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Kim Pritekel & Alexa Hoffman
"Dr. Littman, you have a call on 407. Dr. Littman, call on 407." I sighed, stood.
"Well, I better get. Catch you later?" Haley smiled up at me.
"Bet on it."
I hurried to the small room off the cafeteria where phones were lined up for staff and patients families. I picked one up, dialed the number, and sat down on one of the arm chairs that were set around the room, along with a coffee pot, soda machine and microwave.
"This is Dr. Littman."
"Doctor, this is Nurse Wilson upstairs. You need to get your butt up here, now." I could hear the worry in the nurses voice, which sent a chill down my spine. She was always so calm and collected, and I had a feeling I knew what was going on.
"Im on my way."
I nearly ran to the elevator, then decided Id take the stairs instead. My footsteps echoed throughout the stairwell, my hand sliding along the railings as I took two stairs at a time.
On the ward, I quickly made my way toward room 301. I felt a lump in my throat when I saw Hannahs mom out in the hall, crying. I looked into the room to see doctors working quickly on the young woman, and a priest against the wall, muttering to himself.
I turned to Hannahs mother. She looked up, saw me, and grabbed me in a hug.
"Whats happened?" I asked.
"She stopped breathing," she sobbed. I listened to the doctors in the room, trying to figure out what they were doing, and Hannahs progress. The sound of the heart machines solid noise sent fear through me. Then, almost like a second chance, the noise broke, and the heart machine began to beep.
I sighed, pulling away.
"Hang on a sec." I headed into the room to see what was going. The doctors were beginning to clear out, and Hannahs eyes were open. She looked at me, the oxygen mask still over her mouth and nose. With a sigh of relief, I headed back out into the hall. "Shes okay."
"Oh, god." Her mother grabbed me in another bone-crushing hug, sobbing even harder. The priest walked out, stood next to us. Hannahs mom turned to him. "Thank you, Father Gray. Thank you so much for coming." The elderly man smiled at her, taking her hands in his.
"Shell be fine now. But Ill always be here for you, okay?" She nodded. "Bless you, child. And bless Hannah." With a smile at us both, he walked away.
"I need to make some phone calls. Thank you, Dr. Littman." She hugged me one last time, then headed toward the phones.
I took a deep breath, and headed back into room 301. Sitting in the chair next to the bed, I looked at Hannah. Her eyes fluttered open, and she looked at me, reaching a hand out. I looked at it for a moment, then took it in mine. It was cold and clammy, but the feeling of her squeezing my fingers was the greatest feeling in the world.
"You really gave us a scare, Hannah," I said, my voice quiet, hushed. She smiled weakly.
"Sorry," she said, barely audible, but I heard it. I smiled.
"No need to be sorry. Were just glad." She stared at me for a moment, then reached up, slowly pulling her oxygen mask down.
"Whats your name? Your first name." I felt a lump in my throat for a moment, and for a moment more I thought I would cry. Swallowing it all back, I answered.
"Andi." She smiled.
"Thats my husbands name, Andrew."
"Well, then hes got a good name." She smiled, nodding.
"Hes a good guy. We have a four year old."
"Whats the name?" I began to rub slow, gentle circles on the back of her hand.
"Savannah." She began to cough, I put her mask back into place.
"Thats a beautiful name, Hannah."
"What the hells going on with my wife?" I turned to see a man enter the room followed by Hannahs doctor. I quickly stood, allowing him room. "Baby," he grabbed her in a hug, being so gentle with her, brushing the sweat-soaked hair back from her forehead, looking at her with such undying love.
I backed up toward the door, feeling like I was intruding on something very special, and very private. It also made me feel sad, and I knew what I had to do tonight.
* * *
I stared at the phone, arms crossed over my chest. I had been home for exactly fifteen minutes, and had tried to muster up the decision, or better yet, courage, to pick it up. Finally, with a sigh, I did, and began to dial.
"Hey, you." I could hear the smile in her voice. I closed my eyes.
"Hey. Are you busy?"
"No. Why?" I twirled the phone cord around my fingers, my palms starting to sweat.
"Mind if I come over? We need to talk." She was silent for a moment, I could almost hear the wheels turning in her head, feel the fear creeping up her spine. Im sure it matched mine.
"Uh, sure. Should I put some dinner on?"
"No, Im not hungry. Ill be there in a few." I hung up the phone, taking several deep breaths. I changed into a pair of jeans and tank, and headed out.
I sat in the Jeep for a minute, staring at Erins house, knowing she was probably wondering what on earth was going on. Finally gathering my courage, I got out, and headed for the door. I rang the doorbell, and within a few seconds, Erin answered.
"Why are you ringing the bell?" I shrugged, smiled. She lead me to the kitchen where I could smell coffee brewing. "So, what up?" She kept her back to me, which told me a lot. I looked down at my feet, hands on my hips.
"Hannah almost died today." I began, my voice low, trying to keep it steady. Erin turned to look over her shoulder, her eyes filled with concern.
