Rosie

One Woman Rising, Freedom Park, Atlanta, GA, 18 April 2013; Commissioned by: The Chelko Foundation, Sculptor: Phil Proctor, Geo Brenick/Geo4Design/, Painters: Scott Fray and Madelyn Greco.

 
Rosalind Worthy sits in the waiting room at the Granger Cancer Facility, in Seattle, where she’s been receiving treatment for more than six months. Her mother, Abigail, sits beside her, and her little sister, Rhiannon is across from her, looking through a copy of Highlights magazine. Rosalind is wearing a large, floppy hat to conceal her hair loss, and dark glasses to protect her eyes from the sun, but nothing can disguise the weight loss. Her clothes hang off her like she’s a stick figure. Regan got out easy, she thinks, and immediately regrets thinking it. 

Rosalind was diagnosed with ovarian cancer just a few months after her sister, Regan, twenty-two, and two years Rosalind’s senior, had been laid to rest in the family’s plot, beside their father who had lost his battle with lung cancer several years before. Rosalind’s doctor found the cancer during her yearly checkup, when she complained of stomach cramps and general listlessness, which seemed more than she normally experienced as a driven college sophomore. Regan’s death had hit Rosalind hard, but rather than take time to deal with it, she had returned to MIT and dived right back into her studies relentlessly, hoping this would give her little time to contemplate life without Regan. There was, still, Rhiannon, the surprise child, who came along when Rosalind was fourteen, but Rosalind had little time for a baby in the house. Besides, she’d had enough trouble on her hands trying to keep her older sister out of trouble as Regan’s schizophrenia worsened. Receiving her diagnosis, and the news that the cancer had spread to her uterus, Rosalind wondered if, perhaps, she’d soon be reunited with her sister. 

Rosalind sits up in her chair and fidgets with the gold watch on her left wrist. She isn’t used to wearing jewelry, but this was the only thing Regan left behind for her, and Rosalind hasn’t taken it off since Regan’s funeral. Today, she’s here to learn the results of her latest course of chemotherapy. Early in her treatment, she underwent a hysterectomy and removal of the cancerous ovaries, as well as quite a bit of surrounding tissue. This was followed by several months of chemotherapy, administered twice a month. She’s hoping today she’ll learn that’s no longer necessary.

“Rosie, look,” Rhiannon says, holding up her magazine showing a crossword puzzle. “Let’s do the puzzle together.”

“They’re going to be calling me back, shortly,” Rosalind says. “I’ll help you with it when we get home.”

In the months since Regan’s death, particularly since she’s been receiving treatment, Rosalind has used the time to forge a relationship with her remaining sister. Now the only big sister Rhiannon has left, Rosalind is determined to be as good a sister to Rhiannon as Regan had been to her, before Regan’s schizophrenia put a strain on their relationship.

Naomi, a young black woman in a nurse’s uniform, appears from the direction of the treatment rooms. Rosalind has gotten to know her well over the months she’s been here receiving treatment from Dr. Renshaw, the oncologist. “Miss Worthy?”

Rosalind acknowledges her and struggles to get to her feet. Abigail starts to get up, and Naomi moves to help, but Rosalind waves her off. “I’m fine”. She gets to her feet unaided and slowly follows Naomi back to an exam room. 

“How are you today, Miss Worthy?” the nurse says as they walk.

“Other than probably dying, I’m doing okay,” Rosalind says, then catches herself. “Sorry. That just kind of slipped out.”

“Totally understandable,” Naomi says. “Hopefully, the doctor will have some good news today.”

As Naomi takes Rosalind’s vital signs, Rosalind notes that the name on Naomi’s badge has changed from “Naomi Grant” to “Naomi Caine”. 

“Did you get married, finally?” Rosalind asks. 

“Yes, ma’am,” Naomi says. “Just after your last visit.”

“No honeymoon?”

“No, ma’am,” Naomi says. “Neither of us can afford to be away right now. We’re going to take some time when Gerald finishes his degree in a few months.”

“Well, congratulations,” Rosalind says. “I never thought I’d be around to see you married.”

“You promised, Miss Worthy,” Naomi says. “When I told you I was getting married, you said you’d stick around long enough to congratulate me, and here you are.”

“I guess miracles happen after all,” Rosalind says. 

“You’re a fighter,” Naomi says. “I’m always rooting for you.”

“That’s very kind of you to say, Naomi,” Rosalind says. 

Naomi leaves and Rosalind leans on her hands on the exam table. She looks at herself in the mirror over the sink. Her hair has grown back to the consistency of a crew cut, and she’s pleased to see it’s still her usual dark brown. She also notes she’s gained a bit of weight and hopes the doctor won’t tell her she needs any more chemo, which makes her sick for days.

Dr. Renshaw enters with Rosalind’s chart in his hand, closes the door behind him, and looks her over. 

“Vitals look good, Rosalind,” he says, “and I’m pleased to report, your cancer appears to be in remission.”

These are the words she’s wanted to hear since her initial diagnosis. “Really? Does this mean I’m cancer-free?”

“I’m not ready to make that call just yet,” he says. “For now, I’m cautiously optimistic, but I’m not scheduling another round of chemo just now.”

“That’s almost as good to hear,” Rosalind says.

“I want to see you back here in two weeks,” he says, “then we’ll monitor you for a few more months, just to be sure. If you keep doing this well, I don’t think we’ll be seeing each other much longer.”

“We’ll always have Granger,” she says. 

Leah and Dottie

Ballet Olympia, SunTrust Plaza, Atlanta, GA.

