Very little had changed on Garden Way. The city had shifted around this pocket of Victorian structures but had not intruded. Careful management by a local historical society had battled progress and held on to the gentle grace of the neighborhood. Through traffic was no longer allowed over the newly uncovered brick streets, so Kermit left the Corvair behind and walked down the sidewalk toward the remains of another life.
Going to the cemetery was out of the question. He'd buried her body a few miles away under that smooth green sod and placed a stone angel there as a sentry, but she wasn't really there. All that was Claire was here. All that he'd known of her was still here within three blocks. A phony business. A bookstore. A coffee shop. A painted-lady Victorian with vines slowly seducing the corners of the porch. A squeaky oak bed where they made love....where she died. A window with a seamstress and mother and a bride-to-be.
Kermit paused at the gate leading to Claire's old home. He recognized her assistant, now ten years older, busily fitting a satin gown to a twenty-something who was babbling away to her mother. The seamstress was working around the exuberant young woman whose arms bounced up and down in gestured time to some excited storytelling. <I don't make dresses, I make memories.>
He smiled. Claire was still here. A quiet presence that wouldn't make
a ripple in the busy ocean of modern life, she could still be found in
this place. He'd spent ten years avoiding this part of town and the
pain he was certain lay in wait for him here among antique roses and
<Here I am, Claire. I'm sorry to have ignored you for so long. This isn't really a confession. Confession seems just a bit redundant considering you're probably privy to all my secrets from where you are now.> In a sudden self-conscious gesture, Kermit straightened his tie. < Karen seems to think you knew I was holding back and loved me anyway. Could that be true? If so, I don't understand why you wouldn't ask. Were you afraid to know or is she right -- was it irrelevant? You never even asked about the shades. Everyone in the neighborhood asked and I told so many different lies I lost track. Everyone asked but you. I suppose that's my answer, Sweetcakes.
<Somehow, those months with you shifted my life, Claire. You had no way of knowing that then because I didn't have it in me to risk telling you. I doubted myself....not you. That fantasy time with you was the break between a life of dark and one of light. Hell, without you I'd probably have been dead in a year. The hunger for that life was dying and you fed me another to take it's place. I love you for that.
<I've been holding on to you for so long...so long, hiding behind you. Now, I think it's time to move on to something between the ideal of you and this life here on Garden Way and reality. I'm somewhere in between Griffin Banner and the man I was before we met. Maybe Karen can accept that. I don't doubt that she wants to but, she knows I'm not there yet. I'm trying. God, I'm trying. I don't know if anyone can see that, if she can see that. But you can, can't you, Claire? That's you needling inside my head night and day, isn't it?>
The mental dialogue coasted to a stop. The heavy burden in his chest began to unload into the peaceful surroundings. As the mother and daughter exited from the house, Kermit stepped back to the corner. His appearance, dark and rumpled, could be disturbing. He wouldn't bring disturbance here. They walked down the street, talking nonstop all the way, before disappearing around opposite corner. They had a memory full of hope and new beginnings. A woman was sewing away in the window, putting the finishing touches on that memory.
<I still miss you. I suppose I always will. And, I love you, but you know that already. I didn't have any trouble telling you. Maybe it can be that way again. We'll see.>
With one last look, he turned and walked back to his car. It was time to get back to the precinct. Someone was expecting him.