Authors: James Grippando
HOME. AFTER THREE NIGHTS IN THE HOSPITAL, IT FELT GOOD TO BE
for Kevin almost as much as Peyton.
Home was on Magnolia Street, two blocks north of famed Newbury Street, where magnificent old Victorian residences blended with new galleries, smart shops, and outdoor cafés that, especially in warmer weather, lent the area a certain continental élan. Even though it was pricey, Peyton had insisted on taking the apartment. Kevin knew her angle. He wasn’t happy about staying in Boston after she’d finished med school, so she dropped him right in the heart of what was considered
place for the young and chic to see and be seen.
Ironically, the accident afforded them their first real opportunity to share the place together, alone. Missing work to nurse his wife back to health had also helped Kevin keep his mind off his mistakes; it kept Sandra at bay.
Kevin didn’t fully understand the thing with Sandra, having never intended anything sexual between them. She was just good company and a good friend at Marston & Wheeler, a breath of fresh air at a law firm, where most associates competed like gladiators. Sandra had an unusual wisdom and maturity about her. Although she was just a second-year associate, she was ten years older than Kevin. After graduating from Columbia Law School, she’d given up a career to marry a widower and raise three stepchildren. They
were driving home from Dartmouth, having just dropped off the youngest child for the fall semester, when her husband of twelve years told her about the lover he’d kept for the past eleven. To her credit, Sandra picked herself up and landed a job at Boston’s top law firm, starting at the bottom, determined to make up for the thirteen years she’d lost.
Kevin knew it was stupid to go to bed with a coworker, but that was actually what had made it so easy. When Kevin volunteered to work on the big bank-fraud investigation in Providence because “there was no one to go home to back in Boston anyway,” Sandra quickly convinced the senior partner to make her the junior associate on the case. She and Kevin worked long hours, just the two of them. After two months of traveling back and forth from Providence together, conversations inevitably had less and less to do with work. It was on trips that required hotel stays that Sandra, usually over dinner, probed more deeply, more personally. Kevin didn’t even realize how much he was revealing about himself and his marriage until, one night, Sandra ordered a bottle of wine with dinner and told him all about her creep of an ex-husband. She probably hadn’t intended to plant seeds of doubt about his own marriage, but the fact that someone as smart as Sandra could be fooled by a cheating spouse for eleven years caused Kevin to think, if only for a minute or two, that if his own wife wasn’t putting any of her energy into their relationship, maybe there was something—or someone—he should know about. A few weeks later, he foolishly took up Sandra on an invitation to come back to her room to prepare for the next day’s meetings. They actually did work for a while, but after watching him check his cell phone at least a dozen times for missed calls, Sandra uttered those fateful words, the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, which opened up the minibar and turned down the bedsheets: “
Peyton didn’t call you back to say good night this time either, did she?
It seemed fitting that it happened on a night that culminated in Peyton’s accident. A painful ending to the biggest mistake in his life.
“I wish you didn’t have to go to work today,” said Peyton. She was sitting up in bed against the headboard, her injured leg propped up on a pillow.
“Is that because you’ll miss me or because you dread the thought of your mother coming over?”
“I plead the Fifth.”
“I thought so.” He handed her a cup of coffee.
“You know, this breakfast-in-bed routine reminds me of the first time you ever cooked for me. Remember?”
“Yeah, I remember.”
It was back when they were dating in college. He’d baked her brownies, following the directions meticulously, adding the ingredients in the exact order listed on the box. First the packaged mix. Exactly a half-cup of milk. One egg. Then he’d astonished Peyton by diving in with bare hands, chocolate mess up to his elbows. Only when she’d handed him a big wooden spoon did he realize he’d taken the recipe a little too literally: mix for sixty seconds
. “Proof positive you’re destined to be a lawyer,” Peyton had quipped. Thirty seconds later they were two students naked on the kitchen floor and covered in chocolate, doing things to each other that not even the threat of raw egg and salmonella poisoning could deter.
It was a fond memory just between them. But he hated when Peyton told that story to others. Made him look like an idiot.
“Maybe you can make us some brownies when you get home,” she said, smiling.
“Sure. Whatever you want.” He’d sounded more grumpy than intended.
She tasted her coffee, then asked, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I just wish I could wiggle out of this trip.”
“Then cancel. I love having you here with me.”
“I can’t. But New York isn’t that far away. Just call if there’s an emergency.”
“You mean if Mother and I finally kill each other?”
“You know what I mean.”
“I’m not scared anymore, if that’s what you’re getting at.”
