Chapter 10C – Blue Cottage

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Peter had this devious look on his face. He knew exactly what he was going to do. He also knew exactly what he wanted, and where to find it. We jumped in the car. Without a word to me, Peter drove the MG like a man possessed. Our first stop was a 7-11 store –  a stone’s throw away from the hospital. He bought a 1.5-liter water bottle and a Coca-Cola. When I asked him where we were going he started tapping on the iPad in his lap.

Christmas present for Kenny. Next stop is Robs Emporium of Motorsports.”

I found this side of Peter strangely appealing, not to mention a bit arousing too. For the first time in a really long time, he knew what he wanted, what to do, and where to find it. He drove along the main street slowly as if he was looking for something.

“Do you know where the store is?” I asked.

“Last time I saw it was a few years ago. I’m pretty sure we’re close.”

He sucked the contents of the Coke container dry. All of a sudden he let out the most disgusting, hair raising belch I’ve ever heard. The sound surprised me so much I grabbed the cool dark dashboard.

“God that felt good” was all he said.

This was totally out of character for him, and a little unsettling. I asked him if he was feeling alright.

“Sorry about that m’lady. A lot of air gets trapped inside and I learned long ago that’s the only way to get it out. Sorry if it upset you or grossed you out. A nurse in the Radiation Clinic told me about this trick. She said that when I start feeling bloated from talking to try drinking carbonated drinks. They will force the excess air from my diaphragm.”

I was more than surprised and a little grossed out.

“Well, if it works and you don’t get hurt I’m all for it. Don’t be surprised if I join you sometimes. It just caught me by surprise. I’ve never heard you burp before. But if we have company…just don’t do it.”

“Your wish is my command.” His voice started to sound rough again. Rats. He started to whisper sentences. As the car slowly prowled along the road Peter started looking left and right.

“I think we’re close by. Things are starting to look familiar.”  

Then he started speaking in hushed tones like he was about to reveal something sacred. In a special way he was.

“When I was a kid I had to take a very specific route to school. On that route was a toy store. I would pass it twice each day. They had all sorts of things. I couldn’t afford any of them so I made a little promise to myself that when I was older and could afford them I’d get some of the toys I still wanted. One of the things I wanted was a slot car set. I eventually got it but the she-devil from hell made me get rid of it. She made me think we could save our marriage if I got rid of it. Now I want to get it for Kenny.”

“For you and Kenny and you-you mean….”

“Well, if it works out that way I’m fine with it.”

“What happens if he wants to take the thing home with him?”

“If that happens you may see your man reduced to a gibbering idiot who cries like a baby. But that’s not going to happen. I have a plan and it involves logic.”

“But what if Kenny has a plan too and it involves ownership?”

“Then I’ll probably get a severe case of the sniffles.”

***

Peter finally found the store. He parked the car, fed the parking meter, and we went inside. It was huge and catered to boys and girls. The gentleman behind the counter let us browse for a few minutes. He was studying Peter. Something about him looked familiar. With little warning, he spoke up.

“Aren’t you the guy who brought a Silano set to me?” he said in a distinctive Bronx accent. He had dark hair, oily skin and wore a red and black flannel shirt.

Peter started using the iPad.

“I rememba ya now. Yer the guy with the bum voice.”

If Peters’ voice had been any better he might have said something snarky. Instead, all he did was raise a thumb. He placed the iPad on the counter and started typing.

Guilty as charged. Do you still have the Silano Set?”

The manager thought for a few seconds.

“Do I still have it? You gotta be kidding me. All the kids want is them remote-controlled drones. Them and Hot Wheel slots. Silano sets just don’t sell the way they should. Them Hot Wheels slots are all junk. Everything is too small and fragile to last very long. Now a Silano set will set you up for life. If my memory ain’t playing tricks on me you had everything. Trees, railings everything!”

Peters face got more and more excited the more the manager described it. He was a little boy again. It was a wonder to see the little boy in my man come out. I don’t think Peter knew it but his grin got bigger and bigger the more the manager described it.

“You wouldn’t be interested in taking it off my hands would ya?” Peter and I were the only persons in the store that Christmas Eve afternoon and the manager wanted make another sale before closing up early.

That all depends. Have you still got the box I brought it in?” he wrote on the iPad.

I slapped my forehead in disbelief. “Oy. Who taught this guy to bargain?”

“Yup. I should charge ya rent, but since its Christmas and all I’ll sell it back to ya for three hundred clams. People love to look and drool at it but drool don’t pay the bills if ya get my meaning.”

Peters smile soon turned to a scowl. But he wanted the Silano car set.

“Look sport, I gotta make a buck too ya know.” The scowl stayed. Peters scowl slowly changed to an expression of disinterest.

“Ah, jeez. I shouldn’t do this but you look like you already love it. How about a hundred and fifty clams?”

“Sold,” said Peter in a croaky voice and extended his hand.

“Will that be cash, Mastercard or Visa?”

Peter pulled out his Visa card and smiled.

“Yer voice don’t sound any better”

“My fiancé had throat cancer and he’s a slow healer,” I said suddenly.

“Oh Jeez, Hope ya feel better.”

It’s one day at a time. Wish I could speed it up but it’s slow going.” he typed on the iPad.

“Hope ya don’t mind me asking but why are ya buying back?”

To give it to my nephew. He just turned ten and he’ll just love it.”

Then the manager started talking at me. He caught me by surprise. I was daydreaming and looking at a dollhouse. A three-story Victorian dollhouse.

“Can I help ya with anything lady?” I kept staring at the dollhouse. I didn’t hear him at all. I was too busy thinking.

“Hey, Lady! You feeling OK? You looked sorta “out there” if ya know what I mean.” the manager yelled bringing me back from the world of fantasy to reality. Peter turned his head and started laughing.

I think my fiancé is reliving her childhood…or maybe she’s just thinking“. I just stood there transfixed by the dollhouse.

After we paid for the box Peter checked to see that everything was still there. The track, cars, fences, trees, hand controllers and a heavy transformer were all in the box. After we left the store Peter put the box in the trunk carefully and tenderly. If you had seen him you would have thought he was holding his firstborn for the very first time. Going home was a different matter altogether. He drove like a maniac. I don’t think Buller Road had ever been abused or misused quite like this before. But I was enjoying myself. Here was a 35-year-old man behaving just like a ten-year-old. When we got home he took the box downstairs and put it on a piece of plywood almost ten foot square by one inch thick. He lovingly took out the pieces of black plastic track and assembled the track completely from memory. Each piece of track had two plastic tongues at one end and at the other end were two slots. The tongues slipped into the slots with a distinctive plastic sounding click. He forgot all about me or being frisky. For the first time in years, he was doing what he wanted to do. He wasn’t doing something he because he had to, or it was prescribed. He was doing it because he wanted to do it. After hearing about a thousand “clicks” I went downstairs. I didn’t want to disturb him so I sat on the stairs turned my head and watched him. I was fascinated. I couldn’t help but wonder if our little boy would be like this. I hoped he would. And he’d probably have the same silly grin on his face.

***

That night we were supposed to have mac and cheese for dinner. Only it didn’t work out that way. Peter was so absorbed with the slot cars he missed dinner. After calling him for dinner three times and getting no response I gave up and chowed down. Peter was having more fun than he’s had in a long, long time. And considering what he’d gone through he deserved this. Every now and then I’d go down the stairs quietly to snoop on his progress. He was just like a little boy! He had the good sense to come to bed early because Christmas day is always tiring. During the night I looked at him. And as God is my witness I swear he was still smiling. But at seven in the morning, he was downstairs again! Only this time he had the cars zipping around the track. I quickly discovered that Kenny would have a ball with the slot cars –  providing his uncle would give him a controller. After I got up I prepared breakfast and decided to go with the flow.

“Calling all racers. Breakfast!” I yelled. There was a pause. The sound of the cars zipping around or going off the track completely stopped. Peter slowly came up the stairs. I almost expected to hear him protest “Aw mom!” but that didn’t happen. My man came up the stairs and looked at me rather sheepishly. He trudged on every step and walked slowly like he was walking the last mile.

“Sorry about that. Guess I kind of overdid it a bit.” He looked at me like he knew he had been a bad boy.

“Well, considering what you’ve been through this year you’re were entitled to let off some steam. But at least you had the good sense to wear a parka downstairs. It was cold early this morning and I missed my blanket.”

“Sorry about that chief” was all I could understand.

Then I started to wag my finger at him.

“But don’t you dare make a habit of this. And if Kenny is here and you wake him up to play slot cars with you I’ll kill you. Then I’ll tell Trina and she’ll give you a real ear bashing that you’ll royally deserve.” That part went down well. What I wanted to happen next sort of backfired on me.

Did you say Play?” he gurgled.

He started leering at me like some crazed ravenous beast. And he grinned a mischievous “I’m going to be a bad boy” smile at me. And he started licking his chops. Only I was Red Riding Hood and he was the big (and was he!) bad (he was that too) wolf. He lunged at me and I had a pretty good idea he wasn’t after the marmalade. He bought a small round two-person table for the kitchen which I thought was really sweet only I never counted on being on the menu! He chased me around the table a couple of times. Then I ran into the bedroom. Big Mistake! No exit. I was no shape to continue this steeplechase so I gave in to his desires. I had completely forgotten it was Christmas Day until Peter said “Come get your present m’lady.” That Christmas was the best ever. I spent it with Peter. All of him.

…Christmas dinner at Chez Willowby in Chapter 10D of Blue Cottage

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Chapter 10B – Blue Cottage

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The scope was in. And an image appeared on the monitor. Dr. Willowby wheeled about the examination room on a small stool periodically pressing a button. My fingers were crossed and my toes were too. At least, I think they were. I stayed silent as best I could. Dr. Willowby was video recording this exam. When he was finished he would compare the images with the images he made two months earlier. Trixie, the senior nurse in charge of the zap squad knew why I was absent that day. I told her I wouldn’t be in today two days earlier. She was mildly concerned about the outcome too. If cancer had returned or was in a different area it meant she hadn’t done her job as well as she had thought.

Peter had stayed silent for the past two months. Not a peep had escaped his lips. Not a grunt,  groan, or a well-intentioned humph. When Peter spoke it was via the iPad. He liked to say that I had pressed his mute button which would true if he had buttons.

I coughed as quietly as I could.

Dr. Willowby turned his head sideways and looked right at me.

“Sorry, Cassie. Forgot all about you. You were so quiet I didn’t -. Sorry about that. That didn’t come out the way I intended. It was another rough night. OK, Peter, I’m looking right at both your vocal cords and I’d like you to try and say the letter E if you can.”

“Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” Peters voice was still rough. I was positive he was going to lose his voice forever. Dr. Willowby withdrew the scope, cleaned it and wiped his brow.

“Now, I’m sorry but we have to wait a little longer. The computer is making its comparison computations and the conclusion won’t be ready for a couple of hours. Why don’t you get a coffee or something? Peter, you’d be wise to get something cold. Your throat doesn’t seem to like it when I poke around in there. To take your minds off the obvious in two days it’ll be Christmas. And I’d like to extend an invitation to both of you to have dinner at Chez Willowby. It’s just Wilma, me, Kenny and Trina. Kenny is looking forward to seeing his “hot” aunt at Christmas dinner.”

I got up from the chair I’d been sitting in and my jaw went into first gear. I was angry. And madder than hell at Dr. Willowby.

“Dr. Willowby, that was really dirty pool. You know I haven’t told Peter. Are you trying to get me in trouble? For some reason you don’t seem too concerned about Peter “learning” your name. Well for your information he’s known it since you two first met. We’ll be back in two hours. See ya, Bill!

I marched across the room, took Peter by the arm and marched out. I’ve never been so angry at Dr. Willowby. I was really pissed at him. I thought seriously of declining the invitation via his wife. She’ll box his ears. I wanted to tell Peter I was now an aunt but I wanted to do it in my own time and in my own way. Jeez!

We went down to the food court. Peter was now looking at me to fill him in. I decided it would be best if we each got something to drink first. Peter ordered an ice cold ice tea for his throat and I ordered a black coffee with two sugars. While we waited I went to the ladies room.

When I came back I told Peter all about Kenny, the Batman mask, and being adopted by Kenny. Suddenly and without warning, Peter stopped me in mid-explanation. He said he knew all about Kenny, “the mask lady”, the two job offers, everything. Apparently, Wilma had texted Peter to keep him in the loop. He didn’t mind me being an aunt.

