Funeral Arrangement

I wonder what secrets my husband has? Watching him playing in the garden with my two grandchildren, I can’t believe that he’d ever be deceitful. I’m a lucky women, I’ve been very happy in my marriage. I’ll freely admit, I’d be devastated if I found out he’d had an affair, which makes me a bit of a hypocrite, I suppose. After all, if I’ve had a fling, why shouldn’t he?
But then again, I would plead extenuating circumstances. A funeral can unleash all kinds of emotions.

I clearly remember that call from Fiona. She’s an old friend from my university days. We’d kept in touch and regularly updated each other by letter, but we hadn’t had the opportunity to meet socially for about five years. We lived in different parts of the country and our young families kept us so busy we never found time to meet up.
The phone call came out of the blue. I was enthusiastic at first but Fiona sounded dull and flat and after a few pleasantries her voice broke and she began to sob. I asked what the matter was. My first thought was that she was getting a divorce, that was about the worst thing I could think of.
‘It’s John,’ She sobbed, ‘he died yesterday.’
I was shocked. Really shocked. Like us, they had two kids. He was only thirty-three for God’s sake!
‘What happened?’
‘We don’t know yet, he just collapsed.’
I spent the next hour consoling her.
I later found out that John had contracted some kind of virus that had affected his heart. It took days for the news to sink in. I found it difficult to focus on anything, my mind kept wandering back to my university days, those wonderful youthful memories. And I found myself thinking of Jack and wondering what he was doing and during the next few days I was periodically overwhelmed by feelings of sadness.

I’d been friends with Fiona since the first year at university. She started going out with John in the second year and that’s how I was introduced to Jack Walker. I’d fancied Jack since my first year. The first time I saw him he was in the refectory on another table, laughing with a group of girls. A gleaming smile was spread across his face. He was as sexy as hell. When he stood up he looked across at me and I felt myself reddening. He gave me a full on smile and then sauntered off. I felt so stupid being caught gawping at him that I affected an air of bored indifference whenever I saw him which was a rather stupid strategy to adopt with someone you desperately fancy.
Fortunately, when John and Fiona got together my luck changed. Jack was a good friend of John’s so I suppose it was inevitable that we’d eventually cross paths. We were in the uni bar one evening and I was on particularly good form. As the evening wore on our group got larger and larger and I found myself standing next to Jack. I was a little drunk and so less inhibited than usual and I spent the most wonderful night laughing with him. He flattered me by telling me he thought I was out of his league and then he walked me to my digs and kissed me. But it wasn’t a timid kiss or a clumsy kiss, It was the most beautiful kiss my inexperienced mouth had tasted, and it felt like it was only his arms that stopped me floating away. Jack was a fabulous kisser. Eventually, he gave me a devilish grin, said goodnight, then patted my bottom and said, ‘I hope I’ll be seeing a lot more of you,’ and laughed that throaty, sexy laugh. A week later he took my virginity or rather I gave it to him, no, threw it at him. What a fabulous fuck that first one was. I think my clit was on fire that night. The next two years were the most exciting of my young life. I look back on that time and all I can remember is the laughter and the carefree sex. Apart from the ending.
It all came crashing down in the month before leaving university. Perhaps it was the pressure of exams. Jack and I had been having more and more silly little rows and one night we had a massive, childish row when Jack didn’t turn up for a date because he’d been drinking with some of his mates after they’d been to a football match and then we stubbornly refused to talk to each other. It was only a month before term finally ended. I longed for him to apologise and make up but it never happened. I left university, started work and was depressed for months. And although I had some good times I never reached those same happy heights until three years later.
When I met my husband, as with Jack, the attraction was instant. I felt the same thrill that I felt when I met Jack, but this time I was wiser, more experienced, I didn’t let the opportunity slip away. I married him.

