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The Merging: Prologue

Two people are brought together as they both struggle with tragedy in their lives.  The man is coping with the slow death of his wife as cancer takes a part of her each month.  Losing his job as caretaker responsibilities make his life impossible and with mountains of medical debt he feels his life has become impossible.  The woman, with two children to raise while dealing with abuse by her husband and her own tragic childhood, become friends online.  They anonymously share their lives with each other and discover they both enjoy writing erotica.  Writing an erotic novel online becomes an escape from the tragedy of their lives and a mutual obsession.  

Their lives become more complicated and intense when they stumble into each other in a coffee shop they both frequently visit.   They struggle to keep their fantasy world separate from their real lives.  Knowing they can never be together, their fantasy world reaches as far into their real-world as humanly possible without consummating their relationship.  The intensity of their desire and its denial merge their beings into a single being with no emotional boundaries in a bizarre love affair.

1.0 the Meetings

We don’t meet people by accident.  They are meant to cross our path for a reason.

1.1 Robert: Pushing Back the Wind 

When I was a teenager, my dad, a heavy smoker, had several heart attacks before the last one got him.  He worked as a mechanic one block from our house; the garage was behind a Texaco and was owned by Johnny, a playboy of sorts.  My younger brother, Ray, at 16 was already a little taller than my dad who was about 5’7″. Ray  was hanging out in the shop when our Dad told Ray he was having trouble breathing and felt weak. But even so, dad waited until quitting time and they headed home together, walking as usual.

In West Texas, they have some horrific wind storms, the sky full of red dirt, the sand tearing at any exposed skin, wind gusts up to 60 mph.   They started down the dirt road to home against the wind. It  became clear immediately that dad could not walk against the wind.  Ray moved in front of dad without being asked and slowed his pace down knowing my dad was unlikely to admit that he needed help.  At a snail’s pace they worked their way home without speaking.  When my dad got home, he drove himself to the doctor’s office who admitted him to the hospital because he had just suffered a heart attack that would eventually take his life. 

We had relatives visit last month; my wife has been diagnosed with cancer.  An event on their visit when they were visiting with my wife took me back to my dad’s walk.  My wife’s brother, sister-in-law, their daughter who was about twelve and their son who was about eight came to visit Helen, my wife, perhaps to say their last respects.  My youngest daughter, Lisa, came up from college to see her cousins.  

I had a great talk with Lisa while I burned up the hamburgers and asparagus.  She told me she was having problems with depression and pointed out that she often can not identify where her pain comes from.  She let me know she is in poor health, clinically depressed, and dropping out of college. I fought my urge to argue with her because my world had already begun spinning out of control.

After the barbecue, we did the traditional everyone walk the dog around the block event, all eight of us plus the dog of course.  The two cats walked to the edge of our property and then waited for us to return.   The wind was gusty, the type that often comes before a thunderstorm.  I was worried about my wife, Helen, going on the walk; she seemed tired to me, but she said she was fine.   It is about a mile around, a comfortable walk for a healthy person.  Helen walked very slow from the beginning, her brother Mitch and I stayed back with her.  Ashton, the Jack Russel, who was not on a leash, made periodic journeys between the two groups to see that everyone was okay.  About halfway around I moved over and took her right hand.  It was then obvious to me how much she was struggling. I let her put as much weight as she could on my left arm.

The front group had slowed down and come back to us.  I didn’t see when Lisa, my youngest daughter, moved in beside her mom, but there she was holding her mom’s left hand in her two hands, struggling with the weight of her mom as Helen moved forward slowing with each step.  The rest of the group was around us talking and laughing and having a good time.  Helen never said a word and no one in the group knew she was struggling except for Lisa and me.   She never told me, but I believe her calves were cramping up and it had become very painful to walk.  We got back to the house, Helen and Jill, the sister-in-law, went inside and I turned on the gas fireplace.

The rest of us went outside and played hide-and-seek in the dark in the backyard.  Ashton helped the seeker find select people, mostly me and my older daughter, Ally.   You can’t really hide from a dog in the backyard, even in the dark.

The walk around the block marked a small moment in the unfolding of Lisa’s life, but an important one.  She noticed when almost no one else did that someone was struggling and reached in and helped without saying anything.  For a moment, it wasn’t about her own pain, but about someone else needing her help, someone that was too proud to ask for help.  

Helen, her mom, was dying of cancer.

1.2 Months Crawl By

Months have passed since the walk around the block with Helen’s family.  Most days home feels like we live in a morgue with Helen, Ashton, and me as the caretakers and inmates.  Alternatively,  I feel like we are hot lava, black on the outside and simmering on the inside,  moving toward the sea where we will be mercifully extinguished.  

When I was 19 my dad’s heart went bad.  His hobby was gardening where he spent most of his time when he was not at work.  He turned an arid, caliche clay plot of land in El Paso to an oasis in the desert.  He built an ever-widening garden around the periphery of our back yard that had fruit trees separated by tulips, roses, carnation, and many more flowers that I did not know the names of.   I only knew it was best if our baseball or football did not stray from the shrinking plot of grass in the center of our yard.  We eventually moved to the street for ball games as teenagers. 

