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Copyright © 2005 Peggy J. Herring
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The telephone rang, jarring them both awake. Blanche, in a sleep-induced stupor, struggled out from under the covers and felt around on the nightstand for the phone.
"Hello," she mumbled.
"Phoebe?" the soft female voice said.
"No, it's Blanche. What time is it?"
"I'm sorry it's so late. This is Cheryl. Did you see Mickey at all today?"
Phoebe Carson, Blanche's now-awake lover, elbowed her in the ribs and squinted over Blanche's bare shoulder at the clock. It was three-thirty in the morning.
"Mickey? No. We haven't seen her at all this week."
"Thanks," Cheryl said. "I'm sorry I woke you."
Blanche blinked a few times as the line went dead in her ear.
"Who's looking for Mickey over here?" Phoebe grumbled. She socked her pillow in an attempt to prep it for further slumber.
"Cheryl. And she sounded upset." Blanche turned the light on and dialed Cheryl and Mickey's number from memory. It was answered on a half ring.
"No, it's Blanche again. Are you all right? What's going on?"
Cheryl sniffed, and Blanche thought she heard a sob. The tiny hairs on the back of her neck stood up, and she was grateful when Phoebe, who was always much better during a crisis, took the phone away from her.
Tossing the cover aside and scrambling out of bed, Blanche pulled on a pair of sweats and began searching for shoes.
"We're coming over," Phoebe said into the phone. "Take it easy. We'll be there in ten minutes."
They finished throwing on clothes in silence and didn't say anything until they were in the car and backing out of the driveway. Phoebe's night vision was better, so she drove. Glancing at her worried lover, Phoebe reached over and took Blanche's hand.
"Mickey's probably working late and isn't answering her phone at the office," Phoebe said. Here you go making excuses for her again.
"The little shit knows better."
Blanche had a plan in mind. Once they knew where Cheryl had already called to try to find Mickey, their search would be narrowed considerably. In her heart Blanche prayed that her talented, thoughtless daughter was still at work getting a case ready instead of in some bar's parking lot passed out. No one wanted to deal with a drunk Mickey.
Phoebe rang the doorbell at Cheryl Trinidad's modest northside home. Cheryl answered it immediately. She looked a bit frayed around the edges, but she was still more elegant and attractive than anyone had a right to be at this hour.
"Hi," Cheryl said, hugging them both. Even in jeans and a Saint Mary's University T-shirt, Cheryl brought class to the simple outfit. "Thanks for coming. She'll be so angry that I called you."
"So you've heard from her?" Blanche asked, feeling a sense of relief sweeping over her.
"No," Cheryl said as she turned away from them. "I meant when she finally gets home."
"Where all have you called?" Phoebe asked. She put an arm around Cheryl's shoulder and led her to the sofa.
"The police, hospitals, her office, every friend and coworker I had a number for." Cheryl closed her eyes and rubbed her perfectly shaped nose. "Other than the police and the hospitals, all I managed to do was wake people up." She leaned her head back as tears rolled down the side of her face. "I started at eleven-thirty. The bars were closed by the time I thought of checking there." She reached over and squeezed Blanche's knee, saying again, "She'll be so angry that I called you."
Blanche, in return, gave Cheryl's hand a comforting pat. "She'll get over it. How about I make some coffee? We might be here a while."
Once Blanche was in the kitchen, Phoebe leaned over and asked, "You think Mickey could be out drinking?"
Cheryl shrugged and dabbed at her eyes with a damp, crumpled Kleenex. "I don't know. She's been a little quiet lately, but she's working such long hours. I think I'd know if she'd started back again."
Blanche returned from the kitchen holding a piece of paper and slowly handed it to Cheryl. "This was on the floor under the table. The cat must've knocked it off the counter."
Blanche watched Cheryl's expression change as she read. A lock of brown, shoulder-length hair fell in Cheryl's face; she tossed it back in place easily with a flick of her wrist. Her light brown eyes widened as she continued reading Mickey's cramped, sloppy script. Blanche's heart had finally stopped tap dancing with worry for her daughter, but it had begun a new, dreadfully different aching for the woman in front of her.
I'm in Mexico with my new lover I'll be back in a week. We'll talk then. Mickey
Blanche expected more tears, hysteria, screaming. Almost anything other than total silence. The shock on Cheryl's face and the devastation in her eyes pierced Blanche's heart.
"I'm so sorry, baby," Blanche said. Her voice trembled as she spoke. She took Cheryl in her arms and vowed to shake the living shit out of Mickey the next time she saw her.
"She's what?" Phoebe snapped after scanning the note. "Is she out of her mind?"
