Good Luck Has Its Storms


By JoAnn Baca

 

Good luck has its storms.

George Lucas

 

“Sweetheart…?”

The word was uttered so softly, Catherine almost believed it was wishful thinking that her father had spoken. Lying in the hospital bed, hooked up to machines, his face deathly pale, he looked to her like he was just one shaky step from heaven.

Her head had been bowed in a mixture of fatigue and prayer when the slight sound caused her to lift her face. She stared in hope at his lips. Against all odds, they moved again, ever so slightly, repeating the endearment she thought never to hear again.

“Daddy,” she replied, her heart leaping with fresh hope, “I’m right here. Rest now.”

His head shifted in the merest semblance of a nod. Catherine stared at him, and gradually noticed other changes – his face seemed more alive now, as if he truly were just sleeping, and his breathing was growing stronger, steadier.

A nurse came in to check his vitals, and Catherine turned to her. “He spoke just now…twice,” she reported, relief coloring her voice.

The nurse, stunned, nodded her head once. “I’ll call the doctor,” she said, noting something on Charles Chandler’s chart before she left.

Within five minutes there were more people filling the hospital room than Catherine had seen in the entire week she had been holding vigil. She was shunted to the side to make room for them, and finally was asked to step out. Unwilling to go, but wanting to cooperate, she settled for moving a chair from the waiting room to just outside the door of her father’s room. A specialist she recognized - the one who had told her there was little hope for her father’s recovery – rushed down the hall and into the room without even a nod to her.

She sat, hands clutched with the tension of waiting, straining to make out specific words from the low-pitched babble of the many voices speaking inside.

“It’s impossible to….” “…sure he spoke?” “…vitals show unmistakable…”

“Cath?”

Nancy stood before her in the hallway, a vase filled with colorful zinnias in one hand.

Without preamble, Catherine blurted, “He spoke. They’re….” She waved one hand in the direction of the door.

Nancy set the vase down and knelt in front of her old friend. “There’s hope?” Her eyes glistened with compassion for the daughter who had been waiting, resigned, dreading a different outcome.

Catherine shrugged. “They haven’t told me yet.” She leaned to quickly hug her friend. “Oh, Nancy, I’m glad you’re here! Take this chair.” She rose. “I’ll get another.” Without waiting for Nancy to respond, she strode down the hall to the waiting room and removed another chair, the spring in her step unmistakable.

Nancy had remained standing, and when Catherine returned with the chair, she took it from her, placed it beside the other, then turned to her friend and enclosed her in a gentle embrace. Catherine accepted the gesture gratefully and clung to her, her self-control melting. Tears began to fall, and she finally allowed her emotions to overwhelm her as she stood sobbing against Nancy’s soft shoulder.

# # #

It was another half hour before anyone emerged from the hospital room. By then, Catherine had gathered herself and was sitting, dry-eyed, beside her friend, their hands intertwined, waiting.

The doctor closed the door gently behind him then began, “Miss Chandler…I don’t know….” He didn’t finish his statement, as if unable to believe what he was about to say. “We haven’t figured out….” Stumbling to a stop again, he shook his head. Finally, he looked her right in the eye and admitted, “We have no idea how it happened, but it appears he’s recovering.” Again he shook his head and spoke as if to himself. “There should have been no way that….” He stopped speaking once more, sighed, then finally recovered his professional bearing and finished with a proper report. “He’s awake. He appears lucid, and has movement on both sides of his body, which is…frankly…unexpected.  We don’t know yet how that is possible, nor can we predict the extent of further recovery. More tests are indicated.”

He smiled, banishing his hard-won air of detachment. “He is one lucky man.” He inclined his head in the direction of the hospital room. “You can see him now. He wants to see you now.”

Catherine rose and threw her arms around the startled doctor in gratitude. She uttered a heartfelt “Thank you!” before brushing past him to thrust the door open and rush into her father’s room. The hospital staff parted at her approach then slowly slipped away until only one nurse was left, fidgeting with dials and taking notes.

“Daddy?” She stood gazing down at the beloved face. He was looking tired but now animated with a familiar smile.

“Hi, Punkin,” he murmured.

Catherine hastily brushed at the tears that were splashing down onto her father’s bedspread. “You gave me a scare, Daddy.”

“Didn’t…mean…to.” The effort of speech was costing him, and his eyelids fluttered to a close.

