Maybe she needed to test Bobby—Madeline knew she was testing Gerry. She’d ask him what to do with a picture of her husband. (“Leave it in the dining room,” Gerry said.) By the pool, Char pushed the issue, saying to Bobby, “When I go to heaven, I want to see Mike.” Char felt unsure, and gloomy, like the air had come out of her. Suddenly she wasn’t certain that she should even get married. “This is never going to end,” Char thought.
Bobby stepped in. “I’m not challenged by a ghost,” he’d say. He told Char, “Char, if you love me half as much as you love Mike, it’s okay.”
That was nice. And one night in bed, as Char said good-night to Mike, which she did every night, she mentioned how she loved Bobby, too. September 11 became something they commemorated together. Char bought a plot at Moravian Cemetery, as Madeline had. On an agreed-upon day, Mad and Char and Li went with Windex and flowers, with Bobby and Gerry. Together, they cleaned the headstones and paid their respects. Then they went to Lisa’s cemetery, and then to lunch.
Still, as good as things were, “people put things in your head,” Char said.
“The first thing people tell you is, ‘Oh, he’s probably going out with you because you have money,’ ” said Lisa.
Firemen who’d known Mike warned Char: “Isn’t it funny that Bobby wants to marry you now and didn’t want to get married for nine years?,” which was how long he’d been divorced. If Bobby drove the Escalade, a very nice car on a fireman’s salary, someone would say with a wink, “So, Bobby, you’re in an Escalade now?” Char would have to jump in. “The widow car,” she’d say and raise her hand. Lisa finally told her boyfriend, “Just tell them you hit the Lotto.”
Bobby told Char to stop worrying. “Look, Char, will you cut it out?” he chided her. And Char did. After all, Char knew something else, something she could tell only the other widows.
She loved Mike to death, unconditionally. But also, though Mike was fast at fires and on the basketball court, he was poky everywhere else. “If he could get out of not doing something around the house for as long as possible, he did,” says Char, who called him “Mr. P,” for procrastinate.
Bobby, on the other hand, can’t sit still. He cooks, not Char. And he doesn’t go to bed at night until everything is straightened up. On weekends, he’s washing the cars, fixing the pool. Sometimes she has to tell him to lighten up, since we could all be dead tomorrow. But mostly, Char says, “I’m liking it.”
As she told one of the widows in what she thought of as a widow joke, the kind that you couldn’t say in public, “I sometimes feel like I died and went to heaven.”
The wedding is set for the fall in the Bahamas—to coincide with Char, Li, and Mad’s time-share. Four widows are coming. Lisa and Madeline will bring their firemen boyfriends. “She’s the first from our firehouse to take that step,” says Lisa. “It shows that you move on and it’s all right.” Joe Sykes will attend with his wife. Mike’s parents will, too. Mike’s father doesn’t know how much he’ll enjoy himself, but he understands. “Wives usually replace husbands,” he says. “That’s good.” Char, trying to respect her in-laws, told the wedding planner she wanted the evening to be more dinner party than wedding.
Now Char just has to get her dress together. In her mind, it has to be right for Bobby, for Mike’s parents, for her kids. That’s a lot. Madeline and Lisa went with Char to the fitting, and it was a semi-disaster. “It didn’t fit and it wasn’t right and the color was off. She was all nuts,” says Lisa. In Char’s house one afternoon two weeks ago, her 16-year-old, Cristen, says that she is happy about her dress, which is pink, brighter than her mom’s, which, she says, is beige.
“Off-white,” Char corrects.
Two of Char’s kids are there, plus a friend. Lisa stopped by with her three kids, one of whom climbs onto Cristen’s lap. Char’s house is compact, and talk about the dress crosses three connected rooms, until Char, touchy for once, says, “I don’t think the dress is that important. Can we talk about something else?”
Outside it’s probably 90 degrees. Inside isn’t considerably better. “I’m buying you central air,” says Lisa. Suddenly Charlene recalls how, when Mike and his firehouse buddies put on the second floor of the house and Mike wrote everybody’s name in the concrete, he’d managed to convince her that central air wasn’t possible. Oh, well. Char, who is wearing her engagement ring, spots Bobby through the window and fetches him inside. He’s hot, and the shamrock tattooed on his arm is covered in dust from the construction site where he now works. Lisa heads out with her kids. Char orders pizza. “Who’s staying?” she wants to know. Bobby spots a stray knife, places it in the sink. Char, then, has a thought related to her wedding dress. “Maybe,” she says, “we’ll all wear bathing suits.”