The Eulogy

By Debra Yergen All Rights Reserved ©

Drama / Romance

Chapter 2

It was Zach. He was calling to say he just left the hospital and there was no change with Harriet. According to Zach, a neurologist stopped by to let the family know he had ordered a CT which would tell them if she had significant cerebral edema.

Isabelle didn’t know what that meant so she jotted it down on a napkin so she could text Carrie about it when she hung up the phone. Carrie’s mom and Harriet had served on several Portland boards together before she passed away. Harriet had taken Carrie, an only child, under her wing like a surrogate daughter – just has she had done with her nephew and niece so many years ago. On the phone, Isabelle didn’t want to admit to Zach that she didn’t recognize the medical terminology that later seemed like a fancy way of saying swelling around the brain hemorrhage.

Zach let Isabelle know that Harriet’s blood pressure had already come down to a safe level, but he said she would need to remain on the ventilator for now. They would know tomorrow if she needed surgery or if the medicine alone would pull enough of the fluid off her brain into her bloodstream, lowering the intracranial pressure. At seventy, she wasn’t old by medical standards, but she wasn’t of an age where doctors considered her highly resilient either.

“So she’s alive?” Isabelle asked.

“Harriet? Yeah.” Zach asked and answered without pausing for confirmation. So Isabelle hadn’t been visited by a ghost – or an angel, which she had already surmised. “Did you find Grace?” Zach inquired.

“Arnie picked her up. He left a message on my work phone while I was at the hospital, so I basically freaked out and probably didn’t seem at all grateful for him picking her up and taking her home.”

“At least she’s okay. You, you gotta relax, Izz. You’re wound so tight you’re gonna have a stroke if you’re not careful.” Zach extended about as much support as he was capable of extending. She could tell by his tone he was making an effort, so she also took a pause, trying not to let him hear her struggle for cooperation.

“I’m not going to be at the hospital tomorrow. I have a conference in San Francisco. I’ll be back Thursday night,” Isabelle informed him. She didn’t know why she was telling her brother this. She supposed it was because she needed to tell someone. Wednesday nights were Arnie’s, so it seemed unnecessary to tell him her every move anymore, given their separation. Now, Zach was all she had.

“Have a safe trip,” Zach said.

“You’ll let me know if there are any changes with Harriet?” Isabelle asked. Zach confirmed he would.

Isabelle texted Carrie, an ER physician, who was always prompt with her responses, especially where Harriet was concerned. Isabelle was glad Harriet had Carrie to watch out for her. A tiny part of her wished she had such a warm and amiable relationship with her aunt. Harriet never seemed to impose her opinions on Carrie the way she so naturally did with Isabelle. Either that or it didn’t bother Carrie the same way. Carrie often referred to herself as “Harriet’s other daughter,” which Isabelle mostly accepted to mean the sister she never had.

In addition to explaining the tests Harriet would face the next day, Carrie put Isabelle’s mind at ease by sharing with her that Providence Portland offered some of the best imaging diagnostics on the West Coast, and even the nation. Isabelle knew her aunt was in the best hands possible and that helped to calm the worries running circles in her mind.

When Isabelle crawled into bed, she lied there, on her back, eyes wide open. She noticed how bright it was and got up to discover a full moon outside. She rarely looked at the moon or noticed what went on in the sky or even in nature. If there wasn’t a calendar in every room of the house, open to October, she couldn’t have told anyone it was even fall. It’s not that she was self-absorbed. She just failed to pay attention where it mattered most – and paid too much attention to things she would have been better served to let go.

It was raining when the plane touched down in San Francisco – no surprise to Isabelle. Despite the romantic backdrop, or perhaps because of it, Isabelle hated San Francisco. It reminded her of living there a decade ago, when she met Arnie and they fell in love. Everything was so different now. Seeing the old places they used to go didn’t bring back fond memories. They simply reminded her of all the promises he made when they were younger – big ideas he had and plans that never came to fruition.