“I’ve kept so much from you. I don’t understand why you’re not furious with me. Can you please tell me why?” He took out the iPad and typed a long message.

There two reasons. 1. I love you. 2. When we’re married Kenny is going to get an uncle whether he wants one or not. And if we go to Christmas dinner and Kenny and I hit it off the kid gets an uncle for Christmas. Plus it’ll be good training for when we have our own kids. A sort premarital parenting class.” The tips of my fingers touched his.

“And here I was getting all worked up for nothing. I’m sorry I was keeping things from you. You’re really sure you don’t mind?” Peter shook his head gently. I put my hand on top of his. “You know, you’re really one of a kind.” Peter grasped the iPad and typed madly.

I know. And I know you were simply trying to protect me. You wanted me to concentrate on getting better and nothing else. But if our marriage is to work, really work,  you’re going to have to be a lot more open with me.” He paused then continued.

I’m going to have to learn about sharing you when we have our own kids. If I can learn about it now that would be all the better. One thing I really don’t like is Dr. Willowby or Kenny calling you hot. I want to be the only one who calls you hot. I can’t help it. Yes, I’m jealous of a ten-year-old boy calling you hot and yes I’m jealous of the man who helped save my life calling you hot. I can’t help that. I want to be the only one who does that. Nobody else.” 

I got up, went over to the other side of the table, sat in Peters lap and hugged him. When he was born they must have broken the mold.  While I sat in Peters lap he was typing something else on the iPad. When I read it I found it was a simple request.

Is there anything else I should know about?” he asked.

“Nope.” Then I started whispering. “Nothing at all. Now let’s get back to Dr. Willowby’s office. I know it’s early but maybe that computer is finished its number crunching. If the news is good I want to find out if a certain someone is up to the mighty task of satisfying me. I want him!” After I stood up Peter stood up and hugged me. He pressed me close to his waist. I could feel a certain throbbing that I hadn’t felt for a long time and I was just itching to feel it again.

During our walk back to Dr. Willowby’s office Peter ran his finger over the palm of my hand. That was his signal to let me know he was frisky too. We both quickened our pace. I wanted good news and something else too. When we arrived Delores, Dr. Willowby’s secretary, told us to go on in.

Dr. Willowby sat at his desk reading. When we sat down he stood up.

“Wilma just read me The Riot Act Cassie. She tore a strip off my hide and gave me hell for calling you hot. She reminded me that the only woman I should call hot is her. So to retain my matrimonial status and to retain your friendship which I greatly value I humbly apologize.”

I couldn’t help noticing that while Dr. Willowby was eating crow Peter was pecking away on the iPad. When he was finished he handed it to Dr. Willowby. He read it a few times to make sure he understood it.

“We’ll make you a deal. You and Kenny stop calling my wife-to-be hot and we won’t call you Bill. Besides, you’re always going to be Dr. Willowby to us. It just wouldn’t feel right calling you by your first name. And if Kenny wants an uncle he has one. But don’t tell him until Christmas Day. When we get married he’s going to have to accept me. If we can become friends before we get to that point it’ll be easier on both of us. Just remember STOP CALLING CASSIE “HOT””.

Dr. Willowby sat against the edge of his desk and read the message. Then he showed it to me.

“You sir, are a scholar and a gentleman. You have a deal. I’ll also tell Kenny to stop calling Cassie hot.”

“And now for some really good news. You get to keep your vocal cords. It seems you heal extremely slowly, a factor I should have considered. Your left vocal cord is just starting to go back to its normal color and size. Your voice will be rough for a little longer than the norm. I can’t tell you how long because as my late father used to say, and Cassie already knows, you sir are a “special breed of cat”. It will indeed be a long road back. What might normally takes one year for one person could easily translate into two years or more for you.”

Dr. Willowby looked at a long computer printout.

“Now this parts for you Cassie. Try not to get discouraged with your scribes progress. It’s not slow for him. It’s normal. Try to make sure your scribe here drinks at least one litre of water each day.”

“Peter, you’re going to discover your throat will dry out much faster than usual even when you’re not talking. Hence the water. Now when it comes to talking try to limit yourself to one or two syllable words. The words you choose may not be the words you’d normally choose or even use but try to keep the words short to minimize any irritation to your vocal cords. Your voice won’t have the volume it originally had. And that’s normal. All the muscles you would normally use to produce your voice are weak. Some of those muscles have atrophied from lack of use.”

Dr. Willowby certainly had a lot to say. The script from the computer seemed to be never-ending.

“From what I can tell you’ll be lucky to get eighty to eighty-five percent of your normal voice back. And the reason is that there was more damage than I first thought. When it comes to eating feel free to eat whatever you want. You might want to keep some Boost around for a quick snack. When you are eating don’t have a mouthful. Right now your throat is too narrow. It’s a learning process between you and your throat. When you’re in the shower try saying the vowels. That’s why I ask you to say the letter “E”.  You won’t like the sound at first and you’ll be inclined not to say them at all. Don’t. Your vocal cords are at the stage of a newborn. And you’re  learning to talk all over again. Basically what you’ll be doing will be based on common sense. If it hurts stop doing what you’re doing. Whisper at times. Right now you won’t be able to hum. Your vocal cords are too weak but in time will bounce back. When you’re outside wear a scarf. Cassie, this is where you come in. I want you to watch him like a hawk. Make sure he drinks a lot of water. Wears scarfs. Nag him to do his vowels if you have to. And no wine for you my friend. Right now you could choke on it. And don’t be embarrassed if it takes two or more tries when you’re swallowing. Those muscles are re-learning what to do too. To help you swallow you might want to consider tilting your head up a bit. Its very simple. If it hurts stop doing what you’re doing. One last thing. If you liked to sing in the shower go for it. Don’t force it and don’t be discouraged by the sound. You haven’t used your diaphragm for quite some months. It’ll come back in time. That’s about it concerning your throat. I’ll email a list of things you need to do. It’ll be in point form so you can print it out and put it on the fridge.”

Dr. Willowby looked winded. I don’t think I’ve heard him say so much in one sitting.

“I want to thank both of you very much. What you’ve consented to do for Kenny will help him so much.I just have one question-” Peter interrupted Dr. Willowby.

“We love him. I know I haven’t met him yet but if Cassie loves him I’m sure I will too. Our relationship will be symbiotic. He’s going to learn from us and we’re going to learn from him” gurgled Peter. Lordy, it felt so good to hear him again. I was getting tired of talking all the time.

Suddenly Peter spoke up again. “Does Kenny like slot cars?”.

Dr. Willowby was silent for a while. “You know something, I just don’t know. But it sounds like his uncle likes them.”

“He does” Peters’ voice started to get really rough.

Dr. Willowby put his hands around Peters’ throat. “I want you to say something. Not loudly. A whisper will do.”

Peter looked at Dr. Willowby. “Anything at all?”

“ Just a few words. I want to find out if your cords a grating against each other.”

All of a sudden Peter made me blush like crazy.

“Cassie is a hot and foxy babe”. Peters voice suddenly started to get so rough he winced in pain.

“That’s it for you Romeo. From now on when your throat starts feeling the way it does it right now stop talking. Write notes or use the iPad. Don’t push yourself. Cassie, I want you to make sure he stops talking.”

“Don’t you worry. I’ve got a pretty idea on just what to do and I think he knows I’ll do it too.”

Peter grimaced a bit. “Oh crap”.

“That’s quite enough out of you scribe. She’s the boss and from one married man to a man who will soon be married remember she’s the boss. I suggest most strongly that you never ever forget it. I’m your doctor but she’s the boss. Now hush.”

I was impressed and patted Dr. Willowby on the back.

“Not bad Doctor, not bad at all. I’ll be sure to compliment Wilma on her training. The sooner you gentlemen discover that the fairer sex is in charge the better it’ll be for both of us.”

***

As we left the hospital Peter turned to me and said one word: “Shopping”

…to be continued in Chapter 10C

Chapter 10A – Blue Cottage

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I did it!. I had another job. Well, almost. I had to let Buddha know of course. I couldn’t very well start working for the hospital without being released from my contract with the station. To be released from my contract I had to go into the city for a meeting with Buddha. When I entered the newsroom I went into his office. He asked me to close the door and to have a seat. He started talking quietly.

“How are you and Peter?” he asked trying to make small talk. He was never very good at it before he put my fanny in limbo, and he hadn’t gotten any better.

“I’m doing alright. I wish I could say the same for Peter”

Buddha was puzzled. “What’s going on?” he leaned back in his chair and motioned for me to elaborate.

“Peters is facing another hurdle. The vocal cord that caused all the problems, his left one, isn’t healing the way it should. Dr. Willowby is afraid that whatever is stopping it from healing properly will spread to the right vocal cord. At the end of the year, it will be four and a half months since the last radiation treatment. His next follow-up appointment is on the twenty-third of December. If there’s no improvement or if the right vocal cord starts to look sickly Dr. Willowby may have to operate again and remove both vocal cords.”

Buddha fell back in his chair and looked like he was going to be violently ill.

“Even though neither of us is religious we’re praying. We still have two weeks to go before we find out what’s going to happen.” I added.

“Jesus. If that happened to me I think I’d slit my wrists. Just thinking about it is almost stomach turning. Now, I’m going to speak honestly and candidly to you and I’d appreciate it if you’d pay me the courtesy of doing the same. I think you know I’ve got a soft spot for you and now Peter. You two are kind of special to me. How are you two doing for money? This sort of thing has got to put a strain on any relationship.”

This wasn’t the same man that almost had me for a snack eight months earlier. Something had changed. As I sat trying there to figure out how to word my response I saw it. The picture of a woman on his desk. A woman had come into his life and had begun to smooth out his gruff exterior and expose the human being beneath.

“Peter won’t admit it but this must be putting a strain on his finances. And I’m already well into the nest egg I was building for my retirement. So yes, things are getting tight.”

“Would Peter accept a monetary Christmas gift?”

“That’s a wonderful idea and I thank you, but his pride would not allow any kind of charity. I’ve learned he grew up poor. He hasn’t told me much of his childhood but from what I can piece together life wasn’t very pleasant and finances were tight. He vowed to never be in that sort of situation ever again. When he became a published writer he started putting as much money away as he possibly could for that rainy day that would come far too soon and last far too long.” I looked at the photo again. “OK, I can’t stand the suspense. Who’s the woman in the photo?”

Buddha hemmed and hawed and tried to pretend he didn’t hear the question. When he didn’t answer my question I got up out of my chair, walked to the end of his desk and pointed directly at the picture. He couldn’t avoid the question any longer.

“Oh, you noticed. What sharp eyes you have-”

I sat on his desk till he answered. “Cut the Red Riding Hood guff. Now who is she? And if you don’t tell me I’ll ask the entire newsroom. And you know I will.”

Buddha reached into a drawer and took out a bottle of scotch and placed a glass square in front of himself. When he didn’t offer me a glass I protested. He reminded me I was driving. He also added the cops were about to start their annual red nose blitz. When he upended the bottle and poured the contents into a glass while his little finger pointed at the photo.

“Her name is Gwen and she’s the daughter of the battle-ax that owns the station. Met her at the stations annual general meeting. Her first husband was the head honcho of some oil business in Texas. He did me the service of having a fatal heart attack while golfing. Left her rolling in dough. After I saw you and Peter at the Sloth And Spoon I knew I wanted her in my life. And yes, I’m thinking of popping the damn question.” Buddha was now sweating bullets and holding his left arm. He was in love with her alright. But I was concerned.

“Before you ask her please get a physical first. I can tell you right now you don’t want to make her a widow and I can guarantee she doesn’t want to be one – again! So for your sake and hers get the physical done.” There was a thought rolling around Buddha’s mind that had him mildly terrified.

“What do you suggest I do if I hear a snap and see a latex glove.”

“You’re going to drop your pants and think happy thoughts. Remember, you’re doing this for Gwen. There are a few procedures that are age-related but you already know most of them. Don’t take this the wrong way but you’re no spring chicken.”

“OK, I’ll think about it. And thanks for the advice. But let’s get things done so you can be gainfully employed again. As I see it I can fire you, you can quit with a small severance, or the station can let you go with a big severance. I think the best option is the last one especially if things are getting a little “tight” monetarily. And don’t worry about the station. It can afford to lose you. I don’t want to lose you but I don’t see any other way. Any questions?”

Buddha let me go, tore up my contract, and pretended to kick me out of his office. I even managed to work up some tears. Before he showed me the door I reminded him of the physical. As he opened the door he had a few parting words which he said quietly.