Catherine leaned down and pressed a kiss onto his forehead. “You sleep. I’ll be here when you wake up,” she promised.

# # #

Days later, sitting in the specialist’s office, Catherine heard the official prognosis. “There is some slowness of speech right now, but with therapy he should be able to express himself quite clearly again. And there is weakness on his right side. Physical and occupational therapy are likely to improve his mobility. At this point, and at least for the near future, he needs a wheelchair. However, it’s entirely possible he may graduate from the wheelchair to a walker, and there’s a slight chance he might eventually need only a cane. It’s likely at that point he would use a cane for the rest of his life.” He took his glasses off. “But…the fact that he has a ‘rest of his life’ should give you both great comfort.”

“What about his cognitive functions?” Catherine knew her father, and he would much rather retain his mental than his physical abilities.

“His mind seems to be sharp, and memory tests have revealed little loss of mental acuity.” The doctor leaned forward. “I can’t tell you with precision how the stroke has affected his brain functions, so I recommend he not return to his law practice. But otherwise his life can continue as before.” At Catherine’s relieved sigh, he added, “You’ve said he enjoys reading, museums, attending concerts and the theater… He is still capable of enjoying all of that. Even some physical effort will not be beyond him eventually, as long as he takes things easy. No climbing Mount Everest, but…using a walker to negotiate The Ramble in Central Park is probably within his reach within the next six months.”

“Thank you, doctor, for all you’ve done.” She stood up and reached out to shake his hand. As he took it, he admitted, “I wish I could take credit for his remarkable recovery but…it was all him, Miss Chandler. Luck was with him.”

# # #

Catherine pushed the wheelchair into her apartment. Her father’s brownstone was not the place for him at the moment. In fact, with all the stairs it contained, he might never be able to live in it comfortably again. But her apartment was perfect for him. Only the kitchen and dining area were beyond him while he was wheelchair-bound, but he wouldn’t be cooking for himself in any case, and otherwise everything was close at hand and easily accessible.

His doctors had recommended a nursing facility that specialized in stroke recovery, but Charles had dismissed it out of hand. He wanted to be “home” - and since his own home was not a good option, the argument had been swiftly and handily won by Catherine: “home” would be her place for the foreseeable future.

“Sweetheart, I hate putting you out,” he remarked as she closed the door behind them. It was the same refrain he’d been uttering for days now.

As usual, she responded with, “You are not putting me out.” She patted the back of the couch beside her. “This unfolds into a comfortable bed for me, and I’ll be out of here most of the day anyway, so it’ll almost be like having the place to yourself.”

He took her hand and gazed up at her. “I’ve got a wonderful daughter, did you know that?”

“And she’s got a wonderful dad,” she replied, kissing his cheek. “And we’re so lucky we both get a second chance to be close again.”

# # #

Charles was not the world’s best patient. He often argued with Catherine over what he was capable of doing, always feeling he could do more than was then possible. That wasn’t a bad thing when it came to his therapy sessions, as he pushed himself to his limits and kept making progress as a result. At the apartment, though, dinged furniture and broken knickknacks were silent rebukes to his insistence that he could wheel his chair unaided or negotiate from wheelchair to couch or bed without assistance. A few minor falls had caused her heart to leap into her throat. But it was all part of his healing process, testing his limits, and wanting to be independent. So she accepted his stubbornness as a positive aspect of his recovery.

That independent streak extended to other aspects of their life together, when he refused suggestions that might have made things a bit easier for Catherine had he agreed to them… although she would never explain it that way, or complain to him. She had tried to bring in help: a day nurse to watch over him when she was at work – who could have taken him to his medical appointments instead of Catherine taking time away from her job; an after-hours nurse to lighten Catherine’s burden of responsiveness to his overnight needs, thus allowing her to get full nights of sleep. He refused the former, saying he didn’t need a babysitter. He also refused the latter, adamant that he didn’t want a stranger staring at him while he slept.

Catherine accepted the simple fact that only his daughter didn’t feel like a babysitter or a nurse to him. He wanted as close to a normal life as possible while he regained mobility and strength. She couldn’t blame him for wanting that, even if it put an extra burden on her.  So she accommodated him as much as possible. Thus, her days were a blur of work, doctor and therapy appointments, and chores…and her evenings were taken up in being company for her father, and in caring for him as much as he would let her. And although the strain on her was perhaps greater than her father imagined, she certainly didn’t begrudge the man who had given her life this time to heal in comfort, encouraged and bolstered by her closeness. She loved him and felt so lucky to have him with her, in every way that meant.

