All Good Things picks up where It All Started with a Dog left off, answering the question, “Will Rachel Springer marry John Turner?” Just when Rachel thought the biggest challenge was choosing a wedding dress, her ditsy friend Susan shares a painful secret that shakes her already shaky confidence in love. A bequest from Rachel’s grandmother — and a near-death experience with John’s grandson, Ben — help her make the decision that changes the lives of every character in the book.
Rachel peered at three full-length images of herself in the Macy’s dressing room mirror. This is ridiculous, she thought.
A 62-year-old never-been-married woman crammed into a small dressing room with acres of white satin and lace. Wedding dresses hung like clouds from brass hooks on the walls around her. Veils draped in mounds on the tiny chair. The dress Rachel had just taken off – the one with the cinched waist and bow perched saucily on her bottom – made her look like Snow White. She handed it out to Susan.
“Susan, this is not going to work.”
Susan shoved in another designer gown. “Now, don’t you go getting all grumpy on me, Rachel Springer,” she said from outside the door. “Of course, this is going to work, and, not only is it going to work, it’s going to be fun. We’re talking about your wedding here, honey. This is not a court case you’re getting ready for. Now, try that lovely creation on, and keep your mind open. We just haven’t found the right one yet. Keep at it.”
Rachel scooped up a pile of satin and threw it out at Susan. Hangers clattered, bringing the Macy’s consultant scurrying out from behind her large mahogany desk. “May I assist you, ladies?” the perfectly powdered and coiffed woman chirped. She stared, wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the sight of Susan buried under the mound of rejects while Rachel crouched behind her, red-faced and sweaty.
Rachel’s wedding to John Turner loomed less than a month away. Susan had scheduled the caterer and the musicians. Georgia, Rachel’s law firm secretary, had mailed the invitations. John’s tux and a miniature replica for his grandson, Ben, had been ordered. Susan had picked out a beautiful dusty rose silk dress to wear as the matron of honor and found a tiny version of the same dress for Mary, the flower girl. Mary and her mother, Belle Mason, had lived in Rachel’s downstairs apartment near Dupont Circle since she rescued them from life on the streets.
The wedding ceremony would be performed in Rachel’s living room. All they needed now was a wedding dress.
“Susan, this is silly,” Rachel barked from inside the dressing room where she had squeezed herself into a very skinny gown with bare shoulders and a low, scooped neckline. “Look at my turkey neck. I need something high to cover it. And I just can’t get beyond the fact that I’m 62 and trying to look like a young virgin.”
Susan stepped into closer range and surveyed the scene silently. She tilted her head first one way and then another, squinted, frowned, pursed her lips and scratched her head. She spun Rachel around so she could look at every angle.
“I think we need to cut your hair,” she pronounced with a bright smile. “It’s your long, gray braid that’s the problem.”
“John calls it ‘silver’ and says it’s my best asset. He’d never forgive me if I cut it off. Ben would be heartbroken. And, Susan, there’s something else we need to talk about. Something I haven’t told you.”
Susan plopped down on the floor outside the dressing room and laid her head against the wall. She buried her face in her hands.
“You’re not backing out are you? Rachel, you can’t change your mind now. John’s a …”
“No, I’m not changing my mind about marrying John. Of course not. It’s not that.”
“Then what is it?” Susan asked, bracing herself for all the possibilities that might ruin the scenario she had planned for the past month.
“I can’t wear white. I’m not a virgin.”
Susan opened the door and stared at her friend as though she had just heard that Mother Teresa had announced that she was pregnant.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. Rachel, I’ve known you for 40 years and you’ve never even gone out on a date much less …”
“It was a long time ago. A very long time ago. In college.”
“Well, that doesn’t count, Rachel. My word, you’re almost like a virgin now. You’re a senior citizen.”
“Stop! Stop right there! I don’t want to hear another word. Let’s get out of here. I’m not going to make a fool of myself in one of these outrageous costumes by pretending to be a blushing bride.”