“Text me and let me know how things are going and how Peter’s doing. Now get yer scrawny ass up to Lindsay.” I winked at him and said very loudly “BRUTE!”

***

As I approached the city of Lindsay Ontario things suddenly became a little awkward for Wilma Willowby. Kenny was playing in the living room when he suddenly asked his grandmother about uncles and aunts.

Kenny was playing with some Mecano that used to belong to his grandfather when he suddenly stopped and froze. His grandmother noticed this and called out to him.

“You feeling alright honey?”

“I’m OK. I was just thinking. Other kids have aunt and uncles. Do I have any?”

Wilma had been peeling carrots in the kitchen. This could be a thorny question if not handled properly. She walked into the living room and knelt in front of Kenny. She wiped her hands on a apron.

“I thought we already talked about this. Aunts and uncles are usually the brothers or sisters of your parents. Your mom doesn’t have any brothers or sisters. And your father….I don’t know if he has any brothers or sisters. So you don’t have any aunts or uncles that we know of. Why the sudden interest?.” Kenny looked his grandmother right in the eye.

“Well, there’s a boy in my class whose has a aunt. She’s not a brother or sister of either of his parents. She’s a friend of his mothers from when she was in school long, long ago. Why can’t I have an aunt like that?”

Wilma could see her grandson had already given the matter some thought.

Uh oh, the wheels are turning. The little devil…

Wilma looked at Kenny and stood up. “Who would you want as an aunt. Remember, this person has to be really special?”. Kenny looked like he was thinking. “I’d want Cassie as an aunt. She’s neat.” Wilma made a mental note to mention this sudden interest in relatives to her husband. All of sudden Kenny exploded with another qualification. “And she’s gotta be hot too. Grandma, can I have a hot looking aunt?”.

***

As I drove to the hospital I think I encountered every red traffic light between the city limits and the hospital. I zipped into the first available parking spot and parked. After I took off my safety belt off I gathered up all the papers human resources wanted me to fill out and went to the department. The formalities had already been done. I was off parole and already an unofficial member of the zap squad. All that was left was simply a matter of crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s. Once HR got all the forms I would be gainfully employed again. I dropped the forms off at HR, got my ID badge then went downstairs. What I saw brought me to tears.

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Kenny was standing in the corner holding a small cake with one candle in it. Dr. Willowby stood behind Kenny and had his hands on his shoulders. The most senior nurse, a thirty-nine year old bleached blond by the name of Trixie, handed me a Tee-shirt with the word “Zap” on it.

“There, its official. You are now a member of zap squad” she said.

I thanked her, Kenny, and Dr. Willowby, who was standing behind Kenny. But I asked her about the single candle.

“What’s with the single candle? I’m way past my first birthday.”

Then Kenny spoke up.

“It’s your first day. You forgot all ready?”

I slipped on my tee-shirt over my blouse and had some cake before I got the room ready in time for Kenny’s next treatment. I got his Batman mask from the shelf. After I placed it on the table I lifted him up. He felt lighter. I excused myself and spoke with Dr. Willowby.

“I remember that you said it was imperative that cancer patients maintain the same weight. But when I lifted Kenny up just now he felt lighter. Is there anything I should know?”

Dr. Willowby looked a little tired and he yawned.

“Sorry. It was a rough night. Kenny is on chemotherapy now. He spent most of the night being sick to his stomach. Wilma is really worried.”

“Poor kid” I said.

Fifteen minutes later I put Batman back on the shelf. I told Trixie that Kenny had had a bad night and I was going take him to the parking lot where his grandmother waited. As soon as I went outside I saw Wilma. Kenny fell asleep in my arms so I was very quiet and gentle when I handed him to Wilma. After she put a safety belt on Kenny we talked quietly.

“Bill wants to give him an anti-nausea pill if Kenny keeps on getting sick because of the chemo. If Kenny keeps on being sick at night we may lose him. We, being Bill, me and Trina would like to ask you to consider becoming an “aunt” to Kenny. With his mother being an only child and his father missing in action and no uncles or aunts to speak of on either side of the family you’d be in a class by yourself. Do you think you’d like the job?”

I was honest with Wilma.

“I’d like to think about it. I’m inclined to yes right now but Kenny’s old enough now that I think we should ask him. Plus Trina and I have never met. She might not think too highly of moi. I think she and I should meet before bestowing such an important job.”

Wilma crossed her arms and looked at me like she knew something I didn’t. And it was unnerving being in that position.

“That sounds fair to me.” Then she coughed a bit.

“Would it surprise you to know the idea originated with his Lordship” she pointed at Kenny in the car “and he said and I quote “Grandma, can I have a hot looking aunt?”. When I told Bill that he roared with laughter. Please say yes or I’ll never hear the end of it.”

I couldn’t help snickering. Kenny the adorable was soon to become Kenny the impossible. Sounded like puberty was just days away. I was snickering and blushing too.  But I stuck to my guns.

“I’ll say yes if Trina OK’s me as official aunt material. Have her text me so we can meet. By the way, how old is Trina?”

“Turned 30 last week. Seems like it was last week I found out I was expecting. Time seems to go faster the older I get” said Wilma.

My eyebrows went up. “I know exactly what you mean. I better stop gabbing and let you two go. Would you mind if I kissed his Lordship goodnight?”

“I’m surprised you even asked. Go for it!”

I bent down and kissed the top of his head. What Wilma didn’t know was that I knew Kenny was awake. When my mouth was close to the top of his head I whispered to him.

“Looks like you’re going to get an aunt. Now close your eyes and get some real sleep. See you tomorrow you sneak.”

A tiny thumb shot straight up.

***

The next day a woman I’ve never seen carried Kenny in for his treatment. When she put him on the ground he raced the length of the hall.

“Aunt Cassie!”  he yelled. He slid along along the floor and started hugging my legs. I normally think of myself as a pretty smart woman but its a little unsettling when you discover you’ve been had by a ten year old boy. I bent over and let him know I knew of his “request”.

“Your grandmother told me of your little “conversation” you little sneak. You had this really well planned”.

Then I started tickling him. The woman who brought Kenny in was smiling and leaning against a wall.

“Something tells me you must be Cassie. I’m Trina, Kenny’s mom. He seems quite taken with you. How many kids have you got?” asked Trina.

“None at present. But my fiancée and I want a boy and a girl. Two will do just fine Trina.” Trina looked like she wanted to talk. Before she did I put my index finger up to indicate I had something to do.

“I’ll be right with you Trina but first I’ve got his Lordship to deal with. Then I think we should talk.”

But first I got the Batman mask for Kenny. Then I lifted him up and plunked him on the table. I had an idea that I wanted to ask Trina about.

“While Kenny is in Batman mode why don’t we have some coffee that won’t melt your fillings. I’m buying. Besides you must have a thousand questions.” We both approached Kenny and told him we’ll be be back when he’s ready to go home.

Trina and I walked to the coffee shop. I could tell she was really nervous. “Kenny doesn’t have any other aunts or uncles so why do you want to be his aunt?”

I told her about meeting Kenny when Peter had just started recovering and the creation of Batman.

“So you’re the one my son has fallen in love with. I just wanted to say thank you for what you did but you never really answered my question. Why do you want the job?”.

I wasn’t sure of the answer until I said it and I didn’t plan it at all.

“I love him. I felt an instant connection to him. It was like an electrical charge. There’s something very, very special about him, and with your permission he could have an uncle too. Kenny’s coming up to that stage of life where he’s going to need a lot of guidance. Your mom and dad have done a great job with him. But he’s about to really put them through their paces. All I’m saying is when your parents need a rest Peter and I are here to help out in any way we can. Does that answer your question?”

Trina paused and thought.

“I like you Cassie. I think I see what my son sees in you. Welcome to the family.”

…still more to come!

Chapter 9B – Blue Cottage–Part 2

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As we went entered the cottage the first thing that caught my eye was that the insides of the cottage looked like a traditional log cabin. Appearances were very deceiving. The outside looked like your run of the mill bungalow in the city. A dwelling for two adults and two children. A third child would have been pushing it. But the Willowby family consisted of two adults and just one child. Dr. And Mrs. Willowby only had a daughter, Trina.

Wilma, as she insisted we call her, conducted a small tour.

“Over on your left is the master bedroom complete with an en-suite bathroom, and next to it is Trina’s bedroom. Trina is our daughter and pride and joy.” That much was more than obvious. Trina was also an accomplished athlete. There were shelves between the two bedrooms and they had all kinds of trophies and ribbons all over the place. “Didn’t do so well at the matrimonial game though. Her husband walked out soon after Kenny was born and became one of those deadbeat dads you hear about on the news.  We helped raise Kenny as best we could. Kenny lives with us during the week in his mother’s old room and lives with Trina on the weekends. That way we get to spoil him a bit and Trina can finish up her university. Being an Olympian on a scholarship is pretty hard. But speaking as a grandmother I love this arrangement. At Trina’s wedding, Bill said something about now being able to rent out her bedroom. What I said to Bill wasn’t very ladylike but it was from the heart.”

That was my cue to ask her what she said.

“OK, I’ll bite. What did you say?”

“To hell with that idea Bill Willowby, I’m counting on grandchildren. After I said that he tried to convince me we’d done our bit of parenting.”

“What did he say to that?” I asked. Dr. Willowby probably came to the conclusion that if Wilma’s mind was already made up there was little chance, if any, of changing it.

“He didn’t say anything. He just walked over to the bar and ordered his first Martini. He usually doesn’t drink Martinis so this was a new experience for him. To this day he doesn’t know how many he had. But I had to pour him into the car and drive him home. It’s an episode he doesn’t like to be reminded of or talk about. But since the primary subject matter has neatly segued into weddings have you given any thought about yours?”

It was about this point in the conversation Peters eyes started to glaze over and his stomach growled.

“I want a small wedding. Nothing elaborate. But I draw the line at being married by an Elvis impersonator.” Wilma laughed at the thought of being at a wedding and seeing an Elvis impersonator.

Peter let go of my hand and really inspected the cottage. He even made notes. He paid particular attention to the built-in shelving. He measured the shelves with the iPad. He knew the iPad was ten inches long from end to end and measured the shelves using that scale. Dr. Willowby noticed this and went over to ask him if anything was wrong. Peter typed his answer on the iPad, and showed it to Dr. Willowby. He nodded his approval and raised a thumb.

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall.

Peter had some sort of idea but he wasn’t sharing. I noticed he went into the bedrooms and made a note of something. I made a mental note to ask him when we got home just what was going on. Dr. Willowby, drink in hand, approached me and asked me if I wanted discuss my employment quandary. We walked into his den which was a rather large collection of medical journals as well as books of fiction and history. There were a few fishing trophies on the wall.

“Well, I see that Trina get her competitiveness from you.”  I said. Dr. Willowby had already composed his reply.

“Her mother and I taught her that once she a goal in mind she should put all her might into achieving that goal be it boys, grades, or athletics. Her greatest achievement to date has been Kenny. That little boy has given me a chance to experience so many things that I missed when Trina was growing up. All the “firsts”. First step, first day at school, that sort of thing. But nothing, absolutely nothing, prepared me for the day I hauled to school and I was his “show and tell” exhibit. I’m just a doctor, but he made it sound like I performed the first heart transplant single handed. But enough about me. I think we’re supposed to be talking about you.”

Dr. Willowby sat in a wooden chair near his desk but soon moved to one of a pair of massively over stuffed chairs. I sat in the one opposite him. It almost swallowed me alive.

Holy Crap!” I shrieked.

Dr. Willowby started laughing so hard I thought he was he going to bust. He was laughing so hard he almost fell out of his chair. I could also feel my face getting hot and rapidly becoming hotter. The longer the laughter went on the hotter my face became.

“Sorry Cassie. It was the look on your face. It was priceless. It was one those times when I wished I had a camera. And you needn’t apologize for your language. Mine was was much worse when it tried to devour me. Buts lets get down to cases. First, I want to make it clear this is not a formal job interview. Therefore, I might ask some questions you wouldn’t normally expect. It’s just one friend talking with another. We could talk about this all evening but what it boils down to is this: what does Cassie Carter want to do?”

I thought about the question. I noticed in college that questions worded very simplistically were frequently the most difficult to answer. This was one of them.

“I want to help people when they’re really sick.”

Dr. Willowby leaned forward in the chair, interlaced his fingers, and continued talking. He talked to me like a father trying to help his only daughter with a difficult decision.

“And what does Cassie Carter need, not want, need to do this.” He didn’t pull any punches.

