CHARLENE UNDERWOOD DEALT WITH death often in her job. That morning, before the call had come from Richard, she’d already told a patient and her husband that the biopsy taken the week before showed that her cancer had returned after a four-year remission.
She’d been so empathetic, so comforting as she offered tissue and pamphlets on support groups. The husband took them with one hand while the other hand patted his wife’s back. Sad news, but Charlene pushed it aside as she showed them to the door. Again, with sympathetic words of encouragement. Then her cell phone rang with a call from Richard Carson. Odd. Why would Richard be calling her on a workday?
She didn’t need to wonder for long as the shock from Richard’s words left her unable to move despite telling him she’d be right there. She stared at one of the photos on her desk taken at the end of her first semester of college. Four young women, laughing and beautiful, stared back at her. Were they really that young and innocent all those years ago?
A knock at the door brought her attention back to her office surroundings. June, her nurse, poked her head in the door.
“Are you ready for your next patient?” she asked.
“No. Cancel all my appointments for the day. For the rest of the week.”
“Is everything all right?” June stepped into the room and shut the door behind her. “Does this have anything to do with the news out of China this morning?”
Charlene started at her. “News?”
“That virus. I heard it’s vicious and spreading rapidly.”
Charlene’s eyes filled with tears as she shook her head. “Just clear my schedule for me. Personal matter.”
June nodded and left, which gave Charlene some momentum. She sent an SOS text to Jackie, hoping she’d see it before she started work for the day. Jackie had been traipsing around area wetlands studying the great blue heron for months now. Some research grant. She stood and took off her white jacket and removed the stethoscope from around her neck.
She thought about calling Wendy but stopped. Jackie could do that. She handled Wendy better than any of them. Thinking about the four of them caused her to sway and grab the desk’s edge to steady her balance. She glanced at the photo again. The four of them—innocent and carefree. Of them all, Roxanne had probably changed the least except for the long hair now short. Charlene, Jackie, and Wendy had gained weight and gone up a couple of sizes—nothing drastic and nothing unexpected after having children and going through menopause. Roxanne was the anomaly. Wendy’s auburn hair was sprinkled with gray but still thick and shoulder length. Charlene wore glasses instead of contacts like Roxanne, but her sandy brown hair cropped around her jawline had remained the same color, thanks to her hair stylist. Jackie still looked like a hippie only grown up. She hadn’t cut her hair, and it had remained dark, almost black and always wavy. She swore she didn’t do anything to it. They were all attractive women even at the age of sixty, but as always, Roxanne’s looks overshadowed them all.
When her cell phone jangled again, she nearly tripped over the legs of her coat rack, but she quickly recovered and came back to reality.
“Jackie, thank God you called.” Her words slurred together. “Oh, Jackie.” The sobs caught in her throat.
“Charlene, what’s going on? Are you drunk?”
“No.” The question brought her back to the task at hand. “It’s awful.”
“What happened?” Jackie’s voice screeched through the phone, and Charlene fought to compose herself. “I can’t understand a word you’re saying Is it Julia? Did something happen to Julia?”
“No.” Charlene coughed and cleared her throat. “Roxanne.”
Excerpt from The Grateful Fates by P.C. Zick
I hope you enjoyed reading this short excerpt from The Grateful Fates, which releases today on Kindle and in paperback.
I chose this day for a special reason–my mother was born on April 4, 1915, the fifth daughter born to a Methodist minister and his devoted wife. My mother passed away in 1998.
She spent her entire life believing she wasn’t worthy of much of anything, and she felt the world conspired to make her miserable. A forgotten fifth child who was displaced within two years by the first son, her birth occurred on Easter Sunday–the most important day in the life of a Christian minister. His sermon might have been interrupted by my mother’s birth, but the tornado that ripped through their small Michigan town might have caused more disruption. No wonder my mother always felt like second choice, second best. She was even the second choice of wife by my father who had been engaged to my mother’s older sister before my aunt broke my father’s heart and ran off with another man.
As a mother, she could be loving, but if she felt she had been slighted in some unknown way, she’d withdraw. A child doesn’t understand. But as a grown woman I have managed to forgive when I began to understand the trauma of her neglected childhood.
Writing about troubled mothers helped my maturity in accepting my own childhood troubles. While mothers aren’t the main focus of The Grateful Fates certainly their behavior toward their daughters has an impact.
Happy birthday, Mom. May you know that in my heart you have never taken second place. And may you rest in peace knowing you are loved and remembered.
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