Over the next year, Rita Grace started to develop and grow up right in front of her eyes. Felice couldn’t get over how beautiful her daughter was. She had the same olive tan complexion Felice herself had from being of Italian descent and was also born with the same dark hair. Additionally, her gorgeous blue eyes definitely came from Pavel. Whenever she saw them it was like looking at him.
She still visited Darryl as often as she could. He needed her as much as she needed him. She came to rely on the sense of stability and the warm feeling of family she felt by being around them.
In the beginning, she wasn’t sure if Darryl would ever come out of the depression that completely enveloped him. He got up and went to work each day and came home to his children. He felt completely and utterly alone, even with his children under foot. His despair knew no end. He stopped visiting friends and didn’t invite anyone over anymore. For months, Felice was the only one who was allowed in his home in order to take care of his children when he wasn’t there. Darryl also put her name on the school’s roster, allowing her to pick up the children and as another contact to call should anything happen and the school couldn’t reach him.
One afternoon, on her way back from grocery shopping, her cellular phone rang.
“This is Sue Ann at the school. I have Glenn and Gabriella here. They said Mr. Thornton was to pick them up this afternoon, but he’s over an hour late.”
“What? That’s not like him. Sue Ann, thank you for calling. I’ll be right there to get the children.”
“Thank you, Ms. Bellicini.”
“You’re welcome. I’ll see you soon.”
Hanging up the phone, Felice started to worry. Oh, please, God. Don’t let anything happen to Darryl. I don’t think the children can take that.
She picked up the children from the school and assured Sue Ann that everything was fine.
“Darryl probably got busy at work and forgot I wasn’t getting the children.”
“I’m sure you’re right. Tell Darryl I said hi.”
“I will,” she waved and drove off.
Felice didn’t want the children to be in hearing distance or to see anything they shouldn’t, since she didn’t know where Darryl was or what she would have to deal with once she found him. Instead, she dropped the twins and her daughter off at the babysitter’s with a promise she would could come and get them as soon as she could.
She raced over to Darryl’s house, figuring it was the first place to start looking for him. She pulled into the driveway, shut her car off and practically ran up the walkway to the front door.
She could hear the television blaring in the living room. She rang the bell four times and after getting no response, started banging on the door, calling his name. She felt herself start to panic when he didn’t open the door.
She remembered the key she was given for times when she brought the children home from school. She unlocked the door and tried pushing it open, but it wouldn’t budge very far. She was barely able to peek in the little crack of an opening.
She pushed as hard as she could on the door and was finally able to get it open far enough to squeeze in. Once inside, she could see at least a dozen boxes and over-filled trash bags blocking the door. She opened the top of one of the boxes and found a pair of Rita’s shoes.
“Oh, no. Darryl? Darryl, where are you?” she yelled out, as she wandered the rooms downstairs.
She turned off the television and walked back into the hallway.
“What are you screaming about?” Darryl cautiously crept down the stairs, holding the banister as he went.
“Darryl? What is going on? What are Rita’s things doing here?”
“Well, I won’t wear them,” he sneered, “and I don’t think they’ll fit the kids.”
Darryl managed to get to the bottom of the stairs and unsteadily made his way towards her. When he approached, it smelled like she was standing in a brewery. The stench of alcohol permeated the air.
Wrinkling her nose, she asked, “Darryl, are you okay?”
“Okay? Am I okay? What the hell do you think? What kind of question is that?” he slurred his words at her with a vehemence she never heard in his voice before.
She stepped back as if he hit her.
He cut her off before she could say anymore.
“I don’t have a wife because I let her go out when I should have gone to the market. I have two children who don’t have a mother anymore because of me and you’re stupid enough to ask if I’m okay!”
He was screaming at her so loud the veins in his neck were bulging. Then just as quickly as his tempered flared, he began sobbing.
“I hate my life without Rita.”
He took a step back, hit the side of the couch with the back of his legs and fell against it. He continued to cry and Felice went to him and held him in her arms.
After a few moments, he sat up and grabbed both of her arms hard and started to shake her.
“Do you have any idea how this feels? Do you?”
“Stop it. Darryl, you’re hurting me.”
“Hurting you? You have no idea what kind of pain I’m in.”
Suddenly, he crushed her lips with his and roughly claimed her mouth, pushing her teeth apart with his tongue. He pushed her back on the sofa and followed her until her breasts were crushed under the weight of his chest.
“Stop it, Darryl,” she repeated. “You’re drunk. You don’t know what you’re doing.”
He didn’t answer her. From the outside of her blouse, he grabbed her breast and started massaging it. She tried pushing him off of her, but couldn’t budge him.
“Darryl, please stop,” she begged.
As a reply, a groan escaped his lips as he slid his hand beneath her blouse, pushed her bra aside and roughly grabbed her breast again. Even knowing this was just a result of Darryl being intoxicated, and despite her brain telling her otherwise, Felice became aroused. She kissed him back with a passion she didn’t know she could feel again after Pavel. He continued to massage her breasts, stirring the longing in her further. Too many months of being alone was affecting her rationalization.
