Shared Empathy – Chapter Eight

He was fairly anxious before entering the O.R. The scrubbing brushed off some of the nerves, with it came the realization that he missed it and was surprised by the automatic curt nod upon Dr. Sullivan’s welcome. It was natural, professional like he hadn’t been away from surgery for five years. After that, there was a mask to hide the face and besides no one was actually looking. Relieved to know all the steps to the procedure there were a few moments where it felt like all he needed to do was pick up the scalpel and everything would be normal again.

It was until he walked out of the O.R, that the gloom began to set in the pit of his stomach and the relief was replaced by doubt again. By the time he came home, he was sure that this is the farthest he should go and if he actually picked up the scalpel again something would go wrong. He would forget a step or his hands wouldn’t be steady enough. A part of him knew this was just doubt speaking and another part knew he was losing the battle. Take the plunge, move to the other side, jump off; all those metaphors kept making appearances as well.  But that was the thing; despite knowing everything, here he was still standing at the same point.

Alan spent the rest of the day doing nothing. Nola came by to cheer, during which time he deliberately kept steering the conversation towards something other than the supposed small victory. He didn’t want the attention and the praise because he still felt the same – like the day before today. Except for the few moments in the O.R where the past seemed irrelevant. She also announced that she finally got an interview call and would be going for it in the following week, which he was happy to know and hoped that they both had something good waiting for them.

When she left, Alan dug up his refrigerator and started making a stir fry of everything that was available, even though he just had dinner. This is what he did when he needed a distraction. The sound of the knife hitting the cutting board, slight hum of the burner, and the sizzling somehow kept the storm in his mind locked away. He wanted to tire out and go straight to sleep. So, when done with the stir fry, he started making a cake because that took time. By the time the cake was rising in the oven, all the drawers were rearranged and all the shelves clean and shining.

There was a reason the freezer was always full. The stir fry dish was now packed away into small containers ready to go in the freezer, the cake waiting on the cooling stand. After looking at it for several minutes, contemplating what to do with it, he thought; I’ll take it to my AA meeting tomorrow.

When he finally hit the bed, the storm was a mishmash of anxious thoughts swimming in his head, but the body was tired enough not to catch up with them. It was a dreamless night but upon opening eyes to the bright morning sun, a single thought hit him. He wanted to go back to the O.R. He didn’t want to be standing at the same point anymore.

Advertisements

Shared Empathy – Chapter Seven

Luna’s coffee shop – Nola looked up just before pushing the door to enter her workplace. She did that daily, unconsciously checked if she was entering the right place. Maybe it was because she hated working there, or after working there for a while now, she still didn’t feel that she belonged. She walked towards the staff entrance not looking around at all. As she reached the small locker room and put her bag inside her locker, Dan came from the kitchen back door.

“Good. You are here. There is a new girl. Boss says you have to guide her around.”

She nodded and took off her jacket, wondering who she’d have to deal with. She wasn’t in the mood. Well, she was never in the mood lately. She entered the kitchen and found the girl standing near a shelf looking around. It wasn’t a big kitchen, but housed all the baking equipment and utensils. The boss was a middle-aged lady, who loved baking and this business had worked for her. The only reason Nola was still surviving this job was because the lady was kind, straight forward and didn’t fuss around for nothing.

As she came closer to the girl, she realized it was the same girl who came in some time ago. The nervous teenager. She got the job.

“Hey, you got the job”, Nola smiled at her and was a little surprised that it came out genuine.

“Hi”, she looked less nervous than the previous day. She was wearing a blue hoodie and jeans, black today.

“I am Nola and I’ll guide you around. It isn’t very difficult to work once you get the hang of it”, she handed her a red Apron printed with the shop’s name and gestured her to come towards the main counter separated by a glass partition.

“Thanks, I’m Ivana”

It was afternoon and there wasn’t much rush. Dan looked up from his phone when he saw her coming and went away, handing over the shift with a nod. One more girl was working the evening shift with her.

“This is Sophie and that was Dan. Just observe me for today and ask anything you want. Ok? You’ll be doing the evening shifts mostly I suppose?”

“Ahh, no I can do mornings too.”

“Ahan, no school?”

“Um, no, no I am not going to school,” she looked away and Nola could see the hesitance in her eyes, “for now”, she added.