Leah Walker enters her dorm room at Wellesley College and sets her backpack onto a chair. It’s her freshman year, and her roommate, Heather, is visiting family for several days, so Leah’s looking forward to having the room to herself for a long weekend. Leah’s average height, with shoulder-length auburn hair, and steel-blue eyes. She’s wearing her usual attire of baggie warmup shorts, New Balance sneakers, and an oversized MIT sweatshirt. Her hair is pulled back into a ponytail. She drops her keys onto the nightstand and takes a package of red Solo cups from the top drawer, removes one cup, and replaces the rest. From behind the nightstand, she takes out a bottle of Merlot she bought at a package store in Boston which never checks ID, unscrews the top, and pours half a cup.

Leah’s from Atlanta, and Wellesley is her first time living away from her family. She continued to live in her family’s home in Buckhead after the family moved to Lawrenceville just before the start of her senior year at Pace Academy, but Leah doesn’t count that, since her father, Paxton, was there off and on throughout the week. Leah had objected to the long commute, and both her parents deemed her responsible enough to go it alone for the remaining time before graduation. Since Paxton still had business in town during the week, he would stay at the house evenings when he needed to be at the office early. Leah viewed it as an opportunity to get closer to her father, with whom she’d always had a tense and distant relationship. Unfortunately, the best they managed was a sort of détente, where they’d exchange a few words going or coming, or, a bit of conversation if Paxton happened to be around in the living room while Leah was working on a school assignment.

She sits on her bed, takes a sip of wine, and picks up a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale, a gift from Marla Prentice, an instructor in one of Leah’s core Humanities classes, and with whom Leah’s been spending a lot of time lately. Starting her second week at school, Leah found herself involved in a rather passionate relationship with Marla, which started nearly the moment she entered class, and fell under Marla’s scrutiny. After class, Marla made a point of striking up a conversation with Leah. Marla’s a few inches taller than Leah, and several years older, with a trim, athletic build, and jet black hair, that’s very long, and which she wears in dreads. She always wears short, dark dresses, over tights in various colors, with clogs. Her complexion gives Leah the impression that Marla’s of mixed race, though Leah can’t tell which races went into the mix. Marla’s very economical in the facts she shares about herself. She speaks and moves with a frenetic energy, which Leah finds infectious. They ran into one another a short while later, on a smoke break before lunch, and Marla invited Leah to join her for a bite. They ended up back at Marla’s apartment, just off campus, where things got very heated very quickly. Over the next week, their afternoon dalliances progressed into an intense physical relationship, which surprised Leah, as she’s never before entertained ideas of being involved with another woman.

The situation excites and troubles Leah, who finds the intimacy thrilling, but wonders what it all means. Throughout high school, she had the usual teen relationships, occasional dates with guys she knew from math class or science club, who’d take her out after school, or sometimes evenings, often with other computer geeks like her, and she had a number of girls she spent time with in school and out, or with whom she played on the lacrosse or softball teams, but she’d never entertained the thought of having a sexual relationship with any of them, male or female, nor could she recall ever having crushes on any of her female teachers, regardless of how attractive they’d been. It worries her that she could be so unaware of such an important aspect of her personality, and wonders what else she might have missed. A few days into the relationship, Leah decided she needed advice from someone more worldly.

She has a great relationship with her mother, Melinda, but she’s not sure how her mother will react to Leah potentially being a lesbian, so, for advice, she decided to sound out her aunt Margaret on the matter. Since childhood, Margaret has been an important influence on Leah, second only to Melinda, with whom Margaret’s been friends since college. Like Leah, Margaret is a first-born daughter, who’s two years older than Paxton, and it was Margaret who introduced Paxton to Melinda when Leah’s mother was still in college. Melinda had traveled to Atlanta from Charleston, South Carolina, to attend Agnes Scott, with the intention of being a teacher, but instead met and married Paxton Walker. As she was getting started back at school, she discovered she was pregnant with Leah, and put her dreams of teaching on hold. Leah has always harbored a bit of guilt, knowing that she prevented her mother from finishing school, but Melinda’s always maintained a cheerful and upbeat attitude about it, telling Leah she’ll head back to school once Alyssa, Leah’s baby sister, who’s twelve years younger, is out of the house.

Leah phoned Margaret and wasted little time in getting to the point.

“Margaret, have you ever been with another woman?” Leah asked.

“In what sense do you mean that?” Margaret said, a bit of discomfort evident in her voice.

“Seriously?” Leah said. “What sense do you think?”

“Oh,” Margaret said. “Well, if that’s what you mean, then no.”

“Have you thought about it?” Leah said.

“Hmm, let me guess,” Margaret said, “you’re asking because you’ve either thought about it, or—”

“No, I’m way beyond thinking about it, at this point,” Leah said.

“I see. Well. Did you enjoy it?”

“Yes,” Leah said.

“Then what’s the problem?” Margaret asked. “If you had a good time, where’s the harm?”

“But what does it mean?” Leah said.

“Why does it have to mean something?” Margaret said.

“I guess it doesn’t have to,” Leah said. “It just usually does.”

“Look, you didn’t go blind and you weren’t struck by lightning were you?” Margaret asked

“Not yet.”

“Then, we can assume the universe is okay with it,” Margaret said.

“I don’t know if I’m okay with it,” Leah said, “I mean, I like her, but I don’t think either of us is interested in a real relationship.”

“Is it ongoing?” Margaret asked.

“As of right now, it is,” Leah said.

“Then go with it,” Margaret said. “See where it leads. I’ve never found myself in this situation, so I don’t know how I’d respond. You went away to college to learn, right?”

“Right.”

“Well, part of that is learning about yourself,” Margaret said. “You have an excellent opportunity to explore who you are without the glare of your family judging your every move. Take advantage of that.”

“Perfect. Thanks, Margaret.”

