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 Two

Chapter One


“Congratulations Alan!”

He held the plastic chip in his hand and closed his fist around it; securing it. He held it like a safety bar in those crazy amusement park rides and turned towards the group of people sitting in front of him.Some of the people he had come to know with time, some were new. Each one of them had smiling faces and hopeful eyes. If you looked closely you could see traces of damage; some washed away, some washing away, some still clinging.

He mumbled his thank yous all the while searching for a particular face. Then he saw her entering from the door at the far end of the wall. She made her way to a seat in the last row and raised two thumbs-up to him, a big smile adorning her face, a little too big.

She didn’t know this but her face betrayed her most of the time. She didn’t know this but he could notice it most of the time.

He smiled back and was relieved to see the face he wanted to see on this day.

***

“Nola, Thanks for coming”, He said, coming towards her.

“I’m sorry I got late. My shift was till six at the coffee-house, I rushed here as soon as I got free. Congratulations!” she said and hugged him. “I’m so happy for you.”

“It’s okay. I am just happy that you are here.”

Nola smiled the big smile again.

“So, what do you want to do? Three months without drugs! Today we can get high on cheese, grease and restaurant germs. It is such a better high. Trust me!”, She laughed as they walked towards the parking lot.

“How about lasagne from your favorite place and then Ice cream?”

“Yes! No! It’s your day. Your victory. We should go to your favorite place.”

“It’s our victory”, he said putting an arm around her shoulders, “Besides it’s a win-win. Lasagne from your favorite place and Ice cream from mine.”

“Great! But I won’t give you my wafer.” She pointed a finger at him making sure she was heard.

“Yeah Yeah we’ll see”, he rolled his eyes as they both sat in the car.

He rolled the car out of the parking lot and saw Noah waving at him from his own car. Noah had become a friend over the past three months in the support group.

“Small victories”, Noah said making a victory sign.

“Small victories”, Alan waved back and drove towards the restaurant for their celebration of two.

Small victories they were indeed. Tiny steps. Each step taking them closer to healing. The journey was difficult but he was glad to have his best friend beside him. Nola was his driving force, his strength, his beautifully disturbed person. It’s been two years to the night when they stumbled upon each other. They were both running from their ghosts and somewhere along the way they had smacked into each other.

He was so grateful for that one second of honest confession. That one moment in which he took off his mask and showed his damage.Maybe it was because he saw a person in front of him struggling; fighting, wearing her own wounds on her.

“I have a bad past too”

In that instant, he had seen the wounds transform into an armor. He had seen past the fear in her eyes. He had seen empathy.

“You wanna take a walk”, she had said pointing towards the other side, away from the building.

After a long time, he had taken a step forward without thinking anything. Without thinking if he had closed the front door of his house properly or that it was probably going to rain again.

After a long time, he felt okay to just take a walk with this stranger.

***

“This is heavenly !”, Nola said taking another bite of the beef lasagna in front of her.

“Don’t get too high. I don’t want to take you to a meeting. One person doing this is enough.”, he said taking a sip from his drink.

She simply laughed and continued devouring her meal.

“So, did you paint something new?”, Alan asked.

“No”

“Why not?”

“I’m out of black and red and I also need new brushes.Plus I’m picking up extra shifts at the coffee-house. I’ve been busy.”

“I can..”

“No, you can’t.”, she cut him mid-sentence.

“I didn’t even complete my sentence!”, he protested.

“But you were gonna say that, weren’t you?”

“Nola”

“Alan! you are not buying me art supplies.”, she pointed her fork towards him.

“But…”

“We have had this conversation before. I don’t want your help. I’ll buy them myself when I have enough money.”

“You do realize I have a lot of money just sitting in the banks. It would be a gift..”

“Alan!”

“Okay okay”, he lifted his hand in surrender.

“Good”, she said and took a fry from his plate.

“Oh! so you can’t take my money but you can steal my fries!”

“Yes”, she said and they both started laughing.

“How are you ? “, she sighed after laughing too hard and looked at him with meaningful eyes.

“I’m good”, he said and looked down towards his plate toying with the stray bits of beef.