“Ok. That’s Ok”, she smiled and tried to make her feel comfortable. Stupid question Nola. She could see it wasn’t an easy question for the girl. She regretted bringing it up because she knew how bad it felt to be asked the questions you didn’t want to answer.

They spent the rest of the day like that with Ivana observing her. It got busier in the evening. Ivana was good at learning that she could tell and she seemed much more at ease now. As they packed up their stuff to leave, Nola felt that she should ask her how she would be going home. After all, she was a kid.

“Uh my friend is picking me up”, she put on her jacket. “We can drop you home or something?”

“No, I mean it’s fine. I’ll walk. It is not that far. Plus, I wanna catch some air”

“Ok, if you are Ok”, she smiled and started walking outside. The boss always closed up the shop half an hour after it was closed to the public so she just walked out of the door with Ivana by her side. Alan’s car was parked outside, she waved her goodbye and went towards the car.

“Hey”, she said, buckling her seat belt.

“Heya, kid. Who was that?”

“New girl. First day. Ok, so what was so important that couldn’t wait till tomorrow?”

Alan put the car into drive and moved towards their usual restaurant. The place that had the best lasagna and not many people for this kind of unplanned talk out sessions. Alan had texted her earlier in the day that he wanted to meet up.

“I’m going for it tomorrow. I talked to the chief and he said I could come and observe. You know, to get into the whole thing. I’m just so nervous.”

“The great Neurosurgeon Alan Miro, nervous!”, she imitated an incredulous look and tried to match a voice too but she wasn’t much of an actor.

“Ok, that just made me more nervous”, he said and Nola chuckled.

They arrived at the restaurant and went inside. They actually had a table and the waiters knew them. Nola really liked it. They sat at their table which just got free and ordered the usual.

“It’s gonna be fine”, she said what Alan wanted to hear trying to make it look as natural as possible. She didn’t think her words would do anything. If it was going to be bad, it was going to be bad. But she tried to be a good friend. Maybe her words did help him somehow.

“You think?” he said and didn’t wait for her to answer, “it’s just I know it won’t be bad. I’m just observing. It’s not like I’ll be doing any actual work. But still, it’s been ages. It’s just overwhelming I guess and a little embarrassing too. I was an attending and now it feels like I am an intern all over again”

“I know what you mean”, Nola responded. Most of the time she was good at giving positive advice to other people. All it took was some good energy and she usually had it for other people, especially for Alan. Today, she was just down herself. Their food arrived and they dug in.

“Did you look for something?” She was dreading this question.

“Don’t ruin my diner please”. She made a face. It’s been two weeks since they made that promise. Alan has been keeping up with it. Hence, the emergency meeting. She had been keeping up too and looking for jobs. Online, on the newspaper, but every ad made her feel like she couldn’t do it.

Alan kept looking at her, so she spoke, “I looked up, I am looking. Ok.”

“Good”, Alan knew when to not put pressure on her and she was grateful for that. They continued eating in silence for a while. She didn’t have anything to fill in the silence today. She was running low on positivity. Very low.

“Promise not to laugh at me if I call you tomorrow to tell you that I passed out in the O.R or something”, Alan said with such seriousness that she started laughing.

“You are laughing already”, He couldn’t help but smile and turned a little red.

She controlled her laughter and took a sip of her drink, “I won’t. I promise”

“That just means you believe I will pass out. Damn it. You are the worst. I came here looking for support”, Alan had his sheepish face on and tried to sound mad but failed.

“What do you want me to say? I’m a bigger loser than you are. I don’t think I have a right to laugh at you. At least you are trying. You’ll be fine. In fact, you’ll come back smiling. And the next time you’ll even start doing the actual thing. You just need to go back”

Alan took a long sigh and put down his fork. He was nervous but a part of him wanted to go so maybe it won’t be that bad. He tried to tell himself repeatedly that he was sober now and he wasn’t going back in that hell hole again. That much he was sure of. He reminded himself that he didn’t actually kill the kid and he should give himself a chance. You never know if you never try, they say. What could go wrong? But the fear was still there, telling him he wasn’t trustworthy enough.

“We are losers, aren’t we?”

“We are”

 

 

 

 

 

Shared Empathy- Chapter Six

They all settled in the living room once the guests were gone. Sarah and Nola sat on the couch, Peter took the armchair on their right while Alan perched comfortably on a big cushion on the floor. They talked and caught up on each other’s lives now that they were alone.

