Monday again, and Cassie time. I'm getting to the end of this little series, a few more loose ends to tie up and I'll be ready to turn this into a novella. So if you've been following along and you would like to read the entire thing as a book rather than as a series, keep an eye out for the finished product. Today's segment is a bit longer since there was a lot to tell before the next part. Enjoy :)
The days after Bev’s death passed like a blur. There was much to do, getting the funeral organized and taking care of Andrew. I worried about him constantly, he was so calm, too calm. I felt that once the reality of her absence hit home he would need support. I had tried to get him to sleep at our house but he had refused, likewise he had refused to let anyone stay with him. So I took to dropping in on him in the morning and bringing muffins or croissants for him to try, saying they were new recipes. He mostly only ate a bite but I was more there to give him company than to get him to eat.
In the afternoons I dropped around on the pretext of needing his advice on the business. Now that I was allowed to drive again I was planning the new coffee run, so used questions about that as a reason to be there. I knew that Saffron was calling in during her coffee run, and dropping in with her girls after school, and Matt was also calling in before and after his shifts.
Friends of Andrew and Bev rallied around, bringing gifts of food and flowers and staying to talk to him. It seemed the best way to help, keeping him busy and engaged with us all and our lives, helping him to get through the lonely hours now there was no Bev. His whole life had revolved around her – looking after her, keeping her comfortable and amused, buying her the lovely headscarves. Now there was a huge gap in his life and we all rushed to fill it in our various ways.
The funeral was peaceful, if such a word can be used for a sad occasion like that. True to her word that she did not want too many tears Bev had asked for a short graveside ceremony. She had felt that if we were outside, with the sun shining and birds singing that it would be easier on us. I don’t know if she was right or not, but we all tried our best to grant her this last wish and to celebrate her life. She had died on her own terms, without any pain or medical intervention and for that I did feel grateful.
The day after the funeral I called around to see Andrew, bringing with me a new recipe for muffins. He looked grey and haggard when he answered the door, as was only to be expected. He smiled when he saw me and stood back to let me in, leading the way into the kitchen where he put on the kettle for a pot of tea. I saw the pot was already sitting ready on the bench, no doubt waiting for me.
“What are these?” As he spoke Andrew lifted the lid on the muffin container and took an exploratory sniff.
“Strawberry and yoghurt. I’m wondering if they are sweet enough.”
Lifting one out Andrew placed it on a plate and cut it into quarters. He put the plate on the table and, as the kettle whistled its readiness, made the tea. Putting the pot, cups, milk, and two plates onto the table he sat down opposite me and put a piece of muffin onto the plate in front of him.
“You eat some too Cassie. You’ve lost weight these past few days. You need to eat or you will get sick.”
He was right of course; I had been cooking but not really eating. My appetite had deserted me. I pulled the other plate closer to me and put a section of muffin on it.
Biting into his piece Andrew nodded in approval. “These are good, very tasty with just a bit of bite to them. They will appeal to the health conscious and also to those who are just looking for a sweet treat.”
I smiled, pleased to have his approval. Andrew finished his piece and poured the tea for us both, taking a sip of his before fixing me with a steady gaze. I met his eyes, wondering what was in his mind.
“Cassie, I really appreciate how you, Saffron, Matt, and everyone have made sure I am ok. You’ve all fed me, kept me company, made me tea and coffee, brought more flowers than the entire graveyard, and done everything you can to make this easier on me.”
I started to reply but he forestalled me. “But, Cassie, I have to ask something of you that you will find hard to do. Please think about what I am saying before you reply, ok?”
I closed my mouth, and nodded.
“Bev and I, we’ve been saying goodbye for a long time now. Slowly, day by day, we made memories for me to hold onto. We said everything we needed to say to each other, and then we said it again, and again. Every day with her was a gift, every minute.”
He paused, breathing deeply to calm himself. I reached forward to take his hand and he held mine tightly.
“Now she’s gone, and I’m left with my memories. Your support has been wonderful Cassie, and I know Bev would have told you to keep me busy. But, in that, right now, she was wrong.”
He looked up from our joined hands. His eyes were swimming with tears but he didn’t let them fall. I could feel tears gathering in my own eyes in response to the pain I saw in his.
“Right now, for the next few days, or weeks, I need to gather my memories. I need to polish them and make them bright so they last. I need to remember each day, each word, each smile, each touch. I need, Cassie, to be alone.”
His words hit me like a hammer. Had we all done him harm instead of good?
Andrew held up his hand as he correctly read my expression. “Cassie I needed to have you all around me these past few days. The void left by Bev is huge and you all helped to put a bit of light inside that hole. But now,” his voice broke and he cleared his throat, “now it is time for me to honour her memory. She is with me still you know, she will always be with me. Now I need to spend time alone with my memories, with her. Do you understand Cassie?”
I could feel the love that those two shared filling the kitchen with warmth and light. Even though Bev was gone, the love remained. Of course Andrew needed to have time alone with his memories. It had been inconsiderate and possibly selfish of me to intrude into that. For while I was giving him support I had also been leaning on his strength. I stood up and went around the table. Sitting on the chair next to him I hugged him tightly before going back to my side of the table.
“Of course I understand Andrew. I’m just sorry I didn’t think of it myself. I’ll let everyone know that you need some alone time. You just let us know when you are ready and we will be back bossing you about. In the meantime, can I send you a text message each morning? Just to say good morning and how are you. And can you reply? Just to settle my mothering urges.”
