A CORNER OF UNIVERSE by Rebbie Macintyre

Five Star/Gale/Cengage
ISBN:  978-59414-859-0
Hardcover

Copyright © 2010 by Rebbie MacIntyre

A Corner of Universe
By Rebbie Macintyre

Chapter One

Parched for my husband’s attention, thinking to look wildly sexy—even though my waistline had already expanded by over an inch—I wore a too-tight dress and too-high heels to the Mechin Foundation banquet. I realized my mistake as soon as I tripped up the steps, popped off the spike heel from its thin sole and split my dress up the back seam—all within eye-shot of Cal’s luscious new partner, Dr. Melissa Delany.
The steps led from the entry into a cavernous foyer which brimmed with glittering people, doctors and their wives, mostly, and when I fell, my palms had slapped the marble floor. The cocktail chatter came to a sudden and unanimous stop. I froze, looked up into dozens of eyes that stared down at me with expressions ranging from shock to amusement. For one instant, I could have literally heard a pin drop, but instead, with a muted pop, something akin to the sound of a dainty passing of gas, one final stitch of my seam gave way.
Melissa Delany hurried to my side. “Are you all right?” she said.
My husband who had been talking with several German partners of the Mechin Medical Foundation wrapped an arm around my waist and pulled me to my feet. He looked at me with alarmed concern, but the cleft between his aggravated eyebrows was as dark as a charcoal line.
“I’m fine,” I said. “My shoe.”
And as smooth as her glossy lips, Melissa Delany whisked up the pencil-like heel, gracefully excused us and led me limping down the corridor.
“I have an extra pair of flats in my locker,” she said. “What size are you?”
“Eight,” I said.
I had been a size eight, I insisted silently, at least until four weeks ago, the day I learned I was finally pregnant. Now, my toes jammed even a size eight and a half.
I glanced over my shoulder to Cal who stood hands-on-hips staring after us. The party behind him had resumed its merry buzz and as I watched, a coworker tapped him on his shoulder to resume his conversation. Melissa Delany supported my elbow as we walked away from the crowd.
“My sister said her feet grew a full size with her first baby,” she said. “I’m not in obstetrics, but I think that’s pretty common. My flats are a nine. Maybe we can stuff some toilet paper in the toe.”
I stopped and slipped off what was left of my stilettos. They were several years old, so at least I hadn’t plunked down a couple of hundred dollars just for this party only to have gotten ten minutes worth of wear, but still, they had been great shoes. I padded down the cold marble hallway gingerly swiveling my right hand at my side. A strained wrist to add to my humiliation. The first few weeks of my pregnancy had already impacted my ability to balance. I felt like the little bubble of fluid in a carpenter’s level; a fraction of movement and the bubble would slide off center.
The physician’s locker room at the clinic was entered through a common room that held vending machines and a couple of cots, bare and lonely, shoved against the far wall. Gray metal folding chairs were scattered loosely around Formica tables which were dotted with half-filled coffee cups, Snickers wrappers and wadded napkins. Melissa pushed open a door labeled Women and led me to a wooden bench placed between rows of lockers. The space reminded me of my high school locker room where teenage girls giggled and squealed as they ran to and from the showers. The astringent smell of antiseptic soap stung my nose and made my eyes water.
Melissa knelt in front of me and slid on black ballet flats she’d pulled from a locker labeled with her name. I knew she was probably trying to be nice, but doing for me what I could well do for myself reeked of condescension.
“You don’t have to do that,” I said. “I’m perfectly able to change my own shoes.”
She bounced to her feet with a grin. “Done. And they fit perfectly. You might be one of those pregnant ladies whose feet expand after all.”
She smiled at me, sincere and friendly. “Cal told me the news a couple days ago. Congratulations.”
How did he seem, I wanted to ask. How was he when he told you? Excited? Put out? Disappointed?
But I sealed my mouth. Melissa Delany was not my confidant, and she certainly didn’t need to speculate about the state of my marriage. Besides, Cal said he was happy about the news, so I should quit doubting him.
Five weeks pregnant and I was already making myself crazy with hormonal insecurities.
* * * * *
The banquet was a celebration for Mechin, the foundation my husband worked for, and marked a new phase of their business. A phase Cal was ecstatic about. A phase I dreaded.
When we’d met, Dr. Cal Sterling, my internist husband, practiced medicine in a clinic in downtown Chicago he owned with two other doctors. During the first year or so of our marriage, he’d gradually shifted his focus to the business end of managing the clinic. He’d developed unique accounting procedures, combined them with the new technology and several new models for follow-up patient care. The practice was fantastically successful and soon the partners opened three more clinics. Eighteen months ago, a group of international investors, Mechin Global Foundation, approached Cal about providing his expertise to set up six new clinics in Uganda, a country they’d targeted as being receptive to foreign money and medical intervention. Leaving behind his partners, he took the offer with Mechin. The career change meant a salary reduction, but Cal was ablaze with the possibilities of his new position, of helping needy people gain access to medical treatment.