She missed the hopes and dreams to which she once held tightly. She missed exploring the city together, hiking steep, paved streets for an adrenaline rush, making love in a tiny apartment that permeated the musty scent of summer, and willingly sacrificing friendships to build something with Arnie that she now feared was crumbling around her. How had things changed so much in one short decade? The man, who once made her so happy, had over time come to represent everything she promised herself she would never tolerate.

Isabelle had reservations at the Marriott Marquis on Fourth. She always looked forward to her stays there. She especially enjoyed The View Lounge on the thirty-ninth floor. She never went there with Arnie. It was all hers. The memories of past stays and fascinating strangers were exclusively her memories, without his knowledge or input to retell history differently than she remembered. He couldn’t leave the most innocent story alone. One time she was describing a watercolor painting she discovered at an art fair at the Wharf; Arnie corrected her five times as she told Zach about dickering with the artist.

Arnie was quick to correct whatever Isabelle said, and she wondered what drove him to always put her in her place around others. Even when something didn’t concern him, he would interrupt the conversation to correct her in front of others. It would especially infuriate her when he would jokingly add, “Tell the truth, Izz. Tell the truth.” He thought this was so funny, but she never found it the least bit amusing, especially because he genuinely got at least half the details wrong. She believed it called into question her integrity, even though he said it jokingly and mostly for the reaction it produced. And so when she told stories of people she met at the bar at the top of the Marriott on Fourth, and Arnie jumped in, Isabelle had the distinct pleasure of pointing out that he had never been there and he didn’t know what he was talking about. It was her favorite comeback to what she construed to be his unnecessary digs.

Just once Isabelle longed to have her word be the final say – neither interrupted nor corrected by Arnie.

Isabelle was hungry when she checked into the hotel, but she decided she would shower before dinner. Maybe she’d even catch a movie, as that wasn’t something she got to enjoy often at home.

When she opened the door to her hotel room, Isabelle was at once both surprised and expectant. She’s back. She had looked forward to being alone, but she had a visitor. Harriet was there, sitting on the edge of the bed closest to the window watching television.

Isabelle needed to find a way to rectify these visits to make them tolerable if not downright functional. She couldn’t help it; she had been looking forward to being alone and Harriet – or some form of her – was encroaching on her space and sanity.

She was feeling snarky. “So we’re sharing a room?” she said to the aunt that was – was, she didn’t know what she was. A figment of her imagination?

She smiled slightly. Zach and Arnie would have fun with this. Isabelle spent a lot of time considering what Zach or Arnie would think of any given thing. It wasn’t important why she cared but rather that she did so much.

“I never thought you’d get here,” Harriet said. “I’m starving and dying for some great Chinese food.”

So this Harriet eats food?

“Well, we’re not having Chinese tonight. Too far,” Isabelle informed. “Besides, I’ve been looking forward to eating at the bar upstairs and catching a movie, since I have the time.”

“Too far? It’s a short taxi ride. Oh, you want to take a trolley?” Harriet questioned.

“I’m not taking you out in public,” Isabelle said, partially afraid – and equally hopeful – she wasn’t talking to herself.

“I guess some things never change,” Harriet said. “I’ll wait here and you can bring me back leftovers, maybe?”

Isabelle felt so frustrated she wanted to cry. Somehow she needed to liberate her pent-up emotions. She was losing everything she knew, much of what she loved, and now this.

“This isn’t happening. I don’t know what this is but whatever it is, it’s not happening. Don’t follow me,” Isabelle insisted as she unzipped her overnight bag, pulled out a small purse, picked up the hotel key card and walked out the door.

She rode the elevator with four strangers and waited for the valet to motion for a cab. She got in alone. She rode alone. Harriet did not follow her tonight. Isabelle sighed in relief. She noticed the taxi driver glancing back at her. When he asked where she wanted to go, she oddly found herself requesting the one place she didn’t want to go. China Town.

