They stood side by side at the edge of the dock gazing out at the ocean. The sea breeze blew its playful fingers through their hair. Kathryn’s yellow sundress slapped gently against her calves. When the sound of cars passing by was not present, they heard the call of seagulls and the waves lapping against the dock. Kathryn put her arm through Monte’s. “Isn’t this view fabulous? I can’t believe how fun Charleston is. You were so lucky to grow up near here.”
Monte turned to her and smiled, causing his blue eyes to crinkle at the corners. “I’m the lucky one because I’m here with you seeing this town through your eyes.” He pulled her to him. The longer they were in Charleston, the more pronounced his Southern accent became. His lips claimed hers in a kiss that sent her senses spinning like a tornado and sending her into the clouds. “What would you like to do this afternoon?” His words brought her back to Earth.
Kathryn smiled up at him. “Let’s walk along the Battery and look at some of the historical houses. After that, we can visit Rainbow Row. It’s such a glorious day. I don’t want to waste it. I love visiting historical places. It’s like taking a trip back into time.” She pulled him away from the dock, and they walked arm and arm the short distance to the park. She let out a deep, heavy sigh.
“What was that sigh all about?” Monte asked. He stopped walking, took her hands in his and turned her to face him. He had a concerned expression on his face.
“I still can’t believe it,” she said.
“That I married the Montgomery Lawrence, famous actor,” Kathryn said as she wrapped her arms around his neck. “I have to keep touching you to make sure you’re real. Sometimes I think I’m dreaming.”
Monte smiled and pressed her body against his. “This is real.” He took one of her hands and placed it on his chest. “Can you feel my heart beating?”
Kathryn flattened her hand out against his breastbone. She felt the steady beat of his heart through his white golf shirt. “Yes, I can.”
He took her hand, brought it to his lips, and kissed her palm. “My heart beats for you and only you, Kitty, and it always will. Chance brought us together, and love will keep us together, because as the marriage ceremony said, we two have become one.”
Her heart fluttered when he said “Kitty”. It was his special nickname for her. She put her hands alongside his face and smiled, then pulled him down and gave him a quick kiss on the lips. “I admit that I am certainly enjoying the ‘being one’ part.”
He laughed. “Perhaps we need to go back to the room and practice that part some more. After all, we need to make sure we get it right.”
“I love it when you blush.” Monte touched her cheek. The brush of his fingers heightened her senses and infused her body with desire. “Let’s go to our room and rest before lunch. After lunch, we can do some of those things you want to do.” His words were a caress, soft and alluring. His hands gently stroked her arms.
Kathryn pushed away from him. “You have to catch me first,” she said as she took off running. Monte was close behind her. As his arms reached out, she tripped, and began to fall. He caught her before she hit the ground. “Kitty, are you okay?”
“Kathryn, are you okay?” a voice called to her in the darkness. It was Monte’s voice, and then, it was not. She felt a hand gently stroke her hair. “Are you awake?” It was her mother’s voice.
She slowly became conscious and reality set in. Her loss was a shard of glass that cut into her heart. She refused to open her eyes and buried her head into her pillow. Could she go back and pick up where the dream left off? Dreams were so much better than reality right now. She felt Claire sit on the bed and reluctantly turned over to look at her. “Mom?”
“I heard you call out. You were dreaming. Was it a bad or good one?”
Kathryn sat up. She was still wearing Monte’s gray Ohio State jogging suit jacket over her nightgown. She pulled it around her and breathed in deeply before she answered. “I was in Charleston with Monte on our honeymoon.”
“I’m sorry I woke you.”
“It’s okay,” Kathryn said. Her voice was just above a whisper. She noticed her mother was dressed for the day. “What time is it?”
“Wow, it’s late.”
“You needed the sleep.”
“Have you heard from anyone this morning?”
“Your brother called a while ago to say he got home and sends his love,” Claire said.