“Anytime, sweetie,” Margaret said. “Let me know how things turn out.”

Leah leans back on her bed and resumes reading the book. She manages about five pages when her reading is interrupted by the sound of someone pounding insistently on the door. An unfamiliar voice follows the first round of pounding. “Open this door, you bitch!”

The pounding resumes.

Leah puts down the book and cautiously approaches the door.

“Who is it?” she says.

“I said open this door,” the voice says, “I’m going to kick your ass, you slut.”

Whoever’s outside sounds drunk.

Leah looks at Heather’s bed, then says, “Are you here to kick the ass of a brunette or a redhead? Cause the brunette isn’t here.”

There’s a long pause, before, “Kind of reddish brown. Not a brunette.”

“Perfect,” Leah says to herself.

She considers calling campus security, but decides against it. As the next round of pounding begins, she quickly pulls open the door. A young woman, about Leah’s age and height, with curly, dirty blonde hair, and wearing a short, polka dotted dress and slip-on sneakers, comes tumbling into the room. She falls to her hands and knees and seems somewhat confused. Leah takes the opportunity to grab her roommate’s umbrella, which she brandishes as a weapon.

“Who the hell are you and what do you want?” Leah says to the woman. “Apart from what you’ve already stated.”

“I said I’m going to kick your ass, you bitch,” the woman says as she struggles to get her footing and rise. She looks up at Leah, then says, “Yeah. You.” She looks around for something to hold onto. At last, she pulls herself up on a table and stands up straight, but swaying, as she confronts Leah. She’s wearing a slight amount of makeup, but it’s gotten splotchy from crying. Leah holds the umbrella in front of her as she speaks.

“Okay, I gather that you’re pissed about something,” Leah says. “Why don’t we start with your name. Who are you?”

“I’m Dottie,” the woman says. “Dorothy, actually, but most people call me Dottie.”

“Okay — ah — Dottie,” Leah says, still brandishing the umbrella. “I’m Leah — or do you already know that?”

“How the hell should I know what your name is?” Dottie says.

“You showed up at my door wanting to beat me up,” Leah says, “I assume you’d know my name. What’s this about?”

“It’s about Marla,” Dottie says.

“Marla Prentice? What about her?”

Dottie begins to reply, but suddenly throws her hand over her mouth and starts to heave. Leah hurriedly points to the bathroom. Dottie quickly stumbles in and kicks the door closed. Leah can hear her vomiting. She puts down the umbrella and sits on her bed until she hears the sounds subside. At last, the toilet flushes, followed by the sound of water running in the sink. This goes on for several minutes before Dottie returns to the room, far more subdued than when she left. Leah motions to Heather’s bed and Dottie sits.

“Let’s start over, shall we?” Leah says. “You want to kick my ass and it has something to do with Marla.”

“You stole her from me,” Dottie says. “She won’t return my calls. Then I saw you with her at our coffee shop.”

“Coffee shop?” Leah says. “You mean Sandusky’s? I took her there.”

“You did?” Dottie says. “She said it was our special place.”

“Yeah, she sort of told me the same thing after our first visit,” Leah says. “When did you start seeing her?”

“Right after classes started,” Dottie says. “About a month after I got here.”

“So did I,” Leah says. An idea occurs to her. “Did she take you to The Jewel of the Nile?”

Dottie nods. “The night we first—”

Leah holds up her hand. “Same here.”

“Why aren’t you upset?” Dottie says. “I just confirmed I’ve been sleeping with Marla. That doesn’t bother you?”

“Not really,” Leah says. “I haven’t figured out exactly what our relationship is yet. I take it you feel a bit more committed?”

“I haven’t felt this way before,” Dottie says. “I was all ready to tell my family I’m gay and she ditches me. Told me I’m getting too serious. I figured there was someone else, so I followed her. That’s where I saw you.”

“Meaning you must have followed me here,” Leah says.

“Yesterday,” Dottie says. “It took me all afternoon to get up the courage to come over.”

“Speaking of which,” Leah says. “How much did you drink?”

“Bottle, bottle and a half,” Dottie says. She notices the book and points to it. “I suppose she gave you that.”

“She did.”

“I gave it to her,” Dottie says.

Leah picks it up and looks at the spine. “You’re DG? She said it was on the book when she bought it.”

Dottie nods. “Dorothy Gage.”

“Isn’t that the person in The Wizard of Oz?” Leah says.

“Oh, that’s original,” Dottie says. “Her name is Dorothy Gale. Don’t change the subject.”

“What makes you think I stole Marla from you?” Leah says. “Sounds to me like she’s been leading us both on.”

“Yeah, it’s starting to look that way,” Dottie says. “There’s this girl in my English Lit class who said she had an affair with Marla last year. I didn’t want to believe her, but then I saw the two of you together.”

“Why didn’t you confront Marla?” Leah says.

“I tried, but she’s not at her apartment,” Dottie says.

Leah shakes her head. “She’s never there on the weekend. Hmm. This makes me wonder where she goes.”

Dottie looks down. “Would you mind if I just lie down for a minute or two?”

“You’re not going to throw up again are you? I doubt Heather would like that, and I don’t feel like cleaning up after you.”

“God, I hope not,” Dottie replies. She lies on her side, and pulls her knees up, crossing her arms in front of her.

“I suppose you can kick my ass when you wake up,” Leah says.

“Maybe,” Dottie says as she drifts off.

Leah continues reading while Dottie sleeps. She’s still asleep when Leah goes to bed. The following morning, Dottie is awake and very embarrassed by her behavior. Leah treats Dottie to breakfast at the nearest cafe, and they have a long talk, where they discover a lot of common interests. Leah is fluent in most of the European languages, owing to her family’s many visits to the continent as she was growing up, and she’s pleased to learn Dottie is as well. They switch to speaking German to keep people from eavesdropping on them as they decide what to do about Marla. By the time they part ways, they’ve developed a plan of action.

