Chapter 5B – Blue Cottage

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I don’t believe it. I actually jumped. I actually went to where my heart told me to go. Peter was surprised too. He was sure I was going to say no. He said that as soon as I told him that I was going to need time to think he was sure I was going to say no. As soon as I moved in I told Peter there were going to be some changes. But I also told him to relax. They weren’t going to be major earth-shaking changes. All I said was that he was going to start eating properly and that he was going to get some exercise every day.

“I get plenty of exercise” he protested from the comfort of his favorite chair.

“Stop saying “exercise”  like it’s a dirty word. Besides, swatting horseflies and mosquitoes don’t count. I also want to chart your weight. Are your scales in the bathroom?”

He sat up in his chair and started squinting at me. “What’s going on here? Are you Dr. Willowby’s evil twin or something?”

I repeated my question about the scales. He wasn’t pleased. Not one tiny bit.

“Oh, all right! Since you seem to be so hell-bent about knowing about my weight the she-devil from hell took the blasted thing with her. She was a diet freak. If that ding-dong woman gained one single kilo she’d call it a red white and blue emergency. And we’d have rabbit food every blasted day for a month and I am not a damn rabbit!”

Peter started to mutter, mumble, and grumble from his chair. My approach was about as popular as the plague. So I sat beside his chair, held on to my knees and talked from my heart.

“I have feelings for you. I care about you. And I want you around for a long, long time. I’m only trying to do things so we can be together longer.”  That got his attention. He got out of the chair, stood in front of me and looked down at me. His hands were in his pockets. Almost as suddenly he sat down in front of me and looked right at me. Those hazel eyes are killers.

“What kind of “exercise” did you have in mind m’lady,” he said softly.

“Nothing strenuous. I was thinking of a walk or a swim every day. But if you swim I swim. If you go for a walk I go with you. I just don’t want to lose you. I simply want you to know I’m here.”

Suddenly he got even closer till our knees were touching.

“I know what you’re trying to do Cassie and I really appreciate it. You have no idea how glad I am that you’re here. I have no plans of dying without giving this bug one damn good fight. I just want you to know there are going to be some days when I just won’t feel like doing anything and there won’t be anything you can do about that. I’ll tell you what. We can drive into Norland, get some bathroom scales, and anything else you might need. And then when we come back we can go for a swim.”

“Can I say something else?” not quite sure how to phrase what I want, no, needed to say. I stayed seated. I didn’t know if I had the guts to say it standing up and if I made a fool of myself at least I wouldn’t have far to fall.

“You’re about to take a walk through hell. I want to walk with you and keep you company on the journey if you’ll let me.” Peter looked surprised and speechless. He leaned forward, put the palms of his hands on the sides of my face and and pulled me forward till my lips met his. He kissed me so gently, so tenderly for a second, I wasn’t sure if he had kissed me at all. But it was so electrifying it made the hair at the back of my neck stand up. I was so nervous and my heart was beating so quickly I almost passed out. Wow, a hundred times, wow. He stood up, took my hands, raised me up from the floor and I fell into his arms.

“I don’t deserve someone as caring, good looking, and as special as you. But you’re free to come along on the journey if you’re sure you really want to do this. But it’s not going to be a very pleasant trip. Not one you want to put in your scrapbook of memories”

“You’re right. You may not deserve me. But I’ll decide that at the end of the journey. I just want you to know how I feel because I think I love you, Peter James Christopher.”

There is something about men that I just don’t understand. You’re standing nose to nose with him, and you really want him to kiss you. Now, maybe he’s trying to be a gentleman or something but he’s so close you almost want to scream “Kiss me stupid!”. But that didn’t happen. Peter very gently put his the palms of his hands on the sides of my neck, looked into my eyes, and slowly brought his lips closer till my lips were enveloped by his, and his tongue was soon playing tag with mine. It was the perfect kiss. One you never ever want to end. One with smoldering passion. One that makes your toes curl. But it becomes a moment you file away in your memory forever. What a kiss!. What rating would I give it? Never you mind.

He pulled away. I was hoping for a slow-motion repeat of the kiss. Instead, I got way better. He looked into my eyes and after a couple of tries said the full sentence.

“I think I love too Cassandra Carter”

***

I made a healthy breakfast. Since I assumed the mantel of chief cook and bottle washer I knew that I was going to be doing most of the cooking. But I was determined to put some meat on that mans bones. I wanted some handles to hold on to!

I forgot to mention Peters car is one sweet ride. It’s a racy looking MG. My car wasn’t in the same league. Hell, it wasn’t in the same universe. It barely got me from point A to point B. After breakfast, we drove into Norland. I went up the stairs to the A & P store. Peter stopped in at the gas station beside the store to get a copy of The Globe & Mail. He didn’t have to worry about saying anything there. Once you paid for the paper you were good to go. When I was younger The Globe used to be my newspaper of choice. But its once high standards had slipped a lot in the last few years and my newspaper of choice was now The Toronto Star. Peter joined me at the entrance to the A & P.  Mr. Lemay was surprised to see him.

“Well, as I live and breath if it isn’t Mr. Christopher. I haven’t seen you for a couple of years. I’m willing to bet this vision of loveliness has something to do with you being here.” said Mr. Lemay indicating me.

I started to blush and discovered Mr. Lemay is a real chatty Cathy.

“If you don’t mind me saying you don’t look so well. Is something the matter? I hope it’s not serious.”

“Nothing but a touch of throat cancer Mr. Lemay. But with Cassie’s help, I’m going to knock that bug into next week. I start radiation treatments next month. Seven weeks of getting zapped are going to make me pretty weak so I may not be around very often for a few months but you can get your reports from Cassie. We might even email you a progress letter or two.”

Mr. Lemay’s face winced when he heard the word cancer.

“Oh jeez, that’s awful. You take care of that throat and watch out for our young Cassie.” “Watch out for our young Cassie” When the heck did I become community property?

I asked Mr. Lemay where he kept the bathroom scales. I’m not sure but I think Mr. Lemay caught sight of Peter holding on to my pinky. We eventually found the aisle where the bathroom items are kept (it was nowhere near where Mr. Lemay said they were. Apparently Mrs. Lemay has her own system about restocking the shelves and doesn’t care to share with Mr. Lemay).

When Peter and I found one we liked it was located on the top shelf. Neither Peter or I could reach it alone but together we were able to snag it from the jaws of ravenous dust bunnies. Whoever does the dusting clearly missed here. It was nice when Peter lifted me up. I knew he wouldn’t try to tickle me in a store, nor would he try to go for a quick grope when my shirt popped out of my jeans. But it felt soothing when the skin of his hands touched my waist. It was a touch I could trust. When Mr. Lemay poked his head around the corner he nearly frightened me to death.

“Sorry about that Cassie. I guess you two are in the market for a set of scales. I think I better tell you these aren’t your grandparent’s scales. They are a deeply personal item. Each one is tailored to go with a specific kind of person. You have your old school analog scale with the manual calibration dial and the fish-eye glass lens so you can read it without your glasses. But this particular model does not have the automatic leveling device lots of others do. The newer digital ones have automatic calibration and automatic leveling-”

Peter had heard more than enough, and to be perfectly honest I’ve never heard so much baloney about a common household item.

“With all due respect to your vast knowledge of bathroom scales I need one that is error free. I’m going to be weighed at least once every single day for seven weeks and if I have a scale that displays even the tiniest error I’m going to be asked where I got the scales and how old they are. And I’m pretty sure you don’t want anything that could besmirch the name of this fine establishment leaving this building.”

I was really impressed. Peter had just bamboozled the Kawartha King of BS. I was proud just to say I knew him. After an hour passed we were on our way back to the cottage. Things were fine while we were on the highway but as soon as we turned off onto Buller Road it was like we were in a scene from Lawrence Of Arabia. It hadn’t rained in almost a week and the dirt road was bone dry. The road rained down on us. So much so I announced I was going to have a bath when we got home. Peter said he was going to wash the car which was covered in dust, and other wonderful delights. As soon as we got home I ran inside, put the scales on the kitchen counter and ran a bath. Peter and I were now in competition for water pressure. I stripped down and climbed into a wonderfully fluffy bubble bath (something the ex Mrs. C. forgot). I had to use the master bathroom. The one for guests was downstairs and out of commission. The temperature regulator was on the fritz. The master bathroom was like no other on Shadow Lake. The bathroom had a Jacuzzi in it. But for some crazy reason, it had a clock in it as well. Peters ex installed it. I had been soaking for about forty or so minutes when all of a sudden Peter walked in. I immediately dove for the safety of the bubbles and screamed. I think he saw me for only half a second but that was half a second too long.

“Oh Christ!” and Peter slammed the door shut. “Sorry about that Cassie. I’m just not used to a woman being in my bathroom!”

I don’t really remember what I said next very well. I think I was still in shock. I’m just not used to a man sauntering into the bathroom while I’m in the tub. I grabbed the nearest towel, stood up and wrapped it around me. Peter knocked on the door, opened it about an inch and apologized again. He added “I’ll go downstairs” which put me at ease. After the mild heart attack, I surveyed the bathroom for any other doors. Not seeing any I sat back down in the tub. The only thing I found was a small stash of Cosmo magazines at the foot of the tub. They all had subscription labels on them, were addressed to the ex Mrs. C., and they all had trashy articles in them. Every other month or so they printed articles about sexual positions. I was pretty sure I loved Peter and I know he said he thought he loved me. And I know from personal experience that sexual frustration can kill a relationship. I heard Peter puttering about in the kitchen. I stood, wrapped the towel around me again, then called him. My arms were kept firmly at my sides to keep the towel in place. Peter knocked on the door.

