“But Mother is always dying.” Why had she ever let the call come through? “I'm putting you on speaker.” Gillian Ormsby clicked the SPEAKER button without waiting for her sister's reply. At least this way she could continue to flip the screens on the computer. Glancing at the clock, she mentally allowed Allison two more minutes before returning to the report in front of her.
“No, this time it is really serious. I can't make her get out of bed.”
Gillian rolled her eyes. Leave it to Miss Perfect Allison to hit the dramatics. “Look, you live twenty miles away and I live across the country. Surely you can find time in your busy schedule to sweet-talk Mother into doing what you want.” You always have.
“You don't need to be sarcastic. Just because I'm not a high-powered executive with an office in New York City. It isn't like what I have to do isn't important, with two active teenagers and a busy husband.”
“I didn't say that. But, Allie, there is no way I can leave right now. There are rumors of a possible buyout, and everyone is walking around whispering like someone died. Have you talked with her doctor? Surely if she is that bad, she should go to a nursing home to help get her back on her feet.”
“That's part of the problem; she doesn't want to get back on her feet. She wants to die. She says life here has no meaning for her any longer and heaven will be a far better place.”
“Mother said that?”
“And yes, I have talked with the doctor, but you know I don't understand a lot about medical things.”
“Gillian, please. She needs you.”
“Mother has made it quite clear through the years that she much prefers your company to mine.” So suck it up, baby sister, and live with it. She drummed her nails on the desk pad. “Look, I have to go. I'll call you back tonight.” She checked her calendar. “No, make that tomorrow night, I have a commitment for tonight.”
“What if she dies before then?”
Gillian closed her eyes and heaved a sigh. “Look, she's not going to die. She's threatened this for years. Every hangnail is mortal peril, you know that.”
“You haven't seen her, in what --- five years?”
Leave it to Allison to go for the stiletto. Although Gillian sent expensive gifts at the proper occasions, she'd not graced California with her presence in a long time. Surely, it hadn't been five years, had it? She counted back, using Christmas as the starting point. She'd spent the last one in Saint Croix, actually two of the last five; she needed warm weather by then. And while California was usually sunny in December, she'd wanted somewhere really warm and tropical to go along with it. One year she'd gone skiing, the first and last time in Vermont and the first and last time with Pierre. Since that debacle she'd sworn off both skiing and men.
That was three of the five. Where else had she gone? Oh, yes, one year she'd been home in bed --- with the flu and her own rotten company.
“Gillian, are you listening to me?” The strident tone jerked her back to the moment.
“Of course I am.” What had she missed?
“When are you coming?”
Gillian glanced heavenward as if hoping for deliverance. “Sorry, I have a call that I have to take. I'll get back to you.” She hung up before her sister could respond. Clicking on her intercom, she instructed her assistant to hold any calls from Allison and collapsed against the back of her leather executive chair. Why now? She really didn't dare leave, not if she wanted to be sure of an office to come back to. Glancing around the room, she focused on a painting she'd found at a local art fair and hung opposite her desk to help relieve moments of stress. The painting depicted purple wisteria cascading over a white trellis that had one corner of its arch in need of repair. Much like she did right now. The four-paned cottage windows of the cozy house at the end of a brick walk beckoned her in. She drew in a deep breath, held it to the count of ten, and blew it all out on a gentle stream. Her shoulders relaxed immediately, as did the tension pulling from the back of her head, through her scalp, and to her eyebrows.
Someday she would own a cottage like that, maybe as a summer place; it didn't matter on which coast. What mattered was the garden and the sense of peace that seeped from the picture into her soul. Digging in the dirt did that for her. Gardening was the one thing she had in common with her mother.
Surely Mother wasn't really dying.
Gillian flexed her fingers. Allie had been born exaggerating. No occasion was sufficient in and of itself; she always had to make it bigger and brighter, deeper and wider. Gillian stared at the computer screen where she'd been working on the proposal for a three o'clock meeting. The figures blurred, causing her to blink and blink again.
Her mother could not be dying. She was far too young and had always been robustly healthy. She claimed her gardening did that for her.
So what had happened to cause this, this manifestation of…of…of what? Granted even fingernail splits were traumatic to her mother, but she'd never taken to her bed before.
You don't have time to think on this now, she ordered herself. Get that proposal done. She pulled open her middle desk drawer and popped two squares of gum from the green box. Chewing vigorously, she focused on the computer screen. She knew the figures added up, but could she cut anywhere to reduce the bottom line?
The intercom clicked in. “Gillian, you have one hour.”
She'd asked Shannon to remind her in case she lost track of time. “Thank you. I'm sending this to the printer. Would you make ten copies and put them in clear binders?”
“Of course…You didn't have lunch.”
“I know. I'll eat a protein bar.”
“I'll bring you a bottle of water.”
“Thanks.” Shannon was the kind of assistant all executives dreamed of, coveted by the rest of the R and D team at Fitch, Fitch, and Folsom, commonly known in the business world as Triple F, developer of systems for data transmitting. Retiring early from her successful twenty-year career there was one of Gillian's lifetime goals. Early, meaning in five to seven years. Her other dream had died a lingering death, killed by time.
When her assistant stepped through the door, Gillian knew immediately something was wrong. Shannon had obviously been shoving fingers through her normally sleek coif.
“What's up?” Gillian accepted the fresh-from-the-fridge bottle of water and pointed at the chair in front of her desk.