After my dad believed his heart was failing,and it was, he started digging up and selling all his flowers.  In his heart, he knew we would neglect them; better to send them to a home than watch them die in the arid soil of El Paso as his health declined. 

Roses were his favorite.  He grew huge giant red thorny bushes that lived like creatures in our backyard ready to puncture our footballs.  After all the flowers were off to good homes he wrote a note and left it next to his bed; in it, he asked for red roses on his grave. We found the note next to his unconscious body the day of his death. 

Yesterday, my wife, bedridden in a hospital from cancer, sent me home to water her flowers.  I don’t know her favorite; she told me I’m sure. I feel guilty for not knowing, for not being with her with all my heart and soul for all these years.   I wonder if I had ever put some rose petals on the bed before making love if our marriage would have gone smoother. 

Our dog Ashton, a Jack Russel with a soul, would not sleep inside last night with Helen away.  He slept in his dog house,  head on his paws, sadness in his eyes. He didn’t come for breakfast. Perhaps later I will bribe him with a car ride. He might think we are going to see Helen and come along for the ride.

As I water per Helen’s instructions, my head is swirling with Ashton’s protest, the gap between Helen and me, my dad’s grave, and how our lives are defined by Helen’s cancer.  I put some food and water outside of Ashton’s dog house.  To him, I do not exist.  There is no fence around our yard, but I know he will be there when I return and the food and water will remain untouched.  I tell him I am going to see Helen; he does not acknowledge I have spoken. 

1.3 Robert: the Coffee Shop

I can do the trip in my sleep to Union Hospital and the doctors’ offices there.  I know many of the nurses and receptionists.  I get the pitiful smile from most of them and the short phrases “how’s she doing .. hang in there.”  I just dropped Helen off for her bi-weekly chemo-treatments with Herceptin for HER2 metastatic breast cancer.  This is an old story to them, for me, it is my first time on this journey.  I trudge to the coffee shop, laptop in tow.  The coffee shop is my reprieve, my escape from home and the bills I can’t pay, my job where I am hopelessly behind, and cancer that lives in my wife and stalks me like a sinister spirit in the deep dark maze of a life I can not believe is real.

A large cup of french roast is ordered with the simple “the usual and one of those,” a muffin that I point at.  They serve my coffee in one of their large ceramic mugs without asking, I am a regular.  I take a small sip even before I have added the half-and-half and wait for energy to somehow spread magically through my body. My body is past tired and I conquer the gloom by ignoring it.  The coffee is bitter without the cream, but I cup my free hand around the mug and ignore the fact that it’s too hot.  I breathe in the aroma of smells that drift through this place that feels more like home than home does these days. 

Out of the corner of my eyes, I catch her legs first. There is the faintest feel of life, of a quickened beat in my heart.  She is sitting in a short skirt, immersed in something on a clipboard, her legs slightly open in one of the comfortable chairs that surround a central coffee table. I am drawn to her like a drowning man to floating debris in the middle of an ocean.   I take the chair closest to hers although four others around the table are open.  She looks up and gives me a half smile then goes back to working on her clipboard.  Looking over her shoulder, I note on her clipboard that there are boxes with names written in them.  I judge she is in her mid-thirties, more than twenty-five years younger than me.  Long blond hair, over-sized boobs on a slim frame. Implants I’m sure; they say “want me”. Her legs are well shaped, slightly muscular, long and bare, and impossible to ignore.  Eye candy, fantasy land. I’m in LOVE.  It seems only days ago I met my wife when she was thirty-one and had a different, but great body.  In my mind, my body is the same as long ago as I sit by this creature of the universe. I am not bashful in grabbing a life-line.

“It is strange to see anyone working on paper these days,” I say to her to start up a conversation.  I am hungry for any interaction with a woman, especially a healthy vibrant one less than a foot away. I can smell her hair, Johnson Baby Shampoo I’m sure.  She has children.  I deliberately avoid looking at her ring finger and breath in her smell as subtly as possible.

“Ya, we are a hundred years behind. I am trying to schedule technicians to man all the X-ray machines, MRI, echo-scan, etc. in the hospital. “  She holds the clipboard up to show me.  “These people down here have to go up here.  These columns show me what equipment each technician is trained on, and down here I have vacation requests, and Sally is getting married next weekend, etc.  It’s a mess.”

“Are you a secretary?” I ask.

“No, administrative assistant.  Yea, I guess I am more or less. I’m not important if that is what you mean.  I am getting coffee and stuff for the whole office, well, and combining it with my break. I can take a longer break this way, who is going to complain when their coffee hangs in the balance,” she says matter of factly and then laughs softly.  I imagine birds fluttering from her lips.  I follow her glance to the clock on the wall, nine thirty five.  

“What brings you here?” She studies my face for a moment.  Her brain seems to scroll through faces like someone looking at mugshots, “you brought your wife in last week for an MRI.” It is a statement, not a question.

“Yea, my wife is getting chemo in Hausford’s office right now.”

“Herceptin”, she says more as a statement than a question.

“Yes”, I answer and nod. From that moment it seems as if she knows me. It’s not eire but strangely comforting. 

