He stood in the doorway of the sanctuary of the church and watched her as she bustled around trying to get all the finishing touches done before the funeral began. The sanctuary had been beautifully decorated by Nicole, Holly and Beth. Nicole had assigned him and Alex to be two of the pallbearers and he hadn’t seen Anna since the day Chad passed away, but he thought it better than to ask.
Nicole looked beautiful in her simple, yet stunning, black dress. Her long, silky brown hair was braided loosely to one side and her make-up was very subtly done. Ryan admired how strong she had been the last few days. She had shut them all out for the first couple days, but after that she reappeared with guns blazing. It was obvious to him and to everyone else that she had other things on her mind, but for the moment she had kept her emotions at bay as she worked hard to make this the best celebration of life that she could.
“Hey Ry,” Beth said quietly as she sneaked up beside him, “It’s amazing isn’t it?”
“What is?” Ryan questioned as he looked down at Nicole’s best friend.
“How she can be a disaster one minute and then be totally put together the next,” Beth replied with a smile, “I was helping her and Hudson get ready this morning and she was a complete mess. I thought we wouldn’t get through the morning, but after a cup of coffee and some breakfast she recovered and now she is a force to be reckoned with.”
“Do you think she looks preoccupied, like there is something else on her mind?” Ryan asked Beth, curious about what was going on in Nicole’s mind at that moment.
“I know there is,” Beth replied, “But I am not about to question her about it right now. It’s not the time.”
“Where’s Anna? Is she coming today?” Ryan asked, changing the subject, “I haven’t seen her since Wednesday.”
“She’s at home,” Beth replied, “She isn’t coming to the funeral.”
Ryan gave her a quick look and in that short moment of eye contact it was like he could read her every thought and they were his thoughts as well. Chad hadn’t meant as much to Anna as everyone thought. It had always been about the chase and the catch for her, but once she had gotten what she wanted she was already bored.
“You would think that she would show up for this,” Ryan sneered, “She is carrying his child after all.”
“Nicole didn’t tell you?” Beth asked with a raise of her eyebrow.
“Tell me what?” Ryan asked, “We have all been way too busy and she hasn’t talked about much except for the funeral and Chad. She hasn’t even brought up Anna.”
“Anna miscarried the day after Chad passed away,” Beth replied like the news wasn’t that big of a deal, “She drove herself to the hospital, had it dealt with and then went back home in the morning when they released her.”
Ryan clenched his fists at his sides as the anger raced through his veins. What was that woman’s problem? Why would she want to create such havoc and destroy such a beautiful family? It was beyond him. Even though he was in love with Nicole and wanted her for himself, he would never try to destroy her marriage or her family. He just didn’t have it in him to ruin something so he would gain from it.
“Well I’m sorry to hear that,” Ryan said quietly, only partially meaning it.
Ryan and Beth stood there quietly for a moment, neither one saying anything, when Nicole approached them. She smiled at them sadly and brushed a lose strand of hair behind her ear.
“Well, what do you think?” Nicole asked them quietly, “Is it too much or do you think Chad would like it?”
“He would love it Nic,” Beth replied with a smile, “Everything about the church is beautiful. I’m sure he is smiling down at all the preparation you have invested into this.”
Nicole smiled just as a wave of emotion took over her and she had to sit down. Ryan sat down beside her and wrapped his arm around her shaking shoulders hoping that he could comfort her somehow.
“I have to go pick up Alex,” Beth said quickly as she smiled at Ryan with appreciation, “But I will be back as soon as I can.”
After she left, Ryan and Nicole sat in the pew in silence, neither one of them knowing what to say. They both knew that no matter what was said it wasn’t going to change the situation. They were here today to say goodbye to Chad and celebrate his life, or at least they were going to try and celebrate. Ryan didn’t know how to celebrate a life in this instance as Chad was taken away so abruptly and so unexpectedly. He was only 40 years old, he had so much more life to live, even if he had destroyed his beautiful family.
“He wanted to end things with Anna,” Nicole whispered as she lifted her head to look at him, “He knew there was no chance of a relationship like theirs surviving. He had every intention of supporting her and the baby, but in the end...in the end...he said he wanted one more chance to make it right with me and Hudson.”
