Copyright© 2016 by MountainLaurel
Fiction Sex Story: Chapter 3 - While each helps the other through their individual medical crisis, two middle aged co-workers discover each other.
Her hospital stay was brief, Ellen was discharged the following day. She did, however, have a session with a grief counselor before she left. While it did feel good to talk about it, she wasn’t sure that this was something she wanted to continue with. Mostly it was explained to her that people deal with miscarriages in different ways emotionally; some walk away from it with no problems at all, most have varying degrees of grief and depression. She was told younger women seem to handle it better, women at Ellen’s age often take it harder, often seeing it as a sign of advancing age. It was suggested that she could expect to be battling bouts of depression for a period of time. But, time itself would be the great healer. To Ellen’s way of thinking if time would do the repair work, why waste money and hours talking to strangers? Just gut it out and let things take care of themselves.
Rejecting therapy may not have been the wisest choice an intelligent woman like Ellen could have made, but fortunately for her John Palmer stepped in to fill the void. When she returned to work, he kept his eye on her. When she appeared down or melancholy he would quickly move in and talk to her, joke, do whatever it took to raise her mood. More importantly, when she wanted to talk, he would listen, patiently.
They began to grow closer, their friendship developing further. During her brief pregnancy they used to have lunch together at work, now they often had dinner together. Occasionally they ate out, but often one would invite the other to their apartment for a meal. She was surprised to find that Palmer was a pretty good cook. His reach was limited, hardy, basic fare; steaks, stews, meat and potatoes, that type of things. As he pointed out, he’d only learned to cook the things he liked to eat. She also discovered he was fairly knowledgeable about wine, knowing which wine matched up well with what dish. She was learning quickly from him.
As close as they got, it never went beyond the friendship stage. Surprising considering less than a year ago she’d surrendered herself so willingly to Ted. The problem was, somewhere in the back of her mind she remembered that that indiscretion had gotten her in trouble and led to what she considered a tragic end. She had no desire to repeat that heartbreaking mistake, therefore she wasn’t particularly interested in indulging in any sexual pleasures. She had also made a mistake by avoiding therapy where she may have been able to talk this out. Instead, guilt and grief wrapped themselves tightly around her, a psychological chastity belt, preventing her from moving on.
As for Palmer, he seemed to sense that she was just looking for friendship and some support and respected her wishes. He hadn’t gotten involved for any reason other than to help a friend. Make no mistake, it wasn’t that he didn’t find her desirable; in fact he probably would have jumped at the opportunity to develop a serious relationship with her. But he felt that she wasn’t ready for such a thing. He refused to take advantage of her at a time like this. Completely altruistic, he wanted nothing personally from her so there was no conflict. The light good night kiss, the affable hug, these things were more than enough for him.
The strange thing is, if he had made a pass, tried getting closer, it might have forced her to talk openly about her feelings. As it was, there wasn’t any reason for her to do so and the remorse just stayed hidden, festering, eating away at her. The road to hell, they say, is paved with good intentions and this seemed to be the case. Who’s to say how things would have worked out, for better or worse? We’ll never know, for fate was about to intervene once more. Again, it would be in its own uniquely pitiless manner.
A hotel is a twenty-four hour, seven days a week operation. Working in one isn’t a nine to five Monday to Friday job. The hours aren’t steady; they change depending on the needs of the business. It’s not unusual, therefore, for employees to go days without seeing each other. So, as much as Ellen had come to depend on Palmer and looked forward to seeing him, she didn’t think anything of it when she didn’t see him one morning. It just wasn’t all that unusual. He would turn up, if not later today then tomorrow. She was at work in her office for several hours when one of the girls working the front desk dropped in.
“Ellen, anybody have any word about how Palmer’s doing?”
The words shocked her. A question like that could only mean bad news. A strange chill engulfed her and she felt her heart speed up.
“What, why, I...” She paused long enough to control her thoughts. “Why, what’s happened?”
“Didn’t you hear? He’s in the hospital, I guess he had a heart attack or something last night.”
“No! No, no! Fuck no!” she blurted out. “This can’t be happening!”
Startled by Ellen’s outburst, not to mention her profanity, the girl stepped back. Ellen sprang from her chair and rushed past her, heading out the door. She went to the general manager’s office, the secretary was working on some files.
“Cathy, I just heard John Palmer’s in the hospital. Do you know anything about it?”
