Yellow Roses For Samantha
Jessica slid Bill’s hand off her thigh and sat in bed caressing the silver pendant she would’ve given her daughter Samantha if she hadn’t died in a school shooting. The gray intruded through the Venetian blinds, another twenty-four hours, but no, this is The Day. She picked up her bra and panties from the floor and leaned against the nightstand. On it, a picture of Bill and his late wife kissing in front of the Magic Kingdom castle twenty years ago. Under his snores, she stroked his hair, the hairline that had fallen back, and kissed his forehead before she clutched her dress and tiptoed into the bathroom.
When had she last bathed at home? A month ago? Two? The lavender oil baths and the fireside chats with her husband Tom, a lifetime away. In the shower, she rubbed soap on her wrinkles. Her younger self had evaluated her wooers’ emotional quotients and personality types and picked a boyfriend from the spreadsheet. The water flowed down her back and legs. Wash away the old life. Free her from the days that tumbled into one another, past the first Thanksgiving and the first Christmas without Samantha. A second chance to buy her chilidogs and pepperoni pizzas. To take her to Sea World and Magic Kingdom. To watch her get married in the National Cathedral. But after the shower, Jessica returned to the same life, without her daughter.
On the bathroom counter, Bill’s toothbrush rested against hers. She picked up his, the bristles curling outward, and brushed her teeth. She and her husband had shared toothbrushes for more than a decade before using separate ones.
Last night, while Jessica was eating her grilled salmon sandwich, Bill had slid a ring across the table. She put a piece of lettuce into her mouth and studied the diamond and after swallowing, she lifted the ring and slipped it into her finger.
"Where’re the red roses?" she said.
"Never could’ve hung in there without you."
"Tom wouldn’t stand in the way."
"We can ditch this place."
"But Sunshine Sam will always be tagging along."
"Should we just blow our lives?"
She returned the ring and asked for a week to decide. But she’d need a month, maybe two. She’d have to talk to her best friend Linda.
As college seniors, Jessica and Linda had gone to Spain during spring break. After they attended a bullfight to cheer the matadors Linda dragged Jessica to a nudist beach.
"This degrades women." Jessica, in a bikini, lay on the beach towel--should work on the Virginia Woolf essay--and sipped port and the afternoon sun warmed her skin while a breeze stroked her skin.
"Then help me degrade the men, Sister Jessica." Linda turned her head left and right and study men’s pectorals and other body parts. She elbowed Jessica and pointed to a Turk playing beach volleyball and port spilled on her hand.
"Too much candies can spoil your teeth," Jessica said.
A Spaniard at the edge of the water stabbed his surfboard in the sand and waved at them.
"Heads or tails?" Linda smiled and waved.
"Don Juan is all yours."
"Come on, like this is a nudist beach, baby."
Before Linda could flip the Euro dollar, the Spaniard gawked at two Swedish women strolling toward the water. She tossed Jessica the Euro, approached him and poured port over his head. The man wiped the wine from his face and asked her for a date and Jessica had to enjoy the castles by herself.
In Bill’s kitchen, she opened the freezer. Bagels, no, not bagels. Waffles, yes, waffles. She took out the waffles. Just skip breakfast. Why bother? No, not today. She made waffles two at a time in the toaster. Scrambled eggs, maybe hardboiled. Didn’t matter. She opened the refrigerator. Bacon? No. Sausage? No. Eggs. Yes. She cracked the eggs in the pan and scrambled them. On the shelf beside the sink she took out the salt but they’d finished the black pepper last night.
Black pepper for Bill and blueberry muffins for Samantha.
Bill wouldn’t wake up until ten o’clock. So she set the table for two, a plate of eggs and waffles and a glass of orange juice for Samantha. Her daughter would spill the orange juice onto the waffle and whine about the eggs tasting like Styrofoam. After Samantha’s death, while Jessica’s husband drank Johnny Walker and Jack Daniel’s, her daughter’s complaints would travel through time’s tunnel to warm her. Until she found Bill’s embraces. She ate the eggs and when eggshells crunched between her teeth, she washed down the food with coffee. She laid the heart-shaped pendant next to the coffee cup. If only...
