It must have been the morose weather – a dismal combination of a grey-blue sky mixed with the mocking clouds overhead that cast an ever-present feeling of rain that never fell – that made the news of Thea’s death all the more heart wrenching. Jill Timberg was sitting at the other end of the world, suffering a much needed vacation, the sand of the beach where she sat upon nearing the evening sky through the changing shades of the sea, and one hand clasped to the phone against her ear, when she suddenly folded. Her shock was only heard by distant gulls, as they immediately exerted their wings in the other direction.
There wasn’t much to be said over the phone. Thea’s mother was devastated, of course, but she maintained herself on the phone, saying not much in the way of an explanation, only that Cynthia Heathe, or as she was better known by her friends, Thea, was now dead. Jill Timberg had lost her best friend, and she hardly heard anything after Mrs. Heathe told her about the funeral, as she wept on the wet sand. There was a staccato beep from the phone dying so metaphorically, and that was all.
Silent tears ran down her cheeks, reflecting the orange from the dying sun, and whatever noise that came from her were drowned out by the washing of the waves over the sand. When Jill’s date came over with the wine bottle, Jill was already trying to calm herself, unsuccessfully. Even while she was being rushed at and hugged, Jill continued to shake her head, the red of the sky slowly fading away into black.
Two days later, Jill Timberg stepped on London soil, four years since her last step on the very same. She had come here once again leaving the not-so-warm beaches of a different continent altogether, and the comfort of the many hugs of her lovely date to say her last goodbyes to her late friend. Jill thought it vital to remain completely detached to everything, lest she start crying again, but that was hard to do, having arrived here, the familiar stores and streets that she and Cynthia used to roam passing right by her cab. Often, Jill turned back, maybe after turning the corner after Elderson street, or after passing that too frequently visited pub, as if to check for a sign of her friend.
The windows of the cab that took Jill to the Heathe’s were small and grimy, and sometimes she was deluded into thinking that the women walking down that curb might just have been them – Jill, Cynthia and Diana, laughing at some joke at someone’s expense. Perhaps it was the will of sore wishes, the bittersweet memories that only come when you are lost and hungry, but Jill found herself memorizing Cynthia’s face, and it came to her mind almost immediately, most vividly, as clear as water.
Even as a memory (or perhaps because it was a memory), Jill remembered Cynthia as a regally beautiful woman, although she was completely indifferent to that fact. It wasn’t that she was not aware what her presence often did to her male companions, but more the fact that she honestly did not care. Yet, she never tried to hide her perfect face – in fact, quite the opposite. Cynthia made sure her pale grey-green eyes were accentuated to a certain degree by heavy black mascara; her straight black hair that touched her hips did not hold a single frizz, and her skin was immaculately even, always the same pale milk shade. Every aspect of her figure shouted gentle euphemisms, what with her slender waist and soft looking wrists; however, there were a rare few who had ever seen her smile. That and those eyes that held pride and disgust in equal measures often dissuaded many of the men from their approaches. Jill had always admired Cynthia for that, for how rare was a woman who was so independently confident of her own self that, whatever the question, her answer always was a “no”? In all her life (with a pained grimace, Jill realized, now it had truly become “all” her life) she had never once depended on anyone. In fact, at the age of twenty-six and at the height of her lawyering career, people soon started to ask Cynthia the question of probable marriage, a boyfriend, anything? But, at twenty-seven, Thea still responded with a “no” and chose death instead.
Jill visibly shuddered. It was still impossible for her to think of Cynthia in the past tense. Moreover, Jill was certain if someone as mentally strong as Cynthia had committed suicide, she must have had a very strong reason as well. And yet, even knowing that, Jill was nowhere close to understanding why. It stung her, a peculiar pain in her chest, to wonder what drove Cynthia to kill herself.
Presently, Jill focused on doing one thing at a time. For now, she had to settle for going through the funeral without breaking down completely. It was now more than an hour or so since she had landed on London, and already she was gathered around the coffin, now being lowered into the perfectly dug out grave. The noon was fast turning into the purple shade of the evening, and a soft whistle blew from the many tall trees surrounding the open grave; squirrels were out and about, and the dry golden-brown leaves flew about n swirls. Mrs. Heathe cried and cried, and others looked on solemnly. No one quite had the words to describe what had been so cruel, so tyrannical; it was a murder, really, of oneself and if you thought about it, it did not really matter how they died – they are still dead, and that they have been snatched away from you with utter disregard… Jill’s eyes blurred with angry tears.
