Saturday, November 10, 2012

Free Read: Love, Sam


The drive to Cleveland tested every nerve in Trish Garrity’s body. Black clouds gathered over the choppy waters of Lake Erie and heavy rain fell in sheets. She pulled into Phyllis Preston’s driveway and sat for a moment while the knots in her neck eased. Finally, pulling up the hood on her jacket, she ran for the front porch.
Phyllis opened the door immediately. “Trish, I thought for sure you’d cancel your drive over here in this rain.”
She met Phyllis’ gaze. “We need to talk.”
Stepping back, the older woman pulled the door open wider. “Come in. Let me hang your jacket to dry. I’ll make tea.”
Trish kicked off her wet sneakers and followed Sam’s mother down a hallway and into the kitchen.
Phyllis picked up the teakettle and filled it from the tap. Her hand shook as she set the kettle on the stove top. “I know what you’re going to tell me. I’ve seen it coming.”
“Sam’s coming home day after tomorrow and starting hospice care.” The words came out in a rasp.
Phyllis eased into the chair opposite Trish, sighing heavily. “Even though we’ve known it would come to this, it still seems unbelievable. Do you want me to come and stay?”
Trish shook her head. “The doctor said it could be a matter of days or weeks. I won’t tell you not to come, but… I mean, you’re welcome. You know that. I’m sure you’ll want to be with Sam before…” Her voice trailed off, emotion clogging her throat. She still felt awkward around Sam’s mother, even though the woman seemed to accept her as a part of Sam’s life.
“I’ll wait a few days and give the two of you some time alone. You’re not so far away that I can’t drive over for a visit.”
Trish nodded. “Phyllis, you’ll have to forgive me if I offend you or make mistakes. I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know the proper etiquette for watching the person you love the most die.” Her voice cracked.
Phyllis reached across the table and held her hand. “And I don’t know how to let go of my child. I’m sure we’ll step all over one another, but our main focus has to be on Sam. That's what is important now.”
The teakettle emitted a low whistle, and Phyllis fetched it from the stove. She poured the steaming water into two ceramic mugs, each holding an Earl Grey teabag.
Trish wrapped her palms around the mug. “I talked with Matt earlier. He may try to get back for a few days.”
Phyllis smiled and gazed out the window. “Those two were always so close. Wherever Sam would go, Mattie would follow, from the time they were toddlers. They were…they are so close in age.”
Shifting her gaze to Trish’s face, she asked, “How are you holding up?”
“I’m trying to take one moment at a time. It’ll be easier when Sam comes home. I won’t have time to sit and think too much.”
“I know what you mean. I try to keep myself busy.” Phyllis’ blue eyes—so much like Sam’s—filled, and she worked her mouth.
“Call me after Sam is settled at home?”
Trish nodded. “Phyllis…” She paused, choosing her words. “I…uh…I want you to come whenever you want, and stay as long as you want.”
Phyllis once again shifted her gaze from Trish’s face to the window where rain pelted the glass. “I keep thinking I’ll waken from this nightmare.”
“Me, too.”
Returning her gaze to Trish’s face, Phyllis asked, “You’ll let me know if you need help?”
“Yes.” Trish sipped the last of her tea. “I wish I could stay longer, but I have to pick up some things to finish preparing the den.
The hospital bed will be delivered tomorrow morning.” She stood and set the empty mug in the sink. “I’ll call you.”
“Have you told your mother?”
Trish lowered her head. “No. What would be the point?”
“You should call. Surely she'd want to know, to at least support you.” At the door, Phyllis hugged her. “Thank you for coming here to tell me in person about hospice. Are you sure you’re going to be okay driving back in this weather?”
Trish glanced outside. “It’s letting up, and the sky is getting lighter. I’ll take my time. And I meant what I said, Phyllis. You're welcome to come and stay for as long as you want.”
“We’ll see. I’ll visit on Friday, after Sam’s settled in. Now, you be careful on the roads. Let me know you’ve arrived home safely.”
Trish jogged to the car and slid behind the wheel. She glanced up at Phyllis, still standing on the porch. It was through Sam’s mother that Trish got a true glimpse of what a mother could be, should be. Her own mother had a missing gene for mothering. Trish had worried, when she and Sam began talking about having a child, that the genetic imperfection may have been passed on to her. Now it was a moot point.
She shoved the Toyota into gear and backed from the
~ * ~
Later that afternoon, Trish knew she couldn’t put the call off any longer. “Mom? It’s Trish.”
“Why do you do that—always tell me your name, like I don’t know my own daughter?”
Trish sucked in a ragged breath. “Sam’s dying.”
