Broken Heart SurgerybyStorm62©
It has been exactly four years now since my wife Jennifer passed on. As the anniversary had approached again my depression, never far away, deepened markedly. But yesterday, the anniversary of the day I had lost her, was the worst. Most of the time I could deal with the sense of loss, but yesterday it nearly overwhelmed me. Alison, our thirteen year old daughter, tried her very best to shake me out of it but to no avail. This morning was better, despite a lack of sleep on my part, but Ali still couldn't cheer me up. She had gone next door to talk to Rachel, our neighbour, a twenty four year old who had recently moved back into her parent's house. Ali and Ray had always got on despite the difference in their ages, almost as sisters. Ali must have been desperate though to do what she did, I hadn't realised how my mood had been affecting her.
I was sitting staring at the kitchen wall when they came in, Ali pulling Ray behind her. They both sat opposite me. I could see something was worrying my daughter by the look in her eyes and the way she held tightly onto Ray's hand.
"What's the matter sweetie?" I asked.
"Dad." She faltered immediately. Ray squeezed her hand and nodded encouragingly. "Daddy, I've been thinking. I hate it when you're like this, so I went and asked Ray and she reckons I'm right. You need to cheer up. So I think....I think you need.... a girlfriend!"
She was so serious and so obviously sincere that I couldn't laugh.
"I can't princess. Your mom...."
"Mom would want you to be happy dad."
She was right about that. Jenny would have hated seeing me like this, but I was having a hard time letting her go. And what about Ali? She seemed to sense my unasked question.
"I want you to be happy too dad. You need to find someone." She was in dead earnest about this I could tell. I allowed myself to smile a little.
"All right Alison, I'll try, but not today. Today is going to be all for my always special girl. Anywhere you want to go. Go get ready."
She sprang to her feet, a big grin on her face. After a quick hug, kiss and 'thank you', she shot off upstairs. I looked across at Rachel who was also grinning.
"Thank you too Rachel."
"For what?" She shrugged.
"For helping Ali help me. She must trust you a lot to be able to talk about me to you."
"I suppose. She has always been a bit like a little sister to me."
"You realise that I may have to ask you to sit with Ali if I actually get a date?"
"S'all right." She shrugged. "I'm not likely to be doing much for a while anyway."
"The last break-up with a boyfriend left me feeling a bit raw. I think I might give the dating thing a rest for a while." She suddenly smiled with a touch of wickedness. "Besides, I can't see a cutie like you having much trouble getting a date."
"Just watch yourself young lady. If things don't go too well I may have to ask YOU out after a statement like that."
"Promises, promises." She laughed and I joined in.
Alison came bouncing down the stairs.
"Can we go look at some shops dad?"
"Hmm. I don't know that I want to spend that much."
"DADDY!" She squealed and then realised I was pulling her leg and kissed me.
"Come on then princess, but no promises." I paused. "No promises for you either Rachel." I said waggling my eyebrows at her. She just laughed. Ali looked from one to the other of us, recognized it was a joke between us and shrugged her shoulders.
For the next few months I dated a few women, but with no real results. That isn't to say I didn't cheer up; some of the dates were enjoyable, but none of them felt like they were going to lead to anything more than an interesting evening in enjoyable company. I had the most fun whenever I took Ali somewhere. It was good to see her smiling again. More and more she asked if Ray could come with us. I had no problem saying 'yes' and she scampered off next door to ask Rachel. I began to notice that although Ray always came when asked she seemed a little uncomfortable around me. I assumed that it was because I was an older guy and that she was worried about accompanying someone obviously older; either that or her seemingly never-ending boy trouble was bothering her. Ali's enthusiasm was always enough to overcome that reticence though, Ray enjoying herself after a while.
It was after one of those trips that I asked Rachel about this apparent shyness when we were having a cup of coffee before she went home.
"Is it me?" I asked.
"Sort of." Ray replied. "But it's mainly me. I can't help wondering what people think when they see us out together, even though Ali is with us."
"I didn't realise being with such an old man was so worrisome for you."
"Oh. I worry about lots of things." She laughed. "I just think I might be hampering you in finding someone you like."
"Don't worry about that Ray." I laughed back. "I'm really only going through the motions for Ali's sake. It makes her happy."