Oh, why, Thea? Why would you take yourself away from your friends, from your family, from me! What had I ever done to you? How dare Thea force Jill, even in her death, to erase her from Jill’s life? The world had stopped abruptly for Ms. Timberg in that moment, on that day, as the first of the black dirt fell over the black coffin. In no time, or so it seemed, the grave had been half-filled, with the dark dirt, broken twigs and brightly colored leaves, and Jill and Mrs. Heathe were the only people still standing around the freshly covered pit. Mrs. Heathe still sobbed, and Jill held her. Behind, a few little children had gathered, playing games that children play, their sounds of laughter and merriment mixing with the sobs of Cynthia’s mother. Knowing nothing else to do, Jill joined in, silently, with tears of her own.
Later, everyone was gathered at the Heathe’s. Jill was standing next to the mantelpiece, curiously observing the many pictures of Thea Heathe, some with her father, some with her mother. Most pictures of Cynthia were of her, Jill and Diana though. Selecting one frame, Jill held it up against the dim yellow light, not really looking at anything in particular, just staring down at the laughing faces looking up from the frame; Cynthia’s eyes were closed, Jill was making to kiss her, laughing, and Diana was at one corner, smiling at them. Not knowing what sparked the sudden curiosity, Jill became engrossed with the picture, silently studying the faces of everyone. Thea’s mouth was open, and her eyes closed, but her expression did not betray any hidden sadness.
Did she know while taking this picture that four years from then she would be no more? Did she let Jill kiss her pale cheek knowing that one day Jill would look back at it with a sad smile on her lips? Jill wondered, not for the first time, whether she had known Cynthia at all? She had considered her a close friend – had Cynthia, then, completely disregarded her, like an annoying cousin you had to talk to, but never share your secrets with? True, Jill hadn’t been in contact for over four years – not only with Cynthia, but even Diana – but did that mean their friendship had been so thin, that a couple of years had diminished it in its entirety? Not one message, not even one phone call? And now she was gone, a tragedy that people were already trying to forget, already forgetting. Jill was relatively more composed than before, as people drank and sang in Mrs. Heathe’s living room, the sky outside completely dark now. Yet, she couldn’t stop anger seeping in, every now and then, and looking at this picture now, all Jill could feel was a boiling rage. Had her friendship truly meant nothing? She had loved her with all her heart. Could Cynthia not find it within herself to love her back?
A hand rested on Jill’s shoulder, and looking back she saw Mrs. Heathe’s eyes crinkle up into a smile.
“Yes, this is my favorite picture of you girls. Look at you, young and happy!”
Mrs. Heathe looked at the picture of the three girls longingly before keeping the picture gently exactly where it was. Everywhere around them there was a constant noise of conversation, but somehow Mrs. Heathe and Jill were excluded from this mass. Standing near the pictures, a token of old memories that the other people could not share, somehow, they were secluded.
Jill was still looking at the picture when something struck her.
“Diana didn’t come for the funeral?”
Mrs. Heathe looked up at Jill, a bemused expression threatening to twist her lips.
“Why, you haven’t heard? I would warrant Diana is going through some of her own problem at this moment. She was an absolute darling, though, throughout this whole … thing. She had been living here for the past week. God knows, I wouldn’t be able to plan anything of the funeral without her, the state of me! She only left today morning, up and left early with her six-year old in tow.”
“Why wouldn’t she stay for the funeral? I mean, I would have liked to meet her.”
Mrs. Heathe just shrugged and said,
“Divorces are tough, Jill. And Diana has a little son. These law things get messy, you know that.”
“Wait… Diana is getting divorced?”
“Yeah. In fact, the way I understood it, today was the final hearing. She apologized to me a hundred times for not being there to say her goodbyes to Cynthia, but frankly, I think one should care for the living more than the dead. Her boy is going through hell right now, and the sooner the hearing is done with, the better. For the sake of the son.”
Mrs. Heathe said all that with a broken face, and Jill could tell she was genuinely concerned about Diana and her son, Cody. Jill remembered playing with Cody when he was a babe, but seven years past she doubted he would remember “Aunt Jill”. Cynthia had been there too, smiling and cooing at the little boy, and Diana, the proud mother, used to laugh with ecstasy every time Cody crawled her way instead of the other two women. What was the meaning of having these memories, Jill wondered, if they only served to hurt you?
