Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Shape of a Woman

Chapter 1 

Cassidy's scream pierced my concentration like a knife popping a ballon. I jumped up from my laptop and was out through the french doors, leaping off our back deck and skidding across the pavers we had finished laying just before the storm. Realizing too late the freezing rain had turned them into blocks of ice.

In my slow motion fall I saw her laying there, and then my head smacked on something solid that sent a shudder through my body. I tried to reach for her but my arms wouldn’t obey, and I could only watch as a pool of red seeped away from me to join with another that crept towards me.

I looked up to see all the Christmas bulbs swaying wildly and then escape from their wiring to fall to the ground around her. They didn't shatter, but seemed to flutter and shift into a larger and more beautiful light that rose up and leaned over me to say something I desperately wanted to hear. But the pounding in my skull drowned out her words, and darkness overtook the light.

I awoke with my mother pressing a handkerchief to her nose as she clung to me with her other hand. My sister was leaning on the far wall next to my father, his arm wrapped tightly around her. His head was bent low and listening while she spoke softly into his shoulder.

No one acknowledged me. I felt as if I could float away but for the weight of their presence in my room.

“Please, dear God,” my mother was saying, and she began the Lord’s prayer. My sister sniffled into her sleeve.

“Here you go,” a nurse said, holding out a blue plastic cup. My mother took a few of the ice chips and gently put them in my mouth. Her cool fingers lingered on my cheek and I wanted to tell her thank you, but my tongue was numb.

A knock on the door startled everyone, and I saw Cassidy’s parents standing just outside. She crossed her arms in front of her, while he clenched his fists at his sides. Their eyes were red-rimmed and her mother had tears trailing down her cheeks. Her father looked furious, same as the last time I had the pleasure of his company.

“What do you want?” my sister said, moving to block their entry into my room. I knew they wouldn’t come in regardless.

“We just want to know when,” Cassidy’s father said.

“When what?” I wanted to ask but couldn’t get the words around the softball in my throat.

“I just want to take my baby home,” Cassidy’s mother said, wiping tears with her fingers and smudging mascara under her eyes. An unusual slight by a petite lady who was always trim and prim and proper. Even during the worst of the arguments with her daughter.

“No,” my sister said, “we wait for Eddie to recover.”

Gotta love my older sis, always facing down the bullies for me.

“Eydie,” my mother corrected, “would never forgive us if we … ” her voice trailed off when Cassidy’s father turned beet red, his jaw clenching so tight I thought he would spit out bits of shattered teeth.

And that’s when my father surprised the hell out of me. He went to tower protectively behind my sister, and I heard his voice strong and clear even though his back was to me.

“I want to take my baby home too. But that’s gonna be awhile so you’re just gonna hafta wait until she can decide what's best for her wife.”

In that moment I thought I’d slipped into an alternate universe. My parents had welcomed Cassidy into their lives the first time they met her, and laughed and broke bread with us at our dinner table at least once a week. I just hadn't ever thought he would defend the legalities of our marriage.

Cassidy’s parents never would. The picture perfect and uptight religious man and wife from a whitebread enclave in Tennessee, they only saw me as a brown-skinned dyke that swooped in and absconded with their daughter to Seattle. We got married, started our own business, bought a big fixer-upper, and then she died.

In that moment my heart broke open and my body convulsed in sharp, painful sobs. I didn’t care about the klaxons going off around me, the people rushing in and pushing my family out. Someone holding my wrists while another pressed a cold stethoscope to my chest. I didn’t care. I just wanted to die because I couldn’t live without her. And it was all my fault.

The alarms became one long flat note. Someone pounded on my chest and then another shouted, “Clear!”, and the electricity barely reached me. I was looking up at my Cassidy waving to me. I drew closer and realized she wasn’t waving. She was holding her palm out and saying, “No, you can’t come in yet.”

Just like on our wedding day.

Chapter 2

When I got home I was horrified by all the mods they had made to our house. Ramps for the wheelchair up to the front door. Much of Cassidy’s artistic and eclectic furniture had been removed so that I could wheel around without bumping into everything. The end tables held plain brass lamps that turned on and off just by touching their base.

