Could I be hallucinating? My pulse was racing and my vision became blurry, my breath short, hooked in my throat. I stumble my way to the nearest counter and order a glass of water. Isabelle died three years ago, you idiot. You buried her, I think to myself. It’s not her, it’s a lookalike. I gaze across the bar at them; she was leaning across the table to wards Greg, her blond hair cascading past her face. She lifts her long, manicured fingers and stick a few strands behind her ear, never taking her eyes off Greg. Whoever she was, I knew instantly they were intimate. My heart sinks, I feel a deep pain in the pit of my stomach- this would crush Lee. As I look across at them again, I realise that I really didn’t know Greg anymore; he was always the person I not only looked up to, but whom I sought guidance from. Who was Dr. Gregory Wingham? All these years had passed with me so consumed by my own anguish I failed to notice the cracks in Greg and Lee’s “picture perfect” life. Isabelle’s death affected them as well; we all went through a loss. I gulp down the rest of my water- realizing that I’m jumping to major conclusions, but determined to get to the bottom of it. As I make my way to their booth, Greg’s companion looks up, her eyes meeting mine.
“Ah, so this is where you’re hiding, Greg,” I say dryly.
She looks across at him and then back at me, Greg doesn’t answer and takes a swig of his drink, I look back at the mystery woman.
“Who would you say you are?,” I don’t smile, I was struggling to control my anger. Why did I even care what he was doing with his free time? Why did it matter who he was sleeping with and who he was lying to? Just as the thought of leaving crosses my mind, the image of Lee’s smiling face flashes through my mind.
“Bethany. Abrams. I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure of meeting yet, are you Jon? Greg has told me a lot about you,” she flashes me a smile and flicks her hair over her shoulder.
This holds no power for me as I stare blankly at her, “Look, I don’t know who you are and specifically what your game is, but Greg is in a committed relationship with someone I consider family, so excuse me for not being impressed,” turning and addressing Greg I say, “I think it’s time to go- you look awful. How long have you been out here drinking?”
“I’ll help you!,” Bethany springs up, revealing her long slender legs in an extremely short black mini skirt and an equally tight pale blue buttoned down dress shirt, with the top three buttons undone.
“No, I’m alright,” I say through gritted teeth-Greg’s drunken weight was heavier than I had anticipated- I needed to get him to the car fast.
“Honestly, let me help- it’ll be easier,” she takes four quick steps to the other side of Greg and places his arm around her shoulders, carrying some of his weight.
“I…swear….I…found…him…like…this,” she says breathlessly as we carry Greg.
I chose not to respond- so much was going through my mind, but deep down something told me, I didn’t want to know who she was. As we approach my car, Bethany lets out a loud whistle,
“Now THAT is a car!,” she was referring to my silver Lexus LS 460; in any other situation I would begin gushing about the specifications and engine performance, but I remain silent. As we seat Greg on the passenger side, he reaches up, slipping his hand into Bethany’s shirt and grabbing her breast,
“…you taking me back to the hotel…for round two?,” he slurs.
She takes a step back, misjudged her steps and lands in a puddle, soaking her mini skirt and strapped black heeled shoes, “SERIOUSLY?!!?,” she shrieks looking down at the damage- I struggle to suppress a smile.
Bethany glares back at Greg and says, “No- you’ve had too much to drink, besides judging by the looks your friend here keeps giving me-you’re going home,” with that she slams the car door shut, turning towards me she says,
“Lock him in, we have a lot to talk about,” with that she strides back to the bar purposefully, her blond hair flapping behind her. I hesitate for a minute, part of me wants to get in the car and drive home- I didn’t need any more drama today, but I knew full well that I needed to have answers- if not for me, but for Leelah.
Forty five minutes later, on my way home as Greg sleeps in the car, my conversation with Bethany replays in my mind.