“A good salary is going to be really important. I may need to get a new car. The one I have now is old and an embarrassment. It’s getting harder each year to maintain it. The commutes is not going to be an easy one especially in winter. I want…no….need a salary to enhance Peters. Right now I’m living off my savings, savings I had earmarked for my retirement. Right now, Peter is paying for a lot of things he shouldn’t have to, so right now I’d say the most important thing is a good salary.”

Then he caught me by surprise by asking a question I had never considered. One I should have, and one that I should have given a great deal of thought to already.

“After you and Peter marry what are your plans with regard to children. Do you plan to move?”

I suddenly felt like I’d been punched in the face. I didn’t have any concrete answers for him. And I should have.

“We’ve only talked about children once. And we’ve never talked about where we’re going to live after we’re married.”

Dr. Willowby got up from the chair, put hands in his pockets and walked about the room. He came to a conclusion and returned to his chair.

“Let’s return to those questions after dinner. It might be a good idea to get Peters input as well. I’m trying to figure out what my department can offer you and to be honest you’re answers haven’t helped that much. Would you mind if I brought Peter in on this discussion?”

I said I didn’t mind a bit. If it would help form my answer I was all for it.

“Would you mind if we talked about the other job offer? What Dr. Wilson wants me to do.” I asked. I was really nervous. Much more than I thought I expected to be.

“Dr. Wilson wants me to head a brand new department at the hospital. To build it up from scratch. He’s also asked me to put together a database of comic book characters past and present. I know next to nothing about databases let alone computers. I can turn on a computer  and I can turn it off. And that’s the sum total of my computer knowledge. I should add I can break them too. I’m great at that. But the thing that’s really scaring me is ordering people around. People who are older than me. If I’m the head of some department I won’t see the people I want to help. I don’t want to push papers around or find out how many paper clips the department has. I want to help people.”

Dr. Willowby crossed his legs, leaned back in the chair, and cradled his head. He smiled at me.

“Would you please write a speech for me?. Wilma doesn’t know it yet but I want to resign being head of my department. I became a doctor so I could treat people. Right now I’m driving a desk and shuffling papers. And I’m doing exactly what you just said. I’m keeping track of paperclips. The money is great but I’m not doing what I was trained for, what I love. I’m a doctor for heavens sake not a paper pusher. And if you don’t mind me saying this it sounds like you’ve made up your mind about that other job  offer. We’re a fine pair you and I. Dr. Wilson wants you to become a department head, and I want to stop being one. But your reasons for declining the job offer are the same as mine. We both don’t want to shuffle papers and we both want to help people. If that isn’t irony I don’t know what is.”

It was then he noticed that I didn’t have a drink in my hand.

“A thousand apologies Cassie. I should have asked you if wanted anything to drink.”

I wasn’t planning on drinking anything so I declined his kind offer as politely as I could.

“Peter is just beginning to drive again. He drove here and it would too much to ask him to drive back. So since I’m going to be driving I better not drink. You know, I’ve been up north for just over half a year. And I haven’t seen one single O.P.P. traffic cop or plane patrolling the highway.” Dr. Willowby started staring at me. And he put his drink on a small side table.

“Cassie Carter, you did it again. As soon as you mentioned you were driving I asked myself when the last time I saw a an OPP traffic cop. And the answer is about twenty years ago. This is starting to get spooky.”

I wanted to ask him what he and Peter were talking about earlier in the evening. The curiosity was killing me.

“Can you please tell me what you and Peter were talking about? It looked so hush-hush and secretive.”

“You really want to get me in trouble don’t you?  OK, but I’ll only tell you half of what you want to know. For the other half I think you better ask Peter. Part of what Peter told me was that you read the opening chapters of the new book. What you don’t know is that he sent six chapters to his agent and he thought they were fantastic. Peters agent doesn’t think his current publisher would be interested given their lack of interest in Peter when he had cancer. So right now he’s shopping the manuscript around to different publishers looking for the best deal for Peter and you.” When he said the words “and you” the words were so forceful and had such impact I felt like I’d hit with a thunderbolt.

“Apparently it’s the detail that’s generated the most interest. In other words, my dear, you apparently have the gift of the gab.”

***

After dinner Peter took me by the hand into the study to tell me the other half of my question to Dr. Willowby. I wasn’t prepared for the answer and I was glad I was sitting. Peter was sitting in one of those very overstuffed chairs and I was sitting in the other facing him. The iPad was in his lap. Even though his hands flashed over the keyboard the wait felt like a thousand years.

“Before you pressed my mute button you caught me reading the cottage issue of Architectural Digest. Then you caught me making notes and measuring with the iPad. And when you thought I was writing I told you I was doing some research. You already told me that you didn’t think too highly of the internal layout of Blue Cottage. I discovered the fellow who originally designed Blue Cottage for your aunt Heather is still alive. He still has the original plans for the cottage. His son, Peter, took over the business a couple of years ago. I had the idea,  that we gut Blue Cottage, keep the roof and walls, and we plan an entirely new layout for Blue Cottage. We have it built and while we’re waiting for it to be finished live in my place. We can bring Blue Cottage up to code, and have it rebuilt the way we want it to be by the original builder. When it’s finished we slowly move into Blue Cottage and we sell Casa Christopher. You’re probably about the kids. This week I got a notice from the Shadow Lake Cottagers Association saying the road will now be plowed in the winter. We can drive the kids to school in Kinmount or Norland. Some other things about the book that Dr. Willowby didn’t tell you about is that “The Long Road Home…” will be the books official title, Random House wants it, and is willing to pay us a six-figure number for the rights to publish. I requested one thing that isn’t normally done. That both our names appear on the book.”

I was so happy I jumped out the chair, wrapped my legs around his waist, worked my way up his six foot four inch frame and gave him the biggest kiss of my life. I asked Peter about a book deal.

“They want the rights to first refusal. All that means is they get to see the manuscript first and the chance to say “no” first. But right now, I have a three book deal with them. Depending on the sales of “The Long Road Home…” they may want another Peter and Cassie book.” When we got home we started on the “details” of the second book. And those details will never be published.

… still more to come

Chapter 9A – Blue Cottage–Part 1

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My one week was almost up. And I had still not come to a decision. The hospital wanted my voice. And they, in turn, were willing to teach me what I needed to learn. I could live with that. But Dr. Wilson wants me to head a brand new department that would be in charge of decorating radiation masks. The pay sounded great but I just didn’t know if I could boss somebody around. Especially if they were older than me. I decided to text Dr. Willowby.

“Dear Dr. Willowby,

I need your advice. Maybe it’s a friend to talk to. I’m having a really difficult time deciding what to do. Can we chat somewhere outside of the hospital? Somewhere where you feel relaxed and can be yourself. I want to work at the hospital. But with two offers, one from you and the other from Dr. Wilson, well I’m kind of overwhelmed. Help!   Cassie Carter.”

It wasn’t until a few hours later that I got a response. It was one I never expected to get. It was an invitation to dinner. Dr. Willowby and his wife invited Peter and me to dinner at his cottage on Balsam Lake which was just south of Coboconk. Now, this was the first time Peter and I had been invited to dinner as a couple. I got a new dress for the occasion from that wonderful dress shop in Lindsay. I also made sure Peter was cleaned and pressed. The invitation included directions. After I got the dress Dr. Willowby sent me another message.

“Dear Cassie,

Wilma has asked me to text you that you are to dress casually. We have the wine covered. Don’t be shocked if I’m in shorts. Bring your swimsuits.  Bill & Wilma. PS Don’t forget the iPad.”

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I showed the directions and the message to Peter. He got out a map of the area and after tracing out the route with his finger typed “No problem” on the iPad. I remembered what Dr. Willowby had said about his first name. I warned Peter not to call him by his first name.

I’ve known his name was Bill for months. I checked him out just after I met him. I wasn’t going to let just anybody zap me without knowing something about the person. I’ve known longer than you have but you don’t have to worry m’lady”. Peter typed his response to me out on the iPad.

Wilma Willowby texted me that they were going to be serving Roast Beef. She added “Bill has insisted on getting the wine. But he’s terrible when it comes to picking wine. Could you and Peter bring a Mateus red with you?”

I said Peter and I would get two bottles in Coboconk – one for us and the other for the dinner. The trip was also the first time Peter was behind the wheel in almost two months. He liked to call the short trips into Norland or Coby “expeditions”. And, in a way they were. They never went exactly the way you expected. They were usually far more entertaining.

When we in Coboconk we got the wine Wilma Willowby suggested. On the way back to the car we walked past a bakery and the smell coming out of it was just heavenly. As we passed the large window at the front Peter noticed a rhubarb pie. He knew it was my favorite. He tugged on my sleeve and pointed it out. We got two. One for us and one for Dr. Willowby and his wife. As we were waiting to pay we saw two Chelsea Buns. I convinced Peter they needed a new home. We got those as well.

During the drive home I watched Peter like a hawk from the passenger seat. I was surprised how quickly his hand-eye coordination had returned. Maybe the digital stimulation I introduced him to had something to do with it. I also discovered something about him. He liked to imagine he was a race car driver. When the highway was clear, which was most of the time in the late fall, he liked to speed. His face was so serious and he scowled a bit when he shifted gears. During the ride home I started teasing him saying he looked like a little boy when he drove.

Peter was being really good and wasn’t saying a word. It also drove him crazy not being able to say anything. The iPad was doing its job wonderfully. Every day we had to remember to charge it . Conversations are slower but it makes the waiting made a little more interesting. Sometimes exciting. Sometimes when he trying to type on the iPad I liked to distract him. Sometimes I’d unbutton my blouse and give the girls have some air. Other times I’d unbutton my jeans. He knows when I’m trying to distract him and when I’m trying to get him in the mood. One time I was sitting cross legged on the floor with the girls in full view. Suddenly Peter put his head in between my legs and started sucking them.

“Enjoying yourself?” I looked down at him and asked him in a sarcastic manner. He nodded with a nipple firmly lodged between two lips.

“Are you comfy? Can I do anything else for you” Peter sucked on one while he fondled the other. I gave “Tab” a gentle squeeze. He started kissing and sucking both of my breasts.

“Peter, you know what this does to me. Why are you doing this?” Oops. Too late. I raised my head and closed my eyes when I felt a pleasant little shiver. When I opened them Peter had written a new message.

I love looking at them and you know what they do to me!”.

Well, one thing led to another and I think you know what happened. I know I shouldn’t distract him like that but I like being bad from time to time. I really hope his vocal cords start to return to normal. One sided conversations with an iPad are pretty boring. I want to hear my man again.

A few days before the dinner Peter started doing something out of the norm. He started going for drives alone. He also became somewhat secretive. He drove only for a few miles at first and that didn’t really concern me. He would usually drive into Norland for the paper and then he’d come back. Ten miles tops. Peter is a creature of habit. He usually got the paper around five in the afternoon. Mr. Lemay usually put a copy of the Toronto Star aside just for him. A drive to Norland and back could be accomplished in half an hour. But one day the trip took a lot longer. It was for an entire hour! When I asked Peter what he was doing he would gave me a very flimsy excuse. One day he mouthed the word “thinking”. The next day he mouthed the word “book”. Both were things he could have done at home. After three days of this nonsense, I confronted him. I wanted to know what was going on.

“Why are you becoming so distant?. Is it something I said?”

I was worried I was losing him. All he did was shake his head. I held the iPad out in front of him and pleaded with him to tell me. At first, he refused to type anything. Then he started typing something.

This is really bothering you isn’t it?

That’s when I really lost it. I was furious. I screamed at him.

“Peter James Christopher, if you don’t me tell me this instant I’m packing my bags and you can take your proposal of marriage and shove it! You’ll be suddenly single!”

He saw the tears in my eyes and started typing very quickly.

I’m sorry. I wanted to surprise you on Christmas Day. Tomorrow I’m driving to Kinmount. I need you and this finger.” He pointed at my ring finger. That’s when I figured it out.

“Were you building up your driving stamina?” Peter nodded.

“And you’re driving to Kinmount to go to a jeweler?” Peter nodded again.  

Then he pulled a ring I rarely wear out of his pocket. I ruined the biggest surprise a single woman can have.

“I really did it this time didn’t I?” He started typing yet another message.

Look at it this way. We’ll definitely have a story to tell our daughter. But I’m kind of glad you lost your temper. Now I don’t have to sneak around, get you upset and hurt your feelings anymore. Tomorrow we can drive to Kinmount, you pick the ring and I pay. You get the ring you want. No sizing, no fuss, no muss.”

