Nina Andrews is a woman who loves her life and considers it close to perfect. After twenty-eight years of marriage, she is still in love with her husband, Mike. Now that they are empty-nesters, they are looking forward to retirement and a life of leisure.
Their financial planner, Pat McDermott, is successful professionally, but her personal life has been a disappointment. She has always admired the relationship that Mike and Nina have and envies them.
Suddenly everything changes when Mike dies leaving Nina behind. Her overwhelming grief soon turns to anger and then depression. She tries to live outside her grief, but the next step seems impossible. Just when Nina thinks she is learning to endure, she crashes.
As Nina struggles with her loss, Pat battles her own demons. Once burned by love, she is hesitant to open her life up to new possibilities. So when someone special appears in her life, every instinct tells her to be afraid. But whether she wants to or not, she is falling in love.
Crushed by her grief, Nina carefully plans her suicide but just as she is about to carry out her plan, there is a knock at her door. The visitor she finds on the other side will change her life in ways she never dared dream.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.52(d)|
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On the Other Hand
By June McCullough
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 June McCullough
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSunday, August 12
Nina slowly stretched in an attempt to bring herself out of a deep sleep and into what could at least be considered semiconsciousness. She raised her arms above her head, reached as far as she could while arching her back, and pointed her toes directly towards the doorway to the hall. With the stretch complete, she brought her arms down and rolled over to her side.
As she reached over to the other side of the bed, she realized that it had already been vacated; Mike was already awake and up. This discovery didn't surprise her. The cool sheets on his side of the bed had lost all warmth from his body heat, letting her know that he had been up for awhile.
In fact, she thought, he's probably already had his morning coffee and read the paper, which didn't surprise her either. For as long as she had known him, he had been an early riser, and during their 28-year marriage, he had always been the first one up—the only exception was when their children were young enough to require her presence and her presence alone.
Thoughts of the night before flashed through her memory, and she wondered if he was still upset with her. They had entertained a few people from his office, and she had got a little tipsy—not drunk, just tipsy, but he hadn't approved of it. He had said he didn't think it was proper for the boss's wife to be anything but the gracious hostess in control of a wonderful evening.
Nina quickly tried to justify her actions in her own mind Before she had to face him. Maybe it was because it had been a busy week, she reasoned, or it could be because she was tired. All she knew was that, for whatever reason, as she started visiting, telling stories, and listening to jokes their guests told, somewhere along the way she had forgotten her role of hostess.
She also refilled her wineglass a few more times than she had realized. Consequently, she had completely forgotten all about the hors d'oeuvres in the oven until they were burnt. Truth told, she hadn't remembered them even then. It was Mike who had taken them out of the oven and thrown them away. Try as she might, she could not remember what he had substituted them with. The one thing she did know was that she would never ask.
Rolling onto her back, she maneuvered her body into one more stretch. It wasn't until she relaxed from this position that she felt awake enough to even think about getting up. It also wasn't until then that she picked up the aroma of bacon and freshly brewed coffee.
She breathed in deeply to take in as much of the aroma as she could just as Mike entered the room carrying a large mug with steam rising above the rim, and she knew it was a cup of the morning mud, as he referred to it.
It was obvious to her that he was no longer upset with her, but then, that didn't surprise her anymore than finding him already up and busy.
"Good morning, Sleepyhead," he greeted her cheerfully. "Or is that Balloonhead? Thought you might need a little something to help deflate it a little."
Okay, so he wasn't mad, but he wasn't going to let it drop just yet either.
"My head is just fine, thank you very much," she replied, propping herself up on the pillow into a position that would allow her to drink her coffee without spilling it.
Nina was pleased when she realized that her headache could have been a lot worse. It didn't hurt too badly, but as soon as he left the room, she had every intention of sneaking into their en suite and taking two Tylenol with her coffee, just to take the edge off.
As he handed her the coffee, he leaned over and gave her a quick kiss on the lips and sat on the edge of the bed.
"Last night went pretty well, don't you think?" he said, rubbing her leg.
Nina held the mug to her lips and blew into it before taking a sip. "Actually," she said as she lowered the cup, holding it close to her chest, "I think it went very well, and I think everyone enjoyed themselves. It was really good of the company to pay taxi fare both here and home again for everyone. That way nobody had to worry about drinking and driving, including the boss who hosted the party. I know you always worry when someone has a drink here and then drives when they leave."
"Well, I'd feel responsible if someone had an accident because I served them a drink."
"You worry too much, but I suppose I should be grateful because that's one of the reasons I never have to. You always do enough worrying for both of us."
"Well, if I don't start worrying about breakfast, the bacon will get cold," he said as he started to stand and head for the door. "Drink your coffee, and then get your lazy butt out of that bed and into the kitchen for breakfast. You'll need all the nourishment you can get if we're going to get all the yard work done that we've talked about."
When Mike reached the doorway Nina called his name.
