Love and Loss 6

A few days after breaking things off with Lawrence, Lizette finally felt good enough to crawl out of bed and interact with her friends again. She decided not to tell any of them about her breakup because she didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for her, especially when Prudence was the friend who really needed support. 

As she splashed her face and put on some comfortable clothes, she had a sudden inspiration. Anxious to get their feedback, she FaceTimed Ellowyne and Rufus, who were available to talk.

“Hi, Lizette!” Rufus called out. 

“Hi! You’ve gotten a little fuzzy. Beard, long hair…” Lizette responded.

“Yeah, I’m growing it out. I want to sport a man bun while they’re still in style.”

Ellowyne joined the conversation. “But there’s no way he’s growing a lumberjack beard. Fuzziness has its limits!” She took a sip of her tea and asked, “So Liz, what’s on your mind?”

Lizette inhaled sharply. She felt a little twinge that seemed to warn her not to proceed, but she ignored it. “Well, we’ve both had experiences with Dr. Bantam. Ellowyne, what do you think about getting Pru to go see her? Be honest.”

Rufus and Ellowyne were gobsmacked. Rufus scowled and folded his arms across his chest. Ellowyne stared at her laptop screen, slack-jawed. Neither of them could say anything. 

“Uh, what do you think?” Lizette questioned. “Should we tell Prudence to speak with Dr. Bantam?” 

Rufus squirmed and bit his lip. 

Ellowyne queried, “Do you feel your sessions with Dr. Bantam were helpful?”

Rufus started to crack his knuckles. 

Lizette answered, “Well, I felt a whole lot better after seeing her. I mean, I was new in town and didn’t know anybody.”

Rufus took a couple of gulps of his tea. He looked as if he wanted to say something. But Ellowyne blurted out, “How long did you see her?”

“Oh, I’m still seeing her. We’re doing virtual sessions since we shouldn’t meet in person,” Lizette replied.

Rufus could be quiet no longer. “Liz, look. Ellowyne’s been seeing Bantam since middle school. She had her going up to three times a week. Chronic ennui. Yeah, right. Who can be in an existential crisis for eight  or nine years? Bantam never explored any other reasons for Ellowyne’s alleged ennui. I mean, she lost her mother when she was young! Maybe she was still mourning. Maybe Ellowyne was having issues from being a teenager, which is normal. Or maybe she was clinically depressed. Or had anxiety. But Bantam didn’t help her at all!” 

“He’s right,” Ellowyne admitted. “I meticulously kept my therapy journal but, looking back, I really didn’t make much progress. I pretty much felt the same year after year. Always sad. Always doubting myself. Always feeling bored and fatigued. Since I stopped seeing Dr. Bantam, I feel happier.” 

Liz was incredulous. “You aren’t seeing her anymore?” 

“No, she isn’t,” Rufus exclaimed. “Bantam saw Ellowyne as a cash cow.” 

Ellowyne frowned and nodded her head. “She called me not long ago, wondering why I didn’t want to continue therapy remotely. She asked about Rufus and suggested he might want to see her as well.” 

“It’s been really tough since my parents died, and I could probably use some grief counseling. But I question Bantam’s motive for getting me to see her. Seeing how Ellowyne has been and how she is now, Bantam didn’t help,” Rufus responded.

“I know that I’m in a period of massive change with our relationship, COVID, and Rufus’ parents passing away. But it hasn’t been because of Dr. Bantam,” Ellowyne pointed out. 

Rufus agreed. “All of the change that Ellowyne has made has come from her own spirit, her own heart, her own strength. I wonder if she didn’t make those changes, would Bantam have helped in the least? How much more therapy would she think Ellowyne needs?”

“I don’t know if you’ve seen this, Liz,” Ellowyne remarked. “But you know that cup of ‘tea’ she always drinks at therapy sessions? It’s Long Island iced tea. She’s usually sloshed by the end of the day.”

Lizette was taken aback by Ellowyne’s revelation. Dr. Bantam never drank tea at their sessions. Instead, she sipped what looked like water. Was it vodka? No, it couldn’t be. Dr. Bantam was too much a professional to drink at work. Ellowyne must be skirting the truth. 

“Well,” Liz murmured. “I think Dr. Bantam helped me.”

“Are you kidding, Liz?” Rufus asked. “The reason you got used to San Francisco was because you wanted to. Sometimes you’re still a little shy, but that’s charming and not anything you need therapy for. You made friends here. Good friends. People who love you like family. You’ve also been successful. You graduated magna cum laude and got into one of the best veterinary schools in the country.  But it was all you, not that quack Bantam.”

Lizette was getting irritated. “Well, I don’t agree with anything you’ve said, Rufus. Dr. Bantam helped me get out of my shell. I wouldn’t have you all for friends if I had never gotten therapy from her. I might not have even gone to college. Who knows? Dr. Bantam is NOT a quack! In fact, I was thinking of telling Prudence to see her.”

Ellowyne and Rufus were gobsmacked. Rufus said, “Prudence could probably use some professional help, but not with that incompetent, manipulative drunk.”

“I don’t care what you say!” Lizette retorted. “I got help from Dr. Bantam and I’m going to suggest to Prudence that she makes an appointment ASAP. Don’t bother messaging me. I don’t want to talk to either of you right now!”