My sister gave me the tour, showing off their handiwork. Dad had placed sliders in the kitchen cabinets that held all the practical things within reach of my chair. The downstairs bathroom walls had grown hulking steel bars that I could use to lower and raise myself from the toilet and tub. The hand-blown glass bowl and redwood vanity that Cassidy had brushed her teeth over was gone, replaced by a short stubby porcelain thing that hung from the wall and had room for me to wheel under.

I looked at myself in the mirror and would’ve given another pair of legs for some scissors and gel. The short, spiked quiff I had always worn was completely grown out, and my hair was combed neatly down and trimmed just above the collar.

“I’ll cut it for you later,” my sister promised. And then she showed me the downstairs den that had become my bedroom. It held a twin-sized hospital bed that could be raised and lowered, warmed up and cooled down. All at the press of a button. My laptop sat closed on a table that rolled over the bed or away.

Our pictures had been hung at just the right height. Me in my penguin suit and Cassidy in her wedding gown, surrounded in my arms, the sunlight showing off her blonde hair as she grinned up at me. Standing under the rainbows and drenching ourselves at Wailua Falls. Mojitos raised to an orange sun disappearing into a blue ocean. Our cheeks full of Luau pork, and the mango sauce she had laughingly smeared on my face (and me daring her to lick it off).

Cassidy’s urn sat at the center of my dresser, surrounded by white and purple pansies.

“Mom will be here in the mornings,” Sis said, ”and the caregiver will be here during the day to tidy up, make lunch and dinners, do laundry. I’ll be home from work in the evenings.”

“You’re gonna live here, upstairs in … my bedroom?”

She nodded. “It’s temporary, until you get better.” She pursed her lips, knowing I didn’t like it, not any of it. Everyone taking care of me, not giving me a moment alone. But that wasn’t the worst of it.

“Dad’ll drive you to physical therapy on Mondays and Thursdays. The counselor will come on Fridays, and we’ll all go to Sunday brunch after church.”

I wanted to scream. She grabbed the handles of my chair and pushed.

“Be nice. Mom spent all day cooking a welcome home feast just for you.”

She wheeled me into the dining room. At least the old barn table was still there, the one Cassidy and I had picked out at a quaint antique shop in Leavenworth. Minus a couple of the non-matching chairs to make space for my four wheeled monstrosity, my penance.

I ate in silence, picking at the food on my plate even though it was all my favorites. Corn on the cob, honey ham smothered in brown cane sugar, buttered sweet potatoes, and homemade Hawaiian king rolls. They talked about their days, each one trying to keep the conversation light and airy and above my anger that threatened to drag them down.

I managed a couple of desultory thank-you’s, and mom and dad took the hint and left me with a kiss goodnight as soon as the dishes were rinsed, dried, and put away. I thought I should feel some regret at their departure, but I was locked up tight, the key nowhere to be found.

Sis put a chilled bottle in my lap and handed me two wine glasses. She wheeled me out the french doors and onto the redwood deck. I kept my eyes skyward, watching a late spring sun settle over the trees. She opened the bottle with a pop of the cork, and handed me a full glass of white.

I took a big gulp.

“Slow down. You’re still on some heavy-duty pain meds.”

I didn’t care.

“Well how ‘bout that,” she said a moment later, looking towards the yard. “Beautiful, isn’t it? I don’t know who takes care of it, someone mom found. They’re never around when I’m here, but every morning we get to wake up to the scent of pikake and plumeria.”

I didn’t want to look but couldn’t stop myself. It was stunning, and exactly the garden that Cassidy had dreamed of. A small pond was surrounded by blooms of all colors. Grass spread out from the flower beds, and was neatly trimmed around rows of river rock (the pavers nowhere to be found). A tiny wooden bridge crossed the pond and ended at what looked like a topiary. Beyond that, the tall Redwoods bordered the property and provided shade in the summer and a wonderland in the winter. White lights wound their way loosely around the trunks of the nearest trees and followed the branches, stretching up like stars to greet the night sky.

“I'm gonna hit the sack. Gotta beat the morning traffic.” Sis put her hands on the push handles of my chair.

