Wednesday, January 9th
Rachel didn’t get much sleep, so she called out sick to take time to get herself together. She wasn’t in any emotional shape to see patients, especially mentally ill ones. Rachel showered and threw on her red sweats. She went to the kitchen and made herself a cup of coffee. With her back against the counter, Rachel contemplated how to spend her day honoring Jamie. She wasn’t the least bit interested in sitting around moping and crying. Her desire was to do something worthwhile.
Antsy, with no ideas in mind at first, Rachel finished her coffee, grabbed her purse, and strutted out the door. She had no idea where she was headed, but she hopped in her Toyota and took off down the road. To her surprise, Rachel found herself turning on the street where Jamie lived, and she decided she would stop by to see if Peepers was there,
Rachel pulled up in front of Jamie’s townhouse and parked. She was surprised to see a green Oldsmobile sitting in the driveway, Rachel wondered who it belonged too. Maybe it’s one of Jamie’s family members,
Determined to find out, Rachel grabbed her purse and got out of the car. She stepped briskly to the door, and boldly rang the doorbell. Swift and heavy footsteps approached from the other side and abruptly stopped. The door swung open, and a man about five foot and seven inches tall stared back at her with deep-set ocean-blue eyes. He had blond hair, which was thick and lustrous, but greying around the temples, and his suntanned face was sharp and well-defined, giving the impression he had weathered many storms. He wore wrinkled black overalls with Nike tennis shoes.
“Can I help you?” he asked in a gruff voice.
“I’m sorry…I…I don’t mean to pry,” Rachel stuttered, terrified. “My name is Rachel Thomas. I’m a friend of Jamie’s, and I also worked with her at Salter’s Point Regional Hospital.”
The man’s face brightened a little. “I’m John Lee, Jamie’s husband.”
Rachel jerked her head back and bucked her eyes, floored. “Oh, glad to meet you. Jamie didn’t tell me she was married!”
“Yep, for ten long years.” For a minute, he seemed to blank out, staring into space as if he was reminiscing, living in another time. When Rachel cleared her throat, he came to his senses. John took a step back and opened the door wide.
“Would you like to come in? I’m packing some of Jamie’s things.”
“Love to,” Rachel said as she walked inside, and he closed the door behind her. She stood in the living room, inspecting the place. Clothes and shoes were sprawled everywhere on the couch and chairs. Cardboard boxes were scattered on the floor, some filled to the top with clothes and others half filled with Jamie’s shoes. John carefully folded Jamie’s sweaters and packed them in a box.
“I see you’re packing up Jamie’s clothes. Are you taking them somewhere?”
“I thought I’d take them to the women’s shelter in town. I certainly don’t have any use for them,” he gruffly answered.
“Sounds like a plan,” Rachel smiled, pleased Jamie’s clothing would be put to good use.
John stopped packing and walked swiftly toward the kitchen.
“Can I offer you anything? Coffee, juice, water? Anything?” Rachel took the liberty and followed him. The color drained from her face, unable to answer when she entered the kitchen. Cardboard boxes were everywhere, and Jamie’s dishes and pots were out on the counter and table. Rage pulsated through her veins, and her cheeks burned. Why is he packing everything up so soon? Jamie hasn’t been dead for a good forty-eight hours, and he’s already getting rid of her belongings! What’s the rush?
“I didn’t hear your answer,” John said, raising an eyebrow.
“I’m sorry,” Rachel replied. “I guess I was taken aback by all of the packing. Why the rush?” Oh, shit, I didn’t mean to say that. Oh, well.
“I realize this looks quick, but I don’t have a lot of time. I pastor a church in Colorado and I’m leaving on a mission trip next week. Although we were separated, Jamie considered me her family. It was her desire that if something happened to her, I would take care of things.”
Rachel’s anger faded. “I understand. Please forgive me.”
“No problem. So, what would you like to drink?”
“I know it’s early, but a shot of whiskey would be fine.”
John’s eyebrows went up, hesitating, and he cracked up laughing. “A shot of whiskey? So, you’re a whiskey drinker like my wife.”
“No, not really. I prefer wine, if you must know.” Rachel chuckled, batting her eyes.
“Then why the whiskey?”
Rachel shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe it’s my way of honoring Jamie somehow.”
“Perverse, but I love it!” John laughed. “Let’s see if I can find some for you.”
He went to the pantry, opened the door, and shoved some canned goods around. “I know Jamie must have some stashed away in here somewhere,” he muttered to himself. Rachel checked John out. She had to admit Jamie had good taste. Handsome, despite his rugged, weathered looks and short stature, John wasn’t her kind of guy. She preferred a taller man, much like the suave, mysterious Doctor Everett James.
“You’re in luck! Look what I found behind a big can of Crisco.” John held the bottle up so Rachel could see it.
“Great,” Rachel smiled as she pulled out a chair and sat at the table. “I just want a little bit. I’m not used to drinking whiskey.”
“At your service.” John went to the counter and twisted the cap open on the whiskey bottle. He found two shot glasses in the dish rack and poured the whiskey, filling both glasses to the rim. He brought the drinks to the table and sat, shoving one over to Rachel.
A box of photos caught his attention, and he pulled it in front of him. John grabbed the first picture he saw on the pile, that was all it took for his eyes to water. He clutched the solid wooden frame tight in his hand, reminiscing over a perfect moment in his past.