Then Lizette slammed down the lid to her laptop, leaving Ellowyne and Rufus dismayed and confused.

Ellowyne asked, “Do you think we were too rough on her? I’ve never seen Liz so angry.”

Rufus was chagrined. “I’m sorry to have been so blunt. I think I hurt Lizette’s feelings. But she wanted to get our feedback, and I don’t think Bantam is right for anyone.”

Ellowyne nodded her head. “We both probably should apologize to Liz. We have such strong feelings about Dr. Bantam, and she probably had no idea. I mean, if she feels better from having therapy with Dr. Bantam, maybe Prudence should see her, too. It’s also possible that Dr. Bantam, while unhelpful to me, is effective with Lizette and might be with Prudence.” 

“I don’t know, Ellie,” Rufus responded. “You could be right. But I don’t trust Bantam. Therapy might be just what Prudence needs to get out of her funk. With someone competent who doesn’t drink on the job.”

“She might also need meds,” Ellowyne replied. “But Dr. Bantam is a psychologist, not a psychiatrist, and can’t prescribe any drugs.”

“Maybe Pru needs a thorough physical examination,” Rufus asserted. “There could be something else going on with her in addition to COVID stress.”

“You’re right,” Ellowyne said. “Have you been reading any of the online articles that discuss the mental health crisis due to the pandemic?”

“I have. You know, maybe Penn would have an idea for someone that Prudence can see, although he’s so busy I hate to ask him to do anything,” Rufus quipped.

Ellowyne knitted her brows. “I’m afraid it’s going to take a while for Lizette to talk to us again. She was so distressed while we were talking about Dr. Bantam.”

And it did.

To be continued…

Love During Lockdown 5

Lizette was beside herself with worry about Prudence. She had difficulty sleeping and found herself feeling morose. Sometimes it seemed that she no longer enjoyed Lawrence’s company, so she decided to broach the subject the next time they were together at the sanctuary.

She didn’t need to bring up the problems she and Lawrence were having. He noticed these changes, too, and he was concerned about Lizette’s tepid mood and how it might impact their relationship. Before she could say anything to him, he queried, “Lizette? Are you okay? Are we okay?”

“It isn’t you. It’s me,” she remarked, much to his chagrin. Lawrence had several relationships in the past and recognized this phrase to be the death knell to many would-be romances. “I’m just so anxious about Prudence and how sad she must feel. I’ve told you that she doesn’t want to join us in any Zoom meetings or video chats. She has isolated herself, physically and emotionally. She doesn’t do that! Prudence is always the liveliest of our friends and she’s always there to cheer us up, whatever the problem. I feel guilty. I’ve put so much of myself into being with you that I’m not there for her.”

“Lizette,” Lawrence responded. “You shouldn’t feel guilty for having a boyfriend. I’m sure there are times when she’s had someone and you haven’t.”

“Not really,” Lizette replied. “I mean, she’s dated Penn a few times. But then again, so have I. A couple of times, Penn has taken both of us out and called it a double date. I guess you’d called it friend dating, since none of us had romantic illusions. Now he’s seeing Amber but I’m not sure either of them realizes how serious they are.”

Lawrence asked, “So neither you nor Prudence dated anyone somewhat seriously while you’ve been friends?” 


He rubbed his chin over his mask. “What about when you had feelings for Rufus? Did that affect any of your friendships?”

“Not really. If anything, I envied Ellowyne but she’s such a wonderful friend that I couldn’t begrudge her being happy with the guy I liked. And she’s far better for him than I could ever be.”

“But that didn’t change your friendship with Prudence,” Lawrence pointed out. “Now, hasn’t Pru done things without you? Things that might decrease the amount of time she spent on you?”

“Well, she’s involved with sports. I don’t think of that as taking her time away from me.”

“But don’t you see, Liz, that it’s okay for friends to do things or have relationships in which other friends participate?” 

Lizette’s eyes teared up. “I’m sorry, Lawrence. I guess I need some time for myself. Let’s take a break.”

Lawrence was dumbfounded. He knew how close Lizette and Prudence were, but it saddened him to think that she should feel guilty for being in a relationship with him. 

The next day, when Lizette arrived for her shift at the bird sanctuary, she discovered that Lawrence changed his hours and they would not work together again. 

To be continued…

A Work in Progress 4

Amber woke uncharacteristically early after another sleepless night. The past few weeks–months really–felt unsettled and awkward as she was trying to deal with the various challenges her friends faced. First, Rufus’ parents died. She tried to empathize—something that didn’t always come easy to her—but it was such an unimaginable loss that Amber couldn’t wrap her head around it. She sent flowers and made an “anonymous” donation to the hospital in their memories. But was it enough? Was it meaningful? Second, Penn sounded exhausted, overwhelmed, and burned out by his experiences taking care of COVID patients. She wanted to see him, to hold him, and to reassure him that he was doing a wonderful job and would be okay. But, obviously, she couldn’t. And she didn’t know if things would be okay. COVID changed everyone’s lives and no one knew if a return to pre-pandemic would ever be possible.