Why not? Maybe she could finally cross the House of Nanking off her bucket list. Arnie was never game to stand in a line that snaked around the block for dinner. He always insisted on making reservations or going to some dive where he could be immediately seated. But truth be told, Isabelle didn’t really want to stand in a line that long either, so she asked to be dropped on Columbus at Brandy Ho’s.

As much as she was thrilled Harriet didn’t tag along, and as much as she wanted to avoid any realization that she could be losing her mind, which was another legitimate explanation for these visits, Isabelle feared, she didn’t want to forego what might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to finally get answers to some of the questions she had wondered for years. And if there was even a chance of getting those answers, she couldn’t let the opportunity to hear her aunt out slip by. At the very least, ordering to-go meant eating Chinese take-out in a hotel room alone. It wasn’t an option to which she was entirely opposed.

After placing her order in the semi-crowded, highly noisy restaurant, Isabelle stepped outside to call her daughter to check on her day. Grace didn’t ask where Isabelle was and Isabelle didn’t volunteer the information. She was always available by cell if Grace needed her, and Isabelle didn’t need an innocent comment leading to a lecture by Arnie for not providing unnecessary information about her trip. She wasn’t really his anymore to check up on.

Isabelle returned to the hotel with dumplings and chicken chow mein. It was more than enough for two. Harriet did not disappoint; she was sitting in exactly the same spot as when Isabelle left, still watching TV. Isabelle was rather amused that even when she was relaxing, Harriet always preferred to be perfectly coiffed in nylons and power suits with over-pronounced shoulder pads.

“I brought your favorite – dumplings.” Isabelle opened the white boxes with red Chinese characters to share with her aunt.

“I wanted the chow mein,” Harriet said.

“Well, you’re in luck. Chicken chow mein it is,” Isabelle beamed.

“I always preferred the pork,” Harriet noted.

“Of course you did. But it’s chicken tonight.” Isabelle grinned.

“As long as it’s what you like,” Harriet said. This conversation was a familiar replica of the kinds of conversations that had driven Isabelle crazy for years. Her aunt was incapable of simply saying thank you, even in this weird space in which she existed now. “I’m just glad I didn’t go and embarrass you,” Harriet added. This too was a familiar comment Isabelle had grown exhausted of hearing.

Isabelle quickly flipped the conversation. She needed to sort out the circumstances of these visits in her own mind. Was it all her imagination or in her semi-conscious state – could Harriet actually be in two places at once?

She watched as Harriet ate, just as normally as if she were really there. Was she really there?

Isabelle boldly made the assumption her aunt could potentially be in two places simultaneously, and went with it. “Did you feel anything – before the aneurysm?” Isabelle paused. Harriet didn’t immediately answer so she continued. “You know that few people even get to the ER in time with a stroke like that. And you’re not out of the woods. You may need surgery. They’re monitoring you,” Isabelle informed her aunt.

Isabelle understood that if Harriet couldn’t answer a few key questions about her own experience, she might have to concede that these conversations and chance meetings were in fact a figment of her own imagination taking highly creative liberties. Isabelle much preferred the idea of taking highly creative liberties to the alternative that she might be losing it, and the consequences of that beyond a vague colloquialism. But before that consideration could thoroughly terrify Isabelle, the way it might have, Harriet responded.

Harriet nonchalantly explained her experience between bites. “It was like a clap of thunder booming; only it was inside my head. The last thing I remember is falling to the floor and struggling to get my phone out of my pocket. I tried to stay conscious but the pain was worse than anything I’ve ever known,” Harriet paused before finishing her thought. “I prayed for help. I wanted to live, and I guess I did because I’m here,” Harriet said. Isabelle wasn’t really sure she was where she thought she was. “I do want to thank you for getting me out of there,” Harriet said.

“There?” Isabelle asked.