A few days later, Leah is sitting with Marla at the coffee shop. They’re discussing The Handmaid’s Tale.

“Take that lesson to heart,” Marla tells her. “Men are not to be trusted.”

“They certainly didn’t come off very well in the book,” Leah says.

“Have you read any of Dworkin’s work?” Marla says.

“Andrea Dworkin? I’ve heard of her.”

Marla suddenly focuses on something over Leah’s shoulder and shakes her head. “I don’t believe this.”

“What is it?” Leah says. She looks to see Dottie seated at the lunch counter, wearing dark glasses, situated where she has a good view of Leah and Marla.

“Nothing,” Marla says. “Just this student who’s been giving me a hard time over a grade.” Marla rises. “Excuse me just a minute.”

She goes over and confronts Dottie in low tones. While she’s gone, Leah slides over and picks up Marla’s bag. She checks to be sure Marla isn’t looking, then she pulls out Marla’s wallet and checks her driver’s license and credit cards. Finished, she replaces the wallet, and puts the bag back where it was. She moves back to her chair, and makes an okay sign to Dottie, who abruptly breaks off her argument with Marla, gathers her things, and storms out.

“I’m really sorry about that,” Marla says when she returns to the table. “I failed her on a test and she’s been stalking me ever since.”

“Not a problem,” Leah says. “Say, where do you disappear to on the weekends?”

“Where did this come from all of a sudden?” Marla says.

“I’m just curious,” Leah says. “I figured you must be sneaking off to some cozy little bed and breakfast to write and might want some company.”

Marla laughs. “Trust me, if I was, you’d be the first one I’d call.” She reaches over and places her hand on Leah’s. “I’m free for the next hour. Want to swing by my place?”

“I’d love to,” Leah says, “but I have a midterm in chemistry coming up. I’ll take a rain check, though.”

“You’re on,” Marla says. They talk for a few minutes before Leah insists she needs to go. Marla walks her to the door and they part with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, then head off in different directions. Leah walks about half a block, then checks to be sure Marla is far enough away, then ducks down a side street and circles back to the rear of the coffee shop, where she finds Dottie seated on the back deck. Leah sits with her.

“Anything?” Dottie says.

Leah shakes her head. “Her license has her campus address. But it did have a different name, Marla Rogan.”

“Rogan?” Dottie says. “That kind of takes some of the luster off.”

Leah leans forward and says confidentially, “Know anyone who works for the university? If I can get on the computer network, I can probably hack into payroll and find out where they’re mailing her checks.”

“Actually, I do,” Dottie says, “and she spends a lot of time away from her desk.” She rises. “Come on.”

Several hours later, they’re back at Leah’s dorm room with new information.

“Shrewsbury,” Dottie says. “Figures she’d live someplace called Shrewsbury.”

“She’s also listed as Mrs. Marla Rogan in payroll,” Leah says.

“I can’t believe you got in so easily,” Dottie says. “How’d you know Barb’s password?”

“I didn’t,” Leah says. “I took the chance she used ‘password’ and it worked.”

“So, what next?”

Leah grins. “Marla has classes all morning. How about a trip to Shrewsbury?”

Dottie laughs. “So, I wonder what the husband of the ultimate feminist looks like?”

“Only one way to find out,” Leah says.

The following morning they hop into Leah’s Karmann Ghia, which Margaret loaned her as she headed off to college, and drove to the address in Shrewsbury, where Marla’s paychecks are being sent. Parked out in front of the brownstone, Dottie says, “You think this is a good idea?”

“Probably not, but I don’t see a lot of options,” Leah replies. “If we just ignore her, she’ll keep doing this.”

“I mean, rather than the dumping part, I did have a good time,” Dottie says.

“Same here,” Leah says. “But she’s taking advantage of impressionable girls when they’re least equipped to handle it.”

“Right,” Dottie says. “We’re just taking a stand. That’s all.”

“Right,” Leah says. She holds up her hand and Dottie grips it and nods.

“Let’s do this,” Dottie says.

They get out and walk up to the door. Dottie rings the bell. A few moments later, a child can be heard yelling, followed by the locks being unlocked. A thin man, probably just under six feet tall, with short blonde hair and tanned, leathery skin, opens the door.

“Yes?” he says. “How may I help you?”

He speaks with the precise phrasing that’s reminiscent of someone who’s first language isn’t English, but Leah cannot detect any recognizable accent.

“Hi,” she says, “are you Mr. Rogan?”

“I’m Lance Rogan, yes,” the man says.

“I’m Dorothy,” Dottie says, “this is Leah. We’re — ah — friends of Marla’s.”

“Ah, yes,” Lance says. “Marla’s not here currently. I believe she’s teaching today.”

“We know,” Leah says. “We’re not here to speak with her.”

“More to speak about her,” Dottie adds.

“I don’t understand,” Lance says. He opens the outer security door. “Please come in.”

As they enter, Leah notes a black woman, wearing a uniform and holding the hand of a small boy.

“Nina, would you take Alexander to the play room?” Lance says to her.

“Of course, Mr. Rogan,” Nina says in what sounds, to Leah, like a Jamaican accent.

“Please have a seat in here,” Lance says, directing the women to the living room. “Can I offer you something to drink?”

“Water would be great,” Dottie says, to which Leah nods.

Leah and Dottie sit on the couch. A moment later, Lance returns with a pitcher and two glasses on a tray which he sets on the coffee table in front of them. He takes a seat in a leather chair facing them.

