Chapter Two

dadkim

CHAPTER TWO

Francis
“STAGE WHAT? WHAT is stage O?” Brie opened her eyes and realized she had been napping and most definitely dreaming. Anger and outrage filled her being. Why did she have a positive biopsy? Brie had respect for those with knowledge, but after four hours at the mammogram center for a biopsy and a repeat mammogram, she was more than upset. Later when the anesthetic wore off and she felt one of her breast had gone to war, she was furious. One thing about Brie, she maneuvered quickly. Knowing she should be scared and before she would allow that to happen, she’d call her sister and Daniela, both nurses.

Phone calls and information needed to be gathered and evaluated; she would make a decisive plan with the best information she could obtain. Brie liked to think she would be in charge of her own destiny. Several days later the phone rang and the news was given to her. She exited her treadmill and saw it was the doctor through caller ID. Picking up the receiver she went into the closet, took a quick breath and said the shortest mindful prayer possible. Her body was frozen in place, shocked with the news. “What a busy world this is giving you awful news over the phone,” she said to herself. It can be a cold world and the phone was an easy way to convey doctor to patient information, she realized.

Daniela told her she never wanted to be on the other side, knowing what she knew about disease and that she’d seen so many people perish after receiving bad news. Sitting in her brownstone living room, she began to dissect her situation and formulate a plan after making numerous phone calls to friends, family and a previous business partner whose wife had died from breast cancer after just three years with a stage two diagnosis. Brie sat on her brown leather sofa and pulled the blanket over her just a little more, as the rain outside seemed to bring a chill inside. Savannah in November was slightly cool in the 60’s. Mostly just damp inside when it rained. The sky was completely overcast and gray, no clouds, just rain. Pity she hadn’t brought in wood from the backyard before the rain, as she could have had a fire to warm her. I must remember to do that, you know better Brie, she thought.

Rising up, she headed to her office in the front room, and retrieved her favorite notepad (a snowman with a smile), address book and pen. One by one, she made twenty phone calls over the course of three days and talked with these people and told them what had happened. She received encouragement and knowledge and thoughts of what they might do, if placed in the same situation, or what they thought their friend should have done. Disbelief coursed through her veins, she wished she had never had a mammogram. Stupid, she knew, but true. Now she was in the middle of this, navigating her way through it. Wondering when the tears would come, for this unknown territory Brie found herself in; she thought she should be crying or feeling worse.

Then she called her mother and told her the terrible news. “Oh, Brie, are you okay?” her mother asked. And then the tears came. She cried small sobs of pity for herself. “Oh, Mom, why me?” She swallowed hard and could not stop the stream of wetness falling down her face. “I’m so mad. Why don’t they have better treatments available and better outcomes by now? I’ll be calling Mary very soon, and she’ll give me the latest scoop on what to do. So far, what I’ve found out is they do surgery, remove tissue and then obtain clean margins and go back in until they get those. Treatment is then decided according to stage and lymph nodes, etc. and then radiation, chemotherapy if the MRI shows anything.”

“Your dad always said these treatments are so barbaric, giving poison to the whole body to kill a few cells. Someday it will seem so cruel what we did to cure cancer: making people puke, lose their hair, lose weight, have no appetite, and become jaundiced. What else is there though?” Her mother spoke with soft eloquence, which soothed Brie. Brie said goodbye after telling her mother she would get through this and be fine, she was sure of it. She crossed off the names on her list, and thought about the business partner’s wife who had died.

“Three years,” Brie said aloud and made a sad face. Then, taking her cute little snowman pad, she began to write what she wanted to do if she had three years to live. The concept to her was simple, if a person had not very much time to live; what would be important or fun, or both? This called for tea; yes, she wanted tea to drink while she thought of fun things to do. She made tea and returned to her office. These thoughts came quickly without hesitation and Brie wrote them down, one by one. First up was eat a perch sandwich with her new friend Daniela in Cleveland, next up was travel to St. Lucia, Barbados, maybe take a cruise, and go to the beach. She added to eat steak, peach pie, dance with a lover, go shopping, watch her nieces swim, go fishing with her nephew, visit a museum and maybe, this was a long shot, to fall in love. “Kissing would suffice if the latter never came,” she said laughing out loud.

Brie called her friend Jeanne and told her of her sickening news. She was supportive and Brie thanked her for her friendship and hoped that she could give a semblance of these encouraging words to someone who might need them someday. Then Brie shared her little list with Jeanne, wanting to show her that she didn’t want too many things in life, as life had been pretty good. Jeanne surprised Brie with these words. “Let me inform you honey, you’ve just made a bucket list.”

“Sweetie?” Jeanne questioned her friend. “You there?”

“Yes, I’m here, listening,” Brie choked out.

“That’s your bucket list!” Jeanne repeated.

“Oh my god, you’re right, it is.” Brie was stunned. “I didn’t intend for it to be, hmm.”

Later that day her sister arrived. At the front door she gave her a big hug. Kristen wouldn’t let go and talked to Brie up close, “I love you, and I’m so sorry this has happened. You okay?”

“I’m gonna be okay!” Brie exclaimed, as she was just happy to have her sister with her.

“Now, let me give you all the information you’ll ever need so you can make up your mind what to do. And then between you and your surgeon the right thing will happen. When is your appointment with the surgeon?”

“Next week. I hear he is awesome and has a great reputation; he’s even the chief of plastic surgery. He comes referred by professionals who work with him. I’ll be in good hands.” Brie convinced herself and felt relieved.

Cleveland

Daniela wasn’t sure what to do. She was filled with worry as it had been two months since she spoke with Olivier from France. He had been between missions and called her from Paris. He had told her he missed her and reminded her of their times together, that he wanted to see her and kiss her again. He thought he could come over and visit her at Christmas time and see all the snow in Cleveland. Daniela could talk with him for hours if she could, but the time change separated their daily life with a six hour difference. It was decided she would cook for him, and they would decorate a Christmas tree together, listen to seasonal tunes and watch the white snow fall that blanketed the ground. She would play the piano, and he could play the guitar, and they both could sing some carols. He told her that sounded divine, and she smiled breathing a sigh of relief.

That was the end of September and now it was November twenty-fifth, one month before Christmas, and she had not heard from him. His missions usually lasted six weeks, so Daniela had expected to hear from him two weeks ago. The weatherman predicted a November gale headed for Cleveland. With the lake chop already at three footers, most likely it was here and building. Daniela looked out the back window and eyed the crème caps; she took a second look, blinking her eyes, as they seemed to be out of focus. Turning quickly, she ran up the stairs and headed for the shower. Taking a deep breathe to fill her lungs as she realized she was a bit winded. Coughing, she held her hand to her chest and felt an internal rattle. Funny, she thought. I’m not sick. What is this? Glancing in the mirror to check her reflection before undressing, her skin was pale and she had dark circles under her eyes. “Whoa, brother, look at those circles. I am going to need some makeup for these pups, for sure,” Daniela spoke to her reflection. She pinched her cheeks and turned her head side to side, a shower will perk me up, if not pink me up. Hopping in the shower and letting the warm water run over her she thought about Olivier and smiled.

He’s going to be fine, I hope. She thought about all the sick people in the ICU lately with accidents, pneumonia and surgeries, possibly she was coming down with something herself. Maybe I should take my temperature when I get to work. Once before she spiked a temperature when she had the chills; she had no idea that it would be elevated, rather she thought, I’m just cold. She brushed all of this aside, as she didn’t feel very bad at the moment.

“Hey honey, have a good evening. Will you be home after work tonight?” her dad inquired.