"Oh, Andi. Im sorry." I nodded, chewing on my lower lip.
"Her husband came in, and he was so loving toward her, it was amazing. The way he was there," I snapped my fingers. "Just like that." I looked up at her. "Erin, I cant be that way." She sighed, running her hands through her hair.
"Erin, I have been so selfish to you over these last three years, and its not fair."
"No, let me finish. Im going to do the most unselfish thing that I can for you." I looked at her, feeling my blood pounding in my head, my voice shaking. "Im going to let you go. You need to find someone who can give you what you need, what you want." Erins face began to distort, her eyes filling.
"Dont do this, Andi. Isnt it for me to say what I do and do not want?" I shook my head.
"Not this time, Erin. I dont deserve you." I felt my own eyes begin to fill, thinking of not having her in my life after three years. I would miss her. But, I knew this was for the best. She turned away and walked over to the coffee pot, staring down at it. I took a deep breath, and swallowed. "You know, my dad left the family when I was just a kid. Before that, he and my mom used to fight all the time, nonstop, and even when they werent fighting, my dad wasnt really there." I ran a hand through my hair. "From the young age, I learned that relationships arent perhaps all that their cracked up to be."
"So?" She turned and looked at me, her face a picture of stone, hard and angry.
"So, I cant shove my issues off on you."
"Youre scared, Andi. You know, when I look inside you, I see all that you have to give, all that you give to your work, your martial arts. I tried to be the key for you, but I failed." I shook my head.
"You didnt fail, Erin. You cant get blood from a rock. I dont have it in me." I pounded on my own chest to emphasize my point. "God, youre such a wonderful woman; beautiful, smart, giving. I cant continue to take what I cant give back. Its not right."
I stopped, not sure what else to say, what else there was I could say. I waited for her response.
"Three years," she whispered. "Three years, and youre ready to give it away on a whim. How dare you think that what youre doing is best for me. You dont know me. Get out." Tears began to stream down her face, and I could feel my own stinging my eyes.
"This is for the best." I whispered. She turned from me, snorting.
"Its good for you, you mean." I sighed, knowing there wasnt anything more I could say. I grabbed my car keys where Id left them on the table, picking through them until I found the key to Erins house. Slowly, I slid it off, my hands shaking all the while, and lay it on the wood surface.
I turned back to her, watching her, her face buried in her hands. Her shoulders shook as she took a step back until she was against the wall, sliding down. I took a step, my conscience warring between wanting to help her and knowing that I couldnt.
"I told you to get out," she seethed. "I dont want your comfort. You did this. You were too afraid of feeling, of letting someone in, that youre running away. Well, youre very good at that. So run. Run away, so you dont have to feel any more. Bury yourself in your research, like I know you will. Block the world out. But one day its going to seep in and youre going to have no clue what to do."
I waited to see if she had any more to say, partly wondering if I should reply, but feeling like I deserved every blow she landed.
"Goodbye, Erin." I glanced back at her once, looking at her form slumped against the wall through the tears in my own eyes. With a sigh, I walked out.
I barely remember the drive back home, most of it spent crying, Im sure. I knew Erin would be angry and hurt, and she had every right to be. But I knew deep down, this was the best thing to do. I couldnt go on hurting her.
I wiped my eyes with my hand, then my nose. It was over.
My house was dark, as per usual. I lived away from the city a bit, the closest house being about a half mile away. Behind my house was a bike path and a stream, though I had never used it.
I flipped on the light, and walked over to the couch, flopping down. I looked around, a single light on over the fireplace, hardwood floors reflecting it, then fading into shadow.
I sighed, tying to decide what to do, then suddenly felt my chest expand. My hands came up to my face, and my shoulder began to heave with my sobs. Three years, down the drain, and I knew I had hurt Erin bad. That had never been my intent, yet it had happened anyway, and only I was to blame.
* * *
"Ha!" I did a round house, catching my bag squarely in the center. "X" marks the spot. Flipping backwards, I came at it again, front kick, moving to a back kick. "Fuck!" I missed the bag, and fell to the floor, out of breath, sweaty and stunned. I hadnt fallen in a workout since I was a kid. "Damn." My concentration was shot.
Picking myself up, I headed to the kitchen for some water, catching the phone out of the corner of my eye as I drank. I wanted to call my mom, needed to talk to her, needed to be comforted as I couldnt comfort Erin.
I put the empty glass in the sink, and grabbed the phone, dialing those seven numbers that Id known my whole life. My eyes closed in disappointment as the busy signal blared in my ear. Hanging the handset up, I headed into the bedroom. Maybe I could sleep it off.
Stripping, I threw the covers to the end of the bed, hot and sweaty from my workout. I lay down, staring up at the ceiling, the headlights from a passing car displacing shadows across it, then disappearing all together. I closed my eyes, praying for sleep to take me over.
