The Snow Bird – Chapter 1 ~ The Butcher’s Block

Welcome to my latest literary endeavor – The Snow Bird!

The Snow Bird is a story that I have been working on for nearly a year now, and I’m finding that this story is the most personal I’ve ever written. While the story is completely fictional, I’ve really tried to tap into my own emotions and thought patterns and write from the heart. The Snow Bird is a piece of creative non-fiction, and if you like romance, drama, comedy, and food, you’ll find something to connect to within the world I’ve created. The characters in The Snow Bird are all figments of my imagination, as is the story, but as all authors do, I’ve inserted bits of my subconscious into this story quite on accident. That being said, this story is just that – a story. Any resemblance that my characters bear to subjects in real life are unintentional and purely the result of my subconscious coming out to play.

I’ll be posting one chapter every week, so if you’re a member of the Busy Blue Eyes community, you’ll get email updates when new chapters are posted!. I’ll also post ratings before each chapter so that you are prepared for what you’ll read. For the most part this story is for the 18+ crowd. Please let me know in the comments what you think of the story so far!

Chapter One Rating: 18+ for language

The Snow Bird – Chapter One ~ The Butcher’s Block

Joshua Tree

I was a snow bird. Or at least that’s what I told myself and anyone who asked when they inquired about where I lived. I have never been a fan of the snow, but I do love the cold, so I “flew” to the desert one winter and decided to stay.

I love the cold, dry air that whips across the mottled taupe landscape of Joshua Tree in winter. There is a strange beauty in the way the air becomes the sharpest blade, slicing through the morning stillness in a frigid rush. It’s almost like the wind was the sole force behind the stark grace of the California high desert, rather than just its geographical location. It’s as if the wind was a conscious being, carving crevasses and canyons, hills and plateaus for its own pleasure. Like an artist with his paint brush, the desert wind created this refined yet rugged paradise simply because it could.

I sat outside on my covered patio, bundled up against the early morning chill in my favorite wool blanket. The indigo strands were fraying at the ends from my chronic twisting and pulling. I watched the steam rise from my mug of coffee, a tiny spiraling oasis of moisture in an otherwise bone-dry morning. I could feel the skin on my cheeks and nose begin to chap in the parched air.

This was my favorite time of day, early morning. Even when I lived in the city, I’ve always loved the morning. My morning ritual is the closest I’ve ever come to meditating. I loved the quiet, the calm, the general stillness in the air. I’ve always been an early riser, so in the city I would sit out on the balcony of my apartment and listen as the neighborhood around me gradually woke up. Trash trucks would hum down the street and windows would crank open as families began to start their day. I’d always loved the distant clinking sound of knives and forks scraping against plates as children wolfed down their breakfast before school.

This melody of the morning was far different in the desert, but I valued it all the same. If I woke up early enough, I’d hear rabbits and ground squirrels scurrying back into their burrows and Pinyon Jays fluttering their wings as they returned home to their perches on the towering Yucca trees. Occasionally little quails would scurry past my fire pit, startled by the sound of me opening my sliding glass door. My home was a fair distance from the road, but sound travels boundlessly across the desert floor so I could hear the gentle rush of my neighbors’ car zooming across the desert sand as they headed into town.

It was in these moments that my mind was mercifully quiet. These brief moments of enjoying my coffee and listening to the world waking up around me were when I felt most like myself. Like I had finally dug deep enough through the quicksand of my psyche and found myself where I was kept buried away. I could find myself long enough to reconnect with who I actually was, without the crutch of the three types of psychoactive medications I chugged down every morning with my last swig of coffee. It was an honest moment of purity that provided me with enough of a grounding force to go about my day without completely losing my mind. All I had to do was remind myself that I was still in there, somewhere deep down and buried, but I was still in there. It gave me the strength to continue about my day.

I awoke from my reverie, startled by the sound of a car horn blaring in the distance. I noticed my neighbors beat-up Suzuki SUV down the road, honking at a stray cat in its path to scare them out of the way. I snickered and shifted my blanket further up around my shoulders. My coffee was starting to cool down so I took two deep gulps, letting the heat and aroma overwhelm my senses.

I checked my phone – no new messages. I sighed and rolled my head around, stretching my tense shoulder muscles. I had another hour and a half before I had to be into work. Today was prep day. I finally had a kitchen of my own to run, and sous-chefs-a-plenty eager to learn the “secrets” of cooking. As owner and head-chef of my twenty-seat restaurant, I was eager to instill the basics of good, wholesome cooking into whoever was interested. I believed that my customers had just as much to learn about food as my sous-chefs, however today the restaurant was closed so that I could focus my team on prep-work, the foundation of any great service.

After I soaked in a hot bath, tamed my frizzy, dark curls into a somewhat sleek bob, and changed into my trusty jeans, t-shirt and Chuck Taylors’, I headed out the door. I whistled for my pup, Flower and giggled as my Shepherd-mix bounded around the corner of the house, all pointed ears and gangly legs, and hopped into the back seat of my Jeep.