I looked into his eyes and tried to say what every girl hopes for.

“Ever since I was a little girl I’ve been looking forward to this moment and all the romantic things a girl dreams of. Things I won’t be experiencing now. I was hoping you get down on bended knee. I was hoping you’d have a little box in your hand and you’d put the ring on my finger.”

You mean these sort of things?” was suddenly on the iPad.

All of sudden Peter got down on one knee. Oh my god!

I was jumping up and down in anticipation and excitement. It was actually happening. And to me!

Then he pulled a small blue Birks box out of his jacket pocket. The box was the size of an engagement ring. Peter opened it. He mouthed the words “Will you marry me?”. My heart was going a million miles an hour as Peter the slipped the ring over my finger. The band felt so cool and smooth. And the diamond was gorgeous. The deal was well and truly sealed.

***

We sped down the road to Lightning Point. We followed the directions to the letter. The cottage belonging to Dr. And Mrs. Willowby was at the end of the road we were on. When we arrived we were treated to the sight of Dr. Willowby raking leaves with Wilma directing. Peter honked the horn a couple of times to get their attention. Wilma walked down to the driveway while Dr. Willowby put the rake away.

Before the car came to a stop I noticed Dr. Willowby was not wearing the shorts he warned us about. I did notice  a woman I assumed to be Wilma Willowby approaching the car. She was about my height, brownish shoulder length hair, and piercing Hazel eyes.

“I’m so glad you could make it. Welcome to Chez Willowby. Bill has told me so much about you two.” said Wilma.

As I got out of the car I picked up the box containing the pie and shopping bag with the football size Chelsea Bun.

“Beware of guests bearing gifts. From the Coby bakery one recently liberated Chelsea Bun. And in case you’re allergic to some of the fruit in the Chelsea bun I brought a Rhubarb Pie also recently liberated.” I handed the pie box and the Chelsea Bun to Wilma. “Ooh, the box is till warm. Cassie you’re a life saver. I love Rhubarb pie and Bill loves Chelsea Buns. Personally, I think he’s developing a bit of a sweet tooth.” Then I told her that Peter already had one. “Uh oh. Something tells we’re both going to be busy.”

Peter held my hand as he handed the bottle of wine to Dr. Willowby. He was dressed in an old blue track suit while Mrs. Willowby wore jeans and a mans shirt. Dr. Willowby looked at the label and smiled. “Peter my boy, you have excellent taste in wine.”

Peter went back to the MG and got the iPad. When he came back he had already typed his answer. “This bottle seems to have the ability to talk. When Cassie and I were in the LCBO it said “Take me to Casa Willowby.” It was then Dr. Willowby spotted something glimmering on my finger.

“Look at the size of that rock! Wilma, I may be wrong but I think there has been a rather recent romantic development between these two. You might want to inspect.”

Wilma reached out and closely inspected my ring. I beamed with immense pride as my engagement ring was being inspected for the first time. After inspecting it and my finger for a short time she came to an interesting conclusion.

“Hasn’t been there very long. Skin under the ring is the same color as her hand. The ring also hasn’t been on her finger long enough to leave an impression. I think we have a newly engaged couple on our hands Bill.” Dr. Willowby pretended to inspect. “Nice color, perfect size. Did he surprise you?”

“He sure did. There’s a story to this ring. An R rated story.”

Wilma clasped her hands together and smiled.

“Oh goodie. Those are best kind. I want to hear all about it. A racy story for dinner. But Peter I must ask a favor of you. Captain Ahab here”  She pointed directly at Dr. Willowby “flipped the damn boat again and got the mast stuck in the lake bottom. Can you please dislodge the mast from the muck for us. The last time this happened we needed some boy scouts to help us out.”

Peter nodded and went back to the car. He opened the trunk and pulled out his wetsuit. Balsam Lake is pretty murky at the best of times. He typed out a short message. “Have you got a face mask?”

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“I don’t have one but you can use my grandsons. I’m very sure he won’t mind. His name is Kenny.” When I heard that my jaw fell open and you could have knocked me over with a feather. Dr. Willowby started chuckling.

“Yes Cassie. That ten year old boy. Please don’t tell anyone at the hospital he’s related to me. The ethics committee frowns on family members treating one another. He really should be treated elsewhere but a temporary move would put an undue financial hardship on his family. Plus he’s scared silly and he finds being near his grandfather comforting.” All of a sudden I felt a hug. It was from  Wilma. “And was that his grandmother saying thank you. Bill told me what you did. Bill and I don’t have a son of our own so that little boy’s pretty special to us.”

Just then Peter tugged on Dr. Willowby’s arm. Peter pointed at the wetsuit. Dr. Willowby looked at me to translate. “I think Peters wants to know where you want him to change.” Peter smiled, put his hands together, and bowed. Dr. Willowby led Peter to the guest bedroom. After putting a lot of baby power on the wet suit went on. About ten minutes later he emerged from Chez Willowby. Wilma was not prepared for the sight.

“Hell’s teeth!. Does he always look that way Cassie?”

It took me a while to form a response.

“He only uses the wetsuit when the water’s cold or he’s going to be under for for than a few seconds. He can’t afford to get a cramp underwater.”

Then she started pointing at Peter. “What’s he got around his waist? They almost look like weights”.

My answer was quicker in coming.

“They are. They’re two ten pound weights. If he didn’t have those on he’d pop up like a cork. The suit he’s wearing is made out of neoprene which you can’t see and a thin layer of black rubber. The neoprene absorbs a thin layer of water and warms it to near body temperature. Peters cottage is on Shadow Lake. Its a lot deeper than Balsam Lake. It’s 350 feet deep and the deeper portions of the lake hold colder water much longer. You could be swimming along with the water in your suit around 85 degrees when all of a sudden the water temperature around you drops to about 50 degrees.”

Wilma was not expecting such a detailed answer. It caught her by surprise.

“You must have doing this for years. That almost sounded like an answer out of some kind of text.”

I explained that Peter taught me and I’d only been diving a few months. She was silent for a while then she asked a question I think she’d been repressing for a while.

“Do you think an old lady like me could learn to dive? I love being in the water. Bill calls me a water baby.”

I found it hard to believe that a woman in her early fifties would consider herself old. I turned and faced her.

“Wilma Willowby you are not old.” That’s when I started wagging my finger at her too.

“Have you any chronic disorders of the heart or lungs?”

“No” she quickly replied.

“Then there’s no reason you shouldn’t learn to dive. And don’t let Dr. Willowby browbeat you by saying skin diving is sport for the young. You are young and don’t let anybody tell you any different.” Without any warning Wilma put her arms around me and hugged me.

“I’d knew I’d like you.”

Just then the mast of the sailboat popped out the water and the boat righted itself. An old baseball cap was at the top of the mast.

“So that’s where the little stinker has been all these years. I got that hat the first year the Toronto Blue Jays started playing professional baseball.” said Dr. Willowby.

Mrs. Willowby was suddenly interested and clearly moved by the discovery of the hat. She moved gingerly towards the beach. The water was cool.

“What are you talking about dear?” looking at her husband.

“Remember the very first time you came up here? I was out in the sailboat showing off and trying to impress the hell out of you. I was wearing that cap. As the boat was approaching the dock a sudden gust of wind blew the cap off my head. If only it could talk.”

Wilma crossed her arms and sighed a bit.

“Well, I for one, am glad it can’t. There are enough blabbermouths around here.” She turned and walked towards the cottage.

Dr. Willowby looked at the baseball cap and I stood beside him. “What’s so special about that cap?”

“It’s the memories it reminds you of. Wilma and I weren’t married yet. Hell, we weren’t even engaged. But I knew I wanted her in my life. We were at the stage where you and Peter are now. This is yet another example of why I see so much of Wilma and me in you and Peter.”

I suddenly got an idea. I went to the dock and waved Peter over. I told him I wanted that cap. I explained what I wanted it for and he liked the idea. We had it mounted on a plaque. It eventually became known as the Willowby Trophy.

…yes, there is more in part 2!

Chapter 8C – Blue Cottage

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I made an appointment with Dr. Willowby to discuss the job offer he mentioned when we were in Toronto at the restaurant The Sloth And Spoon. At the conclusion of the meeting Dr. Willowby informed me that I might want to know more about what goes on in the control room. He gave me a “preliminary” list of books to read. He went out of his way to say that it was pretty dry reading material. When I asked why he called the material “dry” he answered  in true Willowby fashion.

“I won’t lie to you. You’ll either find the books fascinating, and you’ll crave more, or you’ll discover the cure for insomnia. They’re the kind of books you can’t get enough of, or your eyes will start to glaze over and you’ll spend forty-five minutes on the first page. These are in no way to be considered mandatory reading. If you like being a member of the Zap Squad and want to know more these are what I’d suggest as a “primer”. If you zip right through them, and want to know more just tell me and I’ll gladly pull some more copies from the staff library. But I warn you right here and now the ones from the hospital library will have a more of a medical “slant” to them so if you have any questions just write them down along with the book title and the page number and I’ll do my best to answer any and all questions.” He closed the file folder in front of him, clasped his hands together, and leaned forward on his desk.

Now may I ask you some questions. When we met with Buddha in the city he called you “Crusher” a few times. May I know ask what that’s all about?”

I told him it had to do with headlock I put the mayor in and my bad temper.

“If I were you I’d lose the nickname “Crusher”. Think of it as a leftover from a previous life. The time you spent in the city. Since you came up north and moved in with Peter I’ve seen nothing, I repeat nothing, not even the time you tried to disassemble Miss Nosy, to warrant such a nickname. Think of working here, up north,  as the start of a new life. A happier life.

I had to agree with him. Since I moved up north and since I moved in with Peter I was happier. Happier than I’d been in my entire life.

He took me up to Human resources where I had to fill out a bazillion forms. When I came to the section about who referred me I put Dr.Willowby’s name. Before he left me to fill out the first form he had some last minute comments for me. “Try to remember that you’ll be working in the control room on parole. You’re not a bona fide employee yet. The parole system allows you to check us out and for the control room staff to check you out. When you’re finished I’ll get together with the staff and we’ll talk about what happened. But from I’ve seen already I’m pretty sure you’ll like us and we’ll like you.”

***

When I was in the hospital bookstore I got the three texts Dr. Willowby recommended to me. I took them home only to discover that I knew much less than I thought I did about cancer and radiation. I think the hardest book to read was about when kids get cancer. Peter was surprised I was so fascinated by the whole subject. So was I. He picked up my copy of “When Kids Get Cancer”, read the back cover, curled up in his favorite chair and randomly read a few chapters. He started scowling at the words on the pages.

“If you can read half of this without falling asleep you’re a better man than I Gunga Din”.

“I’m going to read all of it.” I quickly replied

I just hoped I hadn’t bitten off more than I could chew. I just wish there was one all-encompassing text. A sort of Zapping For Dummies.

***

I didn’t want to be responsible for Peters car so I took my own. He was still too weak to drive himself, and he agreed that his hand-eye coordination was still not what it should be. I didn’t want to spend a small fortune every week eating at the hospital so I chose to brown bag it. Peter had prepared a roast beef sandwich for me complete with a Jello pudding cup and a can of Coke. He put everything in a small brown bag and put in the fridge. He wrote “Carter” on the bag in really large print. But nothing prepared me for my first day in the control room. I was on parole. I wasn’t an employee but I wanted to find out if this is what I really wanted to do. To be on parole a doctor in the radiation department had to recommend me. And that doctor was Dr. Willowby. I was the new kid in the control room. Everybody else was at least ten years older. I felt very out of place for the first few hours, especially when the senior members of the control room insisted on calling me “kid”. Then a ten-year-old boy with a brain tumor came in for his first radiation session. And it was obvious that he was terrified. Everyone in the control room tried to calm him down. And failed. He was simply too scared. I got down on my knees so we were eye level. I spoke in a slow, soft tones.

“Are you a fan of Batman or Superman?” I asked Kenny.

“Batman is a lot better than Superman. He can do lots of things without superpowers and drives a neat car too.” he replied.

“What do you think of the Joker? I saw The Dark Knight with my boyfriend and I thought he was kind of creepy”.

I asked anxious to keep the dialogue going. He was still scared. For this to really work he had to want to be here. I tried comic book therapy.

“If I could get someone to paint Batman on the mask do you think you’d be as strong as Batman for me?”

“You’d be aces Cassie” and he hugged me. That hug was better than a pay check.

I lifted Kenny up and put him on the table. Afterward, I put my hand on his shoulder and looked him right in the eyes.

