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“He was old, Faith. He'd been sick for a long time.” As though that not only explained it, but dismissed it. Alex did that. He dismissed things. Just as for years now, he had dismissed her. She felt lately as though she had served her purpose, done her job, and been dispensed with, not only by her children, but by her husband as well. The girls had their own lives now that they'd left home. And Alex lived in a world that didn't include her, except on rare occasions, when he expected her to entertain clients, or go to a dinner party with him. The rest of the time, he expected her to amuse herself.

She saw women friends sometimes in the daytime, but most of her old friends still had children at home and were pressed for time. In the past several months, since Zoe left for college, Faith had been spending most of her time alone, trying to figure out what to do with the rest of her life.

And Alex had a full life of his own. It seemed eons since she and Alex had sat for hours at dinner and chatted about the things that were important to them. It had been years since they had gone for long walks on the weekend, or gone to movies and held hands. She could barely remember what that had been like with Alex. He seldom touched her, and rarely spoke. And yet, she knew he loved her, or at least she thought so, but he seemed to have almost no need to communicate with her. It was all shorthand and staccato words, silence suited him better, as it did now, as she set his dinner down in front of him, and brushed away a stray lock of blond hair. He seemed not to notice her at all, and was engrossed in something he was reading in the paper. It took him a long time to answer when she spoke again.

“Are you coming tomorrow?” she asked gently. Her stepfather's funeral was the next day. He shook his head as he glanced up at her.

“I can't. I'm going to Chicago. Meetings with Uni-pam.” He had been having trouble with an important account. Business took precedence over all else, and had for a long time. He had become a very successful man. It had bought them the townhouse, and their daughters' educations, an unexpected amount of ease and luxury that Faith hadn't expected to enjoy But there were other things that would have meant more to her. Comfort, laughter, warmth. She felt as though she never laughed anymore, and hadn't in a long time, except when she was with the girls. It wasn't that Alex treated her badly. It was more that he didn't treat her at all. He had other things on his mind, and he didn't hesitate to make that clear to her. Even his lengthy silences told her that he would rather think than talk to her.

“It would be nice if you were there,” Faith said cautiously, as she sat down across the table from him. He was a handsome man, and had always been. At fifty-two, he had grown distinguished as well, with a full head of gray hair. He had piercing blue eyes, and an athletic build. One of his partners had died suddenly of a heart attack two years before, and Alex had been careful about diet and exercise since then. Which was why he preferred fish to anything else, and was pushing the chicken she had cooked around his plate. She hadn't had time to be creative. She had been at the funeral parlor with her stepsister, Allison, all afternoon, while people came by to pay their respects. The two women hadn't seen each other since Faith's mother's funeral the year before, and not for ten years before that. Allison hadn't come to her brother Jack's funeral two years before Faith's mother's. There had been too many funerals in recent years. Her mother, Jack, now Charles. Too many people had disappeared. And although she and her stepfather had never been close, she had respected him nonetheless, and it saddened her to think of his being gone. It felt as though all the familiar landmarks were fading from her life.

“I have to be at the meeting in Chicago tomorrow,” Alex said, looking intently into his plate. He was only picking at the chicken, but he hadn't bothered to complain.

“Other people go to funerals,” Faith said quietly. There was nothing strident about Faith. She didn't argue with him, didn't fight. She rarely disagreed with him. There was no point anyway. Alex had a way of removing himself. He did what he wanted, usually without asking or consulting her, and had for years. He operated like a separate entity from her most of the time, and what motivated him was business and the demands it put on him, not what Faith wanted him to do. She knew how he worked and what he thought. It was hard to get behind the walls he put up around himself. She was never entirely sure if it was a defense, or simply what made him comfortable. It had been different when they were young, but it had been this way for years. Being married to him was a lonely place, but she was used to it. She only felt it more now because the girls were gone. They had provided all the warmth she needed for years. It was their absence she felt now, more than his. And she seemed to have drifted away from many of her friends. Time and life and marriage and kids had somehow gotten in the way.

Zoe had left for Brown two months before. She seemed happy there, and had yet to come home for a weekend, although Providence was close enough. But she was busy with her friends, her life, her activities at school. Just as Eloise was happy in London, with her job. Faith had been feeling for a while that they all had fuller lives than she, and she had been wrestling with trying to decide what to do with her own. She had thought of getting a job, but had no idea what kind of work she could do. It had been twenty-five years since she'd worked at Vogue, before Eloise was born. She had also thought about going back to law school, and had mentioned it to Alex a couple of times. He thought the idea was ridiculous, at her age, and dismissed it out of hand.

“At your age, Faith? You don't start law school again at forty-seven. You'd be nearly fifty before you graduated and passed the bar.” He said it with a look of utter contempt, and although she still thought of it from time to time she didn't mention it to him. Alex thought she should continue doing charity work, as she had for years, and going to lunch with her friends. All of which had begun to seem meaningless to Faith, particularly now with the girls away. She wanted something with more substance to fill her life, but she had yet to find a plan that seemed sensible to her, and one she could convince her husband would be worthwhile.

“No one is going to miss me at Charles's funeral,” Alex said conclusively, as Faith cleared his plate, and offered him some ice cream, which he declined. He was careful about his weight, and was very trim and in good shape. He played squash several times a week, and tennis on weekends, when the weather in New York allowed. They had rented a weekend house in Connecticut when the girls were small, but they hadn't done that in years. Alex liked to be able to go in to the office, if he needed to, on the weekends.

She wanted to tell him that she would miss him at her stepfather's funeral the next day. But she knew there was no point. Once he made up his mind, one way or another, he could not be swayed. It never occurred to him that she might need him there. And it wasn't the nature of their relationship for her to portray herself that way. She was capable, and well able to take care of herself. She had never leaned heavily on him, even when their children were small. She made good decisions, and was sure of herself. She had been the perfect wife for him. She never “whined,” as he put it. And she didn't now. But she was disappointed that he didn't want to be there for her. Disappointment had become a way of life for Faith now. Alex was almost never there when she needed him. He was responsible, respectable, intelligent, provided well for them. And the emotional side of him had vanished into thin air years before. They had wound up with the same relationship his parents had. When she had met them, she had been shocked by how cold they were, and unable to express affection for each other. His father had been particularly remote, just exactly the way Alex had become in time, although Faith had never pointed out to him how similar to his father he was. Alex wasn't demonstrative, and in fact it made him uncomfortable when others were, particularly Zoe and Faith. Their constant displays of affection always made him uneasy, and even more distant and critical of them.