Read Sunsets Online

Authors: Robin Jones Gunn

Sunsets (8 page)

Genevieve smiled. “It was really quite funny. For about the
first hour. Then we all wanted them to go to bed.”

“Thanks for the warning! I noticed you both waited until after I signed the papers before you told me this minor detail regarding the beatniks next door.”

Genevieve and Shelly burst out laughing. It felt good to Alissa. She couldn’t remember the last time she had said something spontaneous that made people laugh. She muttered jokes to Chloe all the time, but she never laughed. It almost felt as if a part of Alissa was coming out of deep freeze and some of the feeling was returning to her extremities.

Glancing at the oak-framed clock on the wall, Alissa said, “I need to go. I have an appointment with one of my clients. You would love this couple. Sometime I’ll have to tell you their love story. That is, after I hear the whole thing.”

She slid off the kitchen stool and headed for the door. “Oh, I almost forgot.” Alissa reached into her leather briefcase and pulled out two coloring books. “For Anna and Mallory,” she said, handing them both to Mallory. “How is your sister feeling?”

“She’s fine. Can I have this one?” Mallory held up one of the cartoon coloring books.

“Sure. Give the other one to Anna for me, okay? I’ll see you both sometime Saturday.” Alissa looked up at Genevieve and Shelly. “And I will call if I need help. Thanks.”

“Did you get the key?” Shelly asked.

“Right here,” Alissa said, holding up her key chain. “I guess I’m official now.”

Mallory moved closer, and with an impish grin on her face she said, “Thank you for the present.”

Alissa smiled at the button-nosed toddler. “You’re welcome, little Lady Bug. I’ll see you later.”

Mallory held up her arms, inviting Alissa to lift her in a hug.

Gladly, Alissa scooped up the child and pressed her cheek against Mallory’s in a warm hug. She set the little girl down and waved to Genevieve and Shelly.

All the way to Chet and Rosie’s the scent of peanut butter lingered on her cheek. Alissa didn’t want to wipe it off.

She liked being hugged by Mallory. She loved sitting around selecting paint colors with her new friends. This was the life she’d never had as an only child. She hadn’t gone the college route that included dorm rooms and sororities. Her schooling had come through night classes, and the only club she ever had belonged to was a mail order book club.

She found Chet and Rosie’s bungalow in the hills of Altadena and parked in the cracked cement driveway. The house was yellow with white trim and looked as if it had been built in the forties but kept in good condition. A lovely pink climbing rose bush covered a trellis by the front door, and the welcome mat looked brand new.

Alissa rang the doorbell and adjusted her skirt’s waistband, making sure the seams were straight.

Rosie answered, her lips red, her cheeks flushed. “It was so good of you to come all the way up here. We’ve been in such a scurry getting everything in order. Do come in.”

“It was no problem at all,” Alissa said, glancing around the small living room. Boxes were everywhere. “Did you just move in?”

“These are all Chet’s things. I’ve lived here a number of years.” Rosie clasped her hands and shook her head. “There is so much to do. The movers brought it all in over the weekend, but how does one combine two lifetimes in one small home?”

“Is Chet here?”

“No, he’s out running errands for me. Why don’t we slip out to the patio and have some lemonade?”

Alissa felt privileged to be invited into this dear woman’s
life and out on to her patio. Following Rosie through the cluttered kitchen, she stopped at the refrigerator where Rosie handed her the pitcher of lemonade. Rosie found two glasses in the cupboard by the sink, and they wove their way out to the back patio.

“What a lovely patio and backyard,” Alissa exclaimed as they pulled out the chairs from a new patio set. The open umbrella over their heads still smelled like plastic. Beyond the cement slab where they sat was a small patch of grass bordered by a flower garden and a huge blooming cactus tree. The majority of the shade came from the tall trees lining the fence on their neighbor’s side. Alissa noticed how quiet it was. Along the side fence grew a winding honeysuckle bush providing an intoxicating fragrance. She could picture the love birds enjoying many meals here in their secluded nest.