“Of course, no plans and don’t wait up. You need your rest.” Daniela said in a rush.

“Thank you, sweetheart. By the way, have you heard from that pilot lately?” Dr. Michaels mused.

“Dad, no, I have not. Actually, I’m worried because he should have been finished by now.”

Daniela bit her lip, and hurried out the door.“Bye, later.”

Dr. Michaels reminded himself to talk with Daniela about trading in that jeep and buying a safer car. He also hoped that pilot would give her a call, to rest her mind, as he saw how happy she’d become last time he called. Her princess demeanor had lasted a whole week and her head stayed up in the clouds even longer. He didn’t think it was true love, but she sure was smitten. He also wanted to share with her his exciting news; he’d been dating a fellow doctor friend and he wanted Daniela’s approval to marry her. Just as Dr. Michaels headed upstairs, the phone rang.

“Hello, Dr. Michaels speaking.”

“Hi there, Dr. Michaels, this is Brie Kelly from Savannah.” Brie presented herself as rather sharp and friendly.”How are you doing today?”

“Very well. And you?”

“Good, yes, pretty good.”

“When do I get to meet you? Daniela has spoken most highly of you and the trip to the Loire Valley at the vineyard and cooking school.” Dr. Michaels was sincere in this request.

Brie smiled. He sounded like a fine man. “I would like to meet you and see my new friend again; she is so down to earth and friendly. I bet she is one fine nurse and the patients must love her.”

“You are correct; however, she has desires for more opportunities in life, so the trip was very good for her.”

“Yes, good for me too.”

“Maybe you two will have to take another trip.”

“Maybe,” Brie answered. “Is Daniela there? May I speak with her?”

“I’m sorry. She has just gone to work for the afternoon and will be home after midnight. Shall I have her call you in the morning? Or maybe you want to text her and leave a message?”

“Thank you. I’ll take her cell and leave a text, as I’ll be up tonight.” Brie took the number and said goodbye.

Later that evening, Daniela arrived home earlier than usual; informing her dad she didn’t feel well at work. Since the patient load was lighter today they sent her home. “I’m going to go lay down, Dad. I have a slight fever, no other symptoms that I can tell, just a little weak and that is probably from the fever. Maybe I’m getting the flu, though it is a bit early in the season for that.” Daniela gave her dad, the doctor, the full report. She poured herself a Sprite and popped an ibuprofen.

Once upstairs and in bed, she nestled underneath the covers and realized she was chilling.

There was a knock on her door. “Just checking . . . will you be okay?” her dad inquired.

“Thanks, I’ll be fine.” Daniela mustered a smile, but her eyes ached and when she blinked they stung a little.

“I wanted to tell you that the friend of yours from Paris called.” Dr. Michaels started off a conversation.

“Olivier called! Dad, why didn’t you say this earlier?” she said shockingly.

“Darling, it was Brie from Savannah, the friend you stayed with. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to get you excited thinking about someone else. She said she’d call you in the morning or you can text or call her tonight if you’re up for it,” he said rather concerned. Maybe he should try to find out if Olivier had returned to Paris, as this might alleviate concern.

Daniela’s cell phone lay on her wooden bedside table next to her brass and navy lamp. She sipped her Sprite but declined the phone call for the moment, instead pulling the covers from the bottom of the bed up and over her body to warm up. Daniela had put socks on and these were helping. Tired. She was tired. She began to fall asleep as the ibuprofen kicked in and her shivers declined. Smoothness settled throughout her body. Her cell rang in the morning, and Daniela picked it up, answering Brie’s call.

“Hello girlfriend, how are you doing?” Daniela was cheered by this call.

“Sweetie, I’m good, well not really. But first, you how are you?” Brie decided she’d not dodge this bullet at all.

“Actually, I think I’m sick with the flu or something since yesterday. I have a fever and I came home from work last night, been sleeping ever since.”

“You poor thing. Let that doctor dad take care of you, okay?” Brie instructed her friend.

“Okay, I will. What about you, tell me more. How is the totally refined woman from Savannah, the lady of leisure with no job at the present time? What is she doing with her time these days?”

“Breast cancer, that’s what I’m doing. Not a tumor, yet, but rather a large cluster of cells. So it’s been caught very early. I’m lucky, ha.”

Brie shocked her friend and herself with her bluntness. “I’m going to be fine, just have a few surgeries, not much to it really.”

“Brie . . . no . . . not you!” Daniela gasped. She didn’t know what to say. This was her friend and suddenly so many patient faces breezed through her mind she couldn’t take it. A small tear fell upon her cheek. Silence.

“Daniela, I said I’m going to be fine, and I mean what I say, period.” Brie felt her emotions through the phone and thought she should comfort her friend; she wanted truth from her, the real deal. She needed to know firsthand straight from the horse’s mouth, someone who worked in the hospital and saw these diagnosis and outcomes.

“Honey, I know the possibility of death exists for all of us at any time. That will not be my focus though, I am a realist. Life will be my purpose and outcome.” Brie said this with a smile.

“I’m so sorry. What can I do? Can I stay with you when you come home and take care of you?” Daniela meant this knowing she would need some help.

“That, I will let you know. My mother and sister will probably come and stay with me. Soon, I will have an MRI to see that it has not gone anywhere. You can also answer my nursing questions and give me the latest on this disease. And please, don’t sugarcoat it with pink sprinkles, okay?” Brie laughed for Daniela’s sake.

“Pink sprinkles.” Daniela smiled, and laughed lightly with her friend. That was her Brie; knowledgeable, tactful and joking, which made her appear fearless.

“Tell me, tell me, how is the Frenchman?” She couldn’t keep quiet any longer and wanted to know, definitely wanted to know when they were hooking up again.

“Brie, if I could find him I would share with you when and where but no can do.” Daniela coughed and coughed again. She felt the rattle and her head spun a little with that last cough.

“Daniela, I heard that and it doesn’t sound good. You must have your doctor dad check you out. Do that for me okay?” Brie thought she sounded rather sickly. Daniela felt her forehead, and she felt hot. She must take some more ibuprofen and drink; she was thirsty.

“Yes, I will let him check me out and I’ll take some meds for the fever and get rest, blah, blah, blah.” She felt a little winded but persisted to tell her friend she had not heard from Olivier and she was very worried.

“Well, honey let me see what I can do. I know some people in high places, people that can help me find out information.”

“I’m worried because he is supposed to come here at Christmas and I have not heard a thing. Maybe I should call the vineyard, maybe Marie knows.”

“Let’s not give it another thought; you know he is one resourceful man. He knows his way around the desert and the jungles of Africa. He’s been there so many times and all the good he does, no one is going to let someone like that perish.” Brie said. As soon as she said that word she cringed. “I’m sorry; he’s too good a man. Say a prayer and I’ll get back with you, okay dear.”

“Okay, bye Brie, talk soon.” Daniela uttered in a quiet somber tone.

“Bye sweetie, and get better.” Brie hung up and made a few phone calls to a couple departments, including her ex-husband’s office and the French Ambassador’s office in Washington. The third call was to the vineyard, specifically, to speak with Marie and Nicolas.

“Oh darling, I would so appreciate any info you can retrieve, and I’ll see if I can’t find the type of plane he flew,” Brie said. She felt confident she’d have something by the end of that day or the next. As she placed the phone into the receiver, part of her missed those days in the newsroom, when something was always happening, coming in from all parts of the world.

