Clarice stood as Hildreth and Elsie stopped at her table.
“Mom.” Elsie started to say.
Clarice hugged her. Words and feelings and emotions overwhelmed the older woman. There was so much to say. So much she wanted to say. Tears she wanted to shed. Tearful, messy laughter that needed to be set free.
“Mom. I love you.”
His absence in that moment was so strong it was almost like a presence. She could almost feel him. She could almost see his smile, his bright glow. That almost-a-presence made her hurt even more.
Gerry. Oh, Gerry.
Her tears refused to be held back a second longer. They fell. Clarice tried to not be obvious about it, but they fell and they fell. They dripped and they dropped and they fell.
Elsie hugged her all the tighter. “Dad may not be here, but you are. Mom, I’m so glad you’re here. I love you so much.”
“Your father would have been exploding with pride.” Clarice quietly wondered how she could wipe away her tears without being obvious.
Elsie released her.
Clarice started to turn away, but Elsie stopped her.
“Mom.” She picked up one of the unused linen napkins from the table and gently dabbed away her mother’s tears. “I am sorry.”
Clarice stared at her and tried to remember what Elsie had to be sorry for. “Umm, did I miss something?”
Elsie shook her head. “I did. I missed so many chances to make things right with him. Oh, it’s all so easy to blame Dad for all of those years, for all of my hurt, for making me feel neglected and unloved and unwanted.” She shrugged. “And it is his fault. All he had to do was call me. That’s all it would have taken to make things okay again. Mom, I missed him so much all of those years. I missed the sound of his voice. I missed.” Her eyes teared up. “I missed being his princess. But it’s my fault too.” She blinked and the tears fell. “All I had to do was call him. All I needed to do was to forget my fears, to push them away. To just call him. And I didn’t. I let my fear tie my hands together and chain me up. I let my fear fester into anger and hatred. But all I had to do was call him. Mom, I’m so sorry I didn’t call him.”
Clarice hugged her daughter. She wanted to tell her it’s okay. She wanted to make her feel better. But the words stuck to her throat and tears fell from her eyes. Over and over.
“I love you, Mom.”
“I love you too, Elsie.”
Hildreth chose to remain silent as the mother and daughter had their cathartic moment. This was between them and just them. He knew it. He didn’t question it.
He let it be.