The Imperfect Storm

by Charlie for now

Copyright© 2019 by Charlie for now

Romantic Story: Violent storms are common in the Midwest. The one described here actually happened outside a little town I was staying in almost 20 years ago. It sounded like a train, the tornado axiom, if you will, but the straight-line winds cleared a windrow to stumps and killed several cattle (and I'm sure a lot of other critters). Friday I was in the shower, during a storm, when my muse spoke to me, and yes, when I looked out back, she was sitting on our boat.

Tags: Ma/Fa   Romantic   Tear Jerker   Violent  

I woke, looking up at the underpinning of the boat, the aluminum sheets protecting the underside of the deck, with the pontoons on either side of me. Knowing it had to be a dream, I closed my eyes and went back to sleep.

“Mr. Buckley. Mr. Buckley. We’re here to help. Lie still, sir. Please just lie still.”

As I lay there, and they pulled things away, a pipe, a large shower wall tile, some electric wire, the strap from the front of the boat trailer, it came back to me. I was in the shower and heard a boom. Thinking it was lightning, I finished shampooing my hair. I’ll bet my hair was still full of Head and Shoulders suds. The boat must have landed on the master bathroom. Oh, God. No!

“My wife? Where is Missy? WHERE IS SHE? WHERE IS MELISSA!?!?” I yelled so loud I hurt my own ears. I guess I went a bit bonkers. I felt a little stab in my leg and the next I remembered was waking up in the hospital.

There were some friends of ours there waiting for me to wake up and let me have the bad news. Melissa was gone, as were the neighbors on either side, including the two older children in the house to the east of us. Seven people, gone. Not a trace. The only thing left on the cul-de-sac was the boat laying on our shower enclosure with a huge oak tree on top of it, holding it down. Everything else was gone down to the foundations. With no warning, none whatsoever, a thunderhead, an early season supercell, they called it, collapsed over our neighborhood and the resulting two hundred and fifty mile an hour winds it caused swept the landscape clean. Five houses on ten acres, gone, save the boat, the tree, and me. The Baxters and the Johnsons had gone on a spring break vacation, together, and weren’t at home when it happened. Good. At least eight people lived. Jack Baxter, his wife and their son Johnny, and Bill Johnson and his wife and three girls all lived. Good.

Good, I thought, then collapsed into fits of crying and rage. I felt a little stab in my leg...

I woke again, to the friendly face of my secretary from work. She’d only been there for just under a year now, but she was a nice kid and really organized. Missy thought the world of her and often called on her for help with different events and tasks involving a couple of charities we supported.

“Mr. Buckley, are you feeling any better today?”

“Hi, Mindy. No. Not really. I doubt I ever will.” She reached out for my arm and squeezed it.

“Will you let me know if I can do anything? Please?”

I nodded. “Keep our company in one piece and make sure to let me know of any problems. I can’t ask for much else. My personal life is now an absolute shambles, and I certainly don’t want my company winding up the same way.”

“OK. Please call me if you need anything. Anything at all. Please. I’ll be back tonight. What can I bring you?” I gave her my house keys and asked if it would be too much trouble to bring me some clothes. “Well, shit on me. Sorry, Mindy. That was stupid. They tell me there’s nothing to put the key into. Hang on. Can you go ask someone out there if I’m ever going to be able to leave?” Mindy went out to the nurses’ station to find out what she could. I experienced a wave of cold pass over me that I had only felt when coming down with the flu, like just before I got really, really sick, but I wasn’t sick, just utterly and completely scared. Afraid. Frightened. The world was now a totally unknown entity, and I was alone.

A nurse walked in with Mindy and approached the bed. “Mr. Buckley, you can probably go home as soon as we get a doctor’s clearance, but there’s been a lot of trauma in your life and they want to make sure you have some help, some support, someone, anyone that can assist. The police stopped by and brought that bag over there. You’ll be happy to know in the corner of the basement between the big gun safe and the corner wall, they found your wallet, a pair of earbuds, a blue paisley handkerchief, and a loaf of bread. All lying together, in the corner. They thought it a bit strange, but in any case, they’re over in that bag. Not the bread, but the other things.”

My wallet? A miracle. I had access to quite a bit with that.