“Stay the night, Nola. We get to meet for so little time”, said Sarah.

“Oh no, Sarah. I can’t. I have an early shift tomorrow. In fact, I should get going if I have to catch the 11 o’clock sub”, Nola replied getting off the couch.

Alan quickly got up too and said, “You are not staying but that doesn’t mean you are going alone at this hour. I’ll drop you.”, and went into the kitchen.

Nola opened her mouth to argue, but chose not to because there was no winning here. She looked at Sarah and shook her head, smiling.

“Well, I did one thing right with this son of mine. He’s right, you should go with him. It’s late”, said Sarah.

“You did most of it right”

“Hey! I did my part too”, Peter chimed in.

They all laughed at this and Nola picked up her bag hanging it across the body. Alan came carrying two bags which she knew contained packed food from the dinner. “I’m gonna put these in the car”, he said, and went out the main door.

“Okay, guys I had a lovely time. You should visit more often. It’s always great to have you here”, she said with a tinge of sadness in her voice. They had really become like her parents now and she always missed them after their visits.

“Honey, you should come to us sometime. I’ll ask Alan to bring you”. Peter put an arm around her shoulders and walked her towards the door. Sarah walked right beside them.

“Yes, Nola when will you come?” asked Sarah and her eyes lit up at the thought of having her children over.

“Probably never”, said Alan as he shut the car door, parked on the front porch, and came towards them.

“I’d love to come. Well, if your son brings me!”, she shoved Alan in the side.

“Oh great, put that on me”. They all laughed and their voices echoed in the lobby.

“Promise me you’ll come”, Sarah hugged her tight.

“Okay, I promise. Someday”, Nola said, hugging her back.

“Careful Ma, she is isn’t as innocent as she looks”

“Don’t you tease our daughter, young lad”, Peter said as he put an arm across Nola’s back for his goodbye hug.

“And promise me you’ll find him a nice girl before he loses all his charm”, said Sarah.

“I can find myself a nice girl, Ma!”

“Can you?”, Nola laughed, “He has already lost his charm, Sarah. There is no hope.”

“Oh please”, he rolled his eyes, “Let’s go before you ladies get more humiliating”

“I love you, bye”, she waved at them as Alan dragged her out of the house.

“We love you too. Take care.”, they said in unison and watched the car roll out of the porch.

xxx

“Dad asked me today if I would ever go back to surgery.”

They were in the car now. There was no heavy traffic but the roads weren’t completely empty either. The car was moving smoothly on the main road matching the mood outside.

“What did you say?”

“I said I don’t know”

“You don’t?”

“A part of me wants to go back but I don’t really know how”

“You know it, Alan. You just have to trust yourself for that”

He took a left turn. The car slowed down a little as they passed a busy street. After a few seconds of silence, he said, “I don’t though. I don’t Nola. I don’t trust myself. You know I don’t have a bad childhood or a particular incident to blame this on. It was all me. And I know, I know this is a wrong thing to say. But, I guess it gets easier if you have something to blame. I started taking drugs because I wanted to try them. I was fascinated by the idea of them. I thought I had it under control until I lost It.”, his face was flushed and he gripped the steering tighter, “I got dependent. Started making mistakes in the O.R, missed steps in examinations and then that day…”

He was called in for an emergency on his day off. A 14-year-old had come in with a head trauma. There was a brain bleed that needed to be clipped immediately. Alan always took calculated doses during work hours, he only splurged when he could. That day he just rushed to the surgery, his daily intake forgotten. Four hours into the surgery, he started getting irritable. He started losing the steadiness in his hands and snapping at the nurses. He lost his focus and nicked the wrong place which caused another bleed.

Alan froze. He knew what to do but he was too numb with fear and more than that the reason for his behavior. The assistant doctor and nurses asked him what to do and shouted the boys dropping vital levels at him, but he was unable to shake off the realization that it was happening because he didn’t take the drugs.Thankfully, the assistant snapped him out of his trance, adrenaline kicked in and he stopped the bleed. The patient survived but he could have died.

He took pride in what he did and the fact that a child could have died because of his folly became his regret. He started fearing surgery. Drugs were the reason for his downfall but now they became his solace. Instead of getting help, he used more to forget. The thoughts that the boy could have died didn’t leave him except when he stuffed his body with drugs. He was the spinner of his own cycle and he couldn’t stop spinning. Three years after that he was still struggling between wallowing and failing at rehab, then he met Nola.

