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

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