“Mindy, get a credit card out of my wallet and if you still want to help, see if you can get me just enough clothes to get me decent and out of here. Shorts, 38 waist, a shirt, extra large AND long, some boxers, large, and some good size twelve flip flops. I’ll get more on the way to a hotel or something.” I put my head in my hands, elbows on my knees, realizing, I had nothing. The wallet being there was an absolute miracle. They can’t find the bodies, the houses, or the cars, and my wallet was laying in the corner of the basement. Simply unbelievable. It was in the chair next to our bathroom door when I got in the shower. There’s no chair anymore, or wall it was up against, or floor it was sitting on, but my wallet was in the basement. Wild.

She got a card out, showing it to me, and after a nod from yours truly, laid my wallet on the rolling stand next to the hospital bed.

“I’ll be back in a while, sir. Please hang in there for me. Please?” I nodded again. She took hold of my forearm again and squeezed, then smiled, and left, her clicking high heels walking out the door.

My dinner was brought in and I was able to get a bit of it down. It wasn’t terrible, just not good. The ice cream was OK, if a bit soft, and the cookie I dipped into it was definitely acceptable. Just like Missy made. Head back into my hands, more tears.

A doctor stopped by letting me know that tomorrow I would be released to leave the hospital, but he had conditions. “Mr. Buckley, you have gone through an enormous loss. Wife, friends, house, belongings, all of that, at once. Gone. You need to talk to someone. Have someone with you for a while.” Mindy chose that moment to come in. The doctor looked at her, then at me. “Someone needs to be close for a while to make sure you process the loss and to help you work your way through it.”

“Doctor, could you please ask Mr. Buckley if he’ll allow me to help him.” She looked directly at me with the most helpless look.

“Mindy? Are you sure you want to waste your time with this?”

“That’s what I mean, Mr. Buckley.” The doctor was adamant. “You are alive. You need to live. From what I have heard, a lot of families depend on your business. Don’t let them down. It also sounds like this pretty young lady would like to help you through this. Give it a try. Live. Keep going. There is life after tragedy, Mr. Buckley. You aren’t alone here.”

I nodded. “Mindy, if you’re sure.” She smiled and nodded.

“OK. I’ll sign for you to leave tomorrow. Anytime after nine or so. I want to make sure you wake up properly one more time, here, then you can do it on your own, somewhere else. You may not have realized it yet, but the reason you went to sleep in the shower was a massive blunt force trauma to the lower left rear quadrant of your skull. The investigators think Mother Nature hit you upside the back of the head with a boat. If you want to act out and be mad and get violent with anyone, take it out on her. It was no one’s fault but hers. Do we understand each other, young man?”

I nodded, again. “Yes, sir. We understand each other. Thank you.” He shook my hand, then Mindy’s, and walked out.

She walked over to me and handed me a bag. Exactly what I wanted. She even had an eye for the colors I would have chosen, had I been choosing. This time, I could have cared less if they were red and green, but the blue shorts, gray shirt, and black and gray leather flip flops, did the trick. And didn’t look bad, either. Neither did the three pack of blue, black, and gray knit boxers. Pretty much what I would have bought for myself.

“Thank you, Mindy. You already know me that well? The colors and all?”

“We’ll see, Mr. Buckley. We’ll see. I just want to help. If you’ll let me, I just want to help as much as I can. Can I sit with you for a while?”

“Don’t you have ... A boyfriend or anything to be with, Mindy?” I almost asked her about her family, but thought better of it, just in time. When I hired her as my personal assistant and secretary, Missy and I asked her about her family. Her parents and brother perished in an apartment fire in Iowa. She lived in a mobile home, all she could find that she could afford, for now, because she’d never set foot in an upper floor apartment. She might visit, but probably not, and she certainly wouldn’t ever live in one. The fire didn’t start in her parents’ apartment, but it was from the floor below and before there was enough of a warning, the apartment was engulfed and incinerated. I thought ‘how eerily similar’. So sudden. So fast. Her tragedy, and now mine; families gone, in an instant.