“Good morning baby, did you sleep good?” I cooed to her as I scratched behind her ears.

She licked my cheek in greeting, her puppy breath hot on my face.

“Awwww thank you for the kissy, stinky!” I laughed as I wiped her slobber off my face.

She settled down in the back seat and I started the drive into town, still finding a thrill in the rough ride over the desert dunes. It reminded me of the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. I hadn’t been there in nearly twenty years, but I still vividly remember my mom sitting next to me on the ride, screaming her head off while I whooped and hollered through all the twists and drop-turns having the time of my life.

As I turned on to the main highway into town, I turned on my stereo and let Stevie Knicks serenade me the rest of the drive to work. It was a Monday in November, so the bulk of the tourist crowd was gone for the week. The mountain climbers, desert enthusiasts and hippie-artisan-wanna-be’s would be back the following weekend en-masse for the long Veteran’s Day weekend. I didn’t hate the tourists, they supported our local economy and filled the seats in my restaurant, but it was always nice to just commune with the locals – and find a decent parking space.

I turned into the parking lot of my restaurant, Josephines’, and pulled up along the wide loading door at the back of the building. One of my sous-chefs, Rusty, was already in the kitchen stacking empty vegetable crates in preparation for our trip to the markets.

“Morning Rusty!” I called to him as I walked in, dropping my purse in my utility closet-slash-office.

“Flower girl!” Rusty exclaimed, as Flower bounded over to him and hopped up with both her paws reaching his shoulders.

I chuckled, “I guess I should be offended that you’re more excited to see my dog than me, but I completely get it.”

He grinned, wiping his face of Flower’s slobber, “good morning, Molly.”

I tossed him one of our branded, insulated jackets that we wore when going into the walk-in freezers at the meat markets. Today we would need them all day, as the chilly November air wasn’t expected to go above 50 degrees.

“Where’s Liz?” I inquired. Liz was one of our newer “students” and in charge of kitchen inventory.

“She’s on her way, she just messaged me,” Morgan, our front of house manager and my best friend said, as she breezed in through the door. I gave her a hug, her face felt icy as she kissed my cheek and handed me a latte.

“Thank you,” I nodded at her.

I grabbed Flower by her leash and had everyone follow me out to the restaurants’ modified Mercedes van, something I’d decided to spring for to guarantee that our food was quality controlled on the way to and from the markets. Liz rounded the corner in her beat-up Beetle, parked and hopped in beside Rusty in the back seat.

“Good morning everyone!” she said cheerily.

She’d only been working with us for about three months and was still very eager to impress. She had a huge amount of natural skill in the kitchen and an eye for plating, but she still had a lot to learn about time management and line-cooking. She wrapped her braids up into a loose bun and shut the sliding door while holding a croissant in her teeth.

We set off for the first market stop of the day, dairy and meat. My mother always instilled in me the value of quality over quantity, and that paying a premium price for good food was almost always worth it. In the past few years that Josephines’ has been open, I’ve established a great relationship with some of the best local produce and meat vendors. I don’t mind paying a higher price for organic meats and vegetables. I’d rather support local farmers and small growing operations than pay half the price for cows that have been force-fed and veggies soaked in pesticides. I used to think differently, but once I adhered to this rule, the quality of the food and the satisfaction of my customers spoke for themselves – there was no going back.

When we arrived at the wholesale market, Morgan took over for me and gathered the rest of the staff so that she could hand out the lists of items we needed for service. Morgan was a great teacher so I trusted her to guide my kitchen employees through the market and ensure that the learned all the ins-and-outs of buying food for a restaurant. While she and Rusty went off with the group, I headed over to the butchers aisles to do my portion of the shopping.

“Miss Molly!” exclaimed Ramon, the owner of my favorite meat stall.

“Hi Ramon! How are you?” I smiled back at the elderly gentleman as he reached over his supply of beautifully marbled beef to warmly shake my hand.

“Aye Miss Molly, estoy bien gracias. ¿Qué estamos comprando hoy mija?”

“Well I’m making a variation of beef stew for the special tomorrow night, so I’m thinking I’ll need a cut that will hold up well over a low flame for about 12 hours,” I replied.

My Spanish was limited to basic comprehension, and I didn’t have the confidence to reply back to him in his native tongue. My parents had tried to get me to learn Spanish when I was in school, but I was always too shy to practice with other native speakers. I could understand and read it for the most part, but I cringed at the thought of messing up the words when speaking aloud.

Ramon put up one finger “un momento mija,” and he walked towards the back of his warehouse stall and rummaged through some ice-chests. He brought back a large hind-quarter of a cow and hefted it onto his butcher block.

“Miss Molly, this is a beautiful piece, I believe it will be muy delicioso if you add lots of acids to it, and let the natural fats do the rest of the work for you.”

