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The Elegant Lady

The place smelled of whiskey and cigarettes. The few occupants sat aimlessly, strewn out about the room, at the bar or at a table. A woman dressed in a black mini-dress was lying across her male companion in a booth. There were only three other people in the Elegant Lady: a man at a table, head resting against a stained wall, and a man at the bar.
People didn’t go there to have a good time with their friends or to catch up with old relatives. They came there to drink. Miles glanced over the glass he was cleaning at the lone man at the bar. He was the usual-an older man, slumped in the bar chair, the glass in his hands nearly drained, the glasses near him numerous and empty. Across his knuckles were two names, both feminine.
“My daughter and my wife,” the man said at his stare, “They were, I mean,” he revised.
Miles sighed inwardly, turning so that he was facing the man. He paced until he was in front of him, “You wanna talk about it? She leave you for another man?”
The man laughed sarcastically, the white of his eyes a sickly yellow. The smell of vomit and sweat rolled off of him, and Miles struggled not to stagger back. “No,” he said, “She didn’t leave me for another man.”
“You cheat?” Miles asked. His tone was distinctly indifferent; he had learned long ago not to judge such things at glance.
The man shook his head, “No, I didn’t cheat.”
“Then what happened?”
The man sighed, a heavy sigh of content intoxication, and Miles realized that, with as many drinks as the man had consumed, he would tell him anything.
“I suppose I should start at the beginning,” he said, running a meaty hand through hair that was streaked with grey, “When I was seventeen, I transferred to Wullem High School…”

It was a cold day, the first he had at his new high school, and he tugged his thick coat tighter, tucking his face into his scarf as his nose was bit with winter air. Transferring in his senior year was not something that he had been looking forward to and, as he paced toward the main office, he cursed himself yet again at that he allowed himself be dragged along with his parents’ adolescent desires. They had wished to live in the countryside, instead of the city that he was so used to.
He pushed open the glass door, and then held it for the young woman that exited. She was near his age, a student instead of faculty, and her deep auburn hair brushed the top of her shoulders. The eyes that glanced up at his in gratitude were a delicate grey. She was also beautiful.
Her casual step turned to stumble as her foot caught on the edge of his boot. She tripped, and the folder she held in her hands scattered papers over the ground.
“Shoot,” he heard her whisper as he bent to help her pick them up. “Thank you,” she told him solemnly, “I’m not usually such a klutz. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
Looking at her steady eyes, he believed her. “I’m sure it’s just my dazzling presence. Don’t worry about it-happens all the time.”
She laughed, pulling herself to a graceful stand, “You’re funny. Are you new here?”
He nodded, “Yeah, and a senior at that. My name’s Adam.”
She smiled, “I’m Rosemarie-but really just Rose, and I’m a senior, too. Do you know what your schedule is yet?”
“Yeah, I was just coming to the office to get a map,” he glanced around at the small campus outside, “But it doesn’t seem like there’d be much on it.”
Rose shrugged, “Small schools have their pros and cons. If you’d like, I could show you where your classes are.”
Before he could agree, a beefy man pushed passed him, putting a proprietary arm around Rose. “What was that?” he asked her, “I sure hope you weren’t planning on showing him around.”
She shrugged him off, “And why is that? You don’t own me. In fact, I don’t even like you. I suggest you go to class before you’re late.”
He glowered at her, and then at Adam, “We’ll see, Rose. Play hard to get as long as you want, just know that one day I won’t be here waiting.” With that, he left, entering the office and speaking the woman behind the desk in a hushed voice.
“I’m so sorry about that,” Rose said to him, her cheeks a deep crimson, “That was Royce. I made the mistake of letting him take me out on a date a few weeks back. The pig was feeling me up and trying to convince me to sleep with him. I told him I’d rather have sex with a diseased raccoon. He’s been steadily harassing me since.”
Adam began laughing uncontrollably, “A diseased raccoon? Is he that bad?”
“He’s worse,” she said, but she was laughing.
She walked him to his classes that day, and the next and the next. Their visits increases until they included time after school, on the weekends, and it was spring break when he first kissed her. She smiled as his mouth brushed against hers, scratchy from the winter air, and he felt the way her mouth curved around his. When the pair returned to school they were inseparable. Their friends were not in the least bit surprised, if anything they were shocked that it hadn’t happened sooner. They graduated together, minds determinedly set in the present instead of the future.
In the first summer of their freedom, the summer that began their lives together as true adults, Rose discovered that she was pregnant. She cried, crushed and stunned that her life had changed with such a simple discovery. She had been stubbornly raised to believe that premarital sex was the utmost of sins. She knew that her mother would force her to leave her house, and she knew that she would probably never again speak to the woman who raised her.
Once that rush of terror had passed, another took its place. Adam. She couldn’t tell him, she wouldn’t; she could never ruin his life as completely as hers. He was excitedly planning to begin his first semester of college in the fall-as she had been-and the arrival of a baby would spoil any chance of that for him. There was no question of abortion in Rose’s eyes, and she could not leave her child to be raised by strangers.
And so, with a determinacy that would alarm soldiers, she marched to his door. She knocked twice. He opened it quickly, smiling as he saw it was her, and then frowning as he saw her face.
“Rose?” he asked, “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“I-I...,” her words became cut off by choking sobs, “I c-can’t...do-do this…”
“Do what?” he asked, wrapping his arms around her and squeezing her to him. Her tears soaked through the thin cotton of his shirt.
She wiped away her tears and pushed away from him, shoving for emphasis, “This. Us. I can’t be with you anymore.”
He seemed frozen, his mouth refused to work, “What? Rose, if this is some sick, twisted joke…”
“It’s not a joke,” she hissed cruelly, “Listen to me, Adam. I don’t want to be with you.”
“Rose, please…”
“No. I’m leaving. I’m not sure where I’m going yet, but it won’t be here, it’ll be anywhere but here. And I’m never coming back.”
“But what about college? And us? I mean, how can you just…decide to leave?”
“Like this,” she said, and swiveled around. She walked off of his porch, into the driveway, onto the sidewalk, and down the street. She didn’t come back.