I had mixed feelings about attending the funeral, I was a little nervous. I wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to hold it together, emotionally. The thought of Fiona without a husband and her children without a dad was heartbreaking. On the other hand I was a little excited at the prospect of meeting some old university friends and I was really hoping that Jack would be there. I felt guilty that he’d occupied most of my thoughts.
My husband saw me off at the station. He stayed behind to look after the kids. He said that there wasn’t much point in coming along with me, he didn’t know any of my old friends and it might make things a little awkward. I said I was disappointed but I was secretly pleased, I didn’t want him there, it would have been stifling. More guilt.
I caught the train to London, then took a tube to Hendon and got a taxi from there. I arrived at the church about half an hour before the service began and had the opportunity to speak to several old friends before I settled into a pew. No Jack.
Fiona came in shortly afterwards, with her two children. God, what an awful sight. John’s coffin was placed in front of the altar. I went over to Fiona, she looked as though the life had been sucked out of her. I hugged her and all I could say was:
‘I’m so sorry.’
When we broke our embrace Fiona looked over my shoulder and her eyes widened with recognition and a sad smile spread across her face.
‘Hello, Jack.’
‘Hello, Fiona.’
I couldn’t mistake his voice. Jack stepped forward and hugged Fiona. As she began to cry he turned to me.
‘Hello, Emma.’
His voice was soft and his eyes were filled with tears. I could no longer contain my own grief and as I began to sob Jack extended his arm, put his hand on the back of my neck and gently pulled me toward him. Fiona and I huddled into his warm embrace and let our sorrow flow.
After a little conversation Jack and I settled into a nearby pew and he held my hand. It was comforting, but it was also a little more than that. Each slight movement of his fingers sent a thrill through me and I responded with affectionate squeezes and our fingers began to move ever so slightly until each hand was subtly caressing the other. As the service progressed I rested my head against his shoulder and I let my thigh relax against his. At one stage during the service Jack got up into the pulpit to say a few words about John. He recounted a few funny stories from university days and a few that had happened since. I sat watching and listening and felt all my old feelings for him returning. I fell in love again.
In twelve years Jack hadn’t really changed at all. He’d put on a few pounds but it suited him. He still had that glint in his eye, he was still as attractive as ever and I found myself wondering what might have been. He could so easily have been my husband. He ended with some beautiful compliments about John and my body began to shake with grief. When he returned to sit next to me Jack put his arm around me and all I wanted to do was make love to him.

After the service we went back to Fiona’s where she’d laid on some food and drink. I spent the afternoon with a group of old friends talking about our days at university, recounting stories and laughing about incidents that John had been involved in. Fiona laughed and cried and I think it was a good time, I think it was cathartic. I have to say, again with some guilt, that despite the sadness of the occasion I was really enjoying myself. It reached 6pm before I knew I had to tear myself away. I didn’t want to, I’d spent the afternoon standing next to Jack, and as the time wore on I felt less inclined to go home, I could have stayed and flirted the night away. I felt so alive. At one stage one of our old friends said:
‘You know it’s strange seeing you two standing there, I always thought you’d get married.’
‘So did I,’ said Jack and we laughed, but his eyes looked sad.
When I announced that I must be going Jack looked at his watch.
‘God, I need to get going too. Emma, can I give you a lift to the station?’

We began the journey with a little awkward small talk then out of the blue Jack said:
‘You know, I always regretted us splitting up the way we did. Is it too late to tell you how sorry I was, how my stupid adolescent male pride ruined the best thing that ever happened to me?’
I turned, smiling:
‘It wasn’t just you, Jack. I was depressed for months when I left university, I kept hoping you’d contact me, I was as much to blame. I could have called you but my stupid female stubbornness prevented me.’
He sighed.
‘I didn’t have the guts to call you. After a while, I thought you’d done with me, I suppose I should have tried to contact you but I was scared of being rejected. I think I thought that at least I could leave the relationship with my pride intact.’
By now we’d reached the station. Jack pulled to a stop and turned to me.
‘You know, by most standards I’m considered to be a very a successful man. My own company, a great big house, a flash car… But today, with John gone, seeing you, it all seems so pointless. I’ve had one disastrous marriage and the second one’s not faring too well. I’ve never met anyone who I could really connect with. You were the only woman I really felt alive with and seeing you here today, it’s still there.’ He leaned across and kissed me, tenderly on the lips. ‘Spend the night with me?’
‘I can’t, I must get back.’
He kissed me again, this time with passion and as his tongue reached into my mouth I felt the years fall away. I responded, eagerly. He held my chin, gently, in the palm of his hand and repeated the question.
‘Spend the night with me?’
And I heard myself saying:
‘Of course, darling, of course.’

