Collette Monroe’s father died in March of 1958. It was rather ironic, she thought, that he had died in the spring, when the flowers began to bloom and new lives were just beginning. But it wasn’t odd, Collette thought. After all, the stomach cancer had transformed her father from a strong man to a bag of bones.
Although he had raised her as a single parent, they had only recently begun to grow closer. She had heard rumors growing up about how the pain of losing his wife so soon after the birth had damaged him. It certainly didn’t help that Collette was the spitting image of her mother. Still, losing a parent was a terrible thing to go through even if Collette hadn’t quite figured out how she was going to mourn him.
The funeral parlor smelled of cigarettes, daisies and cheap candles. Old friends of her father have huddled over the casket, which had been displayed at the back of the room. Collette hadn’t gone to see him. She dreaded seeing dead bodies and she feared the image of her dead father would be forever implanted in her mind instead of the man he used to be.
She heard her elderly Aunt Milda let out a loud wail as she blew into her handkerchief, but Collette had no patience to comfort her. She was exhausted. The funeral preparations had taken a long time and her feet had been squeezed into painful black heels since seven am. It seemed there were a million things she still needed to do. Her purse contained only a pen, her address book and her checkbook. Those were the only things she had use for since she had been preparing for the funeral.
Collette looked around and realized she hardly knew the people who had shown up to her father’s funeral. There were some distant relatives, a couple of acquaintances, and old friends of her father’s who used to play baseball with him. Collette couldn’t help but notice her own loneliness. She had no mother, no siblings, no close family members and very few friends. She wasn’t married and she had no children. The idea of going back to an empty, dark house after today scared her. Collette wasn’t used to being alone and she wasn’t particularly good at it.
“Honey, I am so sorry for your loss. Is there anything we can do?”
Collette turned around and saw her best friend since childhood, Polly Carrow-Robinson, standing with her husband, Elijah. He was holding a bouquet of white lilies and Polly held a small box of butter cookies. They had married last summer, quickly, after Polly had been caught in a scandal, and although they had struggled at the beginning of their marriage, they were now happier than ever. They were a handsome couple even if they did look rather worse for wear lately.
Polly had soon gotten pregnant with twins and she was due in a couple of weeks. Collette was concerned about her friend as she looked at her carefully. The pregnancy had been hard on her and the usually vain and glamorous Polly seemed weak and frail. Her belly seemed too big for her small frame, she had dark circles under her eyes and her blonde hair was unkempt. It was strange seeing her like this when she had been chosen for her beauty at last year’s Miss Orchid Pageant.
“Thank you, but I think I’ve taken care of everything,” Collette said quietly as she took the items, wondering where she was going to put them. “We’ll be heading to the church soon and Father Michael promised a quick mass. It’s been a long day for everyone.”
“We are extremely sorry. Your father was a good man and you have handled your loss bravely,” Elijah said warmly, but his eyes never left his wife’s petite body. He looked equally exhausted and Collette doubted he slept much during the night when Polly was so close to giving birth. “If there is anything we can do, please let us know. Polly and I came to pay our respects, but I’m afraid we won’t be able to stay for the church service.”
“I’m so sorry, Lettie,” Polly said as she squeezed Collette’s hands. Her black dress was tight around her swollen belly. “Elijah and I want to stay to support you, but the babies are coming any day now and I’m so tired. The doctor and my father want me to spend most of the day in bed until the twins arrive.”
Collette kissed her icy cold cheek. “Don’t worry, honey. Just focus on taking care of yourself and the babies. I’ll be fine.”
Polly nodded, looking grateful as Elijah whispered a thank you to Collette. Elijah placed a hand on Polly’s back as he led her toward the exit. Collette stared at them as they left. She couldn’t help but feel jealous of her friend. She tried to avoid this feeling, since jealousy was such an ugly emotion, but sometimes she couldn’t help it. Polly had found a good man without trying. Even though her parents had arranged their marriage, Polly was happy, and Elijah adored his wife. He adored her so much, he had chased her all the way to California after she had run away.
Collette, on the other hand, was alone. No husband. No boyfriend. Not even a man who was interested in her. Ever since she was a little girl, she had been “boy crazy” and had chased boys around the playground and sent them cute love letters. In high school, she had kept a list of boys she had kissed, and when she had been fifteen, she lost her virginity to Thomas Hughes after going steady for three months. He dumped her a week later.
Yes, Collette had had many loves in her short twenty-three years, but none of the men she had fallen in love with had felt the same. They always left. Sometimes, they left her for another woman, or others just simply left her. Collette had gone through heartbreak after heartbreak, but she had still believed in love.
