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Once again, thank you all for your feedback and comments — they are what motivate me to keep writing!
This one took a while to get across the finish line, so thank you for your patience (and encouragement!). This story has been percolating in my head for a while, and when I heard Paul Simon’s Graceland on the radio one day, the lyrics helped me frame the plot. As with my other stories, the narrative builds slowly but surely, so a quick fix this is not. Lastly, a sincere ‘thank you’ to Ripley for being my capable and trusted counselor on this endeavor.
–Prologue (Nine Months Ago – September)–
Cal Warner sat slouched in the club chair, her head tilted back as she stared out of the patio door window. It was quiet. The branches of the lemon tree in the backyard swayed hypnotically. The parallel beams of a car’s headlights swung across the corner of the yard and faded as the car made its turn and went on its way. She closed her eyes.
Cal sat up, startled by the greeting. She thought everyone else was asleep. She looked around the living room.
Nothing stirred. The hospital bed stood quietly next to her chair, empty, stripped of its linens. There was no reason for Cal to be sitting here anymore, but this had been her spot for so long, it seemed comforting to return here.
“Becca?” Cal’s heart was beating awfully fast. Cal pulled her knees to her chin and curled up into a ball. Becca died a week ago. She’s gone, Warner. She squeezed her eyes shut, but the tears came anyway. Cal wondered if tonight was the night she would finally run out of them.
“Go. Away.” Cal mumbled, “Unless you are my split personality and you look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club.”
“Oh, you silly rabbit.”
Cal’s eyes sprung open. There, sitting cross-legged on the hospital bed, was Becca. It was the Becca before the illness. Before paralysis atrophied her legs, before the edema had set in from all the medication they pumped into her.
“I’m way hotter than Brad Pitt.” Becca grinned, tossing her long black hair over her shoulder.
“This isn’t real, right?” Cal choked out, her eyes desperately clawing at the vision before her.
Becca bit her lip and shook her head sadly, “No. It’s not real. Kind of a half-dream.”
“I miss you. I want to be with you… I’d rather be with you…” The last few words escaped in a whisper.
“Don’t you dare, Callan Warner!” Becca pointed a finger at Cal.
“It’s true…” Those two words stumbled, hopelessly, out of Cal’s mouth.
Becca looked less solid now, still sitting on the bed, but more like an image than a three-dimensional body.
“No… don’t go. Please, don’t go,” Cal pleaded.
“I have to,” Becca said gently, “You know that. I just wanted to say goodbye… and to tell you that you need to live. You need to believe you can.”
Cal shook her head. She didn’t care if she had lost her mind to far-fetched hallucinations. She’d much rather have this pseudo-dream than anything else. She let out a sarcastic laugh, “You are haunting me to remind me to stick it out for the kids?”
Becca crossed her arms, “You are no good for the kids if you are half dead inside. But it’s not just about them. It’s about you. You need to live. Promise me you will.”
Cal wanted to promise, but she couldn’t. Becca glared at her, tears springing up, “Cal Warner. Promise me!”
Great. I’ve made a ghost cry. “Fine, I promise,” Cal surrendered. She rubbed her eyes, “Easy for you to say, by the way, you’re dead.”
When Cal looked toward the bed again, Becca was gone.
Cal looked around her, fully awake now. She groaned as she realized the trick her mind had played. “This fucking sucks,” she said out loud, feeling suddenly oppressed by the misfortune the house witnessed. “We should go back to New York City,” she told the empty room, “After the kids are done with the school year. Start new there.”
She comes back to tell me she’s gone
As if I didn’t know that
As if I didn’t know my own bed
As if I’d never noticed
The way she brushed her hair from her forehead
And she said losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow…
Paul Simon, “Graceland”
–Chapter 1: The First PT Session (Present Day – June)–
Annie felt Jason’s hands on her upper back and took a deep breath. Annie exhaled as her colleague pushed downwards. A satisfying arpeggio of cracks filled the room as Annie’s spine realigned.
“Fuck, yes!” Annie exclaimed. Jason chuckled in response, “Never gets old, that one!”
“I really needed that, thanks J.” Annie slowly stretched into child’s pose and lingered there. “You need an adjustment?”
“I’m okay, thanks,” Jason answered, “And I have a client in five minutes so get your butt off my table.”
Annie jumped off and helped him put on new linens. A soft knock bahis firmaları on the door made them both turn. Priyanka, the receptionist, stuck her head into the room, “Jason, your noon is here. Annie Frye, it’s your lucky day: your noon rescheduled for tomorrow.”
