Claire J. Rothfelder stood rigid in one corner of her luxuriously furnished living room, trying her very best not to allow her nerves to show despite feeling like they were stretched on the outside of her skin. Her house was filled with people she was forced to be polite to, even grateful and humble, as they spoke to her and offered their condolances. She could tell when they turned their backs how they talked in hushed tones and some glances escaped her way, that they were whispering about what had happened. A man like Henry Rothfelder was constantly between people’s teeth, but today was a whole other level of rumors. Today the scandal was official, and permanent. The celebrated doctor’s last testament to what should have been his life with her. A car wrack. His car had been parked just off the highway and a truck had run right into it, killing the couple enjoying each other in the backseat.
The reality of this was still sinking in for Claire. It was a difficult idea to accept, in addition to being widowed. It broke her heart, and broke her confidence, but most of all it broke her sense of self worth. Only four days before the police knocked on her door, had she gotten a call from Dr. Morgan about the procedure. How little had she meant to Henry if he spent his last breath in the arms of another woman while she waited for him at home, ready for their appointment to confirm the pregnancy? No wonder people talked…
As if the devil himself had heard her thoughts, her mother in law appeared by her side. “Sit down, Claire,” she hissed in a broken voice, dabbing a hankerchief lightly on her cheekbones to make sure her distress would not be missed by anyone. The tall and slender older woman held her hand on her chest as she’d done the entire day, as if her heart were at risk of escaping her body if she let go. Claire had trouble feeling sorry for her, since the moment they found out about the circumstances and all horror on Claire’s part had been shushed by her mother in law’s accusation that Henry had clearly not gotten enough love at home. That his death was on Claire’s shoulders and that she should be ashamed of herself. That she had no right to be horrified by his affair.
So the young widow grieved her husband and the life she thought they had together, but not in front of the older Mrs. Rothfelder. “I prefer standing,” she said quietly and ignored the indignant look she received in return. Standing was no doubt not demonstrating her grief properly. The older woman shook her head almost unnoticeably but the gesture wasn’t lost on Claire. Before Henry’s death she would be mortified to be on the receiving end of the woman’s scolding. Now… Now she just wanted the day to be over. They needed to leave. Her mother in law, Henry’s collegues, his friends, they needed to leave. “I think I need a little air,” she mustered as elegantly as she could in a voice raw from crying her heart out for three days straight and headed towards the balcony.
Leaving the crowded living room lifted a weight off her shoulders but she couldn’t find the same solace in the serene view from the balcony as she used to. The gardens were beautiful, lit up by lanterns and hidden ground lights in the early evening so that every romantic grove created by the landscaper was highlighted and inviting. She just couldn’t see them that way anymore. Her knuckles turned white as she gripped the railing and tried to battle another nausea attack. She knew it was normal, with every thing going on, but she was pretty sure being pregnant didn’t help. She felt sick half the time and tired the rest of the time. The evening air helped and the nausea faded but she held on tight anyway. It felt good, comforting somehow to have the solid, cool metal in her palms.