Chapter Four

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It took her eyes a minute to adjust as she stepped into the funeral home's dark vestibule. Immediately she was transported back in time, as a number of familiar faces moved in and out of view. The people of her past. Shaking hands. Exchanging hugs. Sunglasses still in place, she inched her way to the guestbook. The framed photo of her former father-in-law on display made her smile. It was a great candid shot of him, sitting on a stool with guitar in hand, taken at what she guessed was his last sell-out venue. Shirt untucked, head down, brow furrowed in deep concentration. Classic Dale.

She perused the list of mourners in attendance. All the names Nolan had mentioned were present plus plenty of others she recognized. There were probably close to three hundred people packed into the auditorium. Standing room only, Dale. Everybody loved you.

She slipped her sunglasses and a program into the side pocket of her handbag and went in search of a seat. She squeezed onto the end of a pew in the back. Men in dark suits continued to bring in enormous sprays of fresh flowers as organ music played softly in the speakers overhead. A table with a silver urn sat center stage, flanked by several large easels displaying portraits of Dale at various stages in his career. Her eyes moved methodically across the back of every head seated near the front, but she didn't see him. The crowd was just too vast. She spun her engagement ring nervously around her finger, anxious for the service to begin. The room felt unusually warm. Or was it just her?

"Mary Grace?" Someone whispered from behind.

"Lloyd!" She turned around, smiling at his welcoming face.

"Oh, Mary Grace..." He bent over the pew and hugged her warmly. "It's so good to see you."

"You too." She answered softly.

"What are you doing way back here?" He asked. "You're supposed to be up there." He pointed toward the front of the chapel.

"What? Oh no, I'm fine right here...really."

"Nolan asked me to keep an eye out for you. He would like you to sit up front. The front row is reserved for family."

"Well...it's just that I..." She struggled to find a meaningful argument for staying put.

"C'mon, I'll walk you down. The service will be starting any minute."

She knew she wouldn't win and it was not the time to make a scene. She took Lloyd's outstretched arm, allowing him to escort her to the front. She smiled and nodded, feeling every eye upon her. Whispers rippled around her, moving through the chapel like a wave. She felt certain that money was actually changing hands between those who'd bet on whether or not she'd return.

The front pew was indeed empty. And Lloyd was too fast, forcing her to take the inside seat while he settled in on the aisle. Her palms were suddenly sweaty and she wondered how she'd make it through the service with him sitting just inches away.

The thought had just crossed her mind when a gentleman in a grey suit and yellow tie entered from a side door. Behind him, an attractive, older woman, holding the hand of a beautiful little boy, followed closely by her former husband. The three accepted supportive hugs from the grey-suited man. His face to the floor, he approached the pew. She held her breath, anticipating the moment their eyes would meet, but he avoided her gaze entirely. He took his place on the opposite end of the pew; the older woman and his son filling the space between them.

"You must be Mary Grace." The woman reached and patted her hand affectionately. "I'm Gwen."

"It's nice to meet you." Mary Grace smiled. "Nolan's told me wonderful things about you."

"I know he's so happy that you're here." She whispered back.

The organ music stopped and the room fell silent, thus halting their exchange. She leaned back slightly, discretely, catching Nolan's profile out of the corner of her eye. He kept his eyes forward; his face wearing the same focused look as the photograph of his father in the vestibule. Several times she thought she felt his eyes on her, but she dared not to look.

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