Disclaimers: See Part 1
My thanks to Rose for proof reading for me.
"Morning, Glory." Meg greeted her groggy partner.
"Euuuu. What's been living in my mouth?" Rachel groaned, smacking her lips and poking out her tongue in disgust.
"I can help you with that." Meg said as she raised the head of the bed, then scooted the over-bed table across her partner's lap. "Here we have toothpaste and your toothbrush, mouthwash, floss and a glass of water. Oh, and you can spit into the emesis basin." Meg stood tall with her hands held behind her back, a self-satisfied grin on her face.
"You're enjoying this, aren't you?" Rachel smirked.
"I like taking care of you. I always wanted to know what it was like to be a nurse. Mom told me what to do for your morning care and I even arranged a bedside commode so you don't have to drag those IV poles to the loo with you." Meg bragged.
Rachel looked over at said item and blew hot air out of pursed lips. "Speaking of which..."
"Here, let me help you." Meg assisted her partner to the commode then prepared a warm sponge bath.
"Ahhh, that's better." Rachel sighed as Meg tucked her back into bed.
"I enjoyed your Mom yesterday." The patient stated, watching her makeshift nurse put away the wash basin and towels. "By time I get home, I'll have enough scoop on you to keep me in bubble baths and massages til Judgment Day."
Meg just hung her head with hands on hips. "You are feeling better aren't you?"
Rachel grinned and wiggled her eyebrows. "Yep."
"On that note, I have to leave for the office. Mom should be here any minute. You behave."
Meg gave her partner a tender kiss on the forehead and left for work.
Rachel stared at the powdered eggs and cold grits the nurse's aide placed before her. 'Where's Marguerite when I need her?'
"Is there something wrong?" The aide asked.
"I guess my throat is still a little sore. I don't think I'm ready to eat . . . uh . . . that." The patient stifled a groan and pushed the tray as far away as possible.
"Oh, I understand. I'll see if the kitchen can send you up some broth."
"Thank you." Rachel snuggled down in the bed and slept.
"Hey there." Marguerite greeted as Rachel wiped the sleep from her eyes.
"How long have you been sitting there?"
"Not long. You were sleeping so soundly, I didn't have the heart to wake you. Feeling better this morning?"
"Yes, thank you." Rachel looked around the room searching for the soup she'd come to think of as ambrosia.
"It's in the microwave at the nurse's lounge. I'll go get it. Your nurse complained to me that you refused to eat your breakfast. Does your throat still hurt that bad?"
"Well, it does hurt, but not as much as eating that gruel would." Rachel made a face.
"I see. Do you think you could possibly eat a bowl of my homemade soup? I wouldn't want to cause you any discomfort." Marguerite teased.
Rachel looked at the older woman with longing in her eyes.
"I'll take that as a yes. Be right back." Marguerite winked at her patient and left to warm up their meal.
The two women enjoyed a competitive game of chess as Meg's mom regaled her young friend with more stories of merry mayhem caused by her adventuresome daughter. "I'll have to show you our videos of the kids on Christmas. Some of my fondest memories are of Ben dressed up as Papa Noe`l handing out presents to two wide-eyed cherubs, one sitting on my Dad's lap and one on my Mom's. Those sparkling green eyes of theirs filled with wonder..." Marguerite's throat choked with emotion.
Rachel studied her partner's mother intently. She had no frame of reference for the pictures playing upon the screen of her imagination. Marguerite's tears made her very uncomfortable. "Um...are you all right?"
"Yes. I'm fine. Just sentimental. That's all. I miss those days when I could sit my babies on my lap and protect them from the big bad world. It's so hard to let go, Rachel. But, you'll find that out for yourself when you have your own."
Rachel smiled wanly. But, then her eyes twinkled. "Next Christmas you'll have a brand-new grand baby on your knee."
Marguerite laughed giddily and clapped her hands together. "How about that? I'm gonna be a granny."
"Congratulations." Rachel offered.