“Rachel, nobody’s a virgin these days, and Macy’s still sells these dresses by the thousands. Come on, honey, try one more on. We’ll find the perfect dress, and John will see you walking toward him like an angel, a vision in white, and you’ll …”
“No, absolutely not. I will not do this.” Rachel’s muffled voice came from inside the fabric. “Help me get out of here. I want to go home.”
It wasn’t until Susan realized that her friend was in tears that she gave up on her mission to find the perfect dress. At least for that day.
“Well, okay. Maybe we can look at Neiman Marcus tomorrow.”
“No, Susan. No more. No more white. No more lace and seed pearls. Most importantly, no more veils. I want to wear something suitable for a 62-year-old non-virgin who is old enough to be the ring bearer’s grandmother.”
“But it’s your first wedding. Don’t you want to remember it forever as a fairytale romance? What about the pictures? What about my dress and how it will look beside your dress? What exactly do you have in mind?” Susan had collapsed on the dressing room floor by this time, looking up at her friend like a drowning soul.
“I don’t know, Susan, but it’s not this.”
* * *
Later that afternoon, lying in her garden tub surrounded by bubbles, a glass of white wine within reach, Rachel smiled. Memories of her morning’s tragic foray into the world of brides had evolved into the realm of comedy. How wonderful the way time – even a little time – can transform torture into a joke, she thought.
She remembered one of her grandmother’s favorite sayings, “This too shall pass.”
At least, I didn’t spend thousands of dollars to look like a clown, she consoled herself. Of course, she was still left with the problem of what to wear on her wedding day.
“I’ll think about it tomorrow,” she decided as she stepped out of the water. Drying herself, she looked down at her short stubby legs and remembered another of her grandmother’s wise sayings, “As long as they work, don’t complain.”
Rachel smiled. Yes, the knees had started to sag. Yes, the backs of her thighs dimpled and her crepe paper skin jiggled a little when she walked, but all her parts worked.
She treasured her walk to work every day. The long blocks from Dupont Circle to Georgetown served not only as exercise but as her daily dose of community, thanks to Ralph. The trip from home to office was sprinkled generously with just the right amount of conversation as people stopped to pet the dog and speak to his owner. People she knew – like Geegeee, the hotdog vendor – as well as strangers. By the time she unlocked the door to her office, she had enjoyed a dose of the kind of love that got her through her day as a lawyer.
The phone rang just as Rachel finished toweling her hair. She threw on a robe and dashed into the bedroom to answer it. Mrs. Moser was on the other end of the line.
“Afternoon, Rachel,” the older woman said. “Hope I didn’t catch you at a bad time.”
“Just stepped out of the bath. Perfect timing.”
“Well, I was dying to know about your shopping trip. Did you find a dress?”
“Afraid not. We looked at lots of dresses, but I didn’t find a thing that suited me. I think it’s hopeless.”
Mrs. Moser was silent. Rachel could hear her husband’s voice in the background, muttering something she couldn’t quite make out.
“Sorry, Rachel. I’ve been warned not to interfere. Now, you know I’d never do that, don’t you, dear? I just wanted to see if you need my help at all. I’d love to go with you shopping any time. A girl needs a mother at a time like this, don’t you think?”
Rachel smiled to herself, picturing her little neighbor bustling about, advising her on which veil would go with which dress and why.
“Actually, Mrs. Moser, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. You’ve precisely identified the problem. I’m not a GIRL. I fit more correctly into the mother-of-the-bride role. And that’s why this isn’t working.”
“Oh, dear,” Mrs. Moser whispered. “I see what you mean. That IS a problem.”
* * *
Later that evening, Rachel, John and Ben arrived at the theater just in time to buy popcorn and drinks and claim Ben’s favorite seats on the front row. John had tried to talk his grandson into letting Rachel pick the seats for a change, but she reassured them both that she loved sitting up front with all the kids.
“See, Granddad, I told you so. I told you me and Rachel always like the same things.”
John winked across the tousled head at Rachel and settled back for “Up,” a new animated film about a little boy who befriends an old man whose wife has just died. The two soar through the last half of the movie in a hot air balloon.