“Best news I’ve heard all day! Thanks Pri,” Annie grabbed her phone and headed out of the office.
“Don’t go too far, I’ll need you to cover walk-ins or last minute appointments.”
Annie nodded, “Want me to grab you some lunch?”
Priyanka shook her head, “I brought something from home, but thanks though!”
Annie stepped out onto Broadway and took a deep breath. It was the last week of June and the humidity of the summer was just teetering on the edge of being suffocating. Her phone buzzed and Annie smiled when she saw a text from her best friend, Alex Mak, “No way!”
Annie dialed Alex’s number, “Hey Mak-attack! Did you just land?”
Alex flew into town from London at least once a month, sometimes staying for a week, sometimes for a day. The two friends made a promise to each other that they would always make time to meet at least once each trip. Annie was surprised to get Alex’s text as she wasn’t expecting a visit for at least another week or so.
“Landed at 11:00. Last minute thing Mona wanted me to go to. I just got to the city — have you had lunch yet?”
“Nope. Usual place? Ten minutes?”
“You got it. Can’t wait to see you, Bella-bear!”
Annie hung up and made her way west. Alex was already at their favorite diner when she arrived.
“Annabelle!” Alex pulled her friend into a tight hug.
“Alexandra! Geez — easy buddy.” Annie smiled and hugged back, “Are you on your way to a meeting?”
Alex looked down at her work suit, “Sort of. Conference downtown. Then an 11pm flight back to London so I can go to a meeting there tomorrow afternoon. Total bollocks… Sorry I didn’t give you much notice — I didn’t get much notice myself.”
“You know they have this thing called video-conferencing now, right?” Annie teased, disappointed that her friend wouldn’t be staying for longer.
“I wish I could have done that. But I’m on a panel at the conference, so it’s not conducive to beaming in via the interwebs. And… I get air miles. Buckets of them.”
Annie whistled, “Moving up in the world, Alex!”
“Fake it till you make it! I intend to just nod and look like I know what I’m doing. Come on, let’s order food — I’m famished.”
The two friends caught up over lunch. Alex relocated to London over three years ago, a happy convergence of work and love: Alex started dating Jess, who lived in London, and Alex’s firm opened an office in the UK not long after they got together. Annie felt like she was the one who lost out in the process, but luckily, Alex’s job had her shuttling back and forth over the Atlantic enough that the two still managed to see each other quite a bit.
“How’s Jess?” Annie pointed at the silver band on her friend’s finger.
Alex nodded and grinned, “She’s well — she says ‘hi’ by the way. We’re trying to figure out if we want to do anything special for our anniversary later this summer… It’s been almost three years since the wedding, can you believe it?”
Annie grinned, “It’s pretty amazing, but I’m not surprised at all. I’m so happy for you guys.”
Alex beamed, “What about you? What’s new?”
“Not much. Could do with a couple more regular clients, but no complaints.”
“I wasn’t talking about work, Annie.”
“I know. But nothing new since you were here for reunion in May: still broken up with Zoe… who is now one hundred percent certain that we should get back together even though she cheated on me,” Annie shrugged and, in a posh British accent, added, “Bonkers… Frightfully disappointing, isn’t it?”
“No love lost, honestly. She seemed like the type of person who only wants the thing she can’t have,” Alex paused before noting, “Your British accent remains deplorable, by the way.”
Annie’s eyes danced with mirth, “Better than your American accent… I’m bummed you aren’t staying longer — I was hoping you’d help me drown my sorrows in ice-cream and and your trove of sappy movies.”
Alex shrugged sheepishly, “Sorry… Hey, are you making fun of my movie collection?”
Annie’s eyes flashed with mischief, “Yes. And your hefty collection of Bletchley Park books. I never knew that you were such a World War II geek.”
“I’m not. I just got interested in Alan Turing,” Alex said enthusiastically, “He did some pretty amazing stuff… in spite of everything.”
Annie ruffled Alex’s head, “Still a geek though!”
“Hey!” Alex ducked, “Easy on the hair!”
“Dude,” Annie pointed at Alex’s head, “You have enough gel there to withstand a category five hurricane.”
“Wow, not pulling any punches today, are we?” Alex stroked her chin and narrowed her eyes, “Perhaps we ought to revisit the no-rent agreement.”
Alex had a two-bedroom condo in New York that she’d been renting out since her relocation to London. kaçak iddaa When one tenant had a run-in with the landlord, she asked Annie to help. Since then, Annie’s been housesitting and managing the sublet arrangements for the second bedroom.