Nola knew this story. He talked about it just once before. She let him be. They drove in silence for the next five minutes.

“That patient didn’t die”

“He could have”

She looked out the window. She didn’t know the right words to make him believe. She knew his condition. She was living it herself. When the regrets are haunting you, nothing makes sense. The night grew quieter and so did the car. They drove like that until they reached her apartment building. He parked the car on the side of the road and looked towards her. She looked back and turned towards him, folding one leg underneath her.

“It’s in you, Alan. Surgery is a part of you, you didn’t lose it. You lost control for a while but you have it now. You’ve been sober for more than six months. That’s the longest you’ve gone. You know you want it. Give it a try.”, she uttered every word with force making another attempt before she pushed too hard.

“Will you give it a try?”

“Give what a try?”, she asked back and straightened up again to face the windshield.

“A job. Not a lousy job at the coffee bar. One that’s worth your potential.”

She laughed loudly and looked away, doubt evident in her eyes. “I can try to find you a nice girl. At least your mom would be happy”

“That’s the best you could come up with for deflecting”, Alan shook his head, easing up a bit.

Nola opened her mouth to reply but Alan cut in, “Let’s make a promise”

“What promise?”, she looked at him incredulously.

“That we will both do it. You’ll look for a job and I’ll start surgery”

Nola started laughing.

“Why are you laughing?”

“For a second I thought you were gonna go – Let’s make a promise to marry each other if we reach forty and are still single”

Alan couldn’t help laughing himself and shook his head.

“What?!”

“You watch those cheesy romantic movies all the time. Who knows what you might say”

“I do not!”

Nola raised an eyebrow.

“Okay, I do, but that is not happening. I will find a nice girl, okay! Or… my mother will.” They both burst out laughing again.

Alan took a long sigh. “So you promise?”

“Okay, I promise. Maybe it is the only way we’ll move forward”, Nola said it before she could stop herself. She felt a butterfly of fear flutter in her stomach but ignored it.

“Good. Now take your food and get out of my car.”

She took the bags from the back seat and got out of the car. “Thank you, what would I do without you.”

“Probably starve to death”, he said and watched her walk towards the building.

 

 

Shared Empathy: Chapter Five

Author’s Note:

Hi, Awesome people. It’s been long! I had this chapter written for about more than two months now but didn’t post it. One coz I was busy, Two coz I procrastinate a lot and three coz I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right.This is my first story exceeding 1000 words. I keep thinking that I’m doing it all wrong and this should have come first or it was too soon for that and blah blah blah. 

But then more than anything I want to finish this story. Although it is a work of fiction, it is personal to me. More than being right I want it to be complete. I guess what I’m saying is: Those who read this story or still want to read this story, stay with me, we might get somewhere.

This chapter is longer but I cut it into two parts. So chapter 6 will be coming along soon.  Also, if you look up, there is a drop down menu for Shared Empathy. If you want to access previous chapters, simply click it.


Alan’s cooking skills were being tested today. He was standing in his kitchen, half bent in front of the oven to check the temperature of lamb roast when the adjacent oven dinged, signaling that the cupcakes were ready. He shut the oven door and opened the other one, took out the cupcakes and put them on the cooling stand. He stood in the middle of the kitchen, his blue eyes taking in the sight if the entire room behind the slightly smeared square spectacles and made mental notes.

Fifteen more minutes for the lamb roast, cupcakes are ready and vegetables are grilled, sitting on the hot plate. The table is set. Everything is good. Stop freaking out. Just then he saw the iceberg and romaine on the counter and realized he hasn’t started the salad yet. Oh, crap! The salad!

His thoughts were disrupted by the doorbell. He covered the small distance between the kitchen and the front door and opened it.

“Hey”, Nola said.

“Thank God, you are here. I need you in the kitchen.”, he said, pulling her in by the arm.

“Alan! I don’t do kitchen, remember?”, she said, pointing towards herself and giving her a look to tell him he has lost his mind.

“I am not asking you to make Risotto! You just have to chop some things for the salad.”, he said putting an arm around her shoulders and taking her towards the kitchen through the living room.

“Ahh, Alan, why are there people in your backyard? People other than your Mom and Dad”, she asked as she saw people standing in the backyard through the huge living room windows.