“The hospital. The nurses are kind and provide such wonderful care, but I’ve never been one to sleep for days at a time. And when did you and Zach start to bicker all the time? It’s over the top,” Harriet said, more as a statement than a question. Isabelle suddenly became defensive. This really wasn’t any of her business. She couldn’t let it go.

Her cheeks turned a light shade of pink with a splotchy pattern, the way they always did when she was suddenly overcome with intense emotion beyond what she could readily process intellectually. “He used to protect me, but since college he’s been picking on me the way you do,” Isabelle was all too happy to point out.

“I was always a disappointment to you,” Harriet mused.

“Pfft. I felt the same way – that I was the disappointment to you. You picked at everything I did. Nothing was ever good enough. Like last night when you took Arnie’s side about bad-mouthing me to Grace. Really? What was that about?” Isabelle asked, between bites.

“Well you can’t emasculate a man and expect him to stick around,” Harriet advised. And then her tone turned unexpectedly. “You should trust me on that. I probably wasn’t always as supportive as Frank wanted, either. He didn’t move out but he left in his own way,” Harriet said. That was a lot for Isabelle to take in from the woman who had never apologized or admitted fault for anything she had ever done or said. Isabelle decided to silently take a point on that one and let it go.

“It took me fifty years to figure out that men would rather be respected than loved,” Harriet told Isabelle.

“So you’re an expert on men now?”

“I’m an expert on learning from my mistakes,” the motherly aunt explained.

“Hmm. What do you think of the dumplings? Pretty good?” Isabelle asked, changing the subject, smiling and looking for approval.

“Salty. Not my favorite,” Harriet said.

“Like that. Why couldn’t you just say, ‘They’re great. Thanks, Isabelle?’”

“You asked what I thought. I thought you wanted to know what I thought. Am I just supposed to tell you they’re great if I think they’re salty? You didn’t make them. It’s not like you made them salty. Fine, they’re great,” Harriet said, completely put out by Isabelle’s expectations.

“It’s just that sometimes, it’s nice to be polite, to be positive, and to be appreciative. Just say thank you and that you appreciate someone going out to get you food, Chinese food, at your request, and bringing it back, to have dinner with you.” Isabelle paused and the room went silent aside from the television in the background. “Sometimes a simple thank you will do.” Isabelle shrugged.

Isabelle tried to hide her sudden realization that everything that had driven her crazy about Harriet all these years had now become the same exact traits Arnie complained about in her.

Harriet fixed her hair with her hands. “Well, you asked what I thought. I thought you wanted to know. You should have given me a script and told me what you wanted me to say.” Harriet was not intentionally sarcastic, despite how she came across. She was as genuinely frustrated by the exchange as Isabelle, perpetuating a pattern that had been in play since about the time Harriet first started dressing in 1980s power suits.

“I want you to treat me the way you have always treated your friends – or Carrie, for that matter – nicely, thoughtfully, and sweetly,” Isabelle said.

“You don’t have to be jealous of Carrie,” Harriet said.

“I’m not jealous of her. I just think you treat her nicely. You don’t pick on her the way you do me,” Isabelle clarified, and dug at the same time.

“I treat you nicely and my friends nicely. How would you know how I treat my friends? You haven’t been around my friends since you were a teenager. You’re too busy to spend time with me, let alone with my friends,” Harriet argued.

Isabelle stopped. They were getting nowhere. This dumb conversation could have gone on endlessly, and if it had been their last, Isabelle knew it would mean walking away without any real answers. She wanted answers. She needed answers. And at some point, she needed to find out if this was her mind playing some sort of trick on her or if this was an unexplainable dimension of Harriet that might help her better understand her own life and how she got here.

“Do you know that this is 2015 and that while you’re sitting here with me, dressed like it’s 1990, by some strange factor that I haven’t fully figured out, you’re also seventy years old and very sick in a hospital bed in Portland? Do you know that?” Isabelle asked her aunt point blank.

“Of course I know that. I’m not stupid. You talk to me like I’m stupid,” Harriet said. “You asked me earlier if I remembered having the stroke. Of course I do. I remember everything. I know what’s going on,” Harriet said.