Then Prudence was having problems. It wasn’t like her to rebuff her friends. In fact, Pru was often the one to suggest enjoyable activities and reacted enthusiastically if someone else had a great idea. She rarely turned down an opportunity to have fun. And she never shied away from conversation, whether in person or online. She was lighthearted, hilarious, affable, and thoughtful. Pru was quick to laugh and slow to rage. 

But the pandemic changed her. Gone was the effusive, enthusiastic Pru. In her place was a sullen woman who was socially diffident and withdrawn.

Amber didn’t feel as close to Prudence as she was to their other friends. They liked each other, but Pru got along with Ellowyne and Rufus the best. Then again, they had gone through middle school and high school together and relished being a quirky trio who banded together in their idiosyncrasies. Amber wasn’t their friend back then. She was part of the conventional, cool kid crowd. Interestingly, Amber had no contact with her so-called friends from the academy. But once she realized how horribly she’d been treating Ellowyne, Rufus, and Pru, she vowed to change. Eventually they, Lizette, and Penn welcomed her into their social circle.

So Amber didn’t have as much in common with Prudence, but she vowed to change that. She liked to give things to her friends. That was a way she showed that she cared. But were those gestures appreciated? She texted Ellowyne to ask.

Ellowyne was sewing face masks when Amber texted her. “I can take a break,” she messaged. “What’s up?”

“I have something to ask you and I want you to be honest,” Amber replied. “You know that I like to give things to people I care about. Like when I sent flowers to Rufus and made that donation to the hospital…”

“So it WAS you,” Ellowyne exclaimed. “Rufus and I thought so. And it was a truly welcome gesture. We appreciated it so very much.”

Horrified, Amber realized what she texted. “Ellowyne, please. Never tell anyone, especially Rufus, that I was the one to make that donation. I don’t want to be that person who gives only to impress others.”

“Don’t worry, Amber. You aren’t that kind of person anymore.”

“You know what? It’s fun to give anonymously. It makes me so happy to know I’m doing good with the resources I have. Even my parents have gotten into making anonymous donations. We have money and enjoy giving it to good causes.”

Ellowyne texted thumbs up. “By the way,” she texted. “What did you want?”

“I think I have my answer,” Amber replied. “I don’t want to go all Golden Girls on you, but thank you for being my friend.”

After the conversation with Ellowyne was over, Amber went straight to her computer to look for something that would be a good gift for Prudence. She thought about flowers. However, they were temporary and Amber wanted to give her something that would last longer than a week. She strolled into her family’s sun room, where they kept many plants. An orchid? No, too high-maintenance. A cactus? Too prickly. She did a search for succulents and stumbled across a site that featured terrariums. Perfect! One would require Prudence to do give it some care, not too much, not too little. Amber was about to order a ready-made terrarium online but she realized that creating one herself would give her a creative outlet and hopefully make it more meaningful for Pru. 

Amber found a website for instructions and a list of supplies. Her family’s gardener, Akito, always bought plants and other necessities at a garden center, which offered curbside pick-up during the pandemic. She found the perfect plants: maidenhair fern, pilea silver sparkle, friendship plant, frosty fern spike moss, and a pink polka-dot plant to add some whimsey. She needed a big glass jar with a cork lid, pebbles for drainage, substrate, activated charcoal, and some springtails. Amber crinkled her nose in disgust, realizing she needed to add some insects to her creation, but she wanted to ensure that the terrarium would thrive. Springtails ate mold, the  bane of enclosed plants, so they went on her list of supplies. Lastly, she wanted to add some sort of decorative object, maybe some crystals that might be meaningful to Prudence. She remembered that Pru said that clear quartz was an especially strong healing stone, so she picked out an obelisk that would fit perfectly in the jar. She picked out an opened amethyst geode because of it was supposed to be calming, balancing, and a way to ease stress. Then she chose several tumbled moonstones, but she wasn’t sure why. She asked Akito for feedback, and he agreed with her choices. He questioned Amber about the project because he was afraid that she would delegate the creation of the terrarium to him, but she assured him that this was her project. She placed an online order and waited to hear from the garden center when it would be ready. 

The supplies were ready later that morning. When Amber got behind the wheel of her candy apple red BMW convertible, she realized it had been months when she last drove anywhere. The streets were ominously empty. She didn’t miss fighting traffic but the deserted roads unnerved her. Finally she got to the garden center. As per instructions, she texted them to bring out her items. Amber was quite shocked when she saw all of the things she needed! Her car had only two seats, but the garden center employee put everything but the jar and the plants in the trunk. Plants went on the floor and the well-wrapped jar on the passenger seat. She gave the worker a generous tip and went on her way.