"Thank you. But that's enough talk. It's almost time for your breathing treatment. I'll go ask your nurse for the pain shot."
As Rachel awaited the nurse, she thought about the vast difference between her upbringing and Meg's. She hadn't been able to relate to the fond memories Marguerite had shared with her. That fact made her very sad and she indulged in a rare moment of self-pity. Her thoughts were interrupted by the entering of the nurse with a syringe in her hand.
"Here you are. Call me when the shot takes effect and I'll inform respiratory."
Rachel nodded, already feeling the sweet buzz of the Demerol and Phenergan flowing through her veins.
Marguerite cleared the over-bed table and pulled a chair up so she could hold the younger woman's hand during the painful ordeal of her respiratory treatment. Rachel held on tightly as she struggled to cough up the fluid that the drugs and CPT loosened, after which she fell into an exhausted sleep.
Meg walked into the room to see her lover snoring lightly, with her mother dozing in the chair beside her still holding a limp hand.
"Uh...Hi. I must have ... What time is it?" Marguerite mumbled as she tried to get her bearings..
"Time for you to get home to Daddy. How'd she do today?"
"Really well. That congestion is starting to break up. Thank goodness. Don't forget her shot."
"Won't what?" Rachel croaked.
"Forget to remind your nurse to give you a pain shot before your treatment. How are you feeling, sweetheart?" Meg asked as she brushed dark bangs from her lover's forehead.
"Better, thanks." Rachel smiled warmly at her partner..
"How'd you like to have a special visitor tomorrow?" Marguerite inquired.
Rachel looked puzzled.
"My mom might come with me. She wants to see for herself that you are getting better."
"I'd like that." Rachel answered.
"Good. Then, we'll see you in the morning." Marguerite left and Meg crawled onto the bed to hold her lover.
"Mmmmm, I've missed you." Meg sighed.
"Me too." Rachel breathed in the fresh scent of her lover's hair and kissed her forehead.
"Tory called. She's going to close the gym early so she can come see you tonight."
"Yeah? I've missed the old girl."
"Don't let her hear you call her that."
"Oh, I'm scared." Rachel trembled in mock terror.
The couple stayed like that, cuddling in each other's arms, until it was time for Rachel's breathing treatment and she received her shot. Meg sat beside the bed holding her partner's hand as the painful procedure was endured.
"Your congestion is really breaking up. Let's get you on your belly over the side of the bed and try to cough some of that up." The respiratory tech assisted Rachel, with Meg's help, into position and proceeded to coach her in deep breathing and postural drainage. After a few short minutes in said position, Rachel released a deep, productive and painful cough, only the first of many. She grabbed the trash basket, which was within reach, coughing and retching until she was exhausted and breathing in hungrily through much clearer passages. The technician and Meg helped the struggling woman back to a sitting position, tucking pillows behind her back for comfort.
"What the hell is going on here?" Tory bellowed as she ran to her best friend's side, pushing the shocked technician out of her way. "Jesus, baby, what are they doing to you in this place?"
Tory asked as she took in the tear-streaked red face and strained features.
Rachel raised her hand to stay her guardian's tirade long enough for Meg to be able to fill her in.
"She had a very productive breathing treatment. Get me a wet washcloth, please." Meg told Tory. The older woman obeyed, ran quickly to the loo, returned with a wet washcloth and handed it off to the younger woman.
"Here ya go, tiger. Take slow, deep breaths. That's my girl." Meg wiped the tears and spittle from Rachel's flushed face. "You did great. Ya got up a bunch of that gunk."
The patient smiled wanly and nodded, causing her sweat soaked hair to sway. "Hey Tory. Sorry to scare you like that." Rachel rasped.
"Yeah, I'm sorry I over reacted. I had no idea you were this sick, kiddo. Why didn't you tell me you needed me. I should have been here for you instead of at the gym."
"I'm OK, really. It's just these damned breathing treatments are rough. But, I have Meg's mom here during the day. She's been terrific. She plays chess with me."
