For the reading of Bobby’s will, the attorneys sat Vanessa – the ex, Roberta (Bobby and Vanessa’s daughter), and me in a conference room together. I was instructed to bring a lawyer, as were the other two ladies. I didn’t. That sort of thing isn’t in me. Vanessa did. The lawyer read Bobby’s will. It was pretty much as I expected. I got the house we shared, most of the money accounts, Roberta received two hundred thousand dollars in a fund her father had set aside for her upon his death. Then, the lawyer read further. Bobby did something none of us expected. He gave me half the interest in the diner and Vanessa, the other half!
Just like Bobby to be equitable. Finally, the lawyer read a statement Bobby had hand-written before he died. The note said something about his guilt for leaving Vanessa, but his great love for me, about Vanessa’s interest of nearly half her life spent building the diner, and my creativity to keep it going.
Have you ever heard the term ‘livid’ before? Well, Vanessa’s face turned every shade of livid I’ve ever seen. I remember sitting there and imagining her head filling up like one of those water balloons at the fair and exploding right off her shoulders. Her lawyer patted her hand and told her “not to worry”. I giggled to myself at the mess of it all, said my “thank yous” and “goodbyes” to his former family and the lawyers, and I left feeling pretty good too considering what had just happened. Financially, I was solid and didn’t need to worry about money for a while, anyway.
I closed the diner for three weeks. When I went back to re-open, Vanessa was there waiting outside the door. She offered to buy my interest. I told her I had no intention of selling and offered to buy hers. She fumed at my boldness and told me she’d never sell. Bobby knew I was stubborn as a mule in a blizzard and he knew his former wife had some of my same shortcomings.
“Well, isn’t this a fine mess.” Vanessa threw her hands up and when they came down, they landed on her lap as she sat hard against the window’s ledge.
“Guess Bobby had the last laugh, huh?” I looked out onto the day with one hand protecting my face from the bright sun. It was early spring then and the cacti were putting on a show that would embarrass the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, gorgeous.
“Since this place is now legally half mine, I want a key.” Vanessa was indignant.
“Fine. After José gets here, I’ll have him run up to Charlie’s to get his copied.”
Vanessa let out a small huff and stood back up. “What are we supposed to do now?”
“Well, the diner needs managing. I guess we manage it.”
“Together?” She put her hands on her hips.
“What else can we do?”
“It just won’t work.”
“Why is that, Vanessa? After all these years, do you still hate me so much?”
“Oh, hell, I could care less about you.” She turned away and looked out over the burgeoning desert. “How’s this gonna look to the folks around here? Did you ever think about that?”
“I just put my husband in the ground. I guess I haven’t had too much time to worry about what people are thinking.”
“He was my husband too.” She scowled when she looked at me. I couldn’t very well argue her point and decided by the look of her, saying nothing was best. Vanessa turned her head away. “Fuck.” She spoke it like a tire going flat.
We looked at each other for a few seconds. I’d been sitting on the planter outside the door across from Vanessa the whole time and my ass felt numb, so I stood. Face-to-face with her, it was uncanny how much Vanessa and I looked like each other. She was older, of course, and had severely short, dark copper-colored hair. Her eyes were almond-shaped and emerald green, like mine. She was tall and had some meat to her, like me. Her skin was radiant pink with freckles. Here, standing in front of me, was the only other woman Bobby had ever loved. We stared into each other’s eyes. I can only guess what she was thinking. The scowl on her face was worth a thousand words. Time seemed to stall out and we began to feel ill at ease.
Through it all, a strange feeling welled-up deep inside me. For the life of me, I don’t know why I did what I did at that moment. I stuck my hand out like I was making a deal.
“So, what d’ya say, partner? Shall we give her a go?” I said it emphasizing my Georgian drawl like an actor in an old western. And, Vanessa did quite the unexpected thing. She grabbed my hand and gave it one hard shake downwards. As we walked together toward the restaurant’s door, she shook her head in disbelief and grumbled, “Dear God, help us.”