He stopped and turned to face her.
"I really am sorry about last night," she said, meaning it. "I should have watched how much I was drinking, and I guess I just got a little carried away."
"Don't worry about it," he replied. "You weren't the only one that might have tossed back a few more than they realized. I think a few people will be moving a little slower today, although I don't think anyone actually got drunk.
Well, except Castles—he really got carried away, and it would serve him right if he couldn't get out of bed at all today."
With that comment he was out the door, and Nina was alone with her coffee. Setting it on the nightstand, she tiptoed into their en suite to get the Tylenol from the medicine cabinet.
It was a beautiful day without a cloud in the sky. The sun was shining, and the weatherman had promised that the temperature would reach 32°C by mid-afternoon. Both Mike and Nina wanted to get as much work done as possible before then.
After a full breakfast of bacon, eggs, diced potatoes, and sliced tomatoes, they sat on the deck at the back of the house drinking their coffee and quietly enjoying each other's company.
When the coffee was consumed, Mike headed for the garage to get the tools needed for the task at hand, and Nina carried the mugs back into the house to be washed with the rest of the dishes.
He made the breakfast, so she was responsible for the cleanup. It was an arrangement they had agreed to years before. Whoever did the cooking was not expected to do any of the cleanup. As a rule, he cooked breakfast and she usually prepared supper. This suited her just fine because it allowed her to sleep in longer, and she only had one or two pans to wash, putting the rest of the dishes in the dishwasher. It also meant that once they sat down for supper, her work for the day was finished.
As she stood by the sink, she thought again of how quickly he got over things. He was generally easy-going with the choices she made. Thinking back, she recalled the time he was totally forgiving of the $800 she spent for a picture without discussing it with him first because she saw it and just knew she had to have it. He never complained and was always a wonderful host, even if it had been a grueling week at work and all he wanted was to vegetate on the couch Friday night, only to find out that she had invited another couple over for a game of cards that evening.
None of this seemed to faze him. The only thing he ever asked was that she behave in a manner that he believed to be appropriate when they were around the people with whom he worked, and normally she was very good at allowing him this one request—but she did admittedly get a little carried away last night. And yet, to him last night was history. He had said whatever it was he had to say after the guests left, and now it was forgotten.
That was one of the few differences between them—one that always left Nina baffled. She knew darn well that if their shoes were reversed right now, she would have mentioned it last night, again this morning, and probably later again today. Without a doubt, she would have a two-day pout. In all their years together, she could never understand how he got over things so quickly. She only knew that he did and that she was grateful for it.
By the time she put away the last dish, she had decided that she would be especially nice to Mike today. She always appreciated him, but every now and then, she would make a point of going out of her way to let him know. In fact, she thought, I'm going to get two of the biggest, juiciest steaks I can find and serve them barbecued, with baked potatoes, corn on the cob, a salad, and a bottle of very expensive red wine.
With the cleanup complete, Nina wiped her hands on the dishtowel, hung it up, and made her way to the backyard. She was surprised when she didn't find Mike already staining the back fence. She walked around to the front and checked the garage. When she didn't find him there, she returned to the backyard. The yard isn't that big, she thought. How do you lose a husband in an area this small?
This time she called his name in case she had missed him, which seemed impossible, but she figured she'd give it a try. When he didn't answer, she wondered if he had gone over to the neighbours to borrow something. She decided to call one more time and then get on with her own chores. If he was next door, he'd be back soon. Besides, she reasoned, if I've got some of my own chores done before he gets back, maybe I'll win some brownie points to make up for last night.
She had just called his name a second time when she thought she heard a noise. Standing perfectly still, she listened for it again. When she heard the sound a second time, she realized it was coming from the side of the house. It almost sounded like a wounded animal, and she contemplated leaving until she could find Mike. Instead, she moved slowly towards the sound and tentatively called his name again.
"Mike? Is that you?" she asked, slowly moving forward. "Honey, are you there?"
As she cautiously approached the area, she wasn't sure what to expect, but never in her wildest dreams would she have guessed what she actually found as she turned the corner to the side of the house. There was Mike, balancing himself on his knees and elbows and holding his head in his hands.
Running towards him, she screamed, "Mike! What's wrong?"
"Oh, God ... Nina ... the pain."
She knelt down beside him. It was obvious that the pain was so terrible that it was making it difficult for him to speak. It was taking everything in him to get his words out, even one word at a time.
The look on his face was one that Nina recognized immediately, even though she had only seen it once before. A few years earlier, Nina and Mike had been out for an afternoon drive when they came across an accident that had happened just minutes before. The driver of the car had been travelling much too fast for the icy condition of the roads and slid sideways into a pole. He was killed instantly, but his female passenger was still alive and conscious. She was in a lot of pain, and as she cried out, Nina was reminded of a wounded animal in the woods. Shortly after they arrived, the passenger mercifully passed out, allowing her to escape the suffering. Mike had the same look on his face now that the passenger of the vehicle had had on her face then.