“This is Jamie and I when we first got married. The happiest memories hurt the most,” he said in a low voice as he managed to restrain the flood of tears from within.
“You say you guys were married ten years?”
“Yes. Jamie and I grew up together. We both were from a religious family, grew up Catholic. We talked about having our own church one day.” He handed Rachel the photograph, and she looked at it. Rachel marveled at how Jamie’s style had changed over the years, from dressing feminine to more manly. Thinner and looking happy, Jamie looked cute, holding her bouquet of flowers in her little white dress. She had a big smile on her face as she gazed into her husband’s eyes. John looked like a movie star in his double-breasted pinstriped suit. His hair was longer but still swept back away from his handsome face.
“You know, Jamie never talked about her marriage much. What happened between you two? If you don’t mind me asking.” The photograph reflected happier times, and they were such an attractive couple.
“Anne Cleveland happened,” John quipped in a sour tone, frowning. He almost looked wolfish as he briefly recalled his wife’s betrayal. “Jamie met her at an aerobics class, and the rest is history. It took me a while to get over it,” he said in a low, cracking voice.
“I bet.” Rachel could see it was painful for John to talk about it and decided not to press him for more details, but John apparently needed to talk.
“Every time I called her and learned she was still with Anne it would break my heart. I knew I couldn’t live anywhere near the two of them. My ego couldn’t take it.”
“So, you and Jamie never divorced?”
“No, we never did.”
“Well, if it’s any consolation, Jamie and Anne broke up a month ago.”
John’s eyes widened as he fell back in his chair. “Really? What happened?”
“Anne will tell you they broke up because of her drinking, but the real story is, she fell in love with a man who happens to be my ex,” Rachel answered with sourness in her voice.
“Damn!” John shook his head in disbelief.
“Damn is right,” Rachel said, half smiling.
John looked down for a moment at his glass of whiskey. He brought the alcohol to his lips and threw his head back. The bitter sensation of the liquor made his eyes water. John coughed, blowing out his cheeks as he swallowed, and grunted. “Well, I guess we both got burned!” He looked over at Rachel and noticed she hadn’t touched her glass. “What are you waiting for? Drink up! It’s in Jamie’s honor.”
“I know.” Rachel sighed, taking a deep breath. She laid John’s wedding photo back in the box and picked up her glass. Rachel took one sip, almost spitting the bitter-tasting liquor straight out of her mouth. She managed to hold it in, getting it down, screwing up her face as she swallowed. Rachel coughed repeatedly. “Damn, that’s nasty!” she said in a dry, hoarse voice.
John’s eyes gleamed with amusement as his mouth curved into a smile. “You weren’t kidding. Whiskey is definitely not your drink.”
“No, it’s not.” Rachel looked John dead in the face, scrutinizing him. “I don’t believe I ever witnessed a pastor drinking alcohol.” Rachel wanted him to know she disapproved of his behavior.
“They generally don’t, but this one does,” he smirked, winking at her. “Besides, I’ve got a lot on my mind.”
“Well, alcohol isn’t the solution.”
“I’m well aware.” John’s smile slipped into a questioning frown. “So, is there a reason why you stopped by? You knew Jamie is no longer here.”
Rachel’s eyes watered. “I know. I guess I wanted to see if she was really gone, besides I was hoping Peepers would be here.”
“Peepers and Jamie are gone, I’m afraid.” His face darkening a little. They sat quietly for a while each soul a million miles away stuck in their own thoughts. Rachel flinched when John tapped his fingers hard on the table.
“Where are you with the funeral arrangements?” she asked.
“I’m almost done with the arrangements. Jamie is Catholic, so her funeral will be at Saint Mary’s Church.” A muscle in John’s jaw twitched as he gazed down at the table misty-eyed.
Recognizing his vulnerability, Rachel felt empathy for the pastor. “Do you need any additional help with the planning? I don’t mind helping,” she softly offered.
“I’m fine. Jamie and I have talked about this many times. She has a will. I’m following her wishes.”
“When is the funeral?”
Rachel stood on her feet. “Okay. If you need anything, please let me know.”
“You’re so kind. Thank you,” John smiled as he stood up. He escorted Rachel out of the kitchen and into the living room. Rachel walked to the door and she abruptly turned around to face him. “I enjoyed meeting you, John. I wish it was under better circumstances,” she said with a warm smile.
“I do, too. It was nice meeting you, too, Miss Thomas, my wife’s friend.”
She laughed, and John opened the door for her. Rachel waved as she walked out.
“See you soon,” she hollered as she hurried to her car.
On her way home, Rachel stopped by the grocery store and bought a pint of chocolate ice cream. She thought about John and his heartbreak over Jamie. For a brief moment, she scolded Jamie for giving up on her marriage, but her scolding turned to sorrow, when reality hit her again. Damn, I’m going to miss that girl!
Once she arrived home, Rachel went to the kitchen, opened her chocolate ice cream and put two scoops of the dessert in a plastic bowl. She put the rest in the refrigerator, then she went to the living room and plopped on the couch. Exhausted from grieving, Rachel turned on the TV, inserted a movie in the VCR, and ate her bowl of ice cream. For the rest of the afternoon, she watched funny movies, and at dusk, she put on her pajamas and climbed into bed.
As Always Thank-You For Reading, Comments Welcome!
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