Isabelle threw her hands in the air. “Well that makes one of us because I don’t know what’s going on. It’s clearly confusing for me having you in two places at once. And oddly, I believe it’s possible. So I’m just trying to figure out if you’re a figment of my imagination or if you’re here, really here, eating chow mein and complaining – or if this is all me, and I’m putting words in your mouth,” Isabelle stumbled through.

“It’s strange for me too. I am in both places. I’m here, and I’m there. In fact, there’s a nurse taking my blood pressure right now. She’s pretty. She looks like your cousin, Ella, Frank’s sister’s youngest daughter,” Harriet described.

“I know who Ella is. Does she have a name tag on? The nurse. Is the nurse wearing a badge?”

“Yes, but I can’t read it. It’s turned around. She’s really happy that I opened my eyes though. It’s great to make someone that happy by doing something so common. You’d think I invented the cure for cancer or something,” Harriet said.

“Well, that’s good. It probably means you’re improving. You didn’t wake up when we were there last night. You’ve been on a machine to hyperventilate you and bring down the pressure in your skull ever since your stroke. It’s likely you’ll need surgery. I’m waiting for Zach to let me know if he’s heard anything new,” Isabelle said.

Of course Isabelle wanted her aunt to be okay, but before she recovered fully, Isabelle needed answers. The Harriet of today side-stepped Isabelle’s questions or said she couldn’t remember. Isabelle had so many questions, mostly about her own mom, Harriet’s sister, and dad, prior to the car accident that took her parents and changed her life in an instant.

“Harriet, what was your life like growing up, when you and mom were kids?” Isabelle asked.

Harriet finished her food and stood up to throw the wrappers in the trash. When she walked back across the room, she sat down in the hotel desk chair rather than on the side of the bed. “It was different from life today. Of course mom and dad had the farm and everything revolved around that. We had cherries, pears, apples, so from the time dad started disking in the spring, until the last of the red and golden delicious came off in mid October, we basically had school and work at home.”

“That sounds harsh,” Isabelle said.

Harriet smiled and leaned back into her chair. “It was a great life. I never realized it, I suppose, until it was gone. We did work hard, especially during harvest. We didn’t eat out at restaurants or attend social events like when you and Zach were little,” Harriet paused to look in the mirror above the desk and move her left eyelid with her finger, as if she had a lone eyelash that needed to come out.

“When Frank and I got married, his work transferred him to Oregon. He moved up in his company quickly, and we adapted to a new way of life. My role supported his career and I enjoyed playing the hostess and getting involved with new friends and a new life in the city – at least at first. But I never forgot where I came from. I was still a farm girl at heart.”

“Did you miss my mom and your parents?” Isabelle asked.

“Of course. Still do,” she paused. “Joy was my person.” Tears filled her eyes just enough to make them glassy but not so much as to spill over the eyelids immediately. This was a vulnerable side Isabelle had never seen – a side she longed to see, even though she never knew it until now. “When Frank got transferred, we thought it would be for a few years. He let me visit Washington as much as I wanted, but I also wanted to be with him. He was my husband.” Harriet paused and tilted her head before continuing, “And he had a bit of a roving eye, to be completely honest.” Harriet smirked. Frank had been dead for twenty-one years, and her dismay over that had passed a long time ago. So it truly was something she could snicker about now.

“I wanted your mom to move to Portland. She was going to. I just knew she would love all the exciting things to do – the theatre, the small cafes with artisan bread. The shopping! We had no shopping in Ellensburg. The closest mall was in Yakima and even in its heyday the best thing it had going for it was a Nordstrom. Some of the wives of Frank’s coworkers were part of a garden club. I didn’t have a green thumb at first, but it was something Joy and I were planning to do together when she moved. She would have loved it,” Harriet reminisced.

“So mom was planning to move to Portland?” Isabelle questioned.

