Novels by J. Brown

  You choose the Genre and enjoy the Journey!




On Sunday, September 20, 2009, The Chicago Lake News released this headline: 
          Massive heart attacks plague the Nation... Who?s Next?  In Chicago alone, dozens of healthy people have already died of massive heart attacks.  Several others hospitalized.  The culprit is still living with us?what is the government not telling us?                                       

 ?Send the copy to print,? said Clyde, the Editor-in-Chief.  He initialed it.  As he turned to walk away, he clutched his chest and fell to the ground.

Time Release - Chapter 1


Chapter 1


Turning sideways, Sara eyed her image in the mirror.  A short wrap-around burgundy dress that showed off curves in all the right places, long slender legs in 4" stilettos, and silky brown hair that framed a delicate face and flowed past her shoulders.

I don?t think my looks should stop me from getting the job?I hope, she thought, raising her left eyebrow and the corner of her mouth.

But who really knew anymore.  It?s not about the looks, the talent or anything else, one might think mattered.  It?s all about who you know. 

Taking a deep breath, she sighed.  ?Unfortunately, I don?t know anybody.? 

Sara turned and glanced at her backside. 

?Hmmm.  I?ve gotta get this job or one like it before my next birthday.  Thirty.  Once you hit thirty, if you haven?t had a national commercial yet, you?re finished.?   

Sara faced the mirror.  Pretend you?re here, in this room, she thought.  It?s comfortable, romantic and safe.  She glanced around her bedroom - vertical light blue cloth-covered blinds from floor to ceiling that were always opened enough at night to cast shadows on the far wall.  Romantic and warm.  She had a white lacquer bed with a blue and white lace comforter and two royal blue throw pillows.  A white lacquer nightstand with chrome handles that matched the dresser, took up most of the interior wall. 

This is so me, she thought. 

She backed up, sat on a white tufted bench that leaned against the end of her bed, and sighed. 

?This commercial can be me too.?

After several moments, she looked back at the cheval mirror between the bedroom door and the walk-in closet and she stood.   Then she smiled. 

 Okay, Sara Ann Parkins, this is it.  All you need to do is be yourself.  You love romance, so what could be better than a national wine commercial.  You don?t need to know anybody else, because you know yourself. 

Both sides of Sara?s mouth moved up and her blue eyes sparkled off the mirror before she shut out the light and headed for the front door.

Locking the door behind her, she strode down the red and gray carpeted hallway to the mirrored elevator.  This hallway always has an antiseptic smell, but it?s nice because I know it?s clean.

Down the hall, a door opened and out peeked an elderly woman. 

?Hello, Sara.?

?Hello, Anna.?

Anna waved an aged hand over her head, hiding the yellow foam curlers and picks that were wrapped tightly in her short auburn hair.  She bent and retrieved her newspaper. 

 ?I?ll stop by tonight with that curling iron.?  Sara said, giggling.

She remembered the first day she met Mrs. McClusky and was immediately told to call her Anna.  Seventy two years old and she wanted to be one of the girls.

Anna closed her door swiftly, as five doors down, a man stepped into the hall.

?Break a leg, Sara,? Anna squeaked from behind the wooden door.

Sara smiled to herself as she stepped around a roman pillar to reach the elevator.  She stepped inside and placed the palm of her hand on the rubber strip. 

?Going down,? she called out.

?Thanks! Sara is it?  said the man, quickening his steps toward her. 

Sara cocked her head to the right.

?Sorry, I overheard,? he said as he grabbed the rubber strip.

?Yes, yes  it is?and you are?? she asked, taking in his perfectly pressed gray suit, brown hair and green eyes as he stepped inside. 

?I?m Jason, Jason Forest.  Just moved in Saturday.  Neighbors pretty nice??

?Yes, they are,? said Sara glancing at the newspaper under his arm.

 ?Wow! You?re getting your paper delivered already?  It took them a month before I received Saturday?s and Sunday?s.?

Jason pushed the paper further into his armpit.  ?Just got lucky and talked to the right person. I guess.  So are you a model or an actress??

Sara raised her eyebrows.

?Again, sorry, but I overheard the well wishes.  Break a leg??

With a small giggle, she replied, ?Yes well, I?m a hopeful actress.?

?Well those are the best kind in my opinion.  Full of dreams and possibility.?

Sara shifted from one foot to the other.  ?So, what do you do, Jason??

?I work in a lab with enzymes and medications.  It?s a pretty boring job.  But when we find a cure for somethin?, it?s worth it.?

?Wow!  Now I feel silly.  You?re out there trying to save people and, um, I?m going on a commercial audition?  Okay!  So are you a doctor??

?First of all, you should never feel silly about being beautiful.  Everyone has different gifts and if one of yours is beauty, I?d take it.  A lot of people would love to have that problem, including me.? Jason?s smile broadened and his eyes sparkled.

Sara felt her cheeks get warm.  She shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. 

?Thank you.  That?s sweet.?  Grabbing a tube of pearl lipstick, she quickly applied it.  Stop getting so nervous.  I thought I got over that, she told herself.

?Lips get dry sometimes,? she said,

 ?And, as for me,? continued Jason, ?I have a Ph.D. after my name, but I don?t work in a hospital or anything like that.  Not much for taking medications myself, just research the effects they have on other people.  I like to figure out why things happen,? said Jason. 

?Well, I?m like that with the medication thing too.  I didn?t even get a flu shot.  I guess I have the mentality, ?if it?s not broke, don?t fix it?.?

Sara realized neither one of them had pushed the button.  She leaned forward at the same time Jason did.   Brushing hands as they hit L for lobby, Jason?s newspaper slipped to the floor.

A strong, masculine scent sifted past Sara?s nose.  She crinkled her nose and sniffed.  Hmmm, smells like 'Armani', she thought.  She smiled, then saw the exposed headline on the front page of the paper, ?Two women struck down by progressive heart attacks?.  

Jason bent and swiftly replaced the newspaper beneath his arm.

Sara glanced at him.  ?Too bad you couldn?t help those women.?

?Excuse me??

?Two women that died of heart attacks ?the headline on the paper!? Sara re-iterated.

?Oh! yeah!  I haven?t read it yet.  I wish we could help everybody.?

Jason smiled and his eyes stole all the light in the enclosed space.  ?You really are very beautiful you know.?

Sara felt the heat rising.  She tilted her chin down and to the right and quickly opened her bag and began rifling through it. 

?Oh, no!  I must have forgot it,? she said.  Sara extended her index finger as they passed the 8th floor and pushed 7.  Shuffling the papers in her bag, she mumbled.  ?Have to get off here and go back up for it.  Sorry!?

?No apology necessary,? said Jason, placing his left hand on the rubber strip as the silver doors separated.  ?I forget things all the time.  Don?t be late for your audition.?

Once again Sara nodded.  ?Thanks.?

Jason leaned forward toward the closing doors.   ?Oh! and break a leg.? 