“No, Mr. Buckley, I don’t. You keep me too busy for that kind of foolishness, and anyway, good men are hard to find. I’m not looking, but if I were they are very hard to find. What I really want is to make sure that the person who gave me a chance to succeed in life, finish school, and become something my parents would be proud of, was taken care of after this ... This horrific event and comes out on the other side in one piece.”

“What are you studying again?”

“Psychology.”

“Oh. I’ll keep that in mind. Am I a subject? An experiment? Or...”

“Not in any way. Don’t think that. Ever. You are a man I admire and care deeply for and we’re going to leave it at that.” She stood, held my forearm and squeezed with her fingers. “I’ll be back for you in the morning, Mr. Buckley. Try to get some rest tonight.” Click, click, click, she left, with those telltale high heels signaling her departure.

“What a mess.”

“Not unless you make it one, you, grumpy old fart.” I must’ve been thinking out loud and here’s Nurse Ratched, hearing every word, with a syringe full of happy juice for the ‘grumpy old fart’. “I’m going to tell you something, Charles Buckley, and you listen. I’ll deny ever saying it, since this is as improper as I can be considering you’re a patient in my ward, but listen closely. That girl wants to help you through the loss of everything you held dear. Let her, and when she’s done helping you heal, you’ll see a whole new future in front of you. I know by the way she talks, acts, looks at you, refers and defers to you, that she loves you as much as is possible under the circumstances. Maybe even as much as your late wife. God rest her beautiful soul.” I looked at her in a way she must have felt was negative. “Get that look off your face. You don’t scare me a bit. You’re hurting. No one blames you for that, but don’t give up, and do give that one a chance to make it better. Do it for yourself. Not for her. She’s making herself happy helping you. You make yourself happy letting her. Got it?” She smiled at me, shot the syringe into my IV, pulled my ear so my face was closer and kissed me on the forehead.

“Yes, Aunt Maggie. I got it.”

“We love Missy too, Charlie, but this isn’t the first catastrophe this family has suffered. I wish it were the last but losing my brother and your mother, then my sister, and now your wife, pretty much makes me think it’s a never-ending story that never ends. We just have to live and love and laugh as much as we can, while we can. Get some sleep and I’ll get you up in the morning. I’m so sorry you’re going through this, son, but we’ll get to the other side. I think that girl can help you. There’s something special in there, inside her heart. I’ll just bet you. Goodnight, sweetie.” Maggie kissed my forehead again and left. I didn’t last but a couple minutes and fell asleep thinking about Mindy and what Maggie was saying instead of Missy’s dying. Thankfully. My eyes were burning from all the tears and I needed a respite from the pain and heartache.

The hand on my forearm, gently touching, just holding, a light squeeze, very light, woke me. I don’t think she was intentionally doing it, just a natural motion, maybe. After what Maggie said last night, I’m not going to assume anything or take anything off the table.

“Good morning, sunshine. I hate to bother you with all this.”

“Don’t feel that way, Mr. Buckley. I’m fine and I want to be here. The nurse said she’d be in to help check you out after a bit. Do you know her?”

“Yes. Margaret Buckley. She’s my father’s younger sister. He had an older one, too, but ... Maggie’s been there for me a lot in the last many years.”

“Oh, I didn’t know. I’m sorry.”

“Mindy. Don’t apologize. There was nothing to apologize for. She hit me over the head with a two by four when she put me to sleep last night. It’s me that needs to apologize. I’ve been acting the ass and shouldn’t have been. You’ve been nothing but an angel and deserve better. I certainly don’t deserve you. In any case...”

“I’m fine, Mr. Buckley. I told you, I want to be here. I want to help.”

“That’s what I mean. I need to let you instead of fighting it. OK?” She nodded. “OK. My job is to make it easier for you to get me back out into the world, find a place to stay, and get going again. How long have I been here, anyway?”

“Eight days. It was three days before you woke up. Your neighbors, and I guess, friends, were here every day for a few days, then when you woke up and went into a rage, they knew you’d be fine and left.” She laughed. “They are on extended leaves with relatives trying to plan for the future, I hear. They have my phone number and can reach you if they need you. I called the phone company and they have a phone ready for you at the store we use up the road, free of charge, pre-loaded, they think, with all your contacts and such, just like your old one, only a newer model. They’ll need some help with a cloud sync and all should be well.”