Technology had exploded these last few years with the internet and social media and cellphones; before, the newsroom waited for printouts via cable lines and broadcasts from
INTO THE VINES 43
afar. Either way, it was exciting to find out information from all over the world. These past few years after she sold her business and suffered through a divorce, she had engaged in women’s groups and volunteering and social clubs, she rather didn’t care for the latter. Too much gossip, not enough real times, real caring, their focus was on clothes and casseroles. A time and place for everything just not now.

Yeah, pleasing just wasn’t her cup of tea, unless she wanted to, then she might pour it on. She looked out the window and could see the river and the ocean meeting. Maybe she was bitter, tired of the red tape and the slowness which occurs in trying to achieve goals.

“Something is out there which I can put my name on, or become interested in and be a part of,” Brie said aloud to herself as no one else was here in her office. Glancing at the paper, she noticed a headline that said Senator Sawyer: No Re-Election, Retirement! He was not running for reelection, he was retiring to be with family, and go fishing. How nice. Good for him. Brie knew she wasn’t ready for fishing; one day just not yet. She pulled her hair up into a band up and away from her face and sat there contemplating; thinking and wondering why she was stirred, now, to do more. What on earth was she thinking? She should go out and meet a man; get married. Isn’t that what you should do by forty? Yes. No. “I want more, something more than women having tea and cakes and discussing which charity we should donate to or where to have the Christmas party or who was having a baby and where the shower should be and should we invite the men.”

She breathed and then sighed. Her mind wanted more, but more of what, she was uncertain of what to do. Why now when she herself had a personal dilemma should she get into the unknown? Surely, she was going mad. But something was making her feel compelled. She decided as she looked out the window again, and saw the huge freighter exiting the Savannah River and headed for Chile, Miami or Spain; she could face her own crisis, but found it necessary to put her energy elsewhere, not knowing how much time she really had. Brie stood up and decided to walk around her lovely home, her brownstone by the river, which she had purchased a couple years ago after her divorce. When her dad was alive, she had helped him run his companies before he passed on and now she remained on the board of several after the CEO and COO of these were appointed. There wasn’t much to do but attend meetings, make decisions and show up for the parties twice yearly, which she obliged and usually looked stunning. She had traveled more these last two years hence the trip to Paris and the cooking school.

The dark paneled walls throughout the first floor were reminiscent of a bygone era and she loved it. She always pictured living in something like this, so when she viewed it she knew she had found the right place. Large green ferns adorned the entrance way, with artwork selected by her along with pieces from her dad’s collection. She especially liked the hand painted piece with the bird dogs at the hooves of the horse with a hunter mounted atop. He looked so sporty, she thought. These were days of yore in the old south, days of hunting quail, pheasant, birds and deer, each had their own special time of the year. She guessed this picture reminded her of her father, and that’s why she liked it so much. Other than a few old pieces, she actually preferred some of the newer art and enjoyed going to a gallery just about weekly. Antiques were present along the hallway, as was the dining table and sideboard in the dining room. Her colors were burgundy and off-white with light green as an accent. Large white magnolia blossoms adorned the center of the table as well as fresh flowers in vases scattered about the house. Brie had a garden out back and grew many flowers as well as herbs and vegetables, even the magnolia tree had its place. Most definitely a home sweet home! Brie had gone to school, worked, gotten involved in politics, and married for five years. She started her own business, ran her father’s businesses, divorced at age thirty eight, traveled, sat on the board of three companies; and now apparently was looking for something she wasn’t quite sure what.

Well, she wouldn’t worry about that, it would come in its own time, probably sooner versus later. The phone rang and it was her friend from the paper, her former coworker with whom she kept in contact. “I’ve got the scoop, not positive it applies to you, but two planes were shot down in the eastern part of the Congo after departing much earlier from Nigeria. They lost radio contact and the pilot and passengers are presumed dead. The flight took off from France in the Loire Valley and fueled up in Algiers and then two weeks later fueled up in Lagos, Nigeria before departing to the eastern area of the Congo. The French press released that they were bound for the river in an apparent rescue mission, not disclosed at this time. It could be your guy, maybe. I’ll need more info, Brie.” Susan relayed her information and glad she could help her former boss lady. She liked Brie. She was fair and always made you see things in a new light; she had you looking at both sides.

“Thanks, Susan, not what I wanted to hear, but it’s a start to finding out where Olivier could possibly be,” Brie said logically.

“Brie.”

“Yes Susan?”

“One more thing.” She hesitated. “This happened four weeks ago.”

“Oh. No.”

“If you can give me the type of planes, then I can confirm more. Call me back, Brie,” Susan added.

“I will try. Bye.” Brie hung up and wondered who would shoot down planes that were bringing food, supplies, and hope to these deserted folks, wandering the desert either lost or trekking to outposts or villages. Someone, she thought, who wanted these supplies or something else.

“How despicable!” she murmured. She must call Daniela and warn her of the probability that his plane may have gone down. It didn’t mean the end just that a search party needed to be looking for him. The horrific part is that it had occurred a month ago. After all they had bid farewell on that grassy runway at the vineyard with skepticism in their hearts, and Olivier’s own worried look did not express confidence. He must have known how very dangerous it was going to be. Brie realized now what a wonderful thing Olivier was doing, saving a few lives at a time, which meant the world to those few, while the rest of the world tried to save millions with food banks and relief, he did his part; actually dropping the supplies and food he probably saved hundreds, if not thousands.

Smiling she knew what charities she’d be donating to this year; charities that contributed in some aspect to these children, born in areas to mothers who couldn’t take care of them through drought, devastation, war or abandonment, and by fathers who had to work elsewhere. These children deserve more, not to die on some desert or in the hands of rebels or militia. Brie’s eyes glassed up and her heart bled a little for the people this man was helping, the children, and now her friend, Daniela, and what she must tell her.

Cleveland

Daniela’s dad took her temperature and shook his head. “No work for you today.”

“What is it?” She reached for the ibuprofen and poured out two tablets.

“One hundred and two point six degrees, this is definitely a fever.” He looked her over to see if anything else stood out.

“Give me a cough,” he asked. Daniela coughed and there it was, that rattle, only this time it hurt more than last night.

“I’ll be okay, Dad, you go to work and I’ll take the pills to bring the fever down. If it’s still bad, I’ll go see someone tomorrow or you can prescribe me some antibiotics or whatever.”

“Seems to be just in the chest, have you brought anything up with that cough?” He felt he should be thorough, as nurses and doctors could be the worst about seeing someone to get better.

“No phlegm, promise.” Daniela smiled, took the pills and more Sprite.“I’ll call my friend Joy; she’ll come over and check on me, I think.” She did just that and Joy would bring soup over later on and check on her.

“There, see? I’ll be fine.”

“Fine, very good. I’ll call you later and come home earlier if I can.” Her dad smiled and left for work. Sitting up in bed, Daniela opened her bedside drawer and pulled out the letter she had written to Olivier a few days ago. She had not mailed it yet, secretly hoping the phone might ring and it would be him. She decided to read it again and then give it to Joy to mail today.

Dear Olivier,

Today is Thanksgiving Day, a holiday in America, celebrating the harvest and everything we are thankful for, like family, food and home? The settlers and the Indians sat at a table together and celebrated this harvest many moons ago, of course after we took their land from them. That’s another letter. Autumn is over and winter will be here very soon with snow and gray skies for months on end. My dad is at work, and he is dating another doctor, so maybe they’ll get hitched. I should have my own place, but there’s plenty of room here, and quite frankly, I’m not sure I want to stay in this small town. I know the world is full of big cities and I just feel a need to explore and grow more to see what’s out there. I want more opportunities than here is your life, this is what you can expect, this is all there is. I suppose traveling is where I should start, like the cooking school and meeting you. That was very exciting! I want to hear more of your stories and the places you’ve been to and the missions you do. I have tried to call you on your cell and have sent emails and I cannot get a hold of you. Where are you? Maybe, I should call Marie. Please come see me in December, as I’ll be waiting for you, to see your face again and hold you. I miss you.