The mirrored doors closed and Sara?s heart raced.  What?s wrong with me, getting off the elevator for no reason? she thought.  He seemed like a nice guy, and really good looking too.  Why didn?t I give him a chance?  The right corner of Sara?s lip ticked upward and her eyelids fell to half mast.  ?He was cute, wasn?t he?? she muttered to herself.   When it comes to guys, my nerves always get the best of me.

Sara waited five minutes, and then took the next elevator to the lobby.  She glanced from left to right as she walked swiftly through the lobby to the revolving doors.

Walking to the curb, she raised her hand to flag down a cab. 

A cab pulled in, stopped one foot from the curb, and Sara lifted the handle and jumped in. That?s the nice thing about Chicago, she thought.  There?s always a cab when you need one.

 ?Six fourteen North Wabash please,? she said as she settled onto the ripped vinyl seat in the back, opposite the driver.  She angled her legs to the right, so as not to catch her nylons on the tear or the spring she saw hidden within the seat.   She discreetly raised her hand to her mouth to stifle the stench of cigarette smoke.   

?This must be a very old cab,? she mumbled, without thinking.

The eyes of the distinguished looking black cabbie, lit up in the rearview mirror. 

?Yes it is, Miss.   I made the final payment last month.? 

He pulled away from the curb and another cab driver took his place.

?That?s wonderful,? Sara replied, choking down her displeasure.

Shifting his eyes toward traffic, the cabbie rested an arm on the window.  ?The address you gave me, that is a talent agency, is it not?? he asked. 

?Yes,? said Sara, separating her index finger and thumb to speak.

?I thought that it was,? said the cabbie.  ?I take many girls there throughout the week.? Another cabbie attempted to merge in front of Sara?s cab, but her cabbie cut him off and continued.  ?These girls, they are carrying leather cases the same as yours and they are usually very well dressed.?  He hesitated.  ?But, Miss, do not be fooled, a lot of these girls go home in tears.  It is a very hard business to be in.?

?Yeah!  I know.  But like my Mom always said, if it?s your dream, you?ve got to give it a shot.?

 ?That is very good advice, indeed.? 

The back of the cabbie?s buzz cut faced Sara, but his rounded eyes and the wide bridge of his nose turned toward the rear-view mirror again.  His eyes smiled at Sara, then he resumed his straight ahead stare into traffic.  A business man attempted to cross in the middle of the street, but was forced back by an oncoming city service truck.

Sara shifted in her seat, opened her valise and breathed in the new leather smell.  She carefully sifted through each headshot to be sure she hadn?t forgotten one.

?Ninety degrees today with 80% humidity,? said the voice on the radio.  ?It?s gonna be a scorcher.  Before the Cubs take on Cincinnati at Wrigley this afternoon, they?ll be saying a prayer for all the lives lost on this day eight years ago.  And let?s not forget the Bears are getting ready for the season opener on Sunday against the Packers.?

At the corner of Wabash and Ohio, the car finally pulled alongside a four-story gray Victorian building with green and white awnings.

 ?Here we are, Miss.  Good luck to you.?

Sara handed the cabbie $6.00, swiveled toward the door and stepped out.  ?Keep the change,? she smiled. 

The cabbie leaned over the passenger seat toward the open window and a medallion of St. Michael, the Archangel, swung forward from his shirt.  ?Miss??

Sara stopped and turned toward him.

Tilting his head to the left, both corners of his mouth pulled up and his brown eyes glistening, he spoke. 

?When you make it big Miss, may I have an autograph??

Sara grinned from ear to ear and shot her index finger and thumb toward him.

?You got it.?

She turned and looked at the building.  The green and white awning gives it a quaint touch, she thought.   It?s been years since I?ve been to this agency. 

A large sign over the doorway read, ?Riggati?s PIZZA.?  Another Riggati?s sign hung over the side of the building facing Wabash.  Sara did her best to ignore them.  Climbing the seven crumbling cement stairs, she reached the front door, where The Jada Agency was engraved on the window.   She slowly opened the door and a wonderful smell sifted under her nose.  Hot bread, sausage, heavenly sauce and melted cheese.  Mmmmmmm.   Why in the world would a Talent agency rent a space above the best pizza place in town?  Sara shook her head and noticed a poster in the window halfway up the stairs.  Get your flu shots downstairs from Thursday, August 13th thru Thursday, September 17th.  

?Hmmph!? said Sara.   Only a few more days.  Can?t believe they started almost a month ago already.

Sara took the steps two at a time, then walked the long hallway to the Jada agency.  She opened an old rickety door and stepped inside.  There has to be over sixty girls in here, she thought, as she glanced around the room.  She could hear the mumbling of the other girls reciting their lines, but what she really noticed was how young they all looked. 

Okay! So they?re younger than me.  I have a maturity about me and a level of confidence that they may be missing, she told herself.  With that, she stepped up to the receptionist?s desk and signed in.  She handed her snapshot and resume to the girl behind the desk.

?Sara,? said the girl handing her a document.  ?Here?s the script you need to read.? 

She took the script and looked around for a place to sit.  All the chairs were taken.  To get one, she?d have to wait until someone got called in.   Heading for the corner of the room, she commandeered a stool that had books stacked on it.  She placed the books on the top of a cabinet and sat down.  Other girls stood and leaned against the wall, so Sara was proud of herself for finding the stool.

The office was very old and beat up.  There?s a sooty smell in here, probably from mold, thought Sara.  The ceiling was stucco, but it was crumbling in spots and the floor boards squeaked, and apparently the painter changed his mind several times before finishing the walls. One wall was a bleak orange, another, bland yellow and dark brown, and the one by the receptionist, a cheery lavender.

Sara placed her purse strap over her leg and held up the script.  The lead-in read,

This shoot is for an International Wine Vineyard in France.  It?s all about emotion, romance, class and charisma.  You are on a yacht with the man of your dreams and he is offering you more wine.  He will place you in an embrace and you need to make the feeling work.  Your line is:   ?More please.? 

?More please?? said Sara to herself.  ?There?s only one line??   More pressure.  One line meant you couldn?t fix a mistake in the second or third line, it meant it was definitely about the delivery and looks.

Sara glanced around the room and noticed there were rows of black chairs, a group of gray chairs, and five or six newer white chairs, all filled, scattered about the room.

There was a creaking sound and the door behind the receptionist opened and a long leg with a black strappy stiletto stepped out.  A hand wrapped around the door frame and half of a face followed. 

?Laura Finder,? said the voice that belonged to the face.  The stiletto retreated and a curly haired blonde, wearing a canary yellow mini skirt and four inch orange wedged heels, jumped up from her chair.  She grabbed a piece of gum from her mouth and stuck it on a piece of paper pulled from her purse. 

I don?t know, but I don?t think she really fits the style they?re looking for, thought Sara. 

Sara moved quickly and secured the girl?s chair and another girl grabbed Sara?s stool.  Some of the chairs were metal with a cushioned seat and some had no cloth seat at all. 

