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The Unlived Life of Russell Stone, Part 8

In choices, divorce, fiction, judging, lessons, marriage, office, plans, relationships, stress on October 3, 2011 at 9:58 pm

A Novelette

by Cheryl Courtney Semick

Rachel walks to the elevator with Mrs. Stone’s journal in her hand. It is 8:45 AM.

I don’t remember walking to the elevator. In fact, I don’t remember anything from the moment Mrs. Stone handed me her journal until I opened it and began reading.

“Read this before you go to court,” she had said.

You must know that I am a very private person. In fact, the only reason I’m writing all of this down is because—well, you’ll figure that out soon enough. What I’m saying is, only my assistant knew of my court date. On my watch, gossip is grounds for immediate termination, so I’m quite sure Kevin wouldn’t risk losing his cushy paycheck just to indulge in a few morsels of that nonsense. So how did Mrs. Stone know I was due in court by nine?

I always maintain a professional distance from our patients and their families—most especially with the Russell’s. Her connections to our Board, her national renown as a poet and Mr. Russell’s condition all combined into a big red flag. When Mr. Stone was admitted, I held a mandatory powwow to explain that his time with us would require extreme discretion, not only with the patient’s personal information, but with the staff sharing their personal information in idle chit chat to him. Be kind, compassionate, attend to his needs and that’s all, were my instructions.

Until Angie got her panties in a bunch over Mr. Stone, all was well. Somewhere along the line she took it upon herself to play judge and jury over him and if I hadn’t addressed that when I did, we would now be facing repercussions of a most unpleasant sort. I hope she’s grateful I spared her a pink slip. Regardless, I’m confident she didn’t let spill any info on me to the Stone’s either—even if she does know about my divorce.

I put that aside and focused on the journal. I had 15 minutes to get to the courthouse so I knew I couldn’t possibly read it all before then. I gathered some work and stuffed it into my briefcase then thought I could take the journal with me.

I picked it up and turned it in my hands. It was made of leather, smooth on the outside, though worn from years of use. Inside was the rough hide, unfinished, with thick sections of ivory pages folded and sewn into the spine by some kind of heavy-duty thread. Its construction was definitely crafted by an artist and felt priceless, like it had been given to a mortal by a Greek god or goddess and held magic powers … to preserve for my eyes only, centuries later. Okay, so I watch a bit too much sci-fi.

The cover page was all blank with only Mrs. Stone’s handwriting: “This book belongs to Margaret Lynette Stone,” it read. Below her name was what looked like a proverb, but I couldn’t place it: By your patience possess your souls.

I couldn’t help myself, I had to peek. It was 8:50 AM, just one page …

To be continued….

________________

Read from the beginning…

The Unlived Life of Russell Stone, Part 4

In death, divorce, fear, fiction, healing, marriage, office, relationships, stress on May 9, 2011 at 2:03 pm

A Novelette

By Cheryl Courtney Semick

Rachel is on the hunt to find out who called Mrs. Stone. Somehow, Mrs. Stone had learned of her husband’s death before Rachel called, which normally wouldn’t be an issue, but in the case of the Stone’s, it is far more than an issue.

My anger rose to another level by the time I reached the first floor. I determined that whoever made that call will feel its full force.

“Hi Ms. Cox, is everything okay?” Tina, our facility receptionist, popped out of her chair at the sound of my heels grinding across the lobby’s ceramic tile.

“No, Tina, it is not,” I shot back as I marched past her desk toward Mr. Stone’s nursing unit. Angie would be my first victim. I heard Tina pick-up her phone as I rounded the corner, undoubtedly to warn the unit that I was on my way.

I spotted Angie on the phone when I approached the unit desk and knew by her stance that she had in fact been alerted.

“Hi Rachel,” she said coolly as she set the phone back on the hook. “Everything okay?”

“Who called Mrs. Stone?”

“No one here called her. Kevin said you would,” she answered. For some reason, I believed her.

“I did,” I snapped, “but she already knew. Now, how do you suppose she knew if I’m the only one who called her?” I didn’t wait for an answer. I swallowed my rage and decided it could simmer while I focused on my own crisis. I checked my watch, 7:45 AM. Angie knew me well enough to know that this discussion was so not over and quickly caught up with me.

“Rachel, I’m sorry, I know you think I hate the Stones, but I am telling you the truth, I didn’t call her!”

“I believe you, Angie” I told her, but held my pace. The Stone saga had seeped too far into my mind and I no longer cared. “Just get back to your shift.”  Angie stopped and stood in the hall. No telling what was going through her mind, and I didn’t care about that either. I had a death report to fill out and file before I left for the courthouse; the rest could wait.