Bethany and Greg met about two years ago at a medical convention in DC, she was the flight attendant on Greg’s flight, but it wasn’t until they bumped into each other later on that evening in the hotel restaurant, according to Bethany they hit it off and hit the sheets- they had no intention of continuing their relationship after going their separate ways. A few months later, Greg calls her up and they meet up and have been in a “relationship” ever since, with Bethany flying out to whatever destination Greg would require, she even flew out to The Maldives when Greg and Lee were on vacation. The brashness of this woman angered me, she was fully aware of Lee, but she didn’t care. According to Bethany, Greg was planning on ending his relationship with Lee- he just needed the right time; I found this amusing, but Bethany urged me not to tell Lee as she didn’t want to be seen as a home wrecker. Too late, screams my thoughts. I end our conversation abruptly; put on my blazer, straighten up, look her dead in the eye and blurt out,
“Well, home wrecker, I hope you’re happy with yourself- you have had two years to grow a conscience with no such luck. Do you think this is a romance novel? Telling me how much you love him and how you’re meant to be together; well since Greg is the love of your life and you’re completely honest with each other, I’m guessing you already know, he’s going to be a father in December?!? I wish you all the luck with it all, but… I personally shouldn’t have come here.”
She looks up at me, her blue eyes wide, mouth aghast and the colour draining from her face.
“That’s what I thought,” I sneer and walk out of the bar and do not look back.
I call Lee to let her know that Greg was safe, but that he would be spending the night at mine- I keep it vague but let it slip that he is drunk. Lee was grateful once again for my help, but the truth was I wanted to be there when he sobered up.
Friday morning, seven am comes around much sooner than I wanted it to; I wake up with a jolt to the sound of Greg blending up one of his smoothie concoctions. Rolling my eyes, I stretch and head to the shower, twenty minutes later, I’m dressed, fully awake and ready for battle with Greg. I find him topless at the breakfast bar reading the newspaper and sipping his breakfast smoothie, I sigh- how was it possible that he looked good even with a hangover?, he doesn’t say anything to me as I walk in.
“Sleep well?,” I ask.
“I made you a glass-it’s on the counter and lay off me- I have a headache,” he doesn’t look up.
“Lay off you?! You’re kidding right? I spent most of my evening chasing after you and then when I DO find you, you’re snuggling up with someone who is NOT your girlfriend and the mother of your unborn child! Speaking of which, did you know I had to bring Lee to her checkup?! Me!! Not you!!! I shouldn’t have to be cleaning up your messes- not at our age, you’re getting too old for this shit! I don’t know how many lies I had to tell yesterday,” passing my fingers through my hair and was now pacing my kitchen.
“Don’t act as if you weren’t happy to be the knight in shining armour. You’ve been in love with her since college, don’t patronize me.”
“Oh, so that’s what it is after 8 years, you’re sabotaging you’re relationship for my greater good? You’ve bed hopped so that I could be chivalrous? You’re pathetic, Greg. You have a gorgeous home, a partner who loves you SO much and you’re about to embark on one of the greatest journeys of your life and you can’t even be bothered to show up for any of it.”
“Don’t you DARE!,” he slams the glass down on the countertop and shoots up so quickly the barstool falls to the floor.
“Don’t I dare what?,” I was fully aware that I didn’t really want to anger him- but there was no turning back, “Now you’re the victim?”
“Jon- stop. You’re really getting on my nerves and I’ll end up saying things I’ll regret,” he was clenching his jaw.
“So, I drive around town looking for you- bring your drunk ass to my house, all the while lying to your girlfriend to protect you and now you stand in my kitchen and tell me that I’M over stepping? Kiss my ass, Greg- you’re more fucking selfish than I thought. Clean this shit up and get out of my house.” I walk out of the kitchen and slip on my shoes.
“Wait!,” he runs after me into the foyer, “where’s my car? How am I supposed to get to work?”
“Don’t really give a shit,” I touch my chin and fain thinking, “maybe you can call Bethany…on second thought- you may struggle to get her to pick up the phone after last night’s chat.”
“What….did you tell her?,” anger flashes in his eyes and for a second I think that I may have gone too far.