?Ooooh!  Cushie?lucked out,? said Sara as she sat on one of the newer chairs.    

They must have gotten these chairs from goodwill or something, they?re so beat up, she thought.  Her eyes scanned the room again.  Two seats away, a redhead, maybe twenty-one, bit her nails, while the girl next to her, probably twenty- four, brushed her hair and applied lipstick over and over again. 

I don?t know if I?m calm because I don?t care as much as they do or because I?ve learned that worrying doesn?t help the situation, thought Sara.  She retrieved two magazines she brought with and leafed through them.   

Minutes later, the door creaked again and the girl in the yellow mini skirt walked out of the audition, sobbing.  She wobbled in her shoes and finally stopped and removed them.  She picked them up and carried them out, while wiping her eyes with a napkin.

Sara didn?t want to stare, so she looked away.  I hate to say it, but it had to be the outfit. Sara missed the next name called, but she did see a flash of someone going in behind the long legged woman.  And she knew it wouldn?t be her turn for quite a while.

About fifteen minutes later, a lanky blonde haired girl exited the audition room and rushed to her friend?s side. 

?I was asked to do the line with a stand-in, were you?? she asked.

?No!? snapped her friend as they headed for the door.

Sara listened as each girl left the audition and only three girls had been asked to do their lines with a stand-in.  I hope they ask me too.

Three hours and thirty girls later, the long leg and strappy stiletto that appeared periodically from the door behind the receptionist was followed by a matching leg and entire face.  It was a beautiful, thirty-something face with a long, slender body beneath it.  The slender body wore a black wrap-around skirt and a purple satin boat neck blouse. 

Wow! What an amazing figure and a take-charge demeanor.  I wonder if she never got a national commercial and ended up helping others find their dream.

?Lunch Break!? announced the leggy woman.  ?One hour.  Be back exactly at 1:30pm.?

Sara didn?t have to worry about getting a chair when she got back, after all, there were less than thirty girls left.  She walked downstairs to Riggati?s to get a salad.  I definitely don?t want to get full now, she thought.   A small side salad and another bottle of water and Sara headed back upstairs.  She found another white cushioned chair and got comfortable.  Twenty-eight girls later, the leg appeared, Sara leaned forward and?

?Sara Parkins??

Sara stood and walked confidently in, matching the woman stride for stride.

The woman pointed to her right and motioned to Sara.  ?Stand on the X, please.?

Sara stood on the X facing the video camera. 

Okay!  This is all about body language, so relax your leg, use your hip and give that famous head tilt?I know, I?m gonna pretend I?m standing here with Jason.

?Okay, state it,? said the director.

?My name is Sara Parkins and I?m with the Jada Agency,? she replied.

?Okay! Sara, your boyfriend has his arm wrapped around you and he kisses you gently.  He has a glass of wine in one hand and the bottle of wine in his other, which is wrapped around your waist.  He?s looking in your eyes, asking if you would like more wine.  This is where your line comes in,? said the director. 

Sara pictured Jason in her mind.  She tossed her head, brushed her hair over her right shoulder, dipped her chin, lifted the left corner of her mouth and delivered her line. 

?More please,? said Sara.

And the director smiled.

?Very good,? said the Director.  ?Let?s try it a couple more times.

Sara repeated the line with the same feeling and body language. 

?Very good, Sara.  Now, I?d like to see you run your line with a guy standing next to you.  So, I?m gonna have Mike stand in for this next one.?

?Okay!? said Sara.  This is good.  Now I?m one of four, she told herself.

Mike, a 5?10,? sixty-ish balding man with a large belly, stepped beside Sara and wrapped his arm around her.

?Okay! You?ve already kissed??

Thank God, thought Sara.

?And you?re looking into his eyes.  And your line is??

Once again, Sara threw her head back, tossed her hair, dipped her chin and delivered the line.

 ?More please.?

The director smiled again.

?Very, very good,? repeated the Director.  ?That?ll be all.  If you?re chosen, we?ll get in touch with you this week, otherwise the agency will call you.  You definitely have something.?

?Thank you very much,? said Sara.

She looked at her phone for the time.  Wow! 5pm and I?m just leaving. She rushed down the broken cement stairs, stopped mid-stride and stared into space.  There?s a good possibility I could get this job, she said to herself.  Oh my God! If that guy?s breath had smelled any worse, I think I?d of passed out.  I wonder if they did it on purpose.? 

Sara smiled and before she raised her arm, a cabbie pulled in tight to the curb.  She opened the door and slid in. 

?How did it go, Miss?  You were there a long time,? said the cabbie.

Sara?s smile lit the backseat.  ?You must be my good luck charm!   What are the odds I?d have the same cab here and back?  My name?s Sara by the way.  What?s yours??

?My name is Frank.  It is nice to meet you, Miss Sara,? he said extending his right hand over the seat.

Sara shook his hand hard.  ?It?s very nice to meet you, Frank.  Very nice.?

?So how did it go Miss, Sara?  They mustn?t have given you the heave ho, if you?re leaving now,? he said. 

He turned his hand over and squeezed a drop of hand sanitizer into it.  Without missing a beat, he did the same for Sara.

Sara?s eyes opened wide as she rubbed her hands together.  Wow! that was nice, she thought.

Frank turned on the meter, pulled away from the curb and nearly got sideswiped by another cab.  He hit his horn once and Sara braced her arm on the opposite door.  Frank smiled in the mirror at Sara.

 ?Thanks, Frank!  But, actually I was there a long time because sixty some girls showed up for the audition.? Sara began.  ?What?s nice is that as far as I can tell, only about five of us were asked to do our readings with a stand-in.  At the end of my audition, the director said I had a certain something?whatever that means.?  Sara rolled her eyes playfully.  ?Hopefully, it means they?ll want me for the job.   It could be a couple of days before I know anything.?

?I would not be surprised if you were chosen, Miss Sara,? said Frank with a smile. ?But, if they do not call you, it is their misfortune.?

Sara smiled.

?I knew I liked you.?

Sara released her grip on the door and relaxed as their conversation continued.  

?Hey, Frank, someone left today?s Trib in here.?

?It is yours now.  I believe it was the gentleman I dropped off at Midway right after I dropped you off this morning.  He must have finished it.? 

Sara watched as Frank ran his hands over the steering wheel with precision.  He talked casually and smiled as he swerved around a big yellow bus.  The traffic light flashed red, Frank screeched to a halt alongside the bus.  The light turned green, he laid on the horn, stepped down hard on the gas and cut over in front of the bus, as though that were the only thing to do.   Sara gripped the door handle and closed her eyes.

?I dropped off two other young women at Jada?s,? he continued. ?And two young men to a company down the street.  One of the young ladies had blond curly hair and a very short skirt.  She left crying within an hour of dropping her off.  From what I could understand through her sobbing, they said she was pretty, but she did not have the talent necessary.  I am afraid she was not very happy with them.? 