“Perhaps we should talk about how much money I saved you when I prevented your numbskull of a building super from knocking a hole in your kitchen to fix a plumbing issue in the upstairs apartment?”
Alex laughed, “Okay. Truce.”
“You gave up way too easily, my friend — the new tenant moves in this weekend, by the way. Move your phone out of the way, food’s here.”
As they ate, Annie filled Alex in on Meghan, the new sub-lettor, before moving onto other topics that led into an easy and wandering conversation.
“Bugger me backwards, I’ve missed this shit,” Alex leaned back happily as she polished off her plate.
“You know, that is one of my favorite things about you,” Annie grinned.
“You. Eating. I’ve never known someone who relishes eating like you do.”
Alex shrugged self-consciously, “Jess was saying that the other day. Do I look weird while I eat?”
“No. It’s just, you know, most people eat to not die. Chew, swallow, move on. You really allow yourself to enjoy every bite. It’s endearing…. Oh, hold on. Priyanka’s texting me.”
Annie read her text and showed it to Alex, “Well, well! Lookie here…”
Alex raised her eyebrows as she read the text, “‘Robin Wright is back. Just booked her at 3:00 for you.’ You have CLARE UNDERWOOD as a client?”
Annie scoffed, “Yeah. I wish. No. This is probably Callan Warner, that client I told you about from… hmm.. let’s see, four years ago? Pri thinks Cal looks like Robin Wright. It’s close… but I think Cal is much hotter than Robin Wright.”
“Ooooh… this is the one you had a massive crush on… Married, with children, right?” Alex’s eyebrows lifted inquisitively.
“Actually it’s quite sad — I worked with her — off and on for about a year — before her wife Becca got sick and they moved to be closer to Becca’s parents. I wonder why they are back?”
Alex nodded, “Oh, yeah, I can vaguely remember you telling me. Maybe they are back because Becca got better?”
Annie frowned. She tried to think back to what Cal had told her during their last session, “Hmmm, Cal said it was bad. Hang on, let me…”
Annie did a quick search on her phone, and her worst fear was confirmed. The results showed a short Baltimore Sun obituary for Rebecca Chen from almost a year ago. Annie felt herself tearing up, “Oh no, Alex, Becca passed away. Says here she’s ‘survived by her parents, her brother, wife Callan, son Adrian and daughter Jamie.’ That is so heartbreaking. They were together for years! The kids are just babies…”
Alex shook her head with sympathy, “Wow. That kind of puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?”
“I don’t know about perspective. This is the kind of news that knocks someone sideways.”
“I meant in terms of life…” Alex paused, searching for the right words, “I meant… you know, Tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us, but we all go about our days like it is, you know? Like, we’re all in this collective denial about it… but since none of us knows how much time we have, we should live… like, really live.”
“Except life gets in the way,” Annie mused.
“That’s what I mean — we have to try not to let it. That’s the perspective.”
“So says the woman who is making a round-trip flight to and from the US in a day…” Annie winked.
Alex threw her hands up in surrender, “I didn’t say I had it all sorted! The same-day round-trip is nuts, but at least I’m only away from Jess for one night… Look, I’m just saying this kind of news puts it all in perspective… Cal’s got a lot to deal with. What kind of name is Callan, anyway?”
“It’s a town in Ireland — her parents visited when Cal was in utero, they named her after it they loved it so much.”
“Good thing it wasn’t Ullswater then… breathtakingly beautiful, but a crazy name to live down…”
“Your sense of humor is really starting to worry me,” Annie teased, “I wonder when Cal got back to Manhattan? I know she mentioned having family here…” Annie stared at the obituary.
Alex looked at her watch, “You’ll find out soon enough — you’d better get back. My thing starts in an hour, so I should bugger off down to Water Street. I’m sorry, Annie, that’s rough news.”
Annie gratefully accepted a hug from Alex, “Thanks. Can I kidnap you after your conference?”
“I’m all yours, Bella-bear.” Alex squeezed her best friend tight.
Annie smiled, “Great, we can hang out and have dinner before you go back to the airport! Have you been craving anything from this side of the pond?”
Alex did not hesitate, “Corner Bistro.”
“Brits still can’t make a good burger, huh? You got it, Al. Good luck at the conference.” Annie turned to leave and gave Alex one more hug.
“Love ya,” Alex smiled.
Annie was deep in thought kaçak bahis as she walked the handful of blocks back to her office. She remembered Becca bringing the twins by to pick Cal up after a PT session all those years ago; they had come across as this beautiful and happy family.