“Thank you.” She nodded.

“I also have a reservation for you at the Residence Inn. Open ended, but they understand. There isn’t a huge call for the rooms. There were a few homes damaged in the storm. None, but the five on your street were ... Totaled. Decimated would be a better word. Even the floor near your bathroom was ripped up and blew away.”

“Has there been any news...”

“No, sir, there hasn’t been any word of finding them yet. I’m sorry.”

I looked down at my hands but didn’t collapse into them this time. “OK. Help me get dressed and get me out of here.” Maggie must’ve noticed the commotion, so she came in to check on me. She watched as Mindy took a pair of the boxers out of the package and handed them to me. I shimmied them up under my little hospital gown and she left, smiling as she went. Mindy was next with the shorts, then stooped to put the flip flops down for me and had me turn and help me with the gown, which tied in the back.

I put the shirt on feeling a good deal of pain as it brushed over the back of my head. I reached back and noticed the bump and the pain, but no bandage or anything. It hurt, but it wasn’t an open wound. I guessed, come to think of it, that my boat wasn’t that sharp. That was a plus.

“Here, let me help you.” Mindy assisted me, helping pull the shirt down and straightening it. I felt guilty when I realized it felt good to have assistance, her assistance, her touching me, helping me pull the garment down. She had one last item, and pulled a belt out of the bag, then standing in front of me, and leaning first to my left, then to my right, her arms around me the whole time, ran the belt through the loops in the shorts, then buckled it. She finished and put her fingers inside the waistband and her thumb on the outside of the buckle making sure they weren’t too tight. It was about then that I felt really guilty.

“Thank you, Mindy. That’s fine. Wonderful, in fact. Let’s check with Maggie and get out of here.” Mindy threw the tags and all in the sack, picked up her purse and with my hand in the small of her back and her high heels clicking, we approached the nurses’ station.

“I see you got him taken care of, young lady. If you need anything, any help with him, anything at all, he has my number. I’m his Aunt Maggie, Margaret Buckley in his contact list, most probably.”

Mindy stuck her hand out. “Mindy. Melinda Maxwell. I’m actually Mr. Buckley’s personal assistant and part time secretary. Thank you for the two by four.” Maggie got a questioning look on her face for an instant, then, ‘ding’.

“Oh, that. You’re welcome. Please take care of him, Mindy. He and his cousin are about all the family I have left, and she’s not living around here anymore.”

“I will, ma’am. Can I take him now? I need to get him a phone and a place to live.”

“Yes. Sign here, Mindy. I’m putting you in charge. Charlie can sign under your name if he wants it official.”

I laughed, causing a massive headache, signed and put my hand on it to ease the pain. “Mindy, hon, please remind me not to do that for a while.”

“Yes, sir. Sir, don’t laugh for a while.” They thought it was funny. It was, but it hurt.

They wheeled me down to the front lobby, Mindy behind me and to my right until we got to ... Oh, nice, one of the company trucks. Just a big four door Ford F-150, but easy to get in and out of. She drove an old beat up Cavalier. Good thinking, Mindy, except, it still would have been fine. Her thoughtfulness, or planning, or something, is leaving a hell of an impression on me.

“I thought this would be easier for you, so I brought it.” I smiled, causing her to.

“Good thinking. I hope Jack didn’t give you a hard time.”

“He recommended the truck. He said a Taurus from Protocol would have been fine, but this would be higher and easier for you. Engineering told him I could keep it until I had you back on the road.”

“I’ll probably just get another one of these to replace the one that went away. I kind of like them.”

She pulled into the Marriott Residence Inn and came around helping me down onto the ground and inside. “Reservation for Buckley, Charles. There should have a Bonvoy number on the reservation. If not, I have it here.”

“No, ma’am, it’s fine and I have it here. Lower level just inside the hallway down there.” He pointed to the first rooms off the lobby. “102 and 104 for tonight, then room 102 for the duration.” I looked at her a bit funny, but then I realized she just wanted to make sure I was doing all right. Let it happen, Charlie Buckley. Let it happen. I almost never talk to myself. Almost. “Welcome, Mr. Buckley. Very sorry to hear about what happened. Very much so. If there is anything we can do to make your stay more comfortable, please don’t hesitate to let us know.” He handed Mindy the little folders with the keys in them and off we went.