But now looking back, she wondered if she had made a mistake when it came to her love life. She had always gone after the popular boys or the boys with the nicest cars. Those boys never seemed to appreciate all the love and attention she had to give them, and they usually left her heartbroken. Now, after endless mistakes, it seemed her chickens had come home to roost. She was alone and she hated it, not to mention the men of Roseville, Connecticut didn’t seem to take her seriously anymore.
Collette realized she had depended on men to make her feel loved and to take care of her. She’d had the princess fantasy, but the only thing she had received was disappointment. Throughout the years, she had been relying heavily on her many boyfriends and crushes to make her feel special and wanted. She had even turned down a college scholarship to the local university, when her then high school boyfriend had told her he would break up with her if she left. Collette had been naïve, so she had stayed, hoping they would get married. He had left for South Dakota instead.
Collette’s cheeks burned with shame. She had been such an idiot, chasing after boys who were only using her and stringing her along. She had made sacrifices and many stupid mistakes in the hope a man would love her deeply and they would get their fairytale ending. The only thing she had received was a broken heart and loneliness. She didn’t even have a family anymore. She was truly alone.
“Collette, dear,” Father Michael said gently as he placed a hand on her shoulder. “Are you ready? They are going to start taking the coffin to the church for mass.”
Collette nodded. She felt numb as she stared at her father’s coffin. She couldn’t look at him. It was too painful. Before his death, her father had made her promise she was going to think of herself and her own happiness. He didn’t want her sacrificing her own happiness for anyone else. It had been the most serious conversation they had ever had. At the time, Collette had thought he had been exaggerating and delirious, but maybe he had a point.
She suddenly made a promise to herself that she was going to give up her dreams of romance and happily ever after. She had followed it for years and had nothing to show for it. It was time to face reality. Life was no fairytale, and the love of her life was not going to magically appear. No matter how much she wished he would.
Three months later, Collette Monroe could feel her sweat staining the sky-blue button-down blouse she was required to wear as a salesgirl for Porter’s Department Store. She could feel her face become hot and sweaty with each passing second and desperately wished she could press some powder on her face. It was hard to imagine it was only the middle of June since it had been over ninety degrees for the past three days.
Collette had been working at Porter’s as a salesgirl for almost five years since she had graduated high school. This had been the first time she had been called into Mrs. Hughes’ tiny and stuffy office since she had first been employed. No one wanted to be called into Mrs. Hughes’ office. If you were called in, then usually, you were about to receive devastating news.
Mrs. Hughes was responsible for managing the salesgirls at Porter’s, behavior wise and schedule wise. She was a fair woman, but she ruled with an iron fist and rarely tolerated mistakes. Collette knew she had worked at Porter’s for thirty-eight years, and she doubted she would ever leave.
Mrs. Hughes looked up from the paperwork in front of her. She had a look of pity on her face that Collette had never really seen before. She braced herself for some bad news as if she hadn’t gotten used to receiving bad news lately. Mrs. Hughes folded her hands and said softly, “Miss Monroe, as you may know, Porter’s Department Store has received poor sales for the past winter and spring seasons. I’m afraid we are not doing well for the summer season, either.” Mrs. Hughes paused. “The hiring department has asked us to… let go of several employees. You were one of them, I’m afraid.”
Collette’s smile fell as she grasped the reality. She was unemployed? But she had been working here ever since she graduated high school. “So, I’m being fired?” Her lower lip trembled. “But I’ve been working really hard and I haven’t done anything wrong.”
Mrs. Hughes looked down. Collette saw her tight, gray curls pulled up in a tight bun. “Like I said, Miss Monroe, the decision is not up to me. It came from corporate. You have been a wonderful employee and I’m sure you will find another position soon.” She handed her an envelope. “Inside, you will find a reference letter and your last paycheck. I’m deeply sorry, Miss Monroe.”
Collette nodded. There wasn’t much more to say in the matter. She took the envelope Mrs. Hughes had given her and squeaked out a goodbye. Then she headed toward the parking lot without bothering to say goodbye to her co-workers. She was sure she would burst into tears if she went to the break room.
She walked toward her red convertible, which had been her first big purchase when she had started working at Porter’s. She had bought it used and the mechanic at the service shop had helped her fix it up. It was her pride and joy because she had paid for it with her own money. Now it pained her that she might have to sell it if she didn’t find a job soon. Collette waited for the tears to come, but they never did. She was upset about losing her job and financial security, so why couldn’t she burst into tears?
It was barely noon and she wasn’t used to being out this early. She usually got out at five pm. She decided to head toward Polly’s house. She needed to talk to someone about her disastrous day. When she arrived, she knocked on the door and a frazzled Polly answered.
