[previous chapter] [start from the beginning] Life was slowly returning to normal for Nathalie Toussignant. A new normal that would never be the same as the old normal, as anyone who’s ever lost family members will tell you. But it’s a kind of normal nonetheless. As you work through the process of settling into new routines, you notice every instance where the absence of the dearly departed is noticed. The first weekly visit skipped for lack of anyone to visit. The first month since the death. The first birthday without cake. The first Christmas without the missing. The first anniversary. And so on and so forth.

It’s not so much that Nathalie was sad about it. I mean, she was sad a bit. But she was surprised to find that she wasn’t as devastated emotionally as one would expect after losing both parents so suddenly. But for all that, she did find it very weird to get used to the idea that the people who’d always been present in her life were no longer there. That there wasn’t anyone above her, so to speak. That she was now the head of whatever family remained to her. Yes, Jeff was older than her. But he was so useless…

Take, if you will, the issue of settling the estate. It was proving to be very painful thanks to his unseemly attempts to sell everything and cash out. The shock he had when he realized his parents’ estate wasn’t worth as much as all that was not a pleasant experience for anyone involved.

“What do you mean, ‘that’s it’?” He’d asked Nathalie, when she showed him a rough count of what she thought their parents’ estate would amount to. “You’re telling me that at the end of their lives all they had left was $20,000?”

Nathalie had been helping her parents manage their affairs, such as they were, for the past 20 years, so she had some idea what they were worth. She also knew why her mother had insisted her children should pay the rent at the nursing home; they simply could not afford it. “Roughly, yes. I haven’t gone through all the numbers yet, and there will be other fees and taxes and adjustments to deal with, but that’s about the size of it.”

“What are we going to do with this?” Jeff exploded, “It’s just like them to leave nothing like that!”

“Jeff! How could you…” But it was no use. He’d hung up on his sister.

Nathalie understood his surprise. If you’d asked her point blank she would also have conceded that her brother did have a point. Leaving their children and grandchildren with virtually nothing, once the estate taxes and funeral expenses were dealt with, was very much in character for her parents. They’d managed to eat through everything they had, just about, thanks in large part to their mother’s appetite for the good life. Not that it made her happy, but she had always wanted to live larger than her husband’s salary could provide, and the result was what you’d expect.

Nathalie had never been into money so much. Like anyone, she preferred having enough to cover her needs than not, for sure. Especially when you have kids, it’s nice to have a little bit of financial security. That was one reason she took the part-time job at the store, so they could have a little extra money to spend on treats and save as much of Marc’s salary as possible. Cops didn’t make that much money, but it was enough to live, especially with all the overtime he was doing. They had a small but pretty house, shared one car, relied on transit or used their bikes to get around. They did not have a cottage or ski condo. They didn’t have boats or expensive toys, and they didn’t do activities that cost too much money. The kids were not enrolled in organized sports but they did take piano lessons. Nathalie believed the right way to raise kids was to spend a lot of time with them, even if that meant less money to spend on expensive vacations to Disney.

Which was just as well, seeing as they’d never be rich even with their inheritance. Or maybe especially because of it.

Nathalie had always regarded her mother’s fondness for spending the money other people earned on herself as disquietingly crass, and she’d tried to talk to her about it more than a few times (including a couple of memorably acrimonious shouting matches when Nathalie was a teenager), with, at best, very limited success. Amanda could be shamed into scaling back some of her social ambitions, sometimes. But it never lasted. Sooner or later she’d read a magazine article about the best river cruises or some TV star’s redesigned kitchen and she’d start obsessing about changing her kitchen or going on a cruise and it would go on for months until Marcel relented. So off they’d go on a cruise, but not quite the one she’d read about (which was clearly too expensive), and she’d get a mini-makeover in her kitchen but by that point she was ready to start thinking about the new boots she really needed and didn’t her car look dated?

In short, Nathalie had always known, the problem wasn’t so much that Amanda needed all these things to be happy, for her mother had never really been truly happy. It's that she wouldn't stop wanting new things even though it didn't make her happy. And that was what was so sad about it; to have spent all her life longing for stuff and not realizing that happiness was right there, in her devoted husband and the kids they had together.

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