How times had changed since then.
“I haven’t been in touch with Diana. The last time I saw her, she was on fine terms with her husband.”
But Mrs. Heathe only shrugged. Some more time revealed that Diana hadn’t been in touch with any of her old friends either, nor had the late Thea. When Jill pondered over the reason behind Diana’s divorce – something that left Mrs. Heathe without words as much as it did Jill – she decided that the sound of the music coming from the brightly lit living room and the conversation with Mrs. Heathe overlooking those old pictures, however pleasant, had finally tired her. Next, Jill excused herself, and found seclusion in the dark kitchen. She didn’t bother with the lights, the light flooding from the doorway enough for her to find the bottle of wine she had been so longing to sip. She placed herself on a high chair, like a little girl, next to the window overlooking dark empty streets, and drank her wine in silence. The little light that filtered through the doorway played with the features of Jill Timberg, casting shadows on her not unappealing face. Her thoughts were only of Cynthia, and Diana.
Why was that so?
Jill’s mind traced back seven years, to the day when she had first met Cynthia Heathe. Entering college with the confidence of a shrew in chase, Jill Timberg, eighteen then, had never thought of being popular in college. She devoted most of her time trying to just pass everyone without much drama. Did Jill have time for romance then? She remembered having a boyfriend in college, but he never meant her life to her, and saying as much Jill could outright say that there was no point in her having a boyfriend at all. Yet, everyone seemed to be in some sort of a relationship. And so Jill had followed the trend. There should be no mistake, though; Jill’s boyfriend from college was a very decent guy, in fact, at times, quite caring even. But Jill knew then that she wasn’t in love, and she knew it now as well. Every girl in college had a boyfriend, right?
But, Jill’s roommate, Cynthia Heathe had never succumbed to these urges. She hadn’t fallen to peer pressure. In fact, when the question of a boyfriend was posed to Cynthia, she maintained that she had no need of one. Jill’s respect for Thea had grown that day, and in the many days that came after.
The very first day she had met Cynthia was in their dorm, where the latter sat reading a book in the corner. Jill removed her earphones long enough to say “hi”, and receiving an arrogant nod in reply, Jill then had proceeded to empty her bags without so much as a glance. The next few days together seemed unnaturally silent, for neither of the two girls talked to each other for more than the occasional necessary comment required.
The eighteen year old Jill did not like her roommate much, at least not until the day of the fresher’s party, a week later. The party was quite loud, and Jill had the greatest fun, having finally found a day where she could let her hair out and dance and enjoy the music and meet new people. Finally, having declined a boy’s offer to drop her to her dorm, albeit giving him her number (he was quite handsome and liked to dance), Jill found her drunken legs finally buckling next to her bed. The last thing she remembered was the astonished look on Cynthia’s face.
When Jill woke next, she woke with a sore head and an even sore body. She could hardly open her eyes, but when she was able to, she saw the graceful figure of Cynthia reading a book as always.
“Hey,” Jill had groaned to Thea.
“hey,” she replied back. She closed her book as she did so, and for once, Jill received an undivided attention from Cynthia Heathe.
As Jill got up, or tried to, she realized she was changed to her pajamas. There was a half empty glass of some herbal tea, and another glass of hot water, on the bedside table next to her. There was a sharp smell of floral room freshener, as if someone had sprayed every inch of the room with that.
Cynthia noticed Jill’s nose pinching to the smell, and said in a level voice,
“It’s better than the smell of puke, I assure you.”
“I puked?” Jill asked.
“Only about thrice.”
Although Cynthia’s perfectly full lips twitched, it was more out of amusement than annoyance, and she reached out for the herbal tea and placed it in Jill’s hand. It was in the most strange and ineffable ways that these two became friends, and remained so, but then that was often the case with everyone.
Over the years, Jill went to many parties. Sometimes Thea tagged along, sometimes she remained in her pajamas and with her book. There were no rules that they had to walk together, talk together, eat and dine together, and often they would be found separate. Yet, entire college knew about their friendship somehow. The two girls were the coolest in campus, and that they had no compulsion to hang out together made them popular even. Plus, there was the fact that Jill, with her newly changed curly haircut, and Cynthia, as her usual divine self, looked “hotter than my Dad’s barbeque”, to quote some of the boys from their college.