“We talked about it. But then she met your dad, and that changed everything. He was a decent man, and he was good for her. He made her happy.” Harriet paused and looked away, clearly fighting back tears. Then all at once, as tears popped over her lids and ran down her face, Harriet started to laugh. “Joy had this little yellow house with a garden. Well, it didn’t start out a garden. It was pretty much a rock pile with soil mixed in.” Harriet wiped her face.

“She’d pick up the rocks and put them in a pile. This whole corner of her yard was basically one big pile of rocks that had come from the garden. Each year, this garden would sink more and more as she pulled out more rocks. She grew everything: tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, summer squash, everything. But it was pitiful to look at.” Harriet was aglow talking about the sister she still missed and profoundly loved more than three decades later.

“Your dad came along and he was determined to figure out something to do with all those rocks. But he didn’t tell your mom. He didn’t ask her. He just had his own ideas. He was living with his folks when they met, so when they got married he moved into her house. Took her to Canada for their honeymoon, and when they got back, he had hired some guy to take all those rocks and build a wall around the property. He didn’t tell any of us about his plans ahead of time. We were all as surprised as she was.” Harriet stopped.

“When mom saw it the first time, she just said, ‘Hmmm.’ Nothing else. Just ‘hmmm.’ You’d think Jack would have told dad or someone. But nope. He just did it. He was like that.” Harriet let out a long sigh. “He had some other stuff done to the house while they were away too. He had their bedroom painted green. I always thought that was a weird color for a bedroom. Oh well, I guess to each his own,” Harriet had a puzzled look on her face.

“What is it?” Isabelle asked, clearly aware there was something her aunt wasn’t telling her.

“I don’t know. Really, I don’t. You know when you sense something but you can’t put your finger on it?”

“Yes,” Isabelle immediately offered, nodding, hoping her expressions would prompt her aunt to keep sharing.

“I never really thought about it until now, but there was so much about your dad I never really had an understanding about. And of course I was wrapped up in my own life and so it wasn’t like I asked questions or gave it much thought,” Harriet said.

“Thought about what?” Isabelle wanted to know. What was Harriet talking about?

It was too late. The moment had passed and Harriet had moved on. “Joy wanted a white picket fence, but she never told Jack that. I told her she should have told him, but she said telling him after the fact wouldn’t change it. Later, she said she loved his rock wall more than the fence she had planned. I don’t think she did. How could she? But that’s the story she stood by. It actually wasn’t such a terrible idea. What else were they going to do with all those rocks? Could have had them hauled off I guess.”

Isabelle, too, had finished eating and cleaned up. She sat at the edge of the bed and crossed her arms. “I remember that wall around the yard. I didn’t know all those rocks came from her garden?” Isabelle restated, almost in disbelief.

“There were a lot of rocks in that garden. Your dad may have had some brought in for all I know. He certainly didn’t talk to me about it. Then!” Harriet exclaimed and paused for effect, “Jack brought in all this top soil to replace the rocks.” Harriet laughed. “Of course nothing grows in just top soil, and Jack didn’t know enough to mix compost with it – or ask anyone who would have known. I could have told him that but he didn’t ask me.” Harriet shook her head.

“The first time I visited her and saw that wall, and the garden where pretty much everything died until dad hauled in some horse manure a year later, I knew she wasn’t ever moving to Portland. So I joined the arboretum board as my way of giving back to the community and doing something I knew meant a lot to Joy, and something that always reminded me of her. It was a way we could be close, even if she was miles away.” Harriet looked Isabelle squarely in her eyes. “I would have hated Jack if he hadn’t loved her so much. But he loved her, and that’s really all that mattered,” Harriet said.

“What was dad like?” Isabelle asked.

“He was independent. He did his own thing,” Harriet summarized.

“Did mom like that about him?”

“I don’t know what she liked. But she never tried to change him,” Harriet answered.

“We all start out that way,” Isabelle laughed.

