A Matter Of The Heart
DISCLAIMER: This is an original work of fiction. All characters are the property of the author and cannot be used without permission
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© February 2013
* * *
This was the story of her life.
Liz looked at the ceiling from her place on the bed. She gazed around the motel room with disinterest.
How many times had she been in this position? Too many to count. Just as she had lost count of the number of suitcases she had worn out. Yet she had a home, with a loving partner awaiting her return. She and Patsy had been together for… Liz had to think. How long had it been? Thirty years and some change? They had met in college and had instantly clicked. Now they were an old married couple, settled in a routine that involved her traveling for work and Patsy holding down the fort and a job. Patsy was the one who did the housework while she traveled. Patsy mowed the lawn and did the gardening while she traveled. Her life existed for the next flight and the next city.
Liz looked at her watch. Eight o’clock. Patsy wouldn’t be home for another hour. She didn’t normally call while she was away on business because her work hours were unpredictable, and she didn’t want Patsy to wait late into the night. But this time she wanted to call. She set her alarm for nine to remind her. The TV showed nothing to hold her interest so she grabbed some cash off the table and went in search of a vending machine.
At the far end of the hall she found what she was looking for. She fed the notes into the machine and waited for the cans to pop out. The metal was warm. “Damn.” Now she had to go back to her room and collect the ice bucket for ice.
By the time she was finally settled on the sofa with a warm drink drowning in ice, Liz looked at her watch. “That killed five minutes.” A book sat nearby but she wasn’t motivated to read it. It had been one hell of a day and all she wanted was to hear Patsy’s voice before she went to sleep. It was likely that she would go to voicemail but she had to try.
Liz picked up her cell and pushed the pad to bring up the address book. Maybe she could catch up on some missed calls. Her thumb brushed Patsy’s listing and the cell rang. After a number of rings she was diverted to the message bank. “Hey Pats, it’s me. I just wanted to hear your voice before I crashed. Call me.” She pushed the disconnect button and dropped the phone on the bed. Suddenly she lost interest in returning calls. Her briefcase sat there calling to her, and as much as she wanted a break Liz grabbed it and opened it up on the bed. She may as well make use of the time while waiting for Patsy to call back.
The next time she looked the hour had passed. In fact, two had passed and there had been nothing. She hadn’t even remembered switching the alarm off. Liz reached for her cell and looked for any missed calls. She glanced at her watch. “She should be home by now,” she muttered as she re-dialed Patsy’s number. Again, the cell rang out to the message bank. “Hey, Pats. I hope everything’s okay. It’s ten o’clock here and I’m going to bed. I’ll call in the morning.” While she sounded unconcerned, Liz was anything but.
* * *
The next morning Liz checked her messages. “Where the hell is she?” Now Liz was starting to worry. What if something had happened, like a car accident or a heart attack? She knew she was being paranoid about it, but Patsy was usually reliable in answering phone messages. Her thumb hovered over Patsy’s number, trying to decide whether the call was worth the embarrassment. Without hesitation, she pushed the number.
“Come on, come on.” As she dreaded, the cell rang out and diverted to the message bank. “Now you’re worrying me, Pats.” She sought out another number in her address book and dialed it.
“Mrs. O’Hare? Hi, it’s Liz from next door. I’ve tried calling Patsy but she’s not answering. Can you check if she’s home?”
“Sure, honey. Do you want to hold on?”
“Thanks.” Liz looked around the room as her neighbor left her hanging. She stepped over to the table and grabbed a bottle of water. Half of it had been drunk by the time Mrs. O’Hare returned to the phone.
“Her car is not in the driveway and the front doorstep light is on. Is there anything to worry about?”
“No, thanks Mrs. O’Hare. I’ll keep trying her cell.” Liz hung up, deep in thought. Unfortunately, Mrs. O’Hare’s words didn’t help her at all. She looked at her watch. While it was not uncommon for the front porch light to be on when Patsy went to work, by her reckoning it was too early for Patsy to have left as yet.
Liz left her hotel room a worried woman. It wasn’t like Patsy to be out of contact for so long. What if something had happened? She’d already gone over the possible scenarios the night before, but that didn’t stop the worry. Was she in pain? Fear was a foreign emotion for Liz. Up until now she had felt safe and secure with Patsy. But what if it was something different? She had scoffed at her business partners about “while the cat’s away the mice will play”. Patsy wasn’t that sort of a woman… or so she thought. What if she was?
Liz smacked her lips and shook her head.
“Do you want to say something, Liz?”
She looked up at the sea of faces looking at her.
“Sorry? No.” She slid down in her seat and dragged her mind back to the meeting, silently watching the proceedings without a further comment.
When the meeting finished she was approached by her counterpart. “Are you okay? You seem a bit distracted.”
“Just something at home.”
