She knew she should be in the living room with everyone else but she couldn't tear herself away from the picture hanging in the hallway. He was wearing the navy blue shirt with the paisley print. She remembered the day she bought it for him. It was the first gift either of them had given each other. There was a new guy in the office who always looked really sharp and even though he felt silly about it, he felt kind of dull next to him. When she saw the shirt she knew it would make his blue eyes look fantastic and it would definitely not be dull.
She bought it. Guessing and working with the salesman for the size. But she was sure it would be fine. So sure she brought it home and washed and ironed it before she ever showed it to him. She remembered standing at the ironing board pressing out the wrinkles from the wash. Making sure it looked perfect. She was humming to herself while she ironed. She remembered feeling silly about being so happy ironing a shirt. Wasn't this the life she had worked so hard to avoid? She had never wanted to be domesticated, as she had put it. She liked her career. She liked her single life. Then he had showed up and changed everything.
She had switched out his plain white shirt for the blue one while he was in the shower. Snuck in to the bathroom and put it on the hanger and then snuck back out. She heard him laugh while he was getting dressed. When he came out he modeled the look for her. She was right. It made his eyes look fantastic.
"He called that his lucky shirt."
"Oh I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle you like that. I just saw you looking at the picture. He called that his lucky shirt. He bought it on a whim while he was on a business trip and ended up wearing it to close a big deal. From that point on it was his lucky shirt."
"I remember that meeting. He was always our closer though, I don't think it was the shirt that made the difference." She smiled at his wife. His wife. This stranger in the hallway was his wife. Though maybe it was more that the man in that picture was the stranger. After all here she was talking to his wife. His wife. If she said it enough times maybe it would stop hurting.
"He was very good at his job. I am so glad you could make it for the funeral. I know most of the people at the remote branches weren't able to come. Such a distance to travel for...." his wife trailed off and wiped a tear from her cheek.
"I know more wish they could have come. I'm sure they let you know there will be a memorial for him, for the company in a few weeks? I know a lot of people will want to pay their respects. I am just so sorry for your loss. I am sorry for all of us, he was a good man."
His wife reached out and drew her in to a hug. She hugged her back thinking to herself, "This is all a bad dream. I will wake up soon."
"Excuse me, Elise? You're needed in the kitchen."
"Oh, thank you, Edgar. Edgar this is...I am sorry, I didn't catch your name."
She held out her hand, "Grace. I work with, worked with Harold."
She saw Edgar's eyes widen just a touch. "Nice to meet you, Grace. Would you mind if I asked you a few questions about office contacts?"
Elise smiled at Grace, "Edgar is our lawyer as well as a family friend. Please feel free to tell him anything. If you'll excuse me."
She watched Elise make her way to the kitchen receiving condolences from friends and family as she passed.
"I have something for you. Something Harold left for you. I am sure you understand why I didn't want to say anything."
"Yes, well, there was a lot of that going around it seems."
"Yes, I understand from the letter he left me that you did not know, well, everything about him."
"It seems that I didn't."
He took a card from his coat jacket and handed it her, "Please call me so we can arrange delivery. And..."
Grace held up her hand, "If you are going to ask me not to make a scene, it's unnecessary. There has already been enough pain. I don't need to add to it."
Edgar nodded, "Thank you. He was a good man. Please believe that."
Grace gave him a tight smile, "I will see what I believe eventually. Right now I'm just existing. Will you be in your office later today? I will be heading back tomorrow afternoon. I can call you later, but if we can arrange a time now that would be fine."
He looked at his watch, "Give me another hour here and then give me a call. I would think this evening or first thing tomorrow would be fine."
"Thank you. Now if you'll excuse me, I think I need to leave."
She started to walk away when she heard her name being called, "Grace! Grace! Please come with me for a second. I need to ask you something."
Grace turned and smiled at Elise, "Of course."
Elise took her hand and walked with her to the garage. There was Harold's car. The site of it felt like a punch in the stomach. So many times she had watched for it to pull in to the drive. He traveled between branches, so many miles on that car, so many times he was on the road while she waited for him to come home to her. Now she saw she wasn't home after all.
"He loved this car."
Grace smiled, "He really did. It was pretty clever. I remember thinking he should have sold the idea at a conference geared toward traveling salesmen. Of course, there really aren't as many traveling salesmen as there used to be are there?"
Elise was opening the trunk and there was the elaborate storage system that Harold had made. It was a traveling closet. He kept his work clothes there as well as files and work items. It was sectioned off with drawers and an area that worked like a hanging rod, but everything laid flat to keep the wrinkles away. Apparently he was very good at keep things separate to keep out the wrinkles.
"He was so clever with his hands. He didn't just make this, he invented so many things in our house. Storage areas, a little set of steps that I could push in and out in the kitchen..."
Grace took a small breath, remembering the day he sketched out the step design. She had never been able to use the upper shelves in her kitchen and he thought that was ridiculous. He sketched out a design for steps that could be folded flat and stored between the refrigerator and the cabinets, they fit exactly in the space and when folded flat they had a designed edge that made them look decorative. It was beautiful. And apparently he liked it so well he made another set.
"He was very talented."
Elise pulled his computer bag from the trunk, "I am sure the office will need this back. It's his work computer and some files he was working on. There is also a box of older items there." She pointed to a corner of the trunk. "Would it be too much of an imposition for you to take them? I could have them shipped out, but since you are here?"
"Oh, no, no trouble at all. I will be leaving for the main office tomorrow anyway, I can bring these with me. I'm driving so it's no problem. Not that my car is set up for traveling like Harold's is, but it will do. I'm sorry, I'm rambling, I just don't know the right thing to say right now."
Elise patted her on the hand, "I know. I understand. I've been rambling a lot myself for the past few days. If you are comfortable rummaging around a bit feel free to load any work items in to your car to take back with you. I know he wouldn't want anything to slide due to him...."
Now it was Grace's turn to pat Elise's hand, "We will make sure all of his clients are taken care of and nothing slips through the cracks."
"Thank you so much. I am so glad you made it." With that Elise gave Grace another hug and went back in to the house.
Grace picked up the computer bag and put it to the side along with the box of files. She started to look through the various drawers when the smell reached her. His smell. The trunk was filled with his clothes. It smelled like him. Like he was there. In the garage with her. She picked up a suit jacket and held it to her face and breathed in deeply. He was there. She closed her eyes and tried to keep from sobbing. He was there. He was here. Here. In this house. With this family. And these people. And she had never known.
She finished looking through the trunk and moved a small pile of things to her car to take back to the office with her. She smoothed back out all of his clothes and slowly closed the trunk. Leaving no wrinkles she walked away.