“Please don’t scream. This bathroom has a helluva echo and I don’t want Mr.Webb pounding on my door thinking I’m beating a woman.”

I snickered. I couldn’t help it. The thought conjured up an image in my mind that was pretty laughable. “OK, no screaming but I need to talk to you face to face.”

Peter slowly opened the door probably expecting some sort of attack or assault. I wouldn’t blame him either. I was loud!

“Don’t worry. I promise not to scream. I’ve got a towel on so you won’t see anything.” Peter entered looking all over the room. Inspecting the paint job. The ceiling fan. Everywhere except at me.

He looked at the floor and slowly moved towards the toilet. He closed the lid and sat down. He sort of looked like the statue “The Thinker” only he has studying the floor and covering his eyes.

“It’s alright Peter, really. I’m not Medusa, you’re not going to turn to stone plus I’m wearing a towel. I’m not going to bite you.” I could tell my scream really scared him. “Think of the towel as a fluffy dress.” He slowly uncovered his eyes, raised his head, and looked at me.

“This morning I said I thought I loved you. Well, when you were holding onto my pinky “I thought” became fact. I’m madly in love with you. Now I need to know how you feel about me.”

Peter was shuffling his feet. He was obviously nervous. He tried saying something but nothing really came out.

“Do you feel all right?” concerned about his well being.

“Oh, I’m just peachy. I always sit on the toilet in my own bathroom to talk to a naked woman. How do the heck do you think I feel?. This is awkward as hell” he gurgled.

I didn’t care for his tone and I told him so. “Now you’re getting nasty and sarcastic. For the last time, I am not naked!”

“Look down the towel and tell me what you see.” I did.

OK, he had a point. So I decided to grant him his wish. Getting angry I lifted my arms and let the towel drop.

“Jeez, Louise Cassie! I’m not supposed to see you naked. We’re not even engaged!”

“Then why don’t you ask me to marry you!”

“All right I will. Cassie Carter, will you marry me?”

Wait a minute. Stop the music. Did he just do what I think he did?

“You bet your boots I will. Now get over here and seal the deal.”

Peter walked over to the tub and gave me the most passionate, toe-curling kiss I’ve ever had. It made the one from just a few hours earlier pale by comparison. “Now carry me into the bedroom and make mad, sweaty love to me.”

He checked to see if the blinds were closed, then carried me into the bedroom and put me on the bed. After he closed the door I took his hand and placed it on my breast. The warmth of his skin was so intense it was like there was a fire within him. Maybe there was. His touch was so soft that I think he was afraid I might break. I lay on the bed not really knowing what to expect but he knew exactly what to do. And he did it spectacularly well. He pleased me so well I shuddered. For a brief second, I think he thought he had hurt me. After two hours of glorious lovemaking, we were both soaked in sweat. We had a shower together and Peter covered me in soap. He didn’t mind going “down there”.  In fact, I was surprised that he asked. It felt wonderfully exciting as if we were doing something taboo. That night we slept together. Simply slept. And the feeling of his arm around my waist felt so right.

…much more to come

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Chapter 5A – Blue Cottage

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The next four weeks were just heavenly. Everything happened perfectly. That’s not to say there weren’t a few unexpected bumps in the road. But those bumps usually arose because of a misunderstanding. After all, we were just beginning to learn about each other. Take Gelert Gardens for example. Things didn’t turn out quite as planned. But somehow that seemed to make the night even more memorable and enjoyable.

Before we even got in the car we agreed that we would whisper inside the restaurant. Peters’ voice was pretty weak and I didn’t want him spending the night tapping away on the iPad when he could be looking at me so we decided to whisper. But just in case we brought the iPad. When he picked me up at my cottage he looked every inch the gentleman. He wore a loose fitting shirt per doctors instructions. And his suit was so pressed and crisp you could cut paper on the pleats. He even wore a tie! It was a clip-on tie but it was still a tie. And when he could he took it off. So when he looked at me his eyes just about popped out of his head. After I opened the door and he took one long at me. After that he rapidly pulled the iPad from his pocket and typed….

Hubba-Hubba-Hubba

And

Va-Va-Va-Voom!!!

My slit skirt really got his attention. And the dragon was a nice touch. He put his head next to my ear and asked about the significance of the dragon.

I leaned seductively against a wall and answered very slowly. I gave my lips a tiny lick, just enough for them to glisten and make Peter…well you know.

He stood in the doorway, cleared his throat a few times, and looked at my dress. He pointed at the dragon and gurgled “Who”.

“That’s Murray. He’s supposed to protect my…well let’s just say something rather important.”

I wasn’t going to tell Peter that particular train had long since left the station. No reason to. At least not yet. Besides a girls got to have some secrets.

“Am I allowed to kiss you or do I have to get Murray’s permission?”

“If you want to kiss me you have to get my permission first then his. Murray is very protective of me and he just might scratch you.”

I pretended to scratch Peters’ face. We both started to laugh.

“Now you be nice. Murray’s very sensitive.”

“In that case, it might wise of us if we started moving. I don’t want to get maimed by a dragon. The insurance bill could be enormous.” Peter held my hand as I walked over the slippery bedrock.

Note to self…bedrock and high-heels don’t mix. Think Flats.

PJC. Intentions noted and appreciated. Very appreciated.

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***

Peter carried a small bag with him. And the top was covered by a newspaper to guard against some purely accidental snooping. Who am I kidding? I love to snoop. A reporter may report while I snoop. When we arrived it was your typical Chinese restaurant complete with complimentary Chinese calendars. However, the aroma from the kitchen made your mouth water. After we ordered and while we were waiting for the Won-Ton soup to appear Peter picked up the bag from the floor. He noticed my gaze darting back and forth between him and the bag. He decided to put me out of my misery.

“You’ve been eyeing this bag just since you got in the car. You look like a cat just waiting for the right time to pounce. Are you sure you want to know what it holds?”

I nodded my head slowly.

“In the short time we’ve known each other I come to value your counsel and company. You’ve rekindled some feelings in me that I thought were dead. And I want to thank for coming into my life and introducing me to Murray. This is a two prong surprise. Since you’re not allowed to write on toilet paper-”

I still can’t believe I actually said that. But I am surprised he remembered. He really likes looking at Murray. I wonder which part he’s looking at? The head or the tail?  I should remember that store in Lindsay. I think it safe to say this dress is definitely Peter approved. As Peter bent his neck he winced a bit. Evidently, his throat didn’t being bent. Things were getting worse. Fast.

“I got you your own computer where you can write to your heart’s delight. It’s not a clumsy desktop computer like mine. It’s a laptop computer with a much faster memory than mine. Plenty of room for e-books, music, and pretty well anything else.”

Peter reached into the bag and pulled out a black Acer laptop. The initials “C.C.” were monogrammed onto the outer cover. In white. They were my initials. They could be somebody else’s too.

“I want to really thank you” he said as he handed the computer to me. It was so thin and so light compared to the one I had left back in the city.

He reached back into the bag. Oh no!

And pulled out a small box. Stop!

Meant for engagement rings. Oh please stop!

Oh god please say it’s not true.

I held the box in the palm of my hand. I was shivering with fear.

Peter looked at me and was puzzled at my behavior.

“Aren’t you wondering what’s in it? Go on, open it”

I opened the box and saw a friggin’ key!

“I don’t understand. What’s with a key?”

“I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. You know how sick I am and you know after talking with Dr. Willowby that I’m going to get a whole lot sicker. And I’ve discovered that the best way to get better is with your help.”

As Peter was talking he suddenly held my hand. Not quite sure what he was talking about I asked him to clarify what he was trying to say.

“Peter I still don’t understand. What are you trying to say?”

Peter was obviously uncomfortable. I couldn’t tell if he was in pain or nervous. And that bothered me. Peter took in a deep breath and tried again.

“Cassie. It takes a lot for me to trust anyone let alone anyone as special as you. After she left me I thought I’d never trust anyone ever again. I’m trying to say I trust and care for you. And I’d like you to move into the cottage so you can close by.”

Close by. Close by? Close for what?

Now it was my turn to get frustrated. I started to tear up. I grabbed the serviette and dabbed my eyes.

“For pity’s sake, Peter will you please say why you want me close by. Close by for what?” I needed to know, really know.

“For those times when I’m stubborn, when I’m sick as a dog, for those times I won’t eat. I need your strength. I don’t know how to say it any plainer. I need and want you.” He pointed right at me. He really did need me. But for what?

He pushed his chair back and stood up clearly frustrated. He ripped off his clip-on tie which he pocketed and buttoned his jacket. I couldn’t hear everything he muttered but did say the word “mistake”.

“Can we go outside and thrash this out. I want you to move into the guest bedroom…” As soon as he said “bedroom” he understood why I needed him to “say” exactly why he needed me. We both stood up and he apologized.

When we went to the veranda they were serving green tea. Peter apologized again. He held onto the wooden railing with his head bowed.

“Oh my god. I feel so stupid. Did you think I was asking you to move in with me? I’m in a battle for my very life. And right now I need the strength, the stubbornness, the drive of Cassie Carter. I apologize for not making myself clear but I need the strength of the woman who knocked on my door. I need her help“.

I don’t think Peter realized it but he was holding my hand when he apologized. We sat in some wicker furniture which obviously mass produced and I ordered some tea for both of us. Peter was clearly upset by his inability to make himself clear. He apologized again. Only this time there was more emotion in his apology. He was so anxious and nervous he couldn’t stay seated. He paced like a caged lion.