“Is Patsy all right?”
“Everything’s fine. I’m just having trouble contacting her.”
“Call her work. Maybe they can fill you in.”
She had thought of that, but she felt that any news she should know before they did. After all, she and Patsy had been partners for thirty years. What could possibly be so important that they would know it first?
After one more try on Patsy’s cell, she did just that.
“Morelands, how can I help you?” The receptionist’s voice was way too cheerful for her mood.
“Patsy Usherwood, please.”
“Who may I say is calling?”
“Liz Bradley. She knows who I am.”
“One moment.” The line went to some crappy muzak and, despite herself, Liz absently tapped along with the music. Liz glanced at her watch and the time dragged on. After nearly two minutes she was put through.
“Hello? Miss Usherwood’s phone.”
“Hello, who is this?”
“Alice, Miss Usherwood’s secretary.”
“Alice, it’s Liz. I just wanted a word with Patsy.”
“Hi, Liz. Sorry, but she’s not here.”
“Can you leave a message for me?”
“I could, but she won’t get it today.”
“Where is she?” What was going on?
“She took a few days’ leave. Phoned it in yesterday.”
“She didn’t tell me. Did she give you any idea what it was about?”
“No. It was strange. No warning about it before. Just a phone call saying she was taking a few days off.”
Liz was now officially in panic mode.
Liz looked down at the cell in her hand and it was shaking. “No.”
“Why not find where her phone is?”
“She’d have it with her.”
“No. not that. Use the GPS system to track the phone.”
“You can do that? How?”
“I’m not sure. Look it up online.”
“Thanks.” But Liz felt she couldn’t do that. It was a breach of trust. What if Patsy was in trouble? Surely she wouldn’t hold it against her for being concerned. Would she? Liz mentally debated the point for a minute before coming to a decision. “Mike? Tell Steve I’ll be back in an hour or two. I’ve got some urgent personal business.”
“You could always ask for access to a terminal and do it here. Save the hassle of traveling back and forth.”
“But it’s personal…”
“To hell with personal! Just ask.” Mike pushed her toward the senior manager standing at the podium. “Hurry up or you’ll have to wait until he’s finished.”
Liz walked up to the podium. Her gaze dropped to the carpet. She just couldn’t look him in the eye. “Steve.”
“Ah, Liz, glad you could make it this year.”
“I have a favor to ask.” Her gaze rose to his eyes. “I’m having trouble contacting my partner. I was wondering if I could–”
“Not a problem. Take all the time you need.”
“I wanted to ask for use of a computer terminal for a short time.”
“See my secretary and she’ll organize it for you.” He glanced around the room. “Now, if you’ll excuse me the meeting is about to begin.”
“Thank you.” She left quickly and found his secretary two floors above. She was shown to a cubicle with a computer and she sat down and quickly brought up the web browser. Liz looked at the screen for a few seconds before typing in ‘GPS’ and ‘cell’. A number of results came up and she chose the first one which heralded ‘live GPS tracking’. She typed in Patsy’s cell number and waited. No results. Maybe it was switched off completely. Or maybe it was destroyed in a fire or a car accident. Her mind swirled with grisly scenarios where Patsy’s phone, and Patsy, had been damaged.
Liz returned to the meeting and found a seat next to Mike.
“I found a tracking site but nothing happened,” she whispered.
“Maybe Patsy’s phone is not GPS enabled.”
Now you tell me. Patsy gave Mike a glare and he gave her a gentle smile in return. She tried to concentrate on the speech but couldn’t. Visions of Patsy lying in a gutter somewhere just wouldn’t go away. Impatiently she tapped her foot until Mike’s hand touched her knee to stop. “Sorry.”
“Go home,” he whispered.
“I think I have to. I’ll wait for Steve to finish.”
Mike looked at the speaker and saw another page turn over. “It doesn’t look like it will be any time soon. Go on. I’ll pass on your apologies.”
It was bad manners to leave in the middle of a presentation but Liz’s mind was useless. She glanced at Steve and then Mike. “Thanks.” As quietly as she could she left, even though she could feel every eye in the place looking her way. Liz looked at Steve and gave a small hand signal. He nodded his head and returned to his speech.
“Oh, Lord.” Liz leaned against the door once it was closed. Everyone had seen her leave now tongues would be wagging. But now was not the time to worry about such things. She set off for the elevator and, hopefully, a quick trip back to her hotel. In the taxi she called her secretary. “Naomi? Hi, it’s Liz. I need you to book me on a flight back home today. The sooner, the better. Give me three hours. Thanks.” She didn’t wait for Naomi’s reply.
* * *
Three hours later Liz was seated in the aircraft for the flight back home. She had debated about contacting the police, but decided to wait until she had at least checked their house first. It was a long shot, but maybe Patsy had left a written message on the kitchen table. It didn’t make sense, but thinking anything else made her panic.
