About Six Years Ago
“All ready for the party this afternoon?” Diane asked, as nostalgia over Ethan’s high school graduation photos took comfort in her welcoming embrace.
Ben greeted her while walking out of his study, chuckling at his own humor. “Yes. I feel like old man now that the last one is out the door for greener pastures. How is my favorite sister-in-law?”
“I’m your only sister-in-law, at least on my side of the family, ya old coot!” she said, with wide lips and an open mouth, then kissing his cheek as her ponytail flailed from side to side. “Tell me somethin’ I don’t already know.”
Ben pondered her request, looking for the right words. “I cannot imagine having anyone else I would want to have as my real sister more than you. And that includes my own sisters.” He watched her face for the inevitable reaction he’d grown accustomed to over the years.
“I’ll accept that one.” Diane sneered and curtsied. “Where’s Liv?”
“Running errands. I expect her back soon.”
“And the boys?”
“Ethan is upstairs watching the Red Sox game. He has decided since Boston University will be his new home, it is time to switch up the teams and step up the rivalry with Matt. First it was football, then basketball, now they are on to baseball.”
“Geez… I can already see the showdown this summer between them. Matt’s always been a die-hard New York team fanatic. Never a dull moment ‘round here.”
“Caleb could not fly back this weekend… something about too many projects and a new landscape plan for one his clients. That boy… he needs to come home and tell Olivia and me what is going on his life.”
“He loves you both, Ben. Keep at him… I’m pretty sure he wants to talk with you. And the others?”
“Zach is in Brooklyn with Katerina. I still cannot believe she is pregnant… just out of rehab, I think… lost track these days. I am still angry he left NYU because of that girl. He was supposed to join the firm with me.” He rolled his eyes.
“You know he’s always been a handful. He was never meant for law. Talented musician but likes to push that envelope, eh?”
“Quite true, Diane. Teddy and Sarah are finishing their search for a wedding venue but should be here in a couple of hours. I believe she is looking for a place to remind her of a plantation… so she can have a little bit of Savannah with her. I need to start spending more time with Teddy. Have you seen how often he has been grinding his teeth and cracking his knuckles lately? It is getting much worse… always tense these days…”
“I have. Maybe he needs some valium…”
“Do not joke about that. I thought about dropping a few of Olivia’s in his drink one day, just to see if it helped any.”
“You’re bad! At least you’ve got the complete opposite with Matt. Ever the outgoin’, popular and picture-perfect one, ain’t he?”
“Yes. All that boy can talk about lately is the stock market and tax laws. I guess that Columbia MBA he got last year was the right path. He and Margaret are coming by later on after their check-up with the obstetrician. First baby jitters!”
“Sounds like a typical day at the Glass family home,” Diane replied. She spent most weekends visiting her sister, Ben and the boys.
“And where is George?” he asked out of obligation.
“Workin’ of course. Better that way. I can focus on the graduation party and my nephews.”
“Join me for a drink in the study, Diane.”
“Sure. Nothin’ too strong for me today. I’m sure Liv has tons of things for me to focus on this ‘fternoon. I’m probably in charge of cookin’, entertainment and clean-up this time.”
“Do not let your sister tell you what to do. You need to relax. You are not their mother hen.” Ben cringed as he realized what he said. “Oh, I am so sorry. I did not mean to say something so cruel.”
“Don’t fuss about it. George didn’t want kids. Not in the cards for me.”
“Forgive me for saying it, but you need to leave that louse and put yourself first for once.” Ben handed Diane a diet coke and whiskey. “Drink this quickly.”
“I know George isn’t all that friendly and doesn’t often do much, but he’s provided for me all these years. Not like he ever hurt me or anything ‘long those lines. Besides, if I’da left him years ago, what would I’ve done? Adopt a child on my own?” Diane took a few sips, one hand waving in dismissal of Ben’s suggestion.
Ben’s neck tensed and his shoulders flinched. “Adoption is a rewarding and fulfilling path. All children need a good home with a loving parent. You would have been a terrific mother, Diane.”
Diane nodded her head. “I’ll think ‘bout it, but as of now, I’ve no intention of leavin’ him after twenty years of marriage.”
Ben re-filled both their glasses and walked towards the front window behind his desk. “I saw the estate attorney yesterday. Now that the boys are all grown, I needed to be sure I had everything properly buttoned-up in case anything happens to me. Or to Olivia. I want to ensure the boys are properly taken care of… financially speaking of course. I know they will always have you to keep them on their toes.”