"This isn't the time, darling," Blanche whispered to her lover.
"We raised her better than this!"
"Please, Phoebe. Not now."
"I'm sorry I got you out of bed for nothing," Cheryl said in a monotone.
Blanche hugged her again, more for herself than for Cheryl. How could Mickey do such a thing to this wonderful person? Cheryl was so good for Mickey. She had helped her through a nasty bout with the bottle last year and had put a roof over their heads and clothes on their backs while Mickey went to law school. Cheryl was so nurturing and sane! Blanche couldn't imagine anyone being more right for her daughter. How could Mickey do this?
"I need to be alone right now," Cheryl whispered.
"I'm not sure that's a good idea just yet," Blanche said. There were questions Blanche wanted to ask and things she wanted to say. Questions, like How could you not know that Mickey was fooling around? She's so damned obvious when she's bad! And the things she wanted to say, like Yes, my Mickey's a shit, but she loves you, Cheryl. I know she loves you.
"Please," Cheryl said, her voice faltering slightly. "This is so humiliating." She was up from the sofa and striding toward the door. Once it was open, she leaned against it and waited for them to get their things together.
"I don't like this," Phoebe whispered.
"Maybe you should go on home without me," Blanche said to her lover. "I'll stay here and talk to her for a while."
"No," Cheryl said. "Please. Both of you just go. I can't see anyone right now."
They reluctantly made their way to the door where they hugged her fiercely. During the ride home and on into the next day, Blanche recalled the sound of Cheryl crying after she had closed the door. Mickey was in seriously big trouble this time. Seriously big trouble.
Blanche answered the door the following afternoon and broke into a radiant smile.
"My daughter the doctor," she said, giving Elaine a hug.
"Your message sounded important," Elaine said. "What's up? Is anybody sick? Is Phoebe okay?"
"It's a long story." Blanche slipped her arm around Elaine's waist and strolled to the kitchen where Phoebe was grating carrots.
"Hey, stranger," Phoebe said. "How's the skin business these days?"
"I've had a rash of patients lately."
Eyes rolled, followed by groans. Elaine was a dermatologist enjoying her second year in private practice. She and Phoebe always traded the same tired dermatology one-liners whenever they saw each other.
Elaine gazed over Phoebe's shoulder at the bowl she was slowly filling with shredded carrots. "Carrots are good for you. Why are you grating them?"
"I'm making a cake," Phoebe said. "Can you stay for dinner? Your mother made soup today." She nodded toward the oven. "And the cornbread's almost ready."
Blanche opened the oven and peeked in. "When did you talk to your sister last?" Blanche asked.
"Your birthday a few weeks ago." Elaine pulled out a stool from the counter. "Why?"
"She ran off to Mexico with some floozy, that's why."
"Cheryl's not a floozy," Elaine said sharply. Phoebe's carrot stopped in mid-stroke against the grater. The oven door remained propped open a tad as Blanche turned to look at her.
"Who said anything about Cheryl?" Blanche roared. "Mickey's got a new lover. Did you know anything about this?"
After a moment Phoebe reached over and tapped the bottom of Elaine's chin to help close her mouth.
"Uh ... no," Elaine said finally. Phoebe handed her the rest of a carrot to nibble on.
"Are you sure Mickey didn't say anything to you?" Blanche said.
"Mickey and I aren't close anymore. You know that." Elaine took a vicious bite of the carrot nub. "Damn! Lawyers are such assholes!"
Phoebe and Blanche both burst out laughing. Having been raised by two nurses, Elaine and Mickey had spent most of their childhood hearing their mother and her lover discuss the shortcomings of almost every doctor they knew or had to work with. The phrase doctors are such assholes never failed to enter a description of how one's day went at the hospital. But once Elaine had been accepted to medical school, the phrase was not uttered again in her presence. Elaine did, however, enjoy getting a good shot in on lawyers — her sister's chosen profession — every chance she got.
As Blanche ladled out bowls of homemade soup, Phoebe leaned over to Elaine and whispered, "Let Mickey and Cheryl work this out."
Elaine gave her a curious look.
"I mean it," Phoebe said.
"What are you two mumbling about?" Blanche asked. She plopped the cornbread out of the pan and rubbed her hands together. "Let's eat."
Cheryl Trinidad turned the pages of yesterday's paper, scanning articles with a fresh Kleenex in her hand. Filtering out the noise in the library was as natural to her as breathing. She dabbed at another tear that rolled down her cheek and felt certain that if one more person asked her what was wrong she'd probably explode.