 ?I saw that girl with the curly hair.  You?re right, she left about five minutes after I got there.  I felt bad because I don?t think she realized what the product was.  Unfortunately, I don?t think the yellow mini skirt helped.? 

?Well, I hope that you hear from them, Miss Sara.?

?Thanks.  Me too!? she said sliding back into the vinyl seat. ?How long have you been driving a cab, Frank?  You sure have a knack for it.?  She unfolded the paper and peeked at the headline. 

?Probably since before you were born, Miss Sara,? laughed Frank.  ?It will be twenty-three years this Thursday.?

?Thanks for the compliment.  Wow!  I can?t imagine doing anything for twenty-three years.  You must really like it.?

?Yes!  I do, Miss Sara.  When my family moved here from Africa, I looked for a job that would help me to learn the culture.  What better way than to talk to people of every ethnicity each and every day.  It is always very different and very interesting.?

 Sara tilted her head.  ?If you don?t mind my asking, why did your family move here??   

Frank glanced in the rearview mirror.  ?My grandmother was ill and we could not get her the help she needed at home.  So my mother and father said we would move to America where my Grandmother would be better.  She lived many more years because of the medicine she received here.? 

The sounds of an ambulance and fire truck blared through the slightly cracked window and Frank pulled to the side.   They passed and carefully travelled through the intersection with Frank right behind them.  Frank continued.  ?There are so many sick people in Africa, Miss Sara, that can?t afford medical help.  I knew that in America, when I had a family of my own, I would be able to take them to a doctor if they needed to go.  Last month, I took my whole family for their flu shots.  In Africa, you would have to be somebody, but not here?you can be anybody.  And America is truly a country where anyone can live their dream.?

?Absolutely.  I guess I?m proof of that too,? said Sara.  ?At least I?m attempting to be.?  She turned the paper from front to back, her eyes scrunched and she read it under her breath. ?September 11th Ceremonies: Victims of Sept. 11th attacks.?

Frank pulled in tight to the curb in front of Sara?s building, eyeing Sara in the rearview mirror.  ?Is there something wrong Miss Sara?  You look puzzled.?

?No, no, it?s just?is this today?s morning paper?  There was a headline this morning about two women and heart attacks and now it?s?? she waved her hand.  ?Well it doesn?t matter.  I?m rambling.? 

She looked up and realized the cab had pulled into the curb.

Frank extended his card.  ?If you ever need a cab, perhaps when they call to say you have the job,? he said, smiling.  ?Give me a call and I will be sure to get you there on time.?

Sara handed Frank another $6.00, pushed open the door and stepped out. 

?Thanks, Frank.  Have a great evening.?

Frank smiled and waved as he pulled away.

Tucking the paper under her arm, Sara pushed through the revolving doors and entered the salad shop, Garden Pure, on the first level.  The smell of hot sauce and cheese drifted under her nose from the pizzeria, Italian Heaven, down the hall.  She hesitated while picking up the plastic container to build her own salad and scrunched her lips to the side. 

?No pizza, Sara.  If you get this job, you need to be in good shape.  Salad is good for you.?

?Something you recite to yourself often?? said a voice from behind her.

Sara jumped and turned toward the voice. 

?Mr. Adashi, you scared me? she smiled.

?I seem to have that affect on a lot of women,? he replied.

?Ha ha ha.  You know I love your shop and I love salad and it is good for me, but every now and then I smell that wonderful sauce and melted cheese, and I start to cave.  So, I recite my little mantra and I?m fine.?

?Well good for you, Sara.?  He winked his right eye and looked around.  ?But you know, even I?ve snuck over there a couple times and had pizza?and it?s pretty good.  Sometimes it?s a nice change.  And with your figure, I wouldn?t worry so much.?

?Thank you.  That?s sweet.   I?m sure I?ll have it one day.  But for now, I think I?ll make myself a salad.?

Leafy green lettuce, ripe tomatoes, sliced cucumber, deviled eggs, cubed turkey, real bacon bits, croutons, a few strawberry halves and seven grapes.  That?s a lot of stuff, thought Sara.  But at least I?m using grapes instead of dressing.  That saves on calories and leaves room for a croissant. 

Sara smiled, put the cover on her salad, picked up a small croissant and took it to the counter, where she stood third in line.  Hmmph! thought Sara.  I wonder where that guy, Jason, is right now.  I?ve been so busy all day, I forgot about him.  He was cute.  She glanced around the shop to see if he might be there, but he wasn?t.  She paid and headed for the elevator.  Eight people occupied the elevator with her.  They exited one by one, until Sara stood alone and the car stopped on 14.  I know it?s really the 13th floor, thought Sara.  Kind of like a hidden bit of luck.

Exiting the elevator, Sara heard Anna?s door creak open.  Out walked Jason.  Sara hid behind the pillar and eyed his physique.  He wore a pair of gray, washed out jeans and a lavender button down shirt.  Nervous, she plucked the tube of lipstick from her purse and applied it, and eavesdropped.

?Enjoy! Mrs. McClusky.  I?ve been baking since I was fourteen.  It?s really a passion of mine,? said Jason.

?Oh my!  What a nice young man you are.  Call me Anna.  All my friends do.  I?ll have to have you for dinner some time.? 

The left corner of Jason?s mouth ticked upward.  ?That would be wonderful, Anna.  I look forward to it.? 

This is so ridiculous.  Why am I hiding from him?  He?s hot, he?s sweet, so what?s my problem?  Sara gritted her teeth and exhaled as though blowing through a straw.  Next time, she thought.  ?Wow! I?m pathetic,? she whispered, rolling her eyes.

Sara watched Jason disappear into his apartment, then scurried to Anna?s door.  Knocking lightly, Sara swiveled her head to the right several times, to be sure Jason didn?t reappear.

Anna?s door opened.

?Wow!  You looked radiant,? said Sara.

Anna?s auburn hair was in perfect curls and her makeup spotless as she twisted her hand in her multi-colored muumuu.  Her eyes sparkled and the corners of her mouth pulled up further than Sara had ever seen before.

?Hi, Sara.  How did it go? Did you get the job?  Come in,? said Anna.

?My goodness, we?re in a good mood today,? remarked Sara.  ?Could it have anything to do with your gentleman caller??

Anna blushed and waved an aged hand in front of her. 

?Don?t be silly dear.  He?s new in the building and he wanted to introduce himself is all.?

  She swung around like a prom date and then settled herself in the overstuffed yellow chair.  Eyes glazed over, she scrunched her lips, and she let out a sigh. 

?It was awfully nice to have a gentleman come to call.  It?s been a very long time.  Even if he is thirty or forty years too young.? 

Her eyes focused and she looked up at Sara. 

?Actually I think he?d be good for you, Sara.?

Sara shifted her weight, squinted her eyes and tilted her head to the left.

?Now look whose blushing,? said Anna.

?Ha ha ha! Okay! You got me.  I?ll admit he?s a good looking guy, but I don?t know anything about him.  Good looks aren?t everything.?  The left side of her mouth stretched up and nearly reached her cheekbone.