Ramon was much more than a farmer, he was a chef as well, although not in a restaurant. He had grown up in a long line of cattle farmers and knew the meat industry and cooking techniques inside and out. I valued the lessons that people like Ramon imparted on me immensely.

I never went to any kind of cooking school, but just practiced and cooked using knowledge passed down from my parents, aunts, uncles, friends and whatever season of the Great British Bake Off happened to be on Netflix.

I’ve always tried to cook from the heart and simply make good food, rather than focusing on food trends or molecular gastronomy. It may sound corny, but cooking has always been my way of showing love and affection. Serving a well-made plate of food to someone who genuinely enjoys it always brings me sheer joy and satisfaction.

When I first opened Josephines’, I deliberately set the seating capacity for a maximum of 20 guests so that I could ensure that every plate that went out was made as freshly and attentively as possible. I wanted to bring the people of Joshua Tree a restaurant where they could order a stack of old-fashioned flap-jacks or a massive bowl of the richest coq-au-vin they could think of. I wanted my restaurant to feel like home, and so far, I think I’ve succeeded.

After I had loaded the hind-quarter into the fridge in the back of our van, I perused the multitude of cheese selections and marveled at the beautifully colored eggs from local organic farms. I nibbled on some Manchego, Brie and Fontina samples and dug into a sampler plate of deviled eggs and tomatoes piled high on a slice of freshly baked French bread. The food was pure nirvana. I didn’t mind waiting for the rest of my staff to finish the shopping lists I’d assigned them as long as I got to keep snacking.

“Hey boss, we’re all done, just loading everything into the van,” Rusty said breathlessly, coming to a bounding stop next to me.

“Okay, thanks Rusty – everything alright?” I queried, noting the wild look in his eyes.

“Uh yeah, totally fine, hey can I talk to you for a sec?” He abruptly grabbed my elbow and steered me towards an area away from the bustling food stalls.

“Hey! What the hell?” I looked down at his grip on my elbow and back up at him – this was tremendously out of character for the normally calm and collected, flame-haired millennial. Rusty was like a little brother to me, always dependable in the kitchen and in life. We’d quickly bonded over our mutual love of Tommy Wiseaus’ film “The Room” six years ago, and I’d brought him along to be a de-factor leader for the rest of the kitchen staff.

“Rusty, what the fuck?” I whisper-exclaimed as he continued to guide me away from the crowds. We stopped between some milk crates that had been stacked eight pallets high. He let go of my elbow and turned to face me, a look of concern and worry sweeping across his freckled face.

“Sorry Mims,” he said, using his nickname for me.

“I just wanted to be the first to tell you, and not have everyone else around,” he paused.

“Spit it out then,” I demanded, my anxiety already skyrocketing. 

“I was talking to one of the assistants over at our usual egg stand, and she was mentioning that she was putting in her two weeks with McGregor Farms to go and work at a new restaurant opening up in LA,” he paused again.

I ground my teeth, “again, Rusty, what the fuck does that have to do with me?” I crossed my arms over my chest – I wanted to pretend that I had no idea where this was leading – but somehow, in my gut, I knew.

“Molly… it’s Cillian’s restaurant. I guess he’s back state-side. I had no clue. I’m sorry.” Rusty’s face was full of nothing but pure empathy. He knew what he was telling me. I felt like I was on that Disneyland ride “Tower of Terror” where the elevator drops you down multiple floors with no warning. My stomach was in my throat and my heart was pumping so loudly that the chaos of the market behind me was practically inaudible. I knew my face was as white as a sheet and my pupils dilated because it soon felt like I was looking directly at the sun.

“Mims?? You okay hun?” Rusty rubbed the tops of my arms and pulled me in for a hug.

I was frozen as I laid my head against his chest, trying to get my mind to come back into my body. I let out a shaky breath as Rusty pulled back to examine me again.

“Molly-babes? You okay?” I shook my head to clear my thoughts and took a deeper breath.

“Yeah Rus, I’m okay. Thank you for telling me.”

The market was no place to lose my cool. No one needed to see this. “I’m gonna take the van back to the kitchen and start unloading,” I looked at Rusty, “Can you take the rest of the group to the spice section and talk to them about…whatever they haven’t gone over yet?” I was too distracted too think of lesson plans.

Rusty understood and nodded in agreement, “I’ll take them around and show them some stuff…as long as Morgan comes back to the restaurant with you,” he stated.

I knew better than to disagree with him right now, he was just as stubborn as I was when it came to protecting those we loved. I nodded in agreement, and he gestured over my shoulder at Morgan. She walked over and took one look at me, then at Rusty, and could immediately tell what was wrong.

“I’ll text you,” Rusty said quietly to Morgan, no doubt to fill her in on the details, and walked over to the rest of the group and led them away.