“You mean so much to me. I need your help. And I would like your company. You mean so very much to me. More than you can possibly imagine. I don’t want you to return to the city. I would like it very much if you’d consider staying up here……with me.” While I sat in a chair watching him pace back and forth I composed myself. Or tried to. Peter suddenly got down on one knee to beg me not to return to the city. I’m have no idea where he got that from. I hadn’t discussed returning to the city with him at all. Ever. I know he didn’t ask but I can’t help but wonder if he knows he came dangerously close to proposing.

***

There was very little conversation in the car on the way home. I had some serious thinking to do. I told him I’d need some time to process all that he said and to think about his request. What he was suggesting would be a gigantic leap in our for our relationship. For both of us. It was pretty late by the time we got home and I forgot to leave the porch light on. He left the car lights on and carried me over the dew-soaked bedrock. Again high-heels were the culprit. He deposited me on the porch of Blue Cottage. He didn’t wait around for a good night kiss or anything. He simply said “please” and vanished into the dark. He must have walked to his cottage. You couldn’t even hear the gravel crunching under his feet. The man was a cat. Soon a light appeared from inside his cottage. He was safe and sound. OK, he was home he wasn’t that sound. Note to self. Skip the green tea. The caffeine was too potent. I was too wired. Plus I couldn’t sleep with what Peter had asked rattling around in my head. So I changed into an old sweat suit. It was warm and cozy like a hug Peter gave me. And I thought. More than I ever have before. About everything. I weighed the pros and cons. And thought some more.

***

I must have fallen asleep on the couch. Mental exhaustion finally took its toll. When I woke I went into the kitchen and made myself some coffee. I checked the label to make sure it was decaffeinated. I went the large picture window to greet the day and that’s when I saw it. Peter had done it again. I suspect he got about as much sleep as I did, but somehow he had the getup and go to get the second section of my dock off the beach and into the water. I went down to the boathouse and found him rummaging through some old boxes. I think I startled him. He didn’t expect to see me so early. I asked him just what he was doing. He answered in fragments of sentences.

“Couldn’t sleep….felt like an ass…came over here to make myself useful.”

I was surprised to see him. And a little horrified. I must have looked like hell to him. I tried to excuse myself to freshen up a bit and to make myself look a little human. That’s when he grabbed me by the waist and gurgled something I’ll never forget.

“You look beautiful all the time.”

Then he kissed me good morning. At least, I think he said that. I was in shock. I needed to get out quick before I did something we both might regret.

“I’ll put my wet suit on and help you. Back in a jiff”.

I tore up the stairs that led to my cottage like a demon with its tail on fire. Things were happening just a little too fast. I ran into the bedroom and locked it. I replayed what just happened in my mind. It must have been an eternity before I got into my wet suit. It was a one-piece thing opposed to Peters which was a two-piece suit. Inside were instructions for first-time use.

“Apply baby powder to the skin. The suit will then slide over the skin”.

I went into the bathroom and put baby powder all over me. I then climbed into the monokini and then the suit. As I went back down to the boathouse Peter was floating the third twenty foot section into place. Apparently, when I made my earlier appearance Peter was looking for the metallic links that joined the sections together. Joined together they formed an L-shaped dock that would be sixty feet out from shore. As I approached Peter the water went in from the top of my wetsuit. It was a bit of a shock but not as much as the one Peter got when saw me approaching. For some reason my backside wanted to float, and it made walking laborious. When I finally got to the dock there was only one link remaining. A minute later the dock was complete. I took Peter by the hand and pulled him under the dock.

“This is for helping me with the dock. Nothing else. I still haven’t decided about moving in”. Then I surprised him by kissing him very passionately. My tongue was swimming with his. Then I tried to swim away quickly. My plan for a quick escape crashed and burned. Every time I tried to swim downwards I popped up like a cork. Peter roared with laughter.

“No weights” was all he said and needed to say. Now I know why Peter wanted me to have a weight belt. I gathered up what dignity I had left and swum over to him. We were nose to nose.

“Interested in breakfast?” was all I had to say.

Peter nodded his head approvingly.

“Meet me upstairs. I may need your help.”

I went upstairs with the intention of getting out of the wetsuit by myself. After I entered my bedroom I unzipped the suit. I quickly learned you almost had to be a contortionist to get out of a wetsuit. I unzipped the wet suit to my waist. But try as I might I couldn’t get my pants off. I was about to lose all of my dignity. How do tell a man you can’t get your pants off? I went back into the boathouse and explained the situation to Peter. He started to snicker. I started to regret asking him for help. Thank god for the monokini.

“Lie on the floor and stick your legs up.” I suddenly felt like a toddler learning about snow pants. He tugged. He pulled. He coughed. He laughed. A lot. The floor wasn’t very comfy. Then he asked if I put baby powder on my legs.

“I put some there, at least I think I did”

Peter explained that if there wasn’t enough baby powder on my legs the best thing to do was to wait until I dried up.

“Great! What happens if I need to go to the ladies room?”

“You don’t. Now, what’s for breakfast?”

“Be realistic. I can’t cook like this.”

Peter studied me. I kind of liked the attention but at the same time, it was sort of creepy. I felt the same way when we first met.

“OK, desperate times call for desperate measures. Unzip as far as you can then kiss me like you did under the dock. Then I’m going to lie on top of you and try turn it inside out. But hold on to the other suit. It might rip.”

I knew what he was getting at. He was going get me out of it by almost tearing it off me. But I drew the line at having to lie down. I was to kiss him and get his juices really flowing. He grabbed the top half as firmly as he could. I kissed him as passionately as I could. Even gave him a tonsillectomy for good measure. All of a sudden the suit was peeled off me and it was inside out. It worked and my dignity was intact. So was the monokini.

“You, kind sir, get bacon!”

***

As we sat eating bacon and eggs in comfort Peter let the cat out of the bag. “Works just as well without the kiss too”. I could have killed him. Still, it did feel comfy kissing him. Good practice too.

***

Peter has this massive DVD collection in his cottage. One of the films on a disc is a favorite of both of us. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is great because of the characters. One of the characters names was Nurse Ratched but if you say the last name quickly you get an entirely different sounding word, or maybe I should say words. Lets just say its something you don’t want to step in. Ever. As I threw my things into a large suitcase (thank you Aunt Heather) I kept going over this decision in my mind. I held the key in my fingers. Was I doing this for him, for me, or both? We both felt an attraction. And I knew I could trust him. But could I trust myself? If Peter wanted to ravage me he could have done it when he popped me out the wetsuit. But he didn’t. And I could have really made his day under the dock. But I didn’t. It was clear we both needed to know where this relationship was going. I lifted the heavy bag onto a small trolley. The fun part would be getting it over the bedrock just behind Blue Cottage. From there it would be clear sailing. When I got to his front door I pulled the key Peter gave me from my back pocket and inserted it in the lock and unlocked the door. Peter was at his computer and leaned out of his chair to see the front door. As the door swung open I yelled at the top of my lungs “LOOK OUT WORLD. NURSE RACHED HAS ARRIVED”.

…much more to come

How to Submit Your Manuscript to the Big 5 US Publishers in 2019

Milly Schmidt has come up with a list worth of reading, printing out, and keeping for when your pen moves you. Drop her a line and thank her. https://millyschmidt.com/2019/02/12/how-to-submit-your-manuscript-to-the-big-5-us-publishers-in-2019/#comment-15863

The Cat's Write

Hi Everyone! Here’s a recently updated list of the Big 5 US Publishing Houses, their submission requirements for unsolicited manuscripts and links to submission details. I’ve also added a bonus publisher at the end for you.

I spent hours (quite literally) researching and updating this list for all of my wonderful blogging friends. You know how much I love you!

For those of you who don’t know, the Big 5 US publishers are represented in other countries too, which means Non-U.S. Citizens will need to submit their manuscripts to their own country’s equivalent Publishing House.

I have noticed while researching the Big 5 in the US that the options for submitting unsolicited manuscripts are incredibly limited – and have been tightened still in 2019. My best guess is the imprints that are usually open to unsolicited manuscripts have not yet ‘woken up’ from the Christmas & New Year Breaks (publishers…

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Chapter 4B–Blue Cottage

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I think Peter was the happiest I’d ever seen him after the mask was made. Before we embarked on our shopping spree I said that I heard a lot of people really dislike the process. He tried saying a single word but he just couldn’t say it. I handed him the iPad.

“Take your time. No rush. I’m not going anywhere.”

When Peter heard me say that he hugged me so strongly he lifted me right off the ground. It surprised me but I kind of liked it as well. It was nice to be held by someone who appreciated your company. Then Peter wrote one word on the iPad.

“Claustrophobia”.

Then I told him what Dr. Willowby and I had talked about. Of being on “his” team and helping him through the tough times ahead. I asked him if he wanted me on the team. Suddenly he started stabbing at the iPad with a ferocity that I’d never seen before. What he wrote caught me totally off guard.

“When I was on that table all I thought of was you. Thinking of you kept me level headed and calm when all I really wanted to do was run. I want you on the team more than anybody else.”

He had done it. He got me teary-eyed. I suppose the feeling he gave me could be described as warm and fuzzy. But the feelings he had were not the romantic ones I thought he had. He needed me and he wanted me. And I was starting to need him. Scratch that. I needed and wanted his company. Every morning I looked forward to seeing him. To helping him. But most of all I wanted to be with him. When Peter saw I was teary-eyed he drew me close to his chest and hugged me. A gentle hug. One that’s nice warm and cozy. Just the kind I wanted to feel much more often.