“Good.” He went to the dresser and popped open his briefcase.
“While I’m gone, why don’t you look these over?” He dropped a stack of papers beside her on the bed, then sat next to her. “I was on the Internet last night and pulled up a list of houses for sale. How do you feel about moving?”
“You know I can’t leave Boston.”
“I don’t mean move away. Just give up the apartment. For the same money or even less we could lease a place with an option to purchase when my job situation sorts itself out. Someplace close to the hospital but with a little yard. Something more familylike.”
He could see her surprise. Planting roots in Boston was something he’d always resisted.
“I think that’s a fantastic idea,” she said, her eyes brightening.
“It’s what I’ve wanted all along. But you don’t have to do this…you know, out of pity.”
“That’s not it.”
Guilt, maybe, but never pity
“But you hate it here. Why the change of heart?”
“The time we’ve spent together, just you and me, since the accident. It’s made me realize that Boston is where you need to be for your career. Mine’s going nowhere anyway.”
“You’re as good as any lawyer in this town.”
“That’s not what the firm thinks. None of the partners have told me anything specific, but I can read the writing on the wall. They’re finally pushing me out.”
“Oh well. I was a fool to have thought I could break into an old Boston firm. A wasted five years. It’s not your fault, but I know I’ve been taking it out on you. That’s the reason I’ve been so distant lately.”
“If that’s really what was bothering you, I wish you would have talked to me about it.”
“You’re right. That’s why I promise never to make you feel so far away from me again.”
“Do you mean that?”
“Absolutely. I’m back. You can count on me.”
“Good. But something tells me I’m still stuck with my mother for the next two days.”
“I said I’m back. I didn’t say I was perfect.”
That got a smile. He kissed her as he rose, then grabbed his coat and briefcase. “My plane doesn’t leave till two, so call me on my cell if you need me.”
He started out, but she stopped him.
“Love you,” she said.
He turned slowly, then said, “Me too.”
He put on his coat and headed down the hall. It was still dark in the living room, but he didn’t flip on the light. For a moment, he stood in the archway and stared, suddenly hit by the gravity of what had almost happened. Had Peyton spent just a few more minutes in the icy pond, these last four days they’d enjoyed each other’s company might have been spent alone, scrambling to make funeral arrangements. Someone—himself, he presumed—would have selected her burial outfit, her jewelry, the keepsakes that would have followed her to the grave. He wondered what words he would have uttered publicly, what lasting tribute he might have etched in the granite marker, what secrets he might have whispered to his sleeping wife after everyone else had left, when only she could hear, if she could hear.
I’m sorry, Peyton. I’m sorry beyond belief.
The old clock chimed on the mantel. Time to leave. He grabbed his keys and headed out. The front door closed behind him, and the wind slapped his face with a burst of chilly white powder. The sidewalks were still shin-deep in some spots, icy beaten paths in others. Above, a fuzzy sun was trying to break through gray winter clouds. He took one step and stopped. He noticed something at his feet.
A single, long-stemmed red rose.
He picked it up. His hand shook, and not from the cold. What the hell was this about? Someone wishing Peyton a speedy
recovery, perhaps. Maybe her parents, a friend, coworkers at the hospital. Flowers would make sense. A nice mixed arrangement. Maybe some fruit.
Not a single red rose.
He knelt to search for a card or note that might have fallen off. He brushed the snow away from the doorstep, gently at first, then more quickly, then feverishly as he checked the top step, the second step, the next one, all the way down from the porch onto the sidewalk. Nothing. He sat on the bottom step and faced the street, exhausted from the little flash of wasted energy. His breath steamed in bull-like bursts as he mulled over the possibilities. Of course there was no note. No card. No signature. There was no need to send any explanation with a single red rose. The message was unmistakable.
Had Peyton found someone else?
He didn’t feel any less shame for his own indiscretion. Now, however, he felt sickened by the whole situation, wondering if he was as blind as Sandra had been in her own disastrous marriage.
He snapped the stem in two, pitched the red rose into the street, and headed for the subway.
IT WASN’T EXACTLY A LIE. KEVIN WOULD HAVE THROWN A FIT IF HE’D
known she was planning on going into work today. So she just didn’t tell.
“You’re back already?” asked a surprised NICU nurse.
Peyton smiled and kept going, no time to talk. She looked worse than she felt, walking on crutches, a shaved eyebrow full of stitches, her left eye surrounded by tiny but inflamed lacerations from the shattered glass and a bruise as big as a purple doughnut. The mild concussion had passed with no lingering nausea or headaches. Her main problem was the sutured gash in her lower leg, which would require periodic elevation to prevent bleeding.