Samantha had woken up late on the day she was shot in the head. After giving Tom the eggs, Jessica went upstairs to call her daughter. When she opened the bathroom, Samantha was stooping over the toilet and complaining of nausea. Let’s go to the doctor. But her daughter refused and went back into the bedroom. Jessica returned to the kitchen to eat breakfast with Tom. After her husband had left for the fire station, she dialed for the doctor. But before she could press the last digit, Samantha entered the kitchen, dressed and ready to go to school.
"I don’t want to miss the trigonometry quiz."
Jessica touched her daughter’s forehead. No fever. She handed Samantha the scrambled eggs and the French toast, but the girl didn’t want to eat. She drove her to Chantilly High School and kissed her goodbye. Never saw her alive again. But she hadn’t memorized Samantha’s voice, the syllables and inflections.
Jessica stepped into the living room where Bill kept his son’s football and helmet on the mantel. To remind him that Greg, instead of a classmate, should be leading the team now. Bill used to get up at six o’clock and drive his son to football practices before heading to the hospital, but now he wouldn’t leave his bed until ten. And today, on the anniversary of his son’s death, he might sleep until noon.
After sending her article, "Anne Carr’s Feminist Theology: Deconstructing Ecclesiastic Patriarchy" to her editor-in-chief, Jessica called her husband.
"Can we talk?"
"Jessica, I’m sorry."
"You need help."
"Don’t forget." She hung up.
He was drunk. He wouldn’t wake up until late afternoon. He wouldn’t go to Samantha’s grave.
The evening Jessica returned home from Samantha’s funeral, the silence oppressed her. The clothes rack at the foyer, without Samantha’s jacket, it didn’t belong there. In the kitchen, where were the pepperonis that Samantha had dropped while eating pizza?
She took a shower to wash away the dust and earth that clung to her skin. The first shower after Samantha’s death. Relearn the ritual: rubbing on the soap, rinsing away the lather, drying with the towel. The next day, the first Halloween without Samantha, she’d have to relearn eating breakfast, commuting to work and going to the gym. Samantha’s death was an end and a beginning.
After the shower, she hugged a framed picture of Samantha. Where was Tom? She’d held her tears from morning to noon to evening and the torrent was waiting to burst forth. Samantha wasn’t talking on the phone or blasting the stereo in her room. Tom wasn’t watching TV in the living room. Only the wind whistled above the roof. Her stomach churned, from losing Samantha and the rhythm of her life and the future she’d labored for two decades. Half an hour later, when Tom still didn’t come up, she went downstairs. In the kitchen, Tom finished his glass of whiskey and poured another one. Coward. Deserter. Just like other men. She opened her mouth to shout, but no sound came out. A void expanded in her guts. He wouldn’t embrace her and lend her a shoulder to cry on. He wouldn’t steady her while she drifted from nightmare to nightmare.
She took the bottle of sleeping pills from the medicine cabinet and poured them onto the end table. But after counting them, she put them away. She had no use for them. She’d brave the storm while Tom cowered.
She dialed Linda’s phone number but ended the call. She wept. The void in her stomach kept her awake until daybreak when the sun called forth the first day without Samantha. From the womb of the dark night deep and silent, she was born into an alien world.
She didn’t let Tom sleep in the bedroom. But bought him six bottles of whiskey. Finish them. I dare you. He did, in four days.
Should divorce him. But on the day Samantha was born, when Tom first held the baby, he froze as when she had said, "Let’s get married." For that look, she’d forgiven him for forgetting her birthday, for putting her cashmere sweater into the dryer, and for other such sins. For that look, she didn’t leave him. Anyway, she was too tired to haggle with a divorce lawyer, too tired to fight over Samantha’s baby teeth, and even too tired to decipher his alcoholic syllables. Life was too short.
After putting Samantha’s pendant around her neck, she taped a message on the microwave oven to tell Bill the waffles and scrambled eggs were inside. Outside, the October morning drizzle cooled her face but the fever warmed her. Across the street, a mother rushed her son toward the street corner where two other children in Froggy raincoats were kicking water onto each other’s legs. In the distance, a police siren blasted and crows under her neighbor’s eaves scattered. The emergency room’s noise and scent, they again nauseated her. She wiped her face and, after treading on the foliage yellow and soggy, stepped into her Accord. She waited. No, Samantha wasn’t coming. She’d pick up a dozen yellow roses for Samantha before going to Linda’s house.