Rosie lifted the pitcher and poured with her wobbly right hand. “How do you like the patio furniture? Quite an extravagant set, if you ask me. Chet picked it out yesterday.”

“I like it very much,” Alissa said. “Thanks for the lemonade.”

“Do you need sugar? I made this from the lemons off our tree. Did you see it in the front? We have so many lemons. I’m sure we’ll drink ourselves silly with all the lemonade I’ll be making this summer.”

Alissa sipped the drink. “Mine’s fine,” she said. “Very good.”

They were silent a moment as they sipped their lemonade. The phone lines along the back fence issued a low humming sound. Rosie smiled. She looked refreshed. Alissa wanted to hear the rest of Rosie’s love story and why the letter Chet had received had changed everything.

“Were you able to make all those reservations for us?” Rosie asked. “My, that’s a lot of work for you.”

“Yes, everything fell right into place. I don’t mind a bit. It’s
not a lot of work, really. Not like it used to be when letters were all written by hand or on a manual typewriter.” Alissa hoped the clues would prompt Rosie to pick up the story where she had left off at the letter.

“Do I need to sign anything?” Rosie asked.

Alissa reached for the file in her leather briefcase. “I don’t need any signatures,” she said. “But I would like to go over everything with you. Should I go ahead now, or should we wait until Chet returns?”

“I suppose you could tell me, and then if Chet has any questions, he could give you a quick call this week.”

“That would be fine. Let’s start with the tickets.” She opened the vouchers and went over the departures and arrivals step by step. “I’ve listed all of the information on this sheet here, in case some of these vouchers seem a little confusing. You’re confirmed for each of the hotels for the nights listed. You’ll find those right here.” Alissa pulled another printed sheet from the folder.

“My, you went to a lot of work,” Rosie said.

Alissa reached over and gave Rosie’s right hand a little squeeze. “And I enjoyed every second of it.”

Rosie responded warmly by giving Alissa a squeeze back. It was then that Alissa realized what she had done. She had made the first move to reach out and show affection. It was so natural with Rosie. She was so different from Alissa’s Bostonian grandmother, who had spent her every waking hour instructing Alissa on everything from how to enter a room, to how to begin a sentence. Rosie, just by being Rosie, welcomed affection and acceptance.

Leaning closer, still grasping Alissa’s hand, Rosie said, “If you find a line of work you love, stay with it, dear. I loved children and would have gladly made raising children my life’s work.”

“Did you and Joe have a lot of children?” Alissa asked cautiously.

Rosie pulled away her hand. “Goodness, no!” she said with a gentle chuckle. “Ours was a rocky marriage in so many ways. I tried everything to please Joe—his favorite meals, I even dyed my hair.” She shook her head. “He knew how badly I wanted to start a family. He insisted we couldn’t afford to have children, and he didn’t want to take any chances. Only he had children anyway. One that I know of in Houston and one from a business trip to Toledo.”

Alissa’s eyes grew big. How awful. How terribly awful. And with Chet still alive and in love with her. Alissa covered her mouth with her hand and let her eyes pour their sympathy out on Rosie.

“There was all the drinking, you know. Sometimes he would be gone for weeks. I wouldn’t know where he was, and then he would come home drunk and sleep for days. He lost his job, so I took in laundry and cleaned the floors at the elementary school to keep food on the table. What I longed for more than anything was a child of my own. But as much as I begged him, Joe wouldn’t give me that.”

Alissa couldn’t contain herself any longer. “Is that when you finally wrote to Chet?”

Rosie looked confused. “I never wrote to Chet.”

“But the letter. Last week he said when he received the letter, it changed everything.”

“Oh,” Rosie said, her expression brightening, “that letter. I didn’t write it. My best friend, Meg, did. You see, Meg moved to California not long after I married. She was my maid of honor. She had a cousin out here who owned an orange grove. Meg said she planned to be the first woman on the docks in Long Beach when all those lonely sailors came home after the war. She thought she had a better chance of finding a husband
out here than back in Des Moines.”