She let me into my room first, then opened the divider door and went back out to open hers and come through the adjoining portal. “I’ll be right back. I have some things in the truck and I need to move it out of the reception area. If you like, you can take a shower and I’ll bring a new pair of undies in for you. You haven’t been in those clothes long enough to sully them and I will take you out for your phone, then to lunch and shopping, as soon as you’re ready. Be right back.” She was gone like a shot.

In the shower, the hot water running over my head and back felt really, really good. I’m sure they had bathed me in the hospital, but this was so much better, and knowing there was no little water heater to run cold on me was nice, too. I heard the door open.

“Mr. Buckley, there is a clean pair of boxers out here for when you’re done. Please use them, then get dressed and we’ll talk about what’s next. OK?”

“Sounds great. Mindy, thank you for what you’re doing. I mean that.”

“No need to thank me, sir. Seriously. I’m here with you because I want to be. If I worked in production, I would have asked to be here. We’ll talk later. Just be careful with your head, and If you get dizzy, please call for me. Promise?”

“Promise. I’ll just be a bit longer. This hot water feels divine.”

“I’ll bet it does after eight days of nothing but sponges in the hands of pretty nurses cleaning you up, all over your dirty little body.” I could hear her laughing all the way into the shower enclosure.

“Are you being a naughty girl, Mindy?”

“No, sir. OK, I’m lying. Yes, sir. I’m sorry. It just seemed funny. For the most part, when you were out of it, they’d have orderlies, big burly guys, doing it, cleaning you, but when you were awake, at least when I was there, it would be a nurse or a candy striper. It just seemed ... It was entertaining. I’m going to my room. Let me know when you’re done.”

I finished, feeling a hundred percent better, and even a bit less depressed. I felt good. I still hurt, but I was thinking about it less and understanding more that it was a process. I knocked on her door.

“Mindy? I think I’m ready.”

She opened the door and looked at me. “You look like you feel better sir. We need to get you everything. Razor, shave gel, all that. We will, though. Let’s go take your world back, Mr. Buckley.”

Our first stop was the phone store, and they had a new phone ready for me full of all my contacts. I logged into my One Drive and my Google Drive, synchronizing there, then thanked the kid, Mindy signing for everything and we left to go find lunch. We hit Red Robin, Mindy somehow knowing it was not a place we’d ever frequented. I don’t remember ever being there with Missy, come to think of it. Was my PA clairvoyant, or just observant?

Next stop, the mall and Gentleman’s Warehouse. We picked up a few things, one suit, some slacks, a few shirts and a couple of ties Mindy picked out. They also had some of the socks I like.

Famous Footwear had shoes I liked for dress and casual use; French Shriner black tasseled loafers, brown Florsheim oxfords, a pair of Sperry topsiders in a light sand, and some Rockport saddle shoes, brown on brown, fixed me up for shoes, for now.

Target was next on the list and we filled a basket with underwear, a couple of casual shirts, a pair of jeans, and everything in the personal list from anti-perspirant to toothpaste.

Back at the truck, we decided to take it all to the hotel, for now, the suits and slacks wouldn’t be ready for a couple days, but I had some casual things to wear. Midway through the afternoon, I had her take me to my insurance agent’s office. It was about three, so we had a couple of hours to talk and find out what our next step would be. This was going to be tough, and Mindy knew it, actually holding my hand walking in with me. We were quite a sight, her in a blouse, pencil skirt, and heels, and me in shorts and flip flops. She told me not to worry about it, I looked fine.

Stan stood, shook my hand and told me how sorry he was that I was going through this. I introduced him to Mindy, which explained her presence, and he got down to business. The house was insured for today’s replacement value. I could build the same house on the same foundation and not pay a nickel out of pocket.

The cars were both covered for replacement value, as well. My truck was less than a year old and Missy’s Taurus was less than two years old. They would both be replaced with identical models, within the terms of our policy. He handed me a letter of introduction on his letterhead with the Vehicle Identification Numbers on it. It basically said that his company would write them a check when I picked out what I wanted as long as they were about the same. If I upgraded, I’d pay the difference. That wouldn’t happen. My Lariat had everything, as did Missy’s Taurus Limited. I would change colors on the car, though, but I planned on doing direct replacements. I loved both of those vehicles.