***

In the backseat of the car was a copy of the interview. I’m not sure how he did it but he had correctly anticipated every question I would have asked. He even inserted some things I might have said. At the bottom was a handwritten note saying there was another copy back at the cottage for when we got back. The file was on a USB stick as well as the hard drive of his computer which was password protected. And for some reason, he included the password – “RumBleBott0m595”. And for him to tell me the password showed that he really trusted and cared about me. The computer and he are symbiotic. Neither of them can truly exist without the other. When I asked him how he made the interview sound like I was really there he stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and started tapping away on the keyboard of the iPad. So it really was no surprise that people started bumping into him and interrupting him. When he wrote anything he liked to get everything perfect, grammar, punctuation, the works.  And his answer was long in coming. I pulled him toward a bench so he could sit down and type in relative peace. When he finally sat down his fingers ran over the keyboard.”

“I secretly wished that keyboard was me. Wait a minute. Did that come out of me? I don’t usually think things like that. But I had a feeling that a great number of things had changed or changing. Things we had just discovered, and things we had yet to.”

As we sat on the bench he finally finished his answer and handed the iPad to me. The answer took on a greater meaning than ever before. I was learning how Peter thought.

“I’ve studied what you’ve written and watched videos of you on YouTube. You seem to prefer very simple English as opposed to flowery college English. Two of your favorite phrases when asking a number of questions or when you’re doing an interview with someone are “Is that so” or “Could you please elaborate on that”. Sometimes you say “How so” when you’re asking a question. I also watched a video of you putting the mayor in a headlock. Not exactly your best journalistic moment. But I did notice something that I suspect you didn’t know about or haven’t seen. When you were being taken away by city hall security, yelling all manner of colorful comments at them, your colleagues wanted to know why the mayor refused to answer your question. A number of them even put forth the idea that answer could only lead to a scandal of some sort. The mayor clearly didn’t like your question or your friends coming to your defense.”

“I’ve heard many insults in my short life but I’ve never heard anybody refer to a security guard as a “Blue ribbon Nazi”. I don’t know why but I kind of like it. And I like you.”

I won’t say it caught me by surprise or anything like that, but I was surprised and embarrassed that videos of me yelling at the city hall guards existed. I was also surprised at how accurate he was. Now that I think of it I do like saying “How so?” and “Could you please elaborate on that” a great deal. So it was a little unnerving to discover that someone you’ve known for a relatively short space of time could know you so well. But I shouldn’t be surprised though. Writers are also observers of humanity. We mere mortals blunder through life without batting an eye. Writers notice things we take for granted. Peter then tried speaking.

“I want to do a couple of things and you want to try a get a new dress. How about we split up for a couple hours then meet back at the car. The one that’s currently being held hostage by those bandits.”

All of a sudden he started gurgling. Dr. Willowby warned me about this. He said there would come a time when his mouth would produce more saliva than his throat could deal with. And when that happened he had no choice but to spit. We were near a planter. We walked over to it where he could spit into it. It was also one those things he might have to get used to and might last the rest of his life. But before we went our separate ways he put his hand on the small of my back and maneuvered me into a dive shop where I was fitted for a wet suit and a twenty pound weight belt. Peter insisted on paying for that. He called it a thank you gift. I remembered watching Peter take his wetsuit off, and the tug of war he had with his. His bathing suit almost came off when he tried getting the pants off. So I bought a monokini so I wouldn’t have to worry about that. After that I went in search of a good dress store. When I walked in I told the woman behind the counter what I was looking for. She looked a bit like my aunt Heather. I estimated her age to be fifty-ish. I wanted the dress to be ruby-red and tight fitting in all the right places. A dress Peter would have a difficult time not looking at. She guessed that it would be Asian in theme. After I tried on the dress I asked the woman helping me with the purchase if there was really good but inexpensive hairdresser nearby.

“Oh goodness me dearie there’s one right next door”.

I may a journalist without standing at present, but I also have a masters degree in English. And if there’s one word I hate it’s “dearie”. And I hate being called “dearie” by anyone. Since Peter was going to get a really close haircut I wanted to show him I supported him. I’ve had shoulder-length hair most of my life but since Peter was about to have the battle of his life I wanted to let him know I was in his corner. I looked at different styles but all I knew was that I wanted a short pixie cut. When I walked in I explained to the woman who ran the salon what I was looking for.

“A very special friend, a man, has cancer and has to get a crew cut. I really care for this guy and I want to support him any way I can.” The woman holding the  scissors put the scissors down.

“You really care for this guy don’t you honey?” Then she asked me to trust her as she reached for a razor. When I saw the razor my shoulders tensed up a bit. “Relax honey. I’ll do my best pixie cut.”

When she was finished my shoulder-length hair was gone. As I got out the chair I saw Peter walk past the salon. I ran after him. He pointed at my head.

“Your beautiful hair…you did this for me?”.

I put my head against his.”I can’t experience everything with you but I want to show you I’m in your corner. You’re not alone and I want to be with you.” Another hug. Only stronger and with deeper meaning.

He whispered “Thank you. I feel better already.” The woman who ran the salon stood outside to see Peter and me together. I turned around and gave her a thumbs up sign. Then I remembered I had forgotten to pay her. I dug into my purse only to discover my wallet was empty. I was horrified. She saw my expression and guessed what had happened. Peter pulled out his wallet and tried paying her. She walked up to Peter and said something truly wonderful.

“Put that back in your wallet young man and take good  care of her. I think you’ll find she’s more than worth it. Now get better and scoot. That hug you gave her more than paid for the cut”.

When we got home I checked out my hair in the bathroom mirror. I kind of like it. I’ll get used to it. I think Peter likes it.

What do you think of my new do?

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…still more to come

Chapter 4A–Blue Cottage

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As we drove toward Lindsay Peter was understandably nervous. So was I. It’s not every day someone makes a mesh mask of your face. But not as nervous as our last visit. As we turned into the hospital parking lot Peter noticed the fare to park had gone up and started growling. “THIEVES” was his only comment. We circled the parking lot a few times till he found a spot that was just in the right location. To me, any spot would have done but Peter was driving. I’ve never fully understood about men and parking spots. I know their number one reason is “I don’t want the car door to get dinged” but it seems to me you run the same risk of getting “dinged” no matter where you park. After Peter put the car in park he took a deep breath before he said anything. Then he turned his head and faced me. “Thank you for come coming and thank you for being here” he gurgled. I thought he was finished. He wasn’t. He put his hand on top of mine.

Afterwards, we got out of the car, walked into the hospital and went to Dr. Willowbys office. After we walked in I announced our arrival to his secretary. Dr. Willowby took us promptly at 10:00 AM which really impressed Peter. Before we arrived he told me of his philosophy regarding medical appointments. “If I have an appointment for ten I expect to be seen at ten.” I didn’t think it was a very realistic attitude but I decided not to say anything. We were asked to enter the examining room. In it was Dr. Willowby and an orderly. Today Dr. Willowby was more relaxed. And he treated me like a daughter which was a big surprise.

“Good morning to both of you. This strapping young fellow to my right will take Peter to wear the masks are made.”

Dr. Willowby indicated the gentleman beside him. However, the term “gentleman” might have been a bit of a stretch. He looked like he was fifteen years old. An extremely well built fifteen year old who just happened to be six feet tall. The orderly was a fellow named Dean who wore bright orange scrubs. He then ushered Peter out a door. Dr. Willowby ushered me down a different hallway. “Cassie, you can watch the whole thing if you want”. I told him I wanted to know as much about what Peter had gone through and what he was soon to experience. But before anything happened Dr. Willowby made a stunning admission.

“Last time we met I made a few erroneous assumptions about the relationship between you and Peter. I thought you and Peter were…closer shall we say. I also did a little research about you. And I need to ask you a few questions. So I apologize ahead of time if any of these make you uncomfortable.”

Oh brother. Just what I needed. Questions about my love life. But they weren’t about me, at least not directly. They were about more about Peter.

“I don’t know how close you two are, but in the short time I’ve known Peter I’ve learned that he’s been burned emotionally…very, very badly. And he trusts very few people. So that makes you a very special person. And I’d like to know why you think he likes you?”

I explained I was on indefinite suspension from CKMT for putting the mayor in a head lock, and that I moved into the cottage next to him. However, I didn’t know who he was until I introduced myself. Dr. Willowby asked about our feelings.

“That is the sixty-four million dollar question, Doctor. I know he has feelings for me. Just what they are I can’t say. He has said they are not romantic but just between you and me I just don’t know what they are. But one thing I do know is that he wants to concentrate on getting better. He desperately wants to put this cancer business in the past and get better. Becoming emotionally attached to anyone at this time is out the question for me. My situation at present is best described as awkward. I don’t know if my career is over or simply changing from one thing to another. I just don’t want to see Peter hurt or cause him to be hurt. Right now I think our relationship can best be described like  a brother and sister that care a lot for each other. Nothing else.”

Dr. Willowby bowed his head, put his hands in his pockets, frowned a bit and paced in the hall. He looked like someone struggling to say something without sounding intrusive at the same time. Suddenly he looked up.

“You and I will be working together, though not side by side, for some time. I want to make absolutely sure you understand this is not a short term commitment. Do you prefer the name Cassie or do you want me to call you Cassandra?”

I was used to this question. I had been asked it a hundred times.

“My given name is Cassandra, but I only use it professionally. My friends call me Cassie and that’s what I would like you to call me.”

“Cassie, you’ve put me in a bit of a spot. As Peters oncologist I’m going have to hurt him to heal him. Some of the cancer has been removed surgically but now we have to kill the cancer cells below the skin we can’t see. With razor like lasers. And that won’t enjoyable for Peter at all. But from what I’ve seen and heard he’ll need your friendship and your strength. Are you prepared for that?”

“What would like me to do?”