As if someone splashed cold water on her face, her mind cleared of its sexual, drug-induced state and she realized what was happening. At first, he started to take advantage of her, but now she knew it was she who was taking advantage of him. Although he was in a drunken and grieving state, her actions were worse. Fortunately, her head won out over the physical yearning as she recognized this fact. She couldn’t let it go any further or both of them would be sorry later.
With all the strength she could muster, she pushed Darryl off of her and he tumbled to the floor. Worrying that she hurt him, she bent down to see if he was all right. He passed out and was breathing evenly. Because she couldn’t get him back on the couch, she left him as he was on the floor and covered him with the throw from the side chair.
Before she left, she wrote a note telling Darryl where the children were and that he needed to pick them up tomorrow. She went to the babysitter’s house, retrieved her daughter and asked
if she could keep the twins overnight as Darryl was sick. She assured her
Darryl would come and get the twins tomorrow. Tracy
The next day Darryl called her. Partly because she was mad at him and partly because she was angry with herself, she didn’t answer her telephone when she saw his number display on the caller ID. She let her answering machine take the call.
“Felice, I am so sorry about last night. I don’t know what came over me. Please forgive me. I was drunk and tried taking advantage of you. You and I have become good friends and I don’t want to ruin it. I hope I haven’t already.” He paused as if he was waiting for her to pick up the phone. When she didn’t, he continued, “I guess you’re not home or you’re not taking my call. In which case, I don’t blame you. Please, Felice, believe me when I say again how sorry I am. I hope you’ll call me and we can get past this.”
She reached for the receiver, but he hung up before she could pick it up.
“Just as well,” she said aloud.
She knew he was right. It was all because of the alcohol. She also realized his drunken state was a direct result of his grieving. She couldn’t blame him, but she held herself responsible for having responded sexually to him when he was impaired. That was just wrong, she told herself. She didn’t call Darryl until the next day.
“Felice? I’m so glad you called. I wasn’t sure if you even wanted to speak to me again.”
“Maybe we should meet and talk about what happened, Darryl.”
“That would be nice. Please know how sorry I am.”
“I do, Darryl. I’m sorry, too.”
“What do you have to be sorry about?”
“We’ll talk later. How about we meet for lunch?”
They arranged to meet at twelve-thirty at the little café down the block from her place.
As she walked up to the café, Felice spotted Darryl sitting at a small bistro table outside on the veranda. He chose a seat in the furthest corner away from the sidewalk, facing the street so he could see her when she arrived.
He looked haggard, like he hadn’t slept in days. His clothes hung on him and he didn’t even bother to shave. Felice’s heart swelled with pity since she too was having difficulty dealing with Rita’s death. It had left a hole in her heart she didn’t think would ever mend. Whenever she looked at her baby, she couldn’t help but think Rita should have been here to see her little girl, to see the growth spurts and the love in her child’s eyes whenever she looked up at her. Felice ached to have her friend back, to share these moments with her. With the events she’s endured over the last couple of years, she felt that sometimes life just didn’t seem fair.
But Darryl…she couldn’t even imagine what Darryl was feeling. Pavel walked out on her and their baby, but Rita’s death was more than tragic. She didn’t know how Darryl was going to recuperate from the pain of such a loss.
She vowed she would help see him through this. They could grieve together. Walking towards him now evoked a memory of when Rita introduced her to Darryl many years ago.
One evening, Rita invited her to dinner with her and Darryl. She wanted Felice to meet the man she knew she was destined to marry. She was to meet Rita and Darryl at the restaurant. Walking in, she noticed Rita sitting next to a handsome man with her hand in his on top of the table. They didn’t have eyes for anyone else and it took Rita a moment to realize she was standing there.
“Felice!” she cried as she stood and hugged her. “I want you to meet Darryl Thornton. Darryl, this is my dear friend Felice.”
Later that evening, Rita called Felice to find out what she thought.
Felice told her how much she liked Darryl.
“He seems to be so nice, open and honest. Those qualities are rare to find in men these days.”
“Don’t I know it,” Rita stated. “I’m going to marry him, Felice.”
“Did he propose?”
“Not yet, but he will. He’s the man I’m meant to be with. I’m destined to be the mother of his children.”
Now, as Darryl greeted her with an empty smile, those words echoed in Felice’s mind. Rita was right, but the one thing she didn’t know back then was that her love affair would end much too soon.
Darryl stood and pulled her chair out for her. Again, she noticed how terrible he looked. She knew then she was right. He was not taking care of himself. She didn’t have any doubt, however, that he was taking care of the children. That was the type of man he was. He loved his children and knew Rita would expect him to care for them.
“Felice, I don’t know what to say except how very sorry I am.”
“You don’t need to apologize, Darryl. I understand. It’s the grief. We are both going through it, albeit in different ways.”
“Thank you for understanding. Please know that what happened the other night will never happen again.”
“I know, let’s move past it. How about we start fresh as friends?”
He showed a genuine smile when he answered, “I’d like that. Thank you. I appreciate you picking up the children and being wise enough not to bring them home to let them see me in that horrible state the other night. It would have devastated them.”
