This story was written as a prequel to "Quartet, Ingrid," or as it is now titled "Ingrid." It was not included in the original story, but it will help fill in some of the blanks.
The Walnut Creek rancher was heating up quickly and it was only eleven am. It was going to be another long, hot autumn day. Steve Inhalt was seated at his office desk, his hands propping up his chin as he studied another in a long string of financial reports. He was trying to decide where to move $50,000 U.S. from his moribund Grandee Gypsum account to something more active and upwardly trending. He was barely aware when Diana asked him if he wanted anything at the store on her way out to the market.
"No thanks dear."
In a moment, the screen door snapped closed. He heard the car start and move out of the driveway. He resumed his deliberations. It was something he had decided a few days ago. Get out of the building materials market for now and look for an unlikely new winner. He became conscious of the building heat and got up to turn down the temperature on the air conditioner. His concentration hadn't been very good this morning.
Diana White was his first and only girlfriend. He met her in his homeroom at high school at the start of Grade 11 and summoning up all his courage, asked her out on a date at Halloween. To his surprise, she accepted and even more to his surprise, they had a good time and got along very well. She was a slim, willowy 5' 8" attractive blonde with dark brown eyes, and a dark, almost Mediterranean complexion.
Diana was also blessed with very rich parents. He had no idea why she wasn't in private school. Her father was a well known architect and her mother was a socialite who seemed to have her name in the society columns at least once a month for one charity or another. At first, he felt somewhat uncomfortable around them. His background was much more modest. His father was a civil engineer and his mother a housewife.
Despite the social inequity, he and Diana became very close and were soon recognized as "a couple" at the school social events. Their sexual activity was limited to kissing, groping her breasts, fondling thighs, and once in a while, mutual masturbation. Diana lacked enthusiasm for the intimate moments. She wasn't cold, but certainly wasn't adventuresome. His frustration, combined with typical teenage raging hormones, sent him home many nights with a painfully rigid erection and little recourse but to relieve himself on his own.
When they graduated from high school, they both enrolled in the local college, and while Steve studied finance and economics, Diana took liberal arts courses with no clear sense of what she wanted to accomplish. At the beginning of their second year, Steve convinced her to share a studio apartment on campus with him to cut down on the commuting time each day.
They had become intimate that summer when Diana finally succumbed to his pleadings. It was messy and uncomfortable for them both and Steve felt guilty immediately afterward. Diana, strangely, was less upset and accepted their new relationship in a more equable state. She had changed, and it was obvious that she now thought of herself as a woman and not a girl. She still lacked a sense of adventure in their lovemaking, but was a warm and willing partner. Steve gradually got over his guilt and realized that he was now in an adult relationship with a lovely young woman.
He had put himself through college with his stock market earnings. It was unlikely that many other students at any university could say the same thing. He had begun investing as a spur of the moment decision with a windfall $1500 stake from his grandmother, and when it turned out well he got interested in doing more. It became his hobby first, but a few reversals soon taught him the facts of economic life on the stock exchange.
In his typical fashion, he began to analyze the market. First he broke it down into segments and then broke each segment down into winners and losers. Within a few months, he began to realize he had a knack for identifying winners. His choices included some big names, some small, and some in between, but in the end, he picked more winners than losers. Within two years, he had earned over $50,000 on paper. Not bad for a $1500 first investment. He cashed out enough to pay his tuition and living expenses for the first year of college and began to reinvest the balance. He would need to be just as successful next year and for the next three years to complete his plan and his education.
Diana had no such concerns. Her parents had paid her tuition and while they were not thrilled about her decision to live on campus, they reluctantly agreed to fund that as well. It took her some time to confess that she was cohabiting with Steve and that almost brought about an abrupt end to their living arrangement. With much pleading and cajoling, she finally convinced her father that she knew what she was doing and would be a responsible daughter. Her mother was less worried, and Diana was sure it was she who convinced her father to agree to the "modern arrangement." They had accepted Steve after some concerns about his modest social background. He proved to be bright, self-reliant, and ambitious without being aggressive. He was very easy to like.
They graduated from college a week apart and both sets of parents attended the convocation ceremonies, making Diana and Steve very happy. Steve's parents were divorced, his mother living nearby in San Francisco and his father in Eastern Canada. Both attended but didn't sit together, his mother leaving after briefly congratulating both he and Diana. She politely acknowledged Diana's parents.
Steve was still a Canadian citizen on a student visa. His father and mother had moved to the Bay area from Vancouver when his father was transferred by his international engineering company. His mother adapted well to the California lifestyle, but his father was unhappy with his job, combined with concerns about their safety and his dislike of U.S. Government foreign policy. He pleaded with Steve's mother to return to Canada but she refused, and eventually they recognized that separation and divorce were inevitable.