“Thea, you look great!” exclaimed Jill one day, whilst eating a handful of peanuts in the college cafeteria. There must have been a crowd around them, and atleast half a dozen were listening in to their conversation.
“Thanks,” Thea’s reply was blander than the fruit bowl she was eating so meticulously, reading the morning paper.
“How come you don’t have a boyfriend?”
Thea was perturbed by Jill’s indolent question.
“I don’t have one because I don’t choose to have one.”
Thea smiled, then whispered.
“I have someone, you know.”
Jill was astonished, but removed it from her face quickly enough. Why should it be surprising for someone to look as gorgeous as Cynthia and have a boyfriend, Jill did not know, but it was. For some reason, Jill had thought only she could understand Thea, after all.
Two years into the college, Jill had been invited to Thea’s home for Christmas. The Heathe’s were a small family, only the daughter and the mother. Mr. Heathe had died quite some time ago, but he had left a considerable fortune to their name. Mrs. Heathe was a strong independent woman, as many of the new world are, and she had made the best of what she had. Now, the twenty year old Jill stepped into a rather handsome house, brushing the snow off her jacket, as Thea led her to be hugged by the cheery Mrs. Heathe. Dinner was in sometime, and even as Jill unpacked in the downstairs room, she found her way up to sit down and chat with Thea over some hot tea. They had grown accustomed to sharing a room, and, subconsciously, it felt unnatural to not do so.
But Jill found Thea very off that day. She did not talk much, nor was she enjoying her tea. There was something off about her, and Thea remained like that for the entire day. Dinner was a silent affair, or it would have been had it not been for Mrs. Heathe’s constant chatter. That night, Jill slept staring at the ceiling for a long time to where Cynthia was also staying up into the late night, crying.
It was the next morning, when Jill first met Diana. Mrs. Heathe introduced her as Thea’s best friend from school, and Diana blinked up and down at Jill Timberg. They were then sent out to put up the Christmas lights. Jill asked Mrs. Heathe where Cynthia was, to which Diana replied in a singsong voice,
“Out to buy some veggies, I suppose.”
It wasn’t snowing now, but Jill came from warmer climates, and was grateful for the hood in her jacket which she had all the way down. They trudged through the snow out to the front yard, and started putting up a mound of lights on to the fence. Jill stood there holding the mountain of wires and lights, as Diana moved deftly in the cold, putting the lights where she saw them fit. If it had been Jill, she would have just plopped them up somehow and left, but Diana had a certain dedication to everything she did, and she sure as hell wasn’t going to slack off about Christmas. In fact, to make matters slower (and worse in Jill’s perspective; it was mighty cold and her fingers were numbing), Diana thought that some conversation was in order.
“So, how do you know Thea?”
“College” the word was forced out through Jill’s gritted teeth.
Diana smiled warmly.
“Ah, its good of you to keep her company. She doesn’t have many friends.”
Jill considered the woman before her before replying, the cold somehow forgotten now.
“I am not friends with her out of pity. I like her. She is fun.”
“She is certainly not fun! But definitely one of a kind.” Diana laughed. Her eyes shone as she talked about Cynthia. Soon, Jill realized that Diana didn’t really have much reserve. Maybe she had always been waiting to talk about Thea with someone, or maybe she was just a talkative girl, Jill knew not. But the next thing she did know, Jill had somehow earned Diana’s confidence and suddenly was being told almost all about Thea.
Jill had a fun time with Diana that day. She learned how Cynthia had always cried, as a little girl, and was a slow runner, and was once asked out by this senior boy, in response to which, she had cried. She learned how Diana and Thea had become friends, soon after Thea’s father passing away. She learned how difficult it was for Cynthia to make friends (although this she already knew) and how she had a little rabbit for a pet until it ran away. There were many things of Thea that Jill learned that day.
Mrs. Heathe was now plating the table, and the lights were up both inside and outside the house. Cynthia had been back for a long time now, but had kept herself in her room. Only Diana ever went up to her room, once, but was declined entry. Finally, while Mrs. Heathe went up to call Thea for supper, Jill asked her question.
“Thea said she had someone. Like a lover. Is he from school?”
Diana was taken aback.
“She said that? Really? I don’t know, I have never seen her with anyone.”
Diana turned her back to her, and Jill could sense she should push the matter further, but lost her opportunity to, for presently Thea walked down the stairs, followed by Mrs. Heathe.