Once she was home, she took the supplies into the ceramic-tiled sun room. She spread out newspapers, pulled up the instructions for creating a terrarium on her laptop, and made sure she could get Akito in case she needed his advice. The smooth, tan pebbles were warm in her hands. She carefully put them on the bottom of the jar and covered them with the charcoal, which made her fingers black. She didn’t like to get dirty but somehow, she didn’t mind it while making her terrarium. Next, she added the substrate, which was made of coconut hulls, aquarium dirt, and earthworm castings.  Earthworm castings? She searched online and learned that they were actually earthworm poop! Eeeuuuwww! But she thought about Lizette, who always teased her about her “weasel poop” coffee, and she went back to work. Then she put in the plants, starting with the tallest one first. She had to be careful because plants for terrariums can be tricky and she only had enough of them for this one project. She could go back to the garden center but, in spite of being a beginner, she wanted to do absolutely everything right the first time. She went outside to find Akito, and asked him what he thought about the placing of the plants. He was surprised when Amber invited him to stretch out on the comfortable wicker chair and gave him a tall, frosty glass of homemade lemonade. He liked her work so far and agreed with Amber’s choice of plants. He suggested the placement of the plants, starting with the tallest one. Akito grinned when he saw Amber poke holes in the substrate. To think that the girl the staff called “Princess’ behind her back would relish the task of digging in dirt! Amber added the moss and thought she was almost done, but then she remembered her springtails. She opened the container of insects and tapped the bottom to get them out and into the jar. There were a few stragglers, so she put her finger into the container and flicked them into the jar. Finally, she placed the crystal and tumbled stones in prominent but not intrusive spots. She closed the jar with the cork and was done!

Akito was pleasantly surprised by Amber’s terrarium. It wasn’t store-shelf perfect like the premade ones sold at the garden center, but it was charming, personal, and thoughtful. In comparison, the terrariums from the garden center seemed cold and soulless. Akito, like all of the servants in the Stanhope home, was told to never, ever criticize any of them, especially Amber. But his praise was genuine, and his heart softened toward Amber. Perhaps she was changing, growing, becoming an empathetic human being. He made sure Amber didn’t see him shedding a single tear.

Amber finished the terrarium in the mid-afternoon, and she was so excited she wanted to take her gift to Prudence immediately. Akito helped secure it in her car, and off she went. 

She felt a little nervous when she got to Prudence’s home. Would she be home? Would she read a text? Would she answer the door? Amber put on her face mask, one made by Ellowyne, and rang the doorbell.

Prudence had slipped on a face mask before answering the door. Her parents once chastised her for not opening the door when a package arrived. That package had been taken by porch pirates. Prudence was quite surprised to see Amber holding a terrarium.

Amber was aghast at Prudence’s appearance. Her eyes were downcast. Her face, which usually glowed even if she wasn’t wearing makeup, looked dull. Her hair was stringy and unkempt, and she was dressed in shorts and a torn, stained t-shirt. She looked puffy, and Amber thought she might have gained some weight. Still, Amber put aside her initial feelings, handed her the terrarium, and said,  “This is for you, Prudence.”

Prudence seemed unenthusiastic about the gift. “What do I do with this?”

Amber gave her a pamphlet about caring for terrariums, but realized that Pru probably wasn’t talking about maintaining the plants. “I just wanted you to have this. I was thinking about you and somehow decided you needed these plants.”

Prudence sighed. “I hope I can take care of it.” She started to close the door but Amber stopped her. 

“I made it myself,” Amber stated. “It’s not much and it’s not as flawless as one you can get from flower and garden shops. But I made it, with love, for you.” She turned toward her car but Prudence called to her before she left.

“Thank you, Amber.”

To be continued…

Not All Superheroes Wear Capes 5

A few weeks later, Penn was reassigned to the ER after his stint in the COVID-19 testing booth. He went into nursing because he recognized the importance of treating the whole person rather than just the disease. He certainly wasn’t getting to do that when he was sticking a long cotton swab deep into someone’s nose to determine whether they were positive or negative for the virus. He also hated how rude and obnoxious some people could be. The incessant horn honking rang in his ears until he was about to go to sleep. The yelling, threats, and fists in his face triggered his PTSD, but he couldn’t take a mental health day. So, while the ER wasn’t a great assignment, at least he wouldn’t be stuck in that infernal booth anymore.

He went back to night shift, regularly working more than his 12-hour shift and coming in to work on his days off. Again he saw an influx of critically ill COVID patients. Dying patients. A couple of patients requested that Penn joined them in prayer. He wasn’t a religious man, but he prayed aloud if he was familiar with their faith traditions and silently if he was not. These patients reminded him of working on a wounded soldier and the chaplain, no matter what religion he or she practiced, would pray as a soldier died. 

There were plenty of other heart-wrenching stories. One man, minutes away from death, asked Penn how much his care would cost his family because he didn’t have insurance. Hospitalized mothers and fathers would ask Penn to FaceTime their children to say good bye, as would spouses or significant others. Penn thought about how Rufus’ parents died alone without saying farewell to him and he wanted to shed a tear—if only he had time.

Sometimes ER patients would be stable enough to go to the ICU. Penn helped transport one of his patients and marveled at the differences between the ICU and ER. It seemed like a luxury to be assigned to three or fewer patients per shift, and the atmosphere suggested a feeling of hope instead of despair in the ER. In the elevator down to the ER, Penn contemplated asking for a transfer but, once he hit the floor, he had no more time to think. 

Amazingly, Penn got off work on time for a change. At 7:30, he joined his nursing school chums, Beth, Judy, and Nancy for breakfast in the hospital cafeteria. 

“I cannot believe what we went through in the testing booth,” Beth stated. “We were cooped up, wearing full hazmat gear, stuffing testing swabs up people’s noses.”

“Some of the people got angry when the swab hurt or if we had to go deeper to properly retrieve any virus-laden secretions.” Penn added. “I had a couple of guys threaten to punch me in the face if the swab hurt. Got others who weren’t able to be tested try to storm the booth and beat me up if they had to be turned away.”