Sincerely,

Daniela

Daniela drifted off to sleep after reading the letter.

Later awakened by the door bell, her head swooned as she stirred to sit up. She coughed and expectorated thick mucus, blood tinged, which gave her concern. Now she knew what was brewing and it wasn’t good. Daniela picked up her phone and dialed Joy at her front door and told her to use the key at the side of the porch and come on up. Joy entered through her door and upon looking at her furrowed her eyebrows as Daniela looked pale to her, a ghostly white with sunken eyes. “Good lord, what’s the matter with you?”

“Joy, I don’t feel so good either. I think, maybe, I’ve got pneumonia. I think, well, I know because I just coughed up red shit!” she knew this would get Joy’s attention.

“You know, you need my soup, let me go and get it.” Joy hurried to retrieve her homemade soup and crackers.

“Thank you Joy, yes, I’m afraid I need that and more.” Daniela coughed and quickly wrapped the frothy red sputum in a tissue. Shaking her head, her chest hurt immensely with that last cough, piercing like an arrow with a deadly tip. Daniela’s phone rang, it was Brie.

“Hi honey, how are you today, any better?” Brie asked. “Oh. Hi, Brie. I’m fine, my friend is here waiting on me, and she has brought me some soup. What did you find out?”

“Daniela. I do not have good news, but it is not terrible news. There will be more to come as I’ve got someone working on it for me. I’m waiting for a call from Marie and Nicolas, so I will call you when I hear from them.”

“Okay, tell me. What is it?” Brie breathed in and raised her eyes to look above her head to the sky, for divine intervention, something she inherited from her mother.

“According to radar, two planes went down west of the Congo River.”

“The Congo? What?” Daniela was using all her energy now and she felt faint.

“Honey, apparently Olivier and his other plane were on a mission to go into the Congo to retrieve prisoners.” Brie too, thought it all so much. Who does this she pondered. Olivier, a kind soul with a kindred spirit, that’s who. Poor Daniela, she was so in love, Brie could tell. She’d been there, done that before. “Sweetie, you know if anyone can get out of it, he can. He will be all right, I just know it. Don’t you?”

“Brie, do you think so?” Daniela asked very weakly.

“He will be unscathed.” Words she spoke from a silent calm shelf, a cupboard of hope filled with nourishment; where she found that she did not know. She had to leave her with some hope, a white blanket she could cuddle to rest peacefully. “And furthermore, get yourself better, very soon, so that you will have Christmas and decorate the tree like you’ve planned for so long.”

“Will do . . . Christmas,” Daniela whispered.

Joy returned with the soup and Daniela had dozed off. She put it at her bedside and saw a letter addressed to Olivier. Smiling, she knew her friend had met him in Paris and was smitten. She would ask about him when she woke. Joy sat in the chair and waited for her friend to wake. When she did she gave her some soup, feeding her slowly.

“How’s the fella from France?” She inquired happily.

“Joy” she said, lowering her eyelids. “I’ve just gotten terrible news.” Daniela coughed harshly and brought up large amounts of bright red blood, which she could not conceal from her friend.

“Daniela, let me help you. I must call your dad, this is not good. You know that.” Joy looked in her eyes and saw how glazed and fragile she appeared. She decided to take her pulse and feel her extremities. Thready, weak and erratic, her pulse was near a rate of one hundred and forty as she counted thirty five beats for fifteen seconds.

“Honey, I’m calling your dad, but first I’m calling the ambulance. Take some sips of this drink I brought you, okay Daniela.” Joy encouraged her friend. Something was happening here, probably pneumonia and affecting her heart already.

Daniela fazed in and out of a semi-delirious state and had a bad feeling whenever she woke. Planes go down all the time, but she had felt this way for a month, something inside her told her all was not right. She knew life was precious, she’d lost her parents to a plane wreck years ago. Her own body felt weakened, yet, she wanted to remain strong and find out from Brie tomorrow. She would have answers for her tomorrow.

Hold on Daniela, soon. She was glad she had met Olivier, she smiled and her eyes brightened as Joy looked upon her. Joy watched as Daniela smiled and seemed dreamy touching her heart across her chest, holding it there. She fell asleep. Joy called her dad and gave him the update.

“Dr. Michaels, something is not right. I believe she has pneumonia, and it is worsening by the minute. I’ve called the ambulance and they are on the way. Her pulse is one hundred and forty; she’s weak and has coughed up blood, a large amount.” Joy gave him her best nursing assessment and diagnosis.

“Joy, thank you. That does sound worse than this morning, she’s deteriorating quickly, she, must be in a weakened state or have a virus attacking her immune system. I’ll be waiting for her at the hospital, stay with her. See you soon.” Dr. Michaels said very concerned.

Joy texted her husband Jeff and told him of the situation. She wished Dr. Michaels was here just in case something happened before the ambulance arrived. Daniela’s color was worsening and her nail beds were turning blue. Jesus, what was happening to her friend?

Dr. Michaels greeted the ambulance in the ER. Daniela did not look so good. She tried to sit up when she saw her Dad, wondering what all the fuss was about. Realizing her skin was prickly and she altered between hot and cold with her fingers feeling numb, she just wanted to feel better. Her whole chest hurt, Daniela needed to lie back down.

“Daniela, you need attention and care that only the Intensive Care Unit can give. We need to see your blood pressure and heart rate on the monitor and watch your oxygen saturation. We’ll keep the oxygen mask on for now until you get through this. Does that sound okay?” Dr. Michaels could not believe he was uttering these words, he felt displaced like he was in a movie or TV show, and not telling his own daughter her condition. He certainly didn’t think when he left her this morning it would be that bad by afternoon, else he’d have stayed home with her.

“Thank you Joy, for staying with her.”

“No problem.”

“She’s very lucky to have a friend like you dropping everything and coming to her aide. You are so kind.”

“Thanks,” Joy said and gave him the letter Daniela had been holding. Dr. Michaels tucked the letter in his white doctor’s coat. He made a quick call to her uncle George, a widower due to the plane crash years earlier, as his wife was with Daniela’s parents at the time of the crash. George ran the local bar and so he felt he wasn’t the right person to adopt Daniela and care for her with his hours and all.

Dr. Michaels had been extremely close to the family for years, like an uncle, so he stepped forward and adopted Daniela at the age of twelve. She was twenty four and all grown up, but still living with him. She just hadn’t found her way and where she wanted to be. Daniela was admitted to the hospital where she worked and so later several nurse friends came around to check on her. It was a long night for everyone with Daniela mostly oblivious to her surroundings, thankfully. No, it wasn’t a full moon but it had started to snow.

Paris/Loire Valley

“Brie honey, it does not look good, we are so worried. But this has happened before, no communications for weeks and then all of a sudden he pops back into our lives. It’s the nature of his business.” Marie rambled on. “The air force is confident he is still alive, just being held somewhere deep in the jungle. They are working very hard to find him and feel, that they will, before long.” Marie wanted to be reassuring for her American friend and the friend of Daniela. She had not called her not wanting to get her distraught just yet.

“Thank you, Marie, and we should have faith, all will be well. Presently, Daniela, is ill and I just wanted to give her some assurance as she was expecting him at Christmas time. I guess that is not going to happen. Please be in touch, call me on my cell any time okay?” Brie instructed Marie.