“Where were you, dumbhead?” Jill asked Thea, to which she smiled.
The dinner party that night was much different than the party that happened presently in the same home. For one thing, the kitchen was well lit, thought Jill sipping at her wine. And for another, Cynthia was still alive. With a sour face, Jill remembered sitting next to Jill, seven years ago.
That Christmas dinner was a silent and dull affair, as the twenty year old Jill placed herself in the seat next to Thea, and Mrs. Heathe and Diana sat facing them. The affairs they talked about varied from all things – from the unbearable London weather to Mrs. Heathe’s very lively youth, where she reminisced about her many boyfriends before she met Mr. Heathe and how music was so different then. Jill was just beginning to feel comfortable, but she noticed how Cynthia kept herself detached. Diana was talking with a smile for every sentence, and every now and then Mrs. Heathe supplied them with a laugh and second helpings of the mashed potatoes.
It was when Mrs. Heathe rummaged inside the fridge to find where she had hidden the ice cream when finally Thea decided to speak.
“So, I was texting Tommy yesterday…”
Diana stopped eating almost at once, and so did Jill. Although Jill had a confused expression on her face, Diana seemed to have understood and looked pained. Thea’s eyes were fixed on her spoon.
“He told me … that you two are to marry?”
Jill looked from one woman to the other. The customary Diana smile was gone, replaced by a fringe above her forehead that made her look much older.
“Yes,” Diana replied slowly.
“Who is Tommy?” Jill could not contain herself anymore.
“My boyfriend from school. Fiancé now, I suppose. I mean …” Diana trailed off.
Thea was looking intently at Diana, as once again Jill looked from her to Thea and then at her again.
“Okay. That’s brilliant! It is, right?”
“Yes!” Diana exclaimed, the panic in her voice showing.
“Although… you are young.” Jill said, almost inaudible. Marrying at the age of twenty was considered extreme, however modern the world maybe. There were responsibilities that, perhaps, a twenty year old cannot be expected to handle. And yet, if Diana felt up to the task, Jill saw no reason to be upset about her marriage, if a bit uncomfortable. The way Thea was acting seemed immature to Jill, but she wasn’t foolish enough to voice it. And yet, there surely was something deeply unsettling for Thea about the whole affair. Jill wondered, was it the fact that Diana was marrying Tommy so young that upset Thea, or the fact that she was marrying Tommy? Jill remembered how Thea had said that she had “someone”. Diana had said she didn’t know of anyone that Thea fancied, but what if Tommy was the one Cynthia loved, and now her best friend was marrying him?
“Do you love him?” Thea asked Diana fervently.
Diana looked at Thea, tears coming to her eyes, as every inch of her face screamed apologies.
Jill thought, maybe Diana had known this all along.
No one had broken the silence when Mrs. Heathe came back in. There was no desert to be had that night.
The next year went by without much change. Jill and Thea returned to their college, and a busy 3rd year schedule kept them from discussing these matters at length. Moreover, Jill did not even know how to talk about this. She never dared ask Thea about Tommy or Diana, and when later that year two invitations arrived for Diana’s wedding with one Thomas, she saw Thea throw hers down the dustbin. Of course, Jill didn’t go for the wedding either, for that entire day Thea kept to her bed, often the sound of stifled sobs escaping from underneath her blanket. Jill kept her company, the silent and noncommittal kind, just the kind of company Thea preferred. Later that night, they drank and sang in their room, hugging each other close every time Thea heard a particularly sad song that connected to her.
This was confirmation enough for Jill; Thea, the headstrong, arrogant, silent woman, who preferred books over booze and her dorm over parties, dancing like a stripper to the saddest of tunes seemed like an apt metaphor for heartbreak. This woman had lost her lover.
So quickly, or so it seemed, college had ended for them. Jill was only wondering what to do next, working late hours as an assistant in media, and Thea had already passed the bar and was on to become the next best lawyer in London. They still shared a room and had still remained the best of friends, despite the odds. It was the month of chilly November, when Jill met Diana, clasping a crying baby to her chest, at a grocery store.
“Diana!” Jill exclaimed. The woman busy with trying to get the attention of her baby, turned, and smiled tiredly.
“Jill!” Diana cried, over the noises of her baby.
Jill then politely offered to hold her bags, as Diana made faces for the baby’s entertainment.