“Sorry,” she says softly.  There is a long moment of silence.  She defensively pushes the v-down that is made by her tight skirt across her legs. I avert my eyes realizing I was staring and that my body has begun to respond. “My name is Melissa, and I’m sorry about your wife.”  I keep my eyes focused on her and don’t look down to see if my problem is visible yet.  It feels like a snake that is coming out into the sun for the first time after a long winter.  The intensity of my body’s reaction makes me want to kill the snake, but IT is beyond my control, or my willpower, I don’t know which.

“I’m Robert.  You were in the back. I remember your hair.  It’s beautiful by the way”, I audibly stumble suddenly awestruck by the woman in front of me.  It is not just her beauty.  She has a presence about her, someone that has lived more than her years, the words “old soul” pass through my head.  There is a profound sadness around both of us that feels, well, like we both have shared it for a long time.   I fell slightly humbled to be in her presence.  Our eyes lock and for a moment we are lost inside of each other as if we are recalling something.  And just as suddenly we are both back from wherever we have just gone. 

“Thank you,” she says softly and when my face tells her I have no idea what she is talking about, she adds “my hair.” I nod and smile as she rises.  I stay seated afraid to rise unless she notices the serpent.  She holds out her hand and I hold it. Her hand is soft and warm, but firm. We just hold each other’s hand without shaking, then let go. We say nothing, but the connection sends a shiver down my spine.   I wonder if IT flows both ways.

“I have to go.  My order is ready.”  And yet a third time, she says, “I’m sorry about your wife.”  My eyes follow her to the door.  She is shorter than Helen – about five foot three or four – and I can’t help but smile as I notice her small ass nicely filling out her pleated skirt swaying down the sidewalk with two plastic grocery bags of coffee swinging in unison to her butt.   I’m surprised to find my hands shaking slightly.  It’s been almost a year since my wife and I have made love.  We were going through a bad patch in our marriage and then cancer came back just shy of her five-year remission celebration.  Cancer had metastasized and spread to her lungs.  They found a lump underneath the breast that had been reconstructed five years earlier that was assumed to be the original source.  It made no sense removing the lump with millions of pieces of it already growing in her body the doctors admitted, but Helen wanted it gone so she endured another operation.

I asked why they didn’t find the lump with the mammograms she took every six months. They said the reconstructed tissue was denser and didn’t work well with mammograms.   I was fighting mad when they told me that in only two percent of the cases did cancers reappear under the reconstructed breast.  Yea, but if it did, frequently they couldn’t find cancer until it metastasized.   Really?  And that was okay?  There was a wad of anger I carried around with me at the values people had that made this all possible.  It was not to be my last wad of anger about cancer I was destined to carry.   

Coming back to the present, I opened my laptop and sipped my coffee. I felt my body settle back into being exhausted.  I sipped slowly waiting for the drug to flow through my tiredness.   I waited while my laptop connected to the internet and downloaded my email.  I work from home now, but work is shaky.  My performance has been anything but stellar over the last few months.  My concentration sucks, I am an ex-workaholic in withdrawal.  I stare at the screen, but I am soaking in the ember of hope that has found its way into my life.  Nothing like an old fool,  I say to myself.  My brain wanders around inside of the memory of Melissa before it fades before the onslaught of cancer.

1.4 Robert: Helen’s Gardens

“I need you to pull some weeds out of the garden. I can’t keep up anymore,” Helen lays the sentence out in the air as a simple statement but it floats in the air bouncing off all the baggage in the air floating between us.  I cringe but say nothing.  I am washing dishes after breakfast as she sits looking out into the backyard which just a year ago was filled with her beautiful gardens. Her Master Garden friends kept it in good shape for about six months, but now grass and flowers blend together in a big mess. I imagine a large fire engulfing it but say nothing.

I push back the resentment. I feel my body tense.  She is asking for too much.  How can she be asking me to pull weeds?  We need groceries, the bills aren’t paid, there isn’t enough money to pay the bills, and I’m late on a report for work.  But, I can’t tell her this, so I just stall “It will have to wait until this weekend. I’ve got work to do and I need to get a pizza on for supper.”  By now she must know it is impossible for our life to go on as it was before.  It is a funny game we play-act like all is normal when not a goddamn thing is normal.  Nothing is normal and nothing is okay.  The only thing that is worse than today is thinking about how it will be tomorrow and the day after that, and the day after that…anger at what life is doing to ME boils inside of my chest making my chest hurt.

“Can’t we have something else?  There are hamburgers in the freezer,” Helen offers without emotion in her voice.

“I’ll thaw the meat in frig while we are gone.  We don’t have any rolls and only three pieces of bread.  There’s an old tomato on the counter that will have to do.  Yea, we can have hamburgers of sorts.  I’ll do some canned corn too.”

“We got an overdue notice on my Tykerb, didn’t you pay for it yet?” Helen asks as she turns away from the garden toward the tv; the volume blares when she hits the remote drowning out my answer.

I answered half to myself, “The insurance hasn’t reimbursed me for the script.  We are always three thousand behind, except this month we are still waiting for last month’s payment, too, so we are six thousand behind.”

“There is something on the table about Lisa’s school loan not being approved.  Says you make too much money,” Helen now pushes all the problems onto me.