“The mask we’re going to using today will be temporary and by your next session, you’ll be Batman. Is that all right with you?” He nodded vigorously.

Now for the hard part. I just had to find someone to paint Batman on the mask. After the short session, the control room leader took me aside.

“Thanks for getting the kid calmed down but where are you going to find someone to paint the mask? It has to be done in less than twenty-four hours.” As soon as my shift ended I jumped in my car and sped into the city. I went to CKMT and straight to Buddha.

“Can I borrow Kenzi for a bit? I’d like to her to paint Batman on this radiation mask” I asked him. Buddha took one look at it turned green and fell backwards into his chair. Buddha glowered at the mask.

“Good God. Is that what Peter had to wear?” he asked. I explained that his mask was larger but essentially the same. “Gives me the creeps just looking at it”. I told him the one I had with me was for a ten-year-old boy with brain cancer. “What ever you need. Go for it.”

Kenzi was the webmaster behind the CKMT website. When she wasn’t working on the website she loved to doodle and paint. She also loved kids. When I went to the web site offices I found her with her nose in a comic book, playing with her hair and chewing gum. She sort of looked like Pippi Longstocking. I explained what I needed. When she saw the mask she just about drooled all over it.

“Oh, ya! Is that a texture or what? I’d love to get my mitts on that”.

Kenzi could do anything. She was also ambidextrous. I explained what it was and who it was for. When I asked her how much it would cost I broke out my cheque book. She explained that this was free on the condition I get her other masks. I thought it sounded sort of ghoulish but I was on the clock. Plus if she took all the masks that were no longer being used I’d free up a lot of space. Six hours later I had my mask. While I was waiting for the mask to dry I phoned Peter to let him know I was going to crash at my old apartment. Just as his phone began to ring I realized I had completely forgotten to tell him I was going into the city. He was sick with worry. After a well deserved talking to (Short too. Peters’ throat was still very sore so it wasn’t much of a harangue) I went to my old apartment. Batman sat in a chair while I slept. The next day I drove back to the hospital with an escort from the Ontario Provincial Police. They pulled me over for speeding. But when they saw the mask in the front passenger seat, and I explained “it’s for a kid who has cancer” they gave me an escort all the way from Barrie to Lindsay. I got back with one hour to spare. When I showed the mask to Kenny he was all smiles. And his fear was gone. If you look very carefully on the inside of the left ear you would have seen a small message from Batman to Kenny. And on the inside of the right ear was a thumbnail-sized painting of the CKMT logo.

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News about the “new kid” rapidly spread. And it was all positive. I quickly became known as “The Mask Lady”. Boys were asking for masks of Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America. Girls were asking for masks of Barbie, Squirrel Girl, Wonder Woman, and, in an odd twist, The Hulk. I was more than a little curious why a little girl would want a painting of The Hulk on her mask. The answer was perfect. “When my brother goes into my room I just want to smash him.”

When I returned to the control room there was a message that Dr. Willowby wanted to see me. I picked up a copy of the message. I read it. And wondered. I asked if anybody knew what this was about.

“I really don’t know but I have a feeling someone’s been a bad girl.” said one of the more senior nurses.

Some of the other members of the zap squad just snickered. They weren’t helpful at all. I tucked my tail between my legs and prepared to meet my doom. By the time I got to his office I had convinced myself that my “new” job was now my old job. His secretary, Delores, looked at me like she knew something. She had known me for months. Normally she was chatty and forthcoming. Not today.

When I asked her if she knew what Dr. Willowby wanted to see me about she was silent. “Delores, can you tell me why he wants to see me?” I asked.

Delores simply shook her head. She held up a single sheet of paper and wrote a few words on it.

“Dr. Willowby and the chief administrator of the hospital are meeting to figure out what to do with you.” Just then the door to the lions den opened. There was a rather thin man with crossed arms and a most unpleasant expression standing behind Dr. Willowby. Dr. Willowby sat in his office chair, fingers steepled. He looked at me like he was looking at a menu and I was the main course. He let a breath out, sighed, and crossed his arms. He suddenly spoke.

“Cassie Carter. I had such high hopes for you. Right now I just don’t know what to do with you…” He looked down at the surface of his desk dejected and disappointed.

It was official. I’d been canned. Two jobs in less than one year. I was really hoping for a steady pay check because it’s just not fair to Peter. Then the thin man spoke.

“Well I do. I’m Dr. Wilson and I’m the chief administrator at the hospital. You, Miss Carter are to get an immediate increase in pay. You’ve come up with a solution to a problem that’s be plaguing us for years. A solution that’s been right under our noses.”

I wasn’t sure what I was hearing. With one hand on Dr. Willowby’s desk I rose from the chair I’d been sitting in.

“Dr. Wilson, you mean I’m still on parole?”

“You gave this hospital the kick in the pants it needed to get off it’s complacent backside and get with the times. A lot of our patients are children. Kids with cancer. And they’re scared. And you’ve shown us how to take some of that fear away. If radiation masks frighten the stuffing out of grown adults just imagine what they do to kids. Dr. Willowby and I have discussed this matter at length and we want you to head the new mask decoration department. We want you to start putting together a computer database of comic book characters. If they’re from Disney we want them. The gang from Peanuts, Mighty Mouse. Everyone. Comics have been around for over one hundred years. And this hospital has a lot of catch up learning to do. Now, what I need to hear is if you want the job. Do you?”

I couldn’t believe my ears. From zero to hero in mere seconds. It was too much to take in all at once. I asked if I could think about it.

“We’d like to have answer in a week if that’s not too much trouble Cassie”

“You’ll have my answer in one week.”

…much more to come!

How to Hook a Reader from the First Sentence.

And now some sage advice about writing that very first sentence. The one that’ll hook your reader and have them saying…”Oh, this sounds good. Tell me more….”

Lorraine Ambers

We all know first impressions count, from the title to the very first sentence. So if you lose the reader at this point, chances are they won’t be coming back again. Whoever said ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ probably was not in the writing industry. The first line needs to be brilliant, presenting something curious, shocking or entertaining, and it must be an example of your best writing.
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Fear not, writing buddies; you’re not alone in editing that all important line for the trillionth time. It’s something most of us struggle with at some point.

Here are some examples of excellent first lines, they hook your attention long enough for you to think, ‘oh, what’s happening here?’ Lets’ take a look, perhaps you’ll recognise a few.

“It took seven years to get the letter right.”

“Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would…

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Chapter 8B – Blue Cottage

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It was the end of October. Leaves were falling as was the temperature. Week-end cottagers were fast becoming a rare breed. As soon as the first snow fell they would soon become all but extinct until the following May. The time was approaching when Peter would also have his first post-cancer checkup. And I was nervous as hell. Everything was the opposite of what it should be. His throat was still sore, his voice was hard to understand, and stomach acid was still finding its way to his esophagus occasionally.

Now that the cancer was gone and the zapping was quickly becoming a bad memory Peter was determined to return to the land of the living. Dr. Willowby had already confided to me that he thought Peter had shut himself away for far too long, and was in real danger of becoming a full-time recluse. If he didn’t have the iPad handy Peter wrote little notes on recipe cards of what he wanted to do or say. Two-word sentences were fast becoming the norm around the house.

A few days later we drove to Lindsay for Peters first post-cancer checkup. I wanted to ask some questions. I was concerned all was not right. When I became a member of the “team” that would be looking after Peter I asked Dr. Willowby to scope me. A small thin tube went up into my nose and down my throat. It had its own light source and a color camera. I gagged a few times but I finally understood the intense dislike Peter had for the instrument.

When we arrived Dr. Willowby asked to speak with me privately. Peter sat in a chair and read Time magazine while I walked into the examination room not having a clue about what to expect. Dr. Willowby sat on a stool holding a clip board in his hand. There were Post-it notes on the side along with a lot of questions. I looked at Peter. His expression seemed to say “What’s going on?”. I simply shrugged my shoulders. Dr. Willowby closed the door behind me.  

As the door was closed Dr. Willowby thanked me for doing this and sat down in a chair.

“Sorry, but I don’t quite understand. Why do you want to see me?”.

“You mean you didn’t get my text message?” he said somewhat bewildered and bothered.

I was now very curious. “I didn’t get any text message from you.”

He now looked concerned and perturbed.

“Oh dear. I just hope there wasn’t anything in my message that could lead back to you. In the message I said I would like to speak with you first.”

Now he had me little concerned. “I’m sorry but  I still don’t follow.”

Dr. Willowby got up and started pacing around the small examining room. “In the text I said I wanted to talk to you about sex between you and Peter. One of my colleagues has a patient who was very anxious about the radiation treatments and almost raped his wife. A stress related reaction much like the one you experienced with Peter.”

 “You can call it a “stress related reaction” if you want. I called being scared to death.” I thought.

Dr. Willowby continued, but it was obvious he was fast becoming uncomfortable…and so was I.

“The fellows wife was very frightened and angry that no one warned her this could happen. This is an entirely new area of cancer treatment. I just want to find out how you two handled the situation. I’m not going to be using names if you’re worried about that.”

Whew! I exhaled. I had been holding my breath hoping I’d hear those words. Actually the subject gave me a forum to raise a few thoughts about cancer, its treatment, and sexual relations.

“When Peter and I became engaged you said that I was now your “patient” too. Speaking from a strictly personal point of view I’ve been wondering if it might be wise to bring in a female oncologist as well. Some women might feel more comfortable talking with a female doctor plus they might be inclined to open up a bit more when talking about certain subjects. Personally, I don’t mind talking with you at all. I feel very comfortable talking with you and to you. But I think that for patients that are married or engaged it might be a good idea of having that option. After all, when you treating a patient who is married or engaged you are in reality treating two people. One who has the disease and a spouse who is most probably is going to have a lot of questions.”

“Great Cassie. I’m really glad you feel comfortable talking with me and that you feel like you can talk to me. What you’ve said makes a lot of sense. I’m just puzzled why we never thought of this before. Now I would like to know how Peter behaves around you?”.

Dr. Willowby may have been glad to hear I didn’t mind talking with him, but it was more than obvious he was way out of his comfort zone. The tiny beads of sweat on his forehead told me that. He was so flustered he wasn’t making himself very clear at all which wasn’t usual for him at all. Plus I wasn’t sure what he was getting at.

“Sorry, I must be having a seniors moment. I’m just not used to talking about sex. I’ve only talked about sex with one other person other than you and right now he’s probably reading an issue of Time magazine and wondering what this little chat is all about.” I said with total honesty. My mom and I never talked about sex. I got the impression she didn’t care for it.

“If you feel like getting up and walking around to release any tension by all means do so. I apologize. I suspect I’m probably being too forward. It might make you feel a bit better if you knew this chat is a little awkward for me too. I just thought you should know that. Feel free to rephrase my questions if you want to. My wife tells me I’m not the most diplomatic of people.”

My throat was dry from nervousness and I scanned the room for something to drink. I’m very glad I wasn’t the only one who was nervous. Then I saw it. On the counter. Water!

“May I?” pointing towards some stacked water cups.

“Certainly. Where are my manners? My wife would have my hide.”

I got up and walked to the counter with water and water cups. I poured myself a mug of cold water. I had a feeling I’d need it.

“I suspect your wife could have benefited from some sort chat. I’m pretty sure she had a lot of questions too. I’ve never met her but I’m willing to bet there are still some questions that have gone unanswered. Ask her tonight when you get home.”

Dr. Willowby furiously wrote himself a note. He wrote so fast his writing must look like Sanskrit. We quickly returned to our conversation with me re-wording his question.

“I think you wanted to know which of us initiates the act of physical sex. And the answer is me. I think Peters afraid he’ll lose control if he initiates the act. Personally speaking, I wish he would initiate the act occasionally. He must think I’m sex addict or something. I sure hope not. I usually just whisper in his ear that I’m in the mood.”

“Do you have a particular phrase or code word?”

“We don’t have a code word yet. We haven’t needed one. But once Peter returns to the public eye I suspect we’ll need one. Right now I just have to whisper “I’m horny” or “Do you want to play?” in his ear. Once he hears those words he’s very attentive and extremely gentle. I think you reading him the riot act did a world of good. And for that I thank you.” I bowed my head.

Dr. Willowby wiggled in his chair. I had a feeling he wanted to ask a doozie of a question. And I was right. To him it was only a question.  A collection of words. To me it was a part of my life. An very important part.