Kathryn threw back the covers and sat up. “Did he say how Kim was? I hope she’s over the worst of her malaria now.” Kathryn said a quick prayer in her heart for her brother’s wife. She was grateful that Kim insisted Tom come and be with her for the funeral.
“She’s on the road to recovery, but still weak,” Claire said.
“Have you heard anything from Russ or Gray?” Kathryn asked.
“Russ called the house earlier to check on you. Nothing yet from Gray.”
“How did Russ sound?” Kathryn asked. Russ had been such a good friend during this difficult time.
“Sad,” Claire said.
Kathryn nodded in understanding. “I suppose Gray will be in touch sometime today.” She missed her son but was glad he was back at Ohio State. It would help him in coping with the loss of his father.
“I’m sure he will when he has a minute.” Claire stood up. “Can I get you anything?”
“No, I’ll be down in a bit.”
“Okay. I’ll see you downstairs,” Claire said and then let herself out of the bedroom.
Kathryn walked into the bathroom and turned on the light. She looked at herself in the mirror. Her dark brown hair was a tangled mess, and the black from the mascara she applied yesterday was a bruise under her brown eyes. She looked like she had been in a brawl. Did I wash my face last night? She could not remember and frowned at her reflection. I sure do look every one of my forty-four years and then some.
She moved away from the mirror and looked down at her clothes. Monte’s jogging jacket fit like a sack that slid down her arms and over her hands. This is my first official day without Monte. She sighed. She brought the sleeve of the jacket to her nose and breathed in. Nothing remained of his scent. Tears rolled down her cheeks. The heartache was a tsunami that crashed over her, drowning her, suffocating her and carried her away from the familiar and safe. She trudged back into the bedroom, threw herself on the bed and cried.
Once she was spent, she rolled over and stared at the ceiling. What she really wanted to do was stay in bed and pull the covers over her head. She could not get motivated enough to get up from the bed. She lay still and said a quick prayer for strength.
She knew that she had to keep going. Life continued, and it was not stopping for her to grieve. Monte had insisted that if anything happened to him, she should keep her life moving forward, especially with her work at The Refuge, a homeless shelter in downtown Cleveland. She tutored the women and children there. He did not want her to sit around crying over him, and she had promised him she would not do that. How could she honor that promise? Her grief was an immovable shackle that anchored her and kept her from rejoining life. She hugged the jacket to her for a few minutes. She could not bear to open Monte’s closet to put it where it belonged. Seeing his things would cause another bout of tears. She still had a hangover from her last bout. Instead, she hung it in her closet and got ready for the day.
She headed down the stairs. Before she reached the bottom step, the smell of coffee wafted out to greet her. She hoped it took away the tiredness that continued to stalk her, even after the decent night’s sleep and the hot shower.
The house was unnaturally quiet this morning. She had never realized how Monte’s persona had filled the house until now. Sounds he had made were ever present because he normally had the television tuned to CNBC or the Golf Channel in the mornings. When the television was off, he played music and sometimes could be heard humming or softly singing under his breath. Monte had a pleasant singing voice, which was not surprising, given the wonderful speaking voice he had.
The reality that Monte would never be in the house again caused a soft sob to escape Kathryn’s lips, and she blinked back the threatening tears. She paused for a moment on the step, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She gently wiped her eyes with her fingers and continued to the kitchen.
As she entered the kitchen, she found Claire sitting at the table in the breakfast nook with an empty plate in front of her sipping a cup of coffee and reading her Bible. When Kathryn walked into the room, Claire looked up. “Come. Have a seat, and I’ll get you a cup of coffee. What would you like to eat?”
“You stay put. I can get my own coffee, thanks. I’m not really hungry.” Kathryn walked over to the coffee pot and poured herself a cup.
“Kathryn, dear, you have to eat something. It’s been days since you’ve really eaten the way you should,” Claire said.