“For a while that is,” Adam said to Miles and the man who had drifted from the table to sit nearer in order to hear, “She visited me at college, came right up to my dorm. When I opened it, my heart seemed to stop right in its place. By that time she was showing, and I realized all at once why she had left. It couldn’t have been anyone’s but mine. That, at least, I knew.
“She told me that she was sorry, and that she had been wrong. I had never gotten another steady girlfriend, but I had been casually flirting with my roommate’s sister. Nothing big. I wanted to be mad at her. More than that, I wanted to be infuriated. I wanted to spit at her feet and throw her into the streets. I wanted to be pissed.
“But I couldn’t. I looked into the grey of her eyes, ensnaring in their depth, and I forgave her. Just like that. We rented a small house off campus, and I got a part-time job as I finished my studies. I was going for teaching, as she had planned to also, and, in the deepest parts of the night, she would wake me, and whisper that she was happy, so happy, and that I had made her that way. I was the luckiest man in the world.
“Jane was born on March twenty-seventh, and she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, excluding only her mother. Rose raised her in that small house near my campus. She was the best mother, so caring and compassionate. I realized I had never really known her until I saw her with our child.
“We decided to get married, as we should have done at the first, and the ceremony was small. A few close friends in our backyard. Rose wore a simple white cotton summer dress, but she never looked more beautiful to me. Our lives only seemed to get better. And then, one day, she went to the doctor for a routine checkup…”

“Adam?” she called unsteadily from the kitchen, where the receiver to their phone was still tightly gripped in her hand, “Can you come in here for a second?”
He set Jane into her crib, pressing the blanket tightly around her. In the kitchen, Rose was standing against a counter. She looked so beautiful resting there, the sun creating a yellow glow around the deep auburn that had grown to the middle of her back and illumining her slender figure. He wrapped his arms around her and pressed his lips lightly to hers once.
“Hm?” he asked, trailing his hand down her spine. It had been so long since he had touched her like this. Jane, as wonderful as she was, had created a physical-yet somehow mental-barrier between them.
She hugged him back, wrapping her arms around his neck. She kissed him lightly on his temple, “I just got a call from the doctor. He thinks he saw something abnormal and wants me to come back in for additional testing.”
Adam pulled back a little, “What? What does he think he found?”
She smiled gently, “It’s probably nothing. I’ll go in tomorrow and have the testing done, if only to ease my nerves.”
He kissed her then, because he could. Then a second time, because he wanted to. The third kiss was of desperation, the fourth of desire. His mind was eased with her gentle words, and his body with her touch.
The next day, when he returned from work to find Rose still gone, he called the note on the fridge labeled ‘Doctor’s Office’. It rang only once before the secretary answered.
“Westland Gynecology, how can I help you?”
“My wife was supposed to have an appointment today,” Adam said, curious that she had gone to the gynecologist, “And I was wondering if she was still there. Her name is Rosemarie Dean.”
“Just one second…” the secretary mumbled, and he heard the rustle of papers, ‘Yes, Mrs. Dean is scheduled for all day testing of ovarian cancer.”
“Ovarian cancer?” Adam asked, stunned, he was surprised that she hadn’t said anything, “Well, uh, what time do you think she’ll be back?”
“Soon,” the secretary said, her voice soothing from practice, “Just be patient, Mr. Dean.”
“Thanks,” he muttered, and pushed the end button on the phone. The secretary was right; Rose was home within the next hour, with Jane in tow. She explained that she had left the baby with a trusted sitter.
“What’s this about ovarian cancer?” he asked, sitting next to her on their sofa as she fed their daughter.
She froze, “Well, he…the doctor…he said that he found something. Something bad.”
She turned to him and for the first time he saw her full face. It was puffy and swollen from tears, pale from the fear he so shared.
“Oh my God,” he whispered, feeling his stomach convulse, “Oh my God…”

