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What was that again?

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Ray closed his hands around Gloria’s and helped guide the knife into their fiftieth anniversary cake. The throng exploded into applause and – when Ray kissed Gloria soundly on the lips – whistles.

‘Speech! Speech!’ the call resounded.

Ray looked at their guests: their children, Paul, Matthew, and Thomas, and their wives; their tribe of grandkids; their great-grandkids; and so many friends that Ray’s memory was beyond recollecting them all – a collage of faces, old and young; a scrapbook of the people assembled throughout his life.

It was unreal that everything had turned out as it had. Maybe it hadn’t all been as he would’ve chosen. Like the hardware store. He’d started as a clerk so long ago, worked his way up, and eventually bought the store. Not that Ray liked hardware. But he could’ve done a lot worse. And the kids – Thomas an engineer, Matthew a journalist, Paul a partner in a prestigious law firm; who knew they’d be so successful? That they would’ve made him so proud, day after day?

It was Gloria – she was the driver behind it all. He hugged her to him and when she looked up, still showing surprise at any of his spontaneous affection, he kissed her.

What had life been like before her?

Ray thought and thought, but he couldn’t remember.

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Ray curled an arm around Gloria and hugged her close. She sniffled, smiled at him, then turned her attention back to Paul, glorious in his tux (there was a time he snorted at the thought of wearing a shirt), as he took his new bride in his arms and kissed her. As groomsmen, Matthew and Thomas were equally as resplendent in tuxes, and beamed with a pride that Ray rarely saw expressed between his sons. He grinned. He couldn’t stop himself. He and Gloria had done okay. Sure, Matthew was listless and still at home, but the kid was smart (genius smart, Ray sometimes thought), and would find his way. Thomas was excelling in uni. And here was Paul – who’d graduated with honours and was fielding offers from several law firms, thank you very much – now married to the woman he loved.

The woman he loved.

Ray looked at Gloria, quivering, her eyes moist. She’d blubber tonight, Ray knew that. She’d blubbered when Paul had announced his engagement a year ago, had broken into spontaneous bouts of blubbering since, and in the week leading up to the wedding had blubbered nonstop. Ray couldn’t believe that anybody could blubber so much.

But he loved her, and he wouldn’t change that, although sometimes, just sometimes, Sophie slipped into his mind. Life with her could’ve been … what? Ray didn’t know. But it would’ve been something different, and that mightn’t have been a good thing.

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