“Dad! He invited some of his friends in town. You know how he is.”

“You could have told me”. She was still looking there.

“So that you could bail? No. If I suffer, you suffer with me. Here just chop these cucumbers roughly”, he said and started cutting the tomatoes.

“I hate you”, she said making her best angry face, ” Don’t say anything to me if I do it wrong” she cautioned him picking up one of the cucumbers.

“I said roughly. How wrong can you go there? “, He rolled his eyes.

“Alan, who was at the door?”, they heard a sweet familiar voice coming towards them.

“Nola! you are here!”, Alan’s mother said as she came into view and saw her.

“Sarah! Hi, How have you been?” Nola put down the knife and hugged the lady.

Sarah had a kind face and you could tell where Alan got his eyes and kindness. She wore a white floral dress and her gray hair was tied in a bun. She had a slender figure but still managed to engulf Nola in a bear hug which she welcomed gladly, inhaling her motherly scent. She was the closest person to a mother that Nola ever got . Her own mother died when she was just a baby. She often thought what it would be like to have a mother but never really craved for one. Her father had been enough until he wasn’t.

“You put her to work? She just came!”, said Sarah, releasing her with a kiss on the cheek.

“Ma, I need an extra set of hands.”, Alan replied.

“I’m sorry dear. Peter just had to invite some friends. It was a last minute thing.”, she said apologetically looking at Nola.

“Oh no, it’s fine Sarah. I can help”, she smiled and got back to cutting the cucumbers.

“Ma, go be with the guests. Dinner will be served in twenty minutes. You can talk to your favorite kid then.”, he said, turning her towards the living room. Sarah smiled again and huffed at Alan, but went to the backyard again because people were waiting.

“I’m not even dressed properly. You could have given a heads up”

“I wasn’t given a heads up either and you are dressed just fine.”

She wore a chiffon blouse to give a formal feeling otherwise she usually just wore T-shirts and Hoodies with jeans. This, however, felt like a dressy kind of evening. She looked at Alan who was wearing dress pants and a shirt, well, he was always dressed up.

***

They all sat down on the long wooden table in Alan’s backyard, light bulbs hanging over them and a bonfire flickering away at the side.There were four guests; Peter’s business partner, his wife and their kids, a young man and a woman. Alan happily accepted all the praise and proudly watched his dad introducing Nola as his daughter to everyone. He was really glad that his parents loved Nola. It was good to see her smiling and enjoying herself, being a part of the family. She was comfortable with them despite the fact that she hated being around new people.

He had a beautiful relation with his parents. They have always been supportive and kind. They did everything to make sure he and his baby brother lived a happy, healthy life. He became a surgeon and Mark, his brother was studying Physics. Everyone joked that how was a doctor and a scientist born in the house of businessmen. Their relation got affected during the addiction years. It was hard for them to see their first born like that, but they tried to help nonetheless. They thought he was never going to be better after his repeated failed attempts to be sober. Those were the worst times and now he was better and they both thanked Nola for that. They both believed she had a big role in that, and it was the truth that without her help and support Alan wouldn’t have been able to pull through.

***

Eva, the daughter of Peter’s friend, was standing in front of the painting in the living room, immersed in her own thoughts.

“Beautiful, right?”, said Alan approaching her after taking care of the dishes.Nola was right beside him and gave him a stern look.

“Yes, this is simply amazing. I wonder who the artist is!”, Eva replied.

“Right here”, said Alan, giving Nola a slight push on the back.

She smiled and made a mental note of getting back to Alan about this later.

“You are! This  is truly beautiful”, Eva said.

“Thank you. I made it for Alan.”

“Do you sell your work?”

“Ahh, no… I … no, I don’t. It’s just a hobby, my safe space.”

“Too bad because I would love to have it.”

“Hey! It’s mine!”, Alan said claiming his ownership to the painting.

Eva laughed and said, “No, really, you should think about exhibiting your paintings. You are extremely talented.”

“I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about that.”, Nola said.

“Have you studied art?”

“No, it’s just something I picked up very early in life.”

“Great. You know I run a shelter and rehabilitation center for homeless teens, right?”

“Yes, yes. I heard that at the dinner. It’s amazing what you do!”

“Thanks. We have art sessions. Come by some day, if you like.”