“I took too much money out of the IRA account for your drugs; it raised our income level,” I say, understanding the red-tape mountain in front of me.  A mountain I don’t have the energy to climb.  Our daughter is not doing well in college, her grades have declined each quarter since her mom came down with cancer.  She seems to be in free fall, but I have no energy to address anything else.  I will call her tomorrow. She can wait until tomorrow.  I’m sorry Lisa.

“I think you should call someone and tell them what is going on,” Helen says, raising her voice over the drone from the tv.  I have started the corn not thinking about what I am doing so I turn it off and put the pan in the frig.  I get the George Foreman grill out.  It’s dirty from the last time it was used.  I put it under the kitchen faucet and began scraping old fish from the worn-out surface.  I want it clean and dry when I need it tonight.

Helen watching me from the couch advises me, “I don’t think you should put that grill in the water like that.  It’s going to short out and cause a fire.  I read in the paper that electrical shorts are one of the main causes of home fires.  Which reminds me, we need to check the batteries in the smoke alarms, it’s been a couple of years.”

“Yea, I know. Do you want mayonnaise or ketchup on your hamburger tonight?”

“I want mustard. You know that. Maybe you could pick some up” It is a close as she comes to complaining. But, she doesn’t praise much either.  She would make a good poker player.

“I doubt it. Mayonnaise or ketchup?”

“I’ll eat it plain; it will be okay.”  The last word is said in a low pitch,  perhaps she is punishing me for being behind on the shopping.  Why did I bring up supper now, we will just repeat the entire conversation again tonight.  Because you are losing it, that’s why.

“What time is your echocardiogram today?”

“Nine thirty, I think.  The paper is on the coffee table.” She rises slowly, her feet shuffling toward the table.  The steroids have made her face round, her hair has not begun to fall out from this round of treatments, but it is short and gray, nearly white.  

“I want to go in a little early, okay?” I know she is going to ask why.  My brain is busy looking for a white-lie.

“Why?” she asks matter of factly.  

I hesitate my thoughts stuck on Melissa in the coffee shop.  “I need to get some cash out at the bank and pick up your prescription at the drugstore.  It gets busy at about ten, that’s all. Sit down, I’ll bring your orange juice to your tv-table,” bringing our conversation back to the present.  I have a report that was due yesterday for work and my new boss is a jerk. He will be calling about 11 am  and I have done nothing since yesterday.   My bones seem tired as I drink my fifth cup of coffee for the day knowing from the pressure in my temples that my blood pressure is already elevated.  I debate taking another half pill of my blood pressure medicine. I check my pulse and estimate my pulse is about fifty and decide it is not safe to take any more and leave my full cup of coffee on the counter.

“I’m going downstairs to work, I’ve got a report overdue. Here is your cell, call me if you need something,” I say as I head down the stairs. She is telling me something about not being able to see the screen on her phone and her glasses being upstairs, but I pretend not to hear and move toward the solitude of my small basement office.   

1.5 Robert: Coffee Shop Rerun

“We have to hurry, Helen.  You can finish your bagel in the car, I’ll grab you a banana,” I say trying to hurry her out the door.

“My appointment is not for another thirty minutes, what’s the rush,” Helen responds as she shuffles slowly out the back door hesitating at the steps leading off the porch.  I come up and lend her my hand and she goes down slowly leading with her right leg which is unaffected yet by cancer.

“I told you why! Let’s just go.  Do you have everything you need?” I ask, noticing she has her small suitcase-sized purse with her.  She holds it up slightly indicating it is all in her bag.  

I open the front door for Helen at  Union Hospital “will you be okay by yourself” I ask her.  

“Yea, I know the routine.  When will you be back?”

“Just call me and I will hurry back.”

“I have trouble seeing the screen, just hurry back.”  I watch her shuffle toward the door, a trooper, her shoulders slightly bowed.  She has always been the most independent person in the world, single until she was thirty-one.  She wanted children, sometimes I feel that she wanted me for my sperm and stability.  We never talk about cancer or the future.  We don’t talk about the past unless it is about my indiscretion with Sue thirteen years ago. 

I pull my mind from the past as Helen moves slowly out of sight. I park the car in the adjoining three-level parking lot and scurry off to the coffee shop ten minutes late. There is no sign of Melissa at the coffee shop.  I get my usual cup of dark roast French coffee and sit in the same chair like last time.  There are a half dozen people scattered in the twenty or so chairs that make up the coffee shop.  I open my laptop and open up ‘The Wonderful Helen” Blog.  It’s easier to keep all the relatives up to speed with a blog. Before I started the blog, I spent a lot of time answering the same questions from the calls and emails over and over again. My disappointment in not seeing Melissa is soon forgotten, as I lose myself in writing, trying to add a little humor to a depressing storyline. 

Drifting into my consciousness,  her voice sounds like a soft whisper coming from inside my right ear.  I feel her breath on my neck and jump slightly.  I turn toward her, her face close to mine.  My heart does a little skip, but outwardly I pretend to be calm.

