Los Angeles, California, In The Past
Afterwards, I spent the remainder of the afternoon speaking to the family and friends of both Brad and Sheryle. Both had been so interwoven in my life, so I knew more than a few people in the crowd. Yet I noticed Randolph lingering on the edges of various conversations I was having. The people I spoke with would glance towards him as if to include him in our conversations. Somehow he seemed to with me to the casual observer. Yet later I would recall he didn't speak with anyone directly. Occasionally he would nod to someone just out of my line of sight.
So I assumed he was a personal friend of Brad's. Brad was extremely social, I only knew maybe a third of the mourners present by name. Some were clients I had referred to him, and others he had referred to me. Many who overlapped were amongst the grief stricken. Sheryle's passing was harder on her parents and me. We'd known her. She'd stuck to the background at work. Socially Brad and Sheryle had many friends and acquaintances who'd attended. Most were from Brad's connections. I think her parents were stunned to find out how many people their quiet daughter had known.
Pain etched deeply into her parents' faces as the day edged towards night. Slowly people departed and I started helping the Harris' console the guests. My staff attempted to clean up the house while I shook hands and nodded to strangers and acquaintances. Randolph had left the house sometime in the previous hour and soon my employees were paid and I sent them home. I put away the remaining scraps of food and set a platter of cold cuts out with the necessary condiments for sandwiches. Gently I guided the remaining family members to the dining room table. As I readied to leave they were going through the motions of making sandwiches. The coffee urn had been refreshed with decaffeinated blend to see them through the evening.
Brad and Sheryle's funeral had been dismal, and the wake afterwards was even more painful. I cleaned up what I could and headed outside. The Harris' were no longer openly sobbing but I knew their pain wasn't ever going away. Brad's family had retreated to a nearby hotel and was probably busy drowning their pain in alcohol-filled glasses. I had said my goodbyes and headed outside.
Night had fallen and the rain had returned, sleeting down an icy hell. People always thought it was constantly perfect weather in California. Every now and then nature proved why it was 'temperate' climate and that the native chaparral was supported by rain and cold weather. Turning up my coat collar I opened up the umbrella and headed towards my car. My keys were in the coat pocket, as I hadn't brought a purse. Years of hearing about thefts at various events taught me to carry my driver's license in my glove box and my keys on my person.
Relief set in; I was glad to see the day was finally ending. The pain I felt was finding its niche in my heart and sorrow chased me but I wasn't outright sobbing any more. Once at the car I quickly unlocked the door and wrestled the wet umbrella to the back seat. I started the car and had turned on the windshield wipers when I noticed a car down the street with its hazard flashers on brightly blinking. A dark figure strode towards my vehicle. Flipping on my headlights I saw Randolph Hagen walking towards me. He waved and continued towards my side of the car.
I rolled the window down slightly as the rain poured inside dripping onto the seats. Randolph grimaced and said, "My car seems to be broken."
"Go to other side," I said rolling my window back up and unlocking the passenger side door. Randolph got in shaking water from his hair.
"Sorry, Alanna, it seems my car isn't running. I have no clue what's wrong. Can you take me to a phone? My cell doesn't seem to work. I didn't wish to intrude on the Harris' grief," he said by way of explanation.
Usually I had my cell with me but I'd left it at home figuring I'd have no use for it at a gravesite. That plus I really disliked leaving such an expensive temptation in the car. Looking at Randolph I figured he was telling the truth. Besides the mace in my side door pocket would fend off any unwanted advances. Considering his options, I knew that I was probably his only chance at not having to walk at least two miles in the drenching rain.
"Sure, I'll drive you to a phone. Do you need to turn off your hazards or lock up your car?" I asked.
"No, I already locked it up. Besides, the lights will help the tow truck driver find my car easier. I think there was a pay phone at the Bristol Farms Market up on Fair Oaks."
He snapped the seatbelt in place saying, "Thanks."
Duplicating the motions I got the car in gear then drove to Bristol Farms. I'd picked up lunch there occasionally so I knew where it was. Once in the parking lot I saw that Randolph was correct and there was a bank of working pay phones. Telling Randolph I'd wait until he found out for sure he'd get a tow truck I sat warm in my car waiting.
I watched, as he grew quite animated while speaking on the phone. He brushed his dripping hair out of his eyes. With an angry motion he slammed the black receiver back in place. Randolph stood for moment glaring at the phone. Harshly he tugged at his coat's collar to prevent more water from running down his neck. He rushed towards the car. Shaking even more water from his face he turned towards me. The feeling I'd already done this -- déjà vu the French be damned -- momentarily stunned me.
"Well, it seems with all the rain there've been an amazing number of accidents. I was told parts of highway 91 are completely closed. Triple A says it could be anywhere from two to three hours before a tow truck could possibly pick up my car. They won't even guarantee that. Then I was told to call back in another two hours if I still needed a tow," he said exasperated.
