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After You've Gone

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June smiled gently at Cindy, “No dear, you go ahead, I'm fine here.”

Cindy paused, and for a moment June thought she'd continue to press her invitation, but Cindy rose and said, “Okay Grandma, but if you change your mind...”

“Yes, if I get bored I will come join you and your parents in Taos.” June kept from grimacing at the thought. “I promise.”

“I just worry about you being lonely.” Cindy said solemnly.

“You sound like your mother. I've survived a long time and I know how to keep myself occupied. Don't worry.” June tried to invest the last phase with command.

Cindy, taken aback at being compared to her mother, finally gave in. Leaning over to kiss her grandmother's cheek she said. “I'll be back in a month. Love you.”

“Love you too, darling. Have a wonderful time and give my love to your parents.”

After Cindy finally left, June settled in the front room with a fresh cup of coffee and pondered her family. She loved her children, she really did, but in the wake of Byron's death they seemed determined to see her as frail and lonely. June didn't know how to explain to them that company wasn't what she missed. Company she could find, whether it be for tea, dinner or breakfast the next morning. June had a wide circle of friends and acquaintances who would be up for anything from a night of bad Korean westerns to a black-tie dinner dance. No what she missed was something more nebulous, the sense of belonging, of being part of something.

June and Byron met in the summer of 1958. She was 23, a nursing student at Harlem Hospital still living at home. He said he was 25 and a restauranteur. (Later she would discover that he was actually only 21 and the restaurant was a front for a poker game). June knew, almost from the beginning, that he was half trickery and all charm, but it never mattered. He loved her and she loved him, and that would, she decided, be enough. Byron taught her to stack a deck and June taught him to invest some of the take. Together they graduated from backroom games to rooftop casinos. He ran the room and she ran the restaurant through which they laundered the money. Occasionally June sang in the lounge while Byron or Ford played piano. Their's hadn't been an easy marriage, prison, various cons, Byron's charm and June's stubbornness had all created stresses, but from beginning to end they had always been there for one another.

Now June was the only one who remembered the 5th floor walk up on West 127th Street with the tiny kitchen and the complete lack of hot water or heat. The only one who remembered that Byron had spent the profits of his first big score taking June to Paris. Now the years of love and fights were nothing but stories to be told. Without Byron's presence in her life, June felt oddly unbalanced, the single half of a pair. And this was not a feeling that could be assuaged by traveling with Cindy, visiting friends or even finding a willing bedmate. Byron was gone and June was left – alone.