?He?s hot,? said Anna.  She burst into laughter and Sara joined in. 

?Yeah!  I know he?s hot.  But I need more.?

?Make yourself available, so you can find out more about him.?  Anna raised her eyes.  ?He bakes too, ya know.?

?I?ll think about it,? said Sara.  ?And, since your hair looks gorgeous, how about we play with the curling iron this weekend.  Would that work for you??

?Absolutely.  Besides I?ve already got a chicken breast in the broiler.  Thanks for looking after me, Sara.  I think I?d like to adopt you.?

?Well, I?d be proud to be your daughter.?

Anna turned her head and winked.  ?Hey! Maybe I could get a son-in-law out of the deal too.?

?You?re terrible.? 

Sara pulled Anna up from the chair and wrapped her arms around her.  ?I think you?re gonna have to be happy with a daughter for the time being.  Tee hee hee.  Gotta go.  Love ya.?

?Love you too, honey!?

Sara started down the hall to her apartment.  Once inside, she kicked off her shoes at the front door and walked into her living room.  She placed her salad on the living room coffee table and poured herself a glass of water.  

I?m gonna get comfortable first, she thought.  She walked to the bedroom, untied her wrap-around dress, let it drop to the floor and stepped to the bathroom. 

Sara leaned on two feet of gray and white marble countertop to the right of a white-washed sink and nickel-plated faucet.  She opened the triple doored medicine cabinet, snatched a bottle of Vaseline and snapped off the cover.   Dipping her index finger into the jar, Sara closed her right eye, then her left eye and massaged the gel over her lashes.  She wiped it clean with a tissue and pumped Dove soap onto a washcloth and washed off the rest.  Rinsing with cool water, she reached for a teal colored towel hanging on a towel ring behind her. 

I?ll take a shower in the morning, Sara thought, as she glanced at the rain-tinted shower stall at the end of the room.  She applied her face cream, then walked back to her bedroom and threw on a pair of sweats and a tank top.  Now I can relax. 

With that, she returned to the living room, stepped between the table and the couch and slid to the floor Indian-style.

I'll just watch a little TV, she thought.  She clicked on the remote and found a marathon of 'Friends' episodes about to begin.  She ate her salad and after two hours her eyelids began to droop.  Sara quickly clicked off the TV, slipped into her pajamas, brushed her teeth and slid between her silk sheets.  Her head hit the pillow, her eyes closed and she slept. 


??Just a small time girl, living in a lonely world.  She took the midnight train going anywhere...?? played and vibrated on the nightstand.  ?The time is 10:13 pm,? announced Sara?s cell phone.  Sara woke and reached for the phone, instinctively putting it to her ear before opening her eyes.


?Hello Sara, it?s Anna?I?m not feeling well.  Help!

 ?I?m on my way Anna.  I?ve got your extra key.?

?Thank you.?

Eyes wide open, Sara jumped from her bed, stripped off her t-shirt and threw on a pair of jeans and a tank top.  With phone in hand, she grabbed her keys and purse and opened the front door.  Locking the door behind her, she ran down the hall.

?Anna, I?m coming in,? said Sara.  She opened the door to find Anna on the floor with one arm clutching her chest.

Sara sat down on the floor next to her and dialed 911. 

?I need an ambulance at Chicago Hi-Towers, 371 North Lake Shore Drive, suite 13 or that is 14-09?It?s my neighbor, Anna McClusky.  There?s something wrong.  She?s in a lot of pain.?

?My chest, Sara.  It feels tight and my arm hurts.?

Sara nodded her head.  ?Yes, she?s breathing, but she?s clutching her chest.  She said it feels tight.  Oh! And she has a pain in her arm.   She looks very pale and weak.  An aspirin?  I don?t know, let me see,? said Sara. 

?Anna, do you have any aspirin in the house??

Anna pointed to the bottle of Fahrer Aspirin on the table at the end of the couch. 

?She has aspirin.  Should I give her one?  Okay! I will.  Yes, I?ll stay with her until they get here.  Oh! Okay, hold on.? 

Sara turned toward Anna.  ?It?s gonna be okay.? 

Snatching the bottle of aspirin off the table, she flipped off the cover and placed a capsule in Anna?s mouth. 

?Here Anna?take this.  I?ll get you some water.? 

Sara ran to the kitchen, filled up a glass of water and returned to Anna.

 ?Here you go.? 

She held the glass to Anna?s lips until she swallowed the capsule.

?I?m gonna stay right here with you.?   Sara put the phone to her ear again. 

?Can I help her up to the couch?? 

Sara nodded to the voice on the other end of the phone.

?Anna, can I help you up on the couch?? 

?Okay!? said Anna.

Sara placed the phone on the table and dipped her right shoulder down.  ?Wrap your arm around my neck and I?ll stand you up slowly,? said Sara.

?Oooooh! My chest, it?s really bad, Sara.?

?Here we go.  A couple more steps.?  Sara helped Anna sit down on the burnt orange couch and laid her head down on an orange throw pillow with a red embroidered rose on it. 

Sara picked up the phone.  ?She?s on the couch.?

 Sara listened.  ?Okay, Anna, the paramedics are in the building and should be here any minute.  Anna, 911 is asking if you did anything different last night.  Anything strenuous?? said Sara stroking Anna?s arm.

?No?I ate my dinner?then I watched Jay Leno.  I didn?t do anything else.  Ooooohhh! My vision?s getting fuzzy.?

Sara turned toward a sound at the door.

 ?Paramedics ma?am.?  Sara jumped up and opened the front door. 

?Right this way.?

 Both paramedics made their way to Anna.

Sara put her phone back to her ear.  ?The paramedics are here.  Thank you so much for your help,? said Sara. 

Sara clicked off the call and leaned back against the living room wall and watched. 

The first paramedic took Anna?s hand. 

?Hello! Ma?am.  I?m Jim and this is Bill.  We?re gonna ask you a few questions and take your vitals, is that alright??

?Yes of course,? said Anna, pulling herself to a sitting position, her face wincing in pain.

?Are you feeling dizzy?? asked Jim

?A little.  I?m feeling weak and my vision is a little weird.  I did get nauseated about half an hour ago.  But I don?t know if that means anything.?

Bill placed a stethoscope on Anna?s chest and listened.  ?Have you ever had any heart problems, a murmur or anything like that??

?No, I?ve been very lucky?I may be old, but I?m pretty darn healthy. ?

Jim held her wrist, feeling her pulse.  ?Are you on any kind of medication??

?No, not really.?

?Do you take over the counter drugs?? asked Bill.

Anna held her chest and breathed out.   ?Only Rilosac for reflux.?

Bill noticed the bottle of aspirin on the floor next to the couch and held it up.  ?What about these?  How often do you take aspirin??  

?Oh, yeah! I forgot!  Only once in a while for aches and pains.?

?How many did you take tonight?? Bill asked while taking her pulse.