Her windshield began to fog as she passed the red-bricked conical café where she and Linda used to have Black Forest cakes and cappuccinos and complain about their husbands and children. They’d talk about their college days when they crashed frat parties, got drunk in the chapel, and skipped Prof. Big-Nose’s calculus siestas. And about going to Spain again, without their families. Two months ago, the Greek owner, who’d give them free donuts, had sold the café and retired to Florida. Without his jokes and yarns, the cake and coffee had lost their textures.
She parked the car at the schoolyard. The children got off the school bus and stepped on the puddles. She would’ve kissed Samantha goodbye and reminded her to be careful in gymnastics class if the bullet hadn’t taken her life. Einstein’s picture still stood above the front door and DNA drawings still decorated the windows. But who is this teacher ushering students into the building? Who are these parents dropping off their sons and daughters?
A year ago today, Jessica had also parked her car in this spot. The sun warmed her skin while her daughter entered the building. What would she like for her birthday? The shadow of the flag danced on the hood while two sparrows chased each other around the parking lot. She leaned on the steering wheel while teenagers chattered and laughed. Several minutes later she drove to Chantilly to pick up Linda, who’d already bought Samantha a pink floral dress.
"Just met this Croatian diplomat. Charming man," said Linda.
"What happened to that maestro? What’s his name?"
"I need a gown and a pair of stilettos for dinner this Friday."
They arrived at Potomac Mills Mall under the morning sun. Get Samantha a pendant. She could show it off at the prom. Linda led her to a jewelry store. Crosses, leaves, or butterflies? No, the heart-shaped silver pendant. After she’d placed the order, they had Swedish meatballs while the jeweler etched Samantha’s name on the pendant.
"Daniel’s dropped out of chess club." Linda stabbed the meatball with the fork and dipped it into the chocolate sundae.
"Someone bullied him again?"
"I’m meeting the principal in a week."
"Come over tonight."
"What should I do?"
"Tom can talk to him." Jessica held Linda’s hand.
"You’re the best," Linda said.
"The best friend."
After lunch, Jessica picked up the pendant and helped her friend select a Yves Saint-Laurent dress and a pair of Franco Sarto shoes. She dropped Linda off at the Greenbriar Shopping Center where a young man in Dracula costume was waving a store liquidation sign, then she returned home to have a conference call with her editor-in-chief.
In the kitchen, she received a phone call from the police. Her daughter was in the hospital with a gunshot wound. What did the policeman say? He must’ve called the wrong number. But no, it was Samantha, her Sunshine Sam. A minute later she left the house, but she hadn’t ended the call. Which hospital? She spoke into the phone. Noted the hospital and hung up. Where are the damned car keys? She reentered the house. The foyer’s counter? No, just the gardenias and the snow-globe from Linda. In the living room, a stinkbug had landed on the coffee table next to her daughter’s picture. No car keys. Where was she? Damned ringing in her ears. There, in the kitchen, on the counter, beside a Hello Kitty mug. She stared at the keys. The phone call, the phone call. She grabbed them. Rushed toward the front door. But dropped her phone in the hallway. When she stooped to pick it up, she banged her knee against the end table leg. Damned it, she grabbed the phone and left the house.
How had she gotten into the car and started the engine and driven to the hospital? She parked the car outside the emergency room, damned sirens, and charged through the sliding doors and overtook EMTs unloading a gurney.
The smell of antiseptics weakened her legs. She staggered toward the reception counter. Please, please, keep Samantha safe. She’d prayed about thirty years ago. Our Father in Heaven... Nonsense. About a dozen parents fought to talk to the nurses, but the officers held them back.
"The doctors are working--" a brunette policewoman with a round face said.
After parking her car in the visitors’ lot, she returned to the waiting room and bought a bottle of water from the vending machine. The clock behind the counter, its second hand ticked and ticked. Did the bullet go through Samantha’s arm or leg or lung? Her daughter was screaming and falling, screaming and falling. Tom didn’t answer the phone. When she called the fire station the receptionist, a woman of course, told her Company Two was putting out a warehouse fire in Chantilly.
After an hour, her muscles ached. In the washroom she splashed water on her face and forehead, but the fever continued to cloud her thinking. She touched the letters on the pendant.
Still have to take her uniform to the dry cleaner before it closes.