I was going to be given a check for seventy-five thousand dollars to cover personal belongings, as stated in the policy. If any of the listed jewelry was recovered during our renovation, he would appreciate a heads up and a refund back to them, but he didn’t expect that to happen, as it almost never turns out that way.

He also told me some news that was quite interesting and that I might want to act on it. He also insured the houses on either side of me and one across the way. The families that didn’t make it and the next one around. Four contiguous lots. The concerned families and their beneficiaries wanted nothing to do with staying or rebuilding. Baxter mentioned offering his place to me. The lots would be demolished, the utilities capped appropriately, and leveled and seeded. Just like there had never been anyone living there. If I wanted them. “Sold,” I told him. If I could do the same with Bill Johnson, I’d have my own little private hideaway. A cul-de-sac, surrounded by trees, one way in and one way out. Bordered on two sides by a creek, one side by a minor side road, and the third a city park. Ten acres. Then the guilt started. Mindy must have seen me. My face. The depression.

“Mother Nature, Mr. Buckley, she did it. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t be mad at anyone but her. Remember what the doctor said, sir? Act out at her and don’t feel bad about it. Please.” Mindy patted my arm, then held it and gently squeezed it, bringing me back to the now. I gave her a smile and got one back.

“Stan, we’ll purchase the other lots from the company. Cleaned and capped, as you said. Please keep it reasonable. If you hear from Bill Johnson, and you may, considering you insured the other four properties, let me know. I’ll do the same for his. Put the check in the same account you’ve been getting the payments from. You have the routing and account numbers. We’re going to have the vehicles replaced, as you suggested, tomorrow, so expect a call from Ballwin Motors. They know me. We’ll stop by on the way to the hotel and go from there. Anything else I need to know?” Stan said there wasn’t, so we shook hands, he again, told me how sorry he was, offered his condolences and told Mindy to take care of one of his best and most appreciated customers.

Once outside, I took Mindy’s offered hand, a comfort, to say the least, and asked her to take me to the local Ford dealership.

Frank Meyers was there, thankfully. He’d sold me both of the last vehicles. I handed him the letter and he looked up the stickers on the truck and the Taurus. He hit his computer, did a bit of looking and looked at me straight in the eyes. “You had white and gold. How would you feel about a matching set, the only difference being the Taurus is a Limited SHO. All the options you had before but with a bit of a punch in the horses department. Blue Jeans. Kinds of a subdued silvery blue grey. I’ll put it in as a direct replacement if you want to look at that.”

I have no idea why, but I looked at Mindy for approval. She didn’t, I don’t think, know why either, but she nodded, giving said approval. “Sounds good, Frank. That’ll be fine. Thanks.”

“What’re a few horsepower between friends, eh? Charlie, I’m really sorry to be jovial. I really feel bad about what happened. Everyone knows how shitty a deal you got dealt. I’m glad you’re OK, but damn that sucks losing your wife and house and all. Please understand we all feel for you and want to help any way we can. I’ll be right back.”

She giggled. “Why did you look at me? I know you like blue. And gray! So, I nodded.”

“I wanted your approval. I don’t know why, but it seemed important at the time.”

“Thank you. You like blue. It’s all good.” We shared another smile.

Frank came back in. “Boss says first four oil changes and checkups are on us. Also, you had lifetime bumper to bumper on the other ones, so it’s on these as well. Doesn’t include tires, wipers, glass, lights, yada, yada, yada, but as you were advised before, electrical, mechanical, all covered for as long as you own them. You want to see them, and we’ll finish up? I have a guy bringing them both around.”

They were nice. Just like my truck and Missy’s Taurus, only blue. Mindy was happy for me. Happy that I was pleased. We went back inside. “Sign here and you can have them now. No need to put off the inevitable. If you get tired of blue, bring it back next year and we’ll make you a heck of a deal.”

I signed, and he handed us the key fobs to the truck and the car both.

“Frank, can you park the company truck and the new truck outside the gate? I know you’re getting ready to close, and we need to ferry these back to the hotel. I shouldn’t be driving yet.”