"I know you love that. Is she any competition for you?"
"You could say that. She was her college tournament champion."
"Ooooh, I bet she slaughters your arse."
"Well, I wouldn't go that far." Rachel chuckled causing a deep, productive cough.
Tory grabbed a hand full of tissue and pressed it gently against Rachel's mouth. "Spit it out." Rachel obeyed. "Atta girl."
Meg handed her partner a cup containing mouthwash, which Rachel took gratefully. "That stuff is awful."
"I'm sure it is." Meg retorted. "Why don't I let you two visit a while. I brought some of my fresh ground decaf. I'll go ask the nurse if I can use their coffee pot. Would y'all like a cup?"
Rachel's eyes lit up. "You are an angel of mercy, my love."
"I'd love a cup. Thanks, Meg." Tory piped up.
"Good. I'll be back in a bit."
"You're one lucky son of a gun. Did you know that?"
Rachel grinned broadly. "I know. Speaking of lucky women, how is Jenny?"
"She's great. Her son is keeping her very busy returning Christmas gifts. It seems he's decided to be a great artist and wants all his toys returned for art supplies. Weird huh?"
There was a pregnant silence as Tory worked up the courage to say what had been on her mind for days. "I'm sorry."
Rachel tried to make eye contact. "For what?"
"For neglecting you. . . I've been so wrapped up in Jenny that I have neglected my responsibilities to you and our friendship. I am truly sorry. I wouldn't hurt you for all the tea in China. You know that, don't you? I mean. . .because I want to spend more time with Jenny doesn't mean I love you any less or that you're any less precious to me now that I am romantically involved."
Rachel couldn't hide the tears as her face crumpled. Tory pulled the younger woman into her arms. "I wish you'd been there when I was growing up, Tor. I coulda used a mom like you back then." She sobbed into her self-appointed guardian's shoulder.
"I wish I could have been there for you then too, kiddo. I would have been so proud to have a daughter like you." Tory pushed Rachel away so she could look deeply into her dark eyes. "I'm very proud of the woman you've become, baby. You've overcome the odds and grown into an intelligent, loving human being. I'm honored to think I might have had a little something to do with that." She wiped the tears from Rachel's cheeks with a tissue. "Now, tell me what brought all this on."
"I'm just feeling sorry for myself. Today Meg's mom, Marguerite, was telling me stories about
her childhood and all the great times they had over the holidays as a family and I just felt . . . like I missed out on so much that every child should have, you know? Every holiday turned into a drunken brawl at my house. People oughtta have to take some kind of test before being allowed to be parents."
"You can say that again. But, think of all the wonderful holidays ahead with Meg and her family. You like Meg's family, don't you?"
"They're just too good to be true. I find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop. I mean, why are they so nice to me? They don't even know me."
"Rachel, they love Meg and want her to be happy. You make her happy. And, besides, what's not to like? You're a very loveable creature." Tory grinned and ruffled Rachel's dark hair.
"I love you, Tory." Rachel sniffled and hugged her friend tightly.
"I love you too, kiddo. And, I am very happy for you and Meg. You've come a long way from that gangly teenager full of fear and anger to the beautiful, successful woman you are today."
"I couldn't have done it without you. . . and Claire."
"She loved you a bunch. I know she's up there watching us right now." Tory dried her own tears and continued. . . "I'd like for you to get to know Jenny. Do you think you could do that for me? She makes me so happy, Rach. I want you to like her and accept her as part of our little family. . . Could you try?" Tory beseeched.
Rachel nodded. "I'll try. I want you to be happy Tory. I know Claire would want that too."
Tory smiled broadly. "Good. After you get well, I'll have y'all over for dinner and you and Jenny can get to know each other better."
"Hey ladies, is the coast clear?" Meg asked timidly from the door where she held a tray with three steaming cups of coffee.
"Oooh, coffee. Yeah, we're done." Rachel sighed in anticipation of her favorite treat.