“It just seems so unfair,” Annie muttered as she rode the elevator up to her office. She took a big breath and she opened the door into the reception area. Priyanka looked at her pointedly when she walked in, “Cal’s here already; I sent them into your room.”
Kids are here too. Priyanka mouthed. Annie nodded with understanding. She knocked on the door before going in.
Cal was getting the twins set up in front of a tablet in the corner of the room. She straightened up as Annie came in, “Hi! Thanks for fitting me in today. I’m a little early… and I brought the kids — haven’t found a babysitter yet. I hope that’s okay.”
Annie’s breath caught in her throat. Cal looked tired, and it was clear she’d lost weight. But it was still the Cal she remembered: tall and statuesque, with a beautifully sculpted face framed by shoulder length blonde hair. Yep. She’s still… wow. Annie resisted the urge to keep staring and turned her focus to the kids on the floor.
“Of course it’s okay! Hey guys! You probably don’t remember me, huh?” Annie knelt down next to the kids. “Okay, so which one is Adrianna and which one is James?”
The kids giggled. Jamie pointed at herself, “I’m Jamie. And he’s Adrian.”
“Oh right,” Annie smacked her forehead with her hand, “Jemima and Andrew. That’s right!”
“JAMIE and ADRIAN!” The kids shouted together, before collapsing into laughter.
“Okay, if you guys are so smart, what’s my name? You guys were teeny tiny when I saw you last, so you probably don’t remember.”
Both kids looked up, and turned to Cal. “This is Annie, guys. She’s going to help me move my shoulder.”
“Ah, so it’s the shoulder, huh?” Annie looked at Cal, who nodded, “I would have guessed the lower back… you’re leaning right… but it may be related.”
“Mommy, can we watch the video now?” Adrian pulled on his headphones. Jamie did the same thing when Cal nodded.
“IT’S TOO LOUD!” Jamie declared. Annie adjusted the volume and lifted up one of the ear pieces, “That better, bud?” The girl nodded, already fully sucked in by the cartoon.
“Thank you, technology,” Cal said quietly, “Best i-nanny to have when you are in a pinch!”
Annie chuckled, “It’s good to see you.”
Cal nodded. Having just moved back to the city, seeing a friendly face was a welcomed respite from the recent upheaval. Annie walked towards her, “Cal, I’m sorry about Becca.” Cal’s normally piercing blue eyes dulled with pain. Annie’s heart jolted.
Cal nodded again, the now routine swell of sadness and dread rising. In the nine months since Becca’s death, by far the worst aspect of being the surviving spouse was having the “I’m sorry” conversations with friends and family. There was the horribly insensitive “Oh, I can’t imagine what you are going through,” and the well-intentioned but insincere “I don’t know how you are managing”. Then there were those who would collapse into tears and require Cal to comfort them.
“If it’s easier childcare-wise to do these sessions at your place, I’m happy to come over,” Annie continued.
Cal was suddenly hit with the urge to cry. Annie did the one thing that most people didn’t (or couldn’t) do: offer comfort and help in a way that acknowledged the situation without tripping over the tragedy gracelessly. Cal nodded, a powerful sob escaping her lips.
Annie’s arms were around her immediately. It’d been a while since Cal had accepted an embrace from anyone outside of her family. Most people would approach and ask in soft, saccharine voices, “Do you need a hug?” Call it pride or the stubborn determination to not be the weeping widow, but Cal would always answer in the negative. Yet here she was, clinging to Annie as if her life depended on it.
It was all Annie could do to not dissolve into tears herself. The woman in her arms was racked with quiet sobs. Thanks to the cartoon vortex, Jamie and Adrian were oblivious to their mother’s crying. Annie felt the absence of Becca so profoundly it surprised her. She kept holding Cal, whispering whatever came to mind in a desperate attempt to comfort.
“I’m here, honey, I’m here,” Cal kept hearing in her ear. Annie’s voice was like a balm. It was several long minutes before Cal managed to calm down. When she did, she leaned back from the hug and wiped the tears from her eyes.
“Oh, I really didn’t mean for that to happen,” Cal confessed, taking the tissue that Annie offered.
“I usually don’t make my patients cry until I get into the swing of the treatment session,” Annie smiled gently. She paused for a moment before she started manipulating Cal’s shoulder, “Speaking of which, let’s see what we have here…”
Cal winced at Annie’s initial probing of her sore shoulder, but was grateful that Annie didn’t linger on her loss of composure, “I wrenched it while I was moving stuff into the apartment. My brothers were supposed to help, but one got hit with his kid’s stomach bug, and the other one had a work thing.”
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