“Please take care and give our best to Daniela,” adding in her very congenial tone, meaning every word so heartfelt. That was Marie, in person and on the phone, the ultimate mom type. Brie hung up the phone having misgivings about this whole situation. It just wasn’t right, her friend ill, her friend’s friend missing and she herself with a diagnosis she’d like to forget. Four or five months ago the world was right, bright and new, with beginnings. She found herself in the middle of a puzzle and she held the missing little piece.

Tomorrow, she would meet with her surgeon and discuss her fate, she knew she’d live she just wasn’t sure what she’d have done. But she had a pretty good idea. Instead she focused on Daniela and the handsome French man with charm she’d met. Good catch, she thought, a nice guy with morals, so she thought, and serving others in life with his missions. Yeah, he was a catch, Daniela told her, he could sing too. Funny, thought Brie. I’d like to hear him sing someday.

In the morning on the way to see her surgeon she called her old office and talked with the lady who was going through the same thing as her. She had three kids and a husband and was a bit younger in her mid-thirties, poor dear thought Brie. They both decided it would benefit them to communicate now and then and help each other through this bad news. They would keep abreast of the situation, they decided, and most definitely pun was intended. Both laughed.

Cleveland

Saturday night finally calmed down as it made its way into Sunday morning with some stabilization of Daniela’s vital signs. She was intubated at midnight and heavily sedated to tolerate the tube. Her arms were lightly restrained due to the sedation, as she was not coherent. Dr. Michaels stayed by her side except when he was asked to leave during the emergency intubation and deteriorating vital signs. Blood gases were sent, as were blood cultures and electrolytes, a chest x-ray was done, and an echo cardiogram was ordered stat. These would cover all the immediate bases to see where she stood. The chest x-ray showed a white out of both lungs, not necessarily pneumonia, but failure, possibly her heart was going into failure.

Dr. Michael’s and the attending discussed her possible diagnosis with what they had so far. She had come down with the flu or flu-like symptoms which rapidly progressed over twenty four hours. A cardiologist was called in to assess her heart due to the rate and slight enlargement on the x-ray. The echo was in progress. This was all too much for Dr. Michaels.

Savannah

Brie tossed and turned last night, getting up at one point and opening her window. She felt a little like she was suffocating, maybe it was the appointment and now dealing with what would happen. Too much dismal news, she guessed. She breathed in the cool mist from her window as the river had a heavy layer of fog on it. She was wearing her vintage nightgown, a white cotton low cut with silk detailing on the edges. It always made her feel heavenly as it was soft, worn and beautiful. She settled down and a peace set in. She could breathe again. Smiling, she felt stronger now and knew what she would do first thing in the morning. Then her phone dinged off with a text. A text, at this hour? It was Dr. Michaels.

Brie, sorry so late, I mean early. Daniela’s in hospital. Call me.

Brie texted back.

Dr. Michaels I’m coming to Ohio. Be there ASAP.

Brie scanned through her phone pictures taken in France from the summertime. She kissed a photo of her and Daniela in the Loire Valley near the river taken one day on one of their walks. “Oh, dear lord, she’s too young. What’s to come? You want her, but we do too. She’s too good for this valley.” Brie shook her head and kissed the photo, shedding a couple tears down her cheeks.

Upon wakening, Brie set in motion travel plans to Ohio this Sunday morning the end of November, having no idea what was in store, only that she really did care for this young girl named Daniela, who was full of life.

Departing the plane, Brie checked her messages and Marie had sent her a text.

Planes last seen headed for the Congo. No planes, no bodies, still searching. Maybe held captive/imprisoned. Can’t reach Daniela.

Brie sent a message back.

Oh, no. Sorry. I’ll tell Daniela. I’m in Cleveland to see her. She’s in hospital, ill.

It was late Sunday evening now, and Brie rented a car and drove to the hospital, meeting Dr. Michaels. There was a light snow falling, nothing lasting on the ground, so she could drive without a problem. But, if this continued, things could get wretched up here in the north. She’d been told by Daniela how mighty a storm could brew off the lake, anytime of the year, especially November and December. Dr. Michaels spent the night after the intubation and stabilization in the chair next to Daniela’s bed; along with all the equipment speaking their own noises as alarms rang for the nurses and their judgment.

He rubbed his eyes and decided to go get some coffee to wake up. He wanted to be there for Daniela after her echo this morning and to see what the doctors thought about her possible progress and/or outcomes. Geez, he couldn’t believe this was happening, it was a nightmare. Later returning with a second cup of coffee, the doctors on her case talked with Dr. Michaels and told him it was too soon to tell, these twenty four hours were crucial with the white out on her x-ray and echo cardiogram. They would support her with inotropic drugs and diuretics to give the heart a rest; but she may need further support if she didn’t turn around by tomorrow or the next day. They did not want renal failure or other body systems failing if the heart was giving out.

Dr. Michaels could not believe these words, so acute, so drastic and all concerning his little girl.Come on Daniela, you can pull out of this and he continued his vigil at her bedside, occasionally holding her hand and talking with her.

Brie arrived at Fairview Hospital and headed straight for Daniela’s room. It was seven thirty in the evening and Dr. Michaels was sitting next to her. Daniela’s eyes were open. She looked at her friend and Daniela’s eyes lit up and she coughed a little sending the ventilator into a temporary fit. Brie walked over to her and held her hand saying hello and smiling to both Dr. Michaels and Daniela. This would be a one sided conversation and she knew her friend wanted details, she could see that. Details, frankly, that Brie didn’t want to share. She set her belongings, including her phone, at the bedside table and sat awhile with Daniela and her dad. The nurses came and went doing this and that, taking vital signs and giving IV medications.

At one point they asked the two to leave so they could do some care and turn her and give her some sedation. The two of them headed for the cafeteria to catch up. After the nurses finished and left the room, Daniela noticed a cell phone on her bedside table. She wasn’t restrained now, and the sedation hadn’t kicked in as yet, so she picked it up. It was Brie’s, so she checked her messages thinking maybe she had heard from Marie or, just maybe, Brie had reached Olivier. Daniela began to read the text from Marie,

No bodies.

No she said to her mind, please no, please God don’t let this be true. She looked up at the doorway and Brie was standing there staring at her with Brie’s phone in her hand.

“Honey, I’m sorry. I wanted to tell you and I just couldn’t; please don’t give up just yet, there is still hope and he needs you to be strong.” Brie offered what she hoped were encouraging words.

Daniela felt dreadful, she wanted to run and hide to be by herself, but couldn’t go anywhere with the tube and all. She turned to look out the window, not wanting to see anyone. The phone dropped from her hand. She felt like giving up, like all hope was lost.

He probably was dead. She hoped he didn’t suffer out there in the desert, like some of the kids did. The awful stories she knew about, she hoped and prayed he went fast. She closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep from the medication and found herself out in the desert searching for his body.

Around two o’clock in the morning, when all was quiet except the machines doing their business; blowing oxygen into lungs, forcing sterile glucose water into veins at set rates, and nurses reading systemic blood pressures via arterial lines, measuring preload into the heart via central venous catheters, cardiac outputs via Swan Ganz catheters and Foley catheters measuring kidney function. No one saw the frightened look upon Daniela’s face as her chest squeezed with an intense pressure and her heart skipped beats; she floated for a moment before the terrible crushing pain stomped upon her chest like hooves from wild horses ten times her size. She crumbled and so did her heart. The code blue sent all the medical personnel into immediate action with swiftness and ease, as they were well trained for events such as this.

It was discussed whether to put her on a VAD (ventricular assist device) or whether her chances being so slim of survival, that only a transplant would suffice. After the code her organs as in kidneys, liver and heart were all in failure.