The long pause made her think her mother had hung up, which would not have surprised her. “Are you there?”
“Yes. Uh…I don’t know what to say.”
“You could start with I’m sorry.” This has to be awful for you. I’ll come right away.
“There’s no need to take that tone with me. You know how I feel about you and Sam. Not that I’d wish death on anyone, but… What do you want me to do?”
“I don’t want you to do anything. I needed to…to tell someone. I tried to call Tracie, but she isn’t answering her phone.”
“Oh, you didn’t hear.” Her mother’s voice brightened. “Your sister’s receiving an award at some conference in San Francisco. She works so hard. I’m glad she’s finally getting the recognition she deserves. And you should meet Jay, the man she’s dating now.”
Trish knew when one door closed and a different one opened. There was no going back. “Mom, I have to go.” Her mother never failed to live down to her expectations. Although Trish had hoped she would offer some comfort this time.
“Okay, honey. Don’t forget to call your sister to congratulate her. Let me know if you need anything.”
Trish held the phone away from her ear and stared at it, then hit the ‘end’ button. Through gritted teeth, she muttered, “I just told you I needed something. But, as usual, you couldn’t hear it—or didn’t want to.”
The phone rang while still in her hand. She growled, “Hello.”
“Whoa, what did I say wrong?”
“Oh, Matt. I’m sorry. I just spoke with my mother.”
“Say nothing more. I got your message, and you sounded urgent.”
Trish dropped into a chair and took in a deep breath. “Sam and I met with the doctor yesterday. It’s…bad news. Well, worse news. The oncologist recommends suspending treatment and utilizing comfort measures only.” Her chin trembled. She swallowed hard.
“I can ditch this film project and be there in a few days,” Sam’s younger brother said. “Sam and I said goodbye before I left, but I can at least be there for you.”
“No, don’t. We’ll be bringing in hospice care, but it could be weeks still.” She paused. “I’ll be all right. I just have a case of post-mother-conversation frustration. That’s all.”
“Have you talked with my mother?”
“I drove to Cleveland to see her. Sam will be coming home from the hospital tomorrow. I didn’t want to tell your mom on the phone.”
“Good thinking. So, how are you?”
“I’m okay. I mean, I’m…coping.”
“It’s so damned unfair.”
“Yes. I’m sorry, Matt. I know how close you two have been since you were kids.”
Matt cleared his throat. “We talked during my last visit. I’m glad Sam had you for the last six years. We’re not all so lucky, to find that one special person before it’s too late.”
Trish sucked in her lower lip, unable to speak.
Matt sighed. “I’ll call you tomorrow night. I’m twelve hours ahead of you, so it may be late.”
Trish glanced at her watch. “Oh, Matt. I’m sorry. It’s four a.m. in Sydney.”
“I called you. Remember? Besides, you know how us Hollywood types are, up all night. Give Sam my love. And you take care of yourself. I’m going to see if I can wrap things up here and get away for a few days. I’ll let you know.”
“Talk to you tomorrow. Don’t worry about the time. I don’t sleep much, either.” She said good-bye then hung up and sat with the quiet hissing around her. Then her body convulsed as wracking sobs shook her. She crossed her arms and doubled over them. She’d been stoic when she’d sat with Sam earlier and listened to the doctor’s prognosis. Or maybe she’d just been numb. But now, alone in the home she and Sam had made together, reality crashed over her like a tidal wave.
Molly whined and nudged her hand. Trish scratched the dog’s ears, taking comfort in her presence. “You want to go for a walk? I could use some air.”
The mid-October chill greeted Trish as she stepped outside. The winds blowing off Lake Erie carried the promise of an early winter. Molly tugged on the leash, dragging Trish out to the sidewalk and down the block.
When they reached the park, Trish glanced across to the café. “Come on, Molly. Let’s check on business.” She dodged two skateboarders and crossed the street. The wooden sign hanging over the door read: “Rainbow Connection – S. Preston and T. Garrity, Proprietors.”
The internet café was at a lull between lunch and the late afternoon crowds from the college that filled the place with students.
Trish nodded to a few customers and headed into the office. “Ben, how’s it going?”
Ben looked up from the desk. “Trish, hi. I’m just getting a bank deposit ready.” Molly pulled away from Trish and rounded the desk, sticking her nose into Ben’s hand. He ruffled her ears. “How’s my favorite girl?” Then he glanced up at Trish. “And how are you?”
“I needed some fresh air, so Molly took me for a walk.”
“How’s it going today?”
Trish removed her jacket and draped it over the coat tree in the corner. She shook her head. “Not good. We’re starting hospice care.”