Had it only been two days since Blanche had found the note? That short, devastating, three-sentence-poor-excuse note. When Mickey hadn't come home from work by ten o'clock Tuesday night, Cheryl had begun to worry. And how silly that had been. How could Mickey just leave this way? For her to arrange for time off at the office took a considerable amount of shuffling of everyone's caseload. Vacations took months to plan for in the DA's office. How long has she been working on this sin trip? Cheryl wondered.
She turned the page of the newspaper and tried not to think about the day before. Cheryl had called Mickey's office yesterday morning and been told by her secretary that Mickey was on vacation for a week. For some strange reason, hearing it from this woman made everything even more final than reading Mickey's note.
Cheryl called in sick at the library Wednesday morning and spent the day going from room to room in her house. She was still in shock. She cried occasionally and had trouble thinking clearly. The whole thing seemed so unreal. She couldn't imagine what had happened to their relationship and why Mickey would leave her. The sadness was overwhelming. How could Mickey be so unhappy and Cheryl not know it? And when did she have time to see someone else? I'm in Mexico with my new lover, the note had said. Cheryl had chosen not to dwell on that particular line until today. She and Mickey had made love on Sunday; they'd watched a movie in bed and had eaten cold pizza for breakfast. They'd wallowed around naked and happy for hours, so what could have possibly happened between Sunday and Tuesday? The whole thing didn't make any sense.
Cheryl had been a bit dazed as she got ready for work Thursday morning. She almost didn't recognize herself in the mirror with her puffy eyes and red nose. She moved around as if by remote control, barely remembering getting in her car and driving to work. And when was the last time I ate anything? she chastised herself. Maybe that's why my stomach is staying so queasy.
"How long have you worked at this branch?" a curt voice asked, interrupting her thoughts.
Cheryl looked up from the newspaper and blinked Janet Landro into focus in front of her desk.
"About a month. What are you doing here?"
Janet tossed her bangs away from her eyes. "We need to talk," she said, lowering her voice. "Our lovers are in Cancun fucking their brains out. Can we get some privacy around here?"
Cheryl slowly folded the paper and set it aside. Veronica? Mickey's in Cancun with Veronica? Her new lover is someone I know? Cheryl felt light-headed for a moment. She took a series of deep breaths and shuddered.
"There's an office in the back," she managed to say. How was it possible to feel any more numb than she already felt?
She led the way through the tiny tables and chairs in the juvenile section. Someone was reading to a group of children in the corner.
"Did Mickey leave a note?" Janet asked once the office door was closed.
Cheryl cleared her throat. "Yes."
"Was it as descriptive as mine? And the bitch emptied our checking account. I can't even make the house payment."
Cheryl stood by the desk with her arms crossed over her chest. The tears were gone now, but something even more disturbing seemed to be happening to her. "What exactly did Veronica's note say?" She wanted details. Evidence. Times. Places. Our lovers are in Cancun fucking their brains out.
"And you wanna know the real pisser with all this?" Janet said. "She bought the Cancun tickets for my birthday! We were all set to go!"
Like the usual library noises, Cheryl ignored this outburst and continued to stand there with her arms crossed. "What did Veronica's note say?"
One of Janet's long, slender fingers popped up as she began counting the events off. "They've been seeing each other for about two months, mostly in Mickey's office. Two," she said, popping another finger up, "they're in love and plan on getting a place together when they get back. Three," she said, waving her fingers in Cheryl's face, "the bitch thanked me for loaning her my birthday present! Can you believe that?"
Cheryl slumped against the corner of the desk. Veronica and Mickey worked together. Janet and Veronica had been over to their house several times for dinner in the last few months. They were friends. The four of them were friends!
"Thanks for telling me," Cheryl said. She brushed past her and was on her way up front to let someone know she was leaving for the day.
Mickey's in Cancun with Veronica. They've been seeing each other for months. The truth was no longer a jolt, and hearing it from Mickey personally wasn't important anymore. Those fleeting moments of inadequacy that had plagued Cheryl the night before were gone now as well, and the silent promises to win Mickey back didn't apply any longer either. There's something pathetic about a person who would want someone back after she's treated me this way, Cheryl thought. And she had no desire to be whiny and pathetic any longer. If Mickey Marcaluso wanted out, then fine. She's out forever.
Cheryl grabbed her purse from a desk drawer and left the library with as much dignity and grace as she could muster. Had there been anything in her stomach she might have needed to throw up again, but that wasn't the case now. No, ma'am. That wasn't the case at all now.
Excerpted from Those Who Wait by Peggy J. Herring Copyright © 2005 by Peggy J. Herring. Excerpted by permission.
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