Normally the flight was boring, but this particular flight was excruciating. She had no choice but to tolerate it. Once the plane had landed she pushed her way through the crowd as she made her way to the exit. By the time she stood at the taxi stand she was ready to rip out her hair. For good measure, she tried Patsy’s cell in the hope that she would pick it up. It remained silent.
An hour later she stood on the sidewalk outside her house. The porch light was on but no car.
She turned at the mention of her name. “Hi, Dennis.”
“Have you heard from Patsy?”
“No. That’s why I flew home early. I wanted to check the house first before reporting her missing.” She picked up her bag and walked up the path to the front door.
“I’ll come in with you, just in case.”
Liz took the key out of her bag. “Wait here. If I’m not out in two minutes, call the police.” She looked uncertainly at her neighbor and took a deep breath. The key slid effortlessly into the lock and she opened the door. “Wish me luck,” she muttered.
“Good luck” Dennis said quietly. He unconsciously took a step backward, as if separating himself from the possible mayhem inside.
Liz put down her bag in the foyer, tucking it away from the door if she needed to make a quick exit. She left the door wide open so Dennis could hear her call.
Liz started with the ground floor first so she could eliminate any intruder cutting off her exit on the first floor. Her first stop was the kitchen in the hope that Patsy had actually left a message saying not to worry. Dishes sat like soldiers in the drying tray, upright and all in a row. Everything was spick and span, so whatever it was Patsy wasn’t in a dire hurry to leave. Unfortunately, there was no sign of a scrawled message. She quickly searched the rest of the ground floor and found that an overnight bag had been taken from the closet. Liz mentally crossed off kidnapper from her list. She couldn’t remember ever seeing a kidnapper packing a bag for his victim in any of the cop shows on TV.
“Dennis?” she called from the doorway.
“Everything all right?” he asked nervously.
“Ground floor is clear. I’ll just check upstairs. Give me a couple of minutes.”
“I’ll be right here.” Liz saw Mrs. O’Hare appear at their front door and walk over to her husband. She lifted her hand and waved before heading to the staircase. Despite her impulse to rush up the stairs, Liz deliberately took them one step at a time. She needed to check things out and yet she didn’t want to know what she would find.
Her heart thudded heavily in her chest as she snuck along the corridor to their bedroom. The door was open. Quietly she tiptoed inside, wincing as a floorboard creaked. The bed was made. Still nothing to set off alarm bells. Her attention turned to the closet door. Did she want to open it? If her nerves were anything to go by, no she didn’t. But she had to know.
Liz extended a shaking hand to the handle and pulled it open quickly, hoping that any sudden movement from her might give her a chance of calling for help. The door flung open and hit the wall with a bang. Liz jumped back a step and prepared herself for an intruder. “God!” she groaned. Patsy was slowly killing her.
Content that the main bedroom and bathroom were clear, Liz inspected the rest of the first floor. It was all clear. She walked downstairs and stood at the door. “All clear. Thanks, Dennis!” She waved off her neighbors and closed the door. For good measure, she also secured the two locks. Sadly, she carried her bag up to her bedroom. It felt strange not coming home to Patsy.
The bag sat next to the closet but remained unopened. Liz sat on the bed and ran her hand over Patsy’s side. She reached for her cell and dialed the number one last time. This time she heard the ring quite clearly. Liz pulled the phone away from her ear and heard the resounding shrill of a phone ringing. She grabbed the pillow and flung it aside. There sat Patsy’s phone. Had she purposely left it behind or did she forget it? No wonder her calls went unanswered.
As Liz sat there her mind went over the last twenty-four hours. It was then that she realized she had forgotten one piece of important information. Patsy had called her work to take a few days off. Patsy knew she wouldn’t be home, and now Liz did too. In her panic Liz had missed the vital point. She mentally kicked herself because she could have saved herself a lot of heartache if she’d been paying attention.
Liz walked down the stairs and sat down on the sofa. Maybe she had subconsciously dismissed the conversation because it meant that Patsy was hiding something from her. It was her own fault, she knew that. They had become too complacent in their relationship, and Liz never thought that Patsy had grown tired of her. That had to change. Patsy was the love of her life, her soulmate, and she was going to make damned sure it stayed that way. But for now all she could do was wait for Patsy’s return.
* * *
Patsy did indeed return, but not until after lunch the next day. Liz ran the gamut of emotions that morning, from sadness to suspicion to anger, and finally an epiphany. She didn’t like being in the dark, especially about this.
When she heard Patsy’s SUV pulled up in the driveway, Liz opened the front door and waited. She carefully watched Patsy’s face as she called out. “Hey!”
Patsy climbed out of her car. “Hey! What are you doing home?”