"But you might find someone you like."
"I might I suppose, but Ali is the one who is important. As long as she's happy, I am too. There are less and less days when I feel down. Soon I suspect there will only be three a year."
"Jenny's birthday, our anniversary, and...."
"I think I can guess." She got up to leave. "Thank you for another trip out. It might be the last for a while though."
"My parents want to sell up and move abroad, follow the sun. They're going to look at some properties tomorrow. I'm going to have to find somewhere else to live soon."
"You could..." I started, but she knew what I was going to say and interrupted.
"I can't stop with you and Ali, much as I would like too. It would seem wrong to so many people." She was serious.
"The offer still stands Rachel. Ali wouldn't want me not to make it, and as I said, Ali comes first for me. She always will. That's probably why none of the women I've been seeing seem right. They would have to accept that."
"I know and I wish you luck, but a woman like that will be hard to find."
"I know it." I smiled as we went to the door. "The offer is always there if you need somewhere to stay Rachel."
"I know." She shyly kissed me on the cheek. "And thank you for that." With that she left. I turned around and spied Alison peering through the stair railings.
"What are you smirking at? You are supposed to be in bed you little minx."
"I was just thinking you seem to be making progress with Ray at last." She grinned.
"Just what do you mean by that young lady?"
"Well, you finally got a kiss didn't you?"
"Are you implying what I think you're implying?"
"I might be!" She said over her shoulder as she scurried off to bed. I frowned to myself. Did she mean Rachel was sweet on me? I couldn't believe that, we had been neighbours for so long that I still remembered Ray as a schoolgirl. She couldn't have feelings for someone as old as me could she?
Two days after that little exchange Alison and I were sitting out in the garden, enjoying the evening sun. Ali was doing her homework on the picnic table and I was catching up on some reading. She spoke.
"Daddy, did you know that Rachel was looking for somewhere to live?"
"I did sweetie."
"Well, can't she have our spare room?"
"I already offered Ali, but Ray said that she didn't think it would look right."
"I'm sure she has her reasons." I looked across at my daughter. She had a sly look on her face, like she was planning something. "Alison, you are NOT to pester Rachel about this. It's her life; she can make whatever decisions she wants."
"How can you tell what I was thinking?"
"Your mother got the same look whenever she was up to something."
"Oh!" She reddened a little and looked away coyly. "But Ray is wrong about this dad; can't I ask her to stay with us?"
"No. Promise me here and now that you won't interfere with Rachel's choices."
"DADDY!" She exclaimed.
"Alison, I'm serious about this. You promise me now!"
"Oh, all right. I promise I won't say anything to her."
"Good girl." I went back to my book, hoping that it was settled now, but not believing it. Alison had given in much too easily. Rachel obviously had her reasons for not wanting to move in on a permanent basis and I respected that, but Alison seemed to think otherwise. Maybe she thought she knew something I didn't. I hoped she kept to her promise.
About ten minutes later Rachel's head popped above the shared fence.
"Hi! I was wondering if Ali was busy tomorrow evening?"
"Well I haven't got anything planned." Alison said. "Why?"
"I've managed to get some concert tickets for that boy band you're so fond of and wondered if you wanted to go."
Ali looked at me, excitement shining in her eyes.
"Can I daddy? Please? Pretty please?" She batted her eyelids at me, knowing I couldn't resist.
"It's Friday, not a school night, so I suppose so." I sighed.
"Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" She jumped up and kissed me.
"Don't thank me, thank Rachel. She's the one with the tickets."
"Thank you Rachel." Ali said dutifully.
Ray laughed at her sincerity.
"Well I can't go on my own can I? They're not exactly my sort of band."
"Fibber!" Ali laughed. "I've seen you looking at the pictures in my fan club magazine." Rachel blushed, unable to deny it. "Come on round and we'll plan it."
The concert was due to start at eight so I had dropped the two of them off at seven, telling Ali to call me when they wanted collecting. Rachel thought that would be around half past ten. So I was beginning to worry by eleven that they hadn't phoned. I began to call Alison's phone but for some reason it wasn't on, which was odd as she never turned it off. Worry was replaced by panic when a police car pulled up outside the house at half past eleven. I had the door open before the policeman had reached the door.