Questionable also, was her brain activity. At six o’clock in the morning a brain scan was performed on Daniela Michaels and it was determined there was no activity. The ventilator was sustaining her lungs and the cardiac drugs were keeping her heart at a maintained regular rate with periodic bouts of ventricular tachycardia, one ventricular fibrillation episode which required shocking her chest. Her potassium level was boosted with intravenous electrolytes and fluids while other electrolytes were stable for the moment.

The cardiac situation and instability were the most worrisome and now the brain scan was the final blow. Dr. Michaels lost it and began crying uncontrollably.

“Why? Her?” He shouted. Pounding his fists uncontrollably into the wall, collapsing against it; his pain was seen by the nurses and doctors and other visitors early in the morning this twenty seventh of November, two thousand and twelve. They kept a close vigil all day Monday and into the night, taking turns holding her hand and wetting her lips, whispering words of love into her ear.

Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Michaels knew it was over and the look in his eyes told a story of longing and of losing. Brie held Dr. Michaels around the waist and comforted him. He looked like he’d been in a bad storm as his eyes were red from lack of sleep, his clothes were rumpled from sleeping in the chair, and his hair had not been combed. The horror of it all was unbelievable. He felt like he would wake up, everything would return to normal and Daniela would be sleeping in her bed. He would then make her breakfast and tell her of his news to be married. He allowed Brie to take him home for the first time in two days and they would return in the morning to be with Daniela the last day of her life on Wednesday.

Tuesday evening a few friends and relatives gathered at Dr. Michaels’ home. Brie was staying there in a guest room. George was there and most people brought over dishes of food, casseroles and the like. The decision was made to have dinner with Daniela at the hospital on Wednesday evening, a celebration of her life, with her and for her on the last evening of her life. Then, later in the evening, the machines would stop doing their business of artificial living and let nature assume the reigns. They would play music; bring flowers, show pictures, and offer up exchanges about the departing soul. The hospital chaplain would attend this and offer further support. As much as they would try, and smile, this would be a festival of tears for emotions ripping through hearts as they would grasp unrealized dreams of a soul’s life gone too early.

The guests arrived at Dr. Michael’s’ house in several groups. The unassuming white-sided house from the nineteen thirties blended in on this street in the small suburb of Cleveland.

Actually, he wasn’t too far from downtown, but in a small area right off Lake Erie. He could see the water out the back window, and the snow had stopped falling leaving a small dusting. The lake was a beautiful, a silvery shimmer of cut glass. The setting sun cast a glow from the west in the sky with pink hues amidst light blue streaks of thin cotton shreds.

Yes, it was a gorgeous night. George and Brie began talking at the kitchen table and covered a slew of topics as the other guests set down in the family or dining rooms. “John tells me you and Daniela met on the plane, how nice.” He started off.

“Yes, and we were headed to the same place,” Brie fondly remembered their chance meeting, sitting side by side. “You married? Kids? Work?” he inquired. Brie raised her eyebrows thinking okay ask away.

“No, no, and no.” She wanted to laugh but in light of this somber evening of utter disparity, she smiled lips closed. “Divorced, someday and been there done that, will do it again soon. Is that better?”

“Smart as a whip, I knew it. Actually, Daniela told me all about you one day when she came by the bar and had a beer with me. She was smart too you know and had a great reputation as a nurse.”

“Hey, sorry, I’ve got a few things to work out and I’ll be back in the saddle as they say. Yes, I’d like to get married and maybe try a baby or two. As for work, I’m looking for something with more meaning, something that inspires me to be the best I can be. I don’t know I just want to feel more than going to work, making money, etc.” Brie continued. “Does that make sense?”

George stood up and acknowledged Brie, asking. “Would you like a beer?”

“Thank you, yes I would.” George opened them both a beer from the fridge and continued.

“I was divorced also, it is a difficult thing to get through, sometimes it is for the better and sometimes people never get over it. It could have to do with the type of person you are.”

“I can agree to that. I’m over it, I truly am. I don’t even have a need to talk it over or through. I’m pretty sure I was through with the marriage years before it actually happened. Anyway, soon, maybe I’ll start looking.” She smiled.

“And you?”

George smiled back at her, “What? Am I looking? I’m always looking dear, every day. She just hasn’t found me yet, but she will.” George winked at her.

“Oh, you are cute. I bet Daniela had a great time talking with her uncle. Did you fix her up or give her pep talks, take her to an amusement park? Tell me a memory.”

“I’ll save that for tomorrow if you don’t mind. How long are you in Cleveland for?”

“Uh, until Sunday, as I have an appointment on Monday.”

“Stop over at the bar, it’s actually a brewery, becoming famous really. I think you’d like it. Come and have dinner, it’s on me and bring John; he’ll need to get out.” George handed her a card.

“I will. Thank you very much. I guess we should go see how he’s doing.” Brie was so glad she came up to see her friend, for her and for these wonderful folks that loved her so. The funeral details had been planned, tentatively of course, but in reality it was probably a hundred percent that she would expire as she had no respiration’s of her own, it was all ventilator assisted. This occurred in brain death depending on the level and what functions were left. Her pupils were fixed and dilated, and she had no movement whatsoever; if not for the ventilator and cardiac support drugs she would have expired yesterday. There was no hope.

Dr. Michaels went through the motions talking, but not really there. Everyone left early and would be there for him at the funeral. Mostly, tonight was about dinner and just checking on him; just being here for a few moments to let him know he was not alone. He told Brie and George after the others had left he would be in the office for a while. He went there and began looking at an old picture album; he managed a half smile.

Dr. Michaels decided right there he was going to be strong, for his daughter; he would be dignified and be there for her. He was given this small amount of time, however divine, to say goodbye with strength and courage, for her properly. He went to bed.

A visitor looking upon the occasion happening in Daniela’s room was struck by the joy and devotion, and the melancholic merriment surrounding her bedside as there were balloons, and huge cards hung on the walls, and music being played. Her family was singing, dancing and crying at intervals. They dressed her up in the finest Saturday night dress, applied makeup, fixed her hair and pretended just for a few hours that she was still theirs.

This visitor swallowed hard, tears sliding down her cheek; she turned and walked away thinking how wonderful if only the young woman could see all of this. Daniela lasted approximately sixteen minutes as her heart and lungs expired; and the heart not wanting to quit firing from the medication, slowly until there was no more electrical impulses seen on the monitor in the young heart.

Saturday morning, the second day of December, in the chilled air with gray skies above, Daniela Karla Michaels, previously a Christensen, was laid to rest. Mourning the loss at the burial and sitting graveside were Dr. Michaels, Brie, George, Joy and Jeff, Francis Stauder and his grandmother along with two nurse friends.

“Family and friends we are gathered here to mourn a special young life taken in her youth, quickly and reverently so. Life is not guaranteed to be long and when death cuts the dreams and love from us, we are truly saddened. Her beauty and sanctity touched all who came across her path, for they knew upon encountering Daniela, her life was special.

Suffering losses early on, she rose from heartache and built life skills to help others. She was very blessed, as were we. Now we send her to you Lord in your caring arms and grace.”

The pastor bowed his head, closed his eyes, and solemnly raised his arms as to unite the gatherers. The little boy, Francis, placed flowers on the casket given to him by his grandmother. He sniffled and looked into the eyes of Dr. Michaels quickly before finding the gaze of Brie, who couldn’t remove the shattered display of emotion taking control of her being. Brie stretched out her arms to the boy and he came to her, and stood searching her face. Brie touched his cheek on one side. “She told me about you and how happy she felt; she wanted to know you, she felt a part of you.” Brie smiled, and tears rolled down her cheeks as the boy leaned in and kissed her wet cheek. Brie closed her eyes and felt touched on this cold gray day at the graveyard.