“Missed my girl. Thought I’d come home early.”
“Great!” Patsy locked the car, leaving the overnight bag that Liz knew was in the back.
“Coffee?” Knowing that half the neighborhood would be watching, Liz stepped down the path to meet Patsy half way. She gave her a hug and sniffed her neck and hair for any sign of another scent.
“What are you doing?” Patsy pulled away and looked at her.
“Nothing. Just missed the smell of you. Are you using new soap?” Patsy didn’t flinch, much to Liz’s chagrin.
“Nope, just the stuff we normally use.” Liz grabbed Patsy’s hand and walked with her into the house. “When did you get back?”
“Yesterday afternoon,” Liz said calmly. She felt a slight tug as she delivered the news.
“Really? Why didn’t you call?”
“I tried, but your cell kept going through to voicemail.”
“Oh, sorry about that.”
“Where were you, Pats?”
“Come on, you and I both know you weren’t home last night.” Liz turned to face her. “Who is she, Pats?”
“Who? What are you talking about?” Patsy moved through to the kitchen and put the kettle on the stove.
“Do you really want to play games after all these years? You obviously haven’t been in an accident and the overnight bag is missing. Where did you go?”
“She’s still overseas. Try again.”
Patsy’s shoulders slumped.
“Has our relationship become that predictable?” Liz said shakily. “I love you. I know I haven’t said it much lately, but I do.” She sat down at the kitchen table. “Have I lost you?”
“No!” Patsy cried. She grabbed a chair and pulled it over next to Liz. “No, of course not. There’s no one else, I swear.”
“I found your cell.” Liz handed over the phone.
“I thought I’d lost it. Where was it?”
“Under the pillow of our bed.” Liz felt a tear slip down her cheek.
“Don’t cry, honey. It’s nothing serious, I promise. I’m still here. I’ll always be here.”
Liz looked up through tear-drenched eyes. “I love you, Pats.”
“And I love you, Lizzie.”
“Where were you? I was worried sick.”
Patsy smiled. “Worried, huh?”
“Please! Just put me out of my misery.”
Liz looked once, blinked and looked again. “It’s a piece of furniture.”
“It’s a writing desk. Remember a while back you said you wish you had time to try your hand at writing? I saw this on the internet but the lady wouldn’t deliver. So I had to pick it up. Our anniversary is coming up soon, so…”
“I haven’t gotten you anything.”
“I’m not expecting anything.”
“Well, you should. I can be an idiot sometimes.” Liz felt a rush of guilt.
“Now that you know you can give me a hand with this.” Patsy reached in and pulled the desk slowly out of the back of the SUV. Liz grabbed the other side and they carried it into the house. “Let’s put it here for now.”
While Patsy fetched her bag and locked up the car Liz studied the desk. Made of dark mahogany the top had in insert of green leather. It was the most beautiful thing Liz had seen, and it was all the more special because Patsy had bought it for her.
“This must have cost you a fortune!” Liz said as Patsy put down the bag near the door.
“Well, actually it’s a reproduction. The real thing was way out of my league.”
“I wouldn’t care if it was paper mache. It was very thoughtful.” Liz kissed Patsy on the cheek and returned to her study of the desk.
“Of course, now you have to use it.”
“Me? Write?” Liz suddenly felt scared. Before she could bluster all she liked about trying to write. Now it was time to ‘put up or shut up’.
“No excuses now, kiddo.”
“Nope.” Liz Pulled Patsy into her embrace. “While I didn’t buy you something, I suppose I do have a surprise of my own.”
“Yeah?” Patsy looked into Liz’s eyes.
“I did some thinking this morning and I came to a revelation. I don’t want to lose you, Pats. You are the most important thing to me. So I called Josh and made some arrangements. From next Monday, I’ll be working standard nine to five hours in the office. No more traveling, Pats. I’ll be home every night.” Liz felt Patsy’s smile against her skin. “Is that all right?”
“All right?? Are you kidding?? This is great!!!” Patsy lifted Liz up and twirled her around.
“I’m sorry I was a little slow, but better late than never, huh?”
“Yeah, better late than never.”
“Well, it seems I don’t have to go back to work until Monday. How about you?” Liz’s hand slipped to the top button of Patsy’s shirt.
Patsy smiled back. “I think I can squeeze you into my busy schedule.”
Liz grabbed Patsy’s hand and led her up the staircase. Three steps up there was a knock on the door. They looked at one another to decide whether to ignore the knock or not. The raps grew louder. Liz sighed and stepped over to the door.
Dennis and Rachel O’Hare stood on their door stoop. “Is everything all right?” Rachel asked.
Liz could hear her concern and she gave them both a wide smile. Patsy stepped up beside her and she felt her hand being held by her partner. “Yes, everything is perfect.”