Dreams plagued me, images of pain and sadness until finally I woke, a scream caught in my throat, my heart racing, breathing out of control. I glanced at the clock and saw that it was nearly two in the morning. Knowing that falling back asleep was out of the question, I rubbed my eyes, and got up to take a shower. I needed to work.
* * *
I stared at the numbers, brows drawn as I turned the dial, trying to get everything to match up. About ready to growl in frustration, I stood, running an impatient hand through my hair.
"Hey, Dr. Littman." I turned to see Samantha Torres enter the lab, her jacket still on from the early morning chill. She drew her brows. "Why are you here so early again? This is the fourth morning in a row Ive shown up, and youre already here. I know for fact that you stay later than I do." She took her coat off, hanging it and her purse on the coat tree.
"Theres work to be done," I answered simply. I didnt think it would be good to tell her that Id been here since four this morning after only three-and-a-half hours at home, part of that asleep.
I made a decision, one that was long coming. If work was the only thing I could care about, my research, trying to find something to help Hannah, and people like her, Id do it. I could be married to my job, and happily so.
"You need to get that microscope up and running, Dr. Torres. Were running out of time." She stared at me for a moment before walking over and flipping on the switch. I rubbed my eyes, trying to fight the burning. I knew they were red from lack of sleep and proper eating, but I didnt care.
I walked to my office, and filled my travel mug with coffee, made strong.
"When did you start drinking that?" I turned to see Samantha standing in the doorway. I shrugged.
"Six years working with you, and thats new to me."
"I need the caffeine." She looked at me, her dark eyes unreadable. She nodded and turned, walking away. I drank the coffee as fast as the hot liquid would allow, sitting behind my desk. Id be going up to see Hannah soon. Haley and I had discussed her condition yesterday, her saying that Hannahs mental state was actually holding up remarkably well. She had a positive attitude, even as her body continued to deteriorate further.
I closed my eyes, only for a moment, trying to make them stop burning. I had a bottle of Visine in the pocket of my lab coat, but it didnt do much good anymore. I opened my mouth to let the seemingly endless yawns escape. Turning to the small fridge in the corner, I grabbed a can of Jolt, popped the top, and took a huge swig.
Like magic, I felt a huge burst of energy flow through me, making me literally get the shivers. "Whoa, yeah! Work to be done." I drank the rest of the pure caffeine down, crushing the can in my hand, tossing it into the trash where it clanked against its other five siblings. Standing, I headed into the lab, humming to myself. I could feel eyes on me, and I didnt care. "La la la la," I sang, doing a little twirl on my way to my station. Yeah, I could do this.
* * *
I saw the light turn red, isnt it? I shook my head, trying to clear it as I rubbed my eyes. I was so tired, only stopping by the house for a change of clothes, and dinner. I hated being in that place, lately. It felt so empty, and I felt alone.
Pushing on the gas, I began to accelerate, trying to beat the light before it turned yellow.
Out of the distance somewhere I heard a horn, loud and blaring. I shook my head again, looking to my left.
"Fuck!" Pushing the breaks as far down to the floor as I could, the Jeep came to a screeching stop, and the semi whizzed by, not a foot from my front bumper. I felt like Id have a heart attack right there, my hand on my chest as I attempted to calm it. I looked to my right, seeing the tail lights of the rig disappear into the early morning darkness. What am I doing?
Taking a series of deep breaths, I put the car in gear, and headed to the Mayo.
To my surprise, Samantha was already in the lab, sitting on a stool with her arms crossed over her chest. "Hey, Dr. Littman." I looked at her.
"We need to talk." She stood, walked over to me, looking into my face. She drew her brows. "God, you look like shit. What are you doing to yourself? Trying to work yourself to death?" I just stared at her. "Youre here working twenty-hour days, I dont imagine youre sleeping anymore than a few hours a night. Youre not eating." She shook her head, putting her hand on my shoulder.
"Look, Andi, I dont know whats going on with you, but you need to go home. Ive already talked with Dr. Zimmer, and he ordered you to leave, and take the week off."
"You went over my head? Talking to my supervisor?" I felt anger running through me.
"Yes, I did. Im sorry to do that, but you are of no use to the lab here, like you are. Ive caught you falling asleep in your office, you messed up numbers yesterday, you need to go home, get some sleep, and rest."
The anger drained out of me as the exhaustion took over. I nodded, taking a deep breath. Dr. Torres patted my arm.
"Go home, Andi. Well see you next week."
* * *
My eyes opened, followed by a yawn. Glancing at the clock, I saw that I had been asleep for nearly the entire day. I had gone to sleep at three past five this morning, and it was now four-thirteen.
I sat up in bed, raising my arms toward the ceiling and stretched; the best feeling Id had in days. I got out of bed, and headed toward the bathroom, glancing out into the living room. I stopped. I brought my hand up, stroking my chin with my finger, then hurried back to the bedroom to dress. It was almost five, and I figured thats when they closed.