“That’s a deal Cassie. And don’t worry, it won’t be forever.” Andrew smiled his eyes shining with the tears he still did not allow to fall.
I finished my tea and patted the muffin container. “I’ll leave these with you, ok?”
“Sure Cassie, I really like these ones.”
“What, so some of the ones I’ve brought you only pretended to like?”
He laughed. “Of course not! But I think these ones are my favourite.”
After extracting a promise from him to call me if he needed anything during this time, I left. The first thing I did on getting into my car was to call Saffron, and then Matt. They were both shocked, but both understood Andrew’s reasoning.
“The love those two had was one of a kind.” Saffron’s voice was wistful, echoing my own feelings. For I too wondered what it would be like to have that sort of love in my life. While I could not doubt Nathan’s love at one point, it was a controlling, possessive love quite unlike that which Andrew and Bev shared.
My thoughts went to Matt. Would it be possible to build that kind of love with him? I remembered what Bev had said about him, and about not being afraid of love. It was easy to say, a lot harder to put into practice – at least it was for me. I still didn’t love myself so expecting someone else to love me deeply seemed too much of a reach.
I shook my head, dismissing my thoughts. Whatever the future held for me, the present demanded other things, like going to Saffron’s now, where I had left Mark, and making a definite decision on the new coffee run, and whether to eat dinner at home or at Saffron’s. The latter decision would be easy. Ben being away (yes, even though there had been a funeral yesterday he had still gone out fishing with his friends) Saffron would push for us to stay, and I really wasn’t inclined for anything else. Unlike Andrew, I needed to keep my mind busy so I wouldn’t think too much.
Saffron did indeed ask us to stay for dinner and I didn’t put up much of an argument. She drank too much wine, and I didn’t try to stop her. Her pain over Bev’s death and Ben’s apparent lack of empathy was shining in her eyes like a shard of broken glass. Ok, that’s a pretty fanciful term but it really did look like that. Saffron has brown eyes with hazel flecks in them. They can go hard when she is angry or upset, and when she holds back tears the liquid shimmers over the hazel flecks, making them shine like the broken edges of glass in a dim light. I happen to know all too well what that looks like, having cleaned up after Nathan’s explosions far too often.
Reeling in my wandering thoughts I focused on Saffron, seeing that she was wilting in her chair. The girls had long since gone to bed, Mark with them. I had stepped outside earlier on to call Matt and explain where I was and why I didn’t want to leave Saffron. He, bless him, volunteered to go and feed the dogs and take them along when he took Barney for his walk. Grateful for his presence in my life, and refusing to think beyond that right now, I thanked him profusely and invited him to dinner the next night which he accepted on the spot.
So now I had no reason to go home, and every reason to stay here and be with my friend. I went over to Saffron, taking her hands and pulling her to her feet.
“Bed time I think Saffie.”
She flung her arms around me and gave me her specialty drunk Saffron death by cleavage hug.
“Where would I be without you Cassie?”
“In bed asleep probably if I wasn’t here to be your drinking partner.”
“In bed alone, if you weren’t here. I’m always alone, always the one to hold it together, to look after the kids, to be with a dying friend and go to her funeral. I may as well be single.”
I had nothing to say to that, so I started walking her down the hallway. At the bathroom door she pulled away from me.
“Do I need to be with you?”
“Nah, just need to pee.”
I waited outside the door, pretended I didn’t see that her face was scrubbed clean but her eyes were red rimmed and swollen when she emerged. I just helped her down the hallway to her bedroom.
“What am I going to do Cassie?” As she spoke Saffron sat heavily on the bed, then lay down, still fully dressed.
I took off her house shoes and pulled the quilt over her from the other side of the bed.
“I don’t know Saffie, but I do know now’s not the time to make decisions. Just sleep.”
I went to leave, preparing to sleep on the lounge as I had done before.
“Don’t leave Cassie, don’t leave me alone.”
I turned, seeing Saffron sitting up in the bed, tears sliding down her cheeks. She looked like a little girl, her youngest girl Emily in fact. She also looked heartbroken. How could I refuse that?
“Well you’re going to have to get off the bed so I can have some of the covers, you’ve got the whole quilt you quilt hog.”
Saffron hopped up, staying upright through pure luck I thought. She was swaying so wildly that I felt motion sickness just looking at her. I straightened the covers, before pulling back her side.
“Get into bed before you fall in.”
Once she was settled I got in the other side. Saffron reached out to take my hand, holding it tight.
“Thank you Cassie, you don’t know how much it means to me to not be alone.”
She fell asleep almost instantly, snoring little hiccuppy snores, but I lay awake for several hours. I was thinking about Andrew and Bev, about the love they shared and the devastation he felt now he was alone. I thought about Saffron, a strong and capable woman reduced to tears because the man she loved put fishing ahead of supporting her through a bad time. I thought of me, of the years I had sacrificed to a man who had taken my love and cheapened it, and who had almost destroyed me in the process.
I thought about Matt, who seemed to want me for myself and who was a good man. I thought about Bev who had told me not to be afraid of love. But was she right? She was the one who had gone, albeit in a tragic manner. But Andrew was the one left behind, the one who had to try to put the pieces of his life back together. Was it right to give to someone else such power over one? Was love the answer? Or was it better to be alone. It might be lonely, but it meant not suffering in the way Andrew was now, and the way Saffron was, and the way I did. Was love the answer? Or the problem?