“I’ll stay here awhile,” I said.

“Uh, okay. Can you get in by yourself?”


She shrugged her shoulders. “Holler if you need help.” She plucked the bottle from the table, and wagged her finger at me. “But no more for you. Tonight that is.” She chuckled as she went inside the house.

I tried to take a deep breath, but my chest felt like a huge stone sat where my heart should be. Maybe it was the wine and lack of food, but the final surprise of the evening brought tears to my eyes. As darkness enveloped the yard, the topiary at the opposite end of the pond lit up with small white lights that framed the shape of a woman.

A woman that I had known well.

Chapter 3

“Here,” my big sister said, dropping a business card in my lap on her way up the stairs to rid herself of her work clothes.

The back of the card was black and had tiny fireflies floating about. The front was forest green, with a rainbow of flowers blossoming underneath white scroll lettering that read, “Little Nymphs Landscaping and Gardens”. I flipped the card in my fingers several times, until I realized the wine bottle in my lap was probably getting warm.

I wheeled myself out to the back deck and parked my chair, waiting for my sister to join me. She usually missed the sunset, and went to bed long before the lights came out. I fumbled with the card again, looking at the backside.

Fireflies, that’s what they must be, I thought. But I couldn’t get out into the yard to confirm what I saw every night, fluttering around the topiary.

Sis finally made her way out, a large plate of food in one hand and an empty wine glass in the other. She held out the glass and I poured for her.

“Ya know, that caregiver is getting better,” she mumbled around a mouthful. “Did you have some? I think mom’s been teaching her how to cook real kaukau.”

“Not hungry.”

“Seriously Eddie, you gotta eat more, you’re gonna get too skinny.”

“Bite me,” I said. It’s not like I can get up and go to the gym to work off all that spam rice and pineapple. Not that anyone cared if I got fat.

“How was work,” I asked.

“Oh, so you give a shit today.”

I shook my head, “nah, not really.”

She gulped down some wine and took the last bite from her fork. “Damn that’s good. You need to learn to cook for yourself.”


“You’re not gonna have a caregiver much longer if you don’t get back to work. Have you seen the bank accounts lately?”

I hadn’t.

“We need new product. You’re burning through the savings, and we can't make enough on our existing portfolio. I figure we got a few more months, then that’s it.”

“To my sister, the accountant,” I said, raising my glass.

“Eddie, can we please have a serious conversation?” She sat forward and tried to turn my chair towards her but the parking brake was another nuisance.

“Damn this thing,” she said. I just grunted. She wasn’t stuck in it all day long.

She got the parking brake off but I didn’t help as she fussed with the chair, turning me away from the garden.

“I have to go home. I can’t take the commute anymore. Rush hour on the five sucks. My plants are dead and my roommate is about to let out my room.”

“Okay. Go home.” I wasn’t giving an inch.

“That’s not how you treat ‘ohana.

My big sister, trying to teach me a cultural lesson even though our parents had left Hawaii before she was born.

“I’m sorry,” I said, without much commitment. She just shook her head and sat back, grabbing her glass and taking a sip.

“If I hear you treating mom or dad like this I’m gonna kick your ass.”

I nodded okay then turned my chair to look out into the yard. This was the latest Sis had sat up with me, and I wanted her stay long enough to see the lights and hear the sounds that accompanied them. But nothing. It was pitch black and all we heard was the chug-chug of the little motor that circulated the water through the pond.

Sis broke the silence first, standing up and putting her hand on my shoulder.

“You’re gonna need to fire the gardener.”

“No way,” I said to the dark.

“You need to start saving money. And get back to work.”

“The caregiver can go. She’s way more expensive anyway.”

She laughed at me. “Yeah, and who's gonna make your meals and clean the bathroom?”

She was being mean but I could be meaner. Instead, I stopped myself from saying the smartass thing that had popped into my head, and pulled the business card from my shirt pocket.

“I’ll call ‘em tomorrow, first thing.” I knew she was right, but I didn’t want to go back to work. Ever. They’d all just take pity on me, and try not to remind me how much better Cassidy was at running the business.