It was important work. Wonderful work. Work that ate our lives.
An hour after I’d changed to Melissa’s flats, I stood next to my husband in the foyer near the cocktail bar while he talked to one of the new doctors, a radiologist, that recently had been hired. He was a single man without a date and I wondered if he was alone because he had an annoying habit of snuffling then wiping his nose with his cuff of his shirt, a gesture that would probably not endear him to the Chicago singles crowd. The noise volume had increased several decibels from when we’d first arrived and every so often, a burst of raucous laughter would echo around the stone pillars. Cal was his usual reserved self, nursing a glass of champagne that fizzled from the bottom of the stem. I sipped my club soda.
The radiologist once again swiped his nose. I looked away to hide my smile and saw Lucinda what’s-her-name gyrating toward me. She stopped, giggled a little and leaned toward me like we were best-friends-forever girlfriends sharing a secret.
“I heard you made a grand entrance,” she said. She gave an evil little smirk and lifted her martini glass to take a mincing sip.
I shifted my gaze and gratefully smiled at Darcy Jenner who was pushing her way through a press of suited shoulders. Darcy was a friend, and although her husband worked for Mechin in the same capacity as Cal, as an internist, Ian managed to balance the demands of the job with his role as husband and father to their four children. I admired Ian and Darcy, and in moments of self-pity—sitting home in front of the television while Cal worked late into the evening—I envied them. Darcy, dressed in a very sensible loose fitting silk dress and jeweled gold flats approached with a sympathetic smile in place.
“Hello, Lucinda,” Darcy said. “How are you feeling?”
“Feeling?” Lucinda said.
“I’d heard you had a problem with your foot. What’s the name of that thing that old people get? Gout?”
Lucinda snorted and flipped her hair back as she stomped off. I covered my mouth to muffle the giggles.
“She deserves it,” Darcy said. “So smug that she runs all those miles. I mean, who cares?”
“Oh Darcy,” I laughed, “really. You are so bad.”
“Well. She’s so superior. So righteous about her freaking running and her tofu. I’m over her. What did she say to you that she was looking so superior about?”
“She’d heard about my grand entrance.”
“Good news travels fast, I suppose.” Darcy laughed, placed a friendly hand on my arm. “You remember what happened when Jordan was born?”
I’d heard the story before, and she knew I had, but she wanted to comfort me, and I appreciated that from her.
“The night of the falling waters,” I laughed.
“Yes. In the middle of Ian’s graduation reception, a cast of thousands, in attendance. My water didn’t simply break. It exploded. Gushed. Flooded all over dining room rug.” She shook her head. “God it was awful. So believe me when I say that breaking a heel off your shoes is minor league compared to that.”
“I’m not so sure about that. I also split my dress up the back,” I said.
She arched a look over my shoulder to examine my backside. “I’d never even know it.”
“Yes. In addition to being a Harvard law school graduate and having a medical degree from John’s Hopkins, she happens to be an incredible seamstress.”
“Melissa Delany?”
I gave her a smirk, but was sorry the instant it lifted my mouth.
“She’s really very nice, Zoe,” Darcy said.
“I know. I know she is. She’s nice and brilliant and single and stunning with a perfectly upturned nose.”
“You’re stunning. And your nose is regal. Like a Roman empress.”
“Oh, that would be me. A regal, already very fat, Roman empress.” I laughed at myself. “I guess I’m feeling just a tad insecure right now.”
Darcy patted my arm again. “Take it from a woman who’s been preggers four times. Don’t pay attention to the stupid stuff that comes flying through your hormone-saturated brain. It’s all bullshit. “
I laughed. “I was just thinking about that earlier. How I’m only a few weeks along and already I’m feeling the changes. Physically and mentally.” I shook my head. “God. I’ll never make it nine months and stay sane.”
She laughed again. “Sure you will. And after this project gets launched, Cal will have more time to be at home.”
“I hope you’re right.”
She nodded, patted me again. “Trust me.”
Yes, I told myself. Trust what Darcy said. It made sense. And her advice wasn’t tinged by pregnant lady urges.
“We’re leaving in two days for Bermuda,” I said, grinning, “and come back next Tuesday.”
“Hey, that’s right. I’d heard that. You’re staying in the Mechin condo?”
“Yes.”
“Ian and I did that last year. It’s right on the ocean. I slathered myself with oil and baked all day. The kids had a ball. The pool is beautiful.”
“I’ve heard.”
“A nice benefit we get with Mechin,” Darcy said. “This will be a great trip for you and Cal. Before you get too big and have to stay put.”
My spirits soared. Yes, we’d have a wonderful time, just the two of us. A second honeymoon.
* * * * *
