“It’s a good observation.” John took a bite of his pork chop.
“What about you, hot stuffin’ lovin’?” Clarice asked.
He smiled at the nickname.
She cut her potato into pieces. “What kept you from getting all cracked up that first day without her?”
He took another bite and mulled over the question. “Barbara. I had to be strong for her. I couldn’t be the one to fall apart. Not when Barbara needed me. Not when she was as lost as me. It wasn’t easy. Some days, I just wanted to sit in a corner somewhere and just breathe and do nothing else. Just breathe. Because even breathing was difficult. Some days, breathing was impossible.”
She nodded and ate a potato piece. “I remember feeling that way too. Oh, John. That whole first year was a long, whole year of waiting. Waiting for Gerry to enter a room. Waiting for him to say my name. Waiting for him to sit next to me on the couch and watch stupid, silly programs on tv.”
John covered up Barbara and kissed her good night. He waited for Carolyn to rumple his hair and say, “Let’s go to bed.”
He stood by his daughter’s bed alone.
He nodded in sympathy. “Yeah. I know that feeling.”
“The hardest thing was learning how to make a meal for just me.” Clarice said. “Single portion sizes are so small. They look like kid meals in a restaurant. Handful of chicken nuggets and French fries. Small stack of pancakes. Not even enough to be filling.”
She stabbed another potato piece. “Let me tell you what, though: Ordering pizza after his death was weird. So very weird. I couldn’t just order a full size, because woo! That was a lot of pepperoni pizza for one petite woman to eat alone.” She ate the piece. “And I hated seeing the box sit undisturbed in the fridge. So!”
She poked one more piece with her fork. “I’d order personal pizzas. It’s so nice that pizza places offer that as an option. Problem is…or was, personal pizzas never felt like enough food.”
Clarice laughed a little. “I tried to cut them into proper slices, but those were some mighty narrow triangles.”
Her laugh was too little, too close to tears. John put his pork chop down and covered her hand with his own. He moved his thumb back and forth in a comforting gesture.
She lowered her gaze. “I don’t eat pizza anymore.”
“Neither do I.” He swallowed hard. “Do you ever feel like…like…Do you ever worry that you’re gonna wake up some morning and not remember all of the small things? Things like—the color of his hair. His mannerisms. The sound of his voice.”
She nodded. “You too?”
She laughed. This time, it was a real laugh without a trace of tears. “Oh, my goodness! Are we terrible at this or what?”
He couldn’t help smiling. “What?”
“We sound like we’re trying to compete for highest sympathy points.”
John thought over their conversation and had to laugh. “It does, doesn’t it?”
“Absolutely! So, I vote that we jump subjects.”
Sarah tapped her fork against her plate.
John looked at her. “What’s wrong?”
She shook her head.
Sarah pointed at him and at Clarice and tapped her index fingers together. She then gave him a very expectant look.
“You want us to…Ohhh!” He laughed.
Clarice laughed too. “Well, I think we all should finish supper first.” She winked at John. “Then, you and I can have dessert.”
Sarah clapped her hands and happily resumed eating her food.