“She’s in bed,” Douglas said as he plopped down on the sofa. His face showed signs of fatigue, but his smile was gentle and relaxed. His silver hair and lanky body reminded Franny of an aging television star. The intelligent expression behind his eyes reminded her of her grandfather.
“How are you, Douglas?” Franny asked, sitting next to him. They’d been cleaning up after the wedding party, putting chairs back in their natural places, scooping garbage into big black plastic bags, and sweeping tracked-in dirt back out of the house into the garden. Marilyn was beat; she tried to help, but they’d shooed her off for a rest.
Douglas’s smile grew. “I’m in heaven, Franny. I just married the most splendid woman on the planet. I saw her, happy and radiant in her dress, smiling back at me as we took our vows. What else could I want?”
Franny fought back an urge to burst into tears. Marilyn was ill, that was clear, and Douglas’s love for her, whether romantic or Platonic or both, was even clearer. A series of self-centered thoughts floated across her mind: would anyone ever love me like that? Has anyone ever loved me like that? Have I ever loved anyone like that?
“What’s wrong? What does Marilyn have?” Franny blurted, then immediately apologized. “Sorry. I don’t know what’s got into me. It’s none of my business if she doesn’t want anyone to know. It’s just, you know, we are so worried about her. I mean all of us. Her friends.”
“I know, Franny. Marilyn’s health is not my story to tell.” Douglas leaned back, stretching his long legs in front of him, and took a deep breath. “It’s obvious,that Marilyn is not 100%. I don’t know what the future will bring. But I will tell you what she has, if you really want to know.”
Franny swallowed. In that moment she was not sure she did want to know. But Douglas went on.
“She has a tribe. A group of people around her who love her, care about her, and take care of her. And that’s what we all need, in good times too, but especially when things get dark and difficult. We need a tribe. Marilyn has the best tribe I’ve seen.”
“You’re a good man, Douglas.”
“I don’t know about that.” Precious, Marilyn’s dog, joined him on the couch. He absently scratched behind the old dog’s ears.
“Precious knows. She doesn’t let just anyone do that.” Franny smiled. Thank goodness for dogs and their ability to provide a topic for conversation when real life is far too serious to talk about.