“Hi, how are you?”   She is standing beside my chair, leaning over her face uncomfortably, yet wonderfully, near mine.  Her figure is backlit from the large window behind her, the morning sun pouring through.  Her figure reminds me of a carton, her large breasts, small waist, and hips slightly undersized to go with the top.  She is in skin-tight jeans, standing with her legs slightly apart, a ray of light coming from between her legs, her blond hair creating a yellow glow around her head.  I’m in full lust with a single loud thud of my heart.

“I’m okay, and you,” I respond and hold my left hand up to block the light so I can see her face.  “Sit down,” I say and motion her to “her chair“.

“I’m late, but okay,” she says and sits down.  “I saw your wife is in today for an echocardiogram?  How is she?”

“Yea, it’s to see if the chemo messed up her heart yet”, I explain.  “Just precautionary, I think.”

“Probably,” she says softly.  There is softness and depth to her words that makes me wonder if an angel would have such a voice.  Would an angel have such large breasts, my brain counters?

“I guess you know how the story goes, you’ve seen it often enough,” I say somewhat matter-of-factly.

“I don’t know what to say to that,” she says her face filled with compassion.

I feel her discomfort and change the subject, “Do you follow all your customers this well?” I ask hoping to hear I am special in her eyes.

“No. I huh … you seem nice, I just .. “ as she stammers as if hesitating to tell me what she is thinking. 

I rescue her, “I got here early hoping to see you,” I confess.   There is an awkward moment of silence and then she returns the favor and rescues me.

“What are you writing, you seemed intense,” she says as she uncrosses her legs and moves forward on the edge of her seat, her knee up against my leg.  I feel my heart rise in my throat and hear my pulse in my ears.   Is she touching me on purpose?  I just met her. This is ridiculous being this excited.

“It’s a blog on my wife’s cancer.  Kind of a daily update of her story, of our story,” I manage to push the words out of my lips.  

“Do a lot of people read it,” she asks, sounding really interested.  

“No, mostly relatives of my wife.  I tell them to read it first before they call me.  I was spending all my time on the phone telling half a dozen people the same stuff over and over.”  I realize I am half babbling and staring into her hazel brown eyes.  We both avert our eyes at the same time, it is so obvious we both laugh.  What is going on here?

“May I read your blog,” she asks.  

“Do you want to write down the blog address?” Wow, what an angel.  Her voice is so soft and gentle it reminds me of a gentle summer shower.  I’m losing it.

“Can you email it to me,” she asks.  

“Okay, what’s your email address?” I ask, prepared to enter it into my Gmail account as we talk.

In a sudden change of mind, she blurts, “No, give me your address.  Write it down here.”  She hands me a used envelope, I turn it over on the back and write down   I drop the envelope on the table next to our coffees. She says out of the blue,  “I have two girls at home, they are everything to me.”  My mind locks on the two words “at home”.  Before I can comment, they call out her order, “I have to go,” she says pointing out two large bags sitting on the counter.  “I hope to see you again,” she says softly, my insides turning to mush.  The tips of her finger brush ever so lightly across my knee as she rises. Electricity flows from the spot of her finger into my groin and then up into my heart.  Was that an accident?  Are you insane or just in lust?

“Me too”, I say simply and make no offer to rise.  I am rattled, uneasy.  I notice the joy she has brought me already fading as I check the time and the reality of my world floods over me.  I see a call from my boss in my voice mail.  Ugh.  I try to ignore the feeling of dread filling me as I construct a story in my head responding to what he wants.  There is not a good story.

I watch her leave the store the two bags in hand.  I hope she will turn and look at me as she leaves the shop but she doesn’t.  I watch her ass as it moves down the sidewalk away from the shop.  I look down and notice the envelope with my email address sitting on the table in front of me.  I start to pick it up and then just leave it.  There is no fool like an old fool.  Wow was that sweet.

Instead, I call Helen’s phone and let it ring a half dozen times and then listen to a message telling me her voice box is full.  I get up and hurry to the hospital to pick her up, or more likely sit in the waiting room as tv’s drone in the background of my mind. 

1.6 Robert: Helen’s Blog – Ashton on Guard   

Today was another typical day.  I took Helen in for her echocardiogram.  We haven’t heard back officially yet, but our read of the technician’s comment is that all is normal, the chemo has not yet affected Helen’s heart.

You all might remember that Ashton, our large Jack Russell, started acting strangely before Helen’s cancer was diagnosed a few months ago.  He started smelling Helen’s breath and for three nights before Helen was admitted to the emergency room he started sleeping outside in his dog house despite the freezing cold.  It even snowed one night.  I tried twice during the night to persuade him to come in out of the cold.  He was curled up in a tight circle and shivering, but he snarled and snapped at me when I tried to get him out of the dog house.  Ashton is not a typical, cute Jack Russell like I have seen on tv.  He is 26 pounds, very intelligent, and has his own agenda on what is right and wrong.  Not wanting to lose a finger, I let him stay in his dog house.  He refused to eat or drink for three days – at least in our presence.

After Helen went to the hospital, he stayed outside with occasional trips through the doggie door to look for Helen.  He started eating a little but was obviously losing weight.  When she returned from the hospital, he went back to his usual self, at least for a while.  

