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Laura sighed, rose fromthe table, and began to gather the dinner dishes. The kids had all rushed off topractice the saxophone, write an essay or call Michelle. Laura was alone, asusual, to clean up the kitchen. She turned on the radio and looked out the windowat the clear, cold night as she scrubbed lasagna from the casserole dish. Shewondered why she went to the trouble to cook a meal everyone finished in tenminutes. She could order take-out and the kids would never notice.
Thephone rang. The conversation with Michelle had been a short one. Lauraanswered.
"Hi ... this isn't by any chanceLaura Miller, is it?"
Laura started. No one had used her maiden namesince ... well, since she married Ned. She'd kept his name even though he passedaway three years ago. "This is Laura Williams," she corrected."Who is this?"
"Williams ... right ... I don't know if youremember me, Laura ... this is Henry Hamilton."
"Henry Hamilton... Henry?" Laura remembered. Henry was the boy who lived next door to hergrowing up. He was her best friend, but not in the sleepover, whisper-giggle,matching-shirts sort of way that she knew her best girlfriends. Henry had beendifferent; he and Laura had some kind of bond that went deeper. He understood herin a way no one ever did growing up. Everyone always looked at them and smiled,predicting that they would get married.
"Soul mates," they saidto each other. They kept on saying it through high school when Laura dated otherpeople. A few kept saying it even after Laura got pregnant her senior year withNed Williams, captain of the football team and student-body vice president, andmarried him out of high school. But it was just wishful thinking. Laura wascommitted to Ned and a life of children and housework - which she didn't reallymind then, and still didn't, sometimes.
Henry went to college back Eastand got in with what the people in their town would call an"artsy-fartsy" crowd. He became a slam poet and an actor, and rarelyreturned home, especially after he came out. Laura had stopped communicating withhim, not because she had anything against homosexuals, but that was just whathappened.
Laura had almost not recognized the name at first simply becauseshe hadn't thought about him in so long. Now, the only thing that occurred to herto say was a less-than-tactful question: "Are you still gay?" Sheswallowed the words and choked out, "I mean, how have youbeen?'
"I've been doing well," he responded."You?"
"Great, just great ... how did you get my phonenumber?"
"Internet search," he responded. Her children usedthe computer all the time but she couldn't quite get the hang of the thing andonly used it for e-mailing. "How's Ned?"
"Ned ..."A lump filled Laura's throat and she glanced at her reflection in the kitchenwindow. She still hadn't mastered exactly how to tell people that her husband hadbeen killed in a car accident years ago without making them feel guilty."Ned passed away three years ago."
Henry's concern on the otherend of the phone was genuine. "Oh, my God," he said quietly. "Ididn't know, Laura. I'm sorry."
"It's all right," shereplied. "You couldn't have known."
There was an awkward pauseand Henry said, "So ... aren't you wondering why I called?"
"I guess so," replied a flustered Laura. She felt silly andoafish. Henry seemed so smooth on the other end, and it had been so long sinceshe'd talked to a man one-on-one that she had almost forgotten how. "Tell me..."
She could almost hear Henry's grin through the phone. "I'mcalling to invite you to my wedding."
"Your wedding?" Lauraasked, puzzled. "But I thought -" she stopped herself just intime.
"I guess it's not exactly a legal proceeding," he said."More symbolic. I think of it as getting married, even though technically wecan't."
"Well, who's the lucky, er, guy?" she felt sillysaying it.
Henry chuckled. "His name is Greg," he said."And the wedding is set for the twenty-third. Here in Seattle. Do you thinkyou can make it?"
"Aren't you sending out invitations orsomething?"
"Yes," Henry replied, "But I wanted tocall you. I haven't talked to you in so long, and I wanted to ask if maybe wecould meet sometime, you know, for coffee or whatever. Just to talk. It's hard toreally go over stuff on the phone. I guess that's the real reason I called. But Ialso wanted to tell you about the wedding."