“Better idea. I’m riding with Dad and Sylvia. I’ll take your company truck and Sylvia can drive your new one. Where are you staying?”

“Residence Inn, Chester exit.”

“Got it. Hang on.”

I called Stan. He was still in, so I was able to give him the VIN information and tell him the deal was done and that Ballwin would send him the invoice in the morning. He thanked me and signed off.

“Wow, that was easy. Clothes, insurance and new cars before dinner. Hungry?” She nodded. “You pick. You’ve been doing pretty well so far.”

We all took off at about the same time, the owners of the dealership dropping off our trucks at the hotel while she drove me back in the Taurus. I thanked them and was reminded of the first four oil changes and the good deal they’d make if blue just didn’t do it for me. It did it for me, but I wasn’t telling them that.

Mindy was trying to hand me the key fob for the Taurus. I told her to hang on to it for now. “I’m going to need your help for a bit, and it would be best if you had dependable transportation. I know the Cavalier runs and all, but I’ve also seen you show up for work on the bus a few times lately. Just hang on to it. For now, at least.” She nodded. Looking away for a minute, I saw her hand go to her face, then she walked back to the room. I stopped at the desk. “Please extend 104 for two more days, please. A total of 3 on that one and no change to 102. Thank you. My card is on file. If you need anything else, I’ll send my girl out to fix it. Just let me know.”

“Yes, sir, but I think we have everything since you hadn’t cleared yet.” I nodded my acknowledgement and walked down to the room. I noticed both doors were still open, slightly.

“Mindy? Honey? You in there?”

“Yes, Mr. Buckley. I’m fine. I’ll be there in a bit.”

“Are you all right, hon? You don’t sound good.”

“I’m perfectly fine, Mr. Buckley. Where would you like to have dinner tonight?”

“I wanted you to pick.”

“OK. Mimi’s.”

“What’s that?”

“Exactly, and that’s why. It’s not someplace you would likely remember. Like Red Robin. I’m working at ... I’m trying very hard, sir.”

“So, you are, hon. So, you are. Are you going to report me for calling you ‘hon’?”

“To HR?”

“Yeah.”

“Hell, no. God heard you, and she’s the only one that matters. Old lady Jensen ain’t got nothin’ on her.” I heard her giggle through some tears. Poor thing. Maggie may be right. She always is.

“Come on, young lady. Take me to your Mimi. The food any good?”

“I don’t do bad food, sir. I’ll make my own before I’ll eat bad food out.”

“Sounds like a plan. Remind me of that in the morning. I have a plan. I hope it doesn’t scare you, but I have a plan. It, believe it or not, doesn’t start with me jumping off a bridge in my grief and depression.”

“That sounds like the start of a good plan. I’d like to discuss it over a salad.”

“Is Mimi’s a salad bar?”

“I wouldn’t do that to you. I care too much. I’m doing that to me. Trust me. You have before, you should, and you will again.”

Dinner at Mimi’s was eye opening to say the least. She had a fancy salad and I had a pretty decent ribeye but made her promise to bring me back. I wasn’t done running up and down their menu.

We made it back to the hotel around eight or so, but I felt the need for another shower and decided to go ahead and clean up, normally, including the use of all my new-found toiletries.

I shaved, trimmed here and there, then put on a pair of pajama pants I’d purchased earlier and when I thought it appropriate, knocked on her door.

“Come in. Oh, Mr. Buckley, thank you for shaving. You’re so handsome cleaned up like that.”

“Thank you.” I must’ve blushed. She smiled. “Hey, doll. I just wanted to thank you again for everything you’re doing and let you know how much I appreciate it.”

“Again, Mr. Buckley, I want to be here. I want to be doing this.”

“Good. I extended this room for two more days. I hope you don’t mind, but there are a few more things I need help with, and I’d really like you around. Just in case. I really shouldn’t be driving yet. It hurts when I lean over, or when I move quickly, and I’d feel safer. We were going to talk at dinner and got off on other subjects, but I need to find a rental property and put the contractor to work. I hope I can just get the one that built the house last time and I think he should just replace it. I don’t remember anything about the place I didn’t like. Do you remember anything from anytime you were there, or did Missy say anything?”

