Kismet or Happenstance? Ch. 08byAugust_Bouvier©
Ride by Cary Brothers has been the one song I've played most often while writing this series. The perfect moment appeared and I had to include it, though I didn't use the lyrics. I think of it as Sean and Ana's song—at least for where they've come to so far. Sometimes I imagine Sean's voice sounds similar to Cary's: soulful, passionate and intimate.
* * * * * * *
Thursday, December 7th 2006, 10:10 p.m.
"You forgot to list your emergency contact," the nurse huffed while he handed the clipboard back to Ana.
She hadn't forgotten. But the fittingly tart comeback ready to correct his assumption never left her mouth. She carefully let go of her left arm and fought to breathe through the grinding spasms. Her arm would fall off soon, she was sure of it. The freakish sight of her limb hanging awkwardly from her shoulder made her empty stomach revolt. An invisible spike dug deep into the back of her head when she looked away too quickly and took the clipboard.
Should she have filled in the allotted the spaces?
Sean would certainly come to the Emergency Room if she called. Well, it's not like he'd have much choice. Do you really think he'd say: "sorry, can't make it"? And what makes you think he'll even pick up the phone this time?
Sean would come. Ana knew he would. But did she want to drag him down here, forced to leave his anger simmering on the backburner while he sat around waiting for Lord knows how long? Would he feel cornered or slightly manipulated?
Just let me fucking be. I can't look at you right now.
Ana winced and the spike dug in hard again. She fumbled with the pen and studied the blank boxes on the patient information form. Thankfully her right arm hadn't been hurt or she wouldn't have been able to fill it out. Her left arm felt like it had been ripped away from her body, leaving her with a sensation of carrying a dead weight. She offered the clipboard to the nurse.
"There isn't anyone," she whispered through the pain vibrating along the entire length of the left side of her back. It hurt to talk, to breathe and to even sit in this wheelchair. She shivered; her tank top and track pants were no match for the artic temperature. She looked around the familiar waiting lounge and wished she could blink herself away to somewhere else. Anywhere but this particular hospital.
The nurse's face softened. But Ana didn't want his pity. She just wanted someone to fix her arm and whatever else was broken and make the pain go away.
"Are you sure?"
Reason intervened. She only had her keys and a broken cell phone in her pocket—no money for the cab fare back home. "Wait," she croaked, feeling even more defeated.
* * * * *
The abrupt clatter sliced through the haze blanketing Ana's mind. The medication acted as a buffer between the pain and her awareness of it, leaving her slightly numb and disconnected from her body. She concentrated all her effort on opening her eyes and followed the soft thuds coming from the kitchen. The corners of her mouth quirked, despite the bruising physical and emotional plummet she'd taken today.
Simon's sheepish, brown eyes met hers and her mouth stretched into a smile. They shared the deepest, most profound bond humans could have, yet watching Simon Garret move around her kitchen was akin to watching an alien invasion play out from the comfort—well, the dulled discomfort—of her couch.
Anastudied him as he left the kitchen and set a saucer on the coffee table. He carefully placed a cup of Blueberry Bliss in her right hand. She inhaled the berry scent while curly steam ribbons floated up. If only Blueberry Bliss lived up to the second part of its name. If only a cup of tea had the power to magically undo the past—she looked at the DVD player—eh, day, she rounded off. Math skills were overrated when the remnants of morphine laced her blood.
The pedestal of books under the Guan Yin figurine drew Simon's attention.
"The Prophet," he read out loud.
"My mom gave it to me," Ana explained after the liquid slid down to warm her chest. She normally wouldn't have thought such a tiny, personal detail about her life interested Simon but he had been so...kind and attentive. And well, she wanted to fill the space with some sort of meaningful conversation lest they fall back into the reserved way they danced around each other. It must be the meds because it felt bizarre speaking about her mother to Simon when he knew the woman partially responsible for her existence.
In the laws of nature, he was her parent yet this was his first time in her home. He appeared curiously new among her familiar knick-knacks and furnishings. Ana found herself staring at him as she often did, scanning and cataloguing the traits she'd inherited from the forty-something man with tawny blond hair and deep set cognac-brown eyes. She'd gotten wavy curls, eye color, height and a dimple from him.
