresh start.

I head toward our bedroom, walking past the front door and glancing out into our courtyard lit with white twinkle lights, the fronds of our twin palm trees rustling in the gentle breeze. I stop and scan the outdoor space. I like to try to be ready for anything now, to be one step ahead and to avoid being startled or surprised. I learned that from my childhood. My mom was full of awful surprises. For a moment I see her standing in the courtyard, a ghost from my  distant past. I shake my head. Stop it. These thoughts aren't productive. That's Mary's voice, or perhaps it is Dr. Rosenthal's? They sound similar these days. You're safe. Your mom is gone.
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