Steve was fifteen when his father left. Within a year, his mother had begun a relationship with what would turn out to be a string of "boyfriends." She was a young-looking thirty-seven year old woman and was enjoying the attention of a variety of men. Steve disapproved, but could do little to change her new lifestyle. They remained in touch, but somewhat estranged after he moved out of the townhouse and into his campus apartment. His father remained closer, often calling on the phone and encouraging him in everything he was doing. He had planned to travel to Ontario to visit him the summer after his third year, but with the extra pressure of his impending final year and graduation, the visit got put off until the next year. His father had not remarried, and as far as Steve knew, was not seeing anyone. As a forty-something bachelor with a good job, modest good looks, and a sunny disposition, it surprised Steve that there was no one new in his life.
After graduation, Steve had applied for and was granted a green card by U.S. Immigration. He secured a loan from a local bank using his securities as collateral and bought a house in Walnut Creek. It was a modest rancher with a single carport, but in a nice neighborhood. He had listened carefully to his real estate agent's recommendations and chose location over style.
The front and back yard were formerly grass, long since burned out. Steve had no gardening or landscaping skills while Diana was an accomplished gardener and loved the challenge of restoring the outside of the house. She had no plan to seek employment after graduation. Steve's investments and an attractive offer from a mid-size securities firm provided a good income. Thus, she could invest her time on the inside and outside of their new home. If she wasn't planting flowers and weeding the long forgotten rock-garden, she was painting the inside walls and buying curtains and wall coverings.
With a little muscle help from Steve, they installed an automated underground sprinkling system in the front and back and within a few weeks the lawn was green, the flowers blooming and the whole appearance of the property had changed for the better. Diana nagged Steve into staining the outside siding a pale adobe sand colour to complement the rustic brick skirt and front entrance. A couple of months later, their home looked like one of the more expensive ones in the neighborhood with only a minimal investment. Steve was very happy with the result and proud of Diana for the work she had put in to improve their home.
Steve realized that his relationship with Diana was still informal and knew that sooner or later he would have to face up to making their union legal. Diana, for her part, put no pressure on him to marry her. She seemed to be content with their common-law relationship and perhaps because California law protected her, she didn't feel insecure.
Steve felt their relationship was incomplete and would only feel more comfortable when they were married. Yet, something in the back of his head was nagging at him and prevented him from doing what would simply be confirming their union. Finally, one Friday evening, when he had returned from the office and they were enjoying a glass of wine on the back yard deck, he turned to Diana.
"Diana, I think we should get married." Just like that, he had blurted it out. "I've been thinking about this for a while and I think it's time we made it official."
Diana looked at him with a mixture of concern and surprise. She hadn't been expecting him to propose and this was completely out of left field.
"Is that how you see our relationship, Steve? We need to make it official?"
"I'm sorry love, I said that poorly and it came out all wrong. I ... I love you Diana and I want to marry you. Will you marry me?"
He had turned to face her and reached for her hand. With his other hand, he pulled out a small jeweler's velvet box from his shirt pocket and opened it to reveal a diamond engagement ring.
"Will you, Diana ... will you marry me?" He said it with the emotion he felt welling up inside. He had thought about this for a long time and knew it was the right thing to do. He was sincere and he couldn't get his mind around the idea of living without her.
Tears began to trickle down Diana's cheeks. She sobbed quietly, all the while looking into his eyes.
"Oh Steve, I've always felt we were married. I think we've been married since we were in high school. It just took us a while to consummate it. Yes, yes, I will marry you. It's all I've ever wanted."
Now a few tears ran down Steve's face as he reached for her. They stood and embraced and he buried his face in her hair, partly to hide his tears and partly to exhale the breath he had held for what seemed like several minutes. They stood holding each other for a few minutes, saying nothing.
Steve wiped the tracks of her tears from her face with his thumbs as he held her face gently in both hands. Steve was the first to break the silence.
"I guess we need to decide when and where and what kind of wedding we want."
"Let's decide tomorrow, Steve. Right now, I just want to make love with you. It's the best way I know how to say yes, I want to marry you."
Their lovemaking was gentle, yet powerful. Several times she had tears on her cheeks, but they were tears of happiness and contentment. Steve was a considerate lover, strong, and the leader in the bedroom. She experienced an infrequent orgasm almost immediately and later, another smaller one.
They lost track of how long they were in bed, but it was dark when Steve turned to her, held her face in his hands, kissed her gently and said, "I'm hungry."
She laughed quietly and ran her finger with her new diamond ring down his nose.
"I thought I looked after your hunger."
"Man cannot live on hot sex alone. Every once in a while he needs a hot meal."
She laughed again and kissed him, holding him tightly for a few seconds and then letting him go.
"I've got dinner all ready to go, all you have to do is start the barbeque and we can have a midnight meal."
"Is it that late?" He looked at the clock radio on the nightstand and saw that it was just after 10. They had been in bed almost three hours but it seemed like only a few minutes. He felt content and relaxed. It wasn't just the sex, it was the relief that he had finally done what he knew he must do. Their lovemaking was more intense tonight than it had been in a long time. He had done the right thing.
Their wedding was held in a small, local, Episcopalian church a few weeks later. He had proposed in April and she was to be a June bride. Both their parents attended the wedding. Steve's mother and father both attended, sitting beside each other for the few minutes the ceremony took. Diana's parents were gracious hosts of the reception and the forty or so guests were fed, watered and entertained well into the night. Steve and Diana left the reception at seven to drive to their hotel in Lake Tahoe for a brief honeymoon. The following week, they resumed their married life together.