In the last few days, a new behavior has evolved.  He has become Helen’s shadow.  If she sits on the couch for hours, he sits with her.  If she gets up to go to the bathroom, he follows and sits beside her.  I don’t know how he finds the time to take care of himself.

Somewhat disturbing, I tried to hook the leash on his collar to take him for a walk around the block yesterday.  He was sitting by Helen and when I approached him he came at me with his teeth bared.  He sleeps between us and He won’t let me snuggle with Helen unless I get out of bed and go around to the other side.  Even then, he watches me with a scary intensity.  

I am not afraid to use force with him, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.  He knows what is happening to Helen and he has taken it upon himself to protect her, to take care of her the best way he knows how.  It breaks my heart to see him so upset.  I don’t know what this new behavior means; he seems to be one step ahead of the doctors.

1.7 Robert: Coming Down the Stairs

I am sitting at home scanning an email from my son, picking out the questions to answer in my response.  

So, dad, you mentioned a business trip.  Does this mean you might not be there much when I am there?  Is Lisa staying at the house now? 

Your blog is a good start.  I would like to see some more pictures of Julie:  happy, living, not in a hospital bed only, and some nice pictures of her flowers.  Some pictures of Ashton pouting in the doghouse could go into the blog. 

Dad, I was wondering if there was an ideal scenario in mind for you in regards to my timing and stay? Is Helen checking her email? How was today for you? mikE 

I struggle with a reply trying not to be defensive.  It is clear to me that he is seeing what he wants to see when he reads the blogs. His email sounds like Julie is fine.  No one seems to get it. 


Well. I played tennis today and played okay. I was tired from not sleeping well, but that’s okay. I have all sorts of feelings, probably dread, being at the top. I don’t know how well Helen is going to hold up to the chemo, she was in a lot of pain the last time — I don’t think she was able to handle the entire dose. I left because I thought they were done, but they were only the test doses to make sure that she didn’t have an allergic reaction. So figuring out anything else at the moment, like ideal timing for your visit, is more than I can process at the moment. I need to help Helen get started using Lisa’s laptop in the living room when she comes down, if she comes down,. so she can get her own email. I will try to make that happen tomorrow.  She is not processing things well.

Helen has been struggling with telling her father, the only family member that doesn’t know. He is in his mid 80’s and is already feeling lonesome since his wife has Pick’s disease, which is similar to Alzheimer’s. I can’t imagine finding out that his daughter is really ill is going to go well. I sometimes think I am like an empath if that is a word. Or perhaps, just a wimp. I hate seeing Helen in pain, or even having coughing episodes. I think the coughing is doing better, but I am afraid it is from her using  oxygen more, not a benefit from the chemo.


I look at my email and realize it is a mess.  I don’t have the energy to rewrite it so I send it like it is and then get up to figure out supper.  

1.8 Melissa: His Voice

I can’t believe I can’t find his email, where did I put it? I know I asked him for it.   I can find his email address in the files somewhere.  What are you doing?  It’s his voice.  It’s soft and deep, and oh so gentle.  I wonder what his wife looks like? Why didn’t I notice his wife when he came in, what made me notice him.  And what made him come sit by me at the coffee shop.  My guy-magnet mini, silly girl.  But he’s so old, but apparently, not dead.  Part of him was very much alive.

I don’t know what to think about the effect I had on him.  I think he was commando.  He had an effect on me, yea that way too, but more. I felt safe with him.

His wife was on the schedule today for an MRI.  I found a reason to walk through the waiting room.  There was one lady in the machine and another still in the waiting room.  I can’t see the one in the machine and the one in the waiting room is so much older than Robert.  Her face is rounded; I recognize the effect of steroids; we all know the look here at the hospital.  Robert’s mustache has some gray, but his hair is still a dirty blond, except for that cute bald spot in the back. Could the lady in the waiting room be his wife?

I’m not doing anything wrong, I just want to read his blog.  Just let it go. This feeling will pass.

1.9 Melissa:  Feelings

The feelings have not passed.  I am in my office with Helen’s file in front of me.  I go through the file and there it is, an email address for Robert on an insurance form.  It’s not the same as the one in the coffee shop.  His name and his wife’s last name are not the same, interesting. 

Since the day we met at the coffee shop I have not been able to put him out of my mind.  He was very ordinary to look at.  He had a complete disregard for his clothing, shorts, tennis shoes, and a t-shirt.  There was a coffee stain on his t-shirt.  One of his tennis shoes had a broken shoelace that he had knotted together in the center of the shoe.  But there was a confidence about him that didn’t depend on what he looked like or even what I thought about him.  He was solid, immutable, like a force of nature, or perhaps like a gravitational constant of the universe.  (Sounds like the scientific fiction I read and try to write.  Ha.)  

His voice.  His voice, what about it stuck with me?  His voice was quiet, calm, steady but with an edge of aggression.  There was an edginess about it as if he was trying to sit still but he had somewhere he had to go to, somewhere he wanted to be.  And the intensity, it was there, but almost hidden underneath the calm exterior.  It sounded almost like someone that is turned on but trying to stay calm, but he couldn’t have been because it was there from the first word, so that is unlikely, but maybe?  I couldn’t do that to him, could I? Or that fast anyway?