Ben moved in unusual silence out of the dark and into the bright lights of the lobby. They had walked a couple of blocks before anyone spoke.
“I hope Rachel doesn’t die.”
John looked over at the woman who was soon to be his wife and felt his chest tighten. “I hope so, too, Ben, but I don’t think we need to worry. The woman in the movie was very old, and it was time for her to die. Rachel isn’t old.”
Ben didn’t look too convinced about that, but he smiled. “You promise? Rachel’s not going to die, right?”
“Well, we certainly hope not, Ben. We hope she’ll live a very, very long time.”
Rachel leaned down and hugged the child to her in an embrace that reminded her of all the many ways her life had been enriched since the day Susan had introduced her to John. Against her better judgment, she had rented him her basement apartment and, in the process, had learned the joys of sharing. A visit from his grandson had sweetened the deal.
And then came the phone call that changed all their lives forever.
Rachel was visiting her cousins on the family farm when she got the message that Ben’s parents had been killed in a car wreck, leaving John Turner custody of his grandson. After the funeral, Rachel asked John and Ben to move upstairs with her so they’d have more room.
The months since then had been full of the joys and frustrations of living with a child.
When Rachel loosened her hold, Ben announced that he had one more question. Rachel and John braced themselves.
“What is it, Ben?” John asked.
“Can we still go on a hot air balloon ride even if Rachel doesn’t die?”
John picked his grandson up and plopped him onto his shoulders for the rest of the walk home. “That’s about as high as you’re going to get right now, mister.”
Rachel laughed at the two and tucked her arm through John’s. The muscles under his sweater were still firm and bulged just enough to satisfy her taste. What are the chances of a 62-year-old woman who’s never been in love finding not only romance but a ready-made family, she asked herself for the millionth time.
The answer was always the same: it all started with a dog.
Rachel found the dog she named “Ralph” one evening as she worked late at her office in Georgetown. Her secretary, Georgia, had gone home, leaving her there alone, preparing another pleading in a long drawn-out divorce case.
When she finally locked the door and stepped out onto the darkening streets, her thoughts wandered, lost in the trials and tribulations of yet another soon-to-be ex-wife who was living proof that “hell hath no fury like that of a woman scorned.”
A whining deep in the alleyway next to her office building brought her back to reality. When she walked over to investigate the pitiful sound, all she could see at first were two terrified eyes and the vague outline of an animal. She couldn’t tell what kind.
Rachel called out softly, surprised at her willingness to brave an unknown creature hiding in the dark. After a couple of minutes of persistent calling, out from the shadows crept a black dog that looked like he hadn’t eaten in months. His fur reminded Rachel of a moth-eaten mink coat she’d found years ago in her grandmother’s attic. The dog peered up at her with eyes that begged for help.
Against Rachel’s better judgment – and to the chagrin of a heavily tipped driver – the stray rode away in the back seat of the Yellow Cab, beginning a chain of events that all worked toward the slow transformation of Rachel Springer.
Never much of a dog person, Rachel was surprised at the impact this one had on her life and everyone they met. Their daily walks inspired a sense of community she had never known before. And clients seemed to relax and open up as soon as they saw Ralph sitting in the front window. After several months of being the recipient of his unconditional love, Rachel found herself willing to do all kinds of risky things. Like taking in a downstairs tenant and then falling in love – first with the little boy and then with his grandfather.
Yes, it all started with a dog, she said as she looked at John and Ben, charging up the steps to open their front door for her. As if on cue, Ralph dashed out with kisses for all.
Leigh Somerville has had a long career as a full time writer doing business as Studio McMillan in Winston-Salem. Currently, she is the Director of Marketing & PR for Twin City Stage. Formerly, she was Editor of Winston-Salem Living and wrote as the Scene & Heard columnist for the Winston-Salem Journal for 10 years. She has contributed to regional and national magazines. Her work includes ghost-writing memoirs and legacy letters, facilitating writing workshops and retreats, coaching and public speaking.