“Great! Glad to have you on the team.” Dr. Willowby suddenly extended his hand in friendship.

“I’m glad to know you, Cassie Carter. I’m Dr. Bill Willowby. When we’re talking in a group I’m just Dr. Willowby. If it’s just you and me please feel free to call me Bill. But if we’re talking on the phone and Peter is about please call me Dr. Willowby if you can. Peter doesn’t know my first name and I want to keep our relationship as professional as possible till he’s out of the woods which should be-“

“In five years.” I interrupted. Dr. Willowby studied me silently and wondered how much I already knew.

“May I ask just how you know that?” he asked puzzled that I would know the answer.

“Peter read the binder you gave him the last time we were here. He didn’t take the news at all well. He cried I think.”

“Is he in that much pain already?” asked Doctor Willowby.

“Most of it was pent up anger and extreme frustration. Peter’s a wordsmith. His life revolves around words. And right now it’s difficult and uncomfortable to talk. That’s how a writer checks his or her work.”

“He’s a writer? Can’t say I knew that. Say…he wouldn’t be the Peter James Christopher? I’ve got all three of his books. Great stuff! I’m going to ask him to autograph my copies. You’re sure it’s him?”

I nodded vigorously in the affirmative.

“As far as I know there’s only one P.J. Christopher.”

Dr. Willowby suddenly began smiling.

“Well, you just made my day my dear. It appears we’re treating a celebrity” he said with a certain amount of pride.

“It might be a good idea to keep that under your hat. His publisher hasn’t said a word as to why Peter suddenly stopped writing. From what he has said about them they don’t sound like the forgiving type.”

***

“Would you like to see how Peter is doing Cassie?” asked Dr. Willowby as he walked towards a large glass window. He described what was going on. I looked through the window in fascination.

Peter was scampering over a cold floor while holding on to his clothes with one hand and attempting to close the hospital gown at the back with the other. He let his clothes drop to the floor when he tried to get on a long dark table while trying to retain a little of his dignity. A technician has handling something. Dr. Willowby knocked on the window and indicated he wanted to see the mask.

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The technician brought the mask over to the window so I could see it. It didn’t look all that menacing but from what I’ve learned the experience of creating a mask can be most unpleasant. Dr. Willowby then gave the technician the thumbs up sign to proceed and pointed at Peter. Dr. Willowby then stuffed his hands back inside the pockets of his white lab coat.

The technician then said something to Peter. I couldn’t hear what was said but Peter probably said something like “On with the show so I can put my pants back on. It’s freezing in here.”

Dr. Willowby kindly told me what going on.

“The mask you just saw is now soaked under some warm water to make it pliable. Now this is the hard part. The techs have twenty seconds to make the mask before the resin cools down to the point where it becomes useless. If that happens they have to start all over. Peter will soon feel hands all over his face. His eyes will be closed during the treatments so they’re closed now.”

Hands were soon patting down the rapidly cooling resin. Peter was either very obedient or anxious for this to be over because the mask was created on the very first try. The mask was then screwed to the table to make the fit even tighter. Everyone but Peter left the room for a few moments while a CT scan of Peter was done at this point.

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“The purpose of the CT scan is to pinpoint the exact location of the cancer cells. We don’t want to kill any healthy cells. Peter will need those when he’s recovering. And that’s where you come in. The lasers will dry up the skin in and on his throat. In it’s simplest terms his left vocal cord is going to get an intense ten and a half hour sun burn. I want you to put Lubriderm on his throat daily even if he says he doesn’t need it. When the skin starts to break stop putting on the Lubriderm. I’ll show you how to make bandages for the outside of his throat. If we do our job right we’ll zap those cells silly and they’ll die. Peter will be very weak because of the radiation. He’ll also become very forgetful. Don’t be surprised if you have to remind him of a single event several times. And he’ll get angry at you too. He won’t like what’s happening to him, he’ll get angry and frustrated. When that happens you’ll have to use your best judgment on how to handle the situation. His anger is a side effect of the radiation. Try not to take it personally. He’ll experience a lot of pain during the treatments. Swallowing will become difficult for him”

I asked him to elaborate on that.

“You and I have a straight pipe that leads from the back of our mouths to our stomach. During radiation the interior of Peters neck will swell and that pipe will become narrow and bent making eating difficult and painful. We usually prescribe a liquid meal replacement for those tough days. You have to remember the pipe that leads to our stomachs is about about two inches wide. Peters will shrink to a fraction of that. During radiation therapy its imperative the patient not lose any weight. Try get him on the scales as often as you can. Make a chart of his progress. You may have to remind him to eat. If he refuses tell him you’ll call me. It has been my experience that if the patient knows the only alternative is a feeding tube in the stomach they’ll try drinking little bits a time. Sometimes a little fear is useful. It takes a lot of patience but I think you can do it. Do you?”

“Ask me again when this really bumpy ride is over”.

All of a sudden he hugged me. Not a lot but just enough to call it a hug. It was a gentle fatherly hug.

“I know you can do it. I’ve coached spouses and significant others for over twenty years. And I know you can do it. I sent my number to your phone if there’s any trouble. What do you say we go retrieve the local scribe?”

We were back at the window. Soon Peter was sitting up with the mask off. One of the technicians pointed to me. Peter waved and was soon clutching his hair. With two fingers he pretended to cut the hair. We agreed before hand that this would be the signal if he had to get a haircut. When he emerged he whispered that he was going to “save a mint on haircuts”. Even Dr. Willowby chuckled. He said it was always a good sign when a patient could joke after this. It also indicated that we shouldn’t expect any problems during the actual therapy. When Peter re-emerged fully clothed Dr. Willowby asked how he felt. “Now I know how the man in the iron mask felt.”

To celebrate getting the mask done we went on a small shopping spree. I wanted to get a dress for our dinner in Gelert the following day. Peter wanted to get something but was being secretive about it and would simply say “it’s a surprise”. What lurks in the minds of men and writers? I certainly didn’t know. But he needed my body for one of the surprises. We passed a small SCUBA shop where I got fitted for my very first wet suit. A woman fitted me out so I could help Peter put in my dock. The outside was made of black rubber. Inside was a substance called neoprene. It was the neoprene that kept you from turning into an icicle. When she handed me a twenty pound weight belt I tried to say I didn’t need it. But before I could say one word in polite protest Peter put a finger to his lips. “If you don’t have it you’ll float all the time. Shh.” Two other “surprises” awaited me but I’d have to wait one more day. And it was killing me!

…still more to come

Publishing and Reality

Publishing and Reality

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When I started writing I was 14. I never dreamt of ever getting published.

Being published meant getting an agent who thought what you wrote was worth reading. After getting an agent you had to somehow secure a publishing deal, but that was the agents job (I think). He or she then had to somehow convince a publishing house you were worth taking a risk on. Again, that was the agents job. If you were lucky enough to get that far without going nuts the publishing company assigned an editor to work with you. Their job was to tell you what did and didn’t work. Publishing houses have always asked for every manuscript to be double spaced. Doubled spaced manuscripts allowed editors and their dreaded red pencil to mark up your crisp, properly formatted manuscript. After this came numerous revisions, re-writing, and more editing.

If you still have a pulse after all of this people who know you will either think you’re really dedicated or a crazed masochist. Re-writing till the editor has run out of expletives usually takes a number of years. And while you’re busy pounding the typewriter keys the market for your book may have dried up, or the publishing company may discover someone else has written a similar book and loses interest in you. You may end up with a great looking book but no publisher or agent.

Then there was vanity publishing. You had to find them. You paid them. You didn’t have an agent. You had to edit the book yourself. They were more than willing to publish anything – provided you paid them an obscene sum and were willing to put up with two hundred copies of a book that basically nobody wanted. Oh sure, that would be fine that first Christmas. You could flog a copy or two on each of your nearest and dearest. But after that you still had one hundred a fifty copies hanging around the house. What are you going to do with a hundred and fifty copies of a poorly written, poorly edited book?

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Along came self publishing. Where anybody with a computer and determination could have their book published. There’s one problem with self publishing. It’s very similar to vanity publishing. You end up doing most of the work while the publishing folks haul in the profits. You might make back the money you spent in a few decades. The vast majority of electronic books are ghastly in the extreme. If you picked 100 e books at random I think you’d find that 90 of them fall into the “What was I thinking” pile. A lot of them are trashy re-prints of physical books (the kind you can hold in your hands) that had a shelf life of only two or three days. I read very few physical books nowadays. I’m working on that. I was sucked into the e book craze.

Which brings me back to reality. I’m chucking the idea of ever getting published. There are far too many people churning out pure drivel. They don’t mind that they’re not making a million. They simply want to be able to say “I wrote a book” and see they’re name in print. The good writers, the really good writers, are being squeezed out by really, really bad writers. I’ll stick with WordPress and my little blog. I simply haven’t the energy to market what I produce. I’d much rather put a smile on five faces than a frown on fifty.

Chapter 3B – Blue Cottage

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After listening to Dr. Willowby talk we both needed a change of atmosphere so we went to a bookstore. I hoped a book there might pull Peter out of the depression he was in. It wasn’t a funk he was in and certainly wasn’t a rut. It was a full-blown depression. But didn’t it work. After about five minutes he simply walked out of the bookstore. I was in a blind panic that I had lost sight of him. I ran out the store and looked for him. I spotted him about a block away. After a vigorous jog I caught up to him and pushed him him towards the door of a bar. After we were both seated in a booth Peter leaned towards me and whispered in my ear.

“What are we doing here? I don’t drink,” he whispered. He looked at the tacky decorations.

“Maybe you don’t but I most certainly do. After hearing all that stuff you’re going to experience I need a drink. I’m going to have a rum and coke. What would you like to drink?. My treat” was my only answer.