“Nothing’s gonna happen to you for a long time. But I know you’ve always been a practical man. I’m sure Liv will appreciate everythin’ being in order, so she’s got less to deal with in the future.”
“It is in as much order as it possibly can be right now. I had a few things I needed to address… you know… without Olivia being with me.” Ben’s voice was hesitant but clear.
“Liv can be a force when she wants to be. Our parents tried to control her even as a young child, but Liv had to make every decision herself. I can understand why you needed to do a few things on your own with the attorney. Anythin’ I need to know ‘bout?”
“She is quite strong-willed, but that is why I love her so much. You will need to be by her side should anything happen to me. She took your mother’s death last month harder than I expected. I know she and your father were very close, but your mother and Olivia never saw eye-to-eye. I believe that is why she has never been very close with either Sarah or Margaret. The ladies she works with at the charities are purely business connections. And the few times they tried to bond, it was always about competition. Remember the incident with the fashion show?”
Diane laughed. Olivia had volunteered to lead a designer’s charity ball the prior spring and needed to find several women to model a new clothing line by one of Ben’s client’s wives. When the client’s wife offered to let Olivia’s friends walk the runway, Olivia’s response said it all. Unfortunately, she delivered the response while at a press release event where a news crew overheard and recorded her saying “None of those ugly cows would even fit in this couture. It would be as if we asked Miss Piggy to model a new petite line of muumuus.” Her sharp voice and snooty demeanor were prominently displayed on News12 for the next three days, on the hour, every hour — and not even Ben’s firm, nor his client’s corporation, could have it pulled.
“Oh, I remember it. Betty and the girls wouldn’t talk to her for weeks. They still hold a grudge every time some fool suggests ‘nother fashion show. Poor Liv… she didn’t mean to be so loud, it just came out. Always been a victim of her own sharp tongue.”
Ben joined her laughter. “She does have a knack for getting herself into difficult situations. I am glad she can laugh about it now. Even at her sickest last year, your mother was still quite ashamed of Olivia over that escapade.”
“Momma always thought Liv was too focused on material things and her high society relationships. Liv may seem as though she has control over everythin’, but I know beneath the surface, things are not always what they appear.”
“Which is one of the things that prompted me to make things right yesterday.”
“Make things right? Is there anything I need to be concerned about regardin’ your trip to the lawyer?” Diane inquired. “You’re being unusually vague. That’s not normal.”
“It has been a rough couple of years for this family. So much change has been happening. I simply want to prepare for whatever else may occur. I am getting older. Not handling the stress as well I used to.” Ben couldn’t bring himself to tell Diane about the letters, but he needed a convincing voice to assure him he took the best course of action.
“Yes, it’s been rough. But we’re a strong family and we’ll get through it.” Diane placed her empty glass on the bar tray and walked towards Ben. “I’m glad Liv has you. You’ve been such a good husband.”
Ben nodded his head. “I would not go that far. I have made some questionable decisions along the way. I am afraid to disappoint her.”
“A husband and wife can’t always share in every decision together. That’s why you get married, ain’t it? When you find someone you love so deeply, someone you trust to protect and support you, to share your lives together, each makin’ decisions for the good of the marriage as a whole?”
“But I believe there are some decisions you are supposed to make together.” Ben thought about Diane’s marriage. She rarely talked about anything of substance with her husband. Perhaps she was not the best person to have this conversation.
“True. You worried that Liv won’t agree with a decision you made with the lawyer?”
“Not exactly.” Ben faced his sister-in-law, his eyes still searching for some sense of approval he could use to absolve himself over his cowardly actions.
“I’m sure everythin’ will be fine. It’s not like you’ve done anythin’ horrible. You haven’t committed murder. You haven’t stolen anythin’, right?”
Ben shook his head. “No.”
“Then whatever you’ve decided is prolly in the best interest of both your futures. Let it go for today. If you wanna talk to Liv ‘bout it, bring it up later on. You’re being too hard on yourself right now. Today’s about Ethan… your last boy graduating from high school.”
Ben pushed the trip to Ira’s office out of his mind. It was time to focus on the graduation party. “Thank you, Diane. You are right… today is about the boys.”
“Anytime. I’m confident you’ve put everything in the right place and it will be OK in the end. And if you didn’t, you know I’ll make it my mission to haunt and harass you, even if it’s from the grave.”