“What’s his name?” Jill asked, adding three bags of groceries on top of her one.
“Cody. He is a naughty boy, aren’t you? Aren’t you?” And Diana kissed her child’s belly, making the baby laugh in joy. Just like that, it was playful again. Cody held on to wisps of Diana’s hair as she turned to talk to Jill.
“Well? It must have been two years!”
“A shade less” smiled Jill in response, “How is Tommy?”
“Well, well.” The tired expression had returned. Then Diana lit up again,
“How is Thea?”
“The next best lawyer, according to her. But between you and me, I am guessing she might just be. Passed the bar and everything.”
“Oh how wonderful.”
But then she made her pained expression, so similar to the one she had made to Thea two years back.
“What?” Jill asked.
“I was hoping to see her. I mean, she didn’t come for my wedding day, very well. At least she could come meet Cody. Or is she so cold hearted now? A lawyer and everything?”
Her pained expression remained.
Jill’s wine was all but over, and this time she didn’t feel inclined to refill it. The dark kitchen had no visitors since Jill, and the funeral party outside in the living room had very much dwindled. It was past midnight now, and Jill made her way slowly outside the room. Mrs. Heathe was sleeping on the couch, and some gentleman had found her a blanket. He bid Jill a drunken goodbye, and was the last person to leave. Jill stayed there for a minute, stroking Mrs. Heathe’s head. She had gone through enough. Jill had never asked anyone how Thea had killed herself, and felt quite at peace without knowing. Unfortunately, for Mrs. Heathe, there was no such peace.
It had been five years since Jill had chanced upon Diana and Cody in the grocery store. That night, Jill had convinced Thea to meet with Diana and they had had dinner with them. It was a way of moving on, Jill had told Thea. So they had sat down to dine with Tommy and Diana, and Cody.
That dinner was perhaps the most normal dinner Jill had been to. There was no strain, nor any sort of discomfort. Both partied talked freely, Tommy often telling the funniest of jokes to which Jill and Thea laughed an uproar. Cody aided to the effect. Only Diana forced a smile, but then again, she probably had heard all of his jokes. She was the wife.
Later that night, Tommy took Cody to put him to sleep, and the three women were left alone. Soon, Jill found Diana and Thea talking again, and laughing. Maybe both had moved on? Jill sure hoped so.
And it did seem so, for Cynthia and Diana often made plans to meet the coming months. Sometimes Jill would come along with Thea, whenever she had the time, to play with Cody or to just talk with the few friends she had. It seemed the same for her, and Jill came to enjoy this new changed Thea a lot. After a long time, Jill was seeing a smiling Thea. When Jill left London, never to return until the death of her best friend, it finally looked like Cynthia had moved on from Tommy.
What a misconception, in Jill’s part. The thing about love is, once it is given, it also takes; Love takes a part from you, never to be returned, never to be given back freely. And while you could try to forget that you have a hand, its presence is so habitual that, even forgetting that your hand exists, you shall still use it. Same is true for the heart. And same was true in the case of Cynthia Heathe. For why else, after five years, after Diana finally divorced Tommy, would Thea kill herself? What ailment could have been inflicted upon Thea, that she became so deprived that she sought not to love, but to end what drives love? What could have happened for Cynthia Heathe to commit suicide?
This was what Jill sought to find out hidden in her memories. There was no doubt about it, Thea had loved Tommy for a long time. Seven years was no joke (in fact it was longer than some marriages), and Cynthia had never ever thought of having a boyfriend. In the four years that Jill had been away, she wondered whether Cynthia had done something stupid to win Tommy back. Maybe she was the reason that caused Diana and Tommy’s divorce? But things must have turned out badly for Cynthia. Maybe Tommy declined to be in any sort of relationship with her after, and perhaps she could wait no longer, and decided to kill herself? The matters of the heart were difficult to understand, and the theories that Jill came up with, more than slightly drunk, were all conjured, not confirmed. Hopefully, next morning, she would anyway forget and leave London again.
But, alas, the world would give Jill no such respite. Jill had so hoped to stay innocent in ignorance (not knowing what killed Thea suited her, for she was in far too much pain to be ready for hate and blame) but when she turned, in the living room stood Diana, holding a sleeping seven-year old in her arms, and her face alone, her hair cut much shorter than the last time she had seen her, was enough to cause a burst of curious questions in her head. Jill had to fight to not be impolite, as Diana took another step inside and smiled.
