The black BMW pulled up to Lauren and Will's home and came to a halt at the front door.
Gail, watching from the living room window, wiped away any stray tears and quickly pulled her tangled salt and pepper hair back into a ponytail. The driver, a petite older woman, impeccably dressed even today of all days, slowly got out of the car and removed her driving gloves. She looked around the property for a moment, as if she was taking everything in and appraising it. After several minutes, she finally began to make her way to the front door.
“Jesus, Kathleen,” Gail whispered to herself as she smoothed her cheap cotton t-shirt. “You always need to keep up appearances. Even when no one is looking.”
Gail made her way down the staircase to the door, limping slightly from her recent fall. She took a deep breath and asked God for grace as she opened the door.
Kathleen stood on the top step, looking at the neighbor’s yard, black Gucci sunglasses still sitting on the bridge of her thin nose.
“I brought the drop cloths. Those rollers, some paint trays. Regular brushes,” Kathleen said, still looking away. “I still think that it would be easier if I just paid someone to do this.”
“Who are you going to find on such short notice?” Gail asked. “Lauren and Will will be back on Monday morning. I have the paint, big bags and some storage bins. All the study furniture is in the basement. We’ll just have to move it. Did you bring clothes to paint in?”
“I’m wearing them,” Kathleen answered.
Gail nodded. “I’ll help you bring the stuff in.”
The two women had worked in silence, Gail’s old portable radio was tuned to benign installments of NPR.
Without much discussion, it was decided that Kathleen would take down the room accessories, the decorations, the bedding, the clothes and pack them away.
Gail had set right to taping off the light blue walls and the trim. She had rolled up the light green shag rug, lugged it out to her pick-up truck by herself and managed to get it in the bed without giving herself a heart attack. She’d popped some Aleve and then went back in to secure the drop clothes to the shiny hardwood floor.
Kathleen had stopped around 10 o’clock for some beet juice and briefly explained the cleanse she was doing. Gail had a grilled cheese at noon and thought about the bottle of wine that was waiting for her when she went home that night.
Two and half walls had been painted when 5 o’clock rolled around. Kathleen, to her credit, had packed everything meticulously in such an organized fashion that any professional mover would have been impressed. Occasionally, Gail could have sworn the woman sniffled, or covered a sob with a fake cough as she folded a onesie or wrapped the giraffe lamp in bubblewrap. But when she looked, Kathleen’s face was the same as always – untouched, unmoving.
Gail wiped some sweat from her brow and announced that she was going to call it a night and clean the brushes for tomorrow.
Kathleen had nodded. “I’ll bring everything back to my home. We can store it… somewhere.”
“Not out in the open though,” Gail said. She sounded sharp, she realized. Accusatory. And the day hadn’t gone that badly.
“No Gail, I’m not stupid,” Kathleen snapped right back. “I’m not going to leave the baby clothes in the dining room, or the little mobile in the front hall, or the changing mat in the guest room. Have some class.”
Gail looked down for a moment. “I’m sorry. It’s been a long day and I –“
Kathleen was already off to her packed BMW. The heels of her equestrian boots clicking on the pavement, her sunglasses back on her face even as the sun was setting.
“Tomorrow at nine?” Gail called after her. “There’s still a lot to do.”
Kathleen didn’t answer. She backed the car out of Will and Lauren’s driveway and drove off.
Early Sunday Morning
Gail ran her fingers across her eyebrows and her temples as she sat at her daughter’s kitchen table, drinking her large coffee. She had drank an entire bottle of wine by herself on Saturday night and was now feeling it. Her husband, Dave, was out having beers with the guys, dealing in his own way, and that was fine. She knew if she needed him, he’d be home immediately without asking for an explanation. He just wasn’t the type to sit at home, drink alcohol and watch bad television to feel better.
She doubted that Kathleen would show up this morning, especially after the way she had treated here’d been treated. Gail picked at a napkin from the coffee shop. She had been tired, emotional, but that was no good reason for lashing out at Kathleen. She must have been feeling as badly as Gail, all things considered.
The clock in the kitchen read 9:05. Gail took one last sip of coffee, tied her hair back and walked towards the room. The day was going to be a long one. Once she was done painting, she was going to have to dismantle the crib, move the rocking chair and the changing table to the truck, then try to haul the study furniture up from downstairs. Her ankle and her head were throbbing, but she was determined. Although she decided that if she needed to call Dave to help, it would not be an act of failure.
She entered the room and was surprised to find Kathleen standing there, looking dapper as always, with a brush in hand, covering the Robin’s Eggshell blue with a coat of neutral River Stone.
“I’m doing a good job, if I do say so myself,” Kathleen said, not making eye contact with Gail. “And just so you know, I’ve had everything put into a private storage unit. I’ll do the same with the furniture today, movers are coming at 2PM. They’ll dismantle everything and just ship it away.”