?I didn?t take any tonight, until Sara got here. She gave me one.   The 911 operator told her to.  I took it right away.?

?That may have helped you, but we?re gonna have to get you to the hospital for some tests, just to be on the safe side,? said Jim.  ?Is that okay??

Anna?s eyes opened wide and she ran her right hand through her hair.  

?I must look a mess.?

?You look fine.  Are you feeling better?? asked Jim.

?Yes, I am kind of,? said Anna.

Bill rolled the gurney in from the hall, stopping at the coffee table in front of the couch.

?Well, Mrs. McClusky, we?re still going to bring you in,? said Jim.

?That?s fine,? she said as she reached for Jim?s hand.  ?But call me Anna, if you would.  All my friends do.?

Jim grabbed Anna?s hand.  He smiled as he helped her up onto the gurney.  ?Alright Anna, is there anything that you need to bring with you?  Your insurance card or Medicare card??  Jim turned toward Sara, standing against the opposite wall in the living room. ?Will you be coming with us??

?Yes, definitely.?  Sara moved to Anna?s side again.  ?Tell me where your things are and I?ll get them for you.?

?Oh Sara, you?re such a dear.  My cards are rubber banded together in the top drawer of my nightstand.?

Sara released Anna?s arm and walked swiftly into the bedroom. 

?I?ve got them.  I?ll be right there,? Sara called out, as she hooked an overnight bag on her pinky and lifted it from the floor.  She quickly searched through several drawers. 

?Packing a few personal items for you in case you need to stay at the hospital,? she yelled.

Jim placed an oxygen mask over Anna?s nose and mouth and Bill wheeled her down the hall toward the elevator.  Sara rounded the corner into the hall behind them with Anna?s red bag and information.

?She?s going to be okay, isn?t she?? Sara whispered to Jim.

?She?ll be just fine.  It looks like she may have had a mini-stroke or a minor heart attack, so we?ll need to do a few tests.  Did you say that you gave her an aspirin??

?Yes, is that alright?  The woman on the phone said I should,? said Sara.

?You did just fine.  That actually limits the chance of her having another heart attack by twenty to thirty percent.?

Sara stared at Jim?s broad shoulders and slim waist.  Nice physique, she thought as he pushed the gurney out the front door.  As he lifted Anna into the ambulance, she caught herself staring and raised her focus to his short brown hair and blue eyes.  Not as cute as Jason, but still pretty nice, she thought.

Sara stepped up, placed the bag on the floor and took Anna?s hand in hers.  The back door shut and the sirens began.

Anna lifted her mask.  ?I feel like a queen?I?m getting so much attention,? she laughed. 

 ?Well it?s about time,? laughed Sara, as she put the mask back in place.  

The sirens blared and the red lights bounced off buildings, reflecting back through the windows in the ambulance.  Bill drove and Jim sat on the other side of Anna, keeping track of her vitals.

When Anna?s eyes closed, Sara?s face grew pale and her eyes found Jim.

 ?She?s got good rhythm now and we didn?t have to use the defibrillator, so those are all good signs.?

?Be there in thirty,? said Bill.

The sirens stopped as they pulled into the hospital emergency bay.  The back doors flew open and interns grabbed the stretcher and brought it down in seconds.  They wheeled her in past the front desk for immediate testing.

?Miss, are you here with the patient,? asked the nurse at the front desk.

?Yes, I am,? said Sara.

?My name is Nurse Fleur.  Would you mind filling out some forms and giving us some information on your mother?is it??

?Oh! She?s not my mother, but I like to think of her like that.  She?s my neighbor and yes, I have all of her information.  Her insurance card, driver?s license, the medications she?s taken recently, all of that,? said Sara.

When Sara finished filling out all of the paperwork, Nurse Fleur took her into Anna?s room.

?How is she?  Is she gonna be okay?? asked Sara.

?She?s sleeping now and her vitals are good.  But, it was good that you called 911, because you never know.  Much better to err? on the side of safety.  But for now, you should probably go home, get a good night?s sleep.  We?ll call you in the morning with the results.?

Sara fidgeted.  ?Maybe I should stay in the room with her?in case she needs me.?

?I know you wanna help, but it?s after midnight.  Trust me, if you get a good night?s sleep, you?ll both be better off.  We?ll keep an eye on her.?

?Okay!  But, please call me if she needs anything, anything at all,? said Sara.

?I promise.  You?re down as the primary contact.?  Nurse Fleur turned to walk away.  ?Good night dear!?

?Thank you.? Sara took one last look in Anna?s room.  ?Good night Anna!?


Time Release - Chapter 2 

Chapter 2

“♫Just a small time girl, living in a lonely world.  She took the midnight train going anywhere.  Just a city boy, born and raised in South Detroit.  He took the midnight train going anywhere.♫”The time is now 8:19am,” announced Sara’s cell phone. Sara lifted her hand and dragged her right arm across her body to reach for the phone.  “Hello!”

“Is this Sara Parkins?” said a voice on the other end.

“Yes, it is.  Can I help you?” said Sara.

“This is Dr. Gordon at St. Cecelia Hospital.  I believe you accompanied Mrs. McClusky when she checked in late last night.  She has you as a contact.”

Sara’s eyes popped open and she jumped to a sitting position on the bed. 

“Yes, I am.  Is everything okay?  Did you get the results for the tests already?”

“Ms. Parkins, are you related to Mrs. McClusky?” asked Dr. Gordon.

“Not by blood, but I’m pretty sure I’m her closest friend,” she said.  Sara stood and began pacing back and forth from her closet to her bed.  She snagged a light blue racer back tank top and a pair of faded blue jeans from the top shelf and tossed them on the bench. 

“I mean, she’s like a mom to me, she continued.  “I’m her neighbor from down the hall.  I’ve known her for a couple of years now and if she needs something, I can get it for her.” 

Sara walked into the bathroom and put on her shower cap.

“Well Ms. Parkins.  I’m very sorry to tell you, but Mrs. McClusky had another heart attack early this morning.  Unfortunately, this one turned into an episode of progressive heart attacks.  We did everything we could.  She passed away at about 2am.”

Sara stopped.  Didn’t walk…didn’t talk, leaned against the bathroom wall and slid to the floor.

“Ms. Parkins, did you hear me?  I would have called sooner, but there was nothing you could do.  Are you alright?”

A very quiet “yes” slipped from between her frozen lips. 

“If you’d like to pick up her things, we can hold them for you?  I’m really very sorry!”

“Of course,” said Sara.

Sara clicked the off button and the phone slipped from her hand to her lap.  She sat frozen in time.  What happened? she thought.  Why couldn’t they help her?  They said it was a minor heart attack, but they got her in time.  I can’t believe she’s gone.  She was fine yesterday and now she’s…  Sara’s head dipped and a tear ran down her left cheek.  “I said I’d be there for her,” she said aloud.  Another tear and another and Sara buried her head in her hands.

