The service was lovely. The music was just right. The speeches were well done. Just emotional enough to mark it as what it was, but not so much as to get maudlin. The last service she had been to the best friend was well in to his cups before it began and wept so hard he couldn't get through his speech. She shook her head. It didn't seem like it was too long ago that she was comparing weddings of friends, and then weddings of their children. Now it was funerals.
She was waiting for the chapel to clear before she left. She wasn't as quick as she used to be and hated to feel as though people were waiting on her. It had taken time to get used to her new slower pace of life, but now that she had she found she actually liked it. It gave her time to observe those around her. And in cases like today to spend a few extra minutes quietly remembering a friend.
"Excuse me? Are you Grace?"
She looked up in to the face of, which daughter would it be? Autumn?
"Graciella actually. Only your father ever called me Grace. He said the ella on the end was unnecessary."
"That sounds like Dad. I'm Autumn."
"I am so sorry for your loss. I would ask how you are doing but that always seems like such a horrible question at a time like this."
"Thank you. And yes, it's hard. It wasn't unexpected. He had been sick for a few months, but it still isn't any easier."
Autumn stopped and looked closely at the face of the woman seated in front of her, trying to imagine what she had looked like 40 years earlier. She would have been younger than Autumn was now. Grace. Graciella. She hadn't asked Autumn how she knew her name. Hadn't seemed surprised that she did. Had she expected to be recognized?
"He asked for you at the end."
"The last week. He started asking for you. 'Is Grace coming? Is Grace here?' He said he had so much to talk to you about. He couldn't wait to tell you about the next adventures."
Graciella smiled, "We always did have so many things to talk about. If I had known I would have come. I only found out about his passing through the obituaries. When you reach my age you will find they are weekly reading."
"You don't seem surprised that he asked for you."
"I find that as we age we think more and more about the friends of our youth. Your father and I were great friends a long time ago. We talked about everything. Every challenge you could imagine.Even you and your sister and your brother.
I remember when your appendix burst. You had a fever for a few days but hadn't complained at all of any pain. When you went in to the hospital they did a blood test and discovered your white blood cell count was off the charts. When they finally narrowed it down to an infected appendix and got you on the table it burst right there in the operating room. If you had gone another day who knows what might have happened. Your father and I spent many hours talking about how as a parent you worry so much about everything and then if you miss something as big as that, what does that mean? How can you protect your children from the world if you cannot even protect them from their own bodies?"
Autumn's hand had subconsciously moved to the scar she had had for as long as she could remember. Her parents had told her the story but she had only been 3 when it happened so had no real memory of any of it. This woman, Grace, Graciella, knew as much about her operation as she did.
She wanted to talk to her more. This mystery out of her father's past that she had only found out about the week before when her father started asking for her. All her father had told her was her name and how long it had been since he had last seen her. And now here she was. "Will you be coming to the grave side service as well?"
Graciella put her hand on her cane, "No, I don't think so. It's very hard to manage hills with this."
"How did you know it was on a hill?"
"I assumed he would be buried in the family plot at Westview. Your brother is there. And your grandparents. I assumed he would want to be there as well. There is a lovely view of the river, I would imagine it's still quite peaceful."
Autumn wondered were there friends she had 40 years ago that she would still know this much about?
"Aren't you curious how I knew who you were?"
"You saw an old woman sitting in the back row of the church that you did not recognize. Your father had been asking for a stranger in the end. I assumed you guessed."
Autumn shook her head, "A little of that maybe. But it was your eyes that gave you away."
"You have the bluest eyes I've ever seen. My father would always say he was a sucker for blue eyes and a smile. Which made my brown-eyed mother furious."
"I imagine it did."
"Did you know my mother?"
"I did. We talked a few times. We weren't as close as your father and I were, but we socialized some."
Graciella could see the struggle on Autumn's face. The question she wanted to ask. The one she was sure she knew the answer to. "Did you love my father?"
That had not been the question she was expecting. But she supposed it was the more important one. "Very much."
"I believe he must have loved you as well."
"I believe he did."
Autumn squared her shoulders and held out her hand to Graciella, "Thank you for coming. I know it would have meant a lot to Dad."
Graciella watched Autumn walk from the church. Then she took a deep breath and composed herself. She wondered if she should have told Autumn that she and her father had never been unfaithful to her mother. But was that true? She and Andrew had never had an affair. Not a proper one anyway. They had shared one kiss, one time. And that was the last time they had seen each other. She had loved him very much and she believed he had loved her as well. But they had never had sex. At the time that seemed very important to her. She had held that in her heart, she had never been unfaithful to Eddie. Never cheated on him. Years later she realized that sex had never been what made an affair.
The final time she and Andrew had seen each other he had made her promise if anything ever happened between her and Eddie she would find him. No matter what. She had promised. Eighteen years ago when Eddie had died at his desk from an aneurysm she remembered the promise. By this time Andrew and his first wife, Autumn's mother, had divorced. As well as Andrew and his second wife. He was engaged to the woman that would become wife number three. Graciella decided to let the ghosts of the past haunt themselves. What would she have said to him, "Remember me?" What would she have expected him to do? Drop everything and run away with her? Some promises seemed better not kept.
She walked slowly out of the chapel. Feeling the sun on her face she heard Autumn's voice in her head, "He asked for you at the end." As the tears made their way down her cheeks she thought, "But there is still so much to talk about."