The night ended with my feet swollen, the makeshift stitching in my dress strained to the point of re-bursting and Melissa Delany’s size nine shoes pinching my feet. We drove home in silence, Cal animated and ready to tackle the world, me ready for the comfort of my bed. My head bobbed with the motion of the car, the heat under the dashboard warmed my feet, the music from a Natalie Cole CD soothed me and the flashing headlights of passing cars sent me into a kind of trance.
When we were only a few blocks from our home on Universe Street, Cal turned off the music and cleared his throat. “Uh, Zoe, there’s something I need to talk to you about.”
He pulled into our driveway, turned off the ignition. The clicks of the engine were the only noise, other than my husband’s careful breathing. He lifted his arm and rested it across the back seat, cupped my shoulder in his physician’s palm.
“You remember when we first started dating and I told you about Danielle. Danielle Bennett.”
“Your college girlfriend? The one who got”
My throat closed suddenly, and I felt heat rise into my face. Despite the icy November air of the Chicago night, I was warm.
Cal nodded. “Yes. The one who got pregnant.”
“I remember,” I said.
Cal had confessed the story during one of our first passionate nights together. He’d offered to marry his girlfriend, although clearly out of obligation, but Danielle had refused. A few months later, she married a man who agreed to adopt the baby. Cal was positive that despite Danielle’s quick alternative, the child was his. A “near miss” he’d labeled the incident. A near miss that had allowed him to finish college and medical school unhindered by the burden of a wife and child. “Have you heard from her?” I asked.
“No. I heard from him. The boy. Well, young man now. He’s twenty-one and his name is Seth.”
“He called you?”
“No. He came by. Today. At the clinic.” Cal’s laugh broke through the car. A laugh that was not exactly forced, but nervous. Cal did not like surprises, and I could just picture his stunned expression when his son introduced himself.
“But . . .” I stumbled a moment, then tried again. “How did he find you? Did his mother tell him who you were?”
“Yes. His father died a few months ago. The man who adopted him. Danielle told Seth about me then.”
“But, my God. What a shock. At his age, to find out the man you thought was your father wasn’t really your father. Poor kid. That was wrong of his mother, to do it like that. Where does he live?”
“In Minneapolis, or somewhere near it. To tell you the truth, I was just so blown away I could hardly keep track of the conversation.” He shoved his palms through the tight dark curls that hugged his scalp.
“But Cal, this is unreal. He wanted to come see you? To meet his biological father?”
“Yes. I mean, like you said, it had to be pretty shattering to find out his true parentage at twenty-one years old.”
I shook my head in silent sympathy. A girl I’d gone through high school with had been adopted when she was ten by a loving family, our neighbors from the next farm over. At fifteen, despite the best the family could give her, she turned restless and depressed, constantly bemoaning to the other girls about her lack of knowing who she was. At seventeen, she finally ran away, never to be heard from again. The family had been devastated. I couldn’t imagine what a person would feel suddenly finding out everything he’d believed to be true was in fact a lie.
“He’s not staying very long in Chicago,” Cal said. His voice brought me back to the present.
“Did he leave home, after his mother told him?”
“I don’t think it was like that. He didn’t seem to be upset with Danielle, kind of casual about it. I wondered if he’d suspected it all along. Anyway, he’s just passing through town then heading out to California for some kind of school. Like I said, I was finding it a little hard to concentrate.”
The leather in his seat rustled as he turned in his seat to face me. His grip on my shoulder intensified. “He seemed like a nice kid, Zoe. A real nice kid. He’s only going to be here for a few days, then he’s off to this school and from there, he said something about living overseas. Mexico, he said, or maybe Brazil. It’s some kind of a scuba diving school, I think.”
He paused. The clicks of the engine had stopped and now silence engulfed us along with the clouds of our cold breath that fogged the interior of the car.
“Start the heater for a minute,” I said. “I’m cold.”
The windshield was white with our vapor, and I looked out the side window; the neighbor’s cat crept though the firethorn hedge that separated our house from the neighbor’s, the Reckarts. Like a shadow, he slithered underneath the hedge and was lost in the tangle. I wondered if he’d find a safe and warm haven someplace. Neva, the girl who lived there with her mother, took care of him, but only haphazardly. Obviously, a cat out on a cold night like this would not be well tended.
“Thing is,” Cal said. He cleared his throat. “Thing is, Zoe, is that Seth is only going to be here a few days. I don’t know when or if I’ll even see him again.”
The heater hummed, circles of clear glass began to form through the fog on the windshield. Cal massaged my shoulder with one hand and drummed on the steering wheel with the other. He was in profile to me; the light from the streetlamp lit one side of his face and glinted in his dark eye.