"What is it? What's wrong? Has something happened to Ali?" I blurted out.
"Calm down Mr Kennedy. Your daughter Alison is fine, just a little upset. There was an incident outside the concert and her friend Rachel was injured."
"Ray's hurt? How badly?"
"Not too badly, but enough to warrant being kept in hospital overnight for observation."
"Why didn't Ali phone me?"
"Her phone was another casualty I'm afraid, which is why she went to the hospital with her friend instead of getting in touch with you. I said I'd come and explain and she calmed down a little. The hospital wanted to know if you could bring Rachel some nightwear when you collect your daughter."
"Of course." I said, and then stopped to think. "Except I haven't got a key to Rachel's house, and Ali's things will be too small." Another thought hit me. "I suppose there might be something of Jenny's that will do."
"My wife. She died four and a half years ago."
"And you still have her clothes?"
"Some. I'm having trouble letting her go."
He smiled in understanding.
"Well, anything will help sir." He handed me a card. "Show this at reception and they'll know I sent you."
"Thank you officer. I'll get there as quick as I can."
"Just don't get stopped for speeding sir." He smiled as he turned away.
I dashed upstairs to the drawer in the wardrobe where I kept Jenny's things. Clothes that I just couldn't bear to throw away, they had been some of her favourite things. I knew that there were a couple of nighties in there. I found them out. One was unsuitable for wearing in a hospital but the second one should be all right. I took a quick look at it, gauging whether it would fit Rachel. She was a different body shape to Jenny, taller for one thing. I thought it would be okay and packed it into a bag. As an afterthought I grabbed the spare towelling robe from the bathroom and packed that too. Briefly I wondered about underclothes, but dismissed the idea for now. I ran down to the car and shot off to the hospital.
Alison was sat in the waiting room looking very sorry for herself.
"Alison, are you all right?"
She looked up, saw me and then ran over.
"Oh daddy! I'm so sorry I didn't call you, but I thought I'd better stay with Ray."
"No sweetie. You did the right thing. What happened?"
"It was all my fault daddy." She began to cry. "I persuaded Ray to take me to the stage door to try and get some autographs. She didn't want to, but agreed as long as I stayed next to her. There was some pushing and I dropped my phone. When I went to pick it up, there was a surge of people and it got trampled. Ray was trying to keep people from knocking me over and got toppled over me. She hit her head on the ground. Now nobody will tell me how she is. I really messed up daddy." She was sobbing now. "Please say you forgive me."
"Of course I forgive you darling. I'm sure Rachel will too. Come on, the hospital asked me to bring some things for her, so we can go and see her."
Rachel was sat up in bed looking pale. She had a couple of stitches above the corner of her left eye and her left arm was in a sling. She gave us a watery smile as we twitched aside the curtain around her bed.
"Hello you two. Sorry to be such a bother."
"Absolutely no bother Ray. The hospital asked me to bring you some things. I hope they fit." I laid the bag on the bed. "Didn't bring any undies I'm afraid. I thought it best if you give Ali your house key and tell her what to collect."
"You could do that as well."
"I'm sure I don't want to go poking about in your underwear drawer. Who knows what I might find!" I grinned. Rachel just laughed. It was good to see.
Alison had been looking subdued since we came in. She suddenly burst into tears again.
"Oh Ray! I'm so, so sorry. This is all my fault. Please say you forgive me, please."
Rachel reached over and took her hand, smiling warmly.
"There's nothing to forgive Ali. What happened was as much my fault as yours. I could have said 'no' to you."
"You did say 'no' Ray, but I whined until you gave in."
"I wanted to go backstage too you know? I just wanted an excuse. Now come and give me a hug and we'll forget it, okay?"
I left them discussing what Rachel wanted Alison to bring in for her. I was looking for the doctor. I found him checking someone's chart and introduced myself. Then I asked when I could collect Rachel.
"Tomorrow evening probably, as long as she doesn't suffer any reaction before then. And only if she has someone to keep an eye on her for four or five days." He said.
"She lives next door to me, is that close enough?"
"I'd prefer someone in the house with her." He frowned.
"So I need to persuade her to use our spare room for a week?" I sighed. "That might be tricky."
"You'll be surprised what people will do to make sure they get out of here." He laughed. "I'll tell her my conditions in the morning."