Judy nodded. “I was threatened with a knife by a man whose wife had moderate symptoms and was going to an isolation. He thought that transferring her out of the ER was a way to dump her because she wasn’t sick enough for continued use of the ER or ICU.”

“It’s those medical shows,” Nancy complained. “In some of them, they show a patient in the ER for their entire hospitalization. Even if the patient has surgery, they come back to the ER instead of a post-op floor. ER beds are too valuable to use for patients who can be treated elsewhere.”

“None of us signed up for this,” Beth grumbled. “Most days I wonder why I even decided to go into nursing. Sometimes I just hate it.”

Penn asked, “What do you think you want to do?”

“I’m going to get my PhD,” she said. 

Penn was baffled. “But don’t you need some practical experience first?”

“Nope,” Beth answered. “Nowadays PhD nursing programs don’t require any practical experience. In fact, they like new grads who haven’t been tainted by actual work in a clinical setting.”

Judy’s and Nancy’s goals were not quite as lofty as Beth’s. Nancy wanted to work obstetrics while Judy planned to be a nurse practitioner. Then they asked Penn’s plans.

“Long term, I want to join a medevac team. It’s the closest thing to what I did in the Army,” he responded. 

Nancy asked, “But is it a good idea? You went through Hell when you deployed to Afghanistan.”

“True,” he said. “But right now, I want some time off. At least a month, maybe two.”

Unfortunately, Penn’s casual wish would come back to haunt him.

To be continued…

Love During Lockdown 4

Lizette’s life settled into a comfortable routine—in spite of or because of the pandemic . She was able to get out of the house more than most people, and saw Lawrence on a regular basis. For such a long time, she looked for love. She had a huge crush on Rufus but her feelings were unrequited, even while Rufus pursued Ellowyne’s unattainable affection. Lizette was happy that Rufus and Ellowyne were in a strong, loving relationship. She was ecstatic and optimistic about her romance with Lawrence, who was both irked and relieved that Rufus was oblivious to Lizette’s overtures. Most importantly, he was as enthusiastic and overjoyed as she, and he talked about a future together when they started at UC Davis. 

Still, she wished that they could do normal couple things, like go dancing or to a movie or a nice dinner in a place that didn’t serve its food in paper bags. It would be so much fun to double date with Ellowyne and Rufus or Amber and Penn. She dated Penn once in a while, casually, of course. Lizette harbored no illusions that she would have a grand romance with Penn, and long ago, she figured out that Penn was secretly seeing Amber. Just looking at the way they interacted and the sparkle in their eyes convinced Lizette that they were far more than just friends, more than friends with benefits. To her delight, Lizette saw that sparkle in Lawrence’s eyes.

She wondered how Prudence was. Lizette had been so caught up with her relationship with Lawrence that she didn’t have time to text or FaceTime her. She figured that Pru, usually so unflappable and serene, would rely on her inner strengths to weather the pandemic. Still, she decided to call Prudence the next morning before she was to leave for the bird sanctuary. 

Pru didn’t answer her phone when Lizette called—not the first time, not the second, not the third. Lizette was worried and sent a text. There was no answer. Then she texted Amber and Ellowyne to see if either of them heard from Prudence. They, too, were troubled and they all made plans to FaceTime her later that day. 

Naturally, Lawrence was concerned about Prudence, even though he only knew her through Lizette. He noted how Liz was always empathetic toward her friends, and what a caring soul she was. He knew that Lizette would always have his back and support him to achieve his dreams. Lawrence envisioned Lizette and he starting a mobile avian veterinary practice so people wouldn’t have to take their birds out to an office setting. Maybe someday…

Maybe someday he would find the right time, the right place, and enough courage to tell Lizette that he loved her. 

To be continued…

Love and Loss 5

A few days, maybe a week went by. Ellowyne and Rufus cleared out one of the bedrooms so she could use it as a work room and a place for her to store her various sewing machines and craft items. He was happily building shelves and tables for her. She smiled to herself. One of the perks of living with and loving an engineer! 

As Rufus was happily hammering away, Ellowyne’s phone rang. When she saw the name of the caller, she told him who it was and that she probably should take it. “What? You want to miss out on measure twice, cut once?” he playfully asked. She smiled and said she’d be back soon.

“Oh, Dr. Bantam. Hi. Um, sure, I can talk a little while,” she said.

“I haven’t heard from you for a while,” Dr. Bantam said. “How are things with you? Are you still seeing Rufus?”

Ellowyne replied, “Actually, we decided to keep living together.  It seems the most logical step in our relationship.” She paused for a few seconds and added, “Did I tell you that his parents died from COVID-19 in Italy?”

“Yes, you did,” Dr. Bantam said. “How is he handling his grief?” 

“Better every day, thank you. There have been some intense moments but we’re approaching grief as a team.” 

Dr. Bantam didn’t answer right away. Ellowyne suspected that she might be quaffing her “special” tea. She also wondered if Dr. Bantam was trying to get Rufus as a new patient. 

She wasn’t wrong. 

“Now, Ellowyne, dear girl, if Rufus needs help, a good therapist, perhaps, do feel free to tell him to get in touch with me.”