She returned to the waiting room just as the sheriff approached the reception counter with a doctor who raised the clipboard and announced that the surgeons had finished the first round of surgeries and he’d talk to the relatives. She leaped up. The blood vessels on her forehead throbbing. She sprinted toward the doctor. Tripped on the chair leg. She staggered forward. In her mind, Samantha opened her arms and was waiting to embrace her. Several parents and two reporters charged ahead and blocked her way. Someone stepped on her heel and dislodged her pump. The sheriff tried to calm the parents and the doctor put on his eyeglasses. The shouts, the bad breaths, the body odors, they nauseated her.
Please, please, let her be all right.
"Folks, kindly return to your seats," the sheriff said, but the parents shouted the names of their sons and daughters.
The doctor backed away from Mr. Aleman and his back hit the wall, while the sheriff slipped between them and said, "Folks, please stand back."
The doctor glanced at the list. Looked up and shook his head.
"Samantha Wilson." Jessica pushed her way to the front of the line and faced the sheriff’s nose but spoke to the doctor.
The doctor looked at her. Then shook his head.
Her legs yielded as someone shoved her toward the reception counter. She faltered. Silence. The room darkened. No, a bad dream is all. Wake up and prepare breakfast. It's Samantha’s birthday. She leaned on the counter to steady herself. Damned ringing in her ears. Why was she there with these people? Oh, she had to pick up Samantha from school. But her daughter had lacrosse practice today.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Sanders."
When did Bill arrive?
He coughed and rubbed his throat while the other parents passed and pushed back the sheriff. Jessica cussed and searched for Linda among the faces. Then asked about Daniel.
"Daniel Coleman?" the brunette policewoman said. "Not here. But dead for sure. Shot himself."
Shot himself. Shot himself. Jessica couldn’t breathe. A hand landed on her shoulder. Bill, his mouth moved and his other hand lifted as if to wipe the tears on her cheeks.
"They say if you cry, you’ll feel better," Bill said.
"Do you want to cry?"
Someone knocked on the driver side window. Mr. Aleman was holding a black umbrella outside her car. She rolled down the window and greeted the man she’d last seen a year ago in the hospital. His hair had grayed and his cheeks wrinkled.
"You aiming to go--?" he said.
"See you there."
After Mr. Aleman had left, she rolled up the window, stepped out and entered the florist across the street to the crisp fragrance of lavenders and the lemony scent of cymbidium golden elves. The florist greeted her and showed the discounts on all the flowers, to observe the school shooting’s anniversary.
After Samantha’s first boyfriend gave her a yellow rose, she’d keep one beside her lacrosse awards. When one had shriveled up, she’d replace it with another. And she kept her ritual even after breaking up with him. Jessica had laid a yellow rose on her coffin.
While the florist helped a customer select primroses, Jessica walked past the irises toward the back. She found the red roses next to the morning glories and the pink ones next to the peonies. But no yellow roses. When she returned to the front, the florist was wrapping the primroses. Outside the store, the drizzle had stopped and several teenagers were rushing across the street toward the high school. She leaned against the display window and studied the girl who looked like Samantha. Her blue jersey, her ponytail, and even the shape of her head. But a plumber with a Scooby Doo umbrella stopped in front of the store and blocked her view, the cartoon dog’s buckteeth glaring at her, and after the man had stepped into a Metro-bus, she no longer could find the girls.
"Half a dozen yellow roses, please."
"Haven’t got ere one, ma’am. How about them pink roses yonder?"
"No, yellow, not pink, not red, not goddamn white."
"More a-coming tomorrow."
She couldn’t visit the grave without the yellow roses. She left the florist and after a Porsche had splashed water onto her face she wiped her cheeks, stepped into her car and searched for the closest florist with her phone. She’d go to the one near Linda’s house.
The cars and trucks still jammed Lee Jackson Memorial Highway. In a Safeway shopping center, paper bats and pumpkins and witches decorated shop windows but six men and women were picketing in the parking lot. Celebrate All Saints Day, not Halloween. The trees along the access road were shedding leaves as in other autumns but the asters over the grass a year ago had departed. In the front lawns of million-dollar townhouses, foreclosure signs instead of bicycles and strollers.
While her Accord inched forward and cars honked out a cacophony, a policeman strolled out of a side street with a cup of coffee, the steam rose into the morning air and the raindrops fell from the branches onto his cap. Damned chill, oppressing her. She turned on the heat.
Should I see Linda today?