"We're cool." Tory said as she jumped up to help Meg with her load.
* * *
"Good morning, young lady. How are you feeling this morning?" Meg's grandmother inquired.
Rachel wiped the sleep from her eyes, taking in the mouth-watering aroma of apples and cinnamon wafting from the steaming plate before her. She cleared her throat, relieved that it no longer hurt to do so. "Mmmm, better. Thank you. Ooooooh, that smells sinful."
"It is. But, it's good for you too. I thought you might enjoy something decadent on your last day of captivity." The older woman said with a wink and a twinkle in her laughing eyes.
"I'm being discharged?" Rachel asked hopefully.
"I have it on good authority that if your chest X-ray, that the technician should be here shortly to take, comes back clear, you, my young friend, will be released into my granddaughter's capable hands." Maggie Gravolet leaned over and pat Rachel's cool hand. "Now eat your baked apples before they get cold."
Rachel smiled broadly and dug into the sweet concoction of apples, cinnamon, butter, brown sugar and pecans. While she ate, Maggie Gravolet busied herself packing Rachel's belongings neatly into her overnight case.
"Mrs. Gravolet, please, don't bother. I can do that," Rachel complained.
"Gram." The older woman stated as she continued to pack Rachel's bag.
"Pardon?" Rachel wasn't sure she'd heard right.
"Call me Gram, dear. You're a member of our family now."
Rachel looked at the older woman with distrust and bewilderment in her eyes.
The look wasn't lost on Maggie Gravolet and she set the clothes she's been folding aside and came to sit down next to the obviously perplexed younger woman. She lay her wrinkled hand upon Rachel's and looked deeply into wide brown eyes. "What happened to make you doubt my sincerity, Rachel?"
Rachel looked away, desperately uncomfortable with this inquiry.
"Look at me, child. I never lie. You are very special to my granddaughter. Any fool can see how devoted you are to each other. . . Meg says your childhood was difficult."
Rachel looked at her with fear in her eyes.
"Now don't get your panties in a bunch. Meg didn't divulge any deep dark secrets, just that you hadn't spent any holidays with your family since you were a teenager and that you are in therapy and that is the extent of what I know."
Rachel looked at the kind old woman wondering where she was leading.
"Rachel, family is so very important. And, not all families are connected by blood, but by love, devotion and loyalty. Believe me. I know this for a fact."
Rachel looked down at her hands feeling very uncomfortable yet trying to absorb what her partner's beloved grandmother was telling her.
"May I tell you a true story, then perhaps you'll understand where my sense of family comes from." Maggie patted Rachel's hand again then sat back comfortably and began to tell her story as the younger woman continued to study her fingernails.
"I was born in the Irish Channel, the only child of Irish immigrants. My mother was a seamstress to the wealthy women of the Garden District. My dad was a welder and worked on the river. The work was hot and the days were long and hotter. He didn't talk much, my father, and, like most Irishmen, he drank to excess. I can remember many an argument between my parents when he would come home late, smelling of "the drink". She'd drag him to church on Sunday and he'd repent until the next Friday night rolled around. But, he loved her dearly. He even wrote songs for her. I'd hear him late at night singing and playing his old guitar. Once she saw a dress in the window of Maison Blanche and said how much she'd love to have it to wear for church and make all those old bitties jealous. My father worked day and night for a month to buy her that dress. We hardly saw him except on Sundays. I remember how my Mother complained that work was not as important as his family. He just begged her to understand how bad times were and he had to take the work where he could find it."
"Mother worked on her birthday till her eyes were red and sore, sewing the tiny intricate stitches that made her so popular with the wives of the well-to-do. Then, she cooked our dinner and waited for Father to come home to her. I'll never forget the look of astonishment and pure joy on her face or the tears that rolled down her cheeks as he surprised her with the very dress that she'd fawned over in that shop window. I remember how she held it in her hands with such reverence, showing me the fine stitching and feeling the fabric, soft as an angel's wings. My mother gently set the dress across our couch then dived into my father's arms, kissing and hugging him until his face was beet red with embarrassment at this show of affection in front of me. I think I was thirteen at the time. Then she said something I'll never forget. She told him how much she loved the gift and appreciated the long hours of hard work that paid for it but that being with him was the greatest gift of all."