No, she willingly accepted the strain and the additional work involved in caring for her dad alone. Accommodating him was much, much better than mourning him, she reminded herself whenever she swept up the shards of another broken glass or assisted him to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Her life with her father in it was better than without him, of that she had no doubt. She could juggle nearly everything else and make her life work.

Nearly everything else.

Unfortunately, the one part of her life that was completely disrupted by caring for her father was the one thing that frustrated her the most: she couldn’t find a way to fit Vincent into the equation. There was just no sneaking away at night, when her father might awaken at any time and need her, and she had no time to slip away for even a quick visit during the day when she had a hard enough time trying to accomplish everything on her plate at work and for her dad. She tried to focus on how lucky she was to have just that one problem…but it wasn’t easy.

# # #

“It’s hard on you, this separation, Vincent?”

In the dimly lit chamber, Vincent sat with his elbows on the table before him, his chin resting on his clasped hands. Father sat down beside his son, noting the slump of the younger man’s shoulders.

Since Catherine had been caring for her father in her apartment, Vincent’s opportunities to see her had evaporated, with little likelihood anything would change in the near future. As much as Father hated to admit it, he had gradually come to realize how much the situation was affecting his son. It would take an absolute refusal to face facts on his part to fail to see how anxious and sad Vincent had become over these long weeks without seeing Catherine, not to recognize how much of Vincent’s happiness was wrapped up in the woman who had captured his heart. 

Vincent raised his face, the bleakness in his eyes forecasting his response. “I miss her, Father.”

All that was unsaid, all the unspoken emotion caught up in those few words, tugged at the older man’s heartstrings.

He had tried so hard to keep them apart, without success. Father had been inwardly grateful to the unknown Charles Chandler for inadvertently succeeding where he himself had failed. Yet the results were not as Father had hoped. Vincent never smiled these days, never even seemed to enjoy a conversation or a meal. He was distracted, despondent…he was even losing at chess, although Father suspected he was doing that deliberately so he could go off by himself and brood. It couldn’t go on. He couldn’t bear to watch it go on.

“Is there no way…?”

Vincent shook his head. “I cannot visit her with him in her apartment. She cannot leave him to come Below. I sense how overwhelmed she is by all her responsibilities, how exhausted she is trying to meet them all. For now…for a while…I must be…patient.”

The last word was nearly spit out, shocking Father with the exasperation behind it. His eyebrows rose in response. “Surely you don’t begrudge the man the comfort and care of his only family at a time like this?”

Vincent stood and began pacing. “Of course not, Father. I am glad for him, glad for both of them, that they have this chance to be together, that Catherine’s love can help him as he heals.” He sighed, turning to his father, and added, “I’m not jealous of him. I’m just….” He shrugged, at a rare loss for words.

“I understand, I really do,” admitted Father. “You had at least some time together before, even if it wasn’t much. To have even that taken away…well, it must be difficult to accept, even though you know the reason why it must be so.”

Vincent nodded, gaze downcast.

Father rose from his chair, patted his son on the shoulder, and left his chamber…feeling sympathetic, a new emotion where Vincent’s relationship with Catherine was concerned.

# # #

It had been three months, and Charles and Catherine had settled into a routine. During the week, when he didn’t have therapy appointments, he no longer napped the day away, so Catherine arranged for Kay and a few other friends to visit with him while she was at work, to ensure he didn’t get too lonely or need anything before she got home. Once there, she tried her hand - usually successfully - at cooking simple meals. In the evenings he read or listened to music while Catherine applied herself to the work she had brought home. On weekends she took him to the park, often packing a picnic lunch, or drove him on excursions outside the city, knowing he was feeling housebound and enjoyed a change of scenery.

She could hardly remember a time when she wasn’t stretched so thin, but her father was worth all the extra effort.

One evening while Catherine took a break from the case she was working on and shared a bottle of wine with her dad, Charles finished his glass and, with a great flourish of his hand, set it down gently on the coffee table. It had been weeks since he’d broken a glass, and he was proud that his coordination was returning. Catherine grinned, seeing her dad so happy over that small triumph.

Instead of going back to the book on his lap, Charles made a show of looking around the living room and then said, “So…when is he coming over? Or did you two break up while I was in the coma?”