“Mineral water. My throat really didn’t care for Dr. Willowby poking around with that damn scope. It’s sore as hell.”

The endoscope had gone up Peters’ nose and dropped down into his throat. Dr. Willowby directed where the camera went and it gave him a view of Peters vocal cords. A view that could only be called up close and personal. I watched Peters face while the scope was inside him. He clearly didn’t care for the experience. Dr. Willowby asked me if I wanted to take a look at Peters vocal cords. Just the idea gave me the creeps. And I shook my head rather stiffly.

Just then a waitress arrived and asked for our orders.

“I’ll have a rum and coke. Go light on the rum. And my talkative friend here will have some mineral water.” I was trying to lighten the mood. It didn’t work either. The waitress smacked her gum, rolled her eyes, and vanished with the speed of summer lightning.

When she disappeared I leaned towards Peter. I wasn’t sure what I was going to say but I but I needed to say thank you.

“Peter, I want to say something and I don’t want you to interrupt me. I want to thank you for asking me to come along. You have no idea what it meant to read your letter. I’m on indefinite suspension. And I’m not allowed to do anything a journalist can do. I can’t even write a grocery list on toilet paper-”

Just then Peter smiled for the first time in a very long time and started to chuckle albeit silently. He leaned forward to say something, pushing the dessert menu aside. Peter whispered that he was trying to imagine me writing on toilet paper. When I tried to imagine myself writing on toilet paper the image made me chuckle too. Then he said something I hadn’t thought of and it really made me think.

“Who is going to know if you write anything?” he whispered slowly trying his best to say every word correctly.

Buddha, had probably said those things to scare me silly, which he did, and to get me to think. He probably knew I’d discover there wasn’t any way for CKMT to know if I was writing anything.

“I just want you to know what you that what you said in your letter meant a great deal. You gave me a reason for being”. I didn’t know it at the time but I put my hand on top of his.

***

As Peter forecast, he was too depressed to drive. So I drove. He soon learned I tended to speed. And every time I did he tapped on the dashboard. He had every reason to tap. As his primary caregiver, my job was to keep him alive. Plus it was his car. I decided not to say anything as he studied the contents of the binder Dr. Willowby gave him. Suddenly he slammed the binder shut and cursed. I pulled the car over to the side of the highway and tried to get him to tell me what was wrong but he was in a foul mood. He wouldn’t say anything. He put the iPad in his lap and started typing. When he was finished he held it up and pointed it at me. “I’ll tell you at home.” For some reason, the words “at home” felt somewhat comforting.

When we got home he got out of the car he slammed the car door with murderous fury and almost tore the screen door off its hinges. When he was inside he stomped into his study and slammed its door shut. The part that worried me the most was when he locked the door. I moved towards the door with the intention of knocking. When I was just inches away from the door I heard what sounded like sobbing. I knocked on the door and called out.

“Peter! What’s going on? You can talk to me. I really want to know. I need to know. Please unlock the door. You’re scaring me.”

After a few minutes passed I heard some sounds from inside that I really couldn’t identify. Then I heard a clickity-click sound of the door being unlocked. When the door opened Peter almost fell into my arms. He was exhausted and his eyes were red. I held on to him as strongly as I could. We slowly walked over to the couch. After Peter sat down he leaned forward and started typing on the iPad. When he was finished he pushed the iPad into my lap.

I just can’t take it. It hurts so much. The last straw was when I read I was going to be Dr. Willoughby’s patient for another five years. But the thing that hurts the most right now isn’t physical. It’s emotional. I want to say something really important to you but my voice won’t let me and it’s infuriating. Plus its frustrating as hell.

Was he falling for me? It sure sounded that way to me. And the thing that scared me even more is that I think I was starting to have feelings for him. Did I want to get emotionally involved with another person right now? Short answer is no. Or did I? My career was in tatters. I had nothing to offer. But I couldn’t deny I was starting to feel something.

***

My aunt Heather loved leaving notes. She made notes for everyone and just about covered every subject imaginable.

A few days after Peter got scoped he found a manila envelope behind his computer that was stuffed full with them. I was hiding out in my cottage, terrified he might ask me to marry him or something when he suddenly appeared at the sliding glass door. After knocking he entered and made his trademark “Hey You” sound. I was on my hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor when he lowered the folder into my line of sight. The envelope was addressed to me yet it was in Peters cottage. It would seem my aunt was trying to play matchmaker in her final days. One the many notes were on how to lower the deck into the water. It seemed perfectly simple, and it was. I could lower the deck with an electric winch while somebody stood in the water to position it properly. Peter had a wet suit which allowed him to stand in the water without freezing to death. He offered to help me position the deck. I usually wore jeans but with the sun out and deck down I went into my bedroom put on my bikini. I got a copy of a J.D. Robb novel from the bookshelves and lost myself in the pages. While I lay in a deck chair trying to figure out who the Traffordville killer was, and soaking up as much sun as I could, I couldn’t help but notice Peter was looking at me. When he came out of the water he stood beside me. As he peeled off the wet suit some of the water droplets fell onto my back.

“Christmas that’s cold! Is the water always that cold this time of year?”

Peter picked up the iPad from my chair and typed his response.

“Water in May is usually cold. Sorry for losing my cool when we came home. I’m just not used to feeling like hell.”

There was it was again. The “we” word. Only this time it didn’t sound quite so frightening. It almost sounded normal. But I still didn’t know how I felt.

“You certainly look comfy. Are you?” asked Peter who was looking down at me and drying himself off.

“The sun is warm and the book is yummy. What about you? How’s the throat today?”

“Well, the cold water has numbed most of my neck. Do you mind if I say something personal?”

“Go right ahead” not expecting anything remotely scandalous.

He took the iPad and wrote something very long. Something I wasn’t expecting at all.

“One of the side effects of throat cancer is you can’t verbally tell a woman she looks like a million dollars. And you look like a million dollars.”

My jaw dropped open. I wasn’t expecting that at all. Then he typed something I was totally unprepared for.

“May I take my gorgeous next door neighbor to dinner? Gelert Gardens has Chinese food that is out of this world. Interested?”

I looked up at him. With the wet suit off he didn’t look as poorly as I originally thought.  But even though he obviously had feelings about me I was still unsure about how I felt about him. We needed to talk before we took the next step – whatever that was. “Can we talk?” I suddenly felt like Joan Rivers.

Peter sat in the shade while I moved beside him. I wanted to know what he was feeling yet at the same time, I didn’t. Plus I didn’t want to risk hurting his feelings. He’s too sweet a guy. He had been dealt a really lousy hand of cards by life and he really didn’t need any more pain in his life.

“I need to know how you feel about me. I don’t want to say or do anything to cause you more pain. Heaven knows you’ve already had more than your share. Is this invitation between neighbors or between potential lovers? I feel something but right now I don’t know what I’m feeling. Do you understand?”

I didn’t know it at the time but I was trying to make my point with soggy end of a towel. Peter opened his mouth, croaked out a few words and started looking foe the iPad.

Peter took the iPad from my chair and started writing his reply which seemed to take forever and a day. And I was getting antsy. Peter noticed this and moved closer so I could see the iPad. I put my head on his shoulder so I could see his answer as he wrote it.

“I will admit I have feelings for you. I feel something for you that I haven’t felt for any other woman. But right now the feelings are not romantic. Right now my invitation is from one neighbor to another neighbor and nothing more. The fact that I think you’re extremely attractive has nothing to do with the invitation. Now, if the friendship between the neighbors blossomed into something else I wouldn’t mind it. But right now my attention is centered elsewhere, on getting better. You’re new to this area. And you’ve expressed curiosity about this area. I want to show you a part of it before I get sidelined for a few months. Neighbor to neighbor and nothing more.”

The last line of his answer clinched the deal. Gelert Gardens here we come.

…more to come

Chapter 3A–Blue Cottage

Story by Tom Austin  Written by Tom Austin  Revised by Meg Sorick

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A few days later we made the trip to Lindsay and the hospital. Dr. Willowby, a kind-looking fellow with wisps of gray hair, outlined the treatment schedule Peter would have to adhere to.

“You have a type-two cancer. That means you’re only going to get radiation treatments. However, they will be six times per week for seven weeks. Once on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. But on Wednesdays, you get it twice so those will be early morning appointments. The weekends will be your own. I don’t want you to push yourself once the treatments begin. You’ll need your all your strength for the week. I’m not going to sugar coat this for you. You’re going to feel pretty lousy for a few weeks.”

The doctor gave me a pointed look when he said “pushing yourself.” I piped up and said, “I’ll make sure he behaves himself.”

With a nod, Dr. Willowby continued, “If you can’t make it for some reason, any at all I want you to phone my office as soon as you know. Radiation has a number of nasty side effects. It can affect your memory, so don’t be too upset if you can’t remember something. It is usually something simple, almost trivial. We call it brain fog. Since the area being treated is your neck, I want to start wearing loose fitting shirts. You may have trouble swallowing. If you do, make a note of it and tell me. If you find you can’t swallow, we may have to insert a feeding tube into your stomach.”

I looked at Peter. This was news to him. He went a little green around the gills.

The doctor droned on and on for a bit, but he eventually looked at me with such intensity that I knew what he was about to say was gravely important. He faced me directly and said, “This last part is really important. Since you’re the primary caregiver, Miss Carter, I want you to make it your life’s mission to make sure Peter does not lose any weight during treatment. His life may very well depend on it. He can’t lose a kilo.”