“If it’s not too difficult for you I’d appreciate if you’d describe to me, in detail if you can, how Peter pleasures you, and how you pleasure him”. The question took me me completely by surprise and I almost choked on the water.

Now it was my turn to squirm in my chair. I did my best to recall the last time we made love. For some reason I felt like was telling on Peter. You know the feeling. Telling somebody something that’s supposed to be a deep dark secret.

“I’ll see what I can do. After all, this research is going towards making sure another woman isn’t scared silly or worse. Well, since Tab is out of commission…”.

“Who or what is “Tab”” asked Dr. Willowby.

I suddenly felt very, very naked.

“Tab is Peters…” I couldn’t finish the sentence. The question caught me by surprise. “Pretend for a second I’m Peter. He was born with it” I blurted out. Dr. Willowby caught on instantly and jotted the information down.

Dr. Willowby crossed, uncrossed, then crossed his legs again.

“I’m assuming these are pet names. And you are?”

I just know I blushed. I could feel my face becoming very warm very quickly.

“My name has yet to be decided. Most of the time” I pointed between my legs. “its “Her”or “She”. And I’m fine with that.”

“Just between you and me Mrs. Willowby and I hate the traditional P and V names. We think they’re cold and impersonal.”

Dr. Willowby reached for a mug of cold coffee. I don’t think he noticed. I started to snicker inwardly. “Why did you choose those particular names?”.

“That ones an easy question to answer. We both disliked the given names as they were so clinical so we improvised. But let’s get back to your last question.” I saw more sweat forming on Dr. Willowby’s brow. I felt sorry for him but this was part of his job. 

“Sorry Cassie. I’m lost. Which question was that?”

It nice to know I wasn’t the only person in the room who was getting flustered and mildly embarrassed. I’m willing to bet he’s thinking about the last time he and Mrs. Willowby did the deed.

“You wanted to know…” I made a few hand gestures. That did the trick. Dr. Willowby and I were back on the same page.

“Like I said, with Tab not performing as advertised Peter kisses me, sucks my breasts and….” I chickened out. I raised my wrist and twiddled my fingers. “He licks too there and it feels great!” When I said that I was worried I could be heard in the hall. I probably sounded like Tony The Tiger from the breakfast cereal. Dr. Willowby mopped his brow and wiped the palms of his hands.

Dr. Willowby looked tired and spent. I bet he hadn’t felt this uncomfortable this in a very long time.

“OK Cassie. I want to thank you for answering these questions for me. It must have been very difficult at times. I suspect Peter will ask you what transpired. Feel free to tell him or to conveniently “forget” the entire conversation. It’s up to you. Or you can do what my wife does. She claims to have a bad memory. I think it’s selective recall. And I will ask her if there are any unanswered questions. If you could send Peter in I’d appreciate it”.

…more to come in the next chapter of “Blue Cottage”

Chapter 8A – Blue Cottage

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The last two weeks of Peters radiation treatment just flew by. I wanted to do something really special for him. As I sat in the waiting area waiting for Peter, reading dog-eared copies of Cosmo, and looking at some of the most hideous furniture in the world, my phone rang. Not wanting to disturb any patients waiting for treatment I answered it as fast as I could. It was Buddha, my ex-boss.

“What’s cookin’ Carter? Beat up anybody I might know?”

Buddha was never one for small talk. He always said what was on his mind regardless if it might hurt your feelings or if it was something you wished you’d never done. He didn’t believe in being diplomatic either. He shot from the hip.

“Well, hello to you too stranger. I haven’t put anybody in a headlock if that’s what you’re asking. I’ve sort of figured out what the problem was. Patience. Or rather, the lack of it. You did me a real favor by putting me on suspension. Let’s see. I got engaged to P.J. Christopher. And the hospital here in Lindsay wants little old me to work for them and a few other minor things.” Hey, I wasn’t going to tell him everything.

I looked to see if I was disturbing anybody. I wasn’t. When Peter came out of the treatment room I slapped my thigh a couple of times so he would know where I was and what I was doing. He pointed at his neck then the radiation clinic. He had to get a new bandage put on his neck which gave me a few more minutes for the call and before we could go home. Peter was so liked by the hospital they started giving him free samples of ProShield and gauze bandages. By the end of Peters second last week, we had so many supplies at home we could have started our own clinic. But with summer heat Peter would need  every one of them.

“Look Mr. Stone” I could never quite get the hang of calling Buddha by his given name. It was either “sir” or “Mr. Stone”. “I hate to do this but I’m going to have to call you back. I’m a little pressed for time and Peter needs me-”

“OK, I’ll make it quick. Do you remember that greasy spoon/restaurant that is near the station, The Sloth and Spoon?”

“Sure do. Great milkshakes. Not so good for a girl watching her waistline but the milkshakes are sinfully good” It’s a well-known fact that a woman’s career in broadcasting depends largely on how good she sounds and how good she looks. It’s unfair, sexist, and the wage gap between men and women is abysmal but that’s the way the business is. It’s changing, but far too slowly.

“Great. Can we meet for lunch sometime next week? It sort of concerns your future.”

“Oh,” I said more than a little puzzled. “OK, how does next Thursday, the 15th at 3 PM sound?” not having a clue about the true meaning of the call.

“And if that man of yours is up to it feel free to bring him along. I’d like to meet the man that could tame Cassie “Crusher” Carter. I hope to have good news for you both. I’m buying” Now I was really intrigued. Buddha has never paid for anybody’s lunch in all the time I’ve known him. Next Thursday was also Peters first day without any treatment in almost two months. A day I’m sure he really looked forward to.

***

Peter finished his treatments on Wednesday, August 14. When persons finishes they’re supposed to ring a the cancer bell. When Peter was finished he rang the bell so vigorously I’m pretty sure it could be heard it the next time zone, as well as all over the hospital. Dr. Willowby texted a congratulatory message to him. The zap squad pulled out carefully hidden copies of his first two books, and Dr. Willowby appeared with copies of all three books for Peter to sign. Peter was grinning from ear to ear. You could tell a great weight was off his shoulders.

I decided to tell Peter I had a luncheon date with Buddha in the city . I didn’t tell him what it was about because I simply didn’t know. Buddha liked meetings to have a little mystery. He was of the opinion that if you knew ninety percent of what a meeting was all about before you arrived there was a ninety percent chance you’ll be bored to tears before one word was said. I don’t know how he formed this philosophy but most of the time he was right . But he liked to have “a zinger” ready just in case. A “zinger” was something you didn’t know about prior to the meeting. Most of the time it was salacious gossip which was almost always groundless, but it sure was memorable and got chins wagging. One time it was about an Elvis Presley sighting in the town of Tweed. People at the station were tripping over themselves trying to get an interview with The King. Turned out the whole thing was bogus but Buddha liked to see the staff in a mild panic every once in a while.

I told Peter that Buddha wanted to meet him. Peter is a very private person and was a little uneasy attending a meeting just one day into his recovery. But he wanted to rejoin to the human race. I just didn’t want Buddha to monopolize the meeting and freeze Peter out. So I called Buddha up and laid down the law. Any freezing, even the slightest bit of frost and Peter and I are out of there.

***

Peter and I were the first to arrive. The Sloth and Spoon was a grungy excuse for a restaurant. It tried really hard to have a British theme. I think the owners wanted to re-create a British pub in downtown Toronto. The idea was great, the execution, however, hovered somewhere between miserable and terrible. This mom and pop run restaurant has somehow managed to survive six years. After I said who we were and would be having lunch with Mr. Stone all we got in the way of a response were blank stares. Not a good sign at all.

“You know, the chubby guy from station CKMT”.

That’s when they clued in.”Oh, you mean Buddha! Why didn’t you say so, dearie? Order anything you want. Everything goes on his tab”.

I was in a state of shock. Buddha actually had a tab in a restaurant! Peter almost had to catch me when I started to sway. I ordered French fries and a vanilla milkshake. And to my astonishment, they were really, really good. The first and only other time I ordered them they were far too greasy. And you know what that can lead too. Well, I got it in spades. I didn’t feel right for about a week. Buddha even put me on desk duty. You know, for those “just in case” times. I even got Peter to try the fries. He had to forego the vinegar because of his throat but he couldn’t get enough of them. I had to ask what had changed. The curiosity was killing me.

“Excuse me. When I first came here I ordered these. And they were…different. What did you do to the recipe?”

“That’s an easy one dearie. An Englishman came to Toronto for a convention. And he wanted some real English food. When we served him what we thought was right he gagged and almost walked out the door. We wanted to know the secret. We pleaded with him to return. Turns out he was a chef and after a good chin wag showed us what we had been doing wrong for so long. You’re eating his recipe. And sorry about your tummy. To make it up to you this one’s on the house.”

I had a great time feeding Peter. I felt like the mama bird feeding the baby bird. Only this was one very big baby bird. I had to do it one fry at a time because the inside of his throat was so swollen and narrow. After a really good chew, all he had to do was swallow. Peter liked them so much he went behind the counter, hugged the woman who served us and whispered “Yum…people food”. She looked at me and asked me what Peter meant.

“Peter just finished treatments for throat cancer. He can barely speak or swallow. He’s been on a largely liquid diet for the better part of two months. It’s been really hard on him” I replied.

“The poor dearie. That’s why he’s all skin and bones.”

The woman serving us brought Peter his own plate of fries which pleased him to no end. I just hoped he wasn’t expecting fries at home that night. He was surprised at all the attention but certainly didn’t mind the fries. The woman who served us put a bib on him and gave me a generous supply of serviettes so I could dab the ketchup from the corners of his mouth. These were not the fries you might get at McDonald’s. First of all, each fry was about five to six inches long and about a quarter inch wide. That was an English fry.

Just then Buddha flew in the door. Did he say hello, hi, or how are you? No, no, and no. He picked me up and hugged me! When Peter saw what was going on he gently but firmly put a hand on his shoulder. And Buddha clearly felt its weight. When Buddha turned and when he saw the size of Peter he went white as a ghost. Buddha is not the tallest of men, but Peter is a foot taller than me. So that makes Peters height at six foot four inches. He croaked out one word. “Down”. I’ve never seen anyone obey an order as fast as Buddha. Buddha put me back on the floor as gently as he could. He did not want to incur the wrath of the gentle giant.

“You must be Peter” he then looked at Peter from head to toe. “My, they sure do grow ‘em big up north”. I explained that Peter was from Toronto too and that he moved because the city was getting too expensive.

As Buddha was hanging his hat and coat my curiosity got the better of me. I wasn’t ladylike or mousy. I immediately went on the offensive. I leaned against a booth and took a page from my old reporter’s playbook. I employed a sudden verbal jab which almost always throws people off.

“Now what’s so blasted important that you couldn’t tell me over the phone. C’mon, spit it out!”

Buddha took his time in responding. He took a comb out of a pant pocket and proceeded to comb his greasy hair and straightened his suit out. After taking another look at Peter he cleared his throat.

“When last we met I think we both knew your career in journalism was pretty well over. As it turns out I was wrong. Dead wrong.”

Just hearing Buddha admit he was wrong was worth the cost of the gas it took to get to the city. He never ever admitted he was wrong. Ever. The word simply didn’t exist in his vocabulary.

“Turns out your voice got the attention of a lot of people. You, Miss Carter, have a voice that a lot of people could listen to all day long.”

Peter piped up and said, “I already knew that.” Without knowing it my wonderful Peter stole Buddha’s thunder which was pretty hard to do.

The door behind me opened and the bell above it rang. You could hear footsteps and the sound of someone getting out of an overcoat. Wooden hangers banged together as another coat was put on the rack. A voice came from behind me. It sounded familiar.

“I agree. The lead tech of treatment room 5 made a recording of your voice without your knowledge. Then he edited out the personal comments meant for Peter. Then he played it for very nervous patients. Your voice got them to relax, calm down, and their blood pressure to drop five points. Your voice is very soothing. Buddha sent a recording you made shortly before you moved up north and I compared the two. It was clipped and aggressive. Something changed you and your voice. And I think you know what changed you.”

When I turned around it was Dr. Willowby! I was so glad to see a friendly face. I’d been up north for only a few months and already I felt more at home there than in the city. Peter was already shaking his hand. Dr. Willowby looked at Peter and remarked that he glad that Peters upper body strength was starting to return. Peter croaked out two words “chopping wood”.

Buddha took charge of the meeting again.