“Good,” my sister said before kissing me on my forehead and tossing me a blanket. “Maybe one of these days I’ll surprise you and move your bed out here. Sweet dreams Eddie.”

“You too Sis.”

It wasn’t long before the fireflies turned up. I wanted so badly to get up from this stupid chair, to walk out to the pond and over the bridge, to sit in the grass beneath them. But I was stuck here, and they stayed there.

I watched for as long as I could, sleep dragging me away from the dancing lights and the soft music that shifted and swayed around the shape of my woman. Her arms reaching out and waiting for me.

Chapter 4

The man at the door was just about my age, short and with a shock of bright red hair that curled about his forehead and ears. He wore ragged jeans and a dirty brown t-shirt that followed the contours of his muscles. His muddy boot laces dragged on the ground.

“Hey,” I said, holding the door open, “thanks for coming.”

“Sure thing,” he said, his accent easily recognizable in those two words.


“Yeah, and a bit a Scottish and French too.” He motioned around the side of the house. “I’ma bit dirty, just comin' from m’ last job of the day. I’ll meet you out back, yeah?”

“Yeah,” I said, and closed the door to wheel myself through the house and out to the deck. He was already pulling a few weeds from the flower beds nearby. He stood up and wiped his hands on his jeans as he walked towards me.

“Yer gettin’ round pretty good. How long ya gonna be in that thing?”

“It’s permanent.”

“Damn. That’s a friggin’ shame.”

He looked out to the yard and pointed as he spoke. “I can put in a wooden pathway to follow the rocks but not cover ‘em up. Easy work, just some two-by-fours, some planks and some paint. It’ll match the bridge, yeah?”

In that moment I knew I liked this guy.

He turned back to me. “Then you can be wheelin’ out there to thank all the little fairies that’re raisin’ the blossoms for ya. And if ya catch a leprechaun, ya twist his arm ‘till he tells ya where he hid ‘is pot ‘o gold.” He leaned back and laughed at the quizzical look on my face.

“I thought you Hawaiians had little people of yer own.” He raised an eyebrow as I sat there, silent as stone.

“Right,” he said, “no sense of humor. Got it.”

And then I knew I really liked him. I laughed.

“Eddie,” I said, reaching out my hand.

“Sean,” he said, shaking it.

“You thirsty?” I asked, “I think there’s a beer in the fridge if you want.”

“Sure thing,” and he sat on the deck to wait while I went in for the beer. There wasn’t any of course, and so I brought out a bottle of whiskey instead.

“Well I’ll be happy to take that off yer lap,” he said joking, because I’d placed the bottle and two short glasses just so, hoping not to spill any ice between the fridge and the deck.

He picked up the bottle to read the label, and whistled. “A man after me own heart,” he said, smiling at me.

I smiled back and let him pour. I took a long, slow sip and remembered just how much I had enjoyed those evenings with Cassidy after a hard day’s work on the house. The flooring had been the worst and the last of it. Once we’d got it all down and locked, and moved the furniture back in, we lay exhausted on the deck, sipping our scotch and watching the sunset through the trees. Holding hands, and me sitting up just enough to lean down and --

“Can I invite my sister over some day?” His interruption of my reverie made me wince.

“Your sister?”

“Yeah. I think she’d like to see the results of her handiwork.”

“Your sister,” I repeated.

“You don’t think I would’ve chosen ‘Little Nymphs’ for a business name, would ya?” He laughed. “It’s her doin’, all of it. I just follow orders and carry the heavy shit, ya know.” He took a swig, and lifted the bottle.

“Mind?” he asked. I held out my own, and he poured two fingers in each glass.

“Ah, that’s about right,” he said after draining his, “best way to end a hard day’s work. So, what can I do for ya Eddie?”

I drained mine as well. “I just wanted to say thank you. For the garden. It’s...” I paused, not sure how much to say.

“Cassidy would’ve loved it.”

“Yeah,” he said, “We were sad to hear what happened.” He lowered his head and I heard a sniffle, which made me start to doubt my fondness of him.