Primary caregiver? What? Evidently, the doctor had made some assumptions about our relationship. Even more surprising  —Peter didn’t correct him. I decided not to say anything. Doctor Willowby went to his desk and pulled out a three-ring binder with the title “Cancer Journal – Patients Copy.” In it was everything Peter had to know ahead of time. It also had suggestions for meals that would be easy to swallow. There was a DVD that explained that lasers would be involved. Dr. Willowby wanted Peter back in a months time so he could be fitted for a resin mask. The mask would hold his head and neck absolutely still during the treatments. The mask would also be screwed down to the treatment table so tightly that Peter would have the impression of a small “x” on the end of the nose. The “x” would disappear within a few hours after each treatment. Dr. Willowby asked Peter if he had any questions.

“How long is each session?” he croaked.

“Each session is only fifteen minutes. The lasers are going to be firing from different angles. You’ve already had the surgery but you should know we may have to do the surgery/radiation combo three or four times.”

Peter blew out the breath he’d been holding and cursed.

“This is a particularly rare form of throat cancer. You see, most people who get throat cancer are usually heavy smokers. You don’t smoke at all. Which is good. Did anybody in your immediate family smoke?”

“My mother smoked like a chimney. I also had a brother who used to smoke unfiltered French crud. He passed away a few years ago. His appendix burst.”

The doctor made a note of this on Peter’s chart then placed it back on the counter.

“Since you don’t smoke, I’ll have to presume the cause of your cancer is second-hand smoke and possible environmental factors like air pollution. Now, do you have any questions for me?”

“Not right now but give me time. I’ll think of a few dozen”. 

“Alright. Your treatment room is two floors below this one. You’ll be in treatment room five. If you have any favorite music, burn it onto a CD and bring it with you. I’m sure the nurses in charge of Room Five will play it for you while you’re undergoing treatment. Well… If there aren’t any more questions, I’ll see you in a month’s time for the mask and a possible CT scan.”

Chapter 2B–Blue Cottage

Story by Tom Austin   Written by Tom Austin   Revised by Meg Sorick

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  Story by Tom Austin   Written by Tom Austin   Revised by Meg Sorick

The next morning I woke up early and confused. Then, remembering where I was and why I had felt compelled to stay, I tip-toed into the kitchen to put together a small breakfast for Peter. With as little noise as possible, I fixed an omelet and covered it with foil to keep warm and poured a glass of milk and left it on the counter next to the plate. Warm omelet and cool milk —that should feel good on a sore throat. ‘Be back shortly’ I scribbled on a piece of paper before I crept out of the house.

I stopped at Blue Cottage long enough to brush my teeth, run a comb through my hair and grab the car keys. I bounced along Buller Road —no sign of the bull, fortunately—and made my way into town. After stopping for a takeout coffee for me and a copy of The Toronto Globe and Mail for Peter, I headed back out to the lake. I knocked and let myself in the door to his cottage. He was at the table, chowing down on the food I prepared for him. He waved hello and gestured for me to join him. When I had seated myself, he leaned close.

“This is perfect. Thank you,” he whispered.

“You’re welcome,” I whispered back and he smiled.

“You don’t have to whisper, too. I started losing my voice two years ago. Really, the only time I sound even close to normal is when I whisper. Anyway, I really appreciate the breakfast. And…” He looked down. “And I really hope you decide to stay.”

I felt my face warming and I was sure he’d see me turning red so I stood. “Well, right now I need to leave. For my place. And a shower. And a change of clothes. But I’ll see you later, OK?”

He whispered, “sure.” And I ran for it.

My thoughts were swirling as I made the walk back to Blue Cottage. Peter. I’d never thought about a man this way before. Where did that come from? It’s not like I hadn’t had men friends before, or boyfriends, even. But this was different. New. And it felt like traveling a foreign country. Why Peter? Why was I thinking this way?

***

I managed to keep busy for most of the day —a delaying tactic— to try and figure out what I was feeling. I had told Peter I would see him again, but I still hadn’t worked up the nerve to go over and check on him. Instead, I was standing at my kitchen window watching the sunset and munching on some pretzels. Then, I heard the sound of something being slipped under the side door. Just inside, on the mat lay a folded piece of paper. I stooped over, picked it up and leaned against the kitchen counter as I read it.

Dear Cassandra,

I want to thank you for knocking on my door, and for making breakfast for me. It meant a lot (and tasted great). Cancer has an effect that is very close to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My wife left me because she couldn’t deal with my cancer. My mood swings didn’t help either. I’m angry, very, very angry. Angry at what’s already been taken from me, and angry at what I’m going to lose in the future. I may even snap at you. I hope I don’t but that’s always a possibility.

Remember I mentioned a favor? In a few days, I have a doctors appointment and I’m going to find out if I’m going to get chemotherapy or radiation therapy. I’d like you to come with me to the hospital. News of this magnitude is going to be a shock and I’d like a friend to come with me to simply be with me and to ask questions I’ve forgotten to ask. The hospital is in Lindsay. I’ll drive there but I may be in lousy shape afterward so all you have to do is get on highway 35 and drive north. Depending on the news, I may have to get a really close haircut. US Marine close.

In short, I’m scared silly. And you’re not afraid to ask the questions that need asking. I trust you. Plus, I like hearing your voice.

                                 P.J.C.

Wow! I didn’t see that coming. I felt…  What did I feel? Shaken, yes. And a little numb? And honored? Yes and yes. He already considered me a friend? But something inside me wanted to hear him say it to my face. I stashed my pretzels away and ran over to his place. I knocked so rapidly Peter probably thought the house was on fire. When he opened the door, I rushed past him into the hall. He was wearing a blue and white track suit. Why did I notice that detail? I held onto the handrail of the staircase to steady myself.

“Peter!” I gasped. “Before I give you my answer, I need to hear you say you want me to go to the hospital with you.”

Peter gestured for me to follow him into the kitchen where he poured himself a glass of water.  He cleared his throat and took a drink. Then, shuffling his feet he became visibly nervous. He cleared his throat again. “I’d like a friend to go with me. I’d like you to go with me,” he gurgled.

Spontaneously, I hugged him. I wanted to go with him. He wanted me to go with him, and I really wanted someone to need me. Peter hugged me back and whispered: “Thank you.”

….still more to come

Blue Cottage- Chapter 2A

     Story by Tom Austin   Written Tom Austin   Revised by Meg Sorick

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Chapter 2 – Blue Cottage

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I’m dictating this as I drive to Norland. I want to learn about the people in Norland, and Coboconk. I want to find some of the characters my aunt told me about. Eric the Pirate is the primary person to find. Men talk to their mechanic like they talk to their bartender. I also need to find a place where I can get my hair done. I’m going to park outside the A & P store.”

As I walked in, a gigantic rack of picture postcards caught my eye and I had to stop to look. Some of them showed Norland the way it was fifty years ago. It was fascinating to see how little the town had changed. I purchased one copy of every postcard. As I shuffled through the pile, I stopped at one with a photograph of the town sign, reading ‘Norland, Population 200’ and nothing else. But I didn’t recall seeing this sign when I drove through the town the previous day.

An old man approached the counter and stole a glance at the card in my hand. “Yep, that sign was up for almost fifty years. People could never understand why the population never changed. They always thought it stayed at two hundred. Someone actually started a rumor that Norland was inhabited by witches and warlocks, and whenever the population got over two hundred, we held sacrifices to keep the number in check!” He chuckled. “Excuse me, where are my manners. The names Mervin Lemay. Say, you look kinda familiar. You one of those TV types?”

“Guilty as charged. My name is Cassandra Carter, I’m a reporter for CKMT.”

“Is that so? What brings you to Norland?”

“I’m the new owner of Blue Cottage on Shadow Lake. My aunt left me the cottage in her will.”

“You mean you’re related to Heather Carter?”

“Again, guilty as charged. I haven’t been up here in twenty years. Do you think you could tell me about a bit about the town, my neighbors, that sort of thing? It would help me get a feel for the place. You see, I’m trying to decide if I should move up here permanently.”

After wiping his hands on his apron, Mr. Lemay came out from behind the counter. “Now where did I put those blasted reading glasses of mine?” he grumbled while patting himself down in a futile search.

I stifled a smile. Obviously, Mr. Lemay was a bit forgetful —he was wearing his glasses. I tried to think of a polite way to tell him, but diplomacy has never been my strong suit so I just blurted, “You’re wearing them, Mr. Lemay.”

Reaching up to feel the frames grasping his head, he started to blush. “Well, what d’ya know.” He waved a hand and continued, “Let’s start your education by taking a look at some those postcards.”

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I handed him my pile. He tapped a finger on the first one. “This shows the store and gas station next door as it appeared fifty years ago. As you can, see not much has changed.” He shuffled through the cards telling a little story of each scene. When he had finished, he handed the pile back to me.

“Now, your neighbors. You have P.G. Webb on the one side and Peter James Christopher on the other, but you probably knew that. Mr. Webb and his wife started off as weekenders. But then Mr. Webb decided to move here shortly after Mrs. Webb passed away. Such a shame… Anyway, Mr. Christopher is another story. He and his wife moved up here not long before your aunt died. Mrs. Christopher didn’t care for this lifestyle and the two split up.” He leaned in close, “Between you and me, she was a nasty piece of work. Never satisfied and always expected things to happen at the snap of her fingers. Now, him— he’s a completely different breed of cat. Keeps to himself. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve seen him in almost two years. He even has his food delivered to the cottage. The orders come in through email, can you believe it? Must be some kind of recluse or something. A writer, I think. And a pretty good one from what I gather.”