Polly had on a pastel green dress with some baby spit on the collar. Her blonde hair was in a messy ponytail and she was carrying one of her crying sons. She didn’t know if it was Nathaniel or George. The boys looked identical. Polly smiled at Collette as she tried to rock the crying pink-faced baby. “Collette, what a nice surprise! Come in. I thought you had work today.”
“They let us off early,” Collette lied. It seemed wrong to bring up the news when her friend was struggling and when her attention was on her three-month-old child. “Here, let me hold him. Maybe I can help.”
Collette took the baby from Polly and started rocking him. The baby fussed for a few more minutes but then calmed down. Polly threw her a grateful smile as she led her toward the living room. Polly slumped down on her seat. “I’m sorry for the mess, Lettie,” she said. “I didn’t realize how much work babies could be, between the crying, the feeding, and the diapering. Elijah and I can barely string along a coherent sentence.”
“These two keep you on your toes, huh?” Collette looked at the baby, who had an adorable expression on his face. “Is this one a little fussier than the other one?”
“Nathaniel is upstairs in the nursery taking a nap,” Polly said as she grabbed a towel to clean up the baby spit on her dress. “But George refuses to go to sleep and I’ve tried everything. I think he enjoys making Elijah and me go crazy from lack of sleep.”
Collette looked at the sweet baby, who was the picture of innocence. “He’s certainly a cutie, though.”
Polly smiled as she looked at her baby. “He is and I love him, but he is certainly responsible for my dark circles. When I hug him and he touches my face, it is certainly worth it, though. Would you like some lunch?”
“I’m not very hungry. I just thought I would stop by and say hello.” Collette looked at her friend who was nearly dozing off on the couch. “Why don’t you rest up for an hour? You look tired and I can take care of baby George; he hasn’t destroyed my sleep schedule yet.”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t,” Polly protested, looking embarrassed. “You came here to visit. Besides, my mother-in-law will be here at three to help me with dinner. I can rest later. It’s been so long since we’ve had a chat. You didn’t come here so I could sleep.”
“I can watch him for an hour while you take a nap,” Collette insisted as she looked at George, still cooing. “I don’t mind. You need your beauty sleep; you look exhausted.”
Polly looked grateful as she nodded. “Elijah and I haven’t been able to sleep properly for weeks. Daddy says the babies will sleep through the night soon, but they are putting up quite a fight.” Polly kissed her cheek. “You’re an angel. I’ll sleep for a little while but wake me up soon. It’s not fair to you.”
Collette nodded as she watched Polly disappear. She looked down at baby George who was pushing his little fist toward her. “Oh, George,” she whispered at the baby. “What am I’m going to do now?”
Collette headed back home an hour later after she had kissed Polly, George and Nathaniel goodbye. The babies were so sweet and adorable, and they definitely took after Polly. Polly had made Collette promise they would go shopping on Friday for Elijah’s birthday present and she had agreed. In the end, she had been too embarrassed to admit to Polly about the job she had lost.
Collette lived in a small house near the center of town. It was painted red and had white shutters and doors. Her mother and father had painted it before Collette had been born and her father had been too heartbroken to change it in these last twenty-three years. The paint was a little chipped, but it was still pretty. She had wanted to repaint it for years, but there never seemed to be enough money. Her father’d had no interest in repainting. He had spent most of his time at work or sitting next to the radio listening to the evening news.
Even though it had been three months since he had died, Collette still wasn’t used to being alone, and every little bump in the night terrified her. She wondered if she would ever get used to it. Her heart ached with pain; loneliness was a terrible thing.
She picked up the stack of mail from her mailbox and sighed, feeling exhausted as she ripped them opened. Some of them had bright red letters that screamed Overdue and Final Warning, while others simply included a huge bill. She still wasn’t done paying off the funeral expenses and medical bills. Who knew funerals were so expensive?
Collette sighed as she dumped the bills next to the phone. It was during times like these, she wished she had gone to college or secretarial school. Her father had offered to pay for both when she graduated high school, but for some stupid reason or another, she had declined, and now she was paying the price.
She had a few hundred dollars saved in her bank account, but it would soon be gone to pay off the mortgage, grocery bills and utilities. Her small inheritance had been used to pay off some of the medical bills and funeral expenses. If she didn’t get a job soon, she would really be in trouble. Roseville was a small, friendly town and she was sure she would get help if she asked, but she didn’t want to depend on the kindness of others. It felt too embarrassing.
She fished her hand into her purse and pulled out her car keys. She desperately needed a drink and to get out of Roseville.