"She died three months later of pneumonia. He never got over it. The best part of him died with her. He crawled into a bottle of whisky for months afterward, getting into bar room brawls, not eating and hardly ever looking at me. I guess it was because I resembled her. We had the same green eyes, blonde hair and cherubic face. Yes, I'm sure that was it. Anyway, I cooked and cleaned for him, then went to school. He still worked and supported us, but his heart was broken and nothing I could do would mend it. I had nobody, no family and no time for anything but housework and my studies. I felt desperately alone.
My one close girlfriend at school saved me from my loneliness. She invited me every chance she got to spend the weekend with her family on the bayou. She was one of the girls who boarded at my school, Ursuline's Academy. My mother insisted I get a good education so I wouldn't have to work so hard for pennies as she did. Anyway, my friend Angelique and I had fun playing make believe games, giggling about boys, helping with the chores and learning to bake all sorts of French pastries. Her mother was a gourmet and one of the warmest, most loving, charitable women I've ever had the pleasure to know. Her name was Marguerite Gravolet and she became my surrogate mother, confidant and eventually my mother-in-law. You see, Angelique had three brothers, each one better looking than the next. I loved them all, but Gaston was special. He made it his business that I feel loved and that I belonged with his family. He and his parents came to every event at school I was involved in, whether Angie was or not. They went to the parent teacher conferences, helped me with my home work and listened for hours as I shared my hopes and dreams for the future ad nauseam. I decided I wanted to be a nurse. I wanted to help people like my Mother get well so they wouldn't leave their little girls alone."
Rachel listened now totally rapt up in the story Maggie was telling. Her heart was filled with compassion for the lonely, frightened little girl and was awed by the love and compassion of Angie's family. "So what happened?"
"Well, I came home one day after school, let me see, it must have been just a month or two before graduation, to find my father had died in an accident at work. He had been drinking, lost his balance and fell into the river. The current took him away. They found his body two days later." Maggie sighed and wiped an errant tear from her cheek. Rachel cried too.
"The Gravolets asked me to come live with them. I had no family and no money. I was so grateful. They treated me as there own and paid for my nurse's training with the only stipulations being I keep up with my grades and be the best damned nurse I could be. They were my family and I know they loved me every bit as much as I loved them. You see, Rachel. Not all families are bound by blood. We were bound by love, loyalty, need and devotion. Then, of course, I fell madly in love with Gaston and the rest, as they say, is history."
Rachel burst into tears. Maggie sat on the bed, pulled the dark head against her breast, offering comfort and understanding. Rachel cried inconsolably for many minutes as Maggie rubbed her back. "I don't know what happened to you, child, but I do know that you are now a member of our family and your happiness is important to all of us, especially to my granddaughter. If ever you want to talk about it. I am here. I promise not to judge you or reject you. You can trust me. Please know that. You can trust me, Rachel."
Rachel nodded and sniffled. "Thank you, Gram. Thank you so much for caring about me."
The old woman grabbed a tissue and gently wiped the tears from Rachel's cheeks. "I do care, child. As only a kindred spirit can." Maggie kissed her cheek.
Meg bounced into the room, excited at the prospect of getting her partner home and into their own bed, when she was taken aback by the scene before her. "Hey, Rach, you OK honey?"
Rachel looked through bleary eyes at her love.
"Gram? Will someone tell me why Rachel is crying?" Meg begged.
Rachel sniffled and smiled through her tears, taking Grams hand in her two larger ones. "I'm just happy, that's all. I always cry when I'm happy."
To be continued in Part 10
Let me know what you think. I apologize profusely for the delay.