“The upshot Cassie is that you have a voice a radio station would kill for. It also seems your voice could relax a lot of people getting cancer treatment. I sent a recording of your voice to a number of stations. Some are really interested in you. But not as a reporter. But as a person who could do some voice work in commercials. Radio doesn’t want Cassie Carter the reporter, but it does want Cassie Carter’s voice. There’s a small station near you in Kinmount. You could record commercials there. If you do really well in commercials you could do voice work in animated films. And when you’re not doing that you could work at the hospital in Lindsay.”

I was flabbergasted. I thought my life in radio was over. When Buddha finished talking Dr. Willowby made his final pitch.

“And we need you, Cassie. The head tech in the radiation lab was very impressed with your voice. So much so we want to offer you a job talking to patients before, during, and after they get zapped. Some of the people we already employ have the skills but not the voice. You already have the voice and we can teach you the skills. Doing exactly what you did for Peter.”

***

That evening Peter and I discussed the idea of my working at the hospital and maybe doing some voice work on the side. We were on the couch talking after dinner and once again Peter surprised me. But first I put my head in his lap (it’s very comfy there). He was using the iPad. He typed out the word “Confession”. I asked what he meant. Via the iPad, he said that he had been in an email conversation with Buddha. That just about knocked my socks off. Peter related to Buddha something I didn’t think he had noticed.

“Cassie misses radio. Her reporting days are probably over but isn’t there something she still could do? I think she still wants to make a contribution. She won’t admit it to me that she’s unhappy but I think she is.”

I was surprised and embarrassed. Was I that transparent? Peter elaborated. In a flash, the answer was on the iPad.

“Every time you entered a room, and a radio was playing, you quickly turned it off. Sometimes you even swore at it,”

Yup, it was official. I was embarrassed. I got up and started to walk around the living room while trying to regain my composure. The guy with the croaky voice had made an intense study of his bride-to-be. I had no idea I did those things, but I guess my subconscious was in charge when the radio was on. I sat back down beside Peter.

I leaned against the pillow behind me, tried to look as sultry and seductive as I could and asked him what he thought.

“OK, scribe of the north. What do you think I should do?”

Peter reached for the iPad. This meant his answer was either long or his throat was bothering him. Either way, it meant a one or two-word answer would be inadequate and a long answer would be coming my way.

“I know nothing of the radio industry. If I were you I’d go where the environment felt familiar and you already knew what was expected of you. If you feel at ease and the income is alright you should try branching out into voice work – commercials. Baby steps first.”

The last words caught me totally by surprise. So much so I totally misunderstood what he was trying to say.

“What!, you want me to have a baby first?”

“Nonononononononononono!”

He stood up and started stomping around the living room, angry he couldn’t make himself clear. I know what that must of felt like. One day in junior school I was to make a speech and I had my wisdom teeth out one week before.

“Then what do you mean? I feel like we’re back at Gelert Gardens.”

Peter took a big breath, knelt on a small area rug while he placed the iPad on a table. He tried again.

“Try the hospital first, and then branch out into voice work. Start small first, then branch out.”

I read what he wrote slowly. “You want me to try the hospital first?” Peter did a gigantic fist pump it the air indicating I understood what he said. For emphasis, he croaked out a few words.

“Hospital..first…commercials second”.

I hugged and kissed him for his advice. “Do you want to text Dr. Willowby or shall I?” I asked. His answer was quick in coming.

“You were offered the job. You should text him.”

“I’ll wait till morning. I need your help with something.” I unbuttoned the top of my jeans and squeezed the fingers of his other hand. He immediately understood and carried me into the bedroom.

…more to come

Chapter 7B – Blue Cottage

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Peter and I rapidly learned the hospital would not do anything to you without you telling the zap squad (that’s what Peter called the technicians in treatment room 5) your birthday. Dr. Willowby said it was a security measure against the wrong patient getting the wrong treatment. But with Peters voice getting worse and worse each day telling them your birthday was rapidly becoming more and more of a problem. So I had a tee shirt made with his birthday on it. So when they asked for his birth date all he had to do was point at his chest.

Our supply of wood slowly grew. But Peter more than made up for the slow days on Wednesdays. That was the day Peter had to meet with Miss Nosy. Her primary area of interest and expertise was gastrointestinal. And Peter hated her with a passion. When I asked about her by name Peter insisted on calling her Miss Nosy or Miss Nosy Pants. Every week she would ask the same questions, and every week Peter would give her the same snarky answers. Some of her questions were extremely personal and very intrusive. He was of the opinion that some aspects of a persons life are simply private.

He told me about her and in the process strained what was left of his vocal cords.

That loony woman seems to think my bowels and my sex life are interconnected. If that ditzy woman doesn’t want to yammer about one she’s hell-bent about yammering about the other. There are some subjects in life that are sacred. Sex and one’s innards are two of them. If that dizzy idiot doesn’t want to know how things are in the bathroom she wants to know how things are between the sheets!

He asked me to imagine I was in the hospital with some sort of appendix related disorder and she asked me some of the same questions she asked Peter.

I answered as truthfully as I could.

“If somebody asked me about my bowels my initial feeling would be that my innards and their functioning are exactly that: mine . I would add I’m here because of my appendix. I also said that I would be more concerned about having a scar.”

With just a few weeks left of talking at Peter she came to the most astounding observation.

“You don’t like me very me very much do you?” asked Miss Nosy. Peter described her as having oriental features and nail polish so shiny the glare could blind you.

Apparently, Peter just sat in her office and stared at her. He was flummoxed that it took her five weeks for her to figure that out. Finally, he exploded.

I really don’t get you. My bathroom habits are nobodies business but my own. Has it ever occurred to you that some subjects are private for a reason? How would you feel if a total stranger pestered you for weeks on end about your sex life or your innards? What’s the matter with you?. Have you got some sort of fetish?

Peter stomped out of her office and never returned.

***

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The Frustration Pile

On Wednesdays got Peter was so cheesed off at Miss Nosy he split a lot of wood. I got into the business of frustration manipulation. I’d drive us home,  I’d put the car in park, I’d ask about Miss Nosy ,and he’d go straight from the car to the wood pile. Only Peter preferred to call it “The Frustration Pile”. He was so frustrated with Miss Nosy it looked like we were going to have a small surplus of wood. By the third week, his voice was really bad. It got to the point if he stood beside me he and said four words to me I’d be lucky if I understood one. When I told him I could barely understand him he looked really dejected and brought the iPad out of early retirement. Peter also had a really hard time swallowing anything. I felt so sorry for him. When his throat was really sore he had to resort to Mucositis mouthwash to numb the pain. He tried not to take morphine if he could. When it came time to get groceries from Norland a new item was added to the list. Ice cream cones. They numbed the pain and were tasty. Plus they helped keep his weight at 182 pounds. And he preferred Chapmans as opposed to Nestle. Chapman cones were completely filled. Nestle cones were hardly filled past the opening of the cone. Peter liked the Chapman cones for another reason. Chapmans was a Canadian company. “I’d rather have my money go towards a Canadian company then some American company that has more money than god and most certainly doesn’t need mine.” The scribe with the sweet tooth had spoken.

By the fourth week, Peter was in bad shape. The X-ray radiation had dried out his skin to the point where he looked like Boris Karloff from the original mummy film that was made in 1933.

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Plus looking at his skin was just plain gross. It flaked off and his skin (or what was left of it) secreted this yellow puss that was really upsetting to see. Dr. Willowby taught me how to do saline soaks. The soaks soaked up the puss, then I had to apply something called ProShield to Peters’ neck for the pain. I had to clean up Peters neck two or three times a day. The hardest part of the saline soaks was not letting my husband-to-be know that looking at his neck really upset me and was really hard. A nurse at the radiation clinic taught me a trick I could use whenever I had to change a bandage. She told me to look at Peters nose or my hands. When Peter was getting zapped I waited to take him home. I saw other patients and they looked like hell too. But it was really, really hard to see the man I loved going through this.

Another side effect of the radiation was the inability to remember things. Dr. Willowby said this was called “Brain Fog”. Peter hated this part too. Especially when it came to his writing. The muscle fatigue brought on by the radiation was bad enough but when coupled with “Brain Fog” made life around Casa Christopher rather interesting, but mostly frustrating. Try to imagine you’re looking for the car keys. And about halfway through your search, and you end up asking yourself “What’s a car?”. It was sort of like that. Peter was really proud of his memory. Normally he could tell you what you said, the way you stood, and what you wore, or what you didn’t wear which was really, really annoying at times. It also made winning arguments frustratingly hard.

After the fifth week, he started throwing up. First, he would wheeze like he was struggling to breathe. Then he started to gag. And finally, he just threw up. At first, I thought it was something I made. It soon became clear something simply wasn’t right and I had nothing to do with it. I called Dr. Willowby in a panic. He told me to try and put him to bed, and to bring to his office the next day.

We were watching TV together. I was relaxed knowing the treatments were almost over. All of a sudden Peter started to wheeze. Then he started to gag. By now he had run to the bathroom. The sound was horrible and Peter looked it too.

Oh, Christ. I think my innards just touched my spine. It’s just the dry heaves only not so-

He couldn’t complete the sentence. Everything he had for dinner just came back up. After that day’s treatment, Dr. Willowby gave Peter a thorough physical. He couldn’t find anything wrong.

“I’ll be darned if I can find anything wrong with him. He’s in rough shape, yes. How many times did he throw up last night?” asked Dr. Willowby completely baffled and rubbing the back of his neck.

“Three times. And he looked very pale and was really weak afterward. But after the first time, there was nothing inside him and so there was no reason to upchuck. And he seemed to hold his stomach like he was in pain.”

Dr. Willowby was puzzled. He put his hands in hands pockets and paced around his office. Finally he came to a stop and held on to the chair behind his desk.

“Take him home after today’s treatment. Normally I’d say to put him to bed as soon as you get home. But its essential he maintains a normal sleep pattern. Let him do what he’d normally do. Maybe he’ll give us a clue as to what’s wrong tonight.”

That night it happened again. Only this time Peter had the good sense to put himself to bed. He was still holding his stomach. And it was only 9:20 in the evening.. I texted Dr. Willowby that it happened again. Dr. Willowby texted me back. I was to bring him to his office after Peters treatment but under no circumstances was he to have any Boost or mouthwash. After I got off the phone I got ready for bed. I got in bed beside Peter and cuddled him. He was shivering.

Peters breath was simply disgusting. I wanted to kiss my man good morning but I just couldn’t do it. Not even a super quick peck on the cheek. I politely suggested that a good shower might do him a world of good. But I warned him to keep his mouth shut and not to let any water in his mouth. He was cleaned, pressed, fed and watered. but every time he exhaled the stench almost made me lose my lunch. I did not look forward to the drive. He looked forward and to the right while I drove. When we left it still kind of cool so the top was up. Thank god for windows. I opened his an inch and the same with mine. The wind whistled a bit in the car but we both lived to chuckle about the whole stinky experience. By the time we got to Dr. Willowby’s office, he gave Peter a slew of tests. Blood, urinalysis, a small hair sample, and asked for a sample of his spit. After the spit sample, Peter asked for some mouthwash which Dr. Willowby gladly gave him. “This is hell. Smells like-“. Dr. Willowby cut him off. “Drink up and less description. We all have a pretty good idea of what you’re trying to say.” The aroma coming from Peter was pretty foul. Dr. Willowby directed him to drink and swish. At last, I could kiss my man. The tests came back within an hour. Everything was normal except for the spit sample. Apparently, some bile from his stomach had leaked upwards into his esophagus or windpipe. When Peter had the ice cream cone it forced the bile upwards irritating his windpipe causing his wheezing and gagging. His body reacted as it normally would when something that shouldn’t be there entered. It tried to expel it.

“That’s the little stinker. Plain old stomach acid. I’ll prescribe a mild antacid for him. It’ll be in pill form. He’s to have it when he drinks his Boost in the evening. How’s his swallowing?” asked Dr. Willowby.

I thought before I spoke. “Still painful but not as painful as last week. Plus he’s trying to wean himself off the morphine. He only takes it when he really has to. Peter won’t tell you this himself so keep this to yourself. A fourth book is already in the works and was when you had to read him the Riot Act. He’s trying to write but finds it hard to concentrate.” Dr. Willowby was surprised when I told him about the book.

“Great! Glad to hear it. I’ll make a point of getting a copy” said Dr. Willowby.

Then I dropped a bombshell.

“You might be in it.”

Dr. Willowby didn’t know what to make of that statement and looked shell shocked. Then something happened that I didn’t plan on. I hugged Dr. Willowby.

“Thank you for saving Peter. For a while there I thought I might lose him.” And that when I kissed him.

….still more to come