Shannon sat. “I just had a call from my mother. They took my father to the hospital via ambulance.” She blinked back tears.
“And why are you still here?”
“Because you asked me to put the folders together.”
“I see.” This must be family intrusion day. “Then I suggest you hand the project over to Natalie and take yourself out the door as fast as possible.”
“And give your mother a hug from me, and know that we'll all be praying for your father.”
Shannon nodded and stood at the same time. “You're the best.”
“Get outta here.” Gillian made shooing motions with her hand and raised the water bottle to her mouth. Forty-five minutes until the meeting.
Halfway through the protein bar, the phone rang again. Gillian hit the TALK button.
“Your sister is on the line.”
Gillian stared at a water drop on her desk. “Put her through.”
Reading the long pause and deep breath correctly, Natalie responded, “Guess I was supposed to hold your calls. Sorry, I didn't know.”
“I know.” Gillian clicked the OFF button and stared hard at the blinking light on line one. If only she could glare it away. With an even deeper exhale, she pressed the square button. “What now?”
“You don't have to be snappy.”
“I told you I'd get back to you.”
“I know, but since then I've talked with Mother, and she said she hopes to see you before she dies. After all with even a minor stroke, who knows?”
Besides always being “on the brink of death,” their mother was a maestro at laying on guilt. “So, why doesn't she call me and say that in person?” Gillian paused. “A stroke. You didn't mention that before.”
“I know, but you know how private she is.”
“Yes, I'm afraid I do. So here is my suggestion. You drive over there and physically see how she is. None of this phone-tag stuff. If I were you, before I went, I would put in a call to her primary care physician and make an appointment --- for Mother, not for you. Look into this stroke thing.”
“I intensely dislike sarcasm.” She spoke in that hurt-little-girl voice of hers.
Oh, for Pete's sake, Allie, grow up. “Yes, well, I intensely dislike being cast in the unfeeling older sister role. Surely Jefferson could be put upon to haul his own children around for a change and not go hide out at the golf course.” Gillian knew she was overstepping, but at the moment, she didn't give a rat's nose. “Now, I have a meeting that I have to not only be at, but lead, so I know you will handle this with your normal efficiency. Give Mother my love.” She pushed the END button with a little more force than necessary. Heartburn was not her usual problem at this time of day, but right now, she needed help --- in the form of a crunchable tablet. Or maybe half a bottle of the liquid stuff.
Surely her mother hadn't really had a stroke and not told her.
The packet in the middle drawer of Gillian's desk was empty, so she pulled out the pill container from her purse, but that, too, held nothing but air. She'd reminded herself on the way home last night that she needed to refill it from the large bottle she kept in the bathroom. So much for keeping on top of things. Stuffing the purse back into the lower drawer, she headed for Shannon's desk. Surely she had a supply. After all, nearly everyone in the building lived on antacids.
If this was an indication of the remainder of the day, she'd rather just head home now.
Hand to her chest, she pulled out the drawer where Shannon kept her personal things, and in the back of the divider she found a beat-up roll of antacids with two tablets left. Only two when right now the burning called for a handful. Crunching the two, she returned to her office, turned her chair so she could stare out the window, and sipped water to wash the last of the chalky bits down. Relax. The words didn't get past her clenched teeth. Breathe deeply and exhale. Relax. Her shoulders were tickling her earlobes, not a good sign.
Think of your favorite place, see yourself there, and inhale the clean air. All the instructions from the class she'd taken on relaxation less than a month ago raced each other around the storm-laced trees in her once peaceful place.
Mind control was needed. Take every thought captive. The verse usually worked. Not today. Her very un-captive thoughts chased after each other wielding meat cleavers. The headache that she'd stretched away a few minutes earlier returned with a vengeance along with a partner, each of them taking up residence behind an eye.
She closed her eyes and returned to the deep-breathing exercises.
A tap on the door made her turn her chair back around and respond.
“Your folders are done.” Natalie clasped the stack against her skinny chest, her eyes huge behind her thick glasses. Another forewarning of unforeseen circumstances.
“The printer server is down—tech support is working on it. I had to do these on the old one, so the typeface isn't quite as clear.”
Gillian heaved another sigh. “Thanks for taking care of it.”
“But it's not perfect, you know.”
“I understand.” What she really understood was that only those who looked too closely would notice the discrepancy. Natalie had hawk eyes when it came to fine print. “Don't worry about it, all right? Just set them on the corner of the desk and then hold all my calls. You'll be gone before I return.”
“I could stay as long as you need me.”
“Thank you. But once this meeting is done, I'm heading home immediately.” To get rid of this headache if nothing else. When Natalie closed the door behind her, Gillian dug in her purse for whatever painkiller she still had in there. Obviously her entire purse and desk needed a restocking. She filled a glass of water in her private bathroom and prepared for her meeting. Hair, fine; add lipstick; check for mascara smudges. All in order.
She stared in the mirror. Surely her mother wasn't dying. Guilt dug like little needles under her skin. Of course Allison could take care of this latest fiasco.
One thing at a time. Get through this meeting and then think of Mother. If that were at all possible.
Excerpted from On Hummingbird Wings © Copyright 2012 by Lauraine Snelling. Reprinted with permission by FaithWords. All rights reserved.
On Hummingbird Wings
- paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: FaithWords
- ISBN-10: 0446582115
- ISBN-13: 9780446582117