“Sure,” Ellowyne said, nodding her head. 

“And you shouldn’t stop talking with me. I haven’t heard from you in a while and I want you to know I’d prefer setting up a virtual session with you. We could do that weekly.” Dr. Bantam stated imperiously.

“Let me think about it,” Ellowyne replied. “Even though we’re still in lockdown, I really don’t know when I would have free time.”

“I know,” Dr. Bantam said exuberantly. “I could virtually see you and Rufus together and work with him on his grief and you with your ennui!”

Ellowyne rolled her eyes. “I’ll let you know. Sorry, I need to go now. Goodbye!” 

She shook her head. Therapy was a good thing for many people. But it could only work in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Ellowyne had lost her respect for Dr. Bantam quite some time ago because she felt that Dr. Bantam was keeping her in therapy for the money. It had been years since she first started seeing Dr. Bantam, but there was no resolution to her so-called “chronic ennui.” In fact, her therapist seemed to enable her. And Ellowyne felt so much better without her tedious, soul-sucking sessions with Dr. Bantam. 

She walked into the room Rufus was renovating, and picked up the stud finder. She pointed it at him and said, “Beep, beep, beep! I just found my favorite sexy stud!”

They laughed as he pulled her into his arms. There was no more work on the room that day.

To be continued…

Love and Loss 4

A few days had passed since Ellowyne met online with their friend group to share the news about Rufus’ parents. As promised, Pru sent healing gemstone bracelets to both of them. Lizette and Lawrence, her new beau, brought by some groceries. Amber dropped off some of Marisol’s delicious baked goods. And Penn drove by with frozen chicken wings and pizza, as well as margarita mix and craft beer. 

Little by little, day by day, Rufus worked through his grief. He wasn’t quite so withdrawn anymore, and occasionally he texted Penn or his other friends. He even scheduled a Zoom meeting to catch up on everyone. One night he arranged for a COVID date night, complete with carryout food, fine California wine, and a pick of rom-coms Ellowyne would surely enjoy. Eventually he learned to laugh again. Right after his parents died, things that used to amuse him failed to garner so much as a half-hearted smile. But the clouds dissipated, and he found he could once again laugh at the little and great absurdities of life. 

He mustered up the energy to deal with practical matters. He got in touch with his advisor, who assured him that not only did he pass all his classes, but his 4.0 GPA was safe as well. Almost obsessively, Rufus went to work sorting through his parents’ personal affairs. The money, house, and property were willed to him as he was an only child. After virtually meeting with bankers and lawyers on Zoom, he learned that he was quite well-off because everything was paid for and he would inherit no debt. He began to determine what things might need to be removed or replaced. He and Ellowyne had moved to his parents’ bedroom, although he wanted to replace the bed and other furniture. Ellowyne wanted to redecorate the house, one room at a time. She went to work helping him clear out closets, sorting things that they might want to keep, items that she could readily upcycle, and stuff to donate to her favorite thrift shop. 

As Rufus and Ellowyne set about sorting his parents’ clothing, he marveled at how kind and supportive she was. She listened patiently every time he said he couldn’t believe his parents were gone. She was a calming presence when he was angry with his parents for going on their trip and getting sick. She was also there when he prayed and when he promised anything to God if somehow his parents could still be alive. 

As he gazed at her, he remembered the first time he saw her in middle school. He was attracted to her because she was beautiful and wore creative, eye-catching clothing. But what intrigued him the most was that she looked so sad. At the ripe old age of 13, he decided he would fix her and make her happy. Fixing things was part of Rufus’ DNA, and Ellowyne’s grandmother hired him as a handyman when he was still in high school. He figured that if he could repair leaky faucets and dings in drywall, he could mend almost everything, including Ellowyne’s ennui-ridden heart. He deployed what he thought were the tools of romance—flowers, gifts, and candy—and wrote gushy, sappy poetry that he would never share. He used to daydream about what it would be like to be in a romantic relationship with her but whenever he would try to tell her how he felt, she shut him down, often saying that she loved him as a friend, nothing more. He would be devasted that his efforts failed yet again, but a few weeks later, he would try again. 

He never could have imagined how a real romantic relationship with Ellowyne would be so different—and so much better—than his one-sided infatuation. He didn’t need to give her flowers, candy, or other gifts. He just needed to be himself and respect and accept her authentic self. This was good. They were in a good place.

That evening, Rufus asked Ellowyne an important question.

“Things are good between us. I love you so much! I could never get through my parents’ deaths without you. I don’t want to pressure you or force things too quickly, but, would you move in here with me? Permanently, not just during lockdown.”

To be continued… 

Not All Superheroes Wear Capes 4

Penn’s first day back to work after he had a few days off was nothing like he expected. He had hoped that COVID testing might be a respite from the mayhem of the ER. He could not have been more wrong. When he arrived before his 6AM shift, an endless line of cars snaked through and outside the parking lot. Penn put on a full hazmat suit, given instructions, and sent to one of several makeshift booths in which he and another nurse could swab the nasal cavities of pandemic-weary people waiting to be tested. He was glad to be assigned with his nursing school classmate Beth, thinking they could catch up when the pace eased. That was not to be. Dozens of carloads turned into hundreds. People who were already anxious about COVID became more irritated and agitated while waiting to be tested. Some yelled at Penn and Beth, some complained that the nasal swab testing was uncomfortable, and some blatantly lied that they had met the medical criteria to get tested. 