Morgan put her hand to my cheek, pulling my face up so that she could see me. I’d been careful not to start tearing up, but one look at Morgan caused me to start to break down. She smiled sadly at me, linked her arm through mine and began to guide me back to the van. I scrambled into the back seat, Flower leaping up and over me. She rested her head in my lap and I methodically stroked her caramel colored ears. Morgan quickly started the van and began the short drive back to the kitchen.

She knew that it was no use to talk to me now, I didn’t have anything to say. There were no words to describe how the news that Cillian was less than a hundred miles from me after so many years apart made me feel. Even with my medication laced brain, I could not decipher the deluge of feeling I was experiencing, and as with most information overloads – my brain went into survival mode. I became numb, void of feeling and mercifully free of the gut-wrenching anxiety residing in the pit of my stomach.

I barely registered that we had arrived back at the restaurant. Morgan opened the sliding door and Flower bounded out and over to her bed outside the kitchen door.

“Come on babes, let’s go,” Morgan said, offering me her hand.

She helped me down and led me inside to the kitchen, now warm and fragrant with the smell of cornbread that our baker, Michelle, had just pulled out of the oven.

“Hey Micky, can we have the kitchen for a second?” Morgan called over to her.

“No –” I spoke up, “I’m fine. Just let me work for a little while, okay?” I shrugged off my coat and pulled on my apron.

I could feel Morgan watching me warily. She knew me well enough to know what I needed to do for myself, and right now, that was work. I needed the methodical, repetitive task of breaking down the hind-quarter of beef I got from Ramon. I needed to do what I knew to ground myself. I had Morgan fetch the meat from the van while I prepared my knives. Morgan eyed the knives suspiciously as she set the meat down on my butcher block.

“Oh, stop,” I murmured to her, knowing what she was thinking. “I’m not that bad,” I continued, as I ran my cleaver through my sharpening stone.

Morgan sighed heavily but didn’t say anything and left me alone in the kitchen. I positioned the hind-quarter in front of me, raised my cleaver, and sliced down.

Yes. I thought, this will be good for me. Just keep working.

The satisfying give of the meat under the blade was soothing. I rhythmically chopped and sliced my way through the marbled flesh, hoping that my movements would keep the pain at bay. But again, I was mistaken.

Cillian was in every slice, dice and chop I made. The cold cow flesh gradually numbed my hands, and I began to drift into a daze…

It took me a full ten seconds or so to realize that my knife was firmly embedded in the fleshy part of my palm below my thumb. I calmly withdrew the long side of the blade from my flesh and watched my own blood spill over the freshly cut filets, mixing in with the leaking cow blood. I stared at the crimson collage of my own creation, feeling no pain.

“Molly! What the hell?” Morgan screeched, standing in the doorway of the kitchen. She sprinted over to me and grabbed my injured hand, gripping it with a dish towel.

I hope it’s a clean one, I thought drowsily to myself.

Morgan held my hand over the sink under a stream of cold water, the blood still pumping a steady stream out of my palm. “Michelle! Grab my keys!” Morgan yelled.

“Here babe, hold onto this as tight as you can, okay?” Morgan spoke to me calmly, as if speaking to a small child. I gripped onto the dish rag as instructed, still completely pain free. I felt as if I was in a dream, where the world seems hazy and lopsided, cozy and warm….

————————————————————

“Molly? Honey? Are you awake, dear?” A sweet voice drifted into my consciousness.

I felt glued to the ground…or was it a bed? I opened my eyes, heavy with exhaustion. A nurse hovered over me, pressing a cold compress to my forehead while another adjusted the angle of the IV in my left arm. I heard the beeping of a heart monitor and the whoosh of a blood-pressure cuff releasing its grip on my bicep. I looked past the nurse and over to Morgan and Rusty. They were sitting on the couch of my hospital room staring anxiously over at me while the nurses ran my vitals.

I smiled weakly over at them, “I’m guessing you guys brought me in?”

“Nope, we had to call 911. You fainted and hit your head on the butcher block. There was a lot of blood, babes,” Morgan said, tears swimming in her eyes.

“Oh Mo, I’m so sorry you guys, I just sort of tuned out,” I lamented.

I hated seeing my friends so worn out over me. Rusty stood and walked over to me, a smile playing on his otherwise anxiety-ridden face. He grabbed my un-injured hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.

“You fuckin’ idiot,” he playfully chided me.

I grinned back at him. Levity was absolutely what I needed right now, and I could always depend on him for that. Morgan walked over and stood at the edge of my bed as the nurses quietly left the room. She gently rubbed my feet through the hospital blankets and I shifted slightly to the left so that Rusty could sit beside me on the bed – just as a searing pain starting at the back of my head radiated all the way down my spine and I screamed.

Morgan and Rusty winced and both reached out to comfort me, “Oh, Molly, I’m sorry honey, it’s your head,” she half-cried.

The pain subsided enough for me to notice that my head was encased in bandages and the back of my neck was covered in surgical gauze. “You have a pretty deep cut on the back of your head, hun. It’s gonna take awhile for you to start feeling better,” Rusty explained.