“So Meg wrote to Chet?”

Rosie nodded. “She did. Meg was the only one I confided in. She knew what my marriage was like. I never expected her to tell a soul. Then she heard about Chet coming back to Des Moines alive. It took her nearly five months to work up the courage, but she wrote to him and told him where he could find me. That’s all she told him. Meg knew it wasn’t her place to share any of the personal confidences I’d entrusted to her.”

“Good for her. I like Meg,” Alissa said.

Suddenly Rosie’s expression changed. “Then you must meet her. She’ll be at the wedding Saturday. You will come to our wedding, won’t you? Chet and I would be honored to have you as one of our special guests.”

Alissa quickly put aside her plans to move into the duplex, and with a smile she said, “Rosie, I wouldn’t miss your wedding for anything!”

“Good,” Rosie said, patting Alissa’s leg. “Two o’clock on Saturday at Descanso Gardens, the Rose Garden.”

Just then they both heard the back door open and Chet’s warm voice call out, “Rosie-o, Rosie-o. Wherefore art thou, Rosie-o?”

Rosie gave Alissa a little-girl look, scrunching up her nose. “He always says that. Isn’t he adorable?” With her head held high, she called out in a twittering voice, “Out here, my love! And Alissa is here, Chet.”

“Well, hello there,” he greeted Alissa with a friendly smile as he pulled up a seat. “I suppose you’re going to want some money from us pretty soon.”

“It’s all detailed here in the folder. I’ve included the tickets along with the itinerary.”

Chet gave Rosie a loving, adventuresome look and said, “Only four more days, my true love.”

Alissa watched the tenderness transmitted between them. In a slight way, she felt as if she were intruding. But in a grander, deeply wonderful way, she felt as if she were being allowed to witness a miracle, to share a secret.

She knew exactly what she wanted to buy them for a wedding gift. A garden shop in the Old Town section of Pasadena made customized plaques and signs. Alissa could envision one hanging next to the honeysuckle on the garden wall. She would order a big wooden heart with the grand declaration, “Love Spoken Here.”

Chapter Seven

W
hen Alissa returned to the office, she felt exhausted. It was as if she had driven to Houston, Long Beach, and Des Moines as Rosie moved from place to place in her story. What mesmerized her was how Rosie could be so beautiful and poised after such a painful life. Did Chet do that for her? Was it possible for one completely true, sincere love to cancel so much hurt and pain? How did Rosie keep from being bitter?

All the way back to the office Alissa had tried to figure out what had happened after Chet received Meg’s letter. Each scenario she pictured took her down a long, winding road in her imagination. Every angle Alissa worked factored Chet and Rosie getting together, as they were now. True love conquers all, right? But why were they reunited at seventy instead of at thirty? She knew some pretty detailed chunks of the story remained to be told.

The only thing that helped Alissa get her mind off Chet and Rosie was the stack of phone messages waiting for her. The
afternoon flew by, as did the rest of the week.

On Friday after work Alissa drove by the duplex. She knew Shelly would be gone, and now, with Rosie and Chet’s wedding on Saturday, she wouldn’t be moving in until Sunday. At least she could move some of the plants around and check on how the paint turned out in her room.

Turning the key in the door, Alissa was glad to find it opened with just a touch. She entered the cool, quiet duplex and noticed a pair of Birkenstock sandals by the door. She remembered to slip off her flats and padded silently into the house.

On the table was a fresh bouquet of garden flowers and a sign that read, “Welcome home, Alissa!” First she smiled. Then she felt a tightening in her chest. She was home. Finally. Everything felt as if it had fallen into place.

Then she heard a noise. Alissa held her breath, listening intently for another sound.

There it was. Faint, but definitely inside, not outside. A slight tapping sound. She glanced around quickly, finding only one of the wrought iron dining room chairs to use as she stalked the intruder at the end of the hallway. The noise came again from behind her closed bedroom door. Alissa carefully pushed open the door and stepped in, her heart pounding, with the chair raised above her head.

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