The first time Nancy’s first husband said no to her was at his second wedding.
“What are you going to wear?” Bella had asked her, a few weeks before the event.
“I thought I’d wear something red,” replied Nancy. “You know. One of those Bella numbers.”
They both laughed.
“Give the folks what they want: the complete picture of the adulterous first wife,” continued Nancy.
“Now, Nan,” said Bella, “you and I know there was nothing adulterous about your relationship with Peter. You both waited until your divorces were final before you started seeing each other.”
“You know that, and I know that,” said Nancy, “and Peter knows that. But the rest of them…”
Her voice trailed off.
It wasn’t a reputation she minded, necessarily.
Nonetheless, she was dressed in something modest and tasteful when she and Peter showed up at Geoffrey and Clarissa’s wedding. They arrived at just the right time–not too early, so as not to attract attention, nor too late, so as not to be seen to be making a statement of protest or resentment.
Generosity and graciousness, that was the foundation of Peter’s reputation as physician and pillar of the community, and one he calculated would spread to them as a couple.
“You doing ok, honey?” Peter asked as the ceremony was concluding.
“Perfectly fine,” replied Nancy. “Why?”
“You’ve just got a tension furrow,” Peter said, “One of your migraines coming on?”
Geoffrey’s bride looked amazingly fresh for a woman just past fifty. She and Geoffrey had met at yoga, of all things. Yoga! There was something about her, aside from the fact that she was marrying Nancy’s first husband, that Nancy simply didn’t trust. How does a woman get to be middle-aged without picking up an ounce of cynicism? What was she hiding beneath that wholesome New Age grin? What sins did her “body-by-yoga” cover?
But she could make Geoffrey happy. Nancy had never seen him smile so wholeheartedly, not even on their wedding day, when, if Nancy remembered correctly, it was Geoffrey who had suffered from migraine.
As they were seated for the reception tea, Peter got a call from the hospital. “Gotta go,” he said. “Life of a surgeon!”
And Nancy faced an empty seat beside her.
Before she could make eye contact with Bella, two tables over, Geoffrey sauntered over and slid into the empty seat.
“Thanks for coming,” he said. “Malcolm stayed home?”
“He’s off with Cassandra,” Nancy answered.
“You don’t look well.”
“I have one of my heads,” said Nancy. “I don’t think I can drive. And I certainly can’t stay here, feeling like this. Can you take me home?”
She could see worry enter into Geoffrey’s forehead, and she saw his lips begin to stretch to form the word “Yes,” when, the next instant, his eyes sparkled and the corners crinkled upwards with his genuine smile. She followed his gaze. There stood Clarissa, smiling warmly at both of them. She actually waved.
“No,” said Geoffrey, as he rose, “but I’ll be happy to call you a cab.”
“Don’t bother,” replied Nancy. “I have a cell phone myself.”
By this time, Bella had come to sit beside her friend.
“Let’s pull over,” said Nancy on the drive home, as they rolled past Rattlesnake Bar.
The two women, dressed with an elegance not often seen in the old joint, found a table near the window.
“Did you notice anything funny when we walked in?” asked Nancy.
Bella looked around. “Don’s not here,” she said. And they both laughed.
Nancy gestured toward the row of men sitting at the bar.
“When we walked in,” said Nancy, “not a single one turned to look.”
As she held the cold glass, she noticed for the first time age spots sprawling across the raised veins and stretched tendons along the back of her hands. I’m going to have to find a new currency, she thought.
When she got home, the house felt empty. Malcolm was still out, Peter still at the hospital. She wandered through the home, spotless after the maid’s earlier visit. On the upstairs porch stood an easel that had belonged to Peter’s niece. They still had a box of acrylics that they’d bought for her when she’d visited during spring break.
Why not? thought Nancy.
When Peter came home after midnight, she was still up there painting. He followed the porch light and stood in the doorway, smiling at the lock of her hair that had fallen out of the bun, enjoying the wild streaks of indigo and purple that covered the canvas.
“Where did this come from?” he asked with a chuckle.
“Call it a post-wedding revelation,” she said, as she drew a bold red line across the blue field.
It wasn’t settled within her, not by a long shot, but this time, when she saw the backs of her hands, rather than feel a shudder of doom, she felt, perhaps, a glimmer of something. There’s more than one source of worth, after all.