* * *
"As you can see, we have a lot to choose from. This little guy was brought in yesterday."
I knelt down, looking into that cute little face, tail wagging a million miles an hour. "How old is he?"
"We think hes about two years old."
"Oh." I stood. "Id really prefer a puppy." I moved on, feeling so bad, wishing I could take all these guys home. I looked into each small pen, smiling at the barking or yelping dogs. I had had a puppy when I was really little, but my father had taken it with him when hed left the family. This would certainly be an adventure for me.
Behind me I heard a sharp yelp, and near constant panting. I turned, and knelt down, grabbing onto the chain link of the door with my fingers. The small, black and gray Pug stared at me, large, bulging eyes, tongue hanging out of its mouth. It cocked its head to the side, whining. I smiled, unable to help it.
The drive home was a loud one; the new four-month-old Pug Id just bought from the Humane Society was whining in the little dog kennel Id bought from the place, filled with all the new toys Id bought for him. Next to the kennel sat a bag of IAMS for puppies, and a bag of bones.
The entire drive, I tried to think of a name for my new little buddy. I felt excited, almost giddy, and certainly as though I was playing hooky from work. Never, in all my working life, had I missed a single day of work. Well, one, but there was no other way. Even still, that was over ten years ago. I thought of that day every year.
Shaking myself out of my thoughts, I stopped at a red traffic light, looking down at my puppy.
"What do I call you, little man?" I reached my fingers into the cage, smiling as he sniffed them, then licked them, then whimpered. "Soon, little guy, youll be home." Another whine.
I pulled into the long driveway that would lead to my home, parking out front in the circular drive. I grabbed the kennel in one hand, threw the bag of dog food over my shoulder, and headed into the house, setting it all down in the middle of the living room, opening the cage door, and sitting cross-legged on the floor.
The puppy took one step outside of it and sat on his haunches, looking at me. He cocked his little head to the side again, whining. I sighed, realization of what I had just done coming into view.
"What am I going to do with you, Bunsen?" My brows drew. Bunsen? Hey, worked for me. I smiled, still staring at him. He whined again, standing, then sitting, then standing again, taking a tentative step, sniffing as he did, his little curled tail wagging slowly, almost unsure if it should. He walked over to the bag of puppy food, sniffing, licking the bag. I watched, amused, and charmed. Sniffing the air, he turned and looked at me, his big eyes seemingly filled with questions and confusion.
I scratched my nails on the wood floor.
"Come here, Bunsen." Making kissing sounds with my mouth, I slapped my leg. He looked at me for a moment, then almost hopped in his haste to get over to me, his small paws slipping and sliding on the smooth floor. Finally he made it to my lap, trying to jump up at me, licking whatever he could get into contact with.
Yeah, little buddy; wed have some fun.
* * *
"Okay, Bunsen. You may have kept me awake last night, but today Im going to run your little butt off until you can barely stand. You got me?" He looked up at me, licking his chops, and whined. He was so little, so far down there.
I held onto the navy blue leash Id bought that matched his collar. I stared at the bike trail that was before us, and with a sigh, began to walk. The puppy kept up with my slow pace, looking all around his new surroundings. Luckily he was a curious little fellow, so he didnt try and fight me.
As we went, I looked around, too. It was mid-June, and the day was beautiful. I wore a pair of cargo shorts, tank and sneakers. It was a great day to walk. As we did, I began to notice things Id never really given much thought to, before. The trees that lined our walkway were beautiful, luscious and green. Some actually bore fruit. As I looked further, and actually listened to all that was around me, I heard the songs of birds in those trees, calling out warnings to one another as we walked on. Bunsen looked up at them, his little head cocked to the side as he tried to figure out what the heck he was hearing.
I couldnt stop the smile that came to my lips. It was a brand new day, and I began to think about my life, and where it had gone. I felt good now about what I had done with Erin. She was free now, and in my own way, so was I. I looked down at my new friend, who already, had added so much activity to my life. He gave me his undivided attention, something I never thought Id want.
Hannah came to mind, too. All this, she may never see again. I thought of autumn here in Minnesota, and how beautiful these trees would be in just a matter of months, now. And how I had let so much time pass by, living in this house, never noticing it.
The path began to wind, and as we followed it, I realized we were coming upon a park where people were laughing, children were playing. I had no idea it was here. How sad.
"Yap, yap, yap!" I looked down when I felt the tension on the leash, and heard Bunsens little, high-pitched bark. Smiling again, I saw a squirrel sitting on its haunches, nibbling on what looked to be a bit of bread, staring at my dog. "Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Yip, yip!" Bunsen was jumping around, making a fuss, trying his hardest to get to that little park dweller.
"Bunsen, stop it."
"No!" He whined, looking up at me, then back at the squirrel, quietly growling in the back of his throat. Then the little animal scurried up a tree. As I followed his progress, my eyes found the blue sky, not a cloud in sight. "Wow," I whispered, amazed at the color; so bright, brilliant.
