Samantha squeezed her eyes shut. The pain moved from behind her eyes to her temples. It would take thirty minutes for the medication to kick in—thirty minutes of pretending to be fine. She should have cancelled. She walked slowly, conscious of stepping one foot in front of the other. She stopped to steady herself at an empty table. Her mom faced the other direction, tapping her fingers in front of her. Samantha forced a smile as she approached.
“Are you okay, Samantha?”
“Yes, I’m great.”
Samantha sat, picked up her spoon, and swirled it around in her lukewarm soup. She was getting worse by the minute. Her mom gave her that knowing look that Samantha understood to mean, “I don’t believe you, but I won’t pry anymore.”
“You look pale,” her mom said and moved her arm as if she were going to touch Samantha’s forehead, but at the last moment pulled her hand to her scarf.
Samantha knew she should see the doctor again. In addition to the headaches, she had lost her appetite and the tightening in her chest made her take shallow breaths. Before the diagnosis, she attributed it to stress, but it had been dragging on for months now.
“That’s a pretty scarf.” Samantha sent the conversation in a new direction.
Her mom pressed her hand against the silky, red fabric. “Thank you. A gift from your father.”
For as long as Samantha could remember, her mother wore scarves. She claimed a scarf could stop a cold dead in its tracks because “everyone knows colds enter through the back of your neck.” Samantha wasn’t sure if that were true, but her mom never seemed to get sick. Over the years, her mom must have accumulated nearly one hundred scarves.
Samantha watched her mother tuck her gray hair behind her ear. A habit Samantha had picked up from her. Her mom had few wrinkles and if she dyed her hair blonde, she could take ten years off her appearance. Samantha didn’t bother telling her. Her mom would list off the toxic chemicals in hair dye. Samantha wasn’t in the mood for a lecture.
“How is dad?”
“He’s good. He sends his love. He’s on his annual golf trip in Arizona.”
“Oh, that’s right.” Samantha loved that her dad enjoyed retirement. As a police officer, he had a stressful career and deserved a life of leisure now, especially after that whole hit and run incident where he almost died years ago. Samantha spent every day at his hospital bed holding his hand and every night bargaining with God. She would give every penny of her $111 savings if God healed him. She made good on her promise and donated the money to her school’s Students Against Drunk Driving organization.
“Can I get you anything else?” The waiter poured more ice water into their glasses.
“More hot water, please,” her mom responded and smiled up at him.
Samantha covered her mouth with her hand and coughed incessantly.
“Are you okay? That cough sounds deep. Maybe, you should have some of my tea?” Her mom switched in and out of nursing mode all through Samantha’s life, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary for her to do it now.
Samantha gazed past her mom at the interesting artwork on the wall. With its many splashes of color and crazy shapes, it looked like something her daughter would have painted when she was six.
“Mom, I’m fine, but thank you for offering.”
They sat in silence for a long while. Samantha debated telling her mother what was really on her mind. She needed a sounding board, but at what price would she have to pay for the advice? Would she have to sit through a long lecture of life lessons from her mother? She hoped this time would be different.
She took a deep breath. “I’m thinking about going to see Mack.”
Her mom narrowed her eyes and sipped her hot tea.
Samantha envisioned meeting Mack in her head a million times. There were a few scenarios she imagined, including one worst case.
Option 1: Mack could say a friendly, “Hello, great to see you, but I have an important appointment” and then he would leave; or
Option 2: He could punch her in the face (seemed excessive); and
Option 3: Was what she hoped for—that he’d pull up a stool next to her and have the conversation they should have had twenty years ago.
Although, she wouldn’t blame him if he blew her off. There was no telling what he’d do.
The waiter set another teapot on the table.
“Thank you.” Her mom smiled at him and watched him walk away. She turned back to Samantha. “I’m surprised you want to see Mack. It’s been so long.”
Samantha’s mother never had the pleasure of meeting Mack. Samantha tried to keep her friends from college at college. Her mother expressed interest in meeting him. For a while, Samantha was happy her mom never met him, especially after she had lost touch with him.
“Yes, I suppose it has been that long. Why after all this time?”
If her mother had known Mack, she would understand Samantha’s desire to see him again. Samantha’s first real love. She could admit that now. She would have denied it back then.
“I keep having dreams about him and how everything ended so abruptly. I want closure.”
She swallowed the lump in her throat. Closure—because she had no idea how much time she had left. She needed to make things right.
“Hasn’t time already closed that door?”
Samantha contemplated the question. Does time close any doors?
Samantha shrugged. “I really don’t know…that’s why I’m not sure if I should go.”
“I see.” Her mom shifted in her seat and adjusted her scarf. “Where is he?”
Samantha debated lying to her mother. If she said he became a neurosurgeon, her mom would surely say there was no question, she must see him. Being a nurse, her mom had a soft spot for those in the medical field. Samantha knew her mom had secretly hoped Samantha would have chosen to be a doctor.