We drove in silence until we found a local hotel. We booked in as Mr and Mrs Walker and I really felt like his wife and if things had been a little different, then that’s who I would have been.
‘I’ll see you up in the room, I just have to make a phone call.’
I peeled away from him and found a phone in the lobby. I called my husband to tell him I was staying with Fiona for the night and would return in the morning. He was kind and understanding and I felt cheap. But as soon as the lie was told and the call ended my thoughts were only of Jack.
I went up to the hotel room feeling nervous and excited. I knocked on the door and he opened it and pulled me in and kissed me. It was a long, searching, sensuous kiss and it reminded me of that first time when he kissed me outside my digs. He led me across the room to an armchair and I sat in his lap and we continued to kiss and the gentle passion became more fiery and Jack picked me up and carried me over to the bed. But he tripped and dropped me unceremoniously and we both melted into fits of uncontrollable laughter which eventually gave way to a soft silence and then he lay beside me and stroked me and told me how much he loved me and then we made love, almost fully clothed. Too impatient to undress, we fucked each other with an emotional intensity I’ve rarely experienced. When he came, I felt Jack’s body relax, heavily, on top of me and as I lay there with my legs and arms still wrapped around him, my face pressed into his chest, I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion and I began to cry, and the crying gave way to great heaving sobs. He rolled to my side and cuddled me while I released all that pent up emotion.
We dressed and he took me out to dinner and we spent two hours reminiscing, totally wrapped up in ourselves. When we returned to the hotel room we stripped each other and fucked. The sex lacked the previous emotional intensity, it was raw and animal-like but just as satisfying. He took me from behind and rode me so fiercely I had to grip the bedsheets to steady myself.Then I straddled him, grinding myself into his belly, feeling his stomach muscles harden as his hips thrust up and his cock bore into me. Afterwards, I lay across him and he stroked my bottom and my thighs while we chatted. We made love again before falling asleep.

And when I woke, I felt different. He was still asleep and I stroked the back of his neck and kissed him gently on the shoulder. I showered and dressed as quietly as possible. When I came out of the bathroom, Jack was sitting up in bed. He smiled at me and stretched out a hand.
‘Come back to bed.’
I smiled back and shook my head. He looked hurt but before he could speak I said:
‘I’m starving, I’ve got to eat, I’ll see you downstairs,’ and I slipped out.
When he joined me at breakfast we sat in silence for a while. Then he spoke.
‘You know I love you, Emma, I don’t want to lose you again.’
I reached across the table and took his hand.
‘I love you too Jack, I always did. But nothing can come of this. There are others I love. My husband and children. I should have been stronger, I could have resisted you, but I didn’t want to, there was so much that wasn’t finished between us and I’m glad we spent the night together. But I also feel cheap and deceitful.’ I gripped his hand. ‘Our lives could have been different but they weren’t. I was lucky enough to meet another wonderful man. I’m sorry if you think I’ve led you on Jack. Last night was wonderful, but it really can’t go any further … I don’t want it to.’
Jack looked hurt but I really didn’t know what else to say.
He shook his head.
‘No, no… I didn’t think that.’ He held my hand and I saw his eyes fill with tears. ‘Life really isn’t fair is it?’
I shook my head.
He drove me to the station and the two of us were silent. When he’d parked in the station he turned to me and said:
‘I’m sorry Emma, I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable. I understand. I’ll absolutely cherish the memory of last night. Your husband’s a very lucky man.’

I took his hand and pressed it to my face.
‘Oh Jack, thank you.’ I looked into his beautiful eyes. ‘You know I’ve always loved you and I always will.’
He smiled and we hugged. He stroked my hair and kissed me on the cheek.
‘Don’t feel guilty about last night,’ he said. ‘We did nothing wrong. You only live once. One day one of us will hear the other has died and we’ll remember last night and it will be a memory to treasure, not to feel guilty about.’
I think I cried all the way home.

I still keep in touch with Fiona. She sends me e mails now. But yesterday was unusual. She rang me. She told me that Jack had died. I told my husband I was going out shopping, but I went down to the seafront where I sat on a bench looking out to sea and I cried and I laughed and I remembered. I remembered the time we spent at university, the thrills and the fun. I remembered the brief, glorious night we spent at the hotel after John’s funeral. For a long time after that night I felt guilty. But not anymore. I have memories that bring feelings of warmth and fun, they’re life affirming, they sparkle and invigorate. Jack was right, you only live once.

I watch my darling husband playing with my grandchildren. In a funny kind of way, that night, all those years ago, confirmed for me that I had taken the right path. I did nothing wrong. I have no regrets.