My mother had a saying she’d repeat to me from time to time, when the tension between Dad and she would crescendo enough so that we’d sit at the dinner table in tense silence. Later, when my father had been safely ensconced in front of the television and we were washing the dishes, she’d talk to me woman to woman, even though I was only twelve or thirteen. “Marriage is fifty-fifty, Zoey,” she’d say. “And most of the time, the woman works both halves.”
We’d laugh, and she’d talk about how hard being married was, but how fulfilling. “The alternative is being alone. And I don’t’ want you to be alone, sweetheart. You’re my girl, and I want you to have a home and a family.”
I’d fought that notion for most of my teen years and through my twenties, vowed to make my own life as a career graphic artist, build a top design firm in Chicago.
But that was many years ago—before Cal, before the ALS had twisted my mother’s limbs and squeezed closed her throat. Before she died.
Now, my husband sat next to me in a warm car and stared out into a cold night, and I thought about working both halves of my marriage.
“You want to cancel our Bermuda trip,” I said.
He turned toward me, the gratitude soft in his eyes.
“I’ll make it up to you, honey. I promise. We’ll go right after Christmas. I’ll talk to Walter and see if we can get the condo sometime in January. We’ll go then, I promise.”
My hand flew up between us, palm forward. “Stop. No promises, Cal.”
“I mean it. I promise we’ll go in January.”
But I closed my eyes, shook my head. I would not set myself up for disappointment. I’d heard too many times in our three year marriage how he’d do one thing or another, but no sooner had the words been said and he’d come to me with a change in plans: A special Sunday we’d set aside for a day at home watching football on television would vanish in the demanding throes of his work. A special dinner I’d prepared would grow cold, the candles stayed unlit, because he had to attend to last minute demands from the clinic.
“No promises,” I said.
By the light of the streetlamp, I saw his mouth turn down at the corners, the insulted jut of his chin.
“You’ll see. I’ll make it up to you,” he mumbled.
And I knew he meant it. He really would try to make it up to me. Or rather, he’d want to try to make it up to me.
His lips pressed together and he stared at his lap for a moment, then turned up the heater.
“You warm enough?” he said. He glanced at me, touching me with his eyes to measure where I was, see how I would respond.
And as usual, the vulnerable little boy expression he unconsciously wore tugged at my sympathy. He was a good man, a man who was dedicated to medicine, a man who had been there for me when I needed him. Now, here he was, trying to balance all these spinning plates: his position with Mechin, his lust for accomplishment, a newly pregnant forty-one-year-old wife, and now a grown son who’d dropped into his life.
“Cal.” I took his hand that rested on my shoulder, brought it to my lips. “It’s all right. We’re okay. Of course we have to cancel the trip. You don’t get to meet your son every day. And especially since he’ll be leaving the country. It’s okay. We’ll get to Bermuda.”
He grinned at me, clearly relieved, gave me a wet full kiss on the mouth, turned off the engine and trotted around the front of the car to get the door for me.
I would go up to our room and unpack my already packed suitcase—a suitcase that had been ready for a week. Tomorrow, I’d call my biggest client, Griffin Uniforms, and tell them I’d be available for meetings to design their spring campaign graphics after all. I’d cancel the kennel where I’d reserved a spot for Goldie. And I’d call my friend Sabrina and tell her we wouldn’t need her to look after Hattie.
Hattie. Cal’s eighty-eight year old grandmother had lived with us a year, and we’d never left her before. Even though she’d smiled and clapped for us when I told her about our Bermuda trip, I sensed an unease, even with the arrangements I’d made for her to go to Sabrina’s.
“I’m not a child,” she’d said. “I can stay here by myself.”
I’d hugged her, breathed the rose scent that was a part of her. “I know you’re not a child. You’re a remarkably young vibrant woman, but you are healing from a knee replacement only three months old, so I’ll feel better about you staying with a friend.”
Now, with the cancellation of our trip, she’d be pleased, although she’d never tell me. She had too much class for that.
So, for Hattie’s sake, it was good we weren’t going. And Cal could spend time with his son. It was a small sacrifice, I told myself, one of my times to “work both halves”, as my mother would have said. For my husband, I would be accepting and gracious.
My mother would have been proud of me.❖
________________________________

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Rebbie Macintyre’s story ideas come from her experiences as a teacher, counselor, violinist, swim coach, waitress, salesperson and the hose-handler of a sludge-sucking vacuum truck. She lives in Florida with her extended family and Daisy the Jack Russell terrier-ist.

Website: http://www.rebbiemacintyre.com
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About Vicki Hinze
USA Today Bestselling and Award-Winning Author of 40+ books, short stories/novellas and hundreds of articles. Published in as many as 63 countries. Featured Columnist for Social-IN Worldwide Network and Book Fun Magazine. Sponsor/Founder of ChristiansRead.com & CleanReadBooks.com. FMI visit www.vickihinze.com.

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