Three hours into their shift, Penn and Beth were scheduled to take a break. However, they were supposed to remove their hazmat suits before going into the ER staff lounge, and it seemed too much of a hassle for fifteen minutes of downtime. The two nurses chugged some energy drinks, scarfed some chocolate, and trudged back to their claustrophobia-inducing booth.

Three more hours went by. It was time for lunch, which was delayed because other nurses needed their meal breaks as well. When they finally got a few minutes off, Penn noticed a text from Amber. She asked, “How goes your day?”

He answered, “Much better now that I’ve heard from you.”

Amber replied immediately, “You are making me blush! Everyone is fine. I heard from Ellowyne and she said Rufus was handling his grief better. He is so lucky to have her support. Pru is all over the place. She’s doing a lot of online yoga and meditation, but she’s also been spending a lot of time on Facebook and YouTube.”

“Clearly, you’d expect her to be on TikTok,” Penn quipped. “Don’t her parents use Facebook and YouTube? Doesn’t everyone’s parents?”

Amber went on. “LOL! There is a little news. Lizette met a guy named Lawrence while she’s been volunteering at the bird sanctuary. He sounds perfect. He’s also going to UC Davis for vet school in the fall. Of course none of us has actually met him, although Pru got a picture from Liz. He’s really cute. I thought Ellowyne was the only person who would fall in love during the pandemic, but there goes Lizette!” 

Penn looked at the time and realized he needed to end their conversation. “I have to let you go for now. Go ahead and text if you’d like, but I won’t be able to answer right away. Thanks for the conversation. I really appreciate it.”

Amber responded, “Thank you! Let’s touch base again when we can.”

Penn’s spirits were buoyed from his talk with Amber, enough so that the next few hours were bearable. Beth noticed his upbeat mood and asked, “Is that your girlfriend?”

“Girlfriend? We’re close but not dating.” Then Penn confessed, “We have an arrangement. Friends with benefits.”

Underneath her hazmat gear, Beth smiled ruefully. “In nursing school, who has time for a real relationship?”

And the deluge of cars continued. Six o’clock in the evening could not come sooner for all of the testers. Security cut off cars that weren’t already in the lot, and the nurses could hear horns blowing and angry, shouted threats of violence. 

Then the supply of test kits was drained, and people inside the lot, people who had waited for hours were unable to be tested. The resulting squalor reminded Penn of being in combat. His pulse quickened, his stomach rocked, and he felt woozy. He remembered the breathing exercises Pru once taught him, and told himself he would be alright. Eventually he was.

To be continued…

A Work in Progress 3

Amber felt numb. The death of Rufus’ parents from COVID-19 made the pandemic so real and no longer an abstraction. Sickness and death from the virus happened to other people, not the parents of a good friend. She wasn’t sure what to do. She sent flowers and cards to Rufus and Ellowyne, and arranged for a home meal delivery service to make suppertime easier. Amber also made a donation in their names to the hospital at which Penn worked. Yet, there was something missing.  

The next day, she dragged herself into the kitchen for breakfast. She stared at her chocolate croissant and what Lizette always called her “weasel poop” coffee. 

Marisol took note of Amber’s distress. “Señorita, you seem so sad today. What can I do to help you?”

Amber burst into tears. “Marisol, I just don’t know how to deal with the death of my friend’s parents. I’ve done some practical things that should help but my gestures feel hollow. Inadequate. And I don’t know what I should do to make them feel meaningful.”

Marisol put her arm around Amber, who turned, embraced her, and cried onto her shoulder. Amber sobbed, “I don’t know what to do! And I’m afraid, really afraid. I mean, Rufus’ parents and the people Penn takes care of in the ER. He gets exposed to COVID every shift. He might be the next to get sick. Or die.”

“Shhhhh, Señorita. Va a estar bien. No te preocupes.”

“Gracias,” Amber replied. “You’re right. It will be okay. And I shouldn’t worry. It’s futile and wastes time. I’ll text my friends later today. Thank you for listening.”

“De nada.”

Later that day, Amber got a text from Penn. “I have the day off! Do you have time for a FaceTime chat?” he asked.

“Yes! How have you been?”

“Welp,” he said. “It’s busy. And it’s overwhelming. Oh, please thank you and your parents for the ‘anonymous’ donation for PPE. There were a few days in which we had to wear masks many days in a row, even though we were supposed to change them daily, even more often when treating really sick patients. We also appreciated you all sending us coffee and doughnuts, and sub sandwiches and pizza.”

She asked, “How did you know the donations were from us if they were ‘anonymous’?”

Penn chuckled when he responded. “Because that’s the kind of thing your family always does.” 

“You know, there was a time when my family craved the attention. We wanted to be seen at the best parties, the most prestigious events, the most elaborate events. Then things changed. It’s a lot more fun to be anonymous and stealthy. But there will be at least one donation that will be anonymous but in the memory of Rufus’ parents. It’s earmarked for COVID treatment and testing, and supplies like PPE.”

“That’s a great cause,” Penn replied. “I’m sure the donation will be greatly appreciated. Which reminds me, have you heard from Ellowyne or Rufus lately?”