“They wouldn’t be interested in moving some furniture up from the basement, would they? Maybe plugging in a computer and a printer?” Gail asked, trying to hide her small smile.
“They will do all of that. I have a tech person coming at 3 to help with the computer.”
Gail nodded and picked up a brush.
The tech professional left through the front door, thanking both ladies and reminding them that the new password for the wireless router was on a paper at the kitchen table, but if they had any questions or needed further assistance, they should not hesitate to call him.
Kathleen closed the door and Gail looked at the clock.
They had managed to accomplish everything before 5. The paint was up and drying, with all tape and drop cloths removed from the space. Gail had thrown out the supplies, against her better judgement. Typically, she was one to save the paint cans, label them, wash out the brushes and the trays. But she didn’t want to remember this weekend. The weekend she and her daughter’s mother-in-law had dismantled a room and created another.
The furniture from the basement had been brought up, thanks to the movers and Kathleen’s healthy habit of tipping for good service. The bookshelf was back, full of books, standing in the place where the dresser and changing area had been. An overstuffed reading chair with a lamp replaced the rocking chair. The desk took the place of the crib. Kathleen had bought Will and Lauren a new desktop, printer, scanner and router.
The River Stone had covered the walls thoroughly. No Robin’s Eggshell poked through.
“I’d say the room looks fine,” Kathleen stated. “I’m certain they’ll be leaving within the year anyway. I keep telling Wills that he should move back to his hometown where everyone knows him. And of course everyone will love Lauren, that goes without saying.”
Moving towards Kathleen meant moving farther away from Gail, which, for no good reason, cut at her already tender heart.
“Lauren hasn’t said anything about moving to me,” she said with more edge than she would have liked.
“I think it’s time to call it a day. They’ll come back tomorrow to find their study just as they remember. Perhaps a bit better. Good seeing you, Gail,” Kathleen lied. “I’m sure we’ll meet up around the holidays.”
Gail tucked her hair behind her ear and asked her heart to be strong.
“Kathleen, do you – do you want to order a pizza? Get a bottle of wine? We can just relax for a little while before you go off. Maybe talk? That is, if you need to talk?
The well-dressed woman spun around on her heel and for the first time that weekend stared at Gail in her eyes.
“What are we going to talk about, Gail?” she asked. “How people screw you over in life? How people change their minds and break their promises? Are we going to connect because my kid married your kid and now they’re grieving and we’re grieving because of that little lying bitch in Pennsylvania who single-handedly broke a family’s dreams? Over pizza? And a box of wine?”
Gail took a step back. “Kathleen, hey, I just thought we – “
“No, Gail. No. I’m not going to sit with you and get drunk and try to figure out why she changed her mind. People screw you in this life. They screw you. But you don’t sit there and feel sorry for yourself. Or ask God what you did wrong. You fight. You fight and you win,” Kathleen said, tears streaming from her eyes, her voice breaking with each word.
Gail tried to catch her as she fell to the floor, but Kathleen slapped her squarely in the face. Gail stumbled back, stunned. Her ankle gave out on her and soon both women were sitting on the floor.
“Oh my God,” Kathleen exclaimed when she realized Gail had fallen. “Did I do that? Honestly Gail, I meant you no harm. I didn’t mean it. I’m sorry, I am so sorry. I just – why did she change her mind? Why did she change her mind? Will and Lauren would have loved him so much. They would have given him everything. Why did she change her mind?”
Gail got up on all fours and crawled over to the other woman. She threw one arm around her and said, “You are right. They would have given him the world.”
Gail sat on the sofa in the silent living room. The afternoon sun outside was beginning to dim and shadows grew long across the walls. Kathleen was in the bathroom, washing up, getting ready to leave.
Knowing she shouldn’t stay for much longer, Gail reached for her purse on the coffee table and started rummaging for her keys. Her fingers searched blindly for the feel of metal, but instead found soft rubber. Gail pulled out a light blue pacifier. It was from the shower she and Kathleen had arranged for Lauren and Will. That had been another nightmare, with Kathleen inviting people Will didn’t even know and insisting on hiring a string quartet. Lauren had joked that at least she could partake in the alcohol with the rest of the guests. That pacifier had been part of the goodie bags Kathleen had had specially made. Gail could have sworn she'd thrown it out. How could she be so careless.
She looked at it for a moment, marveling at how small it was. It was so little, so simple, and yet it had helped her navigate the temper tantrums of four of her own children.
Kathleen came out of the bathroom and sat on the opposite end of the couch. She didn’t say anything, but for some reason, the room felt lighter. Warmer.
“I usually cut myself off from
carbs after four, but maybe a pizza would be ok just this once,” Kathleen finally said.
Gail smiled. She was still holding the pacifier tightly in her warm hand when she heard the front door open.