After several minutes, Sara grabbed the towel bar on the shower door and slowly pulled herself up until she stood.  She reached in, turned on the water, stripped off her pajamas and stepped in.

Pulling the lever for the shower, she closed her eyes and allowed the water to stream down her face.  The rush of water pellets bounced off her forehead and cheekbones, flowing over her shoulders and down her back. 

A ten minute shower turned into a twenty minute shower as her tears mixed with the soap and water.  Sara stared at the bubbles, watching them disappear one after the other.  Turning off the water, Sara’s eyes followed one large bubble, down the gray tiled wall, past the nickel-plated faucet to the waiting drain.  She bent and tried to capture it, but the suction pulled it in.

Here and then gone, she thought.  So quick…I didn’t have time. 

“I want more time,” she shouted, pounding her fist on the wall.  She leaned her head on her clenched hand and closed her eyes.  Several deep breaths and she pushed up and away from the wall.

“You can do this…you can.  You have to - for Anna,” she told herself.

Sara stepped from the shower and methodically began getting ready.  Body lotion applied evenly, she pulled her hair into a ponytail so she could apply her eye makeup.  She then stepped into the clothes she had tossed on the bench.  Her mind raced. 

I have to get her bag from the hospital and what about her apartment…what about all her things?  I don’t think she has any family left.  Her one brother passed away the year before we met.  He’d been climbing a mountain in Peru and there was an avalanche.  I remember Anna saying he died doing what he loved doing.  But what about her?  Why did she die? 

Sara stopped and closed her eyes.  “Okay, pull yourself together.  You’ve got a lot to do.”

She remembered Frank, the cabbie who was so nice.  Reaching for her cell phone and purse, Sara pulled his card from a side pocket.  It would be nice to have a friendly face drive me to the hospital, she thought.

“Hello!  Is Frank there?” said Sara.

“I’m sorry, this is his wife Della.  Can I help?”
            “Frank gave me his card and said to call if I needed a cab anywhere.”

“Oh! I’m very sorry dear, but Frank’s mother took ill last evening and I’m afraid she passed away this morning.  He won’t be able to pick you up this time.”

“Oh! Oh my God.  I’m sorry.  No, that’s fine.  I’ll flag another cab down at the curb.  I only called because he was such a nice man.”

“To give you his card, he must of thought you were a very nice person too, dear.  He doesn’t give it to very many people.”

“Thank you.  I’m so sorry for your loss.  Della, please tell Frank you’re in my prayers.

“Thank you.  I will,” said Della.

Oh my God!  Two people on the same night, thought Sara.  She shook her head.  They always say it happens in threes. 

She checked to be sure she had her purse and keys, then pulled her front door shut, locked the deadbolt, and headed for the elevator.

“Good morning, Sara.”

Sara turned slowly and saw Jason coming down the hall.

“Good morning,” she said and continued toward the elevator.  Reaching it, she pressed the button and waited.  The elevator door slid open as Jason reached Sara.  He stepped in and tilted his head toward her.

“You okay?” he asked.

Sara tried to answer, but her eyes welled up and she stopped. 

“What’s wrong, Sara?”

Sara held her eyes closed and swallowed hard.  “Anna, I mean Mrs. McClusky, she…”  Sara’s tears flowed. 

Jason moved in carefully, extended his arm and pushed the stop button in the elevator. 

Eyes jerking wide open, Sara stared at him.

“I’m sorry!  I just thought you might need to talk about it before you get wherever you’re going.  What’s wrong with Mrs. McClusky?”  Jason’s face softened, his movement careful. 

Sara’s stare relaxed and she looked down at the floor. 

“She got sick last night and she called me.  When I got there, she was holding her chest, so I called an ambulance and….”

Jason reached for Sara’s shoulders and held her firmly.  “Sara, did she die?”

Sara’s shoulders shook and her mouth dropped.  “Yes, how did you know?”

He loosened his grip.  “I-I didn’t, but you seem so distraught and she is in her seventies…so I thought she might have.”

Sara pulled from his grasp and hit the button for the elevator to proceed.  “I have to get her things at St. Cecelia,” said Sara.

“Sara, I’m so sorry.  What’d they say happened?”

“I don’t know.  It’s not making any sense right now.  I mean, at first, they thought she had a minor heart attack, but it stopped by the time they got her to the hospital.  So, I don’t know.  They ran a bunch of tests, and they said she’d be fine.”  Sara’s tears started again.  A steady stream made their way down to her chin before she used the back of her hand to wipe them away.

“If there’s anything I can do, please call me,” said Jason.  He put his left hand gently on her shoulder, bent, took a Kleenex with thumb and forefinger from a packet in his pocket, and gently blotted beneath Sara’s eyes.

 “I know you did everything you could for her.  Sometimes these things happen.  Don’t blame yourself.”

Sara smiled a weak smile and took the Kleenex from him. 

“Thank you,” she said.

The elevator panel lit up button L, for lobby, and she exited.

Jason remained in the elevator and Sara sensed him watching her from behind. 

The ride to the hospital was a blur.  Sara made her way past the front desk and glanced at the clock on the wall.  It was 10:30am.  On to the bank of elevators around the corner from the ones she took last night.  She pressed the button and the doors opened. 

Like they were waiting for me, she thought.  Were they waiting for Anna?  Was it simply her time?  She stepped inside and the doors closed.  A room of metal, no mirrors on the wall or carpeting.  Funny, how I didn’t notice these things last night.  Of course last night, Anna was here and now she’s…well I guess she’s still here, but she’s not.  Sara ran her fingers through her hair and leaned against the metal wall as it came to a stop on the 4th floor.

She stepped out, glanced one way and then the other.  “Which way?” 

The walls seemed different than they did last night, thought Sara.  The white looked stark and cold and the corridors seemed to go on forever.  The still life pictures seemed lifeless now and unimportant.  Last night, when Nurse Fleur took her to see Anna, she had watched as interns wheeled a patient to their room.  They almost ran the gurney into a wall, where Sara noticed a beautiful picture of a daffodil in full bloom.  Now, only hours later, nothing looked beautiful.  The daffodils looked sterile and frozen. 

Heavy, quick-paced steps came from behind Sara and she moved to the side. 

“Are you lost?”asked a short, stocky nurse with dark skin, silky hair and green eyes.

Sara glanced to the side and down.  “My name is Sara Parkins and my friend, Mrs. Anna McClusky…” she stopped and took a deep breath.  “She passed away this morning.  I called 911 late last night because she was having chest pains.  They said they wouldn’t have the test results until this afternoon.  I wouldn’t have left if I thought it was serious, but they said there was nothing I could do and that she’d be fine.  I don’t understand what happened.  I mean I…”  Sara stopped and noted the look of surprise on the nurse’s face.  “Sorry!  I didn’t mean to go on.  I’m just here to pick up her things.”

“That’s okay, dear.  Follow me.”  She passed Sara, quickly reaching the nurses’ station and turned left. 

Sara hurried to the nurses’ station, but saw no one. 

