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”Idling your time away I see?”
Rousing from her reverie quickly, Bette looked at her manager, Nicole, who took a seat on a bar stool. The brunette realized that she had stopped wiping the glass at some point, so she proceeded to replenish her duties, if with a little bit of embarrassment.
”Just kidding,” Nicole said, letting out a good-natured chuckle. ”You’re doing great. I’ve been watching you for a while and I’m glad to have hired you.”
Bette looked up and studied the woman for a moment. In her late forties, her manager could have easily passed for a younger woman. Her long straight hair was dark blonde, almost brown, and was perfectly coiffed. She had a heart-shaped face, painted with too much makeup, a sharp nose, pointed chin and light bluish green eyes. Her clothes were elegant and corporate, she had pearls layered around her neck and rings on many of her fingers. She was usually a calm woman, even though her voice had a rich vibrant quality that commanded attention.
”Thank you, I guess,” Bette said and smiled.
”How are things going here for you on the whole?” Nicole wondered. ”Do you like our team?”
”Sure. Everyone’s been great so far.”
”We have a tradition to welcome new members of our team by throwing a party in their honor. To help them feel more comfortable around other team members, to create a positive connection, so to speak.”
”I think that’s a wonderful tradition,” Bette commented as she hung a pure, unblemished glass up onto a floating glass shelf before proceeding to wipe another glass.
”How would you like to do it, say, on the next weekend?”
Bette smiled. ”Deal.”
Taking her baseball cap off, Bette stared down at the tombstone in front of her. The sun beamed down from the sky and produced a suffocating haze that made it difficult to breathe. She remembered the rain when she had stood here the last time. And the misery. The rain-sodden misery. Such a contrast to this beautiful sunny day.
”Hello, Marcus,” the brunette said in a soft, barely audible voice. ”It’s been awhile.”
She inched closer to the tombstone that was tilted at an angle, looking neglected. Crouching down beside it, she rested her hand on the top of it. She let out a sigh, wincing as she did. Her chest was tight with the burden of ten years of grief and unanswered questions, which were rather rhetorical than those that needed to be answered, all beginning with the same word. Why? Why him? Why had Marcus been taken away so young when his family needed him the most, when Bette needed him the most? Why hadn’t she tried to prevent his death when she could have? She knew she could have. She had spent years in prison, dwelling on how she could have done everything differently.