Brie returned to Savannah, a solemn trip home, listening to music via her iPod, one favorite after another.

Time to face the music, she thought, her own music. Her mother arrived Sunday late afternoon and sister, too. Tomorrow would be her surgery, December fourth, she knew all would go well, she just had a feeling. Her mother and sister had gone to the store and bought some groceries; essentials for post-surgical patients, things like clear liquids, fruit and juices, ice cream and soups. There was a bouquet of flowers on the counter with yellow daisies, blue anemones, and scarlet lilies which made her smile. “Flowers, already?” Brie stated. Her friend sent them with a card that read.

All the best to you Brie, you’ll do great,
tell your mother to call if she needs anything,
Anne.

At around seven o’clock Brie told her visitors she was headed to the church to visit father Kelly, her uncle, and asked if they would like to come along. They declined so she went and the one thing she wanted to do was light a candle and say a novena; a series of prayers destined for a specific person, dead or alive and/or a cause outcome for a person, that person being herself. She often said these at home but this particular time she wanted those holy walls, this sacred institution to give her more hope. Brie did not regularly attend church anymore, but loved the power of prayer. She felt prayer worked for the person saying it two fold, by releasing stress, and also sending out messages to the air waves, the angels. The person on the other end benefited too from the power of prayer.

She believed this and thought this does work; other long standing beliefs she questioned and just let them be. Her beliefs had evolved over the years and probably the Catholic Church would not approve, so she did her own thing. The church had quite a lot of trouble these last few years and she felt many people fit in her category. Just nobody was talking about it, at least not at church. She knew the women with children were always questioning the priest why they didn’t have music and more programs for the kids like other churches had. They never gave answers except this is the way it is! She was hoping the church would change and give way, except it probably had to come from the pope and since he was an institution, most likely it would not. It reminded her of a blind eye, you know it’s happening you just don’t look or see.

Oh well, as they say Rome wasn’t built in a day, so it will take more than that for change.

Baby steps, children that’s who will change the future she thought as she entered the old church. Leaving the cold bleakness outside and walking in to the church built in the eighteen nineties or so, it was very Victorian-like with dark wooden pews and floors.

However, light streamed in through the glass stained windows and gave lightness or hope to this grand interior. She genuflected, and said a few prayers before heading to the alter area and then off to the right where the candles, lit and unlit were kept. The echo of her shoes with each step gave her a grand and glorious feeling of importance, like an announcement ‘Here I am’ as she looked around, no one seemed to be here this evening.

Arriving at the candles she lit one and said her prayer, funny she had said novenas for others, never herself. She loved God, and knew he loved her. She also recalled a saying from the Dalai Lama. My religion is simple, my religion is kindness. Smiling and bowing her head these two beings influenced her simultaneously. Brie felt a tap upon her shoulder and turned she saw it was father Kelly.

“Hi Father, how are you?”

“Hello Brie, what brings you in here, this evening?” he inquired. She always surprised him, and he genuinely wanted to know the reason for her visit.

58 KIM TROIKE

“Father, I need to pray with you. You know, wherever two or three are gathered in my name so shall it be done,” Brie used that line way too much she knew, but she liked it. It helped to solve problems of hers.

“Brie, of course we’ll pray together. What’s the prayer for?” he said in a very quiet voice.

“Well, I’ve just lost a new friend, and she was very young. She needs a prayer and me too, as I’m having surgery tomorrow. I want it go smoothly, you know anesthesia and all,” Brie said. “I’ve had the dreaded diagnosis of breast cancer, caught super early, but I just don’t want to ever think of it again.”

“Brie, honey, I’m sorry. Your mother didn’t tell me this news. I just saw her last week over Thanksgiving.”

He seemed concerned. “Okay, let’s do this. Brie, take my hand. Wherever two or three are gathered in my name so shall it be done.” He began and she bowed her head, and prayed with him.

“Thank you so much, father.” Brie stood and gave him a hug. “I’m sorry, I’m not your perfect Catholic, and you can keep trying if you want. If you’ll still have me I’d like to hang on even with some of my views.” She smiled. He was her uncle after all so he knew her pretty well, and what she meant by that. He’d be there next time she needed him, or want him for something. That evening, her mother and sister shared a meal with her; the last solid meal for a while. They toasted with a glass or two of wine, the trips they had taken together over the last couple of years and to more in the future.

“To New Orleans!” her mother stated.

“To French food!” Brie added, “To St. Lucia someday!”

“Ya’ll, I’ll settle for the beach with the kiddos left at home,” her busy sister Kristen said, rolling her eyes with raised eyebrows.

Brie could feel the rush of people around her, moving her over from a table and talking, but she couldn’t respond. Oh, she was waking from her anesthesia, that’s right she had surgery today. Oh no, not joyous she thought. And then, the feeling, the pain crept in slow at first and then hit her hard. Yet she couldn’t do anything about it. I need pain medicine, where’s my pain medicine? This hurts like hell. Tears streamed down both cheeks, yet she couldn’t move. Then she heard someone say, “Give her some pain med, she’s awake.”

“I don’t want to wake up yet,” she mumbled. “There, honey, pain medicine is going in right now. Soon it will all be gone.” The next time she woke, she was in her room with her sister and mother. Her mouth was dry. She was peaceful and it was over.

“It’s over.” She smiled and looked around the room.

A day later she was home to recover and was assisted by her mother, sister and a couple friends. They waited on her, medicated her, fed her and assisted her to the shower the first time. She walked around inside and outside in her garden to get things moving along. The medication for pain was known to be constipating and she would have none of this. She spent her days up in bed and down to the chair in the afternoons.

After five days she took a shower and became faint and as soon as she returned to the bed, puked. Not pleasant. She definitely didn’t want that happening again. Between the second and third week Brie’s aunt from the north visited for a couple days on her way to Florida. She was sitting in the fireplace room, drinking lemonade-real lemonade which her mother had bought at the local grocery store just yesterday-visiting with her Aunt Lillie. Brie had just popped a couple of pain pills and would probably doze off in about a half hour or so.

Her aunt began talking about her surgery twenty five years ago. Brie knew she had a mastectomy, even saw the scar one year on a visit to her house; but never knew she had reconstruction and how it turned out. Not quite sure how it happened, but the next thing Brie knew she and her aunt lifted their shirts to show each other their surgical scars.

The moment was surreal, like is this happening with my aunt for real? Brie viewed her aunt’s breast and then she found herself lifting her top to show her the new incisions upon her chest. Like no big deal, she thought. Brie was smiling, laughing and curiously intrigued at this moment. She didn’t mind showing her newly incised skin, as it actually had no meaning for her at this time, except for no control. Here’s what they did to me; another statistic or the latest therapy. She had to accept it. What else was there? She would deal and find the way to be fine. This was a huge help, huge leap to see someone else who’s been there, done that, and doing fine. Brie knew in her mind someday surgery would not be the answer and progress would be more kind to the body; prevention doesn’t cure everyone. You know ‘shit happens’ to the best of people.

The medical community would discover a more gentle non-invasive way to cure or abate these cancers; like the body doing its own work and surrounding the tissue. Her sister told her of an article she read where humans have up to five cancers in their lifetime and the body wards it off, all on its own. Maybe that is why grandparents lived so long, they never went to the doctor, they just healed themselves. Possibly, they had it and died of unknown causes. Then again they walked everywhere and maintained a good weight. Aunt Lillie explained to her that she did not want to walk around with one boob, so she had implant surgery and hasn’t had a problem in twenty five years. This was music to Brie’s ears for sure, as she has heard of rejection and hardening. Then there was the time the manufacturers pulled implants off the market. Or was it the government? She wasn’t sure.