"Thanks doctor. It'll sound better coming from you. I'm not sure how she'd react if it came from me." I paused and thought. "Not these days anyway." I looked back at Ali and Ray. "Now I think I'd better collect my daughter and get her home to bed. It's been a long night for her."
"I'll let the desk know you'll be in tomorrow, about six would be best."
"Thanks doctor, for everything."
I could tell Rachel wasn't entirely happy to have to use our spare room, but as the doctor had said, people will accept a lot to get out of hospital. Ali still seemed to feel guilty and fussed around Ray when we collected her. Ray had to tell her that she wasn't an invalid, that Ali didn't have to do everything for her. After that, the two of them just hung out together like any other weekend. I had organised it so that I was working from home for the next week so that I could be about if Rachel suffered any reaction to the bump on her head. This seemed fine in principle, but it meant that while Alison was at school there was only Ray and me in the house. This appeared to be unsettling to Ray, which in turn was a little worrying for me. The two of us each did our own thing for that first morning; me in my office working, Rachel moodily flicking through some of Alison's magazines while half watching what passes for daytime TV. Around mid-morning she brought me a cup of coffee. I took the opportunity to ask her about her reticence to be in the same house as me.
"It's just that you're a man and I'm a girl and I worry." She went red.
"About me?" I asked incredulously.
"What!!? NO! Never that." She said emphatically, catching my inference.
"Then what are you worried about?"
"I worry about what the other people in the street think. Some of them have nasty minds, you know?"
"They do? Well, that's their problem, not yours Ray." I put my hand on hers. "The doc says you need an eye kept on you until your parents get back, so the busybodies can go get lost. Okay?"
"Okay." She nodded, a little more reassured.
Alison called at lunchtime on the replacement phone we'd got on Saturday, wanting to know how Rachel was, and to ask me a favour. She wanted her camera tomorrow, so could I download the pictures on the card and put them on the 'picture drive', the external hard drive where we both kept our photos. Sighing, I agreed, wondering why she delighted in leaving things to the last moment, a trait she shared with me. Her mother had been much better organised. I collected the camera from her cluttered dresser, plugged it and the picture drive in and began to download her pictures. She hadn't done it for a couple of weeks and there were over two hundred on the card. I watched disinterestedly as the images flicked past, questioning why there were so many pictures of me, Rachel and Ali in various combinations. I quickly realised that it was because most of the photos were from our last two trips out. The final three or four pictures had me puzzled though. They were of a girl in a bikini; the fleeting glimpses I got weren't enough to tell who they were of though, but I recognised the background as Ali's room. What had my daughter been up to now? I thought I'd better take another look at those last few properly. I opened up the new file, scrolled to the end and clicked on one to open it. As I looked at it, my jaw dropped. It wasn't Alison in the picture, it was Rachel! I hurriedly closed the picture, wondering what the hell was going on here. What was Ali up too? She knew I'd see those snaps and become intrigued when she'd asked me to download them. And did Ray know about them? I suspected that Ali had some plan, but was Rachel in on it? Young Alison and I were going to have a serious talk when she got home from school. Then something else struck me. I opened the picture again with more than a little trepidation. Looking at it, I realised how stunningly beautiful Rachel had become. I still thought of her as the girl next door, but she had grown into a gorgeous young woman without me noticing. A sudden insight made me understand why she was so worried about what other people might think. A widower and an attractive girl in the same house would be a gift to some of the gossips in the street. I shrugged to myself; stuff what they thought, I'd offered to help and I would.
I was waiting for Alison when she came bouncing in through the door after school.
"Hi dad! How's Ray doing?"
"Rachel is fine; she's fixing you a snack at the moment." I frowned. "While she's busy in the kitchen you and I need to have a little talk madam. My office, now!" The little minx didn't look surprised or worried, as if she knew what this was about. "Right Miss, I think you should explain these pictures." I pointed to the computer monitor with one of the photographs of Rachel on it.
"You found them then?" Ali grinned.
"You mean I was meant too see them?"
"What about Rachel?"
"Well she knows I took them, but not why. The bikini was her idea." She thought for a moment. "Maybe she did have an inkling then." She grinned the same smug grin Jenny had worn whenever I realised that I was being led up the garden path.