He wasn’t expecting her to open up about her and Chad’s last moments together, but he was glad that she trusted him enough to share with him. He rubbed her shoulder and reached out with the other hand to wipe away a tear that had escaped. Nicole sighed and leaned her head against his shoulder.
“I’m not even sure if that one more chance would have changed anything,” Nicole continued on, “How can a marriage survive all the damage, pain and heartbreak that was caused? Would our marriage have lasted or would it have died out anyways, despite the effort we would have put in to try and repair it?”
“I’m sorry Nicole, I don’t have an answer for those questions,” Ryan replied quietly as he ran a hand over her braided hair, “I’m afraid that you will probably never get an answer to those questions.”
“I would have like to have found out though,” Nicole said, her voice strangled as a sob travelled through her, “He was taken away from me before we had an opportunity to find out. Why! Why did this have to happen?”
“I know Nic...” Ryan began, but didn’t know how to continue saying out loud what he was thinking.
“It’s her fault Ryan,” Nicole spat angrily as the tears fell down her face, “She destroyed my family and she’s the reason that he went out drinking that night...Why did I forgive her? She ruined everything!”
Ryan sat in the pew unable to say anything as the anger took over her. She fell to her knees in the aisle of the sanctuary and cried out and yelled. Her sobs echoed through the beautifully decorated church as she reached for her planner and threw it in anger. Ryan watched the scene unfold before him and his heart broke, knowing that there wasn’t anything he could do to make this easier for her.
After a few moments her anger subsided and she just sat there on her knees, her head on the floor. She was breathing heavily and her body was shaking with grief. Ryan got up from his place in the pew and kneeled beside her, pulling her into his arms. He held her close and rocked her back and forth, trying to soothe her, comfort her, trying to do anything that would calm her down a little.
“We have a couple hours before the funeral,” Ryan said quietly against her cheek, “Can I take you for brunch or buy you a coffee somewhere? You can take a break and try to calm down before we come back?”
“Can we just go for a walk?” Nicole asked quietly, “Guaranteed I won’t be able to keep anything down and I shouldn’t have any more coffee today.”
“Absolutely,” Ryan replied as he reached his hand out to help her off the floor.
Beth was sitting in Anna’s living room waiting for her to get ready. Anna had texted Beth right as she left the church saying that she had decided to go to the funeral. Beth thought it was a good idea that Anna decided to come and she figured that Anna would be able to get some sort of closure, although she was unsure of what closure looked like for Anna.
Beth looked down at her phone when she heard it buzz. It was a text message from Ryan.
It’s probably not a good idea for Anna to come to the funeral. Nicole had a substantial meltdown after you left the church and right now, she blames Anna for everything. She regrets forgiving her and she very clearly doesn’t want her there.
Beth sighed. She knew it was only a matter of time before Nicole broke down. She knew that Nicole tried to be the better person in this situation and even though she loved her sister, she understood Nicole’s point of view. However, Beth was now conflicted and wasn’t sure of how she was going to tell Anna that she wasn’t wanted at the funeral.
“Anna,” Beth called as she got up from the couch and made her way down the hall to the bedroom where Anna was getting ready.
“Yeah,” Anna replied as she slipped on a pair of black and white leather pumps that went beautifully with the black dress she chose to wear, “What is it?”
“I think it might be best if you didn’t come to the funeral,” Beth answered reluctantly, afraid of what Anna’s response would be.
“Why?” Anna questioned, “It’s not like anyone else outside our circle knows about me and Chad.”
“Nicole had a meltdown today,” Beth stated, “I just found out while you were getting ready. She would prefer it if you didn’t come.”
“So much for forgiveness,” Anna mumbled under her breath, “Why would she say she forgave me if she didn’t mean it?”
“You know Nicole better than that Anna,” Beth shot back, feeling frustrated, “She meant every word, but she also told you that it was going to be hard for her to let everything go. You need to give Nicole space and time and I think it would be best if you didn’t come to the funeral today.”