“Yes, it would.”
“I didn’t have any right to maul you like I did. There’s no excuse for that.”
“You are not completely to blame, Darryl. I realize your actions were a result of the alcohol and the grief. The problem is,” she paused and sipped her tea to give her time to draw the courage to confess to him her own shameless attitude, “I wasn’t drunk. Even though I knew you were only acting that way because you had been drinking, I responded to you. For a moment, I allowed you to kiss me and I kissed you back. For that, I am sorry, Darryl.”
“You don’t need to apologize. You are only human.”
“Maybe in a way I do understand what you’re going through, the loss and the grief associated with it. Your loss was so sudden not to mention tragic. Losing Pavel was different, but sudden nonetheless. I was angry. That’s something you’ll soon feel. You have to, it’s all part of the grieving process. Being blissful wasn’t enough to keep him with me once I got pregnant. I knew he didn’t want children, but I certainly didn’t get pregnant intentionally, nor did I do it alone. He was nothing more than a coward after all. I thought he loved …” she trailed off.
“I’m sure he did, in his own way.”
“Perhaps, but not enough. When he left, my heart was as empty as yours is and it still is, but yours doesn’t have to be. Rita loved you, Darryl. She absolutely adored you, you know that, and that knowledge can—if you let it—make your life a little easier. Remember the love you had for one another and share it with your children as they grow.”
“Thank you, Felice,” tears escaped his eyes and he quickly wiped them away. “I don’t know how to thank you for just talking with me.”
She reached over, squeezed his hand and smiled at him.
They chatted for a while longer as they sipped their tea. Neither one of them had an appetite, but Felice insisted he eat, so they shared a club sandwich.
* * * * *
She continued to help out with the children if Darryl worked late and
wasn’t able to stay.
Mostly because of her reaction to him that night, she tried to stay at a
distance from Darryl. She didn’t want to be alone with him for fear that their
grief would push them together. She didn’t feel ready for anything like that,
even if it were only sexual. Tracy
Many times, she would go to Darryl’s house with Rita Grace so his children didn’t have to leave her place in pajamas, still groggy from sleep. She would usually just stay at Darryl’s in the guest room on those nights. It was normally late when Darryl finally left his job. He took dental patients late into the evening, then stayed and did paperwork. She knew he was throwing himself into his work so he didn’t dwell on the loss of Rita. Felice was doing her own hiding from the world, so she recognized the signs all too well that Darryl was exhibiting.
One night, she was at Darryl’s babysitting and fell asleep on the couch in the living room. The children were all tucked in their beds by the time Darryl came home. She didn’t hear him come in.
“Felice,” he said, as he gently shook her, “go on up to bed.”
“What? I’m sorry. I must have fallen asleep here.”
“It’s okay, I’ve checked on the children and they’re all fine.”
Felice stood up and yawned.
“I think I’ll make myself some tea. Do you want some?”
“Sure,” he answered, as he followed her into the kitchen.
She put the teakettle on and turned to reach into the cupboard for some teabags and cups. She set a cup with a teabag in front of Darryl at the kitchen table. Before she could withdraw her hand from the cup, Darryl took it and held it in his.
“Felice, I don’t know how to thank you for being here for me and the children this past year.”
“You don’t have to thank me. It’s what friends are for. Rita would have done the same for me.”
Felice sat down in the chair next to him.
“I want to thank you. Can I take you out to dinner tomorrow night? I’ll call
and we can go have a nice evening out.” Tracy
“That sounds nice. I’d love to.”
The kettle started to whistle and she poured the water for their tea and sat back down at the table.
They talked for a little while about Rita, reminiscing about what a good friend she was to Felice, the extraordinary wife and mother she was and especially the love she had for her family. It gave them both some much-needed comfort. Felice loved these talks. It kept Rita alive in her memory and she knew it helped Darryl these past months as well.
Felice was becoming increasingly groggy and said as much to him, “I’m sorry, Darryl. I’m exhausted. Do you mind if I go up and get some shut eye?”
“I’m sorry I kept you up. Yes, please go get some sleep. I’ll call you tomorrow with a time for dinner.”
Through her yawn, Felice said, “Sure. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
Darryl watched her as she walked out of the room.
“She is something else,” he said aloud to himself, still sitting at the table. Then looking skyward, he added, “Rita, what would I do without her? I miss you and I’m glad Felice is here to help.”
He was looking at her with different eyes now. In a way, it made him feel guilty. Although, he loved Rita and he missed her every day, there was something about Felice that went deeper than friendship for him. He couldn’t help but notice how beautiful she was and not just on the outside. There was an inner beauty that shone through from her kindness, generosity and willingness to help with the children. Not to mention how she seemed to always be there for him when he needed her.
It seemed as if she was always letting him cry on her shoulder. She always knew just when he needed comforting. As if a light went on, Darryl realized that all this time as he allowed her to comfort him, no one comforted her.
Finishing his tea, he stood up and stared at the doorway she just went through.
“It’s your turn. I’ve been selfish enough. It’s high time I pull my act together and start taking care of you.”