Marilyn, the art professor who had died nearly one year ago, had been one of the first people to encourage Kassandra’s pursuit of her own creative life as an artist. Douglas became part of the package, joining Marilyn as a cheerleader for Kassandra, and a friend in his own right.
Kassandra and Douglas embraced in front of Allison’s house on Pine Street. Kassandra sighed. A word came to mind: completion. And with it, the sensation of warmth in her core, of her tribe of friends being truly together again.
As much as they could be without Marilyn, of course.
The summer sun dipped below the horizon. Shadow overtook the group on the porch of the old green house, charging the air with a brisk chill. The warmth in Kassandra survived this, until David spoke.
“Well, we’re all here, together. How delightful.” Was that an undertone of menace that crept into his voice? “Like best friends on our last summer vacation together.”
Kassandra inhaled sharply. How could David have known she was remembering the story of her last summer vacation with Sasha, her best friend, the year they turned fifteen? That was over a dozen years ago, and she couldn’t recall having told anyone in this town about it. Had she told Marilyn, or Douglas? Or maybe Allison? She would have remembered. She would have. She turned away from David, and back to the group.
Franny was the only person on the porch who noticed Kassandra’s reaction. She tried to catch the barista’s eye.
Artist, Franny corrected herself. She and Leo had made a pact, upon learning of Kassandra’s commitment to an artistic vocation, to stop referring to her as a barista. The young woman would, henceforth, be the artist who worked in a coffee shop.
Kassandra had laughed warmly when Franny and Leo told her of their resolve. “I love being a barista, too, so no worries. But thanks. Your support means a lot.”
“Marilyn would have called you an artist,” Franny answered. “And then she would have asked for her usual, and expected you to make it precisely to her liking.”
They’d laughed together at that, and cried a little, too.
Thus, those who we’ve lost never truly disappear from our lives. It is a terrible cliche to say the live on in our stories about them, but cliches are rooted in the truth of our common experience, after all. Marilyn never truly disappeared from Pine Street. Her presence was conjured daily, in friendly exchanges at the coffee shop, and nightly in her friend Penelope’s dreams.
Franny wished Marilyn was with them in body, still, helping them navigate the emotional terrain of Douglas’s return, his reunion with his son David, and Kassandra’s fearful glance back at Franny.