“Hey” Diana whispered.
Jill only smiled to her quizzically.
Some moments later, Diana had found the downstairs bedroom where she allowed her son to sleep, and abandoning the living room, both women found themselves in the dark kitchen.
“Couldn’t make it to her funeral, Diana?”
Jill couldn’t channel the accusatory tone out. Diana winced in the dark.
“I am sorry. I wanted to, but the hearing was due. I mean, I barely got the custody of Cody, you know?”
“Sorry.” Jill said.
There was a silence for some time. Diana reached inside her purse, opened a pack of cigarettes, offered one to Jill, who refused. Diana then fished out a lighter, and the flame illuminated just for a second, enough to make out the new wrinkles on Diana’s face before it was extinguished. The smoke smell filled the room, and Jill waited long enough for Diana to take two drags before she continued,
“So… I leave you two for a couple of years and one dies and the other divorces?”
Again Diana winced, took another drag, then replied,
“I wouldn’t have wanted things to be like this, you know that.”
“Yes, I know. Tell me, do you hate Cynthia now?”
The question was framed as just a question. There was no accusation this time, in fact it lacked all emotions from it in its entirety. And yet, Diana’s voice was a guilty one.
“Hate Her! I have never … “
“Oh come on! It was no secret, Thea liked Tommy! Now you are divorced and Thea is dead! Explain that.”
Diana was fuming. Neither of the two had realized their voices were much raised.
“Are you suggesting I had anything to do with Thea’s suicide?” Diana voice had gone dangerously soft.
“Look, there was no note left behind. People don’t kill themselves without a reason! I am suggesting you are the reason for Cynthia’s suicide!”
But Diana instantly stood up, her cigarette falling from her hand. She was marching towards the room Cody slept in, but Jill held her arm to stop her midway.
“Where do you think you are going?” Jill demanded to know.
“I am taking Cody and leaving! I won’t stand here and listen to …” but what she would rather not listen to was left unsaid, for Diana had made the mistake of turning, and in the brightly lit hall where they currently stood, her fat tears were very clearly visible.
“You think I would want Thea dead? I? You are the biggest fool, Jill Timberg, you and your ego! You think only you were a friend to Cynthia?”
Jill was taken aback from this outburst. But Diana was not done.
“You think you are the only person to care about Thea? You think I hated Thea because I couldn’t attend her funeral? You know nothing, Jill! I LOVED HER! I LOVE HER!”
Fortunately, neither Mrs. Heathe, nor Cody woke up from the shout. But something inside Jill did. She suddenly began to realize what she had never suspected. But Diana was not done, even now.
“You think Thea loved Tommy? She didn’t give a single f##k about Tommy! She loved me, as I loved her! We are gay, so what? But because of people like you, we never had the guts to say it. We loved each other since school! But she went off to college, and I didn’t know how to handle it, I didn’t have anyone. And Tommy was good to me. And what did we even know, Thea and I? It could all have been some kind of stupidity kids do. How were we supposed to know we loved each other? That we were meant for each other?
“But then one day Tommy proposed. What was I supposed to do? Was I supposed to tell the world that I am a lesbian? Do you know how they treat people like us? I would be shunned, I would have become a social outcast. And Thea? What if she had told the world she was a lesbian? Had she become a lawyer then? And she brought you along with her from college, what was I supposed to think? She lived with you!
“Tommy was nice to me, and a good father to our child. Until the day he found out about my orientation. He shunned me out, and he tried to take my baby away from me. He called me an abomination. I am gay, but not human? And yet, I was too cowardly. The night Thea killed herself, she called me. She told me, “this is the final time I will ask you. Let’s come straight to the world. Let us tell them who we are.” And I ….”
And then Diana cried as a high pitched noise came out of her.
“And I said I couldn’t. I didn’t know she would kill herself, I really didn’t. I wish I wasn’t such a coward, I wish…. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t put Cody through it. What will he think? His mother, a lesbian? Would he not be like his father? Would he not call me an abomination too?
But now, I have lost Thea. I love her, and I have lost her. So now you know, Jill Timberg. Tell me, do you hate Cynthia now?”
But Jill’s eyes were full of unshed tears, and she hugged Diana close. Both women sobbed, and both women could only hope that Cynthia Heathe had gone to a world where people could accept love, irrespective of the form it comes in.