Adam glanced around the crowd that had developed at the Elegant Lady. All that had been in the bar were sitting around him, and a few people had drifted in, drawn by the heady air of a story being told that they witnessed through the glass window.
“She didn’t die that year, so she lived to see Jane’s second birthday. I felt closer to her than ever in those final weeks we had together. As she grew week and frail, she only became more beautiful to me. Beautiful because she was strong, and beautiful because she was brave. Years passed, and I raised Jane on my own. She grew to look more like her mother with every day that passed. One day, as I was leaving my job at a local elementary school, I bumped into Mara Haven.
“She was the first woman I had ever looked at, really looked at, since Rose. She reminded me of her, though they looked nothing alike, in that she was strong and she was charming. I asked her out on a date, what would be my first since Rose had died, and she agreed. I remember staring at her pastel blond hair, comparing her to Rose. I stopped this as soon as I realized how unfair it was to Mara.
“Once I stopped comparing her to Rose, I found that she was wonderful. The way she smiled, the way she looked at me sometimes…it made me happy. Happy in a way I hadn’t been in a long time. We fell into a type of bittersweet love, for I was still mourning my Rose.
“The day that I told Jane we were to be married-she was seven at the time-was one I was not prepared for. I was prepared for Jane to complain...for her to say that this woman was not her mother. I wasn’t prepared for the acceptance that she gave me.”

Mara was holding his hand, lending him courage he didn’t have. They were sitting at his kitchen table. He had moved since Rose had died; he simply couldn’t bear to see the doors, knowing she had traveled them. He couldn’t cook from the stove, knowing that she had. He tightened his fingers around Mara’s.
Jane came patiently padding down the stairs, her dark auburn curls bouncing with each step. She smiled when she saw Mara, “Hello, Ms. Mara. Daddy said you were coming over, so I made some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and put them in the fridge.”
Her pink tutu was florescent, and she did a graceful twirl as she opened the refrigerator. She pulled out the sandwiches, lying on a porcelain plate, from inside, setting them on the table in front of Mara.
“Thank you, Jane,” Mara said sincerely, “Peanut butter and jelly are my favorite.”
Jane smiled and turned to her father smugly, “Told you so.”
“Jane,” he began, sitting forward, “There’s something Ms. Mara and I have to tell you. We, her and I, like each other very much, and we would like to become a family.”
Jane tilted her head to one side, “So Ms. Mara is going to be my mommy?”
Adam swallowed the lump in his throat, “Yes. Is that okay?”
Jane twisted one hand into her hair, “Yeah, that’s okay. I don’t really remember my real mommy, so it’ll be like you’re her.”
Mara sighed, “I’m not trying to replace your mom, Jane. Just think of me as another mommy, not a substitute.”
Jane nodded, “Okay.” With a dramatic twirl she was gone, dancing up to her room.

“I was angry, I think,” Adam said, “That she accepted it so easily. That she could forget Rose with such ease. But I realized it was better that she was agreeable then if she were to fight me. I don’t think I could have lived through that. And then, the biggest surprise of all. Only a year into our marriage, Mara was pregnant with a little girl. I couldn’t believe it. She decided that she would name her Leah, in honor of her mother.
“We all lived together, then, Mara, Jane, Leah, and I. Jane loved Leah with all of her heart and soul; she treated her as if she were one of her dolls, except more gentle. The girls grew together, Jane with her mother’s hair and eyes, Leah with pale blond hair and petite figure. It was wonderful to see. One evening, ten years ago today, Mara took the girls out to eat. I was grading papers and decided not to attend. My beautiful daughters and my wonderful wife got into the car, and drove away.
“That was the last day that I saw them. They were hit by an ongoing tractor trailer. All three were killed on impact.”
The crowd gasped, it had noticeably grown. At least twenty people were now gathered around him.
“I think about them every day, and I wonder how I could have lost two wonderful women-four-in the same lifetime.”
“Your knuckles,” one woman said, she had only just arrived, “One wife, one daughter. That’s so sad. How did you choose whose name to put there?”
“Easy,” Adam said, “I chose the woman I could never forget, and the daughter that she gave me.”
He stretched his hands out, glancing at the tattoos. On his left hand read the word ‘Rose’, on his right, ‘Jane’.
He stood from the bar then, and, pushing his way through the crowd, he ambled to his car. He shook his head, remembering his current state of inebriation, and decided to walk instead.
He took a few steps before reaching into his pocket. He felt the smooth metal and tugged it from his pocket, pressing it to him. He thought of Rose, the deep auburn he so loved, the grey of her eyes. Then he thought of Mara and Jane and Leah. He pulled the trigger.
Pain exploded inside of him. He thought briefly that all stories didn’t have a happy ending and wondered why his hadn’t. Behind his eyelids he saw the women he loved and remembered the time they had spent together, and realized that it had.




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