Just then a young doctor entered the room, my chart in hand. He smiled at me and then jotted something down on the whiteboard opposite my bed. My vision was a bit blurry, but I could tell that the medical staff had been keeping a close eye on me and documenting my stay on the board. The doctor, a handsome man with brown eyes and brown hair turned back towards me.

“Hello Miss Lewis. I’m Dr. Richards. How are you feeling?” He asked kindly.

I grimaced and looked down at my bandaged right hand. He laughed, “yeah, I bet you aren’t feeling too well. It looks like you nearly severed your radial artery when you cut your hand. You got very lucky – you only just missed it. You were butchering meat?”

I nodded, “yeah, I guess I just slipped up. I’m normally great with my knives.”

Dr. Richards chuckled again, “yes, it would seem that way! My wife and I just ate at your restaurant the other night. We absolutely loved it! I had the grilled salmon and my wife had the chicken dish with the tangy sauce that’s got the name I can never pronounce…”

“Chicken Fricasse,” I explained.

Dr. Richardson grinned again, “yes! That’s it! Oh my god that mustard sauce is amazing! My wife and I are still craving it.”

I smiled slightly, “thank you, you’re very kind.”

He turned back to my charts, “Well Miss Lewis, you hit your head pretty hard too, and the cut required about eight stitches,” I winced.

“So, just to be on the safe side, I’d like to take you up for an MRI to make sure there’s no swelling or bleeding, and we’re also going to keep you here overnight for further observation, okay?”

I groaned – I hated hospitals, and now I had to stay in one for a whole night. Morgan cast a sharp look at me, “Molly, you’re staying, okay? Rus and I have the restaurant handled and Flower will stay with me – you need to let the doctor do what needs to be done.” Her tone was adamant and finite, and I was in too much pain to argue. I closed my eyes and nodded slowly.

The doctor announced that they would be wheeling me up for my MRI any minute, so Rusty and Molly said goodbye and left. My head pounded with every breath I took and I had to fight to keep my eyes open. The same nurse from before came back to wheel my bed over to the imaging department. She was probably the same age as my mom, with similar white-blonde hair. She was quiet but kind to me, and I learned her name was Meredith. She offered to give me a mild sedative for the pain so that I could sleep through my MRI and I gladly agreed. Soon I was off to sleep.

——————-

“Mims?” Rusty’s voice floated into my ears.

My body felt heavy and hot. I opened my eyes, blinking slowly and trying to focus. Rusty sat on the edge of my bed, a different nurse beside him with a tray of what looked like breakfast. Had I really slept that long? The burning in my bladder confirmed my suspicion.

“Um…I really need to use the restroom,” I looked up at my nurse.

She smiled kindly as she arranged the platter of food on my bed-tray, “No problem, I’ll help you to the bathroom,” she replied as she extended her hand to me, “stand up slowly, dear, you’ll get a head rush and we don’t need that right now,” she joked gently.

I shuffled over to the bathroom, my limbs heavy and stiff with stress and fatigue. I relieved myself and tried not to look in the mirror while I washed my hands. I knew what I looked like, bandaged head, swollen eyes and puffy cheeks. I didn’t need to see that right now. I shuffled back to my room, only to notice that Dr. Richardson had returned as was speaking to Rusty in earnest. They both looked up when I walked through the door. Rusty smiled weakly at me, offering his hand to help me back into bed.

When I was covered with blankets and tucked back in, I looked up at the doctor expectantly. “So do I get to go home today doc?” Dr. Richardson smiled, but it didn’t touch his eyes like yesterday. Immediately my pulse quickened. I knew that kind of smile.

Rusty squeezed my hand, “I’ll be right back,” he said, and walked quietly out the door.

The doctor sat on the edge of my bed, thumbing through my charts again. “Well, the good news is, is that your brain scans came back perfectly clear, nothing to worry about there,” he continued flipping through my chart, coming to the second to last page. Imaging from my MRI was printed in the paper, blurry and shapeless, but I didn’t need a medical degree to know what it was a scan of.

Dr. Richards turned towards me, putting the chart on the bed beside me. “Miss Lewis…during your MRI, the technician noticed unusual inflammation and an abundance of scar tissue below your abdoment, so we took a few more pictures.”

My jaw clenched and I sunk further into my blankets. “Yes, I know,” I said calmly, not meeting the doctors gaze.

“Miss Lewis –” he began, but I interrupted “Please call me Molly,”. Enough with the formalities.

He cast his eyes down, the slightest smile playing on his face. “Call me David,” he echoed.

“From your reaction I can tell that you know about the scarring,” he continued. I nodded, my gaze still cast down. This was the very last thing I thought I’d ever have to talk about.

David continued on, “Molly, we don’t have to go into specifics here, but I do need to tell you that the images we pulled up also revealed a mass on your uterus that looks a bit out of place.”