A head of thick dark brown silky hair popped up from beneath the desk.  “Ah! Here it is,” she said.  The same dark skinned, green-eyed nurse stood.   She held Anna’s red overnight bag in her left hand and a release form in her right.

 “Oh! there you are.  I thought I lost you,” said Sara.

“I’ll need you to sign this, dear, and I’ll need some sort of identification.  I’m sorry for your loss.”

Sara took the clipboard and pen and signed her name on the release to claim Anna’s things.  She proffered her driver’s license, got an approval nod, and returned it to her purse. 

“Oh! And there’s this as well,” said the nurse.  She handed Sara a potted plant of yellow daffodils, Anna’s favorites. 

“I forgot I’d gotten these for her before I left last night,” said Sara.  “Thank you.” 

As the nurse turned to walk away, Sara eyed her name badge…Amanda.

“Amanda,” Sara’s voice echoed against the cabinets and the long hall of stark white walls.

Amanda stopped in her tracks.  “Yes?” 

“I know you’re really busy, but I need to talk to someone about the cause of death.”  Sara blurted out.  She glanced around quickly and brought her gaze back to Amanda.  “Is there a specific person that I need to see?”

Amanda doubled back to the nurses’ station, grabbed a chart and moved her head methodically from left to right, all the way down the page.

“Yes, here it is.  Dr. Gordon can give you all the information you need.  Unfortunately, he left for the day, just a few minutes ago.  He’ll be back for the night shift.  You can give him a call then.”  She smiled, turned to leave and turned back.  “Or you could call Mrs. McClusky’s brother…he called about 30 minutes ago and the doctor gave him all the details.” 

She glanced at the chart.  I’m sorry, we didn’t get a telephone number, but he was a very nice man.

Sara threw the overnight bag over her shoulder.  “Thank you.  I’ll call Dr. Gordon tonight,” said Sara.

Sara made her way slowly down the hall with the information spinning in her mind.  Mrs. McClusky’s brother died over four years ago, thought Sara.  That’s so strange.  She never mentioned having any other brothers.  So how could it have been her brother that called?

Ten minutes went by as Sara stared off into space in front of the hospital. 

Oh my God! I wonder how many cabs already passed me by…wasn’t even paying attention, she thought.

After she flagged down a cab and got in, she leaned back to think.  Time flew and the cabbie pulled up to her building.  Sara handed him a five dollar bill.  The cabbie took it and turned forward. 

“Keep the change,” she said.   Not like he wasn’t going to anyway, she thought.

She gathered up the overnight bag, the potted daffodil, her purse, and slowly got out of the cab.  She pushed the door closed with her foot and the cabbie took off.

Stepping quickly, Anna’s red overnight bag hung over Sara’s right shoulder as she pushed into the revolving doors.  As she stepped in, the door pulled back and stopped.  Face flush and unable to budge the door, Sara waved at the man at the desk inside.  As she did, a gentleman outside pulled the door back and dislodged the bag. 

“Thank you,” said Sara.  She raised her hand half way and waved a meager attempt of gratitude.  Into the atrium she turned toward ‘Garden Pure’ for her usual. 

Sara put her plant down on the counter nearest the cashier.  At the salad buffet, she grabbed the tongs for the green leafy lettuce and leaned forward, but the red bag fell off her shoulder.  She pushed it back up and it slid back down.  She replaced the tongs, dropped the bag between her feet and scooted it sideways down the salad buffet.  Deviled eggs, croutons, cubed turkey, grapes and grated parmesan cheese drizzled with ranch dressing filled three quarters of her square plastic container.  Sara rounded the corner to the bakery section, bag in tow and ripped off a piece of wax paper and wrapped it around a medium size croissant.  She then picked up the bag in her right hand, threw it over her shoulder, picked up her lunch and strode to the checkout counter.   Placing her salad and roll on the conveyor belt, she selected a Hershey bar while she waited in line.

Sara felt a hand on her right shoulder and turned quickly. 

“Sara, is everything okay?” asked Mr. Adashi.  “You’re not usually here so early and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you buy chocolate before.  Are you going on a trip,” he asked, pointing to the red bag.

Eyes listless, voice drained, she replied.  “Mrs. McClusky passed away this morning.”

Mr. Adashi squeezed her shoulder lightly. 

“I’m so sorry, Sara.  You’ve always been good to her.  I didn’t even know she was sick.  Was it sudden?”

“Yes…I mean no…she wasn’t sick and yes, it was sudden.  She had chest pains, so I went with her to the hospital about 11:00 last night.  I still don’t really understand what happened.  They said she might have had a mini-stroke or a heart attack, but then they said she seemed fine.  They told me to go home and they’d call me when the test results came in.”  Sara shook her head.  “I don’t know.  She was sleeping when I left last night.  I still can’t believe she’s gone.”  A tear fell from her right eye and she wiped it away with the knuckle of her index finger.

“I went to pick up her things at the hospital.”  Sara glanced at the red bag and the plant.  “But I didn’t get to talk to the doctor…he’d already left for the day.  I have to call him tonight.  I’m sorry…I know I’m rambling.”

She moved up to the register and Mr. Adashi put his hand on her shoulder and put a palm up to the cashier. 

“I’ve got it Sara.  You go and relax.  I’m sure things’ll look better soon.”

The cashier bagged the salad, roll and candy bar and handed it to Sara.  Lunch under her left arm, overnight bag over her left shoulder, purse over her right shoulder, she bent and picked up the potted plant on her way out.

“Thank you,” said Sara.  Walking carefully, she reached the elevator and pressed the button.  The doors opened, she stepped forward and a man in a long black coat rushed out of the elevator.  His left arm knocked her off balance and the potted plant fell to the ground and cracked.  Regaining her composure by leaning back on the door, Sara turned toward the man. 

“Sorry!  said Sara.  Didn’t mean to…” but, he was long gone.  She did her best to scoop up the dirt and put it back in the pot and pressed the button again.

 The door opened, Sara stepped in and pressed fourteen with her right elbow.  Thirteen doesn’t seem so lucky anymore, she thought.  Floor after floor, Sara’s eyes focused inward.  Anna ate a regular dinner; she took a pill for reflux that she’s been taking for over 3 months and then all of the sudden…she’s sick and then she’s gone.  “It doesn’t make sense,” she said aloud.  The elevator stopped on 14, the doors slid open and Sara stepped out.

She walked in a slow stride.  Her eyes shifted from the carpeted floor to Anna’s door to her own door across the hall, three units down.  As she drew nearer to Anna’s apartment, her pace quickened and the palms of her hands perspired.  One long stride would pass up the door entirely, she thought. 

Sara stopped abruptly.  “What’s this?”  Mrs. McClusky’s door is slightly open.  I know I pulled it tight and locked it when we left for the hospital, she told herself.  Didn’t I?  Sara reached for the doorknob when the door pulled open from the inside.  

Sara’s mouth dropped and she stepped back.  “What…”



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