But what made him stick in my mind?  His hazel brown eyes, how focused they were on me?  How they darted from my eyes to my breast, to my legs.  It was as if I were nude and he was looking at my pussy.  Yea, the usual guy thing.  But he listened.  He heard my words, the meaning, and the feelings behind what I said.  It was as if I was transparent.  As if he could see me, not just the feeling of being nude before him, but it was as if he knew me and everything there is to know about me and he was okay with who I was.  I know it is silly and all in my head.  But, I can’t get how he made me feel important.  Would I always feel like that around him?  I love how he made me feel about me. 

1.10 Melissa: Gmail to Robert: Helen’s Blog


I apologize for writing to you at this email address.  I’m Melissa from the coffee shop; we met a few weeks ago and then talked again the next day.  I have not seen you in the coffee shop since.  I lost your other email address– I hope you don’t mind I found this one in your wife’s file.  I hope you won’t consider this an invasion of your privacy which it technically is. I also feel a little awkward writing to you, both of us being married and all, but I just want to be friends, nothing more.  If this is too much of an intrusion, just let me know and I will run away.

I would appreciate a link to your Blog on Helen.  Is it okay if I share it with other office mates?  It helps us to know that these are real people coming through our doors.

Do you write anything else besides this blog?


1.11 Robert: Gmail to Melissa:  Helen’s Blog                   

What a pleasant surprise to get your email, Melissa.  I saw that you left the envelope with my email address on the table in the coffee shop.  And after an eternity went by not hearing from you, my heart sank.  

Here is the blog address to Helen’s Blog:  

Note, I switched you to my personal email,   I use the other for work mostly.  Roe is a pen name, sort of.  

Yes, I also write poetry, erotica, and short stories.  I write on, also. I am going to be a writer when I grow up.  And you?

1.12 Melissa: Gmail to Robert: Really? 

I thought you would be all formal but, your heart sank?  REALLY?  I think you’re messing with me. And your comment is a shade inappropriate, but flattering, so okay. Silly grin.

I try my hand at writing, mostly poems.  I don’t tell many people, but I try my hand at short stories and erotica, too.  I’ve got a surprise about

I just read your last entry on your blog about Ashton.  Sad.  I can’t imagine a day in your life.  We all have our struggles, but your life has to be tougher than most.  My husband, Sam, would probably freak out if he knew I was writing another man, so I created this secret email address.  

Girls are fussing, and I got to go do the grocery shopping.  Have a nice weekend.

But REALLY?  Ahhhh…..

1.13 Robert: Phone call: Ice Cream

“Hi,” her voice said so softly I was not sure I heard it.

“Yo,” I answered firmly hoping it was her.

“In one of your emails, you said I could call.”

“Yes, I did.”

“Is this a good time?”

“Yea.  I am sitting in my office.”


“I am supposed to be, but I am just sitting here.”

“Thinking about me?”


“Your voice seems heavy.”


“What happened.  How is Helen?”

“I took her for ice cream.”

“That sounds good.”

“It was stressful.   She wanted to go up to Kennet Square, to a shop we went to a long time ago.”

“And so?”

“The ride up there was uneventful.  I had a little trouble remembering where it was, but Helen knew.   I parked and then, and then .. “

“What happened?”  Melissa’s voice was very soft and almost inaudible again. 

“I wanted to go in and get her cone and bring it to the car,”


“And she said she wanted to go in and pick out her own.”

“Why didn’t you want her to go in?”

“She has fallen in the house several times and it is very difficult for me to pick her up. She is on steroids and has put on lots of weight.”

“So if she is holding on to your arm?”

“The sidewalk was steep and there were lots of families around.  I was just afraid of the whole scene.  I pictured her laying on the sidewalk and everyone bustling around and calling an ambulance, the whole nine yards.”

“That seems a little overblown.  But you were afraid.”

I didn’t respond and so she continued, “did you tell her your concern?”

“No, I just got angry and went around and opened her door and then helped her stand up on the curb.  There was no space between the car and the curb.  It made it harder but it was my fault because I parked the car too close.”

“She obviously didn’t fall.”

“No, but I was stressed out in the shop; there was a line and we had to stand there quite a while.  Of course, no one made any acknowledgment that we should be served first.”

“Did you try to tell anyone?  Or ask for special treatment?”

“I’m not good at asking to be treated special.”

“But you thought it.”

“Yea, I know.”

“Paul came by today.”

“Did anything happen?”

“No, he just stood at the doorway and drooled and I tried to pretend I was perfectly calm.”

“Were you?”

“No, it bothers me.”


“I’d rather not say.”

“I didn’t tell you the whole ice cream story.”

“I’m sorry, did I interrupt? What happened.”

“No, I am glad you told me about Paul.  No worries. When we were driving back she bit my head off over some small remark.  I kind of barked back asking why she bit my head off.  She said, ‘sorry, I have a headache and I am dying.”

“Is that the first time she acknowledged it?”


“What did you say?”

“Nothing.  I didn’t have any words.  I just kept driving.”

“Did she say any more?”

“Not really.  We talked about appointments or something later.  Just the routine that we deal with all the time.”

“How are you?”

“I don’t know.  Same as always.  I do what I have to do to make it through another day.”