I took a deep, painful breath, thankful Rusty wasn’t here. “Molly, I think it could be cancerous.” He spoke slowly, watching my face as I absorbed all that he said.

I didn’t speak for a while, as I had not yet found the words. Dr. Richardson continued on, “We need to do a biopsy in order to confirm what we’re seeing, after which we’ll send some of the tissue off to pathology. It would all be done laparoscopically, so you’d be able to return home tomorrow.”

Again, I was unable to speak. All I could think of was cancer.

I would be so lucky, I thought grimly to myself.

“Molly? Do you understand what I’m saying?” David asked quietly, eyeing my reaction closely.

I nodded and turned to him, “Do what you gotta do,” I said simply.

He studied me for a few seconds and then stood up, “Okay. I’ll get the paperwork in order and hopefully we’ll get you into the OR within a couple of hours. I’ll be back to check in with you before we prep you for surgery.” He patted my hand and walked out of my room.

He strode over to the nurses station and began talking to the nurse who helped me to the bathroom earlier. I turned away from the chaos outside my room and looked out of my window, out onto the sea of Joshua Trees that stretched for miles across the desert. The noon-day sun cast a fiery glow over the bronzed earth. Again, I felt numb, distant, weighed down but somehow un-tethered. I was neither here nor there. My pulse slowed and I felt my body temperature lower. I shivered and closed my eyes. Soon, I was asleep again.

—————————————

“Here, look, I brought you some fresh clothes, deodorant, a toothbrush, dry shampoo and a comb,” Morgan fumbled around in her Chanel tote bag, producing the items she brought me and laying them out at the foot of my hospital bed.

I smiled druggily at her, “thanks, babes” I croaked out, my throat still hoarse and raw from the intubation tube. I had had my biopsy done earlier that morning and had only woken up in the recovery room twenty minutes ago. Morgan had come to the hospital earlier while I was in surgery so she could be there when I woke up and then take me home when I was ready. The laparoscopic surgery to biopsy the mass on my uterus had been quick, with only three tiny incisions in my abdomen needed. I couldn’t feel any pain now, but I knew I’d be horribly sore for the next few days.

Dr. Richardson strode into the room while Morgan was busy spraying my hair with dry shampoo and combing it out. I felt ridiculous. “Hi Molly, how ya feelin’?” David said, sliding my chart onto a shelf next to my bed.

He checked my vitals while I attempted to ask him how the surgery went.

Drugs are weird. Drugs are good. That’s what the drugs want you to think. 

Ugh! Shut up brain! I told myself. I hadn’t been taking my meds the past few days. I was looking forward to restarting them. I’m getting sick of the cyclone constantly spinning around in my mind.

David looked at me kindly, “The surgery went really well. We were able to get a great tissue sample and sent it off to pathology. We’ll see you back here in a few days to go over the results. In the meantime, you are cleared to go home – but –”  he looked at Morgan and I sternly, “ you are under strict orders to rest at home for at least one week, preferably two. I know that will be difficult, Molly, but it looks like you’ve got a great support team at your restaurant and at home with friends. You have to do this in order to heal. We need you to be as healthy as possible if you are going to be starting treatment.”

My eyes shot across to Morgan, she didn’t know what they found yet. Morgan looked at me reassuringly, “it’s cool, Dr. Richards told me the situation after you were out of surgery.” I breathed a shaky sigh of relief. I’m glad I didn’t have to have that conversation with Morgan. It would be too difficult.

A new nurse came into the room with another packet of papers and a plastic bag. David stood up, “Alicia here is going to get you discharged and give you your at-home-care instructions. The bag has all the clothes you were wearing when you came in. I’m sorry we couldn’t wash them for you,” he apologized as Alicia began disconnecting my heart monitors.

“Go home, get some rest, relax, recuperate, and I’ll see you in a few days to go over the pathology results, okay?” David grabbed my hand reassuringly and gave it a tight squeeze. 

He was so kind, his wife is very lucky, I thought.

He left the room and Morgan began handing me the change of clothes she had brought me. “I figured your tummy would be a bit sore, so I brought your grey dress,” she handed the garment over to me.

My grey dress was my favorite article of clothing. Soft and shapeless like pajamas, but without making me look like I weigh a metric ton. I wear it to sleep sometimes. It’s that comfy. The nurse kindly averted her gaze as Morgan helped me take off my hospital gown. I had no secrets from Morgan, and hardly any boundaries. I’ll always remember the time we both got so drunk at a midnight desert bonfire festival that we both ended up evacuating both our bowels and stomachs in the same restroom at the same time. She is the closest thing I have to a sister.

She helped me pull on my dress, careful not to bump my bandaged hand and back of my head. I winced a little when I put my hands through the sleeves. The pain meds were starting to wear off, and my abdomen began to feel heavy and stretched, as though someone had poured concrete into it. Alicia and Morgan both offered me their hands to help me stand up from the bed. My body felt heavy and completely stiff.