Kathryn knew her mother was correct. “I’ll try.” She set her coffee cup on the table and made herself a small bowl of granola mixed with yogurt. She sat across from her mother. “What are you reading?”
“The Book of Job,” Claire said.
“I can certainly identify with him right now.”
“I think we all can at some point in our lives. I’ve always been amazed by Job’s faith and how he kept focused on the LORD during all the bad things that happened to him.”
“It’s hard to focus on the LORD when my grief is so blinding.”
“I know. After your father died, I had moments like that, too. Jesus understands because He suffered loss just like we’re doing now.”
“Yes, He did, but He also had the power to raise the dead – like Lazarus,” Kathryn said. “I wish he’d do that for Monte now.” Her countenance was downcast.
“But, Sweetheart, He has raised Monte from the dead. He’s just not living here on Earth.” Claire spoke the words softly and reverently.
Kathryn’s eyes and nose burned with tears. She was afraid to speak because she might start to cry.
Claire reached out and touched Kathryn’s hand in comfort. “It’s okay. Grieving is a process. Even if you aren’t feeling it, God is there waiting to comfort you.”
Kathryn took a deep breath. “I know.”
Claire patted Kathryn’s hand.
Kathryn removed her hand from the table and took a bite of her yogurt mixture. It tasted like sawdust, but she forced herself to chew and swallow. “Is Anna here?”
“No, she left for work. She said she’d be home sometime after dinner. I think she and Marsh are doing last minute things for their wedding after work.”
Kathryn smiled. “That’s the one good thing to come from this – Anna and Marsh getting married. By the way, you and I are invited to Vegas to be part of the ceremony.”
“How fun! I haven’t been to Vegas in years.” Claire said.
“I think it’ll be nice to get away for a few days,” Kathryn said. She took another bite of her concoction. “It’s been ages since I’ve been to a wedding.”
“Yes, and before long it’ll be the kids getting married. Cassie, Jenny, and Gray will each find someone, fall in love, and then get married. We’ll be going from wedding to wedding,” Claire said wistfully.
“Gray’s at that age. So far, he’s not mentioned anyone special.” An overwhelming sense of loss engulfed Kathryn. She pushed away her bowl and bowed her head. Tears were a mist that blocked her view and wetted her cheeks. Claire reached out and patted Kathryn’s hand. “Honey, what’s wrong?”
Kathryn swallowed a sob. “It’s Monte. He won’t be around for Gray’s wedding or to hold his grandchildren. It’s just not fair!” Kathryn began to sob.
Claire got up and knelt by Kathryn’s chair and then put her arms around her. “It’s okay. You cry it all out.” Kathryn sobbed into her mother’s shoulder, and Claire kissed the top of her head and stroked her hair.
After a few minutes, Kathryn stopped crying and sniffed. “I guess I’d better get used to sadness smacking me out of the blue with no warning.” She looked at Claire who also had tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to drag you down with me.”
“It’s okay. I’m very familiar with those blues. I succumb to them every now and then myself. Your dad won’t be at the weddings or be able to hold his great-grandchildren either. I’m sure this won’t be the last time a few tears are shed over that thought,” Claire said softly.
Both women sat quietly mourning Dan and Monte as tears slid down their cheeks. The ringing of Kathryn’s cellphone interrupted the silence. Claire stood up and went back to her chair as Kathryn pulled her cellphone from her jeans pocket and looked at the caller ID. “It’s Gray.” she said and answered it.
They spoke for a few minutes and then Kathryn asked, “How are your classes going? Will you be able to catch up?”
“Yeah, I’ve a lot of reading to do. Just on my way to the library so I can start on it,” Gray said.
“Good, I’m glad. How are you doing?” Kathryn asked.
“I’m sad but being busy keeps me from dwelling on it too much,” Gray said. “I have to go. I’m at the library now. Just wanted to check on you.”
Gray chuckled and said, “I’ll call you later.”
“Okay, love you.”