When the doorbell rang, Steve was snapped out of his concentration. He briefly looked at the clock and saw it was almost 1pm. He wondered why Diana hadn't answered it. She should be back from shopping by now. He rose and walked down the hall to the front door and opened it. Standing on the front porch was a uniformed police officer.
"I'm Officer Davidson of the Walnut Creek Police."
Steve's mind snapped to attention. The Police! Had he forgotten to pay a parking ticket? No!
"How can I help you Officer?"
"May I come in?" he asked.
"Yes ... yes, of course," he replied in confusion.
"Mr. Inhalt, is your wife's name Diana Inhalt?"
A cold bolt of fear ran through his abdomen. "Yes, that's right. What's wrong? What's happened?" He was doing everything he could to maintain his composure.
"Mr. Inhalt, I'm sorry, but there's been an accident and..."
Steve cut him off. "Is she all right, is she hurt?"
"I'm sorry sir. Your wife was killed in a traffic accident this afternoon."
Steve stood completely still, not breathing, stunned into silence.
"She was hit by another driver in a truck at an intersection and killed instantly," he continued. "I'm sure she didn't suffer sir."
"Where is she, where can I see her?" he asked in a dazed voice.
"Sir, she's at the morgue. If you go there, they will ask you to identify her. Can you manage that sir, or would you like someone else? Her family, her doctor, or a family friend?"
"No, no ... there's no one but her parents. I'll go. I have to inform her parents. I'll go ... now." His voice was remote and distant. He was in shock and barely able to comprehend what he had just been told.
"Can I give you a ride, sir?" the officer asked.
"No ... no, I think I'll take a taxi," he answered absently. Slowly, he sunk into a chair near the front hallway.
"I'm very sorry for your loss. If there's anything I can do ... help with ... here's my card," the officer stammered.
Steve took the card and looked at the young policeman. He had handled a difficult task with tact. "Thank you officer."
The officer turned and walked slowly to his squad car as Steve closed the front door. He sank into the living room sofa and sat there looking at his hands in his lap. He wasn't sure how long he stared at nothing, but finally he stood and moved to the phone. Almost in a trance, he called the local taxi company and was picked up a few minutes later. When he told the driver his destination, the driver turned and looked at him, saying nothing. From the look on his passenger's face, he could guess why.
The rest of the afternoon was a hazy blur. When they took him into the cold, sterile room, she was lying on a table with a white sheet covering her. Her face was badly damaged in the accident but there was no doubt it was Diana. Now he knew as a certainty that she was gone. The attendant at the morgue handed him the package of her personal effects after he properly identified himself. It was a small brown manila envelope and her purse. Inside the envelope were her engagement and wedding rings, her everyday watch and a thin gold necklace he had given her on her birthday. She wore it almost every day and everywhere she went.
Inside her purse was her wallet with $65 cash, driver's license, two credit cards, and her bank card. The usual lipstick, tissues, pills for her period, and keys were all there. Inside one of the side pockets of the purse was a picture of their wedding day; the two of them on the church steps, smiling broadly, looking happier than they could have imagined. He sat in the ante-room chair, just looking at the purse and picture for a few minutes. Slowly, he stuffed the envelope in the purse, put the wedding picture in his shirt vest-pocket and stood up. He walked out the front door with no sense of purpose or direction only to find the cab he had rode in still at the curb. The driver got out of the cab and walked up to Steve.
"Would you like me to take you home sir, or is there somewhere else you would like to go?"
"No ... no, nowhere else. Home will be fine, thank you," he said quietly.
When he arrived, he paid the driver and walked slowly up the front driveway, unlocked the carport-kitchen door, stepped in and closed the door behind him. It was completely silent. No radio, no sounds of Diana in the kitchen or sewing in the spare bedroom. No sounds at all. He sank into the living room recliner and just stared at the purse and picture in his hand. "What do I do now?" he thought. He repeated the question over and over again in his mind.
He remembered calling Diana's mother and trying as best he could to break the news to her gently. She cried out in pain and then in sorrow. She wanted to know how it happened, who did it, all the questions a mother would ask about her much loved daughter. When he hung up, he realized he had questions to ask as well.
Sometime later, he got up and phoned his office. He quietly informed his boss that he wouldn't be in for the next few days. He told Dave what had happened and as expected, his boss told him to take whatever time he needed. He would call him next week and they could talk. Steve thanked him and hung up.
He called his father and told him. They had a good cry together and promised to see each other soon. He called his mother and she expressed her shock and sorrow at his loss. The call was brief and when he hung up, he couldn't tell whether she was upset or not. The words were all there, but there wasn't any emotion.
He made a few more calls and then gave up for the day. He was exhausted, in pain, a knot in the pit of his stomach, and a massive headache. He took a couple of Tylenol and lay down on the bed. When he woke up a few hours later, the headache and the knot were gone, but the pain remained. It was never going to be the same again.