Startled, Catherine nearly dropped her own glass of wine as she coughed up the sip that had been sliding down her throat. “Who?” she managed to squeak.

“Your boyfriend. Vincent, wasn’t that his name? He said some pretty serious things to me when he visited. Seemed like he was quite committed to you.” Charles placed a bookmark in his novel, set it aside, and turned to face her. “I’ve been waiting. I didn’t want to say anything before, when I was really bad off, but I’m surprised he hasn’t been over now that I’m getting around better.” He frowned. “What’s up? Is my being here causing you two problems?”

Catherine blushed scarlet at the unexpected query. How was it possible he remembered Vincent’s visit with such clarity? She was sure her father had been deep in a coma at the time. Yet his question made it clear he recalled not only the visit but what was said, so she needed to give him a plausible answer while not flat-out lying to him. She finally answered with as much truth as she could offer while still keeping Vincent’s secret, stammering, “N-n-no. He… he’s just…not able to visit.”

Charles’ frown deepened. “Are you sure, honey? I’m far enough along, I can make other arrangements. Maybe I should reconsider that rehabilitation hospital?”

“No, Daddy,” she replied, taking his hand in hers. “You are staying right here, where I can keep an eye on you and make sure you don’t start taking on clients again.”

They both smiled at her avowal.

Thankfully, although he didn’t look like he entirely believed her, he allowed himself to be convinced. Nodding, he returned to his book, not hearing Catherine’s relieved sigh.

# # #

“Hi, Benny!” Catherine greeted the bike messenger for the DA’s Office who on occasion passed along messages of a different kind to her. He expertly slid his bicycle to a stop in front of her on the sidewalk in front of her office building.

“Got something for ya, pretty lady!” he remarked as he thrust a note into her hand. “See ya!” He cycled away before she could even express her thanks.

Clutching the note, Catherine continued on to lunch, unfolding it once she was in line to order a sandwich.

            I have some herbs that might help in your father’s healing. Come Saturday at 10:00?

The note was signed by Dr. Wong. Smiling, Catherine refolded the note and tucked it into her pocket. She suspected she wouldn’t only be meeting Dr. Wong there, and her heart leapt at that thought.

# # #

“I just need to go to Chinatown for a quick minute,” she announced to her father at breakfast on Saturday morning. Weekend breakfasts at the coffee table in her living room had become a ritual for them. He was an inveterate early riser, so Catherine never had a chance to sleep in on the weekends while he was staying with her. She had gotten used to it…almost.

“Chinatown? For what?” He took a bite of his second bagel. His appetite had been returning, which heartened Catherine, although the simple dinners she had been making for him – mostly soups and stews – now were not quite enough to quell his appetite, and she needed to up her game in the cooking department…something she was not quite sure she was capable of…or interested in. She sighed inwardly: another bit of pressure and stress to add to the mix.

“There’s an old herbalist I know there. I helped him out on a case a while back. He’s got something he feels might help in your recovery. I don’t want to hurt his feelings by not accepting his offer, so I’m going to drop in and pick it up.” Catherine shrugged, trying to make the visit seem as uninteresting as possible to her father.

“Great! Let’s go! I’d love to meet this guy!” Charles clapped his hands together in anticipation, then bolted the rest of his bagel before twirling the wheelchair around in the direction of the bedroom. He called over his shoulder, “I’ll be ready in no time!”

Dismayed, Catherine picked up the remains of their meal and took the plates into the kitchen. As she washed the dishes, she tried to figure out how she could escape for at least a moment at Dr. Wong’s to see Vincent. She just couldn’t come up with a plan.  Sighing, she dried her hands and went to get ready.

# # #

“Catherine! Come in, come in!” Dr. Wong’s smile was genuine, but his eyes were troubled as he took in the wheelchair and its occupant entering behind her. Catherine gave him a nearly indiscernible shrug and said, “My Dad wanted to come and thank you in person for the herbs.”

As Dr. Wong greeted her father, Catherine cast a glance at the beaded curtain at the back of the shop, hoping to at least catch a glimpse of Vincent behind it. A small shift in air flow rattled the beads, indicating someone was there, but she could make out nothing but a vague shape. She smiled in the direction of the curtain, trying to manage a happy feeling even though she was beyond frustrated at the impasse.