Sympathetic I said, "Could I give you a ride somewhere?"
He seemed genuinely surprised at my offer. After some half-hearted protests he agreed. With that, Randolph embarked on what I later found out was a well thought out campaign. That rainy night I drove him to his home. I pulled up to 825 Hollyberry, an address that haunts me to this day, not having a clue my life's course had changed.
Randolph proved to be a charming companion. With my life now in upheaval from Brad and Sheryle's deaths Randolph patiently worked his way into my world. After a year of seeing him steadily he asked me to marry him. I wasn't surprised by the proposal but I never understood precisely why I said yes. Even then I knew something wasn't quite right but I figured, 'what the heck' as I wasn't exactly getting any younger. Agreeing to marry him even though I didn't love him wasn't smart. But then I had grown accustomed to his being near and helping me over the rough spots.
Sheryle's death had hit me hard. Since then I have learned when you experience a traumatic death of a friend or loved one you aren't supposed to make any life altering decisions. Her death made me feel my own mortality and I wanted to start a family. I didn't want to get into the situation of many women I knew who were forced into the endless cycles of shots and treatments in a futile attempt to have children. I wasn't heading to infertility clinics or adoption agencies in order to build my family. We married three months later.
His family hadn't been present through much of our "courtship." So I first met most of them at my wedding. His family proved to be completely unexpected. Rachel Salinger Hagen was a gentle widowed woman by most people's description. I found out almost immediately upon meeting his mother that she was far more complicated than it appeared at first.
The wedding was a small, quiet, civil ceremony held at Randolph's home once we'd got the license. My parents were long gone and I'd been on my own for more years than I cared to remember. My mom had me very late in life and she and my dad were in their forties when I was in grade school. Dad died first and mom seemed to cave and follow within a year. It didn't matter because the years we had together were wonderful. They had instilled in me a strong work ethic, but hadn't been around to see how much I'd accomplished in my life. Uncle Robert wasn't able to attend. He was already in the nursing facility and had just undergone another surgery. Other than a few friends from my company the rest of the guests were Randolph's friends and family.
Randolph's mother and his cousin, Marge, were extremely forceful during the planning and execution of the event. They demanded attention wherever they went. Randa, his paternal aunt, was introduced as Marge's natural mother and Randolph's 'pseudo mother' amidst great laughter and nudges. I recall vividly Marge laughing about the whole thing while saying that she and Randolph had pretty much grown up as brother and sister.
For all the laughter and comments both Marge and Rachel treated Randa with marked distain. She was an aged beauty wearing a soft silk powdered blue dress. From the first I was drawn to Randa. She was warm and loving to her nephew, but Randolph ignored her for the most part. It was a painful interaction in a family I found I didn't have a clue how to deal with.
With all the various folks I met that day only Randa struck me as sincere. She seemed happy for Randolph and genuinely pleased to meet me. Her beauty shone through, her face captivated my artistic side. Had I not immediately gone into the catering event planning trade, I was going to be an artist -- despite the lack of income in such a career choice. We spoke briefly after the ceremony and made plans to have lunch sometime in the future.
This was a complete departure from Rachel's attitude towards me. Rachel constantly kept a thin tight-lipped smile pasted on her face whenever we spoke. I felt she was barely capable of civilly answering any questions I posed. She held tight to Marge and constantly fussed with her hair, as a small mother might a child's wayward curls. Rachel also pressed little creases into the handkerchief she clenched. Occasionally she plucked off unseen pieces of lint from Marge's spotless dress.
I remember that Marge wore a light yellow dress. The delicacy of the lace was impressive. Unfortunately the shade of yellow chosen made Marge appear quite sallow. The effect wasn't angelic in nature as desired but rather more along the lines of one terminally ill. The jaundice effect was more than a bit disconcerting.
As a quite lovely brunette, Marge was also graced with pale blue eyes. I always thought they were nearly white blue and nearly the shade of a blind woman to me. But what did I know? I did see that with the choice of dress color and the hint of a frown on her forehead she looked quite easily a good ten years older. The overall effect of her outfit was peculiar.
Rachel picked a drab but pricey gray silk dress. She had a single strand of pearls gracing her throat. Their slight yellow cast wasn't nice to me but they were probably worth a small fortune. Over the years I'd found Rachel's gem collection to be elaborate and of the best quality -- if not to my taste. The ensemble was harsh and unforgiving in the mid-day light. She also appeared at least a decade older than I knew she was. Her hair was pulled back sharply from her face with heavy gray streaks detracting from her look. She had been a redhead in her youth. The color had faded with time as is common with redheads. The light yellowish gray hair was poorly accentuated by her choice of attire. She wore flats that matched her outfit and the flat sandals were beyond ugly as far as I could tell. And she didn't look very happy. I was to find out that was pretty much the look she saved for me.