Where had I been?
* * *
"Okay, big guy. I will be right back. Okay?" I held the Pug up to my face, staring into his dark brown eyes. He stared at me, licking his nose. "Okay?" With a small kiss to his wrinkled forehead, I put him back down on the passenger seat of the Jeep, and closed the door, walking quickly up to the hospital.
"Hey, now, arent you supposed to be off this week?" I turned to see Nurse Wilson looking at me, an eyebrow raised, fist on her ample hip. I nodded, grinning sheepishly.
"I just came to visit a patient." She smiled at me.
"And that patient will be glad to see you, too." I hurried on down the hall, excited as I neared room 301.
"Andi!" Hannah smiled when she saw me, and so did I. She was sitting up in bed, her hair freshly washed, her skin clean and bright. She looked good.
"Hey there. Ive got a little surprise for you." Blue eyes lit up.
"You do, huh?" I nodded.
"Yup. Come on, help me get you into your wheelchair." Happily she scooted to the edge of the bed, her thin, pale legs hanging over the side. I wheeled the chair around, patting the back of it. "Do you need help?"
"Nope. Im feeling good today."
"Well, good." She got herself into the chair, and I put a blanket over her legs.
"And just where do you think youre going with that patient?" I looked over to the nurses station and Nurse Wilson who was staring at us.
"Ill bring her right back. I promise." She smiled and winked at me, turning back to her computer. "So how have you been, Hannah?" I asked, pushing her toward the elevator.
"Not bad. I had quite a bit of pain a couple days ago. But other than that, I cant complain too much."
"Good to hear. How has the new medicine been working out?"
"Great!" I looked down at her to see that she was smiling up at me. "I didnt have any paralysis this week at all."
"Stupendous." The elevator doors opened, and I wheeled her in, pushing the button for the ground floor.
"Where are we going, by the way?"
I parked Hannahs chair near the exit, and hurried out to the parking lot to grab my surprise. He whined and wiggled, but I managed to get back to Hannah, and placed him on her lap.
Hannah sucked in a breath. "A puppy!" I stood aside, watching as she began to pet the dog between the ears, nuzzling him to her chin. "Whats his name?" she asked, smiling up at me, pure, absolute delight in her eyes.
"Hannah, this is Bunsen. Bunsen, meet Hannah."
"Hello, little Bunsen. You are adorable, arent you?" The Pug began to yelp, jumping on her lap, doing his best to lick her face as she giggled, trying to avoid the tongue attacks, which made Bunsen try to lick her all the more. "You little nut." She grabbed him under his ribs, turning him over so he laid on her lap on his back, all four legs in the air kicking as he tried to chew on her fingers.
I watched them, a constant smile on my face as Hannah smiled, laughed, played, just like she was a little kid again. Bunsen ate it up, snorting and whining, wanting more and more attention from his new playmate.
Hannah looked up at me, her eyes shining.
"Thank you, Andi. This was wonderful."
I drove home with a good feeling inside, seeing Hannah so happy. I hadnt seen her smile in so long. She had been so sick lately, really worrying all of us who cared about her. I knew her time was limited, but maybe this would make that time a little longer.
Id drop by over the weekend for a visit.
* * *
As I walked with Bunsen in the new-found park near our house, the sun high, the kids laughter caught on the breeze, I thought of Winston, my family, and the years I had spent there. My first thoughts had been to leave, to get out, to escape. Why? I certainly hadnt gotten far. I chuckled at my own thoughts. If I knew then what I knew now, that Id live not two hours away from my childhood home, the younger me would freak.
Then I thought about the time Id spent with Haley. Lost time to me, lost memories that I wanted to get back. I felt as though we could easily get that friendship back, that easy laughter and banter that had made my junior year in high school bearable.
She and I had been good friends, I knew that. I couldnt believe she had taken to the Tae Kwon Do. Part of me felt guilty for not continuing with the piano. It hadnt been for lack of want, hell, I still wanted to learn more. I tinkered on my own piano now and then. It had been fun and gratifying to know that I could produce something so beautiful with my own two hands. I had only really learned how to play that one song Haley had taught me.
I smiled, finding a park bench, and sitting down, letting Bunsen do his business on the grass.
I still knew that song, and still played it. I had gotten quite good at playing it, in fact. When its all you know, well, you know what they say play what you know.
With a sigh, I glanced over at the small playground. Placed in the middle of it was a sandpit, every kids paradise. I remember Chris and I playing in the sandbox we used to have in the backyard.
Why had Haley and my friendship grown so far apart? I guess it was simply because of our age, and where we were in our lives. She left after graduation, and I still had a year left in Winston.
Mom always told me that if I had one true friend in life I was lucky. Tracy and I had lost contact years ago, and I didnt talk much to my old college buddies, nor old girlfriends. Was Erin right? Would I end up alone? Only my work to comfort me? Did I want that, and could it be helped? I knew that she and I werent meant to be, regardless of what happened. But, where did I go wrong in my life to be so isolated? Why did I walk through my days feeling invisible?
