Matt and Chris returned to the house after spending nearly two hours at Starbucks. Matt held a bag full of food he got from a local grocery store. “No need to worry about dinner, ladies,” he said. “I have taken care everything and the punk and I will cook. You two keep on gossiping.” He kissed Barbara’s head without spilling any of the food out of the bag when he leaned over and then disappeared into the kitchen.
A few minutes later, he came back into the living room, this time wearing a frilly apron that I was certain belonged to Barbara. “Just to let you know, we are going to have a little ceremony for Lillian after dinner. A final farewell.”
“What are you making?” Barbara asked.
“Nachos. With everything. But first, do you ladies want a margarita?”
“Tea for me,” Barbara said.
“Yes,” I told him. “Light on the tequila.”
“Coming right up,” Matt said and he vanished back into the kitchen.
“Cooking is something Matt has started in the past couple of years. He only works two or three days a week now, so he spends his time trying to make things that I can eat. He researches recipes and has joined a couple of online groups for caretakers of cancer patients to get ideas for food and fun.”
“That is so thoughtful of him,” I said, wondering if Chris would ever do anything like that for me.
Matt brought the beverages to us and said, “I need to get back to the kitchen. Chris is chopping up some tomatoes and making a mess of it.”
I laughed. I could well image the mess he would make. Chris never showed any interest in anything happening in the kitchen. I said as much to Barbara.
“Have you ever corralled him, like Matt did? A cooking project? Something the two of you could do together?”
I hung my head and shook it slowly from side to side. “Not really. The only major project we ever worked on together was learning the tango for our wedding.”
“Working together is important. Maybe that is something that subtly pushed Chris away.”
Could Barbara be right? Is that why Chris and I drifted apart? We lived in the same house, but we lead different lives.
Barbara continued, “When a marriage starts to falter, both people are at fault, at least to some degree. Marriage is not easy and it takes a lot of hard work. Every single day.”
As if I weren’t beating myself up enough already. But, maybe Barbara had a point. It wasn’t because I am not twenty, or not a size 2 or 4 or 6. It wasn’t because my hair was cut short and practical instead of long and flowing. All of those things are totally superficial. Maybe the break-up started a long time ago. It was easier for me to just make dinner rather than including Chris in the project. It was easier for me to do the laundry, to take Lily to her dance class, to do the grocery shopping than it was to include Chris. He likely would have gone along with me, after the obligatory protest. But, I didn’t insist. If he wanted to do with me to the grocery store, I felt like he could just get in the car with me and go.
Life with Chris isn’t that simple. He was likely waiting to be invited rather than offering.
“Now, you and Chris are involved in a major project together,” Barbara said. “You are driving all over the United States in order to get something you both want–Lillian’s house. That is a huge start.”
Any further conversation was interrupted when Charlotte bounded into the front door. “Aunt Anne!” she said and she pulled me into a hug. “I was so excited when Mom told me you were coming to visit.”
A man followed her into the living room and Charlotte said, “This is Ernesto. My future husband…”
“Husband in training,” he said to me. “Ernesto Ontiveros. I’ve heard alot about you. Especially lately.” I shook his hand. “Anne Archer,” I said by way of introduction.
From the kitchen, Matt shouted, “Ernie, get in here. We need some help!”
“Duty calls,” he said, with a smile and vanished from the room.
“How are the wedding plans going,” I asked Charlotte.
“Come see my dress,” she said as she grasped my hand and pulled me to her bedroom.
In her room, decorated like the one Chris and I were assigned to, Charlotte my beautiful niece pulled open her closet door to remove as very pretty wedding gown of white flowing chiffon. “Oh, Charlotte, it is beautiful,” I told her.
“You are coming to the wedding, right?”
“I wouldn’t miss it.”
Matt’s voice echoed from the kitchen. “Come and get it, while the getting is good.”
Charlotte and I returned to the living room and Barbara moved from the chaise after gently moving Snow’s head from her thigh. Snow followed us to the kitchen where Matt, Ernesto and Chris spread all the ingredients for nachos. Matt handed me a plate and said, “Pile on what you want and I’ll pop it in the oven to melt the cheese.”
I put some taco meat, and cheese on a bed of chips and Matt put the plate under the broiler for a couple of minutes to melt the cheddar jack cheese. I added lettuce, tomatoes, jalapenos, guacamole, and sour cream and took my plate to the table.
The six of us sat at the tile covered table in boy-girl-boy-girl order. We ate and chatted and it was the first meal I truly enjoyed since we left Virginia.
To begin the evening with Lillian, Matt said, “Tell me about Lillian’s wake.”
“She had lots of friends in attendance. We toasted her life with telling stories of our favorite memories of her,” I said.
“What is your favorite memory?” Matt asked me.
“There are so many… Let me see… Lillian invited me to lunch at her house about three months after Chris and I married. It was the first time I had ever seen inside the house. Bits of Lillian’s life were everywhere–photos, figurines, doilies. A beautiful hand-crocheted doily was on a round coffee table in front of the green sofa. I asked her about it and she told me she made when she was caring for Mr. Archer before he died…”
“I remember her working on it,” Matt said. “She was pregnant as a pelican with Chris and she crocheted with thread to make the doily. I think it was a way for her to keep her mind off of things.”
“Like being pregnant at her age,” Barbara said.
“Anyway, we instantly formed a bond because of our shared love of needlearts. Lillian and I went to craft shows and yarn stores pretty frequently. When I opened my store, Lillian was a regular shopper. She would keep us fascinated with her tales of learning to sail a boat, building a dresser, and weaving rugs. Lillian lived a very full life.”
Barbara said, “When I first met her, she told me, “I’ve never had a daughter until now.” That is the way she always treated me.”
Charlotte said, “She came her to Santa Fe to visit us when I was a kid and she taught me how to ride a horse. I fell in love with horses after that. I pestered Dad to buy me one and he finally did.”
“I blame Lillian for that,” Matt said. “She was a very accomplished horsewoman. I remember one time she bought a new horse and we went to the stables to visit the beast. She was big and white and gorgeous. But, she had a mean streak. Lillian named her Jezebel. The first time Lillian saddled her up, she fell off of her. The horse exhaled and the saddle slid around until Lillian fell of and landed flat of her back on the ground, gasping for air. The horse turned her head and looked at Lillian like she was laughing at her. Lillian said to her, “You are an evil woman, Jezebel,” and the name stuck.”
“I wish I had met her,” Ernesto said.
I picked up the urn with Lillian’s ashed and handed it to Ernesto. “This is Lillian Archer. Lillian, your grandson-in-law, Ernesto Ontiveros.”
“”Nice to meet you, Lillian,” he said and he kissed the urn.
“Chris, you tell us a story about Mom that you love,” Matt said.
Chris looked like Matt just kicked him in the stomach. Matt said, “SHe’s your mother. You surely have a good memory of her.”
Chris nodded and said, “Right after she met Anne, Lillian told me that I would be a stupid person if I didn’t marry her on the spot. We weren’t even engaged at that time.”