out beside me as I make myself comfortable in front of his gravestone.
"Hi, baby," I say, while she pricks up her ears. I am silent for a while, partly because there are so many things inside my head that I barely know where to begin.
I don't know why, but I've always felt Mike's presence here. It doesn't feel like an absent, cold silence, but a warm, listening one. As though he really is here, sitting in his favourite position, arms hugging his legs, as he listens to me talking.
"So, the bookstore is almost ready for opening day. I think we'll be able to pop the bubbly about a week from now. The workers are almost done with the platform and Laney and I have picked out the most darling armchairs. In fact, they're so amazingly comfortable that we were almost ready to fall asleep in them. I also visited your mom and I think she's even more excited about the bookstore than I am," I tell him.
"As for the swimming lessons, well, Milo isn't half bad a teacher, I suppose. You should have seen me yesterday! I was actually in the water up to my shoulders. I was shivering with fear but I did it."
I pause. "I guess I'm almost ready to forgive you for signing me up for the lessons now. But not yet. Milo hasn't made us swim a stroke yet and I'll consider forgiving you again if I pass that milestone."
I fall silent for a long while after that, just letting time pass as I think my thoughts and stroke Bandit. I can't believe it's been almost four months since Mike left me. I grieve his loss, but the pain isn't quite as sharp now, nor as vicious. It's a more muted, dull kind of ache in my heart, although I still have great difficulty talking to people other than Janet or Laney about his death.
I reflect once more on his letters. Just simple words scrawled in black ink, the essence of Mike distilled into sentences. No matter how many times I read his letters, I am filled with the same amazement and wonder every single time. It hit me during one of these musings, that I now understand the true value of the written word and how the postman's arrival must have felt for women separated from their sweethearts during the war.
Because those letters mean the difference between carrying on life with hope or despair. And although my sweetheart won't be coming back, his letters still have brought me back from the brink, at a time when I thought I would never be able to stand again.
I should have known I was getting on too well with the swim lessons for it to last. It is our fourth lesson, and Milo isn't quite his normal, exuberant self today. I don't want to ask him about it, but I had noticed him having a heated argument with someone on the phone as I drove into the carpark.
I had tried to sneak past unobtrusively, but I couldn't help overhearing the parts when he had raised his voice dramatically. I also couldn't help but notice this makes him sound like Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge.
"You told me you were at your sister's graduation last night!", "No, I don't need to take a time-out, Mr. I'm-So-Cool" and "Maybe you need to rethink this relationship," were some of the phrases that drifted into my hearing.
Grant seems to notice Milo's listless behaviour and raises a dark brow at me. Ginny is oblivious to the adult tension in the air and dives immediately into the water after a "work hard, daddy!"
I shrug and mouth "bad day".
We slip into the water by virtue of holding onto the sides of the pool and lowering ourselves in, which to me, felt like voluntarily dipping myself into a frying pan filled with hot oil when I tried it for the first time last