“Love you, too. Say ‘hi’ to Grandma and Anna for me.”
Kathryn smiled as she hung up the phone. “Gray says ‘hi’.”
“How’s he doing?”
“He sounded like he’s coping.”
“Being busy helps,” Claire said. “You should probably consider returning to The Refuge soon.”
“I know. I’ll wait a few days. Tears come too easily now, and I don’t want to make people uncomfortable if I start crying.”
“That’s probably a good idea,” Claire said. “But I wouldn’t leave it too long before you go back.”
The doorbell rang, interrupting their conversation. “I’ll get it,” Kathryn said.
She opened the front door to find Russ standing there. Russ had been Monte’s best friend and business partner and was currently Kathryn’s knight in shining armor. He had been a rock for her throughout Monte’s brief hospital stay, as well as, his death, the wake and the funeral.
“Hi, Kathryn,” Russ said. He stood at the door with his hands in the pockets of his overcoat. His dark brown hair which was peppered with gray was neatly combed and in place. His boyishly attractive face looked less stressed and more relaxed than it had at the funeral yesterday. His hazel eyes framed by long dark lashes looked into her brown ones. He smiled down at her.
“What a pleasant surprise,” Kathryn said. They hugged, and she invited him in. She detected the faint scent of soap and menthol shaving cream. It was the smell she associated with Russ – clean and fresh. “Let me take your coat.”
“I probably should’ve called before I dropped by,” Russ said.
“Nonsense, you’re welcome anytime. Come in and have some coffee and something to eat.” Kathryn took his arm and walked with him into the kitchen.
Claire smiled as soon as she saw Russ. “Hi, Russ.”
“Hi, Claire, how are you this morning?” He asked as he seated himself beside her. He reached out and gently squeezed her hand.
“Not bad. How about yourself?” Claire asked.
“Slowly trying to get back into life,” Russ said.
Kathryn poured Russ a cup of coffee, grabbed a few blueberry muffins and brought them to the table.
Russ turned his attention to Kathryn. “You’re looking a tiny bit better – more rested. I trust you were able to sleep?”
“Yes. What about you?” Kathryn asked.
“I was exhausted by the time I got home and fell asleep as easily as a narcoleptic.”
“Good. Have you been to the office?” Kathryn asked.
“I was on my way in and decided to stop here first.”
“I hope everything is okay, and that you can easily get caught up.”
“Me, too.” Russ took a sip of coffee. “Besides wanting to check and see how you were, I had another reason for dropping by. I got a call from Dave Warren about an hour ago.”
“Monte’s attorney?” Kathryn asked.
“Yes, he was going to call you, too. Has he called yet?”
“No, what did he want?” Kathryn asked. The last time she had anything to do with Dave Warren was when she met with Monte in his office after their separation. Icy fingers lightly stroked her heart, and she shivered as she remembered how ill and haunted Monte looked that day. Should I have known that something was wrong with his health back then?
“I’m sorry, Honey, he called the house phone this morning,” Claire said, interrupting Kathryn’s thoughts. “He left a number for you to call him back. I wanted to give you some time to eat and relax a little this morning before I told you.”
“I’ll call him in a little while,” Kathryn said. Her heart was suddenly lead, heavy and dark. “It would help to know what he wants before I call. Can you tell me?” Kathryn looked beseechingly into Russ’s eyes.
Russ said in a halting voice, “It’s about Monte’s trust.” Kathryn’s face lost color. Russ noticed her blanch and squelched his desire to reach across and touch her hand in comfort. “Dave says that it’s important that the details of the trust are revealed to everyone as soon as possible. He wanted to give us a few days to deal with everything that’s happened first.”
“Yes, good idea,” Claire said.
“He wants us to be at his office on Friday. Gray can be conferenced in, or he can come in person. It’s up to him. Dave insisted that you, I and Gray need to be present.”