“Now, how may I help you ladies?” he says. “You say this is about Marla?”

Leah and Dottie look at one another and Leah says, “Mr. Rogan, there’s probably no easy way to say this, but Dorothy and I have been — involved with Marla.”

Lance continues to look at them displaying no emotion. “I see. Why have you brought this information to me? Are you here for money?”

“Oh, no. No. Nothing like that,” Dottie says.

Leah slides to the edge of the couch. “She’s right. We’re here because we feel we’ve been taken advantage of and we wanted to let you know.”

“Please, tell me your stories,” Lance says.

First Dottie, then Leah tells Lance about their relationships with Marla. Throughout both stories, his expression does not change, nor does he display any reaction, other than to occasionally nod. When Leah finishes her story, they sit for a long moment in silence.

Finally, Lance says, “What is it you wish me to do about this? That is, if you are certain you’re not here for money.”

“We don’t exactly know,” Leah says. “To be honest, we didn’t really think this part through very well before coming here.”

“I see,” Lance says with the hint of a smile. “Well, I do not wish to share intimate details of my marriage, since I know nothing about either of you. However I will say that I am aware Marla has certain needs that I’m not able to address. If you have been harmed in any way I apologize.” He rises. “I’ll have a talk with her when she gets in this evening, and we’ll decide together how best to handle this situation.”

He motions toward the door. Leah and Dottie rise and follow him back to the front door.

“I trust you will be making no further trips to visit us?” he says.

Leah and Dottie look at one another.

“Definitely not,” Dottie says. Leah concurs.

“Very good,” Lance says. “I will appreciate your continued discretion on this matter, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course,” Leah says.

“You ladies have an nice afternoon,” Lance says as he lets them out.

Back in the car, Dottie says, “What just happened in there?”

“I have no idea,” Leah says. “Let’s get lunch somewhere.”

“You’re on.”

The following day, when Leah shows up for her Humanities class, Marla isn’t there. The instructor filling in for her explains that Marla has taken a leave of absence for “family reasons”. Neither Leah, nor Dottie, see or hear from her again.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” Dottie says as she and Leah are lying on the bed in her dorm room. “You think she’s okay?”

“Hard to tell,” Leah says. “That’s an odd family.”

“We make a pretty good team,” Dottie says. “I have this feeling you and I are going to get into lots of trouble together.”

“I think you’re right,” Leah says. “Still planning on telling your family you’re gay?”

“Nah, I’ve gone back to questioning,” Dottie says. “Why limit myself? My family can figure it out on their own.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Leah says.

“Hey,” Dottie says, sitting up. “What do you think about getting an apartment?”

“Now?”

“No,” Dottie says, “over the summer. You know, just stick around Boston instead of going home.”

“Summer’s a long way off,” Leah says.

“I know. But it doesn’t hurt to plan,” Dottie says. “If we strike at the right time, we could get a great deal.”

“Oh, trust me, I know real estate,” Leah says. “My father’s the man who gave Atlanta its suburban sprawl.”

“Good to know,” Dottie says.

From that point on, not a day goes by that they don’t spend time together. As summer comes along, they move off campus into a nice apartment.

Worthy, Part 43

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The venue for the band Neil found is called T.J. Bailey’s and it’s a few blocks off the square in Decatur. It’s patterned after a cozy neighborhood bar, but seems way too polished for the traditional, lived in feel they’re aiming to achieve. Leah and the Caines are there, along with a moderate crowd of mostly people in their twenties. Alyssa states upon arriving that she’s not feeling well, but wanted to get out before the child is due in a few weeks.

The band opens with several covers, then breaks into their original stuff. In addition to songs Abigail wrote are a couple of Sarah’s and several by Neil. At their first break, Sarah handles merchandise, while Freddy takes a smoke break. Neil, Abigail, and Genevieve sit with Leah, Alyssa, and Tim.

“Feeling any better, Alyssa?” Genevieve asks.

“No. Still out of sorts. I think it’s gotten worse.”

“What’s wrong?” Neil asks.

“I haven’t felt right most of the day,” Alyssa says. “My back has been killing me and my stomach’s acting up. I’ve been having these weird spasms all afternoon.”

“Weird spasms?” Neil asks. “How far apart would you say these are happening?”

Alyssa shrugs. “Right now? Maybe three or four minutes.”

“So they’ve increased?”

She nods.

Neil considers this, then signals to the server. “Could I talk to a manager please?”

“Is there a problem?”

“Yeah,” he says, indicating Alyssa. “She’s about to give birth.”

The server hurries off.

Tim leans toward Neil. “Hang on. The baby’s not due for two weeks.”

“Babies tend to operate on their own schedules,” Neil says. “She’s in labor.”

“Shouldn’t I be in more pain?” Alyssa asks.

“Not necessarily,” Neil says.

“He’s right,” Abigail says. “It’s different for every woman.”

A bearded man approaches Neil. “Hi, I’m Ted. I hear we have a medical emergency.”

“I’m not sure I’d go that far,” Neil says. “But we could use an ambulance. In the meantime, is there a private room we could use?”

“Sure, the office. It has a couch.”

Ted signals for them to follow.

“Abby, you come with me,” Neil says. “Sarah and Genevieve, you and Freddy are now a trio.”

Genevieve looks at Sarah and says, “We probably play enough instruments between us to handle things nicely.”

“Absolutely,” Sarah says. “Good luck!”

Tim helps Alyssa to her feet.

“But my water didn’t break,” she says.

“That doesn’t always happen,” Abigail tells her.

Leah stands. “There’s no way I’m not going to be in there.”

“There may not be room,” Neil says.

“We’ll make room,” Leah replies.