Now that had to be the understatement of the year. If this was the Peter James Christopher, then he was the author of three books of fiction, two of them wildly popular. His most recent book didn’t do as well as the first two. Critics all agreed that something was missing. It just didn’t have that Peter James Christopher feel to it, that special something that made you want to buy the book, then devour every word. What had happened? Had he lost his touch? Mr. Lemay interrupted my thoughts.

“Now, your late Aunt Heather. She was my definition of a lady. Old fashioned manners and what not. She always said please and thank you. Let the fellows open and close the door for her.” He held up a finger. “But I should add that she was a bit of a free spirit too. Wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, and if the moment called for it, she would say damn. Though I can’t say I ever heard her use those other four letter words that are so popular these days—”

“Oh, she used them,” I cut in. “Very rarely, but she had her own special collection of colorful words. Damn was her favorite. Once, when I was ten, I watched her change the oil in her car. She’d say “futz” instead of the other F-word a lot, most likely because I was there. If she only knew… By then, my vocabulary of swear words was already pretty well established. I even knew a few she never used.”

Mr. Lemay studied me for a few seconds, then took off his glasses and proceeded to clean them with the hem of his apron. “I can’t imagine you swearing like a sailor Miss Carter,” he said.

I blushed a tiny bit because he was clearly flirting with me.

“I try not to but I do have my moments.” Then, to change the subject, I asked, “Is there anything else you can tell me about the reclusive Mr. Christopher?”

“That’s pretty well it. Since you’re one those journalistic types why don’t you simply interview the guy, or whatever it is you do?”

The man had a point. A very good one. I might be a journalist without standing at present, but I could still conduct an interview. With that, I thanked Mr. Lemay for his time and the information and headed back to the cottage. Only this time the trip would be more memorable. As I drove along highway 45, I spotted a family of raccoon’s crossing the highway. Apparently, Mama raccoon was teaching her brood a hard lesson. It appeared that Papa raccoon had been leading the pack when he got clipped by a car. As Mama approached his lifeless body, she slowed, clearly mourning him, and turned to the little ones as if to say, ‘you see what can happen?’ before hurrying them across the road. I slowed down to allow the parade of nocturnal bandits to pass. Despite their recent tragedy, they weren’t terribly intimidated by my car. I guess I don’t blame them. A cute little chipmunk eyed my car as I drove into town yesterday and I swear he was laughing at it. Okay. It’s not a great, nasty muscle car that gets four miles to the gallon and belches out fumes like there’s no tomorrow, but it gets me where I want to go.

As I turned onto Buller Road, I began to dread another run-in with the bull. Looking around, I didn’t see him, but it was clear he had been there recently. His left his calling card was smack in the middle of the road. Great. A load of bull crap under my tires. Literally. I managed to drive around it, but couldn’t help but think he had done this on purpose just to screw up my day. Once again, I tested the limits of my suspension on the way back to Blue Cottage, but made it there without incident. After stowing my few parcels, I set out for the cottage next door.

I knocked on the screen door. Nothing. I could hear the faint sounds of the radio playing. As I opened the screen door, I realized my hands were shaking. I was as jittery as I was on my very first job interview. I curled the fingers of my right hand and knocked. Still nothing. I was about to knock again when the completely unexpected happened— a knock from inside. Then the ‘thunk’ of a bolt lock moving and the ‘scrape’ of a tiny chain lock sliding open. I held my breath. A gravelly, almost unintelligible voice rasped, “Hold your flippin’ horses. I’m coming!” And, an angry, “if this is a survey I think I’ll spit nails,” probably not meant for me to hear.

The door opened to reveal a man in his forties wearing dark jeans and a blue shirt. His brown hair complimented his hazel eyes. When he saw me, he held up one finger as if to say “just one moment” and handed me a card that said:

“Squamous cell carcinoma – throat cancer”

The delay gave me a chance to take a good look at my new neighbor. His skin was the color of ash, and his gaunt figure made the blue shirt hang on him. He had obviously lost a significant amount of weight. Nevertheless, I tried to put a positive note in my voice.

“I’m Cassie Carter, your new neighbor. I own Blue Cottage.” I extended my hand. He shook it but the handshake was pretty weak.

Mr. Christopher stepped back to let me enter, then put his hands in his pockets and looked me up and down. I felt very uneasy —like a piece of meat might feel being sized up by a butcher.

“Turn around, please,” he growled. At least that’s what I thought he said. And for some reason, I did turn.

“Good. No recording devices. Sorry, but I had to check. I know exactly who and what you are Miss Carter. Even though CKMT has yet to announce it, I suspect they either let you go or put you on some sort of leave. I have nothing against you or your profession. I’m just not terribly fond of some other journalists.”

Most of my instincts told me to leave but the journalist in me told me to stay. I stayed.

Mr. Christopher tried to speak, but it seemed that he had very little control over the pitch in his voice. With obvious frustration, he tried again. Words with two or more syllables were the hardest. When he said my last name ‘Carter,’ the ‘car’ sound came out high in pitch while the ‘ter’ sound came out very low in pitch. It conjured an image in my mind of a barrel-chested operatic tenor on helium. I started to snicker. He politely ignored it.

“Coffee, Miss Carter?” he asked slowly and gesturing towards the coffee jar.

“Yes, please,” I said, with relief. And to break the tension, I went on, “That bull at the top of the road seems to think he’s king of the world. And I think he has it in for my car.”

The author busied himself in the kitchen, making the coffee. While the coffee maker gurgled, huffed and chuffed, he typed on an iPad. When the coffee was ready, he prepared a tray with cups, cream and sugar. He brought it over while handing me the iPad. It read: “please have a seat.” I sat on the sofa. He set the tray on the table in front of me and made a strange sound.

“How do you make that sound with throat cancer?” I asked meekly. I added cream to my coffee to avoid meeting his eyes.

He picked up the Ipad. His hands just flew over the built-in keyboard. After he finished typing he handed the Ipad to me.

That damn bull may think he’s king of the world, but he’s also a damn big coward. If you get a whistle he’ll get out your way really fast. As for that sound you heard me make it’s my version of saying “Hey you”. I simply push my tongue against the skin of my lower jaw. You have to push the skin on the inside of your mouth outwards at the front of your lower jaw.

“That’s really good to know. I’ll get a whistle when I’m in Coboconk. That bull has messed with me for the last time.” I sipped my coffee. It was good. Then mustering up my courage, I asked, “Since you know I’m a journalist, would you mind if I interviewed you?”

He leaned forward, took the Ipad from me, and typed his answer.

I don’t want to be interviewed by a journalist, but I wouldn’t mind chatting with a neighbor. Feel free to ask me anything.”

He had put me on the spot and I positively hate when that happens. Not this time, though.

“Peter, you just put me on the spot. I’m not sure about being your neighbor. Yet. I haven’t decided if I’m going to keep Blue Cottage or sell it.” I paused to sip again, then blurted, “I’ve been suspended, and I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

He got out of his chair, crossed the room, and sat down beside me on the couch. He tried saying something, cursed and put his hand on my knee. Again the Ipad came into play. Again his hands flew over the keyboard. Then he handed it to me.

Tell you what. Let’s make a deal. I’ll give you an interview where you can ask me anything you like. In return, you agree to stay in Blue Cottage one week. I may need a favor. I’ll know in less than one week. Does that sound fair to you?”

I couldn’t believe my luck. I found one of the most reclusive men on the planet and he’s offering to be interviewed by me!

“Can I let my editor know about the interview?” I asked. After pausing for a few seconds he nodded his head slowly. He pointed at the iPad and I handed it to him. When he handed it back I read:

I’ll consent to your editor knowing about the interview as long as it is published in full. And any mention about my divorce will be limited to “we realized we made a mistake and divorced.”

“I better call for his consent.” I almost ripped my pants getting the phone out. When I dialed his number, it rang for a long time —he must have been screening his calls.

When he finally answered, he said, “I figured you’d call. Look, when I said indefinite suspension I meant—”

“Listen! I’ve got Peter James Christopher in front of me right now. And he’s willing to be interviewed. All you have to do is agree to publish it in full. The deal’s on the table for the next thirty seconds.”

There was nothing but aching silence from on the phone. I glanced over at Peter. His face was a mask of pain. His throat was really beginning to smart. Peter pointed at his watch and held up ten fingers.

I whispered,“What does that mean …ten seconds left?”

Finally, there was an answer. “OK, you got me. But put him on the line. I want to hear him.”

“He wants to talk to you.” I handed my phone to Peter, who looked like he going to be violently ill. Buddha started talking.

“I just wanted to say that this isn’t the way we normally conduct business. We have standards and—”

Peter cut him off. “I have throat cancer you big baboon. This could be my last interview. Do you really want it to go a competitor?”

As the ramifications finally hit Buddha, he asked Peter to hand the phone back to me. Peter held it out and croaked out the word “talk”. He winced in pain and got up to take some yellow medication. Morphine.

“We’ll honor the deal,” Buddha said, realizing he’d almost made a colossal mistake. “How bad is he Cassie?”

I turned my back on Peter and whispered into the phone, “Look chuckles. The guy’s in rough shape. He has to take Morphine. You know the phrase: “he’s a shadow of his former self”? Well, there’s so little of this guy left he’s barely got a shadow. Listen, I’ve got to go.”

Peter tapped me on the shoulder and handed me the iPad. “I’m going to bed. Morphine always makes me sleepy.” I nodded in understanding. Five minutes later, I heard his soft snoring coming from the bedroom.

Peter probably expected me to leave, but I felt responsible for his pain. I couldn’t leave him like this. I lit a fire and selected one of the many books he had on the shelves. The cozy fire and the warm blanket combined to make me sleepy and despite my best efforts to stay awake, I fell asleep on the couch.

……..and more to come!