Sensibly, she planned on staying only two hours today, long enough to make an appearance and attend the daily noon lecture for pediatric residents. She had missed only four days so far, not counting the weekend. The program director had promised that sick time wouldn’t be held against her, but the implied understanding was that eventually she’d more than make up the lost time. For any resident, securing free time was like dealing with a loan shark: borrow an hour now, but payback’s a bitch.
With her passkey Peyton entered the restricted neonatal intensive care unit. Peyton had no official rounds here, but it had been a week since she’d visited her favorite premie. Little Jacob Gordon had spent the first three months of his life in the NICU, a full
trimester that should have been spent in his mother’s womb. Each day his mother came to feed him, hold him, rock him. Peyton had assisted the neonatalogist during Jacob’s first few hours on the planet and had cared for him daily till her NICU rotation ended two months ago. Each day thereafter she’d made a point of visiting him and his mother. Not because she had to. Because she wanted to.
She scrubbed at the sink and opened the door. As many times as she’d done it, entering NICU still gave her an ominous sensation. The lighting was dim for the benefit of sleeping newborns. Around the unit were more than a dozen separate stations, tiny babies encased in clear plastic isolettes, many of them seriously premature and living on IVs, some jaundiced and sleeping under lamps, all of them connected to heart and respiratory monitors. She cut directly toward Jacob’s corner. The monitors were silent. His isolette and crib were empty. Her heart pounded as she feared the worst.
“He’s gone home,” said the nurse.
“Two days ago.”
Peyton smiled, heartened to think of Jacob finally at home. Every day his mother used to talk about how she couldn’t wait to take him to the park and show him off. Peyton had been careful to remind her that, as with any child, it would be a while before it was safe for him to venture outside. Like twenty or thirty years.
“That’s great news,” she said, though she was suddenly saddened. Seeing children come and go was part of the job, but not getting to say goodbye to one like Jacob was tougher than usual. Especially on the heels of her own loss.
“You don’t look happy,” said the nurse.
“I’m very happy.” She checked the clock and said, “Guess I’d better get back to work.”
The nurse helped her with the door as Peyton passed on crutches. She was halfway down the hall by the time she realized that, at this pace, her bladder simply didn’t have the patience for
her to hobble across the building to the ladies’ room. She did a quick about-face and entered the ladies’ room across from the NICU, then stopped short upon hearing her name in conversation.
“Did you see Dr. Shields is back?” It was a woman’s voice coming from behind the closed door of a bathroom stall.
“Yeah,” came the reply from another stall.
Peyton recognized the voices echoing against the tiled walls and floors. It was two NICU nurses.
“She looks like hell, don’t you think?”
“Poor girl. She was so pretty.”
Peyton didn’t move. They were obviously unaware she had returned to use the NICU bathroom.
“I hear she miscarried.”
“I didn’t even know she was pregnant.”
“My sister works in the ER at Brigham and Women’s. She saw the chart.”
“What a shame. She would have been a good mother.”
“You really think so? How well do you know her?”
“Not well. But she sure seems to love children. She
“If you ask me, she doesn’t really love kids.”
Peyton blinked hard, as if trying to comprehend. It was the worst blow since her mother had questioned whether she’d wanted her baby.
“How can you say that?” asked the other nurse. “Little Jacob wasn’t even her patient anymore, and she still came to visit him every day.”
“That’s my point. She loves sick kids. They’re like a science project for her. Put her in a room with a healthy baby and she wouldn’t have a clue.”
Peyton cringed at their laughter, making not a sound. Part of her wanted to announce her presence and set them straight in angry tones, but she couldn’t move. Finally, a toilet flushed. Peyton nearly jumped, prompted by an overwhelming need to just get
out. Quickly, she opened the door and headed for the exit, leaving them behind with their mean jokes and misconceptions.
She was moving faster than ever before on crutches, even faster than the busy doctors and nurses she passed in the corridor. Moisture gathered in her eyes. Nurse gossip was a silly thing to cry over. She’d left herself vulnerable, however, by not having cried the miscarriage out of her system when she’d had the chance at home. Now she was fighting back tears, refusing to unravel at work.
Her beeper vibrated against her waist, signaling a page. She checked it. There was no number, just a digital message.
I Love You
, it read.
She drew a deep breath and nearly managed to smile. She felt so much better. The timing was impeccable. She couldn’t confirm the sender, but who else could it have been?
“Thank you, Kevin,” she said softly, then continued toward the elevator.