Amber felt chagrined to admit that she hadn’t been in touch recently, mostly because she didn’t want to be a bother. 

“Oh, Amber,” Penn said. “You’re not a bother! I’m sure they’d appreciate a call or a chat. I need to get in touch with Rufus. Vaccine trials are beginning, and he told me he’d be interested in participating.”

“Can you participate in the clinical trials?” Amber asked.

“No. The hospital considers me as more valuable as a working nurse than as a test subject. Besides, I get exposed to COVID all the time. It would be difficult to tell if the vaccine produced an increased antibody response or if I had been exposed but didn’t have symptoms. Hey, you want to hear a great story from my days as a medic?”


“Well, when it was flu season, the Army wanted all its soldiers vaccinated. The other medic and I were busy with some instruction that day, so neither of us was available. The chaplain wanted to get his vaccination and the sergeant gave him an option: wait for one of us or have the sergeant, who rarely gives injections, administer it. Apparently the chappie, who rarely used salty language, cursed a blue streak even before the vaccination was done!”

Amber laughed so hard she almost snorted her iced tea out of her nose. “Penn, you are a nut!” She paused briefly, then said, “I miss you.”

“I miss you, too,” Penn replied. “I’m going to be so glad to see you when this is all over.”

“How much longer do you think the pandemic will last?”

“I wish I knew,” Penn answered. I thought it was going to be just a few weeks but there’s no sign of this letting up. You have heard that we’re not walking at graduation, right?”

“Yeah. The schools are trying to decide if our classes will be on campus or online, or if we’ll have a delayed start. I’ve also heard that some classes will be cancelled for the semester,” she said dejectedly.  “But now you’re done with your courses since you’re working at the hospital. Any word on when you’re taking your licensing exam?”

Penn sneered. “We’re supposed to get time off so we can study for the test, but so far that hasn’t happened. I haven’t had the time to study, much less take practice tests or get tutoring if we need it. The tests are done online, and they give you a minimum of 75 questions. If you’ve passed, they turn off the test. But if you fail, they also turn it off, probably because the great gods of testing want us to suffer while we wait for results. Oh, and they will give you questions categorized by clinical area, so you might have mostly mental health questions or medical-surgical specialty questions—but no questions on obstetrics or pediatrics or other areas. What I need is a couple of weeks, holed up in my room, drinking beer, and studying. I’m sorry. I hope I’m not boring you!”

“Penn, you don’t need to worry. You are never boring!”

He smiled. “I’m going to let you go for a while. I need a nap!”

“Get some sleep, Penn. Many happy dreams!”

“Thank you, Amber. I really can’t wait to see you again. Thanks for being there.”

“Take care!” 

Amber was chagrined. Long ago, she and Penn agreed to become friends with benefits. They swore they would not get emotionally involved with each other and they were not going to be exclusive. That, of course, was moot during a pandemic that kept people apart. Penn met nurses and other hospital colleagues during the course of a day, while Amber was remaining at home, rarely venturing out and certainly not meeting anyone new. 

She took another sip of her iced tea and texted Ellowyne to see how she was.

To be continued…

Nature Abhors a Vacuum 3

Prudence was sad and shocked at the death of Rufus’ parents from COVID-19. How awful it must be for him and Ellowyne. She sent Ellowyne a text in which she wondered how she and Rufus were, and if there was anything they needed. Ellowyne responded, “Rufus has shut down for now. Sometimes he’s quiet and other times he wants to reminisce and look through old pictures. I’m letting him decide how he wants to express his grief. But I am so glad I’m here and can support him any way he wants.”

After their discussion ended, Prudence sensed something completely different about Ellowyne. In the past, Ellowyne wasn’t exactly the most empathetic person. She would beg off social interactions because of her “chronic ennui”, and she would sometimes make her friends’ issues all about her. But this was a new Ellowyne. She was strong and no longer weak. She put someone else’s needs ahead of her own, something she rarely—if ever—did in the past. At last Prudence’s concern about the romantic relationship between her two friends was quelled. Ellowyne and Rufus would be okay. However, she decided to focus on them when she did her lovingkindness meditation that, and she might try some distance Reiki to help them stay strong.  

Later that day, Prudence went online, ostensibly to find some guided meditations online. She downloaded a few videos, then headed to Etsy to look for healing gemstones. She found a bracelet with amethyst, carnelian, smoky quartz, and rose quartz, all of which were purported to help someone deal with grief. Pru would have preferred to make the bracelet herself but she was out of semi-precious beads, so she decided to purchase a bracelet infused with the creator’s energies. Something small perhaps, but suitable for Rufus in his time of need. 

After Pru finished purchasing Rufus’ bracelet, she started to peruse Etsy, just to see what might be available. Within a few hours, she added several earrings and necklaces to her cart. Then she decided to replenish her stock of natural pearls, semi-precious beads, and sterling silver findings and beads. She was a little surprised at the total after her shopping binge, but it had been so long since she shopped for jewelry-making supplies. She figured she might as well make jewelry while she was frittering away time, waiting for the pandemic to end. But wait a minute. She could get all sorts of jewelry-making supplies and sell her creations online! And she quickly filled another virtual cart. 

To be continued…