Kathryn felt like she had been kicked in the gut. The word “trust” was an echo bouncing in her brain. It was another reminder that Monte was gone from her life for good. “I guess that makes sense. The business still has to go on.” Her words were said carefully and slowly.
“Yes, and you and Gray need to be able to have access to everything you need now that Monte’s gone and get an idea of your assets and cash flow. If what went on at the office is anything to go by, I know he held a firm hand on the finances,” Russ said hoping his words brought some measure of comfort.
“Yes, he did,” Kathryn said. “I never felt the need to inquire or know anything about his assets or money. I felt it was his money, and it wasn’t my place. Silly, I know, given that we were married, and it is legally mine, too.”
“I’m not sure if Monte told you all, but he supplemented my income. When Dan died, my retirement dropped to spousal benefits, and Monte kicked in the difference,” Claire said.
“I did know that, and I’ll see that it continues,” Kathryn promised and reached out and squeezed her mother’s hand.
“I’m not worried. I just thought I should say something in case,” Claire said and squeezed Kathryn’s hand back. Then Claire picked up her coffee cup in both of her hands and took a sip.
“I’m positive Monte made sure everyone was taken care of for the future.” Russ reached for a muffin. “The meeting is probably just routine.”
“I’ll call Gray and let him know. Hopefully, I’ll get to him before Dave does so he’s not blindsided. Did Dave give a time?” Kathryn asked.
“Yes, Friday at eleven. It allows time for Gray to drive up that morning if he decides to come in person.” Russ took a bite of blueberry muffin.
“Okay,” Kathryn said.
“If you need me to, I can drive you to Dave’s office. It might make it easier on you,” Russ said.
“You’re so sweet. I’ll wait and see what Gray has planned before I decide.”
Russ’s cellphone rang. He took it out of his suit jacket pocket and looked at the screen. “Excuse me, Ladies. I have to take this.” He left the kitchen and walked to the den before he answered his phone.
Russ sat at Monte’s desk as he talked with his mother. She was worried about him and wondered how he was holding up since the funeral. She also gave him an update on his father’s therapy. His father was still having problems from a broken hip. It appeared the surgery did not help as much as they had hoped. Russ told her he would see them in a few weeks.
After he hung up, he sat at Monte’s desk and looked out the window. The sun was playing tag between the clouds. In the backyard, patches of green were beginning to crop up. The bare trees reached out to the sun as though searching for some warmth. A lone, gray squirrel climbed a tree trunk and began to scamper from branch to branch. Lucky squirrel! His life is not half as complicated as mine is right now.
At this moment, life was a bad dream that Russ could not wake up from. He tried to make sense of all that happened. But no matter how hard he tried, he could not figure it out and found that all he could do was to just keep going. His best friend and business partner was dead with no warning. Everything was up in the air until Monte’s wishes and details of the trust were made known.
Monte was a gifted businessman and irreplaceable. Nobody was qualified to run the company now, except for Russ. Glen, the third in command, was capable but not privy to everything – not yet. That would soon have to change. Russ sighed. His body and mind were a bottomless pit for anything good or restful, but the only thing he felt was drained. Things were fine one minute, and then next, a crisis rained down. Everything happened so fast! Nothing is as it was.
Russ was glad Kathryn appeared more rested. Her sadness was a threatening cloud that followed her, and he knew it would not go away any time soon. He wanted to hold her and comfort her but knew he could not. It was okay during the wake and funeral, but now he had to be careful. Anna, Kathryn’s housekeeper and friend, had already guessed his secret love for Kathryn, and he did not want anyone else to figure it out.
The love from afar thing was not working very well. Monte had been his buffer, and as long as Monte lived and breathed, he knew Kathryn could never be his. Now the buffer was gone, and she was alone. He longed to get closer to her and be more involved in her life. But was unsure if the time was right. Who would have thought love could be this complicated?