Is this what getting hit by a car feels like? I absentmindedly wondered.

I slid gratefully into the wheelchair that Alicia had brought in, all too thankful not to have to walk right now. Morgan ran ahead to pull her car around to the front of the hospital. I was so grateful to leave. I just wanted to be in my own home, in my own bed, and to be able to take a shower.

Oh god, I thought with longing, I just want to take the longest, hottest shower possible. 

Morgan pulled up to the curb in her dusty Subaru, running around to the passenger side to open my door. Alicia helped me up from the wheelchair and I gingerly lowered myself into the front seat, pushing several menu mock-ups on to the floor.

Morgan laughed as she got in beside me, “wow, you must really not be feeling well. You’ve worked for months on those menus,” she smirked.

I groaned and waved my hand dismissively at her, closing my eyes and leaning my forehead against the cool glass window. Morgan turned on to the 62 highway and headed for my Sunfair Heights neighborhood. I kept my eyes closed. The pain meds were making me nauseous, and the passing cars and landscape only made it worse.

“Do you want me to stop by the grocery store on the way to your place so you can have some fresh food at home? Or do you want me to take you straight home and I can go shopping for you later?” Morgan asked, rubbing her hand gently on my knee.

“Can you take me home now, and go shopping later? If you don’t mind? Please?” I said weakly to her. I was overwhelmed with pain, fatigue and nausea. I just wanted to be at home.

“Sure, hun. We’re almost home.”

Morgan pulled into my driveway, taking extra care to avoid the bumpiest parts of the dirt road leading up to my house. I’ve never been more thankful to see the dark-blue stucco walls of my home. I’ve also never been happier to see my baby Flower, who had come bounding out the house, barking in delight with Rusty following close behind. Rusty came to my door and helped me out, making sure to keep Flower at a safe distance so she wouldn’t jump up on me. I wish she could have. I’ve missed her “huggies” desperately.

Rusty wrapped his arm around my back and led me slowly toward the house. Morgan had gone ahead inside with my bags. I entered the foyer and was immediately overcome with the mouthwatering aroma of food. “I made you some chicken noodle soup using some of the leftovers from our market trip the other day,” Rusty explained, noting my reaction.

He led me over to my kitchen where a Dutch Oven full of soup simmered on the stove. I saw that he had prepared it just the way I liked it – with extra noodles.

“Oh Rusty, you are so kind. Thank you so much!” I practically cried, my once nauseous stomach now snarling for food.

Rusty smiled as he walked over to my fridge, “and I prepped up a few meals so that you can just heat them up if one of us isn’t here to help you. There’s a lasagna Bolognese, a bunch of roasted veggies, baked honey-garlic chicken and some wild rice,” he pointed to each dish as he spoke.

“But because I know you’re super picky about coffee and tea, I didn’t get you either, so Morgan will have to run out later to get those for you,” Rusty turned back to me.

“Rus, I love you, thank you so, so much. This means the world to me,” I smiled groggily and shuffled over to hug him. He gingerly wrapped his arms around me and pressed a kiss into my hair.

“Love you too, Mims. I’m glad you’re gonna be okay…but you desperately need a shower.” He wrinkled his nose as he pulled away. I flipped him off, laughing slightly, careful not to engage my abs too much.

“That’s what I’m here for!” Morgan chimed in as she rounded the corner into the kitchen.

She grabbed two cans of La Croix from the fridge and took my hand to lead me back to my bathroom. She already had my shower ready to go, and it smelled like she had added my favorite lavender mint shower melts to the tub. It was heaven. She helped me undress and remove the bandage from my head. The hospital had provided a sort of waterproof glove and abdominal wrap for me to wear in the shower so that my bandages wouldn’t get wet. The cut on the back of my head was mended with old fashioned stitches that wouldn’t be damaged by water. Morgan cracked open one La Croix for me and the other for her. She held the shower door open for me and held my arm as I gingerly stepped in.

“I’ll be right here if you need me,” she told me as she closed the glass door. I nodded at her as I stepped under the water and attempted to clear my head. The steam was fragrant with essential oils. The mint opened my sinuses and soothed my sand-papery throat. I kept my eyes closed as the hot water pounded the aches and pains out of my joints and hung my head forward to release the tension in my neck. I noticed the water pour down my torso, tinted dark red as it washed away the dried blood from my hair. I scrubbed my skin with my favorite brown-sugar exfoliant and lathered my hair with tea-tree shampoo.

I could have stayed in the shower forever, but Morgan returned to the bathroom with a mug of the soup Rusty had made and I could no longer ignore my empty stomach. I climbed out and wrapped myself in my robe, grabbing the steaming mug of soup from where Morgan had placed it on my bedside table. I ignored the spoon and slurped the thick broth down, chewing the tender chicken, veggies and egg noodles. Morgan pulled back the duvet on my bed and positioned my pillows so that I could sleep upright. I finished my soup and slid under the covers, completely exhausted. I barely registered Morgan telling me that she would be staying in the guest bedroom tonight if I needed her before I drifted off into the deepest sleep I’ve had in ten years.