"I remember you quoting a few lines from On Love on the forum," His brown eyes twinkled with dark humor as his dimples creased the rough cut sides of his handsome face. The black shirt, rolled at the cuff, and trousers contrasted his unexpected playfulness.
His focus dropped to the shelf littered with artfully arranged silver frames. Ana knew when the dimples vanished he'd found the one of Sean and her taken after a Wired for Sound gig. Simon made the connection between the book and the photo instantly. If only it had taken her minutes instead of months to uncover the story linking the two seemingly random objects that meant so much to her. She doubted she'd have gone out with Sean if she'd known then. And she would have gone about her life not knowing how much she'd missed out on.
"I didn't know you two were dating until Sean mentioned you were his girlfriend when we spoke earlier today," Simon began with measured suspicion. "I didn't say anything about...you and I because it was obvious he didn't know. Thank you for not saying anything."
The relief in Simon's voice landed like a backhanded compliment. The word "girlfriend" made Ana recoil deeper into the couch. Her involuntary jerk sent tea waves splashing inside the mug. The small shift her arm made inside the sling launched warm shards along her left shoulder, scraping the angry nerves inside. Ana clenched her teeth. The veil between pain and awareness was dissolving.
Simon's eyes narrowed on her, his upper lip thinned into a hard line. "Are you okay?"
Ana nodded, not trusting her voice as the hot sting faded to a dull throb.
"I didn't know you and Sean knew each other until a few days ago," she clarified and then her curiosity emerged, craving satisfaction. "How did my name come up?"
Simon sat in the chair next to her and for a moment she expected him to avoid the subject given his standoffish nature. Being a keen observer he must have suspected a hint of drama when she hadn't called Sean, drama he didn't want to get sucked into. That would be too personal.
Something flickered in his eyes before he spoke. "I called him about meeting up for lunch or dinner and...uh...it came up that we were both going to be at the same charity event Saturday. And when he mentioned that his girlfriend's company was the main sponsor, I thought maybe she was one of your co-workers."
The irony played out like a cruel joke as Simon told her the rest. Just last Saturday she'd pointed out to Sean how he never referred to her as his girlfriend. And the first time he did—
"I take it there are problems? I noticed you didn't call him."
The cheesy calzone lost its flavor the second the question hit her ears. Problems? Was Everest steep?
"You could say that," Ana replied in a wry tone as she set the saucer back on the coffee table next to the tea cup. But she didn't want Sean's absence to unfairly taint Simon's perception. Her problems with Sean shouldn't have any bearings on his friendship with Simon. "I-I think..." No, that wasn't right. "I'm sure Sean would've come if I'd called him but...we're taking a little break," she explained, hoping a "break" wasn't a prelude to something more final. "I-I didn't want him to feel pressured." Simon's thick, straight brow jumped along with her uncertainty over her choice. "Besides, it wasn't serious."
Simon's brown eyes turned incredulous as he leaned forward. Irritation fired voice. "Not serious?! Look at you—you could've been killed tonight if that car had hit you!"
His words plunged Ana back to the sidewalk. A frantic slideshow of images and impressions invaded her senses: the dog, screeching tires, bright lights and the brutal pain of a dislocated shoulder. Simon wasn't exaggerating. She'd been taken aback by her own demonic reflection when she'd gone to bathroom. Her complexion had a gray cast to it, making her dilated pupils looked like two empty black pools.
"I'm okay," she said more for Simon's sake. He'd been so worried from the moment he arrived at the hospital. It felt perversely satisfying to know her wellbeing truly mattered to him. It took the bite out of wanting Sean to be the one who'd coddled her, held her hand and repeatedly told her she'd be alright. "I'll probably be sore and have a little egg in the back of my head in the morning, that's all," she understated but he sent her a look of pure disbelief, "But I'll be okay...I'll be back to normal in a few days."
Whatever point Simon wanted to argue remained unspoken as his gaze swept over her. He got up and handed her the saucer. "Finish this up so you can get some sleep," he commanded as though she were a child; his child. He went to the kitchen and returned with quick, economical strides. "Here—take these," he ordered as he placed a white pill in her palm. He pressed a glass of water into her hand after she set the pill on her tongue. He'd used the same commanding tone when he insisted she leave a message at her office, letting Shannon, the office assistant, know she wouldn't be in to work on Friday.