With a sigh, I looked down at my dog who sat on his haunches, the leash hanging limp from his collar.
"You ready to go meet grandma, Bunsen?" His little head cocked to the side, his eyes almost disappearing in the blackness of his face. He whined. "Come on, big guy." I gathered him up in my arms, and we headed back home to get the car.
* * *
I closed the door of the Jeep, Bunsen walking ahead of me on his leash, headed to the front door. I had called ahead of time to see if mom was home, and Id managed to catch her not long after getting home from work.
"Okay, big guy. You ready?" I picked the Pug up, and looked him in his bulging eyes. "You know, you really are a funny looking little dog." Shaking my head in wonder, I gave him a kiss, and opened the door. I smiled, immediately recognizing the smell of brownies. Niiiiice.
"Honey? Is that you?"
"Yep." I headed toward the kitchen, Bunsen in tow. My mother was standing at the sink doing the few dishes it took to bake my favorite dessert, and I walked up behind her. "Mom, I want you to meet your grandchild." She snickered.
"How many are you going to give me?" She turned around, and her face melted into an "O". "Andrea, you got a puppy!"
"Looks like." I smiled proudly.
"Why didnt you tell me? When did this happen?"
"About a week ago, and I wanted to surprise you." She reached for him.
"Come here, you cutie. Whats her name?" She cuddled him to her chest, nuzzling his head into her neck.
"He, and its Bunsen." She looked at me, rolling her eyes.
"Why arent I surprised?" I grinned. "Oh, sweetie. I think its wonderful. I hate you living all alone out there."
"Yeah, and just what exactly do you think this little one is going to do? Lick someone to death?"
"Well, you never know." She smiled. "Here, take him. I need to finish these few dishes. I made you brownies."
"Oh, yeah. Im excited about that. Smelled them as soon as I walked through that door." She smiled at me, bringing a hand up to caress my cheek.
"So whats the occasion? Why are you here?" She folded the dishrag on the edge of the sink. "Come on, lets have some iced tea."
"Well, there is no occasion, really. Im here to see you, and I wanted you to meet this little demon." I shrugged as I rubbed the folds on top of Bunsens head. "Ive been doing some thinking."
"What about?" She grabbed the tea pitcher from the fridge, pouring two tall glasses, squeezing lemon juice into hers. Some things never change.
"I left Erin, mom." She looked at me, stopping everything else she was doing.
"Oh, honey." I looked down at my dog who was beginning to fall asleep in my arms. "When?"
"Almost two weeks ago, now." I felt a warm hand on my arm.
"Why didnt you tell me?" I looked up and into concerned brown eyes, so much like mine but for the color.
"I tried, actually, the day it happened. But the line was busy, and after that, I guess I just needed to deal with it on my own. I needed to face some things, try and understand some things."
"Come on. Lets sit." She took both glasses, leading me to the small kitchen table, unchanged from the days when I used to do my homework there. I pulled out a chair, resting the now sleeping Bunsen on my lap, and took the glass of tea, sipping from it. "So?"
"Well, we just want different things. Always have."
"Honey, why are you so against committing to someone? I dont even mean Erin. Lord knows, I know all about making mistakes. Im made more than my share with relationships, but its not just with her." She looked at me, waiting for an answer I just didnt have. "Why do you hide from people? I look at you, honey, and I see all the love you have to give." She stared into my eyes. "Youre so beautiful, smart, honest, and one of the most generous souls Ive ever seen. Only you would lend the money to your brother to help him start that garage. Despite what hes done to you."
I looked down, uncomfortable with the praise, and the memories of Chris.
"Hell be thrilled to hear that Erin and I have split. He was always happy to hear that."
"Well, if Chris wants to be a jerk about it, let him." I felt her hand cover mine. "Honey, not everyone can be open-minded. Its his choice, and he can live with it. You two are all that the other will ever have; long after Im gone, you guys will still be together. Someday hell realize that."
"I hope so. It really hurts sometimes." She nodded, squeezing my fingers before she wrapped her own around her glass.
"Im sure it does, and Im sorry."
"You didnt do it."
"No, but he is my son. And youre my daughter and I love you both with all my heart." I smiled, needing to hear that.
"I love you, too."
"Try to open your heart, Andrea. No one should be alone."
* * *
I sat on the couch, feet up on the coffee table as I stared into the fire. The warm day had shocked the state with a bitter cold that blew in to cool the night. The fireplace was lit, throwing brightness on my face, and reflecting off the floor, stretching the shadows further into the room. Bunsen laid on the rug in front of the fire, contently chewing on his rope.
I thought about my conversation with my mom, smiling at the feeling of being home again. She had tried to get me to stay overnight, but I didnt want to encroach on her new family, plus I wanted my own bed.