“Oh wow. Um, yes, I’d think about that. Thanks.”, she smiled all the while plotting a revenge against Alan for putting her under the spotlight.

Shared Empathy: Chapter Three

Here are the links for previous chapters.

Chapter One.

Chapter Two.


 

She was sitting on the subway seat holding a canvas, carefully wrapped in black plastic paper, between the inner edges of her sneakers. Her dark brown bag was placed on her lap, it’s flap covered with colorful flair buttons. They had her favorite quotes and different illustrations on them. It was a hobby from her childhood that was still a part of her life and she loved it. 

She was looking straight ahead as blank walls traveled with her. She passed two stations before reaching the one close to Alan’s house. It was his birthday today. He said he would bake a cake. The painting was for him.

Her station came and she got up putting the bag on her shoulders and tucked the painting underneath her left arm. As she got out of the station into the open, cold air hit her like bird wings flapping vigorously and pushed her shot hair away from her face. She instinctively wrapped her right arm around herself.

The weather is in sync with my heart. Great, she thought.

She wanted to go straight home from her shift and do nothing.But it was Alan’s birthday and they planned this dinner a week ago. She didn’t want to let her friend down, her only true friend at the moment. She walked from the commercial street into the neighborhood in which Alan lived.His house was on a five-minute walk from the main commercial block. The air changed its quality just like the scenery. It wore more refined clothes in this part of the city.

The sun turned a shade of orange as she knocked on the front door. She could feel her brows scrunched, cheeks tight and tensed. She patted her cheeks and gave herself a pep talk , Smile and relax. When you reach home, you’ll be too tired to think about anything. Isn’t that what you want?

Alan opened the door, “Hey!”, he was wearing an apron and an oven mitten in his right hand.

“Hello chef!”, she entered the house, eyeing him and smiling widely.

“I did promise you a cake”, he exclaimed shutting the door behind him.

“I knew I liked you for a reason. Happy Birthday”, she said handing the painting to him.

“A painting for me! Well, thank you, Picasso!”

“Oh please!”, she said and made herself comfortable on the couch in the living room.

Alan placed the painting on the center table in front of the couch and went to the kitchen behind the living room. Alan’s kitchen was miraculously decorated just like the rest of his house. He had a good eye for things and an exquisite taste. This was something he inherited from his family; good taste and money.

How would my painting look among these meticulous showpieces? It was a bad idea. She pushed the thought away thinking Alan has never boasted about his wealth with her. He was the most down to earth person she had ever met, not only with her but with everyone. He was always respectful of her and never looked down on her.

“So, are your parents coming?”. She could hear him pouring juice in glasses behind her.

“No they couldn’t come today but they are coming on the weekend.”

He handed the glass to her sitting on the opposite side of the couch.

“I already ordered Pizza. By the time we are finished cake would be done, I know you like it hot so it would be fresh out of the oven. Open the painting”, he said and went to the kitchen to quickly check the cake.

When he came back, Nola was sitting in the same place staring into space.The painting, now unwrapped, was on the table.

“Okay! So, what did my personal Da Vinci made me”, he said picking up the canvas.

“Personal Da Vinci! Really!”, She rolled her eyes.

Alan saw the painting.There was a surgical tray with tools neatly placed on it. Two hands, one resting on the tools; palm flat, one slightly raised in the air like it was ready to pick a tool. They reflected a person of great skill, strength, and wisdom.The background was plain white with just a hint of texture in it. The hands stood out the most, every shade every line, every vein, every scar evident like they were important enough to be seen. Tools, in a dull steel, stood beside them like a supporting character doing his best.

Alan kept looking at it. He knew Nola was watching her, expecting a response but he didn’t have any words.

Sensing it, Nola spoke,”I made this to remind you who you really are. What your true passion is.”

“I didn’t know surgery could look so beautiful.”

“You know it. You’ve known it for a long time now. You’ve felt it.”

Alan shook his head in negative.

“Yes! You have just forgotten it.”, Nola said.

“I don’t think I can go back, Nola. I am an addict. I can slip anytime. I have put patient’s lives in danger before. I can’t do that again. I am better off working on the administrative side of the hospital.”

“Yes, you can. You just need to remind yourself that. You are recovering from the addiction already. The chips are increasing in number.”, She looked towards the fridge on which Alan put all his chips and smiled.