"Yes, sir," Ana muttered. Simon's dimples snuck out again.
He took the empty wares back to the kitchen. "Is there anything else you need?" She heard water splashing about and realized he was washing the dishes. She never suspected such kindness lay beneath his chilly reserve.
"You don't have to do that."
"How are you going to do this one-handed?" he reasoned with his trademark logic as if to dismiss the thoughtfulness behind the soap-and-water chore.
"Thank you." She'd repeated those two words countless times these past four hours.
"I'm going to head out soon so you can sleep." He tilted his head to the small bottle of painkillers she'd been given to carry her through the next two days until she got the prescription filled. "Don't forget, you have to take another one in six hours."
"I'll set my alarm," she promised, gingerly easing off the couch to see him out.
"Ana? I might be overstepping my bounds here, but I think you shouldn't hide this from Sean. He's a good guy...he'd want to know."
Ana nodded. "I will," she rasped with a dry, wobble in her voice. Sean's last words to her made her doubt her own vow though.
Simon stood in the open doorway, concern and fatigue etched across his face. "I'll call you tomorrow to see how you're doing."
"Thank you—for everything."
His arm came around her in a loose, hesitant arc. "Get some sleep, okay?"
Ana watched him disappear down the hallway before she closed the door. There might be a chance they'd become friends or friendly after all. Now if only things with Sean looked as promising. Just be patient, it hasn't even been a day. Her tormented mind had no sense of time though. A dark cloud of uncertainty hung followed her all evening.
She tugged her cracked cell phone from her pocket and set it on the kitchen counter. The silver gadget—or rather the call that made her run back onto the curb—had saved her life. Had Sean been the one calling her then? The cordless phone stood on its base like a beacon for her curiosity. Even though the microwave clock read 2:42 and her left side felt like it had been trampled by wild horses, Ana wouldn't sleep until she knew. She reached for the phone.
* * * * *
Friday, December 8th.
It had to be mid-morning judging by the light filtering behind her swollen eyelids. Her eyes felt impossibly heavy and glued shut when she tried to open them. But that didn't compare to her head. It was shackled to back of the bergère. Ana straightened then froze as the aches and pains woke up and did cartwheels down her stiff, sore back. Her head and body felt submerged in water. Kicking back the ottoman, she limped to the bathroom and stared at the stranger in her mirror. She just couldn't tear her gaze away.
Her face still had a grayish cast to it but it was her eyes that made her cringe inwardly. They were bloodshot, her lids puffy and a garish mix of pink and sienna. Was the woman with the vacant, haggard expression the same one who'd stood here yesterday morning? The one who'd taken an extra ten minutes getting ready for work because she had a lunch date with the man in her life? Ana splashed her face with her good hand, hating that she'd turned into a weeping fool before going to sleep. She was supposed to be a strong, independent woman.
How many times had she turned the dial whenever heartbreak hit the air waves? They might as well been sung in an exotic language. She'd known disappointment, frustration and angst when a relationship had gone awry.
A million love songs couldn't have prepared her for the ache that cut right through her when she heard, "there are no new messages" on both voicemail services. It consumed her entire being. Surely her mom's death should have vaccinated her against that kind of hurt. Ana knew again how it felt to have her world desperately waiting for someone else to say the words that would make the air breathable and bring the color back again
She remembered the nights she and Sasha had sat up with a box of Kleenex and a pint of Phish Food seeing them past dawn. Even then, she never fully metabolized her best friend's broken despair over her breakup with Alex. Ana understood now and she hated it.
She was supposed to be a strong, independent woman.
She had told herself it hadn't even been twenty-four hours since their argument. Sean had just been blindsided and just needed time to cool off.
But logic didn't offer comfort, didn't make her brave and didn't stop the first tear from falling this morning. She wiped it away with her right hand, but another took its place. Her hand wiped again and again, faster, more agitated each time but not fast enough for the deluge. Ana gave in, letting her hurt and regret and sadness wash down her face.