“Leah, could you just hang out and get the check?” Alyssa says. “We probably aren’t coming back.”

“Sure. Give me your keys. I’ll have Genni bring your car.”

Tim, Alyssa, Abigail, and Neil follow Ted to the office. Neil gets on his phone and calls 911. He identifies himself as a paramedic, gives them his information and informs them he’s with a woman giving birth at T.J. Bailey’s in Decatur.

In the office, Neil has Alyssa lie on the couch. He goes to examine her.

“What are you doing?” Tim says.

“Hello, experienced paramedic here. I need to see how far along she is.”

“Oh. Yeah. What should I do?”

“You’ve been taking lamaze classes, haven’t you?” Abigail says.

“Yes,” Tim says. “Ah! Right.” He gets in position and starts Alyssa on her breathing exercises.

“Okay, the bad news is there’s a major pileup on the connector which has a lot of ambulances tied up,” Neil says. “The good news is I’ve done this before.”

Abigail leans in. “Should I get Winn on the phone?”

Neil looks at her. “I repeat, I’ve done this before.”

Alyssa moans. “I felt that.”

“This child will not be denied,” Neil says. “You’re doing great.” To Abigail, “Could you round up as many clean linens as possible, preferably white.”

“Like the napkins?”

“Yeah, those will be perfect.”

Alyssa moans again.

Neil checks. “The baby’s crowning. Man this kid is anxious to get out here.”

Abigail confers with Ted and he takes her to the kitchen where they gather a stack of napkins.

“This is exciting,” Ted tells her. “I’ve never had a baby born at an establishment where I worked.”

“It’s kind of a first for me, too.”

They arrive back in the office just in time to hear Neil say, “Okay, one more. Big push.”

Alyssa moans again. Just then, a siren is heard outside. Ted steps to the door to direct the paramedics. Neil holds up the baby to show Alyssa and Tim.

“It’s a girl,” he says. He hands the baby to Alyssa and says to Abigail, “Time?”

She looks at her phone and says, “9:45.”

A paramedic steps through the door. “Hawkins what are you doing? Not even out of orientation and you’re already delivering babies?”

“What took you guys so long?” Neil says with a chuckle. “Good thing I was on the ball.”

The paramedics examine Alyssa and the baby, then prepare them for transport to DeKalb Medical.

Abigail steps out and goes back to the music room. She sits with Leah.

“Congratulations, Aunt Leah. You have a niece.”

They hug.

Genevieve catches Abigail’s eye from the stage and shrugs. Abigail calls out, “Girl.”

Genevieve leans into the mic and says, “Hey everyone, it’s a girl!”

The audience reacts with applause. Leah signals the server and orders champagne all around, then steps out to catch Alyssa before she leaves.

Worthy, Part 42

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Abigail goes by Leah’s office to pick up Genevieve who’s been helping out to learn more about what Leah does. They’re scheduled to practice with the band that night. Neil has found them a local gig to get them a warm up for an upcoming open mic night.

“Hi, Abby,” Leah says as she buzzes Abigail in. Since the receptionist went on honeymoon, Genevieve often sits in for her, but after five, Leah always buzzes people in.

When Abigail enters the main office, Leah and Genevieve are having a slight disagreement. Genevieve is holding a packet.

“No. I can just send it to his office Monday,” Leah says.

“You don’t have to. We’re going to Decatur. His house is on the way.”

“What are you two arguing about?” Abigail asks.

“Just some paperwork relating to the embryos. Steven needs to look over them before we sign. I’m making Genevieve joint custodian.”

“I think he needs them right away, so I want to run them by his house on the way to practice.”

“How do even know where he lives?” Abigail says.

“Google Maps,” Genevieve replies. “East Lake is close to Decatur, isn’t it?”

“In a roundabout way,” Leah answers. “Depends on where in Decatur.”

“Neil said a few blocks from the Attic.”

“You know, he’s going to get tired of you always popping in on him.”

“He’s never said one word to me about it.”

“You’ve never been to his house before.”

“What if he’s on a date?” Abigail says.

“He’s not. I asked if he had plans for the evening and he said he’d just be hanging out at home.”

“That doesn’t mean he’s not on a date.”

“All right, you can take the papers,” Leah says. “But I do not want a phone call from him. Understand?”

“Fine.”

When they arrive at Steven’s house, he answers in a T-shirt and running shorts.

“Genevieve, long time no see. Leah called to say you were headed over. Hello, Abby. Are you in the delivery business too?”

“No, we’re going to band practice nearby.”

He invites them in.

Steven’s house looks very lived in with an old leather couch near the center, several bookcases, and a long console table against one wall that’s loaded with family pictures.

“I can’t chat for too long. I’m expecting company in a little while. My aunt Rachel’s coming over.”

“Rachel?” Genevieve asks.

“Yeah. Rachel Lawson.”

Genevieve gives him a wide-eyed stare.

“Rachel Lawson is your aunt?” She thinks about it. “Hang on. Your sister’s Rebecca.” She puts her hand over her mouth and gasps. “Oh my god, you’re Stevie.”

“That’s what my family used to call me. Yes. You know Rachel?”

“Are you kidding me? I love that woman. She was Mom’s care giver during her last few months.”

“Yeah. She was working on the West Coast until early this year. So she was taking care of your mother?”

“She was wonderful,” Abigail says. “I only met her a few times, but she was always so kind and attentive.”

“I don’t know what I would have done if she hadn’t been around,” Genevieve says.

“Yeah, that’s what she does. She helped me through the deaths of my mom and Becky.”

“Well then I’m sticking around because I want to see this woman again.”

“By all means. She’ll have a friend with her. Claire.”

“Yes, she talked about Claire,” Genevieve says. “I wasn’t clear on their relationship, though.”