“I’m sorry.” Sorrow tugged on his mouth and he swallowed hard. “I still can't believe this is happening. When will Sam come home?”
“Tomorrow.” She met his gaze. “Ben, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what you’re doing here. You and Gina, both. Without you two, this place would’ve folded months ago.”
“Well, I can’t let that happen. We have the best coffee in town. I know. I make it myself.”
She smiled and realized it had been a long time since she’d done that so easily. “I should head back home. I’m setting up a bedroom in the den for Sam. No steps, close to the kitchen and
downstairs bathroom.”
Ben stood and held her jacket for her. “Everything’s running smoothly here. If there’s anything I can do, please call.”
“You’re already doing more than you can imagine. I’ll let you know once Sam’s settled at home. A visit would be nice.”
He nodded and then patted Molly’s head. “I’ll bring a non-fat, decaf double mocha latte.”
She smiled. “Sam’s favorite. Call me if you need me.” She tugged on Molly’s leash. “Come on, Molly.”
Gina looked up from taking an order and waved. “How’s Sam?”
“Ben will fill you in. I’ve gotta run. Talk to you later.” She couldn’t say the words one more time.
~ * ~
Trish stuffed clothing and other items into the plastic bag the hospital provided. “Do you want me to take these flowers home, too?”
“No.” Sam sat on the edge of the bed.
“They’ll last a while longer.”
“Then have the nurses give them to someone who hasn’t received flowers. Can we just get moving? I want to go home.”
“I know.”
Sam met her gaze. “I’m sorry.”
Trish ran her hand over Sam’s blonde hair, thinned by the treatments. “You don’t have to apologize. You have every right to be angry and frustrated and…”
“But not with you. Not ever with you.” Sam clutched her hand.
“I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
The door opened and an aide pushed a wheelchair through.
“Ready to go?”
“Yes, I’m ready to go home.” Sam stood on unsteady legs and eased down into the chair with assistance.
Once in the car, Trish drove slowly, as if carrying precious breakable cargo.
“Are you planning to get us there today?” Sam asked.
“I don’t want to have to stop suddenly. The seatbelt could fracture your collarbone.”
Sam gave her a crooked smile. “Yeah, but it won’t kill me.”
“I don’t like it when you joke about this.”
“About dying? Come on, Trish. We have to talk about it sooner or later. And I think it will have to be sooner, because later…”
Trish pressed her foot to the gas and sped up. “I don’t want to talk about it right now.”
“Fine. Would you drive by the café?”
“You don’t want to stop in, do you?”
“No. I just want to see it.”
Trish pulled to the curb across from the café. “See? Still standing. Ben’s doing a fantastic job.”
Sam’s eyes filled. “I remember when we sat up all night, writing a business plan for this place. We didn’t even know, then, where we’d open.”
Trish squeezed Sam’s hand. “The café is your baby. I didn’t do anything but decorate.”
“Displaying some of the best paintings I’ve ever seen. You have the real talent between the two of us.”
Trish hadn’t picked up a paintbrush in weeks. Her last efforts left her standing before a blank canvas, unable to make the first brush stroke, her thoughts on the life that was slipping away like sand     through her fingers.
Sam breathed wearily. “Let’s go home.”
Over the next week, they fell into an easy rhythm. After Trish spent two sleepless nights in the recliner, Sam insisted she sleep upstairs. Trish bought a baby monitor to keep at Sam’s beside, should she be needed. Once she raced down the stairs in alarm, only to discover that the rasping sounds were coming from Thumper who had perched on the night stand in front of the monitor and purred loudly.
As Halloween approached, Sam asked what they would do to celebrate. “We should have a party.”
“You’re crazy.”
“That’s not a newsflash. Come on, Trish. It’ll be fun. God knows, we could both use a little fun around here.”
“I don’t want you to get tired out. And people will bring germs that your immune system is too weak to fight off.”
“Now the leukemia isn’t killing me. You are.”
It was like a slap, and Trish stopped moving, stunned.
“Oh, Jesus. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.”
Trish fought her tears. “I’m trying to make sure you stay as healthy as possible.”
Sam patted the edge of the bed. “Come here. Please?”
Trish turned around and sat down.
“I am dying. Getting tired or catching a cold isn’t going to make that much difference. Sure, a few germs may expedite the process, but the fact is, I am dying. I’d like to die smiling. And a party would make me smile. I’m actually feeling pretty good right now.”
“Okay. I’ll get on it.” Trish stood wearily.

* * *
Love, Sam won the 2012 EPIC eBook Award for Mainstream Fiction

Available now in both ebook and trade paperback from
and in ebook from
Also available at Rainbow Ebooks

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