“And?”, she asked.

“And afraid”, he lifted his eyes, now clouded with doubt.

She didn’t say anything just gave him time to say more.

“This has happened before. I have gotten sobriety chips before. Thirty days. Sixty days. “, he sighed.” I don’t trust myself, Nola. I’ll relapse. Hell, you know it. It has happened in front of you too! I’m afraid something will happen and I will lose control again.”

“Yes, this has happened but you have never come as far as three months before. That’s big.”

“That’s what makes it even more scary.”

“Look I know you are afraid. You and I, we are always afraid. But we can’t stop moving forward. We have done three months, we’ll do six months and so on and so forth. We will do this”, she nodded, “Okay, we’ll do this because we want to do this. We want to get better.”

“Yeah”

“Yeah”, she smiled.”If you promise to take me out for lasagne every time you get a chip. I’ll make sure you never go down that road again”, She joked and finished the last bite.

“It’s a deal”, he smiled.

“Can we go for the Ice cream now? Before we get too scared.”
“Let’s not get that scared”, he laughed and signaled the waiter to bring the bill.

 

Shared Empathy – Chapter One

A. via Flickr
A. via Flickr

She burst open the door and ran out of the building, she was in, for the past 4 hours. Without seeing around, she walked straight ahead, her steps fast and hurried. Her heart was beating fast and breaths coming in rapid bursts until she realized that everything was closing in on her and she wasn’t able to breathe. She bowed down, hands on her knees, gasping for air. It just kept on becoming difficult to breathe.

He had come out for a walk, to catch some fresh air, evening walks always helped. He inhaled, taking in the calm of the setting night and the air which was turning cooler. That’s when he heard a sound and  looked in its direction. She looked in a hurry; running from somewhere. It happened very fast; in a matter of seconds, he saw that woman come out of that door and the next second she was on her knees; choking. Guess someone else needs the air tonight he thought and ran towards her.

“Hey, are you okay ??”

She didn’t listen. He was afraid if she didn’t breathe right away she was gonna die in front of him.So, he decided to invade her personal space,”Hey!!”, he touched her shoulder.

She jerked away, obviously baffled by the stranger.

He  lifted his hands in the air,” Don’t worry. I won’t do anything. I think you are having a panic attack. You need to breathe. Take deep breaths okay. Just try concentrating on me. In and out, In and out”, He said mimicking deep breaths.

She finally looked at him and finding no other solution, decided to trust this stranger and followed his advice. It started to work, after 5 to 10 mins her breathing became normal.

When her heart rate became normal and she started to process her surroundings, she realized it was darker than when she entered this building.

“Oh it’s dark now”

“Yeah.. you okay now?”

“Yeah.. yeah, I’m better.. haha”, she tried to cover her meltdown by nervous laughter.

“Oh God I just had the worst panic attack right? It actually happens? I’ve heard people can actually die.”, She babbled on, ashamed by her folly in public.

“I’ve heard that too. Just like I’ve heard you have to concentrate on one thing and it goes away… the panic”. He found this beautifully disturbed person interesting.

“Thank God you had heard that.. haha.”, she said, looking uneasily towards the building.

He followed her gaze and asked, ” Bad memories?” and mentally slapped himself. It wasn’t his business. But he got lucky with the nervous babbler because she didn’t lash out.

“Bad Past. I was always fascinated by the untold secrets, you know the ugly past of the characters in stories.Now, I have one of my own. Karma is a bitch they say!”, she laughed again,”aaand now I have the tendency to overshare too apparently.You must be thinking I’m crazy.. morbid to be exact.”

They were so right , she thought and looked down at the street, it was wet. Did it rain? What the hell am I doing talking to this stranger?

“They do say that!”, He said, forgetting his own worries that were clouding his mind a few minutes ago.

“I should uh… I should go. It’s getting dark..”

He didn’t want her to go. He found this situation having a calming effect on him for some reason.

“Thanks .. though, really “, he heard her as she turned to go in the other direction.

“Hey wait.. don’t go yet”

She stopped and turned around, watching him questioningly.

“I have a bad past too”