Chris popped into mind, and I felt an old pain rise again in my chest. He had seemed fine when I told him I was a lesbian. I had been twenty-two, and he twenty. But, when I had brought home my first girlfriend, what was her name? Lisa? Lilly? Anyway, his face had hardened, and he hadnt said one word to her throughout dinner. But he definitely had words for me later.
He had told me he was ashamed, and thought I was a loser to fall into the college crap, and had said that it was a phase, and I couldnt get a boyfriend, so Id turned to women.
Even now it stung. But, it was his choice. What could I do? For now it was time for bed.
"Come on, Bunsen. Lets go potty." I headed toward the French doors that led to the backyard, the Pugs sharp claws clicking on the hardwood. I was amazed at how incredibly fast hed learned to scratch at the back door when he had to go to the bathroom. Wed had some accidents, especially when I kept him closed in the empty third bedroom that I intended to turn into a den, but just hadnt gotten around to, yet. I would often come home to find a little surprise in the form of a dried stain, or a little pile in the corner.
While Bunsen did his thing, I headed to the bedroom to get changed for bed.
* * *
I turned over, smacking my lips as I readjusted my head on the pillow, a soft smile on my face in my warm comfort.
Ring, ring, ring
One eye popped open, somehow listening.
Ring, ring, ring
With a growl and glance at the clock, I picked up the phone.
"Its five in the morning. This better be good," I mumbled into the receiver, too tired to care if I was being rude or not.
"Dr. Littman?" My brows drew, my other eye slowly opening to hear my formal title.
"This is Marcy Wilson, at the hospital." I pushed myself up onto my elbow.
"Nurse Wilson, of course." I was confused now.
"Honey, we lost Hannah. Ten minutes ago. I thought youd like to know." I sat there, the phone glued to my ear, my eyes staring into space. I had heard what she said, but my mind couldnt quite let it get past my ears. "Are you okay?"
"Yes. Thanks for telling me." Without another word, I set the receiver in its cradle, my hands falling into my lap.
* * *
I stood outside the church, hand clasped in front of my body, waiting for Haley. I had wanted to call her after Id hung up with Nurse Wilson, but I had no idea how to get a hold of her, knowing she wasnt at work at that hour in the morning. She had called me within the hour.
"God, Im not sure how Im supposed to feel," she had said, her voice shaking, and on the verge of breaking all together. "Do I stay stoic and professional? Am I allowed to grieve? Teaching a course at a college doesnt prepare you for this." I had smiled at that, not having any answers for her.
I pushed away from the wall when I saw her walking across the street, parking in the lot over there. She looked beautiful in a black pant suit, cream colored silk blouse beneath. She wore high heels, and sunglasses, her hair down, blowing behind her as she approached.
"Hey," she near whispered as she stepped up in front of me.
"Hi." Many people passed us, the church quickly being filled. Many I recognized from the hospital. "How are you?" Haley shrugged, looking around, then pulling the dark glasses off.
"Okay, I guess. I certainly wish I werent here." She looked at me, and looked as though she was about to fall apart. Taking a deep breath, she gave me a weak smile. "Lets go so we can get a good seat."
I followed her in, signing the guest book. I saw Hannahs husband standing by the doorway to the sanctuary, a small girl in his arms. She had her face buried in his neck, sucking on her thumb. Andrew Blackwell talked quietly with people as they passed by, shaking hands, accepting hugs from well wishers. I walked up to him.
"Hello," I said, not real sure what to do. He looked at me, his blue eyes red, eyelids drooping. He looked so tired. "Im not sure if you remember me, but,"
"Of course. Youre Dr. Littman. Hannah talked about you a lot. You brought in the dog." He smiled, I smiled back, nodding.
"Im so sorry. I really dont know what to say at this point, you know?" He nodded.
"This is Savannah." The girl looked at me from around her thumb. She looked just like her mom.
"Hi, Savannah." She whimpered, burying her face in further to her fathers neck. I turned back to Andrew. "Take care of yourself." I squeezed his hand, and walked back over to Haley, who waited in the back of the church.
As the service began, I could already hear lots of sniffling throughout, some chuckles as family members recounted some of the things Hannah had done in her life.
I glanced over when I felt a hand on my arm. Haley was squeezing my forearm. I looked up into her face, and could see she was biting her lower lip, trying to keep her emotions in check. I was grateful for Haleys presence. Trying to be there for her helped me to push aside my own pain and sorrow.
"My wife and I met in junior high." Andrew Blackwell stood at the front of the church behind the podium, his hands resting on either side. He looked down, then over at the white casket that was at the front. "She was truly the love of my life. Hannah was an amazing person, amazing woman, amazing wife and mother." He smiled. "When we heard she was sick several years ago, she just laughed, shrugged her shoulders and said that she could use the vacation when her doctor told her she had to stop working. Then she started to get really sick." He looked down again, tucking in his lips only to release them again. "I love you, honey." He covered his mouth as he hurried away from the podium.