“I’m not sure they are either.”

Steven goes to change clothes.

A short while later, the doorbell rings and Steven admits his aunt and her friend. Rachel is in her fifties and still very striking, with dark hair streaked with grey and wearing little makeup. Her friend Claire appears much younger, probably late thirties, and is dressed in a sort of punk rock fashion with leather and chains which jangle when she moves. The pair seems comfortable around one another, but exhibit no obvious signs of affection toward each another. Abigail has a difficult time imagining them as a couple.

Steven greets them, then Rachel notices Genevieve, who rushes to hug her. Abigail also greets Rachel and they all chat for several minutes before Abigail reminds Genevieve they need to be somewhere. Rachel and Claire both know Leah, and Rachel promises to give Genevieve a call there.

Once they arrive at the studio Neil found for them to practice, he announces when the warm up gig will be. The best date he could arrange with a local establishment is Monday, August 5. No one’s really happy about performing on Monday night, but otherwise the arrangements meet with their approval.
 

Worthy, Part 41

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Abigail flies back to Seattle Saturday morning and is met at the airport by Rhiannon. She waits until the following Monday before letting her mother know of her decision to relocate. 

“I’ll miss you kiddo,” Rhiannon tells her, “but I am so proud of you. I hope I get a chance to meet these ladies who are making all this happen.”

“You’re going to visit once in a while aren’t you?”

“You bet I will.”

“They’re anxious to meet you as well. Especially Leah, who remembers Aunt Rosie talking about you all the time.”

While Abigail’s at work, making arrangements for her replacement, Rhiannon heads to Abigail’s apartment to see what items she can use, so Abigail won’t have to pack household items. By the time Abigail returns, Rhiannon has filled a couple of boxes.

The rest of her time there is a whirlwind of activity, visiting friends, getting her finances in order, and finally having one last gig with the band. Since Sarah joined them, they’ve taken a slightly progressive turn, though their song selections are as eclectic as ever. Neil tells her he’s sorry to see her go, but is glad she hooked up with Winn, and he’s sure they’ll run into one another again.

Rhiannon gives Abigail a few names of people to look up, and after another tearful ride to the airport, they say their goodbyes again. 

“Remember, I have a conference there in September. We can hang out in the evenings,” Rhiannon says.

“Sure thing, Mom.”

A few weeks after she’s settled in, Abigail enters the Caine residence and is greeted by Alyssa. “Abby, you have a visitor.”

Before she can say much more, Neil enters, holding a drink.

“Hey, Sis.”

“Neil, what are you doing here?”

“Nice to see you, too. I can’t drop in on my kid sister once in a while?”

“Is everything okay?” Alyssa asks.

“Yeah. This is the new normal for me,” Abigail tells her.

Alyssa excuses herself and exits into the kitchen.

“Where’s Sarah?” Abigail asks Neil.

“She’s in Decatur.”

“Why is she —? No, don’t answer that. Tell me she is not looking at apartments.” 

“No. Of course not.” Long pause. “She’s looking for a job. We’ve already found an apartment.”

Abigail sinks to her knees, then falls face down onto the floor and pounds her fists in the tiles. “No, no, no, no!” She rises and circles around the entire room before confronting Neil again. “Do you not get that the whole idea of setting you up with her was to keep you from following me all over the place?”

“Whose idea do you think it was?” Neil says. “I agreed with it, but she was all pumped up about starting her singing career where the Indigo Girls started.”

Abigail lets this sink in. “Who came with you?” 

“Freddy rode with us but he may not stay.”

“Freddy. Perfect. He understands that the move from the West to the East Coast doesn’t make me any less gay, right?”

“I think you made it perfectly clear the last time this came up.”

“That never seems to register with Freddy.”

“Don’t worry about it. I think he and Annie may be giving it another shot.”

“And that’s a good thing?”

“No, no, they’ve been in counseling.”

“That makes me feel way better.”

“Face it, Abby, you’re stuck with me. Besides, Genni’s here and I like how she sounds with the band.”

“Are you saying the entire band is moving here?”

“Ah, no. Actually just me and Freddy and he probably won’t stay. But seriously, you’re telling me there are no musicians in Atlanta.”

“So what, you, Freddy, and Sarah will be a trio?”

“We’re signed up for open mic at Eddie’s next week. Always room for keys and sax.”

“Genni will be thrilled.”

Worthy, Part 40

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When they arrive at Winn’s home in Grant Park, Abigail introduces Alyssa and Tim.

Winn says, “Roger’s busy in the kitchen at the moment but as soon as he emerges, I’ll do the honors. The kids have to finish their homework before we let them roam around.” He focuses on Alyssa. “How much longer until your little one gets here?”

“Dr. Stafford estimates mid- to late-August.”

“Rhonda Stafford?” 

Alyssa nods. 

“She’s top notch. You’re in great hands with her.”

When Leah and Genevieve arrive, Abigail notes that while they are wearing different outfits, the style is very similar, jeans with an expensive top, and boots. Genevieve is also wearing a loose vest that’s not buttoned with the sleeves of her shirt rolled up and the shirt untucked.

“Did you get new clothes?” Abigail asks Genevieve.

“Yeah, you like them?” Genevieve models for her.

“Not your usual style.”

“They’re casual but elegant.”

“I see Leah’s already having an influence on you.”

“I can’t explain it. It’s like she says something or does something and I think, yeah, I can see that. When we were shopping, a shirt or a pair of shoes would catch my eye and before I even said anything she’d point to it and say, what about this?”

“Nature versus nurture, I suppose. Leah has a very strong personality. Just don’t be too overwhelmed by her.”