“Fine, whatever,” Anna grumbled as she kicked off her shoes and sat down on her bed, “Whatever is best for your precious Nicole...”
“Geeze, Anna...you know I love you,” Beth said with a sigh, “But what you did, what you and Chad did to Nicole...that was a horrible mistake...so yes I’m siding with Nicole on this one.”
“You can leave now,” Anna said maliciously, “I don’t really want you here right now.”
Beth stared at her sister incredulously. She wished that she could make her little sister see the bigger picture instead of focusing on herself and what she lost. In the grand scheme of things, Nicole was the one who had lost everything and it bothered Beth that Anna didn’t seem the least bit affected by that. Beth stared at her sister for a moment and realized that she no longer recognized the young woman sitting in front of her. Anna wasn’t the person she used to be. Beth missed the old Anna and she had no idea how to connect with the new Anna.
“I love you Anna,” Beth said quietly before turning and walking down the hall and letting herself out.
Anna heard the front door close as Beth left the apartment, and it was then that she let the tears fall. Everything Beth had said was true and it cut her to the core. The pain she had caused, the mess she had made of everything, it was unforgiveable and who was she to be upset with Nicole for blaming everything that had happened on her. Anna hated herself and she hated the new and horrible version of herself that she had become.
She put her head in her hands and let the tears escape. She was a horrible person for what she had done. She managed to convince Chad that she was better for him than his own wife, a woman that she had grown up with. She managed to make Chad believe that he was in love with her and make him believe that she was in love with him. When at the end of it all, it had only been about the chase for her.
Anna stood up and walked into her bathroom and stared at herself in the mirror. When had she become this person staring back at her? She didn’t recognize this person. In all her 28 years, this was not the person she had been raised to be. She had always been sweet, shy and loyal to her family and friends. She never would have broken a friend’s trust or broken a friend’s heart the way she had with Nicole’s.
She looked down at her hands and noticed the pregnancy test sitting on the bathroom counter beside her fingers. Just another reminder of how conniving she had been and she felt even more ashamed of herself.
Anna knew that Chad had been getting bored and knew that he wanted to leave her to go back to Nicole. She thought that if she managed to get pregnant with his child that he would find that reason enough to stay with her and start a new family with her. After a couple months however, when she thought she had been pregnant, the test told her otherwise.
Anna was sitting at the table with her best friend, Jenny, feeling down and depressed that the pregnancy test had come back negative. She thought for sure that she was pregnant with all the symptoms she had felt over the last couple weeks, but she clearly had been wrong.
“Anna,” Jenny said excitedly trying to get her attention, “I have the best news!”
Anna gave her head a shake and looked over at her friend with a small smile.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Anna exclaimed, “Spill.”
Jenny pulled something out of her pocket and slid it across the table for Anna to see. Anna looked down to see a positive pregnancy test staring up at her. Oh, for the love of all that is holy, Anna thought to herself, you have got to be kidding me!
“Oh my goodness!” Anna exclaimed, trying to be as convincing as possible, “This is so exciting! Congratulations! How far along are you?”
“The doctor said I am approximately 10 weeks,” Jenny squealed, “I’m so excited and when I found out, you were the first one I wanted tell. I can’t wait!”
On the inside, Anna’s heart sank and broke a little, but on the outside she managed to convincingly exude excitement for her friend. She smiled at Jenny before looking down at the test in her hand. What were the odds that her best friend should be pregnant at the same time that she found out that she wasn’t. This was perfect!
Jenny took the test from Anna and slipped it into her purse before she excused herself and walked down the hall to the bathroom. Anna waited until she heard the door lock click and then she quickly scurried across the table to Jenny’s purse and pulled out the test. She tucked it into her pocket and sat back down before Jenny got back to the table.
Anna looked at herself again in the mirror. She was unrecognizable even to herself and what she did was unforgivable. It was a secret that she couldn’t let get out and she vowed to take it to the grave with her.
What kind of person stoops to such a horrible level? What kind of person fakes their own pregnancy?
Anna was that kind of person. Anna screamed and threw her fists against the mirror in anger. How was she going to live with herself?