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6.Bereaved Husband


I had been living next door to the Kegans for almost four years, and we
had become best friends. I don't think I've ever seen a couple as much
in love as Duke and Doris. I was so jealous of their relationship. It
was the kind of thing I wanted for myself, but never seemed to find.
Maybe I was incapable of love.

I had dates, of course, but they never seemed to go anywhere. And some
of them were very pretty girls. But I never felt anything. If I kissed
them it was more out of a sense of duty, than emotion. I would take them
home, and then drive back to my own house, sad and lonely.

It was so wonderful to see Duke and Doris together. The fun, the joking,
the companionship. They had no children and made each other the only
important thing in their lives. I felt honored to be in their company,
and I was glad to be able to offer Doris my companionship during the long
hours that Duke was at work.

They were an attractive couple. Duke was a big handsome guy about forty
years old. He was big-boned and athletic looking. He had been a college
football jock and was dripping with testosterone. I had to raise my head
a little to look at his thick, glossy black hair, and those unbelievable
blue blue eyes. His features were clean and even and he was always
immaculately shaved and dressed.

Doris and he had been in the same class in college, and she had been the
school's leading actress, appearing in all the school plays. She had
long flowing blonde hair, and also had blue eyes, though not as intense a
shade as Duke's eyes. Everybody thought she would end up in Hollywood
starring in motion pictures, but then she met the football hero, and that
was that.

You would always see them holding hands when they walked down the street
together, which I found so romantic. I would lag back a step or two just
to watch them together, and Duke would turn around and laugh, "Get a
move on, Jack. You're such a slowpoke." And then Doris would laugh.
And then even I would laugh and take a few quick steps to catch up.

Duke had his own construction company, and he was doing very well, which
of course left Doris all alone during the day, and I know she was glad to
have my company. How often she would walk across the lawn and ring my
doorbell. "Come on, Jack," she would say. "Let's go down to the
stores and see what's on sale." And I would always go with her. I was
a wallpaper designer and worked at home, so my time was pretty free. I
could do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.

We had such fun on those trips, and Doris always picked up a few knick
knacks for the house, most of which she didn't need. I was always
worried that Duke would think I was trying to make time with Doris, but
that was ridiculous. She could never have been interested in a little
guy like me when she had that big handsome gentle brute. I was even an
inch shorter than Doris, who was eight inches shorter than Duke. I had
neat brown hair, smooth skin, green eyes, and though I thought I was nice
looking, I was far from being the handsome hulk she was married to.

Actually I was more Doris' friend than Duke's, though I know he like me
too.

Doris and I had so much in common. We both loved music. We both loved
the movies. We loved to go shopping. We watched soap operas together.
Duke was the alpha male. He like watching football games, baseball
games, basketball, golf, tennis, the Olympics. I had never been
athletic, and in high school the other kids would make fun of me. When
we played baseball, they would put me out in right field where I could do
the least harm, because no balls ever went into right field. After a
while I would get bored and sit down on the grass looking for four leaf
clovers while the game continued. A real loser. Nobody wanted me on
their team.

But even though we had nothing in common, I knew that Duke liked me, and
treated me almost like a kid brother. And that's exactly the way I felt
about him.

As if he were my great big brother, my protector, my role model. And he
was twelve years older than I. He was forty and I was only twenty-eight.

And then we found out that Doris was ill. She hadn't been feeling well,
and our shopping trips were getting fewer and fewer. Finally Duke
insisted that she see a doctor, and after all the tests, the news was not
good. Doris had a terminal illness. Duke was devastated. He took as
much time off from work as possible, and when he couldn't be there, I
stayed with her. Finally Doris went into the hospital, and in three days
it was all over.

I sat in the waiting room, while the Doctors took Duke into another room
to tell him what had happened, and offer their condolences. When Duke
reappeared at the waiting room door he was crying, and I knew right
away. I ran over to him and wrapped my arms around him, and let him sob
into my neck.

"Oh, my poor Doris. My poor beautiful Doris," He sobbed, and I was
crying too.

Finally we got control of ourselves and drove home in silence. It was
Duke's car, but I drove. He just was in no condition to drive.

I helped Duke with the funeral arrangements, and so did his two sisters,
Ethel and Evelyn. He called Doris' parents in Florida where they were
now living. And there were tears on both ends of the line. Doris'
parents were making arrangements to fly right up for the funeral.