“We had our own patch a troubles near the same time,” he said, his voice low and soft. “Me mum passed just as we was startin’ here.” He pointed to the yard. “Aylish, my sister, she kinda used the work as catharsis. Poured all her sorrow into that topiary. And into the pond along with the pavers ya had. Hasn’t been back since.” His voice trailed off at that last bit of information.

“I’m sorry about your mom,” I mumbled, and let the silence between us lengthen just enough before asking the question that drilled into my skin like a mosquito.

“What did you do with the pavers?”

“Oh. Yeah. Aylish said we should use ‘em to line the pond. That way they’d wash clean and you’d still be havin’ some part of that work you did gettin' this place rebuilt. Sure was trashed before you came along.”

I stared at the pond. “You know this house?”

“We’re a couple blocks over. Grew up with the kids who lived here, a nice big Irish family. They all moved away to make their fame and fortune, and the parents tried their best. But they just got too old to take care of the place by themselves. They tried to sell but the market was so bad, they had to leave it to the good fer nuthin’ bankers.”

“Oh,” I said. “Another sad story.”

“Yeah. But you two came along and we saw you givin’ the care it needed, and we knew it’d be okay.”


“That’s why Aylish kept leaving business cards in the mailbox for your mum and dad when they come over to work on the house. They told us what happened, that you were in the hospital recuperatin’, and so we put in the lowest bid.”

“It’s all right,” he said when my face showed all my worry at his remark about the bid, “we didn’t lose much money.”

“And now?”

“We’re breakin’ even.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well, I can pay you a fair price for putting in that wooden path you talked about earlier.” He nodded in agreement, and we shook hands on it.

“Right, well,” he stood up and put his glass on the table, “I should be gettin’ home now. Sun’s goin’ down and I need t’be chasin’ that scotch with a hearty meal, thank you very much.”

We shook hands again and he left through the side yard. I pulled the blanket around me, to wait for the lights and the music to return.

Chapter 5

“Have you lost your mind?”

My sister never yelled but this was pretty close. I sat there and waited, knowing she’d spend the rest of the evening ranting at me no matter what I said. At least maybe she’d stay up long enough to finally see what I saw every night in the garden.

“I need that ramp,” I said, interrupting her string of Hawaiian curses that made their way from her mouth to my ears, accentuated by her waving the ‘Little Nymphs’ estimate in the air. She turned on me.

“You fire the caregiver so that you can keep the gardener and pay him even more money that you don’t have, to build a ramp outside. Help me understand why.”

She was exasperated with me, but I didn’t answer.

“Mom’s too old to take care of you, and I can’t stay with you any longer.” She paced across the room and then came back to get in my face.

“You have to go back to work, and that caregiver is the only person who can be here to help you do that.”

“I can take care of myself,” I said loud enough.

“You lolo wahine,” she yelled back, “no you can’t.”

“Yes. I. Can.” I was livid. My face was hot, and I gripped the chair arms so tight I thought my fingers would break. How dare she force me into being something I refused to be. An invalid, and the weight of the world on her shoulders.

“Shit.” She threw the estimate down, missing the end table, and stomped up the stairs to my bedroom.

“You can move out anytime,” I yelled up after her. I wheeled around, literally, and pushed myself to the kitchen, grabbing the scotch on my way out to the back deck, and then taking a good, long swig.

“Damn it,” I said to the bottle.

“Fuck you,” I said to the chair.

I took another swig, nearly draining all the liquid courage out of it, and threw the bottle into the yard. I missed the pond by a longshot, and the bottle rolled back towards the deck.

“Damn it,” I said again, and looked up to see the lights fluttering all around the topiary, faster than I’d ever seen before. The music that accompanied the fireflies was wild and crazy, matching the pounding in my chest and my head.

I wheeled myself as close to the edge of the deck as I dared, then locked the brakes. I pushed myself up out of the chair as high as I could go. And then pushed away. I fell onto the grass with a painful thud, and knew I broke the bottle with one of my legs because of the sound of glass crunching beneath me.

It took a few moments to figure out how to grab handfuls of grass and pull myself forward. When I got close to the pond I stopped, shaky and weak from the exertion, but still so damned angry at my sister. At myself.