Just then the door bell rang indicating the arrival of Pizza. “Saved by the bell”. He got up and placed the painting on the side table.

“Pizza is here!”, he closed the door behind him and placed the pizza on the table. He brought soda cans from the fridge and opened them, placing one in front of her and one in front of himself. Nola opened the box and served a piece to each.

“Thank you, Nola. I get what you are saying. I will try my best.”

“You will”, she said with her mouth full.

Alan laughed and dived into his own.

“So, how was your day?”

“It was great!”, she took a sip pf her drink and flashed her teeth.

“Ahan! You came a little late. Weren’t you gonna get off at four?”

“Yeah but then I went to the apartment to change and get your painting. That damn thing isn’t very easy to carry you know.”, she laughed again.

“You know that you have a tell, right?”

“What?”, she flashed the big smile again.

“That right there! That smile is a little too big for your face.”, he said.

“I always smile like that.”, she replied.

“Did something happen at work?”, Alan was consistent.

“No”, she sighed realizing there was really no point in lying. Alan had caught her like always. “Yes… maybe.”

“What happened?”

“An old friend of Dad’s came in the coffee-house and recognized me”

“And I guess he said things.”

“Yeah… about my father and his friendship, our family business”, she sighed,” and how I ruined it”

“He didn’t say that.”

“But that’s what he meant.”

“Nola, you give me a painting and a big speech about how I need to move on. You need to do that too. You need to forgive yourself.”, nodding  his head repeatedly as if it would help change Nola’s outlook.

“How do I forgive myself for the fact that I ruined my whole family business and my father died because of me”, despite trying her voice was breaking down.

“He didn’t die because of you”, Alan insisted.

“He was so stressed. If we hadn’t gone bankrupt we would’ve given him better treatment.”, tears were brimming her eyes now.

“His cancer had progressed, Nola. It was only a matter of time. Stop blaming yourself for everything.”

“He was miserable and broke in his last days and it was all because of me!”

“You made some wrong choices in the business, yes! but you certainly are not responsible for his death.”

“I am responsible for his discomfort!”

“You will not listen to me will you!”

By now their volume had increased considerably and both were sweltering; one in agony, one in consolation. Both had forgotten their meals. Silence prevailed and the only sound was that of heavy breathing.

After a few moments, Nola spoke,”  I am tired Alan… I am tired of being so weak,so wrong. I don’t want to cry anymore.”, as a tear finally made it past the shoreline of her eyes.

“You are getting better, you are. Look at how you handled the situation. You didn’t run away. You panicked, you felt bad but you didn’t run away”, he tried to show her the bright side.

She smiled wiping the tears from her face, “But  it did take a lot of convincing to come here. All I wanted to do was curl up and sleep.”

“See, you didn’t give in to the anxiety. That’s a big thing. Besides, you weren’t gonna leave your best friend alone on his birthday. Nope.”, Alan grinned and picked up his piece from the plate.Seeing him, she remembered her forgotten plate and resumed as well.

“You know now that I’m thinking, I haven’t had a major panic attack since I met you. You are always there to calm things down. You are good for me”, she was genuinely smiling now.

That’s how she first met him, in the middle of a chaos. She had to go to their company’s office one last time to take care of some administrative work. Their company was auctioned off and bought by a larger company. They were stripping down all the old stuff and making changes. She barely contained herself and as soon as her work was over she ran out of that building while every regret, every loss came crashing down on her.She had been embarrassed about it for a long time after that. No matter how many times Alan told her not to.

Oven dinged signaling that the cake was ready. Alan stood up, he was relieved to see that she had shared with her.

“Always at your service, Madame”, he bowed, ” Right now your cake is ready.”

***

Nola was ready to leave with a big plastic bag of Tupperware containers. Alan had packed her the remaining cake and pizza. She was standing on the doorstep trying to manage her own bag and the plastic one.

“Alan ! you are no less of a granny”, she shook her head, laughing.

“Shut-up. You’ll thank me tomorrow.And thank you so much for the painting. I love it.”, He smiled.

She smiled back and gave him a hug.

“And thank you for not shutting me out.”

“Thankyou for allowing me to speak. Happy Birthday again!”. She turned around and stepped outside into the night illuminated by the faint glow of fancy street lights.

“Don’t forget to leave a text when you reach!”, she heard from behind.

“Okay, grandpa!”


 

Let me know what you think?