Nina noticed the vomit on the ground next to Mike. Not knowing what had happened, she shook with fear for her husband and knew instinctively that he needed more help than she could provide.
"Mike, honey," she said as she forced herself to stay calm enough to handle the situation. What should she do? "I'm going for help." She couldn't get out more than a short sentence at a time. "I'll be right back."
Nina stood and ran to get the phone. As small as the yard had seemed to her just minutes before, it now seemed too big for her to get to the kitchen quickly enough. Once in the house, she grabbed the cordless phone from the kitchen table and dialed 911. By the time a voice came on the other end, she was heading back out the door to let Mike know she was getting help.
"Please," she began with her voice shaking both from fear and from the motion of running across the yard as she spoke. "My husband is in a lot of pain. I don't know what's wrong. We need help."
Just then, Nina turned the corner to where she had left Mike and screamed. He was no longer on his knees, but lying on the ground motionless, his eyes closed.
"Oh my God," she screamed. "No, no!" She knelt down beside him, dropping the phone to the ground. "Mike! Mike! Oh my God, Mike!"
Just then she heard a voice in the background and remembered the 911 operator. Reaching over to where the phone had landed, she picked it up.
"Please, something's wrong. Please come right away. Please," she begged.
Later, Nina would have no memory of the dialogue between her and the woman on the other end of the line. She also had no idea how long it took for anyone to get there. Although the ambulance pulled into their driveway in a matter of minutes, in her mind it took too long, and she was sure they were lost.
Two men entered the backyard just as the voice on the other end of the phone told her, "They should be there." After a short pause, when Nina didn't answer, the voice said, "Ma'am, are they there?"
"Yes, thank you," she answered, disconnecting the phone as she ran to meet the paramedics to show them the way.
Nina stood back as the two men placed their bag on the ground next to Mike and began their work. She stood back to give them room. Craning her neck to see past them, she was looking for any sign of life from Mike. She was so absorbed on the scene in front of her that she hadn't noticed her neighbour, Scott, enter the yard or approach her. When he spoke, the sound of his voice startled her.
"What's going on?" he asked as he placed a hand on her shoulder. "I saw the ambulance drive up and thought I'd come over to see if I could help."
Trying to focus on what was happening, Nina looked up at him, taking a second to speak. "I don't know what happened, Scott. I just came out here and found him. I don't know what's wrong." None of this seemed real.
Just then one of the paramedics left the backyard while the other came over to where Nina and Scott stood. Facing Nina, he asked, "What is your husband's name?" "Mike. Mike Andrews," she answered softly, her voice barely audible.
"My partner is getting the stretcher, and we're taking Mike to the hospital, Mrs. Andrews. Is he on any medication?"
"No," she whispered, finding it hard to speak.
"Does he have any medical problems?"
He asked a few more questions before his partner returned, and they quickly got to the business of getting Mike into the ambulance and transferring him to the hospital.
"Please," Nina asked, "what's wrong with him?"
The same paramedic who spoke with her earlier answered. Although he had a pretty good idea, it was not his place to say. "We won't know for sure until we get him to the hospital where they can run some tests." He turned to Scott. "I take it that you're a friend of theirs. Are you going to stay with her?"
"I'm going to the hospital with you. I'm not staying here." It was the first time since finding Mike that Nina's voice was strong, almost defiant. She wasn't about to stay and wait until they decided to phone her and tell her any news. She was going to the hospital in the ambulance with them, and she would stay there until she had answers.
"I'm sorry, but you can't ride in the ambulance with us, and I don't think you should drive." Once again he turned to Scott. "Can you drive her?"
At that, the paramedic turned to join his partner as they hurried Mike into the ambulance and drove away, lights flashing and siren blaring. Scott clearly saw the shock that Nina was in and put his arm around her shoulders, both to help calm her and to stop her from running after the ambulance. Two minutes later, Nina had locked up the house and was clutching her purse as she sat in the front seat of Scott's car sandwiched between him and his wife, Carrie.
While Scott skillfully wove between the cars of the traffic to get them to the hospital in record time, Carrie held Nina's cold, trembling hands in her own.
Grasping at any chance of hope, in a voice so quiet that Carrie had to strain her ears to hear, Nina said, "I've always hated the sound of ambulance sirens, but it's really a good sign, isn't it? It means they're getting him to the hospital as soon as they can so they can help him, aren't they? I mean, if ... if ..." At that her voice began to quiver, but she was determined to ask the question. Nina wiped away her tears, did her best to gain her composure, and asked, "If he were ... you know ... if it was too late, they wouldn't need the sirens, would they?"
"You're right, Nina," Scott replied, "The siren means that there is hope."
Excerpted from On the Other Hand by June McCullough Copyright © 2011 by June McCullough. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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