I shimmied closer to look into the water. The moon was high above but I couldn’t see my reflection for the shadows. I pushed my hands into the cool dark wet, pulled myself over the lip and let myself drop in like a rock. It wasn't long before I started laughing. The pond was too damned shallow and I was a really good floater.

I flopped over and lay there on my back, growing cold and feeling incredibly stupid. Maybe I could drown in my tears, I thought. And then the lights appeared above me.

It sounded like the fireflies were talking to me. I lifted my head and shook the water from my ears, wanting to hear properly, but I still didn’t understand a word they said. They flew closer to me and I could see their mouths moving, their arms waving and the wings on their backs fluttering faster than a hummingbird.

I blinked and let my head rest back down, and just stared. They didn’t look like fireflies. In fact, they looked like tiny naked humans, and they could fly. They wavered in the air above me and then they all turned towards the topiary.

“She’s coming.” It was a melodious sound, but plain as day and right as rain. And I hadn’t said a word.

The tiny beings shifted to the edges of my vision, making room for something else much bigger and brighter, and it was as if a thousand tiny white lights swam over me and formed into a shape I had missed so very much and for far too long.

I closed my eyes for how bright she was, and felt something on my lips that reminded me of what I’d almost forgotten. She lifted away too soon and I saw her hovering over me, oddly translucent and shining, but always shifting and moving as the wings of a thousand tiny beings fluttered above me. They held the shape of her face, her hair flowing down her back, her fingers caressing my cheek.

“Cassidy,” I breathed, and she grinned as I wept.

Chapter 6

When I woke up, my sister bounded out of the chair and came to stand at my bedside.

“I’m so so sorry,” she cried. “I shouldn’t have talked to you like that. I don't know what the fuck was I thinking.”

It took several hugs before she finally stepped away, and I saw curly red hair coming up to greet me.

“Hey,” Sean said, nodding his head once in acknowledgement. “I keep that water clean, but ya really ought not to be using the pond for bathin’.” He laughed, and I chuckled at his laughter.

“I saw her,” I whispered, and then another shock of longer red hair came up to my bedside.

“Eddie,” Sean said, “this is my sister Aylish.”

My god the woman was gorgeous. Red hair, green eyes, fair skin, and just a few freckles sprinkled here and there.

“Saw the fairies, yeah?” The woman spoke with the same lilt as her brother.

I stammered. “The garden is, is magical.”

“Of course it is. But now you’ve gone and spoiled it. Sean and I have days of work just to fix the grass and the flower beds, thank you very much. And we’ll hafta drain the pond to move the pavers back where they belong. Here’s hoping you didn’t muck up the liner, but we’ll see when we get to it.”

She was smiling the whole time she was talking.

“I’m sorry,” I said, turning to my sister. “I was messed up. I’m really sorry.” My sister just nodded, her chin trembling as she wiped her eyes.

“You’re lucky I come by so early in the morning,” Sean said, “she was cryin’ over you something fierce.”

My sister hugged me again. “I’ll make you some tea. Do you want something to eat? What about you Sean, Aylish. Can I get you something too?”

We all shook our heads, and she hugged me one more time to whisper in my ear.

"I like him. Don't scare him away. Okay?"

“Well,” I said when she left the room, bothered by not knowing who had taken off my wet clothes and put me to bed.

“Your sister cares for you as much as I care for mine,” Sean said, poking my arm, “wouldn’t let me help get you settled. Shuffled me off right quick once we got you in your chair.”

I sighed, more from embarrassment than relief. I didn’t like my sister seeing my body, let alone my new found friends.

“Thank you. Uh, can you bring my chair closer, and hold it for me?”

“Sure thing,” he said.

I motioned them both away when they tried to help me shift from the bed to the chair.

“I got this. Done it a few times.” But once I was settled in, I let Sean push me out to the dining room where Sis had set a steaming pot, and cups for everyone.

“Oh jeez,” I said when I saw the clock. “Is that am or pm?”

“End of a lovely day and night, and day after,” Aylish said. I whistled.