To add to everything else, Dave had seemed agitated and uneasy when he called Russ, and Russ hoped Dave did not convey that to Kathryn when he talked to her. A sinking feeling entered his gut as he thought about the meeting with Dave. He was concerned that it might not be as straightforward and easy as they believed. Monte was so thorough and detail-oriented that Russ could not imagine what the problem could be – if there was one. He knew that unless Monte gambled on the side and owed money, Pres-Law was in the black. It was not shaping up to be a banner year, but it was not a bad one either.
Russ prayed that Dave was just having a bad or busy day, and that his own perception of the situation was wrong. Kathryn did not need a setback from bad revelations, and Russ was sure he was not ready for that himself. He wished the uneasiness would go away, but it was a ghost – whispering and haunting him, and he knew it would until the meeting.
Kathryn came to the den and paused at the door. “Everything okay?”
Russ smiled. He felt tightness in his chest. She looked so beautiful standing in the doorway. When she was not dressed in her designer clothes and makeup to please Monte, Russ felt that was when she was her most attractive. There was something about the wild way her hair fell around her shoulders when it was not styled. The natural beauty of her face stood out when it was not designed by black lines, colored shadows and lipstick. She even carried herself in a more relaxed, natural way. He was transported back in time to when he first met her at the office. Even today, she still looked young and fresh. But when he looked into her eyes, they reflected her growing pains and ups and downs with Monte. They had lost their youthful sparkle long ago.
“Everything’s fine. I was talking to my mother,” Russ said.
“How is she?”
“Worried about me.”
Kathryn chuckled. “That shouldn’t surprise you. How’s your dad doing?”
“He’s grumbling about therapy and pushing back about his home exercises. Mom has her hands full.”
“Perhaps you need to go for a visit?”
“Yeah, I am, after Anna’s wedding. I need to get a good handle on things at the office first and make sure Glen is able to deal with things while I’m gone.”
“You have your work cut out. I wish I could help.”
“You have enough on you so no need to worry about it.”
She walked into the den and stood in front of the desk. Kathryn smiled, and Russ’s heart skipped a beat. The smile reached her eyes, and briefly, the sadness was displaced. Hope flickered in his heart.
“You’ve certainly been my knight in shining armor. I just don’t know if I could’ve survived this week without you. Russ Prescott, you’re the one true, solid thing in my life right now that keeps me from totally falling to pieces. No matter what happens, I know I can count on you to be steady eddy, and trust that you’ll keep things going as you’ve always done.”
“You’re stronger than you think,” Russ said as his heart leapt at her statement about the knight in shining armor. But he was not sure about the steady eddy part. He would much rather be the fire and passion in her life, but she had already had that with Monte. She had a long road to walk before taking that path called “love” again.
“I hope so because everything feels like a battle,” Kathryn said.
“I know, but as time goes on, it’ll get better.”
She put her hands on the desk and leaned in toward him. “I hope so. I’m feeling so ignorant about Monte’s business. I’m glad you’re going to educate me about it at some point.”
Her face was so close to his that he squelched the urge to kiss her as he longed to do. The temptation was so overpowering that he stood up to give himself distance from her lips. “Whenever you want to come into the office, let me know. I hate to eat and run, but I need to get going. I’ll call and check on you later.”
She stood up straight. “Okay. Thanks for dropping by.” She hugged him and kissed him on the cheek. “I’ll get your coat and walk you to the door.” She slipped her arm through his as they retrieved his coat and walked to the front door.
Russ turned to her and smiled. “Call me if you need me.”
“Will do,” she said and smiled back. She watched as Russ walked down to his car.
As Russ walked down the stairs, he felt a tingling sensation where Kathryn had kissed him and resisted the urge to touch his face. The more he was around Kathryn, the harder it was becoming to keep his true feelings hidden. He prayed that they would never reveal themselves until the time was right. If he did stand a chance with her, he was going to have to remain her friend for a long while. He got into his car and drove to the office.
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