———————–

One of my favorite things in the whole world is waking up to the smell of breakfast cooking and coffee brewing. I hadn’t opened my eyes yet, but I could already tell that it was far later in the morning that I usually woke up. I snuggled deeper into the covers only to yelp in agony – I had completely forgotten about my surgery. My stomach throbbed in pain, and I quickly reached down to inspect my incisions to see if they had opened. They hadn’t, thank god.

Morgan rushed into the room, chef’s knife and dish towel in hand, “are you alright?” she asked anxiously, her eyes wide with worry.

“Ugh, yes, I’m fine, I’m sorry,” I groaned as a swung my legs over to the side of the bed. “Just moved the wrong way when I woke up,” I reassured her.

She breathed a sigh of relief and pocketed the chef’s knife in her apron. She offered me her hand to help me out of bed. I was sore and in pain for sure, but not nearly as much as I thought I’d be. The miracles of laparoscopy, I swear.

“Don’t worry about me in the bathroom, I got it today,” I told Morgan. I was in desperate need of a moment of privacy anyway.

“Alright, well keep the door unlocked please, and call me if you need me. Breakfast will be ready in ten,” she said as she started back for the kitchen.

I padded into my bathroom, grateful that I had splurged on heated floors during the home remodeling process. There was nothing that I hated more than bare feet on a cold floor

Well, there were other things I hated more but whatevs… my thoughts trailed off as I took in my haggered appearance in the mirror.

Dark circles encased my puffy, swollen eyes. A dried drool mark trailed down my cheek and my hair was a massive knot of matted curls. I sighed heavily, patting my face as if that would make the swelling go away. I tied my hair up in a loose bun and swiped some rose-water toner on my face. I brushed the sleep out of my mouth and gargled some mouthwash before I headed down the hallway into the kitchen.

Morgan was standing over the stove, one hand on her hip while she flipped a few pieces of sourdough bread that were crisping up in a hot skillet of olive oil. She handed me a mug of black coffee, “your creamer is in the fridge,” she said with thinly veiled disgust, “I went out last night after you had fallen asleep and picked up a few more things. Flower was in charge for awhile.” She smiled down at Flower who was sitting attentively at her feet, eager for kitchen scraps.

I grinned, knowing that Morgan despised my favorite coffee creamer. I may be an executive chef, but there was nothing like good-old-fashioned Coffee-Mate French Vanilla creamer in my dark roast cupp-a. And lots of it. I liked my espresso black, my lattes unsweetened, but I liked my morning coffee diner-style. Overly sweet and roasted to within an inch of its life. It reminded me of my mom, I think. She used to drink her coffee that way when I was growing up. She would let me have a kids size cup of coffee every Saturday morning that was more vanilla cream than coffee, but I thought it was the best thing in the world.

Morgan pulled a tomato basil frittata out of the oven and placed it on a trivet on my kitchen island. She slid the toasted sourdough off the skillet and onto my plate. I was famished, and the food was mouthwatering. I was finished with my first slice of frittata before Morgan had even sat down.

“I still don’t understand why you don’t want to come back into the kitchen with us,” I told her through a mouthful of egg, “this frittata is so fucking good.”

Morgan chuckled, spreading butter on her toast, “because managing the front of house means I get to boss people around, and I love doing that more than anything else.”

I smiled at her and crunched down on my toast. “Thank you for being here, Morgan,” I said, and then paused, putting my coffee mug down.

She noticed the change in my demeanor and set down her fork. “Do you wanna talk about it? I think we ought to,” she said quietly.

I nodded, “well, I’m really nervous, as you can probably tell. I don’t know what this “mass” looks like or how big it is or why they think that it’s cancerous, but I guess I’ll just have to –”

“No, not about that.” Morgan interjected.

I bit the inside of my lip. I had been working so hard not think about him, and for a little while it had been easy. Being told you could have cancer certainly prioritizes your thoughts.

“I understand that your doctor suspects uterine cancer, but even if it is, you’re gonna get that shit cut out, get treatment, and be done and move on with your life,” she said matter-of-factly. She wasn’t one to mince her words.

I stared at the table, my eyes cast down. I was thankful she had lit a fire in the living room. It was a chilly 40 degrees outside, and it was nearly noon. “You have the best knife skills of any chef I’ve ever worked with, so it takes a lot to distract you to the point of nearly severing a major artery,” she paused. I could feel her gaze searching my face for signs of how I was really feeling.

I kept my gaze fixated on the table, my fingers toying with the woven ends of my placemats.

“Molly, we need to talk about Cillian.”


Voila! Please let me know what you think in the comments below! Chapter 2 will be posted next week.

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