“He owns a bar in the city,” she mumbled.
Her mom raised her eyebrows. Samantha’s mom didn’t approve of bars and that lifestyle. Her mom lived a straight and narrow life, never even so much as touching a glass of wine. Samantha found her mom’s way of life a bit stifling, but then again, she always seemed happy. Maybe her mother did hold the secrets to living the perfect life.
“Is it in a dangerous part of town?”
Samantha’s dad went into some rough neighborhoods, so she could see why her mom worried. Samantha shook her head no. She hadn’t a clue. If she made up her mind to see Mack, she’d go wherever he was.
“I don’t know what to expect if I see him. He could very well reject me again.” Samantha gulped her water at the admission.
“Anything is possible. If that did happen, that would at least give you closure. What if he does agree to talk to you? What do you want him to say?”
That he loved her. That he couldn’t possibly live without her again. Deep down, she thought none of that would really transpire.
“I’m trying to keep an open mind. I don’t know what I expect him to say. In a perfect world, we would talk about why he shut me out.” She gulped more water and looked around for the waiter for a refill.
“Isn’t that obvious?”
Her mom was referring to the night of the accident involving Mack’s sister and her best friend. It cut so deep there was no fixing them—together or individually—ever. So, yeah, the whole situation following that tragedy could be labeled “obvious.”
“I want to hear it from him.”
“Then what? Do you want him in your life again?”
She wanted to turn back time before the accident when everything changed. Then they would be free—free of the grief, the guilt, and the tremendous heartache. She fantasized about him sweeping her off her feet and running away with her to a secluded island like the characters in many of the romance novels she had read over the years. She wanted to live in a romance novel.
“I don’t think that’s possible.”
“Honey.” Her mom reached for her hand. “Anything is possible.”
There were those words again. Samantha didn’t know if she believed anything was possible when it came to good things in her life. She had experienced so much heartache. It had become difficult for her to look on the bright side. She had gone on with her life when she felt she didn’t deserve to.
“I’ll support you if you go. Do you need me to babysit?”
“If I go, she will be with Jacob, but thank you.”
Her mother opened her mouth to say something, but then closed it. Samantha knew her mom didn’t agree with her, but what could she do? Jacob was her daughter’s father. She hadn’t planned on Jacob’s shocking secret that turned their lives upside down. She couldn’t throw stones. She had been keeping a secret of her own—one that had kept her alive, allowed her to live comfortably, and probably the biggest reason she had to see Mack. He had to know and his reaction to it made her fearful. Fearful that he would never forgive her.
Surprisingly, her mom didn’t go into her life-lesson lecture. In that scenario, Samantha would have shoved her index fingers into her ears and screamed “La La La” repeatedly like a child.
Samantha pushed her soup away without taking one spoonful of it.
“Go see him,” her mom said.
“Yes, Mack, what is it?”
Samantha turned to him and looked into his deep blue eyes. If she looked any longer, she would melt into them like the sun setting over the water. He pulled her close. Her whole body trembled from his touch. She forced herself to stand tall, so he wouldn’t see her falter.
“I’m so sorry. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
Tears sprung to her eyes. “I know.” Her voice cracked under the pressure of her words. “I know,” she repeated.
“I can make this right.”
“How?” She reached up to touch his face. He looked as if he hadn’t slept in days.
“You know how.” Mack fished a small box out of his pocket.
Samantha held her breath. Was Mack really doing this? Her heart beat fast and her stomach churned.
“I...” His words trailed off. He turned his head and body away from her.
“What is it, Mack?”
Something soft brushed against her bare legs. Socrates placed his paws on her thigh. “Ugh…Socrates…I was just getting to the good part.”
Samantha stopped typing. Not believing she could write this story, clearly inspired by her dreams of Mack. She didn’t think she had it in her. Samantha pulled the cat up and stroked his fur.
For the past several months, Mack appeared more and more in her dreams. Intense and jolting, like the sting of a shot of whiskey. Always the same type of dream—Mack falling short of professing his love for her and she experiencing it with every fiber of her being until it burned her heart and sent tingles down her spine.
Samantha knew enough about dreams to know that they brought messages she probably shouldn’t ignore, especially since the psychic advised her to go see Mack.
Now Socrates wasn’t even allowing her to finish her story. Maybe she was done writing—with everything that was going on in her life—she should probably move on from this, too.
Socrates meowed. Samantha coughed uncontrollably for a minute. Then caught her breath.
“I know, Socrates. I will go see Mack, but first I need to go to the doctor for my treatments.”
Samantha opened her desk drawer and pulled out her checkbook. She wrote out a check for the largest amount yet and stared at it, hoping it wouldn’t be her last. She closed her eyes. Writing the monthly anonymous donation never made her feel better. What she longed for more than anything was to return to happier days.