The congregation laughed, and there was more sniffling and hugs. Chris realized that Abe had earned this tribute by his relationships with everyone—a partner, a set of friends, students, and a larger community, grieving together. Only the Rabbi, Flavia, and the twins would show up for Chris’s funeral.
“Abe’s death is especially difficult to understand because it came by his own hand.” The pastor paused. “I don’t want to avoid that topic because this church is about honesty. No one of us knows the struggles that others undergo. Abe experienced hardships, but they made him a better servant of God and a better friend to us. They gave him the empathy and the sensitivity that carried him through every day, through his volunteer work, his teaching, and his home life.”
A group of female students burst into tears, and Dr. McElroy, Courtney, Rick, and Coach Natale tried to comfort them. Chris realized that no one from the baseball team had come. He couldn’t seem to puzzle out the connection between the team, the plot, and Abe’s death, but that only told him that he needed to keep digging.
“Our church has always been about love, and today we celebrate our service to God and rededicate ourselves to His community, as we know that Abe would want us to. And now, let us begin.”
Chris watched as the pastor led the congregation in prayer, hymns, and a homily about universal understanding. The service ended in signs of peace, and he hugged the people near him, relieved that he wasn’t wearing a shoulder holster. He filed out of the church, and the congregation went outside. Dr. McElroy, Courtney and her husband, Rick and his wife, Coach Natale and his wife, and a weepy group of friends and students clustered around Jamie, and Chris approached the group, who turned and smiled at him.
“Chris, how wonderful of you to come,” Dr. McElroy said, reaching over for a hug. She didn’t have her knee scooter anymore, but her big black orthopedic boot was on, matching a black dress.
“Deepest condolences, Dr. McElroy.”
“Thank you.” Dr. McElroy gestured to Coach Natale. “I assume you’ve met?”
“Yes. Hi, Victor.” Chris shook his hand. “Sorry about this loss. This is very sad.”
“It sure is.” Victor gestured to his wife. “Please, meet Felicia. I think I mentioned her to you. She knew Abe, too.”
“Yes, of course, the reading support specialist.” Chris shook Felicia’s hand, and she smiled back.
“Hi, Chris.” Courtney gave him a hug, her eyes puffy, without her usual sparkle. She had on a black pantsuit and sagged against her husband, a blocky linebacker type with blond hair. Chris remembered that Abe had called him Doug The Lug.
“Courtney, I’m very sorry about your loss.”
“I can’t believe he’s really gone. I don’t believe it.” Courtney rallied to motion to her husband. “Please, meet Doug.”
Doug extended his hand. “Chris, nice to meet you. So I heard you’re from Wyoming.”
“I went to school there. Are you from Wyoming?” Please don’t be from Wyoming.
“No, I’m from here. Abe was a great guy, and it’s nice that you came today. It’s been hard on Courtney.”
“I’m sure.” Chris noticed a crestfallen Rick standing next to an attractive Japanese woman with long dark hair, presumably his wife, Sachi, dressed in an artsy black smock. Chris turned to greet them, extending a hand. “Rick, I’m so sorry about Abe.”
“Thanks. You, too.” Rick squeezed Chris’s hand. “It’s not possible. It doesn’t seem real. We were just together. Remember, we were joking? ‘Mr. Y?’”
“I know.” Chris turned to Rick’s wife. “And you must be Sachi.”
“Yes, nice to meet you.” Sachi smiled sadly. “Have you met Jamie, Abe’s partner?”
“No, I haven’t.” Chris extended a hand, and Jamie shook it, managing a shaky smile. His brown eyes were bloodshot, and grief etched lines into his smooth face. He was trim and compact in a sharply tailored dark suit with a crisp white shirt and blue-patterned tie, a stylish standout in the crowd of outlet gear.
“Oh, you’re Chris Brennan. It’s so kind of you to come today. Abe told me about you.”
“I’m so sorry about your loss,” Chris said, meaning it. “Abe was a wonderful man, and you have my deepest condolences on his loss.”
“Thank you.” Jamie’s eyes glistened. “He was so excited about you. No one from Wyoming ever comes out here. He hadn’t lived there in so long, but he was nostalgic about the place. He had even pulled some pictures for you.”
“How nice.” Chris felt touched.
“You know, a few of the other teachers and our closest friends have set up a little brunch back at the house. I’m not ready to be alone, and my friends know that. Why don’t you come back to the house? It would mean so much to me if I knew that you saw the pictures. He wanted you to see them.”
“I’d love to, thank you.”
“Terrific. You can follow us.”
Heather cracked an egg into the Pyrex bowl, humming happily to herself. Susan Sematov had known of three job openings, one as an assistant in ValleyCo’s corporate office and two from the outlet stores for Wranglers and Maidenform. She had already applied online for all three jobs and was planning a shopping trip to get a nice interview outfit.
Heather scrambled the eggs, making a yellow funnel so perfect it could’ve been in a surf movie. She wasn’t Ina Garten yet, but she was on her way. She was going to surprise Jordan with French toast because he needed cheering up. He had been sad about Mr. Y’s suicide, returning home from practice subdued and staying in his room all day. She’d tried to buck him up at dinner, telling him the good news about her job prospects, but that hadn’t worked.
Heather added a dash of vanilla, feeling good about herself for the first time in a long time. If she got an office job, with nine-to-five hours, she could be home and make dinner every night. From recipes. With fresh herbs. And pretentious butter from Whole Foods. She’d spent last night fantasizing about that ValleyCo job, which could become a stepping-stone to a real career. ValleyCo had a scholarship program for employees, and Heather vowed she’d never be in a dirndl again.
She lifted a piece of bread into the egg mixture, then sprinkled on cinnamon, and let it soak, her thoughts straying to a fantasy that had nothing to do with gainful employment. She’d found herself thinking about Chris, more and more. He was a total hunk, and sensitive, but in a manly way. He listened to her, learned about her, and he’d coached her, to boot. And he was so good to Jordan. She knew that it was an inappropriate fantasy, but no fantasy worth having was appropriate. The man was Marriage Material on Wheels.