No matter what she wore, be it suit or frock or jeans and a shirt, her cousin and aunt would both find something wrong with it.
"That dress is for a wedding," her cousin stated.
"If you're the bride," said the aunt about a particularly nice dress she'd put on.
"Why are you so dressed up?" they'd ask if she wore a suit. "Trying to make everyone feel small?"
She never made anyone feel small. Her aunt and cousin had both been jealous of her since she was born because her cousin was no longer the special, first child and because her parents no longer babysat her cousin and showered attention on her. Her own parents still included her in the family as if she were their own but the cousin, even as a small child, had gotten used to two sets of parents, three if her grandparents could be included. When her own parents had died within a few days of each other -- one succumbing to cancer, the other to a broken heart -- she found out her aunt and cousin loved nothing more than to continue hanging onto their grudges, their meanness, their pettiness, their jealousy.
"Jeans? Really?" her aunt asked her. "It's Thanksgiving, not Halloween."
So she selected something like she'd wear to work -- a black sweater, black pants, black shoes, only small earrings to accessorize. Once she put her new coat over the ensemble she knew she'd look like a million bucks.
She could never precisely see what her cousin's husband saw in her cousin. He was your standard issue nice, normal guy. He wasn't petty, he encouraged harmony with the aunt and cousin, and he always remembered her birthday. Of course, he could be talking up a storm of smack behind her back but his eyes and smile were genuine and warm so she doubted it. They'd been high school sweethearts, the cousin and her husband, and he'd been quite the bad boy back then but a bad boy with a good heart. She wondered if her cousin was disappointed that he still worked for the Secretary of State in the motor vehicle division but her cousin gave no indication of her displeasure about it. They had two children immediately after getting married and the kids were now off on their own -- making their way in the world and proud of it. The kids -- a boy and a girl -- favored their dad.
It was a 30-minute drive to her cousin's home, still in the city but in a remote neighborhood that required taking surface streets to reach. She left exactly a half hour before she was supposed to go, putting the relish in a box in the trunk so it wouldn't slide all over the place and wouldn't go flying in the interior if she stopped short.
Some of the things she saw as she drove: a large house being decorated for Christmas; three grocery stores; two Target stores; a Wal-Mart with a small line for the doorbuster that would take place that night; a huge turkey made of chicken wire and covered in lights the colors of a fall harvest; and a giant driving a flesh-toned Fiat 500, with handsome man in the passenger seat. They did not see her.
She was convinced that she had to be hallucinating. Those two together? Randomly? In some neighborhood? She was seeing things. That had to be it. Things like that don't happen.
Except they do.
Years before she was out in the suburbs and made a wrong turn. She realized where she'd gone off track, saw where she was, and decided to take a nearby road that went from the suburbs into the city. It was a Sunday evening and there were few cars on this stretch of asphalt. She sat in the left-turn lane, waiting for the light to change so she could head home and a car drove up next to hers and stopped for the light. She glanced at the driver. It was a woman from her office with whom she was friendly. They both laughed and pointed and smiled. The woman indicated her husband and he leaned forward and smiled and waved. The light changed and they waved good-bye to each other.
Things like that don't happen unless they do.
She drove a little faster than she preferred just to get off the streets and be somewhere in a crowd of people.