I pat him on the knee. “Just please don’t forget.”
IT’S LATE. I’M IN MY bed looking through my welcome packet from William and Mary. It turns out William and Mary doesn’t allow freshmen to have cars on campus, and I’m about to call Peter to tell him, when I get a text from John Ambrose McClaren. When I first see his name on my phone, I feel a jolt of surprise, because it’s been so long since we last talked. Then I read the text.
Stormy died in her sleep last night. The funeral is in Rhode Island on Wednesday. I just thought you’d want to know.
I just sit there for a moment, stunned. How can this be? When I last saw her, she was fine. She was great. She was Stormy. She can’t be gone. Not my Stormy. Stormy, who was larger than life, who taught me how to apply red lipstick “so it lasts even after a night of kisses and champagne,” she said.
I start to cry and I can’t stop. I can’t get air in my lungs. I can barely see for crying. My tears keep falling on my phone, and I keep wiping it with the back of my hand. What do I say to John? She was his grandmother, and he was her favorite grandson. They were very close.
First I type, I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do? Then I delete it, because what could I possibly do to help?
I’m so sorry. She had the most spirit of anyone I ever met. I’ll miss her dearly.
Thank you. I know she loved you too.
His text brings fresh tears to my eyes.
Stormy was always saying that she still felt like she was in her twenties. That sometimes she’d dream she was a girl again, and she’d see her ex-husbands and they’d be old but she’d still be Stormy. She said when she woke up in the morning, she’d be surprised to be in her old body with her old bones. “I’ve still got the gams, though,” she said. And she did.
It’s almost a relief that the funeral is in Rhode Island, too far away for me to go. I haven’t been to a funeral since my mom died. I was nine, Margot was eleven, Kitty just two. The clearest memory I have of that day is sitting beside my dad, Kitty in his arms, feeling his body shake next to mine as he cried silently. Kitty’s cheeks were wet with his tears. She didn’t understand anything except that he was sad. She kept saying, “Don’t cry, Daddy,” and he would try to smile for her, but his smile looked like it was melting. I’d never felt that way before—like nothing was safe anymore, or would be ever again.
And now I’m crying again, for Stormy, for my mom, for everything.
She wanted me to transcribe her memoirs for her. Stormy Weather, she wanted to call it. We never did get around to doing that. How will people know her story now?
Peter calls, but I’m too sad to talk so I just let it go to voicemail. I feel like I should call John, but I don’t really have the right. Stormy was his grandma, and I was just a girl who volunteered at her nursing home. The one person I want to talk to is my sister, because she knew Stormy too, and because she always makes me feel better, but it’s the middle of the night in Scotland.
* * *
I call Margot the next day, as soon as I wake up. I cry again as I tell her the news, and she cries with me. It’s Margot who has the idea to have a memorial service for her at Belleview. “You could say a few words, serve some cookies, and people could share memories of her? I’m sure her friends would like that, since they won’t be able to make it to the funeral.”
I blow my nose. “I’m sure Stormy would like it too.”
“I wish I could be there for it.”
“I wish so too,” I say, and my voice quivers. I always feel stronger with Margot beside me.
“Peter will be there, though,” she says.
Before I leave for school, I call my old boss Janette over at Belleview and tell her the idea about the memorial service. She agrees right away, and says we could have it this Thursday afternoon, before bingo.
When I get to school and tell Peter about Stormy’s memorial service, his face falls. “Shit. I have to go to that Days on the Lawn thing with my mom.” Days on the Lawn is an open house for incoming first-years at UVA. You go with your parents; you sit in on classes, tour the dorms. It’s a big deal. I was really looking forward to it, when I thought I might be going.
He offers, “I could skip it, though.”
“You can’t. Your mom would kill you. You have to go.”
“I don’t mind,” he says, and I believe him.
“It’s really okay. You didn’t know Stormy.”
“I know. I just want to be there for you.”
“The offer is what counts,” I tell him.
* * *
Instead of wearing black, I choose a sundress that Stormy once said she liked me in. It’s white, with cornflower-blue forget-me-nots embroidered on the skirt, short puffy sleeves that go a little off the shoulder, and a nipped-in waist. Because I bought it at the end of summer, I’ve only had the chance to wear it once. I stopped by Belleview on my way to meet Peter at the movies, and Stormy said I looked like a girl in an Italian movie. So I wear that dress, and the white sandals I bought for graduation, and a little pair of lacy white gloves that I just know she’d appreciate. I found them at a vintage store in Richmond called Bygones, and when I put them on, I can almost imagine Stormy wearing them at one of her cotillions or Saturday night dances. I don’t wear her pink diamond ring. I want the first time I wear it to be at my prom, the way Stormy would have wanted.
I bring out the punch bowl, a crystal bowl of peanuts, a stack of cocktail napkins embroidered with cherries that I found at an estate sale, the tablecloth we use for Thanksgiving. I put a few roses on the piano, where Stormy used to sit. I make a punch with ginger ale and frozen fruit juice—no alcohol, which I know Stormy would have balked at, but not all of the residents can have it, because of their medications. I do put out a bottle of champagne next to the punch bowl, for anyone who wants to top off their punch with a little something extra. Lastly, I turn on Frank Sinatra, who Stormy always said should’ve been her second husband, if only.
John said he’d come if he made it back from Rhode Island in time, and I’m feeling a little nervous for that, because I haven’t seen him since almost exactly a year ago, on my birthday. We were never a thing, not really, but we almost were, and to me, that’s something.
A few people file in. One of the nurses wheels in Mrs. Armbruster, who has fallen to dementia but used to be pretty friendly with Stormy. Mr. Perelli, Alicia, Shanice the receptionist, Janette. It’s a good little group. The truth is, there are fewer and fewer people that I know at Belleview. Some of them have moved in with their children; a few have passed away. Not as many familiar faces in the staff, either. The place changed while I wasn’t looking.