Last May, after Linda had divorced her husband, Jessica took her to Orlando. They went to Sea World and took the front row at Shamu’s performance. The children were jumping up and down in shorts and bikinis and sloshing the water on the floor.
"Thank you for helping me celebrate," Linda said.
"You kidding me?"
The killer whale flipped water over the pool and soaked them from head to feet and in their T-shirts and jeans they danced beside the children and teenagers.
"Is this what they call baptism?" Linda said.
"Are you a new woman now?"
After the show, they trotted to the lady’s room, then showered and changed into their spare clothes. After they had barbecue pull pork for lunch, Linda fed the dolphins with the leftover and said, "Never getting hitched again. Not even to Mr. Right."
"No such thing as Mr. Right." But you’d find a French or Italian lover within a month, maybe two.
After the school shooting, they only met four times. I don’t blame you. The words wouldn’t come out. Jessica couldn’t find the tears to roll down her cheeks or the strength to lift her arms and embrace Linda.
But now, pain had seeped deep enough in Jessica’s guts for her to share its shades and nuances with her best friend. They’d support each other and they’d cry and they might even visit Daniel’s grave together.
When the traffic light had blinked green at the intersection, Jessica turned right and passed men and women chatting and pointing to a side street behind several rows of townhouses. She reached Linda’s house, where she had last visited six months ago. Two police cruisers had parked on the front lawn and the yellow tapes surrounded the porch. An officer was on the driveway talking to Linda’s neighbor, an old lady with a mole on her chin. Another was sipping coffee on the porch. The front door lay on the ground behind her. Jessica stopped her car.
Did someone break into her house?
She dropped her head onto the steering wheel and inhaled before she left her car and strode toward the driveway. The clouds had begun to clear but she shivered as she neared the house where a shingle had fallen onto the marigolds. The porch’s railing had cracked and the bench overturned. Many evenings on the porch she and Linda had gazed at the stars and chatted about visiting Paris and Vienna and Istanbul. Her best friend would recount affairs with Italian diplomats and Japanese journalists.
Before she could step on the driveway, an officer blocked her path.
"That’s far enough, lady."
"Got to talk to Linda."
"She’s my best friend." When was the last time she had said those words?
"Go to the hospital."
"You don’t understand--"
"No, you don’t understand. She swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills."
Linda wouldn’t end her life. Anybody else but her.
A week after the school shooting, Jessica had invited Linda to walk along the Tidal Basin. A breeze distorted the sun’s reflection on the water and ripples bounced toward the Jefferson Memorial. In front, a girl Samantha’s age walked hand-in-hand with a boy. At the hospital, when she discovered Daniel had killed about a dozen fellow students, including Samantha and Greg, before shooting himself in the head, she wanted to find Linda and slap her for raising a mass-murderer. But when she drove by four days later, someone had spray-painted Linda’s front door with the words "Go to Hell."
"No." Not now, not yet.
Linda’s words would only prick at her scars. Jessica needed time to heal, weeks or months, maybe even years.
The sunlight shone on the cherry trees and glistened in the water and they walked around the basin toward the Jefferson Memorial under the water’s murmur. That pain gnawing at her guts, how could Jessica voice it?
"At the morgue, I almost didn’t recognize his face." Linda walked alongside, and either glanced at the ripples or studied the bare branches. She’d lost the bounce in her gait.
Jessica stopped at the edge where Samantha had once stooped and gazed into the water at her reflection. Samantha had died holding her best friend. She didn’t die alone. She didn’t cry alone. Maybe they’d died at the same time.
"This lousy life." Linda approached the edge and leaned toward the water, but Jessica pulled her back.
"Are they in a better place?" Linda said.
Samantha is nowhere but in my heart and she’d live on until the minute I depart from this world.
At the Jefferson memorial they sat on the steps and faced the basin while tourists came and went, taking pictures and commenting on Jefferson’s words. Stop your laughter. Don’t jeer at my pain. Beyond the basin, the Washington Memorial pointed to the sky, a flock of geese flew against the wind. Go south and never return to northern Virginia. A Ukrainian couple asked her to take their picture in front of the memorial. She focused the lens on the tourists who were teasing each other and almost dropped the camera. She’d taken Samantha’s picture at the same spot.
At noon, when Linda took out her hot dog and put it in a bun, Jessica said, "You shouldn’t eat processed meat."
"I’ve eaten it all my life."
"Maybe it’s time to change."