It was a small funeral. Duke and Doris hadn't been that social. They
were too wrapped up in each other. The family sat in the front and I sat
towards the back where I could hold my handkerchief to the tears dripping
down my face without everyone seeing me.

Doris' parents stayed with Duke for three or four days and then flew
back down to Florida, and Duke was alone. All alone. My heart was
breaking for him. This was the rest of his life. Where could you find
another Doris? I looked out the window and watched him leave for work in
the morning. And I thought to myself,

"I can't let him come home to an empty house. I can't."

I drove over to the supermarket and picked up some steak and some
potatoes to bake, and I bought corn on the cob. Doris had given me their
key to water the plants when they went on vacation one time, and then
insisted that I keep it "in case we get locked out," she had laughed.
When I drove home, instead of going into my own house, I went into
Doris'. I spent the day watching game shows and soap operas on
television, and then around five o'clock I went into the kitchen and
started to prepare dinner for Duke and me.

Duke got home around half past five, and when he opened the front door, I
was standing right there. I had heard the car pulling into the attached
garage.

"Hello," he laughed in surprise. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm cooking you dinner," I answered.

"That's so nice. But you didn't have to do that. I could have opened
a can."

"That's exactly what I was afraid of," I said. "I have to make sure
you eat properly and keep up your strength. It's what Doris would have
wanted," I added.

He hung his head and nodded. "Well, thank you so much. You're such a
good guy." He walked over and patted me on the shoulder.

"Now you just sit here while I get everything ready," I ordered, and
marched back to the kitchen. The potatoes were baking. I put the steak
under the broiler and began to boil water for the corn. Meanwhile I set
the table with dishes, glasses, silverware, napkins, as I shuttled back
and forth between the kitchen and the dining room.

"You need any help in there?" Duke called from the living room.

"No, you just sit there. I'm doing fine," I called back.
"Everything's almost ready."

I put the food on the dining room table and called Duke in to dinner. As
we were eating, he nodded. "This is really great. Delicious."

"Thanks, Duke," I said. I loved feeling appreciated.

After dinner, I washed the dishes and joined Duke in front of the
television in the living room. He was watching football, and as we sat
he began explaining the game to me. I knew that this is what he and
Doris used to do every evening, and I felt I was really helping him by
being there.

Around eleven o'clock, I decided it was time to go home. We shook hands
and I went back across the lawn to my own house. He thanked me again.
And I said. "Don't be silly. I enjoyed it too." And I had. Even the
football. That big guy was so cute sitting on the floor in front of the
TV cheering for his team. When I got back home I went upstairs, took a
shower and got ready for bed. And I slept well, feeling I had done
something good.

It had been such a nice evening, that I did the same thing the next day,
and the day after that, and the day after that. If I was company for
Duke, he was company for me. We actually started palling around
together. We went to football games, and basketball games, and I was
actually starting to like them. I made Duke's teams my teams. And we
cheered together.

The only thing was that I was falling in love. I was lying in bed one
night trying not very successfully to fall asleep and it hit me. I was
in love with Duke, which was ridiculous and impossible. I had wanted to
fall in love my whole life long, and now I had. With another man.

I continued to hang around with him, to eat with him, to go to games.
It's just that now, every time I looked at him, I wanted to hold him, to
hug him, and I felt like crying all the time. I knew that I should stop
coming over, but I just couldn't." And besides," I rationalized, "he
needs me." What would he do without me? If I weren't there he'd be
all alone. I had to be with him, for Doris' sake.

I had tried suggesting to Duke that he should start dating, that he
should try to meet someone, but he just looked at me as if I were crazy.
We both knew there could never be another Doris and he wouldn't settle
for less.

One day we decided to go hiking in the woods. It was a perfect day, warm
but not hot, and the air was crystal clean and dry. We were both wearing
blue jeans, casual shirts, and, of course, hiking boots. Duke looked so
damned handsome. I couldn't bear to look at him. I was glad that he was
behind me on the narrow path, so I didn't have to keep staring at those
long legs, and his full round mounds, which suddenly seemed so sensual to
me.

Suddenly down the path I saw a red squirrel with its little paws folded
around an acorn, ...
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