“She said she wished the garage doors were wider. Mr. Buckley...” I’d had it. I needed to put an end to that now.

“Hon, can you call me Charlie. Just Charlie, for now, please? At work you can call me Mr. Buckley if you like but standing here in my PJs and looking at you in that gorgeous chemise, your beautiful red hair and freckles gracing your face, shoulders, and chest, it’s just a bit out of place. I’m sorry, but that’s what just happened, all that going through my mind. I’ll try to keep my mouth shut. I’m sorry.”

“No.”

“No, what?”

“Don’t keep your mouth shut. Charlie. I ... She wished the garage doors were wider. If it would work, sir, sorry. Charlie, if it would work, have them put in two double doors instead of three smaller ones, and that will fix the issue. Make them tall enough so the top of the antenna on the truck doesn’t hit the top of the garage door. I don’t remember any other complaints except the time the pool was too cold, but that was clearly your fault, not the pool, the house, or the builder.” She giggled. “Charlie, I have already told you. I care for you. Deeply. I am here for you, but you’re not ready. You still have to go through your grieving and mourning, but you need to remember, after you are on the other side, there will be someone waiting that loves you and cares very much for you. Very much. You wanted to tell me about the rental property.”

“Yeah, I was thinking we could get a place that you could use, too, to stay out of the trailer park and keep my car safer. That’s all.”

“Let’s talk in the morning. That sounds like a good idea, but it’s rife with problems, not the least of which is how you are feeling right now. Hold that thought. We’ll talk tomorrow.” She jumped out of bed in her little green and black trimmed chemise and came to me for a hug, said ‘goodnight’, kissed my chest, and went back to bed. “Sleep well, Charlie. The company is depending on you recovering and the doctor has indicated how to get there.”

I nodded. What else could I do. She was right. About everything. I needed time to grieve, mourn, get over Missy’s death, and deal with her being gone before I could move on. Sleep was a bit elusive, but it came. We didn’t set alarms, but at eight, she was in the room, sitting on the bed holding and touching my arm like she did in the hospital.

“What are you doing?” I asked her in a low soothing voice, trying not to startle her. It didn’t work. Not at all. She jumped.

“Sorry. I just wanted to hold you. To ... I’m sorry. I’ll go.”

“NO. Please don’t. Mindy, there is something here. I have to admit that. You’ve already alluded to it. We’ll deal with it later, but please, don’t remove yourself from it and don’t push me away. OK?” She nodded. “You are a wonderful person. Missy really liked you. If, like you say, I come out of this in one piece, and you are standing there on the other side, I’ll notice. OK?” She nodded again, and the tears started coming. I pulled her up into my lap and held her. I rocked her and cuddled her and as soon as I thought she was done crying, I leaned back to find her sleeping. I kissed her forehead, waking her up and getting another start.

“OH. MY. Sorry. Let me go get ready for the day. Sorry, Mr ... Sorry, Charlie.” She giggled. “That sounds funny, like a commercial.”

“GO!” I said, laughing as she left the room.

We took the Taurus and she let me drive the company truck back to the main office. It wasn’t very far from the hotel, and she followed me the entire time making sure I remembered, if I got dizzy, to pull over immediately. Engineering could pick it up from there, if they wanted, or Jack could take it back over to them. Up in the office, she checked in with our office manager, made sure there weren’t any meetings scheduled for the next two weeks, asked them to check my email and sort it and was quizzed to no end. As I sat at my desk listening, the part I remembered most was, “He should be OK. He’s learning and coping and moving. I just need to keep his mind moving forward instead of sideways or backwards. Please, if you really, really need him for a decision, ask for it. It will make him feel better, but don’t do it unless it needs to come from him. He’ll know. He doesn’t want to be treated like a kid, but he does want his company to succeed.” She got a round of agreements and the ladies said they’d call the supervisors and managers. She really had a plan. Really.

I was looking for nice rentals where I could stay until the house was rebuilt and was pretty successful. I jotted down the number for the agent handling them and shut my computer down. “I found a couple. Mindy, I’m ready if you are.” She hugged Cindy, our office manager, and off we went.

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