When I Last Saw You - Bette Lee Crosby

Dedicated to the memory of Lavinia Webb

and her eleven children


Heatherwood, Georgia

Margaret Rose McCutcheon

I LOST ALBERT A WEEK ago Friday. It happened in the blink of an eye. One minute he was on the telephone arguing with a client; the next he was face down on the desk, dead.

He died the way he lived: trying to force someone else into his way of thinking. He didn’t consider it arguing. He felt he was simply revealing the errors in the other person’s viewpoint.

Albert was strong-minded and opinionated, but he also had a sense of fairness. That’s what made him a good lawyer. He didn’t just argue a case; he brought the judge and jury around to believing in both him and his cause.

I suppose he did the same with me, and in the end I came to accept that his dreams were my dreams. Little by little, I let tiny pieces of myself slip away until I came to where I am now—a woman alone. A woman with an abundance of wealth to live on and nothing to live for.

I loved Albert just as any woman who’s been married to a man for 50 years loves her husband. He was a good provider, hard-working, and generous to a fault. Not once in all those years did he raise a hand on me, stray, or give me reason to doubt his love. But now I’m asking myself if those things were enough to make up for what I’ve pushed to the back of my mind.

I was one of nine siblings with a mama who loved us dearly. We were poor as church mice, hungry most of the time, and sleeping three or four to a bed, but we had each other. Some nights, when I was crowded in between Nellie and Louella, I’d lie awake asking God to give me a bed of my own. Now I look back and laugh at such a wish. Here I am in a house with seven beautiful bedrooms, and I’m still reminiscing about that lumpy old bed I shared with my sisters.

If you live long enough, you look back on life and think about what you would’ve done differently. By then it’s too late to change anything. Today if you were to ask me which is worse—being poor or being alone—I assure you my answer would be a lot different than it was back then.

Loose Ends

AT 8:30 IN THE MORNING, the doorbell chimed. Condolence callers seldom arrived at such an ungodly hour, so Margaret assumed the housekeeper had forgotten her key. She started down the stairs, and before she reached the landing the bong sounded a second time.

“Hold your horses,” she called out, a whisper of annoyance in her voice.

When she opened the door she found herself face to face with Jeffrey Schoenfeld, now the law firm’s senior partner. Not one of her favorite people. Before he’d been offered a partnership, she told Albert she thought him overly aggressive and too blustery for her liking. Albert agreed with a laugh and said those things were what made him a good lawyer, but that hadn’t changed Margaret’s opinion.

“Sorry,” she said. “I thought you were Josie, our housekeeper.”

“No apology needed. It’s early; I should have called.”

Yes, you should have.

“Nonsense,” she said with a stiff smile, pushing back the door and inviting him in. “You and Albert never stood on ceremony before, so there’s no need to start now.”

He followed her down the hall and into the living room. Jeffrey took the large overstuffed club chair, and she settled on the sofa opposite.

“I know you haven’t had a lot of time to think this through,” he began, “but we should talk before the partners’ meeting this afternoon. There will be questions about how we handle Albert’s interest in the firm, and I need to know whether or not you’re interested in a buyout.”

“Why do I have to decide this right now?” Margaret said. “It’s only been ten days since Albert—”

“I don’t need an answer this morning, but I’d like to know before the quarterly distribution. If you decide to sell, I’m ready to make you a fair and equitable offer.”

He’s ready? What about the firm?

She let out a long exhale and leaned back into the pillow.

“Albert spent his life building that law firm, and I doubt he’d want me to rush into making a decision about keeping his shares or selling them. I’m going to need time to consider the various options.”

“What options? Has anyone else approached you about this?”