Home > She Regrets Nothing

She Regrets Nothing
Author: Andrea Dunlop


1

 


* * *

 

ARE YOU sure we should have come?” Nora whispered to her sister. “I feel like everyone is staring at us.”

Liberty briefly considered telling her that perhaps the sky-high black patent-leather heels she was wearing, flashing their gaudy red soles as she walked, paired with her tight black dress and a pillbox hat with a veil—honestly, she looked like a 1940s mob widow—were not helping her be inconspicuous at the midwestern service. Though Nora had traveled the world, she remained in New York no matter her physical location. Her New York–ness wrapped around her like a protective gauze, even here at a funeral in the Grosse Pointe Memorial Church. The place was more beautiful, somehow, than Liberty had expected, with its white stone walls, Tudor arches, and ornate stained-glass windows. It felt at least a hundred years old. A comfort, somehow.

“I should hope so,” Leo said, flashing a smile at an older woman who had her eyes glued to him as she passed the pew toward the back where the three Lawrence siblings had settled in, Liberty futilely hoping they could keep a low profile. “I mean, the day I don’t stand out from a crowd like this? Euthanasia, I beg you.” Leo was Nora’s twin (Leonardo and Leonora: they were named after royalty and so they behaved), though they hardly resembled each other.

“Leo.” Liberty shot him a warning look.

“A joke,” he whispered back. “Trying to lighten the mood.”

“The mood is meant to be somber, Leo. Just . . . please.” Liberty wrapped her arms tighter around herself and faced forward.

“Sorry. Jesus.”

“Is that her?” Nora said, leaning over Leo’s lap toward Liberty, who was sitting on the aisle.

Liberty looked up as a young woman (she was twenty-three, the same age as the twins) walked by to the front pew that was reserved for family. Laila—their cousin, a stranger, the person they had come to see—seemed to be the only person in the church who hadn’t noticed the three of them. Though this was the first time they would meet, Liberty recognized her immediately. She was distinctive: petite and lovely, with green eyes and long red hair. She was fine-boned (as Liberty and her siblings were) and appeared delicate to the point of breakable against the backdrop of the sturdy midwesterners who surrounded her.

“That’s her.”

She clung to the arm of a tall, broad-shouldered man who was wearing a suit that appeared made for someone much smaller, the lip of his boxy white shirt peeking out from the bottom of his jacket as he moved—could this really be her boyfriend? He looked like a high school jock who’d gone to seed but had failed to notice. Laila appeared to be in a fog, eyes straight ahead as she made her way to the pew. Liberty wondered if she’d taken a sedative to get through her mother’s funeral. In her Internet scouring, she’d not been able to find much information on Laila. A Facebook profile, of course, and some photos of her on the website of a local high-end cosmetic dentist’s office. At first, Liberty thought she might be a model—and was struck by the irony of this, that her faraway midwestern cousin would be a model just as she and her own mother had been—but upon further inspection, it appeared that Laila worked at the office. They’d simply taken advantage of having such a comely staff member by putting her front and center on the website. She was not a dentist, it seemed; perhaps a hygienist or receptionist.

“It’s so weird that they both went in car accidents, so many years apart,” Leo said. Their uncle—their father’s brother—had died thusly thirteen years before. The two families had grown up estranged from each other. Now Laila was an orphan.

“Tragic,” Nora said. “Dickensian,” she added dramatically.

“What is our actual plan here?” Leo asked. He was clearly losing patience with the whole idea, which at the outset, he’d found amusing enough. He was bored now and wanted to be back in Manhattan. Organ music boomed through the church and Liberty hushed her brother. The service was beginning.

Betsy Lawrence was eulogized by her older sister, Jennifer, a short, round woman with whispers of Laila’s green-eyed wholesome prettiness. It was a strange speech, containing nothing specific about Betsy herself or what the world had lost in her passing. “ ‘The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable,’ ” she quoted from Corinthians. “ ‘It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.’ And so Betsy goes home to the Lord. I know my niece Laila wanted to speak about her mother today. I know she loved her dearly. But the shock . . . I’m afraid . . .” She was twisting a tissue in her hands and appeared overcome, standing at the pulpit as though she had no idea how she’d gotten there. After a moment, a man (her husband?) came to collect her, draping his arm around her and shepherding her off the stage. It was an odd moment, but then, it was a funeral. The Lawrence siblings had not been to many—only their grandmother’s and an older family friend or two.

The service was brief, and before long, the organ was once again sounding its dirge, and people were standing up and filing out. Before Liberty could come up with a plan, the three of them were pulled along in a tide of people to the church basement where the reception was being held. It was an altogether more modern and sterile space than the grandeur of the hall above, fit for Sunday school and AA meetings. There was subdued string music playing, and officious church ladies were ferrying a large spread—tea, cookies, various hot dishes, and, mercifully, several bottles of wine. Now that the funeral-goers were no longer restrained by the pews, they gawked openly at the Lawrence siblings.

“Is this the mom?” Nora said, picking up one of several framed photos arranged on the table closest to the door. The shot was of a young woman who, if not for the teased hair and color-block 1980s sweater, could have easily been mistaken for Laila.

“Must be,” Liberty said. “God, Laila’s a dead ringer.”

They made their way down the line of photos. Even Leo was hushed by seeing these images of the family that had been kept from them. Liberty felt tears coming to her eyes when she got to her aunt and uncle’s wedding photos from twenty-five years earlier. She could see so much of her father in his younger brother’s face, a man she’d supposedly met but had no clear memories of.

Their father, Ben Lawrence, never spoke of his brother, Gregory. He’d been gone now thirteen years and all Liberty knew had been gleaned from the occasional overheard conversation in her childhood and what she could discover online, which was not much more than the basics: her uncle had owned a number of luxury car dealerships throughout Michigan, and he and his wife had one daughter, Laila, who was the same age as the twins. Liberty was seventeen when her uncle died; her father hadn’t been an especially warm man to begin with, and the death of his brother had made him even more remote, causing him to retreat further into his work. Repeated searches yielded little more, but Liberty set up a Google Alert with Laila’s name, which was how she’d discovered Betsy’s recent death. And that had brought them here.

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