I lower my voice, “She has a right to know, Greg-I won’t apologise for that.” I close the front door behind me and start my car, I hold my breath until I’m down the street and….exhale.
I arrive at work to six missed calls and three text messages- all from Greg; I had no intention of speaking to him and was very grateful for the busy day ahead. Mother was also in town, which meant he would stay clear, as mother could never stand him.
“Dr. Pierce! Good morning!,” said June as she springs to her feet, her red bob bouncing, “I’ve got a lot to hand over- should I walk with you to your office?”
“Morning. Sure, June”, I reply, “Morning, Sam.”
“Sam, if Mr. Winston calls I only have a 1 or a 2 o’clock with Dr. Wingham available, although he should be here by now,” she looks up at the clock, then at me, “Do you know if he’s coming in today Dr. Pierce?”
“No idea June-maybe Sam should give him a call, before we book too many patients,” before I could finish, the front door to the office swings open and Greg leaps forward barking,
“Sam! My office NOW! !,” Sam’s eyes nearly leap out of her head, she scurries around the desk and runs down the hall to Greg’s office, he then turns to me pointing.
“You, I’ll see you in 30 minutes!!”
“Excuse me?!,” I fain surprise.
“You heard me, Jon,” he lowers his voice.
“Good morning, Jon. I can see you’re very angry and possibly not thinking straight, but I have a lot of appointments and no time to entertain you in this mood and to be honest, I’m not sure my schedule will clear up if you’re going to be like this, especially if you’re going to speak to the staff like that. Now if you’ll excuse me,” I begin to walk down the opposite hall to which Sam dashed down, “You were saying, June?”
June snaps out of her state of shock and leaps to catch up with me; once in my office, she says,
“Uh…,” clearing her throat, “What was that about?”
“Dr. Wingham is in a bad mood and I have no patience for it,” I sigh and drop my bag on my desk.
“I hope I’m not speaking out of turn Dr. Pierce, but Dr. Wingham has always been there for you, particularly when the tragedy that we won’t speak of happened. I’m not sure what your fight was about, but lately you seem to have gotten that spring in your step back and I am so happy to see that, Lord knows how uncomfortable is it working here when you can barely look people in the eye and no one dare ask why for fear of upsetting you-”
“June,” I raise my hand to rub my already throbbing temple, this stops her, “what’s your point?”
“Oh! Well maybe it’s time for you to be patient with him- help HIM through his time of need…,” she pauses, “Anyways, I really don’t like seeing the two of you fight.” She looks up at me with a piercing look. I don’t know what to say to her, but because of her look I give in.
“Yes, you’re right, June. It’s slightly more complicated than that- but you are right,” I rub my forehead; all this tension was beginning to give me a headache.
June senses my discomfort and changes the subject,
“So, on today’s menu, you have a packed house,” I start taking notes, “Mr. Robbins, Mrs. Lucas, the Smith-Reeves twins and Mr. Willis in the morning. You have a 12:15 lunch scheduled at the Concorde,” my eyebrows shoot up, “with your mother, who called this morning by the way- she said she called you at home but didn’t get you.” An expensive lunch…typical, I wonder what she had to tell me that it needed to be in person, I thought.
I nod to signal my understanding.
“After lunch, at 1:45, you have a scheduled meeting with Dr. Strange- contracts,” she said jogging my memory. “And then it’s back to the rounds with Mrs. Jameson and Miss O’Leary, your appointments finish at 3 today on the orders of your mother,” June looks up from her agenda with a satisfied smile. “Told ya, you were busy, it’s good because it’ll take your mind off of things. Mr. Robbins is usually on time- so I’ll give you some time to thaw out before you gotta get to work,” as she heads through the office door I stop her,
“June?” I pause. “I just want to thank you for your efficiency- it’s outer worldly and…honestly, it keeps me going,” I give her a small smile.
“Oh Dr. Pierce,” as she plays with her hair, “You’re a great man and you’re very welcome,” she bows her head and walks out of the room. I leave a quick message on my mother’s cell phone and get my busy day underway.