I held my breath for a moment, feeling my throat tighten, my eyes begin to sting with the tears that kept threatening to come. I felt Haleys body shaking as she cried. I put my arm on the back of the pew, placing my hand on her shoulder, trying to give her any sort of comfort.
The service came to an end, and I quickly stood, needing to get out of here, needing some fresh air. Haley followed as we made our slow way out into the cool air, and I stood by the wall of the building, trying to get myself together.
"Wow." I looked up, saw Haley standing there, looking just like a little kid, so vulnerable. She looked at me, her eyes moist, the tears just waiting to spill over. Finally they did, and she broke down. I suddenly found myself engulfed in a hug, her body pressed to mine as she cried, silent, but constant tears.
I held her, squeezing to let her know I was here. I rested my head on her shoulder, closing my eyes as I held back my tears.
Haleys body seemed to calm a bit, the tears slowing, then stopping. Neither of us said anything, nor did either of us move away. It just felt good to bask in the warmth and life of another human being.
I was glad Haley was here.
We both slowly pulled away, almost hesitant, not wanting that human contact to go. She looked at me, sniffling.
"Want to get some coffee?" I nodded, rubbing her arm with my hand.
* * *
We sat across from each other at the small coffee shop, but neither had said anything. I think we were both just so caught up in our own memories, thoughts and grief. Finally Haley sighed.
"So, how are you?" I looked at her, my fingers playing with a packet of sugar.
"Im okay. You?" She nodded, sipping from her cup.
"Ill be alright. Hannah was just my first real patient, and certainly my first to, well, to die."
"Im sorry, Haley. That cant be easy."
"You know as well as I do that its not. And not only that, but,"
"It was Hannah." We both smiled, and she nodded.
"Yeah, that, too. She was such a wonderful person. I heard all about what you did, bringing in your dog." She smiled at me, warm and gentle. "That was truly great, Andi. For the rest of the week she did so well. She was happy, her mind was clear, body was doing well. Until, well," She looked down, wrapping her hands tightly around her warm cup.
"I know. I had come in a few times over the week to see her. She was doing so well. I was shocked."
"Me, too." She took a deep breath, then several more before smiling at me. "So, where were you this past week? I looked for you at lunch, but you werent there."
"Oh. I was home. I had some things to deal with."
"Is everything okay?" I looked down at my hands, realizing Id ripped the packet, and sugar had begun to spill out on the table. I smiled.
"Oops." I began to clean it, taking deep breaths. For some reason I was unsure if I should confide in her or not. "I broke up with my girlfriend." I looked up at her to see that her face hadnt changed.
"Im sorry, Andi."
"Well, it was time. Three years, and we just werent getting anywhere. I had to let her go, and try to figure some things out about myself."
"Was she the one who always sat with you during lunch?" I nodded. "She was very pretty." I smiled.
"Yes, she is. Erin is just in a different place than I am." Haley nodded.
"I understand." She was quiet for a moment, then smiled. "If you need anything, or want to talk, Im here, okay?" I nodded.
"Thanks, Haley. Listen, I dont mean to cut this short, but I should get home." She looked at me for a moment, then reached across the table, squeezed my hand, and nodded.
"Sure. See you later, Andi."
"Yeah." I gave her a smile, though it was forced and Im sure it looked forced. I needed to be alone.
I drove home in silence, turning the radio off, closing all my windows. Just me and the soft hum of the engine. I pulled up into my driveway, unlocked the front door, and walked in.
I could hear Bunsen yelping, hearing my return, and I headed toward the empty spare bedroom. I felt strange, almost like something had been taken away from me. When I opened the door to the bedroom, the Pug came bounding out, and I looked inside, cringing when I saw the little pile waiting for me by the closet. I walked into the room, feeling anger bubble up.
"Why cant you wait, Bunsen?" I cried, filling my eyes beginning to fill, my chest tightening followed by my throat.
Walking to the center of the room, I looked around. There was so much space, nothing filling it, just a small dog bed and water bowl with a few scattered toys. Before I knew what was happening, I fell to my knees, then sat, hard, my eyes drifting to Bunsens mess. He sat near the corner, laying down, looking at me with guilty eyes.
"Why, Bunsen? Why?" My voice cracked, and I tried to swallow it down, but to no avail. He raised his head, cocking it to the side, then slowly, ever so slowly, began to crawl over to me, still on his belly. My head fell as the tears did, too. I didnt even notice as the Pug climbed into my lap, curling up, but suddenly my hands were resting on a warm body.
My shoulders began to shake with my sobs, heaving as all the emotion that I had held inside for the last two days began to come out in huge waves. The damn broke.
I cried for all the things that Hannah would never be able to do, or see. I cried for her daughter, missing out on a wonderful mother, not there when she had her first day of school, or when she graduated, or got married, or got that first promotion.
I cried for myself, and for all that I would lose out on because my heart had become so buried so many years ago. I, too, would miss out.
ContinuedReturn to the Academy