Harriet’s smile turned downward. “When did you start trying to change Arnie?” Harriet asked.

Isabelle knew Harriet wouldn’t let it go, so she just went with it. She let out a big sigh. “When Grace came along I thought we’d both become more responsible. We were in our thirties so it seemed like a no-brainer. But Arnie’s always chasing the dream. Even today. I grew up and I guess I resented that he didn’t.” Isabelle was more honest about her feelings toward Arnie in that moment than she had ever been. Admitting the truth seemed like such an enormity, but owning her feelings finally felt right.

“Sometimes I think about Masingho – not to look-him-up. More just what if,” Isabelle reminisced.

“You were kids!” Harriet exclaimed.

“We were in college and then a couple years after. We weren’t any younger than you when you met Frank,” Isabelle drew a direct correlation.

“But that was a different time,” Harriet clarified. “No wonder you struggle with Arnie. You compare him to a fantasy from your youth.”

“No,” Isabelle scratched her head. “No. Masingho wasn’t a fantasy or puppy love. He was brilliant and serious. He made me feel safe. He understood business – and me. He understood me. He thought I was amazing.” Isabelle clarified. Even she was taken aback by how strongly she still felt almost two decades later. Harriet didn’t interject. Isabelle even paused to give Harriet the chance to jump in, but her aunt remained mum.

“Arnie was amazing too. He was just amazing in a different way. Arnie was fun. He is fun. He can be fun, anyway. When there are no consequences. When there are no bills and no honey-do lists. Arnie was exactly what I needed when I met him. He was my escape from a great, deep, penetrating love.” Isabelle was starkly aware of how this sounded, and she didn’t mean it to come out this way.

“Arnie is a great dad. If I hadn’t gotten pregnant, and I hadn’t married Arnie, I might be alone and without Grace or anyone today,” Isabelle popped air into one cheek and then let it slide out her lips making a funny sound. “Arnie was a great boyfriend. We probably should have been friends with benefits but not actually gotten married.” Isabelle couldn’t believe she just said this to her aunt. It wasn’t something Harriet wanted to hear either. “I didn’t set out to change him. But I grew up and I thought he would too.”

Silence fell over the room for nearly a minute before Harriet picked the conversation up where she left off. “Joy got pregnant on their honeymoon or soon after. Zach was here ten months later, almost to the day. Mom kept counting back the weeks, for years. Now I guess it doesn’t matter. Joy insisted he was conceived on the honeymoon.”

Isabelle fluttered her eyes and sighed. “Why would that matter?” Did Harriet not just hear her say that she was pregnant when she and Arnie got married?

“Your generation is so liberal today. You just go with what you feel. We didn’t do that back then,” Harriet explained.

“They loved each other, clearly, so why did it matter?” Isabelle asked a question but intended it more as a statement. “Were you there when Zach or I was born?”

“Mom and I were both there for Zach’s birth and for yours two years later. You were both perfect babies. Beautiful. Healthy. You cried a lot. You were very colicky,” Harriet pointed out.

“I tried to be as colicky as possible,” Isabelle sarcastically added. Harriet didn’t realize she was joking.

“Some kids just are,” Harriet said. “So what are you going to do about Arnie? Certainly you don’t want to be a single parent. You must have thought about that.”

I think about that every freaking day.

As close as Isabelle and Harriet were one minute, the smallest comments put the two women at odds. The combination was a modern day tinder box, because despite their glaring and obvious differences, they shared similarities that neither of them cared to admit.

“It’s late, Harriet, and I need to be at the conference at seven-thirty tomorrow morning. I need to go to bed.” She reached for the remote and turned the television off. She wasn’t sure what would happen next. Harriet was a night owl. Isabelle liked to think of herself as more practical in terms of good sleeping patterns. But the truth was that they both let time slip away from them.

“You can sleep here or go back to the hospital. Your choice,” Isabelle said as she headed to the bathroom. Isabelle washed her face, crawled in bed and turned out the light.
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