“WHAT MAKES YOU think you can pull the wool over ole Rosie’s eyes after all these years?” Emma Morgan’s nearest and dearest friend, Rosemarie Harrington, asked in her blunt but kindly way. “I can read you like a book, kiddo, and I know you’re keeping something from me. I feel it in my bones.”
Emma shrugged, trying to appear casual. “I’m just tired, Rosie,” she said, with a sigh. Rosie was onto her and she knew it.
“And I’m Queen Elizabeth of England,” Rosie retorted, raising her eyebrows.
The two old friends were sitting in the Harringtons’ cluttered kitchen, late spring sunshine streaming through open windows. Emma saw carefree finches fluttering around the bird feeder outside, showing off their brilliant summer colours. How could the world be continuing on as it always had, while inside she was weighted down with a secret too devastating to share?
Never before had she kept anything from Rosie. This was a first. They’d been friends for years, ever since the Harringtons had moved across the street from the Morgans in the rural Nova Scotia subdivision Emma’s contractor husband, Bill, had built early in his career. They’d had an instant rapport, largely because they were both into gardening. Together, they had gradually created spectacular flower plots that drew fans from all around the county of Yarmouth where they lived; people who just wanted to drive along Hannah Drive and admire the view.
Another thing they had in common was workaholic husbands. Until Bill Morgan’s sudden death a few months back, his lucrative contracting business had kept him going like a bat out of hell from dawn till dusk. Richard Harrington was a surgeon at the local hospital and ‘overtime’ was his second name. Warmed-over dinners and partners too weary for conversation were the norm in both women’s lives.
Their companionship had been forged on grubby knees with their hands buried deep in garden soil. Through the years, as they worked side by side, they’d hashed over not only their personal lives, but the state of the world, and anything else that came to mind. Nothing much had been off limits. Emma knew, for instance, that Richard was a gentle, patient lover, and Rosie knew Bill was not. Rosie knew Emma was not as close to her adult daughter, Hannah, as she’d like, and Emma commiserated with Rosie’s grief over her childlessness. They’d shared a lot of laughter and a lot of tears.
Rosie sighed and pushed back her chair. Emma’s eyes followed her as she clumped about the kitchen decked out in baggy sweats and T-shirt, a baseball cap crammed on her narrow head—her habitual gardening costume. Thin to the point of scrawniness, her salt and pepper hair was cropped short and she never wore make-up. She was one of the most congenial and unpretentious people Emma had ever known.
“What’s with the weight loss and the dark circles under the eyes?” Rosie prodded, sitting back down and taking up the subject where she’d left off. She placed a steaming earthenware mug in front of Emma and pushed a plate of homemade cookies her way. “Damn it! I wish Richard and I weren’t going on this month-long vacation to England tomorrow. I really hate to leave you right now, kiddo. You worry me.”
Emma took a sip of rich, dark coffee, squirming inwardly beneath Rosie’s sharp scrutiny. Bill’s untimely death three months ago had been like a bombshell exploding out of the blue and she was still reeling from the aftershock. He had been well-known as a contractor and businessman, and everyone in the area had come forward to share her grief.
Not a single soul, however, knew about the second bombshell; the revelation which came to light a few weeks after the funeral. She intended to keep it that way. There were certain things that just couldn’t be shared, even with your closest friends.
There were footsteps on the patio and Richard opened the French doors. Rosie’s mouth dropped open in surprise. “What on earth brings you home in the middle of the day?” she asked.
Richard grinned and stepped into the kitchen. “Hello to you too,” he replied. “I decided to quit early so I could help you pack for the trip.”
Emma discreetly brushed a tear off her cheek and jumped up to snatch a tissue from the Kleenex box. Richard’s penetrating grey eyes followed her—those eyes that always seemed to see too much. “You’ve lost weight, Emma,” he commented, leaning against the kitchen counter. “You’ve got to start looking after yourself better.”
She groaned inwardly and bit her lip to keep from saying something she’d later regret. She loved the Harringtons dearly, but right now their concern was suffocating her.
“I think I’ll head for home and let you two get on with your packing,” she said, trying to hide her frustration. Rosie followed her to the door, and slung an arm comfortingly around her shoulder.
“Sorry for being a pain in the ass,” she said sheepishly. “You’re important to us.”
“I know. You’re important to me too but I just need a little space right now,” Emma said, forcing a smile.
“Okay.” Rosie stepped back, holding up her hands. “You’re stronger than you think, you know. Things are going to get better; you’ll see. When Rich and I get back from England next month, we’ll dig up that new garden plot we’ve been designing. It will do us both good to get our hands in the dirt.” She turned and went back in the house.
* * * * *
TOGETHER, RICHARD AND Rosie watched Emma walk slowly along the walkway. “I’m worried about her, Rich. She’s not herself,” Rosie said.
“Well, of course she’s not. She just lost her husband a few months ago. What do you expect?”
“It’s more than that. I know her almost as well as I know you and I tell you, there’s something troubling her that she’s not telling us about.”
“Like what?” Richard put an arm around her and rubbed her shoulder.
Rosie shrugged. “Wish I knew.”
“Could it be financial problems? They’ve never wanted for anything as far as I can tell. That was one thing Bill did right. He might have been an insensitive so-and-so and a womanizer, but—”
“I know you didn’t like him but that’s a bit harsh,” Rosie interrupted, butting him with her bony hip. She sighed. “I don’t think Emma’s ever really figured out who she is. At one time, she wanted to be an artist . . .”
“Maybe she just needs more time,” Richard said.