“Not a lot, he apparently had some sort of cardiac episode. I’m not sure what type or how bad. Jerry called the hospital earlier this morning, they said he was stable and in good condition.” Seeing the look of concern on Ellen’s face, she picked up her phone. “Jerry has his mobile phone on him, let me see if he knows anything more.”
Ellen waited nervously as Cathy made the call. She struggled to calm herself, it seemed to take forever for him to pick up. Finally she heard Cathy speak.
“Jerry, Ellen Reilly is here, she’d like to know if you heard anything more about Palmer. Yes. Of course. OK, I’ll tell her.” She hung up the phone and looked up at Ellen. “He was on his way back actually and said you should wait in his office. He’s going to make another call to see if there’s an update.”
Ellen went into the office and sat down. True to his word, Jerry turned up moments later. Moving around the desk he sat down.
“‘Morning Ellen, here about Palmer, huh?” Ellen nodded. “They said he’d probably be alright. It was a relatively minor incident. He was still in the ER waiting for a room when I called earlier.”
“I know how that works”, she said thinking of her own trip. “What hospital is he in?”
“Central Med. If you want to wait a couple of minutes, I’ll make another call and see if there’s any change.”
Ellen sat patiently, listening as Jerry questioned whoever was on the other end of the line. It was odd she thought, listening to half a conversation, trying to imagine what the other half was. Finally, after she listened to a series of “yes, of course”, “I see”, and some expressions of gratitude, he hung up.
“OK, he’s in good condition, they’re going to be running some tests to see if he needs surgery or not. It all sounds pretty routine.”
“It always sounds routine if you’re not the one it’s happening to.”
“That’s true enough,” he agreed.
“What room number? I have to go see him. He came to see me last month, you know.”
“Yes, I remember. Take whatever time you need. Room 241, let us know what’s going on. Tell him we’re all pulling for him.”
Wasting no time, Ellen left the building and went to her car. Driving more cautiously than usual, she headed for the hospital. On one hand, she was in a rush to get there; on the other, she was taking her time, fearful of what she might find when she arrived. Once she pulled into the hospital parking garage, an overwhelming feeling of dread came over her. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to go in, she wish she didn’t have to go in. It would have been so much easier to have stayed at work and wait for word. She was also unsure of how Palmer would see things. Perhaps he would prefer to be left alone. Then she remembered how she felt when he turned up in the ER posing as her step brother and she was determined to go ahead.
It seemed like a long walk from the garage to the main building, she paused at the information desk to double check on his room number. When she went upstairs to his room she was shocked to find it empty. Fighting panic, she went to the nurse’s station and waited until the girl at the desk glanced up.
“Can I help you, ma’am?”
“Yes, room 241, John Palmer is supposed to be there, but it’s empty. Is everything all right?”
The nurse looked over at some papers on her desk. “Yes, he went down for a test about an hour ago, he should be back soon. You can wait in his room, if you like. If not, there is a quiet room down the end of the hall with some books and magazines.”
The nurse returned to her work as Ellen went back to the empty room. She sat down for a few minutes, then began feeling conspicuous. She decided to go back down to the first floor where there was a coffee shop. It seemed like a better place to pass the time. She bought a cup of tea and a newspaper, then found a seat. Sipping her tea nervously, she absent mindedly scanned the paper. She waited about fifteen minutes, then took her cup and paper and went back upstairs. Walking down the hall see could see the foot of the bed through the open doorway. Someone was in it; he was back. She paused, steeling her nerves, then went in.
It was Palmer, but not the way she remembered him. Two days ago he was the picture of good health, hail and hardy. Now, he appeared pale and tired, drawn and worn out. It occurred to her that this is probably how she looked to him that morning in the ER. He hadn’t let it show then, and she was determined not to let it show now. It was a classic case of role reversal.
When she went into the room something changed. Palmer had been her anchor, she had come to rely on him, depend on his steadying influence. She needed him. Truth be told, her initial reaction to his being hospitalized was self-centered. She was afraid she couldn’t continue without him, without drawing on his strength. Seeing him in a vulnerable condition, her concern shifted entirely to him. She was no longer thinking of herself, just of him.
“Hi’ya Johnny, how’re you doing?” She made every effort to sound cheerful.
“Hey, Ellen.” His voice was softer than usual, and while he smiled up at her, it was a tired smile. “Seems like I’ve got a little problem with the old ticker.”