Lunchtime hit me with a startling buzz from my office phone with June alerting me it was time for lunch with my mother, I sigh and get on my way.
Mrs. Diana Pierce being in town was great news, but it had its drawbacks; she was a part time accountant and a full-time worrier. My mother is high-classed, high strung and hard work at the best of times, but she was all I had left in the world and I protected her feverishly. It never took much to make her uneasy and as a child I would wander our neighbourhood on my way back from school or baseball practice and in her apprehension, she would send our numerous chauffeurs, staff or anyone she could find to search for me, needless to say, I knew not to tarry.
The Concorde Resort & Restaurant was situated on an impressive estate on the north side of town, in the “high-end” part of town, as Mother likes to call it. She had wanted to buy Isabelle and I a house in the area, but Isabelle had refused on the basis that she wouldn’t accept handouts. She had been struggling to find a job which held her passion and attention longer than three months; she had dropped out of college-Huntingdon’s School of the Arts. After art school, she swapped from job to job trying to find something that would fill the void, for a full year, I offered to pay for her to go back to school, but her pride would never allow her to accept…the smell of mint was beginning to fill my nostrils again. Why was I thinking of her? I shake my head to rid my thoughts-I didn’t need to be pulled in…down…to the place where my darkness resides.
I drive up the long, winding, private road that leads to the palatial grounds of The Concorde; I pull up to the base of the high steps with even higher front doors and out jumps an immaculately dressed valet. I look down and thank my lucky stars that I made an effort getting dressed this morning. Two days in one week Pierce- you’re on a roll, spoke my thoughts.
“Dr. Pierce,” says the valet.
“Maurice,” I greet him, slipping him a fifty dollar bill; as I walk up the steps I roll my eyes at how pretentious I was being and how seamlessly this life comes back to me. Buttoning my blazer, my eyes pan across the beautiful rolling grass of the country estate, it was picturesque- mother always chose well. I run my fingers through my freshly cut hair and finish walking the stairs, through huge wooden double doors; as I make my way down the long hall to the restaurant, I look over my shoulder to realise that I am being quietly followed. I turn around to notice a very short, middle-aged woman in a housekeeper’s uniform trying to catch up with me. She stops suddenly and smiles and in an instant she’s next to me.
“Hola Senior, I’m sorry to bother you, but I have been praying to Dios and then you appear,” I look down at her and frown.
“Ummm…I’m not sure I know what you mean?”
“My grandson…he’s sick- he need doctor. No money to take him to doctor, no money to pay you, but I could come clean your house? You come see him? No money to pay for medication…please come, senior,” she looks at me with pleading eyes, reaches over and grabs a hold of my hand. Her skin, though wrinkled, was soft and warm. Looking down at her, I know can’t say no, this was the reason I became a doctor.
“Yes, I’ll have a look at him; can you tell me what is the matter with him?”
She looked down, “He’s very ill-I won’t keep you,” dropping my hand.
“Ok. I’ll give you my office number and you can leave your information with my secretary, I’ll come to see him sometime after three today, is that ok?”
“Si, si! Gracias! I really appreciate it! I know you have a kind soul.”
“Can I ask? How did you know I was a doctor?”
“Face. Your face in newspaper about new clinic-I recognise.” Greg and his freaking advertisements, I thought. “I see…what’s your name?”
I glance at my watch, “It was nice to meet you Paola- I’ll see you after three, I’m running late for a lunch with my mother, so I can’t stay any longer, I’m sorry.”
“You good man-que Dios le bendiga,” she whispers and slowly disappears down the hallway.
I frown and shake my head as if in a dream; lately it seems as if I’d been having lots of strange conversations. Once at the restaurant, the maître d shows me to my seat; my mother is already on her second glass of wine. She looks up and stareselly,
“Jonathan Pierce! You had me worried!,” she pushes out her chair and walks around the table with her arms open. “You look good! Are you finally getting enough sleep?”
I embrace her; everything always felt better with her around.