“I like talking to you.”

“Same here.  You are the one bright spot in my life.”

“So, you like talking to me just because, because .. “

“Because I am hurting?”

“Yea, I am not sure I would have said it that way.  But then I didn’t know how to say it.”

“That is part of it, I am sure.  But I do love your voice and your softness.  You are gentle and caring, and loving.  I would love to be around you more.”

“I have to go.”

“Ok, bye.”


After a long moment, I ask, “are you still there?”


“You like being with me, too.”

“I have to go.  Bye.”


1.14 Robert: Gmail to Melissa:  Writing Together  

Thanks for the phone call.  Should I say I am sorry for getting a little personal?

So, you want to write something together?  Are you brave enough for a joint erotica story?  Double dare you!!

 And why does your email say Raeny, and is Luiff your last name?

I can send you a link to something I am writing on Google documents.  There are three people in the story, Robert, June, and Linda.  You could write the parts for Linda if you are up to it?   Another lady named Olla from is writing the part for June, the wife of Robert in the story.  Linda is a hot lady friend of June … 

1.15 Melissa: Gmail to Robert: Writing Together? 

Raeny is my middle name.  It was what my older brother, Robert, used to call me when I was growing up.  Later on the last name stuff, okay? I’m not that comfortable yet.

Whow!  You don’t waste any time.  You Double dare me?  My first thought is  “bring it on BIG BOY! (I don’t normally talk like that … of course, I don’t normally write to men I meet in the coffee shop, either. But, you look almost harmless.)  But ….

Most of me wants to say “yes” about writing some erotica with you, but it also feels a little inappropriate for you to ask.  And it is definitely inappropriate for me to say “yes”, but here I am entertaining it.

I am not a prude. I definitely have read a lot of erotica and some of it I really enjoy.  I mostly like women writers … those that write romance novels with some heavy sex scenes.  The fact that you already have another woman writing with you makes me feel a little more comfortable.  I would need your guarantee that you aren’t going to use the writing as a platform for lewd conversations with me.  So, if you keep the sex in the writing, then a definite maybe. I don’t want the sex to become personalized.  Understand?

You shouldn’t say sorry if you were being honest.

Peeking through the door.

1.16 Robert: Gmail to Melissa:  Robert’s Verdict

Let me introduce the “erotic story” as tactfully as possible.  I’m guessing you have never seen an erotic story like the one we are writing.  I have no idea how liberal you are and what will offend you and what won’t.  My gut tells me you are very liberal.  I’m sorry in advance if I am wrong.  Olla, the other lady writing, is very good at portraying sex scenes in a beautiful style.  I am a little more crude and anatomical like most guys. 

But, the subject matter may blow you out of the water.  I would like to somehow handle the subject matter where the majority of readers could be pulled into considering the possibilities and see the fun in it without being repulsed.  If I was smart I would probably start with a more typical erotica theme, but here goes.  Hold on to your chair and keep an open mind, please. 

Okay, here is a link to Robert’s Verdict, it’s just getting started.  .  

1.17 Robert: Gmail to Melissa: Tornado

We can use Gmail chat sometimes if you want? 

My dad died on this date a long time ago, and I still get sad if I stop to think about it.  So, do you have fond memories of being called Raeny by Robert?  Is he still in your life?

Here is a poem I wrote recently:

Tornado clouds gathering

In the west

Dark and cold

Mid summer’s heat

End of the good times

Not the dreams we had

First drops of rain

Edge of the storm

Her beside me

In our bed

Her lungs crackling

Slight moans in the night

Thunder and lightning

In the coming storm

Good times ending at the

Edge of our memories.


1.18 Robert:  Gmail to Melissa:  The Ceiling

I have been desperate to chat with you, but you are not been signed on.  It is annoying that YOU must work at work and then you have family to care for when you get home.  Just kidding, kind of.  So, have you noticed that when you don’t have something you want it more than when you have it.   It is the way us humans are. 

To get my mind off you, or perhaps to get closer to you, I went on  I read all the entrees for Angel on the site that I could find and started reading them again.  Some I remembered, some I re-discovered.  Plus, I see you have been busy online.  I found this poem below, is this about you when you were younger?  I assume this was your way of sharing with me.

I hate to guess what is the story behind this poem, but it sounds like some hard times you went through.  My heart is aching so bad when I read this … I am crying with you.  I am here to listen, I would be glad to know more about you, the you down deep inside and the demons that live there.    They seem so far removed from the beautiful, kind woman you have become.  I am really starting to care about you.   I hope you keep the door open, Melissa.

The Ceiling

As she stares blankly at the ceiling

Does anyone know how she is feeling?

Just wishing there won’t be a tomorrow

Or maybe someone else’s life she can borrow

They said they could help her want to live

But a white room with starched sheets was all they could give

Leaving her feeling even more alone

“God, It’s almost like being at home.”

With no happiness, freedom or friends

The plastic knife pressed to her wrist just bends

One way or another she will get out

Hopefully, they’ll not get to her before she finds how.

2.0  Crossing the Line

You can waste your lives drawing lines, or you can live your life crossing them.  

Shonda Rhimes

… Anyone ready for Part 2?

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