How she'd underestimated Sasha's strength. She loved Sean only a short time while Sasha had loved Alex for over four years. But at least Alex had loved Sasha in return.
Ana's stomach rolled, waves of sickness rose up while her mind picked apart every look, every touch, every special moment that passed since July. Did they have enough, did she matter enough to Sean that they could blaze through this hurdle and turn it into a hiccup or...?
It was almost three a.m. when Ana learned how worry and uncertainty turned a heart into cracked glass, able to break within a moment, and made a bruised body double over in agony. The loneliness of knowing her friends were no longer just a short drive away added to her despair. There she stood in the kitchen with absolutely no one, no one to call. She looked to the microwave and contemplated staying up an hour longer so she'd reach Michelle. But the drugs soon pulled her into a semi-drunk fog, making sleep the only option.
* * * * *
The splashes of cold water burst against Ana's face, clearing away the cobwebs. The splinters of her pre-dawn melancholy had regrouped, soaring up in anger and frustration. No more tears. No. More. Tears.
She hadn't schemed to hurt and deceive anyone. It would've been one thing if Sean couldn't accept the facts. But he hadn't even given her a chance to explain. He just waved her off like she was some stranger with whom he shared no history, one who hadn't earned the right to at least be heard. Did Sean think so little of her? She didn't have the energy today to beseech him to listen or the faith she wouldn't botch things up if he gave her the chance to explain. It was just as well it be difficult to drive one-handed to his house. She didn't have it in her to scale the two mountains between them.
Ana kept busy, calling her office, making sure the VIP table accommodated the last minute attendees and ordered a replacement cell phone all before noon. She wouldn't fast forward to that moment when everything had been said to Sean. She didn't think about the question pestering her for almost a week: Were they having a temporary fling?
She refused think about how a free spirit like Sean would react to a question that might pin him down. She closed off any thought of how a man so decisive about what he wanted had to know after five months if he could ever love her. And she wouldn't think about her past relationships that had been packed lunches for a picnic on the beach, easy breezy fun with no real surprises. Ana didn't dare rewind to the early days with Sean when she'd felt that trepidation and excitement of standing near the water's edge. Even then she'd sensed the danger and temptation of being swept out to sea for the ride of a lifetime. Every time a thought popped into her head, she chased it away, pushing it back for later.
The self-righteousness aggravation spirited Ana through the day just as it had two years ago. She knew nighttime would be harder, that its quiet lent itself to hours of lonely rumination. But fate stepped in before dusk and sent her a little angel.
* * * * *
Saturday December 9th.
The vacant ballroom had been transformed into a Casablanca inspired getaway. Moroccan lanterns hung from the draped ceiling, casting the two-hundred plus guests with deep, deep pockets in a flattering ambient glow. Flowers and votives embellished every table; rich cobalt, gold and terracotta hues added to the exotic flair. Schools of faces gathered, introductions led to conversation, the groups changed and scattered about in splashes of color. Music and chatter swirled in the air. But Ana's eyes darted around the room, skipping over the gorgeous visual details. Her stomach had been in knots ever since she'd gotten the call; her hands were chilly with nervousness.
She'd been in the middle of a one-handed clean up after Dodger when Sean left her a message letting her know Noah had been feeling the aftereffects of Thursday night's gig. He'd probably have to fill in for him. He'd ended the call with a question: Did she want to meet up afterwards to talk? Their short game of voicemail tag ended with Ana saying "yes". And so she spent Saturday managing Stacy's stress while hiding her own.
The promise of a promotion sizzled in the air and though Stacy didn't bring it up, Ana knew it had turned her boss into a high strung colt eager to explode out of the gate. While she'd spent the day at home Friday, the office had been buzzing with the news that Medusa intended to make the big announcement as soon as next week. Christmas shopping lists expanded based on the rumor. Maybe she could swing a post New Year's visit to Florida after all.
The behind-the-scenes office drama interfered with the mental notes she'd been scribbling since Friday night. She'd been anxious to settle this thing with Sean but now Ana was just plain anxious. Anxious and utterly exhausted. Her sore, injured shoulder made it difficult to lie comfortably in bed and her makeshift bergère recliner was only marginally better. There'd been no sign of Sean. Maybe she was fretting for nothing.