Jessica gave Linda half of her quinoa salad. Linda sniffed it, pinched a chickpea and slid it into her mouth and nibbled it.
The children ran up and down the steps. Their laughter rang around her and turned into Samantha’s. About ten years ago, Samantha, like those children, also leaped from step to step, a smudge of chocolate on the girl’s cheek and the shadow of her braids bouncing on the pavement. While Daniel read Jefferson’s words in the memorial.
Jessica forced herself to swallow the salad.
"I’m a lousy parent," Linda said.
"Don’t." Jessica bit into the quinoa, which crunched between her teeth. She swallowed, but the knot in her stomach seemed to push the food up her esophagus.
When they parted, Linda said, "I didn’t even know he took the gun. I know I locked the drawer. I swear." I don’t blame you. Linda would probably have forgotten where she’d stored the gun if Daniel hadn’t taken it.
The traffic on Lee Jackson Memorial Drive had lightened up. In her car, Jessica called the hospital and found out Linda was in a coma after the doctor had pumped her stomach. She’d go to the hospital after visiting her daughter’s grave.
Oh, Linda, your silly bird, what have you done?
She arrived at the cemetery just before noon and parked her car outside the front gate, two stone pillars guarded the entrance. She hadn’t bought Samantha the flowers.
Jessica, you idiot.
She shut the engine. Grasped the pendant. Swept aside the spider inside the windshield. She’d failed Samantha. An old woman stepped out of the cemetery and leaned on her cane for half a minute before limping down the street. Thirty years from now Jessica would stagger into the cemetery with a cane in her right hand and white carnations in her left, looking for Samantha’s headstone. Even on the first anniversary, the first one, she didn’t bring the yellow roses. She’d failed Samantha. Five minutes later, she left her car. She inhaled the air cool and moist. A breeze brushed her face and chilled her body, and she kicked a pebble beside the front wheel into the lawn and hanging her head walked toward the gate.
Before she could enter the cemetery, Bill walked out and greeted her. He held her hand. He kissed her. And put the diamond ring on her finger.
When the pain of losing your son fades, will you still feel the same about me?
"Let me come--" he said.
After passing two columns of dogwoods, she reached the first rows of graves, wet under the gray sky, some leaning forward, others backward. An elderly couple beside a grave greeted her as she passed the first row. The weeds bowed to reveal the headstones and she smelled the soil. She stepped into the dirt path between the headstones and her feet sank into the ground, and with every step she had to tug her shoe from the wet earth.
She cussed. Where’s the damned gravel path? Mud clung to her shoes as she passed a ten-foot memorial and reached a hill with a stone crucifix on top. She rubbed her shoes against the grass to remove the mud and leaned on a chipped headstone to rest her feet. After a crow had landed on a branch, she hiked up the path and searched among the headstones reclining against the slope. Bill had trimmed the weeds near Greg’s grave and white carnations blocked the epitaph. When the grass whispered in the wind, she hiked uphill. Her daughter’s grave stood beside a birch.
Half a dozen yellow roses reclined against the headstone and a red one lay beside them.
Tom, he’d visited Samantha’s grave. And even brought the yellow roses. In front of the headstone, she stooped to arrange the flowers.
She picked up the red rose. Tom’s token to seek forgiveness. He probably had stopped drinking and was attending Alcoholic Anonymous and he might be waiting for her at home.
When Linda divorced her husband, Jessica vowed not to leave Tom because of boredom. When Samantha died, she vowed not to leave him because of heartache. She could endure the trials of life even if others couldn’t. She had. Now, fatigue and grief had seeped into her marrow and neither could move her. She did not hate him and she did not love him and whenever she pitied him she would rebuke herself for being self-righteous.
She lifted her left hand to examine the diamond ring under a break in the clouds. Then twirled the rose in her right hand and surveyed the headstones facing the townhouses across the street. In the silence a bell pealed and the notes roamed onto the hillock and rested upon sacred soil. A breeze ruffled the birch branches and droplets spotted the rose petals and wetted her cheeks. Yes, the flower would wither one day and she would find her resting-place. She caressed the pendant beneath her shirt and looked beyond the government buildings toward the hospital. Wake up, Linda. Help me choose between ring and rose. They’d travel to a Sicilian villa and while sipping Chianti near a Franciscan abbey they’d plan their next thirty years, maybe forty.