“Oh my, Lori!” Gracie stated.
“You are old enough for the truth. But, really, do you want to know, eh? How will you look at me, if I tell you the truth? How will you talk to me, after I tell you the truth? What will you tell your children about their grandmother, if I tell you the real story?” She asked while holding my hands.
Gracie said, “Really, I do not know how much time I have left, so maybe I have to tell the truth.”
She looked away from me then into the small vanity mirror.
“Long ago, I got used to the horror story the mirror shows me now. Only a doctor, will see what I have been hiding behind green hospital gowns!” her face showed the pain of years.
“But, I did not always look this way! Just take a look at me back then.”
She handed the old worn picture for me to hold.
There I saw a pretty young woman dressed as to that time.
“Let me start by saying you loved your daddy, and I did too!
You were a gift from God and your father Lori.
In spite of what I tell you today, you must never ever doubt neither your father nor me on that love!”
“Your father Lonnie, was the best of the world of men, filled with strength, determination, and a loving nature. In spite of the fact, he never stepped foot in our ‘Most Precious Blood Church’, which was within walking distance of where he was born and raised.” Gracie shook her head at that thought of lost time.
“Though he died a decade ago, not a single hour goes by, I do not think of his smile and heart. He was such a good husband and father to you. A ship welder in WWII, you know. Could not pass an army physical, but he did his part!” Her smile was braced with pride.
Now Gracie looked straight at me, without a blink in her hazel eyes, and in spite of her neck injuries.
“But, yes, my heart belonged to another then, and still does to this day!”
I must have started and stared in horror, as I felt my hands near my face when they should have been in my lap.
“There, there now Lori. Let me explain.”
“You know Old man Jareb that you know as uncle Jareb? He has my heart, now at 87 or so and has for most of my life. I met him two years after Lonnie and I married. I was then, 21.”
Gracie’s eyes left my face and looked into the past.
“Oh, your father was my rock, someone to depend on, I never felt fear around him.”
“But, Jareb was my love. He had me the first time I saw him. It shocked me how it happened!”
Gracie let her eyes wander up the wall, with a wistful smile, “He made my heart quiver whenever I saw his face or heard his voice. If your father was around, I would never even look at Jareb, afraid your father might see something in my eyes!”
Gracie had lost that smile and her hands now shrouded her eyes, as if caught in a blush, eyes held by a secret weighted with years.
She continued, “Jareb only lived 3 flats away. We often passed in the Coney Island drug store, butcher shops, and at the market, the pull between us was magic, like two magnets brought too close together. His smile caused me to forget how to walk; his voice caused my mind to freeze in mid-thought. If I were shopping, my list would be forgotten, and I would try for another shopping time he could not affect me.”
Gracie was smiling again, both hands wrapped the other.
Sometimes, your father, Lonnie, would ask me, “Why did you waste money on this? We do not need this.”
“I would make some excuse, but he knew I was lying. I simply forgot what I went into the shop to buy, and just grabbed something close at hand, paid and left.”
Gracie looked at me again, “No, dear, I see those judging eyes turning from gray to green.”
“I never ever gave in to my heart. In his smile, I saw angels and felt the earth move below my feet. But, I would never betray your father and Jareb was always the gentleman, and would never ever have crossed boundaries of a wife and family.”
“In the end, I was a proper mother to you and a caring wife to Lonnie, but in the very early hours of a morning, I was Jareb’s in my dreams and deep in my heart.”
Gracie tried to stand then, but simply could not.
“My time is soon, but in my Bible, you will see pressed at the beginning of ‘Mark’, a single rose, with a small handwritten note.” Gracie paused and motioned for me to reach for the Bible.
“The note says “give me one more life to love you.”
Gracie said, “Only you and God will know where that came from.”
I did not know what to do. Should I hold her hand, to say something hurtful to her, to walk out of the room? In the end, I just sat there.
Gracie reached out then, held my hands and said, “I hope you still love me, as I have always loved you. Please do not feel this is a lie for you, though it was a partial lie for me all of these years.”
Gracie took a deep breath, let it out and said, “One last promise you must make me Lori. When I pass, put my body next to your father Lonnie in the ground. But, put that bible, Rose and note next to Jareb, please.”
Tears were streaming down both of our faces now, hands held tightly.
I must admit, I could not look in her eyes, right then.
I made her and myself a promise that day to follow her life and loves,
God Help me.