Aunt Lillie explained to Brie that back when she found the lump in her breast, her doctor was just going to remove the lump. She told him to take the whole thing as she didn’t want it to recur like it had in a friend of hers, who then passed away. Brie absolutely identified with this philosophy, so until they could guarantee 99-100% with less tissue, she opted for the full mastectomies.

What a word! Ouch, she thought. Boobs, well, they are associated with being a woman, femininity, motherhood and our sexual selves. Brie guessed she would have exploration to do. She wondered if she should ask her aunt that question, but left that one alone. She’d have to find out for herself. Brie went upstairs to nap, feeling refreshed from the lemonade and most of all, truly healed from her aunt’s visit.

Christmas Eve arrived solemnly, and a full three weeks since Brie’s surgery; things were going well. She would be able to enjoy the holiday, as they would attend church and return home for a late dinner by the fire. Church was always lovely at Christmas time with the pipe organ bellowing loud, and the choir sounds filling the air with familiar tunes, echoes of heels were not present, nor distinct; only people, pretty lights, decorations and wonderful familiar songs. Poinsettias lined the altar as did a Christmas tree over near the choir. They were dressed in their finest dresses and suits of red, green and black. The soloist tonight was wearing crème, or as they say winter white, thought Brie. She thought about her friend Daniela and her dad. She’d give him a call tonight at home. Brie nodded to a few of her friends. It occurred to her that people talk about these things, her cancer and such. “Oh fiddle dee-dee,” she mumbled. She didn’t give a hoot.

She genuinely felt at peace and the sooner she forgot about it the better, however, she had two more surgeries and multiple expansions along the way. June could not get here fast enough, she smiled, just in time to put a bikini on. That was when her mother and she noticed Ashley, at the same time, the dark haired beauty who reigned over Savannah. Married to the nicest guy in the world, she was president of two major clubs and put her business in your business.

Ashley gazed upon Brie and raised her left eyebrow.

“Couldn’t she just smile and say Merry Christmas,” Brie asked her mother.

“She isn’t made that way. She came out complaining, looking for fault and ridiculing those she feels are inferior.” She said adding, “She’s the weak one.”

“Yes, Mom, you’re right, but let us think Christmas and holy thoughts.” Brie sounded trite.

“You ought to start your own club, Brie, make yourself president and show her a thing or two on how it is done.” Smiling with big eyes, her mother half enjoyed this, thought Brie. It did make Brie ponder the idea.

The soloist began with her mother’s favorite Christmas tune, O Holy Night.

Once the three of them were home, her sister’s family came over for dinner. Just this year her sister decided to go with Brie and her mother and all join up later at Brie’s. Her husband spent some time at his first wife’s family and went to church with them. This is what families do when they have kids of divorce. Sometimes people separate completely, and then sometimes it’s nice to have children and parents all joined up for a special occasion. Brie had three things she needed to do besides help put out the dinner. First up drinks for everyone, second was to call Marie and get the scoop, lastly open the box from Dr. Michaels which arrived earlier today. The last one had her intrigued. The last one would have to wait until after dinner. While everyone had full plates sitting around the Christmas tree the phone rang. Caller ID identified it as Loire France, Marie Volnay.

“Hello, Merry Christmas!” said Tyler, answering the phone, somewhat perplexed.

“Merry Christmas! I’m looking for Brie. Tell her this is Marie from France calling,” Marie said quite cheerily, even though it was four in the morning.

“Brie, it’s for you, Marie from France.” Tyler always was amazed at Brie and her connections. So this was nothing new, but Christmas Eve, that was different.

“Merry Christmas Marie,” Brie brightened up.

“Merry Christmas Brie, I know you are busy with family so this will be short. I have good and bad news, so first the good,” Marie said hurriedly and joyfully. “Nicolas and I are getting married this June.”

“Wonderful! I’m thrilled for you two, just thrilled.” Brie meant it. “And?”

“Oh, Brie, unfortunately the French Embassy called saying they’ve seen a video and want us to review it. They believe Olivier and his team were taken hostage and are being held captive in the middle of Africa, in the Congo of all places. How they know this, is of course, secret.” Marie’s voice was cracking, as it was hard to repeat these words, even now when it had been earlier today she found out.

“What do they want?” Brie asked her. She knew these things from her news days, if they took you they wanted something, usually money, arms or supplies, or possibly, all three.

“I think he said supplies.” Marie was unclear as to what type of supplies.

“Marie, he’s alive. We’ll find him. We will find him.” Brie was thinking, her mind whirling, putting together all she had ever known in her past positions.

“Okay, Brie, you sound like someone I know, someone who’s missing, someone who always says it will be all right, just not tonight. I miss him and I miss you. Come to the wedding.” Marie pleaded.

“I would like to go back to France and spend more time in Paris as I have a few friends there and I’d also love to see you at the vineyard. I will come.” Brie just decided that one.

She hung up and returned to the festivities of Christmas Eve, her favorite night of the year. That’s when magic happened like snow and happy feelings along with presents, family and good cheer. The fire was roaring as her sister Kristen played Christmas carols on the piano with Tyler and the kids accompanying her. She and her mom, Kate, sipped their wine and listened. Brie carefully filed the informative phone call in her brain to think about it first thing in the morning. Right now she wanted to open gifts.

“Me first, grandma, I want to go first,” said Kristen’s littlest child. And so the present unwrapping began.

Meanwhile, Brie set about opening the box from Dr. Michaels, first reading the accompanying letter.

Dear Brie,

Merry Christmas! I sincerely hope you are well, probably recovering nicely from your surgery, the ambitious nature of yours setting in by now. You are one strong woman. Daniela told me she looked up to you immensely. She told me “I want to be as confident as Brie on a sunny day in Savannah in the summertime.” Choking as I write this, in her honor I am giving you a gift that was given to her recently by Olivier. She treasured it and wore it, even if she had no place to go. Please do not put it in a box, rather wear it knowing that when you wear it, you wear it in her memory. She smiles as it adorns the neck of a friend, and I smile because Daniela is out walking in the big world she loved.

Your friend,

Dr. Michaels

Brie opened the box and inside was this beautiful vintage black coral necklace. Olivier would know since he gave it to Daniela. It was pretty. At the bottom was another letter with a post it attached.

‘Daniela’s letter for Olivier she never got to mail. Will you keep it, Brie, and give it to him when you find him? Thanks.’

Okay, this was about all she could handle on Christmas Eve. She was happy and sad, dear God, this was too much. She would find Olivier and give him resolution.

Christmas morning was quiet as Ms. Kate slept in and Brie showered and sat at her desk in her study, thinking, and drawing up plans. Sipping coffee from her Spode teacup, to which she added a little Baileys, this morning being Christmas and all; she surmised this conflict, simply. She had a letter from a dead woman to be given to a missing man, and she now owned a beautiful necklace given by a missing man to the dead woman. What the hell was going on? What sort of puzzle piece was she?

Thanks for reading! Go to gardenlilie.com if you want behind the novel information about this chapter. You can purchase the print book (Into the Vines by Kim Troike) on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. I’ve decided to post just three chapters to get you into the mystery as I’m still pitching this novel. I’ll be posting a newsletter in two weeks; you can sign up with an email or just follow me here.

Photography, my Dad and I, courtesy of my brother Jon.

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