"All right,"Laura told him. "I don't really get out much. Do you know aplace?"
"Sure," he said. He gave her the address and theyagreed on a time. After she hung up, Laura stood in the kitchen, not feelinganything, just letting thoughts float in and out of her brain. Henry. The littleboy, her best friend ... soul mate ... Ned and football games and the pregnancytest ... Henry and college and slam poetry ... artsy-fartsy ... coming out of thecloset ... years of silence and occasionally wondering and then he drifted out ofher mind and her life. And now he was back again. Henry.
A week later,Laura got the kids off to school, did the dishes, tidied the house a bit, changedher clothes and put on some make-up. She felt nervous, like she was going on adate or something. But it was just her gay best friend. Whom she hadn't seen inyears. What would they talk about? What would he look like? What would he thinkof her?
Laura was surprised to find that Henry looked almost exactly thesame, only slightly pudgier with a few more wrinkles, a couple of gray hairsamong his reddish-brown ones. He dressed like any moderately hip guy. He grinnedand waved and said she looked great - even though she knew she didn't - and theymade small talk for a while until he took out an envelope. "I hunted up someold photos," he told her. He passed them to her. Her at Henry's fifthbirthday party, him crying as she blew out his candles. The two of them withtheir arms around each other on the first day of kindergarten. In the sameposition on Halloween ... on a sled at Christmas ... eating heart-shaped cookieson Valentine's. All year, every year, they were together. How could they havebeen so close and then go for years without seeing each other?
"Hey,it's our secret spot!" Laura exclaimed, looking at one picture taken whenthey were seven. They were crouched at the riverbank, Henry with a rock in hishand, about to throw it. They met in that hollow by the river day after day. Theydidn't do anything there that they wouldn't do anywhere else, it was just thefact that it was secret that made it so much fun to hang outthere.
"Guess it wasn't so secret if someone got a picture ofus," Henry remarked.
"Yeah," Laura chuckled, flippingthrough the rest of the pictures, watching them get older. Among the last oneswas her on prom night, her pregnant stomach just showing. Henry hadn't gonebecause he didn't have a date. Back then, he thought his lack of interest ingirls was more about their lack of interest in him.
They talked about thepictures for a while, then Laura glanced at her watch. "Well, it's gettingon two o'clock. I should probably start for home if I want to be there when Joshand Amy get back."
"When are you going to move out of thosesuburbs, Laura?" Henry teased. "When we were kids you always said youwanted to live in a Victorian mansion. Why don't you?"
"Tooexpensive, I guess," Laura laughed. But deep inside, a small voice spoke:Why didn't you, Laura? Why didn't you get a Victorian mansion? A jolt of fearshot through her. She recognized that voice: the "Why didn't you"voice. It haunted her from time to time. She was pretty good at ignoring it, butsometimes she couldn't suppress it, and that was usually when she cleaned thehouse from top to bottom or decided to plant some geraniums - anything to takeher mind off what might have been.
What might have been. Laura daredherself to think about this as she drove home. For a moment she imagined Henryhadn't been gay, and she had married him like everyone said she would. She wouldcome home and find him waiting at the door of their Victorian. Or what if he wasgay, but she hadn't gotten pregnant? Maybe she would have gone to college andstudied anthropology, like she had wanted to since she was 14. Maybe she wouldhave become "artsy-fartsy" too.What if she had married Ned, but maybehe hadn't gone to the store to get coffee late that night so they could have somein the morning? What if it had not been raining ... if the road weren't slippery... What might have been. The voice inside grew louder, interrogating her,screaming, "Why didn't you? Why didn't you?"
"Shutup," Laura told it. "Shut up."
A panicky Laura pulled intoher driveway. She hurriedly unlocked the door and burst into the house, hopingshe could find something there to console her. She was listening to the voice butdidn't like what she was hearing. She didn't like it, she didn't like it at all.I need to do something, she thought. I need to do something to make itstop.
She got out the broom and began to sweep the kitchen.