“I guess you could say that,” I respond in her hair. As I pull away, I hold her at arm’s length and examine her face, she looked older and her hair has significantly more specs of white in it. Her eyes appear young and vibrant in its deep blue, but she had more defined lines around them- it then struck me that I really didn’t see as much of my mother as I should- though I speak to her a lot on the phone, her face had changed to me.
“Mother- you look great! I’ve really missed you!”
“You think so?,” she beams and spins around for good measure-she was wearing a perfectly tailored, custom cream skirt suit, complete with her set of favourite pearls- a gift from my father.
“Well, then you must come visit. God knows the place is lonely with just me there. Come, sit. I’ve been waiting for you! I’m starving, so I started on the wine- what kept you?”
“Yea…I can see that…,” I motioned to her nearly empty glass.
“Join me,” she raises her glass and motions to the waiter for another round.
“Mother, I’ve got work and I drove here, besides should you really have any more?,” I said through gritted teeth- I really didn’t want to be around another drunk.
“Oh, don’t be a bore. It’s to go with my lunch-I won’t have any more if it’s going to make you uncomfortable, honestly Jonathan you really do need to relax more,” she patted my hand, “What’s the matter?” She always knew.
I sighed, “It’s nothing really…,” her eyes pressed me further. “Greg and I had a disagreement-he and Lee are expecting, he’s been cheating on her with another woman for at least a year and I just agreed to do a free house call…so, nothing really.”
Her eyes widen.
“That’s a lot to process-the free house calls- is that a new thing?”
I shake my head, “No, as I was on my way to the restaurant I got stopped by one of the housekeepers, she wanted me to have a look at her grandson, but she didn’t have money to pay for it-so I said I would do it for free…is that all you’ve picked up from what I’ve said?,” I ask with incredulity.
“Well I AM an accountant and you ARE trying to run a business. So free always peeks my interest. You know I don’t like Gregory, so anything you say regarding him will simply be negative. I’m happy for Lee, although the fact that the father is a scoundrel is disappointing. Why didn’t you ever try to hook up with Leelah anyways?”
“Mother! You didn’t just say “hook up”- that’s so wrong. Besides, Lee is my best friend’s girl- even if I did have feelings for her, I couldn’t pursue that. To top it off, she doesn’t feel that way about me….,” I look down at my hands.
“Does she know Gregory has been unfaithful?”
“No,” I whisper.
“You haven’t told her?”
“Mother- I only found out last night. I don’t really know if it’s my place to say anything.”
“It is to tell her.”
“I’ll think about it- now can we change the subject?,” I take a swig of my water. “Why didn’t you come yesterday and who is this friend you stayed with?”
It was now my mother’s turn to be uncomfortable, she shifts in her seat and begins to rearrange the cutlery, I wait in silence, she looks up and the look in her eyes has changed, she clears her throat.
“I had hoped to tell you back at the house, but I guess now is as good a time as any,” she reaches for my hands again and in an instant, I feel myself tense up and brace for the bad news.
“Mom…you’re worrying me…what is it?,” I ask breathily.
She lowers her voice, “I went to see your grandmother yesterday,” she clarifies, “my mother.”
My mother’s childhood wasn’t the best, moving from house to house, escaping the tax man, her mother’s ex-partners and anyone dear old Nan owed money to. Nan or Celeste Thornton had run away from home at fourteen and became pregnant at fourteen and a half, with no one to turn to in the world, she returned home but when she could no longer hide her bulging bump- her parents kicked her out. This time, Celeste met a man, ten years her senior, who was willing to take her in. After five years of enduring his abuse and controlling behaviour, pregnant with her second child and little Di in tow, Nan hit the road. She’d learned to use her looks and smarts to get what she wanted, but most of all-keep moving. My mother, on the other hand was the complete opposite of her rebellious and free-spirited mother. She met and married her high school sweetheart after graduation, marrying into one of the wealthiest families in New Haven, Connecticut- Dr. Edward Sanford Pierce (D. Eng) of Pierce and Simpsons Ltd. My father came from five generations of engineers and because of this my mother had every luxury available to her, but this allowed her to deny everything and everyone in her past, which is why I never met or spoke of my grandmother and uncle. Over the years, Richard and I learnt to stop asking about mother’s past, so the news of her reconnecting with Nan was a complete shock.