Tina picked up the phone as I appeared in the lobby and pretended to have a legitimate conversation; do they think I’m stupid? I know it’s Angie reporting back. I crossed the reception desk and there at the front door was Mrs. Stone.

“Rachel,” she said, her voice merely a breath.

“Mrs. Stone!” I embraced her and offered my condolences for her loss.

“Rachel, may I see him?”

I opened my mouth but nothing came out. I had been so wrapped up in finding out who called her that I had no idea whether or not his body had been placed in our Afterglow room for viewing.

“Honestly, I’m not sure, why don’t you sit here in the lobby and I’ll go find out.”

“May I wait in his room?” she asked

“Oh, of course, yes, please,” I took her by the arm and led her back to her husband’s room. Tina was still on the phone and I made out enough of her statements to know that another warning had been sent to the unit of approaching doom.

Mrs. Stone had a peculiar look on her face, a calmness about her that was puzzling for someone who had just lost their beloved spouse. I brushed it off and left her alone in the late Mr. Stone’s room while I searched for answers on his whereabouts.

At 8 AM, I ushered Mrs. Stone to the Afterglow room where our staff had laid the body of the deceased and lit candles all around the room; soft, ethereal music welcomed the grieving widow. What happened next shocked me so profoundly I still can’t shake the image from my mind.

Read Parts 1 – 3

The Unlived Life of Russell Stone, Part 3

In death, fear, fiction, office on May 9, 2011 at 1:39 pm

A Novelette

by Cheryl Courtney Semick

Rachel must place a call to the widow of Mr. Stone who passed away late last night, but she can’t pick up the phone. The conversations she had just weeks ago with Mrs. Stone are still churning in her gut. It would be great if she could just extricate herself from their strange story…

The tidbit Mrs. Stone shared with me about spending her entire marriage as a celibate servant to her husband lit the fuse in the bomb that’s been sitting dormant in my heart for the last 15 years. I thought I had dismantled that thing and was angry to find it still threatened my plans to be free from Steve.

Anyway, I couldn’t pick up the phone. All I had to do was inform Mrs. Stone that her husband died this morning at 1:03 a.m., offer condolences and politely pass her along to our after-death staff who handles the final paperwork and subsequent ceremonies.

But I couldn’t, not today. Today I had to focus on the final hearing of the divorce of my marriage that is taking way too long to die. Death never bothered me until I met the Stones. I’ve been in this business for 18 years and death-related things don’t even phase me. It’s not that I don’t feel; I just don’t fall to pieces. Neither do I dwell.

“Kevin, get Angie on the phone.” She will call Mrs. Stone or I’ll fire her for insubordination. This is technically her duty.

“I’m not here—I took the day off!” Kevin barked back through my intercom. On no other day would he do this to me. Angie’s toxic tales of Mr. Stone had infiltrated my whole staff—including my assistant and now there was no one left in the entire facility who would call Mrs. Stone.

“I’m not paying you for this day, Kevin,” I threatened. He didn’t retort, which was also unusual, but I knew he heard me, I could hear him outside my door fiddling with the fax machine. I reached for the envelope; inside was Mr. Stone’s watch and his wedding band. I looked twice to make sure there was nothing else, but it was empty.

I tilted the ring to read the engraving: Till death; strange choice for newlywed.

“Call her.” I jumped at the bark from the intercom and dropped the ring.

“Kevin! Either leave or get Angie on the phone!” It was 7:20 a.m. and as angry as I was at Kevin, I knew he was right, I couldn’t keep stalling. I grabbed the phone and dialed the number he had scribbled on the envelope.

“Hello?”

“Mrs. Stone? This is Rachel. I’m sorry to wake you so early.”

“No problem Rachel,” her voice was odd, feathery.

“Russell left us early this morning, just after one. I’m so sorry.”

“I know Rachel, he’s at peace now.”

Her response took me off guard. Had someone else called her? She thanked me and said she would be in soon, declining my offer to come get her. I hung up and stared blankly at my wall of sticky notes, wondering what it was about this man that garnered such devotion. He seemed as normal as the rest of us. I pushed aside my thoughts. Mrs. Stone could be a saint if she wants, but not me. I have no patience for that. My almost Ex needs to grow up and take responsibility, and I need more from a man than he can give. I pressed the intercom.

“Who called Mrs. Stone?”

I popped out of my chair at the silence and yanked the door open. “Kevin! Who – ” He was gone. I marched down the hall and punched the elevator button, seething under my breath. I didn’t need this today.