“Look, I’m going to have to cover an entire lifetime with this woman in just a few weeks. We’re not quite to the teen rebellion stage, yet. Besides, I’ve been told I have a pretty strong personality myself.”

“That’s true. Now we know where you get it.”

Roger enters from the kitchen with a tray of drinks he sets on the table, indicating which are alcoholic, and introduces himself to everyone. He’s a marketing specialist who moonlights as a party planner and Abigail notes that he has a fussy nature with details which probably serves him well in his second job. He and Leah seem to hit it off and spend several minutes having an animated discussion about a mutual acquaintance they discover they have. 

Roger announces that dinner will be ready shortly and asks Winn to check something in the kitchen. Abigail tags along for help.

“Winn, can I get your opinion on something?” She says, once they’re alone. “I have a decision to make and I want to sound you out on it.”

“Sure, if you think it might help.”

Abigail explains the offer Leah and Alyssa made her a few days ago.

“I hardly know these people and they’re willing to fund my entire education.”

“Can they afford it?”

“Oh yeah. Many times over.”

“Have they asked for anything in return?”

“Just that I live up to my fullest potential.”

“Then they must see something in you that they believe in. There’s no shame in accepting someone’s generosity. Education is very expensive and not everyone has a rich doctor or wealthy philanthropist backing them up like I did. Remember, its not how you get somewhere. Its what you accomplish once you’re there. I think you definitely have the potential to accomplish a lot.”

She hugs him.

“Thanks. You’ve been a big help.”

“I’m always here if you need a sounding board, plus I can help you with the application process. Let you know what they might be looking for.”

They head back out to the living room. Abigail addresses everyone.

“Before we have dinner, I have an announcement to make,” Abigail says. “Recently an opportunity has come up for me to attend medical school in Atlanta and I’ve decided to do it. Provided I get accepted, of course.”

“Really?” Genevieve says. “You’re not leaving?”

“I have some loose ends to tie up back home, but yes, I’ll be moving here.”

Genevieve runs across the room and gives her a big hug. “That’s great, Abby! I’m so happy.”

“Yeah, me too.”

Everyone else congratulates her. Roger disappears into the kitchen before returning and pronouncing dinner served.

 

Worthy, Part 39

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Abigail is lying on the bed in her room at the Caine residence. Toward the end of the previous week, Alyssa invited Abigail and Genevieve out to her house to hear what Steven concluded regarding custody of the embryos in deep freeze in Massachusetts. At that time, Alyssa offered to let Abigail and Genevieve stay with her and Tim for the duration of their trip to help them defray costs. 

The evening yielded many surprises, the greatest being that because of an error in the agreement between Genevieve’s parents and Leah, that Leah never relinquished custody of the embryos produced and, as a result, is still Genevieve’s legal mother. After much discussion, Genevieve decided to move into a spare room at Leah’s condo, which is just a few blocks away from the Georgia Tech campus, where Genevieve has decided to start school in the Fall. 

She and Genevieve haven’t seen much of one another since then, except for the previous day, when Alyssa, Tim, and Leah took them out to see some sights around town. Winn has invited them all over for dinner Wednesday evening, extending his invitation to Leah and the Caines once Abigail filled him in on the details. Other than that, Abigail has been planning how to spend her last week in town.

Alyssa taps on the door and looks in.

“Are you free this evening?” she asks. 

“I don’t have plans, other than hooking up with Genni if she’s not doing anything.”

“Then let me take you to dinner. There are some things Leah and I would like to discuss with you.”

“Sure. Just let me know when to be ready and whether I need to dress up.”

When they arrive at the restaurant, Leah is already there.

“Is Genni joining us?”

“No,” Leah says, “they’re having some sort of event on campus for students who’ll be enrolling in the Fall.”

“We wanted to speak to you alone,” Alyssa says.

“Is everything okay? There’s nothing wrong with Genni is there?”

Leah shakes her head. “This isn’t about Genevieve. It’s about you. At this point, she doesn’t know we’re talking to you.”

They order drinks. 

“What do you want to talk to me about?”

“We know you’re scheduled to head back to Seattle at the end of the week,” Alyssa says, “and we’d like to propose an alternative.”

“I don’t understand.”

“When we spoke at the house a few days ago, you indicated you’d be interested in attending medical school,” Alyssa says. “We’d like to make that happen for you.”

“Alyssa’s right. We have more than enough money, and can’t think of a better use for it than helping you achieve your goals.”

Abigail doesn’t know how to react.

“That — that’s very generous of you. Frankly I’m in shock.”

“We figured you would be,” Alyssa says, taking Abigail’s hand. 

“We don’t expect an answer right now,” Leah says. “We’re just putting it out there for you to consider. We realize you’ll probably need some time to decide what’s best for you.”

“Where would I stay?”

“You can stay at the house with Tim and me,” Alyssa says. “We both like the idea of having a med student around with the baby coming. If the idea of staying there for free bothers you, you can always help out around the house, though we won’t expect that of you.”

“This is just a lot to take in,” Abigail says. “How would I ever be able to pay you back?”

Leah and Alyssa laugh.

“We would consider this a grant, not a loan,” Leah says. “An investment, if you will.”

“Investment?”

“In your future,” Alyssa tells her. “We think you’re worth it.”

“But it’s so much money.”

“Trust me, we can afford it,” Leah says. “I’m in charge of our father’s estate and he left behind more than enough to fund several generations of our family.”

Alyssa touches Abigail’s shoulder. “Like Leah said, we’re not expecting an answer right now. We want you to make the best decision for you.”

“This is crazy. I never imagined something like this.” Abigail puts her hand over her eyes then takes a deep breath. “Okay. I’ll think about it. I mean really think about it.”

Leah says, “That’s all we ask.”