“Really? How did it go? How is she? Was she expecting you?,” the questions rush out of me.
“It went as well as could be expected, I suppose. Let’s just say she’s not how I remembered or expected her to be,” she continues rearranging the cutlery again.
“Well I guess she’s aged- and a lot of years has passed, so understandably- it would be hard,” I reach for her hand- willing her to lock eyes with me, she complies, but I immediately knew that I was wrong.
“Jonathan- she has Alzheimer’s.”
Mother has been considering reconciling with her mother for the past ten years or so, but had always found a reason to back out, I felt crushed for her.
“How long has she had it? There are a lot of experimental drugs and research, maybe we could look into it…,” my voice trails off because of the single tear that ran down her face.
Our lunches arrive at that moment- forcing a change in conversation, my mother looks relieved. She had ordered her usual pasta primavera, I opted for a chicken Acapulco, stuffed with sundried tomatoes, chèvre cheese and avocado; I was famished. My meal was polished off in approximately ten minutes with mother chastising me for not having appropriate manners; I wipe my mouth with my napkin, gulp down the rest of my mineral water and grin up at her like a little boy. I spent the rest of our lunch telling her about the interviews and Greg’s unfaithfulness, she vehemently believes I should tell Lee and deep down I know she is right, but I also know that she is hoping Lee will turn to me in her time of need; I wasn’t sure I wanted that to happen.
“It’s not my place to meddle in their relationship.”
“Meddle? He called you knowing the tramp would be there- he’s such a jerk. How can you be friends with him Jonathan? I raised you better than that!”
“He’s not ALWAYS like that- he’s just misunderstood,” I reply looking away, “He’s had a tough life, mother.”
“You keep using that as an excuse, as if it gives him a free pass- I’ve had a tough life, I lost my husband, son and granddaughter in the span of ten years; I never knew my father and my mother practically slept her way through every married man in the city. He doesn’t have a hard life, he’s just an ungrateful jerk,” she throws her napkin on the table.
“Don’t get worked up mother, I didn’t mean it that way.”
“I know- I knew this weekend would be tough, but finding out about your grandmother in the same weekend that marks the death of Sophia- it’s all a bit too much for me,” another tear runs down her cheek.
The pain in my chest begins to throb again; I had completely forgotten the date, no wonder mother insisted she come this weekend; I felt sick.
“Jonathan…look at me…,” she reaches across the table and turns my face towards hers, “We all have our own pains, regrets and experiences- but until we learn to face them and accept them as truths-we will NEVER be able to move on. My mother had her own reasons for being the way she was and she coped by using her body- I see a lot of her in you- you’re fighting your feelings…let them in, let ME in. If there is anyone who understands the pain from the loss of a child-it’s me and all I want is for you to be happy. There’s a quote I read, “A mother can only be as happy as her saddest child…,”
I chuckle- she was always quoting me words of inspiration.
“I know…mom…I just don’t know how to face it…,” I whisper, “I still feel it was my fault and to make things worse, I feel like I’m reliving it with Greg and Lee, the only difference is that my mistress at the time was the practice- but the fact of the matter is I didn’t make myself available to Isabelle and she felt alone in her pain. I was too busy trying to be strong- now I feel hallow. Because in the end I’ve lost them both. Like all that work, the practice- it means nothing because it was all for her and now she’s gone- they both are,” I let out a huge gust of air.
“Why do you blame yourself, Jonathan? Isabelle made a decision and no one would have been able to change her mind-that was her cross to bear.”
“Maybe if I had listened or seen her pain, if I showed her my agony over losing Sophia-maybe she wouldn’t have died…,” as I spoke my mother slides her chair silently over to my side of the table.
“Jonathan Pierce, Isabelle didn’t die-she committed suicide, you have to allow yourself to accept that.”