Read Part 1

Read Part 2



In Case of Stress: Reach Under Chair

In Christ, God, Jesus, kids, office, Writing on June 26, 2009 at 10:19 am

Well, we’re in. My back is killing me, my nerves are frayed and here we are with an echo in our new home.Paperwork Overload

We pared down to essentials and it’s bittersweet. It’s refreshing, like a good, overdue haircut and unsettling, like waking up in your bed at someone else’s house.

Overall, it’s a blessing. I’m the official babysitter of our grandson every Thursday. Job opportunities are pouring in for my husband (thanks to a great friend who sends listings to him every day!). We’re literally 15 minutes away from our kid’s house (it was a 3-hour drive one-way), and we can now attend church with them every Sunday!

Nonetheless, we’re still quite in the middle of transitioning our lives. We need to list the house (e-mail me if you’re looking to buy a charming Victorian dollhouse in Peoria), and there’s still much to clean, box up and move. Ugh! My back hurts just thinking of it!

Smack dab in the middle of this lightning speed move, I squeezed out four days to attend a writer’s conference. I was having lunch with another conferee; a lovely woman named Leslie, who relieved me of much stress by sharing her emergency strategy for such times.

“I have a bag of M&M’s taped to the bottom of my chair,” she told me. “You see, I can’t trust myself around M&M’s.  If I was Eve in the Garden of Eden, there would not have been an apple tree; it would have been an M&M tree.” I laughed hysterically (note to reader: laughter also relieves stress, though chocolate is tastier)!

She explained her plan, “One day I’m eating a bag of M&M’s at my desk at work and realize I had to stop.  So I taped up the bag and then taped it to the bottom of my chair. This way, when it’s a real emergency, I can just reach under my chair and there they are!”

What a concept, to have chocolate so readily available for times of stress! No driving to the store like a madwoman, shoving people aside in the aisles, ripping open candy bars and devouring them in public (I’ve never done that, I was just hypothesizing).

I ponder this plan of Leslie’s as two cold packs ice my throbbing back and realize that there is no chocolate within my reach. Obviously, I need to make some changes in my strategy. OK, I don’t, but I am glad that I have a new friend, a new home, new opportunities and can hug and kiss my kids every day. Life is good, despite the stress.

I would be remiss if I did not tell you that Leslie also shared how God changed her whole life and that He is her true stress-reliever. All kidding aside, He is mine too and at that lunch table we communed and mused on the mysteriously awesome way He fills our hearts with hope and carries our burdens and heals our hearts.

Jesus’ anti-stress strategy is better than chocolate:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”  (Matthew 11:27-30 The Message)

Like Mom, Like Me

In career, Children, Moms, office on May 1, 2009 at 6:23 pm

Mom drifted off to sleep long before bedtime most weeknights. As a child I remember how she got up early every day, dressed up real nice and went to work. My brother and I got home before she did, and when she arrived she wasn’t up for much conversation.

Paperwork Overload

One day Mom told me she could use some help at her office, something about a machine that folds letters and stuffs them into envelopes going haywire; it folded hundreds of letters the wrong way.

I was thrilled to go to work with her.  She was the Office Manager at a Christian magazine and it was cool seeing her orchestrate the circulation department. The day I sat in the office with her to refold all those letters and stuff them in envelops was the day I got the bug.

Not sure if that’s the right word for it – some days I would call it the disease, but whatever it was I got it. Now, I get up early, dress up as nice as I can and work in an office!

I’m not saying I dreamt of becoming an office professional, I didn’t. It just got into my DNA that day and now the mundane, monotonous tasks that so many loathe, I love.

I was only 12 when I sat at that desk in my Mom’s office, but I was old enough to understand that she and her staff were indispensible and could never be replaced by machines.

As a 20-year veteran in the administrative profession, I now know why Mom was so exhausted when she came home.  I fully respect her efforts and endurance in a career that without question can try the very soul of the most stable personalities.

One must possess incredible patience and skill to sit behind a desk all day, magically complete their tasks and dodge bullets of gossip, condescension and backstabbing – not to mention staying clear of dueling egos. The workload alone is not for the faint-hearted.

Mom is now retired from the office world and I’m still plugging away at piles of paperwork – though my office is wherever I want it to be – as long as I have my laptop and a strong Wi-Fi signal.  Technology aside, the work is still the same, and still rewarding.

Sometimes I wonder how I can be so much like her in that respect and yet so different. She could cook circles around me in the kitchen and had a wonderful flair for decorating and entertaining.  I’d rather be at my computer plucking away at these keys, cooking up stories, and entertaining readers. ‘To each his own,’ as they say.

I love my Mom. She is kind, thoughtful and generous. And, while I’m proud that I share her skill set professionally, I’m still working to earn the profitable wages of a life lived with a mother’s heart.