“We let you sleep as long as you needed,” my sister said, “Sean and Aylish took turns keeping an eye out for you. And me.”

“You didn’t go to work?”

“I wanted to be here when you woke up. To apologize.”

“Nothing there for you Sis,” I said, now thoroughly guilt-ridden, and realizing she would always be there for me, no matter what. And I should have known that all along.

“I guess I am hungry,” I said.

“Oh yeah, I could eat too,” Sean and Aylish said in unison. It was like looking at opposite sides of the same coin.

“Right, I’ll order pizza,” Sis said, grabbing the phone.

“And I’ll get the scotch,” Sean said.

“Uh, none for me, thanks.” Sis looked at me sideways, like I was still crazy.

“No hair of the dog, eh?” Aylish was smiling.

“Think I learned my lesson.” I sipped at my tea, wishing it was something else. Stronger still was my wish to uphold my promise to Cassidy.

Mahalo E Ke Akua No Keia La,” my sister said.

“Huh?” Both Sean and Aylish looked at me and I shrugged my shoulders, unable to translate.

“ 'Thanks be to God.' Maybe now my sister will learn some Hawaiian."

Sean’s jaw dropped and Aylish said, “Uh”, looking from me to Sean and back again.

My sister rambled, “Eddie doesn’t speak it, and I’m still learning. Our parents do, but I haven't found anyone else in Seattle who knows more than a few common phrases.”

“Your sister? Oh,” Aylish said, drawing out the long ‘o’ sound and staring at me. “Yeah, well then. You’re a woman.” She turned to her brother and back to me, “I think Sean’s crush has just been crushed.”

“Huh?” I heard my sister say, in the same way as Aylish before her.

“Uh,” I said, looking at my sister, “I think he’s not the only one.”

The four of us exchanged stunned looks, and then started speaking all at once.

“You’re a woman?”

“You’re gay?”

“I’m straight."

“So am I,” Aylish confirmed after my sister.

“Well damn,” I sighed, shaking my head. “I could almost change my mind about that scotch.”

“Right there with ya, Eddie,” Sean said.

I think it was Aylish who started giggling first, and soon our laughter crescendoed over us, and then slowly faded away. Like the lights above the pond.

Chapter 7 - Epilogue

The three of them waited with me in my hospital room for the nurses to come with the gurney. I was nervous, and cold, sitting there in the gown they give you. My backside not quite covered as much as I would have liked, and the leather seat feeling like it was going to stick to my butt.

“Thank you for waiting,” Sis said. I nodded, knowing it had been a long, tough ride for everyone. Sad for having to shut down the offices, but I think the staff who remained preferred working from home anyway. Or their favorite cafe. Or my house.

We’d put out a new release that had taken longer than we wanted, but had finally gotten some traction as spring neared, and had become a consistently top-rated app during the summer and fall. Not a game, but an app that let people design gardens. It would measure the area they selected, and then they could choose from various landscape styles, flowers and trees, topiary and ponds. And more.

After they finished, the app would walk them through what and where to buy, and give them an estimate based on their location. It would also give them the name and phone number of the Little Nymphs if they were anywhere near Seattle. If not, then they got a list of names for gardeners in their area who had contracted with us to get onto our listings.

It didn’t sell like a game, and we knew it never would. But it was enough. And it was fun to work with Sean and Aylish, who helped me put in lots of easter eggs that revealed themselves when you did a certain sequence of choices. Which made it kind of like a game. And I really enjoyed the coding.

Anyway. They were here, my two best friends and my best big sister. Sitting in my hospital room, waiting with me to take this next big step in my life.

The nurses came in and motioned it was time.

“You ready, yeah?” Sean asked.

“Yeah,” I said, and scratched at the stubble on my chin. My voice was deeper than before, and I liked the way it sounded.

“Okay then, time t’ man up," he said. I nodded at him, readier than I'd ever been.

I hadn’t told them everything that happened, when I tried to drown myself in the pond. Nor had I told them what Cassidy whispered, before she kissed me goodbye.

“Be you,” she had said, grinning at me with that beautiful light in her hair.

Just like on our wedding day.

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