When Catherine pulled her attention back to them, her father and Dr. Wong were engaged in a discussion of the merits of the herbal blend the latter had created. The older man opened the packet to explain the ingredients, then stopped and stared at the mixture. “Oh, I have forgotten something most important,” he declared. Looking up at her meaningfully, he said, “Would you go in the back, please, and get me the box on the top shelf of the cabinet, far right? I just need a pinch, but the tea would be much less effective without it.”

Trying to suppress a look of gratitude, Catherine managed a nonchalant, “Of course!” She tried not to run into the back room, although her pace definitely quickened as she approached the beaded curtain.

As she parted the beads, a hand shot out to take her forearm and tug her into the room, away from view of the shop. In another moment she was locked in Vincent’s arms, hugging him as tightly as he was hugging her. He murmured against her ear, “I’ve missed you so much.”

Leaning back just enough to look into his eyes, she whispered, “I love you!”

Just then she heard Dr. Wong shout, “Wait!” as her father’s voice asked, “What’s back here?”

Suddenly Charles’ wheelchair plunged through the beaded curtain.

Catherine’s arms were still around Vincent, hampering his efforts to turn away, so Charles got an unimpeded view of Vincent in the illumination cast by the store’s overhead lights. It was difficult to tell who was more shocked as Catherine, Vincent and Charles all confronted one another.

Charles’ jaw dropped. Catherine’s face clouded. Vincent closed his eyes, preparing for a fearful outburst from the older man.

The beaded curtain clacking back into place provided the only sound or movement for long seconds.

Dr. Wong appeared behind the wheelchair, took in the scene, and quietly suggested, “Shall we all have some tea?”

# # #

Uncharacteristically, Charles remained silent as Dr. Wong locked the shop door and returned to settle everyone at a table in the back. Catherine grasped Vincent’s hand tightly under the table as they accepted small cups of tea from Dr. Wong.

When he had served everyone, he sat down. “Well. This isn’t how anyone planned to meet  but…” He turned to Charles. “You are most welcome here, Charles. Your daughter is a great friend to my family.” He indicated Vincent. “Vincent is also a great friend of many years. He brought your Catherine into my life.” Smiling, he patted a tense Charles’ shoulder. “He is a good man. Get to know him before making judgments.” Then he rose and took his tea back into the shop, opening the door to customers once more.

“Now you know why you haven’t seen Vincent at my apartment,” Catherine began, determined to protect the man she loved from…the other man she loved. “We are…committed to each other. But…it hasn’t been easy, and…well…you can see why.” Her chin rose as she ended her little speech, defiance in her eyes.

“You’re…you’re the man who visited my hospital room?” Charles’ amazement outweighed his shock. “How?”

Vincent replied, “There are ways. It was late at night…there was a window that opened….”

Shocked, Charles asked, “You…you climbed the building?”

Inclining his head, Vincent said, “Partially. I used the elevator shaft to travel much of the way.”

“Why?” Charles was frankly stunned at the effort.

“It was important to Catherine…and to me…to meet you…as much as that could happen. We thought you would not recover. That it was…the last opportunity.” Vincent subsided into silence, awaiting more questioning.

Charles turned to his daughter. “You love…”

“With all my heart. With everything I am,” she stated, emotion making her voice quaver.

Her father gazed down at his hands, and he didn’t speak for long minutes. While he sat silently, Vincent put his arm around Catherine and leaned towards her, and she rested her head against his shoulder, each taking comfort and courage from the other.

Finally, Charles looked up. “OK,” he said.

Catherine blinked in surprise. “OK?”

“Yup. OK.” He shrugged. “I’ll admit I don’t know how this works for you two, but it’s clear you’re devoted to each other. Why else would you have created such an elaborate ruse just to see each other for a few seconds?!”

Relief flooded through their Bond at hearing his words – whose was greater, Catherine’s or Vincent’s, they couldn’t tell.

Sympathy entered Charles’ eyes. “Your apartment…that’s the place you usually meet?”

Catherine was uncomfortable about answering, but was saved from trying to come up with a lawyerly way to shade the truth when Vincent spoke.

“It’s one place. Catherine also visits me.” He hesitated for the briefest moment, then added, ”Below. Where I live.” He made a gesture that encompassed the whole floor beneath them, not surprised when Charles’ eyebrows shot up in response.

“’Below’?!”

“There’s a whole world Below, Dad,” Catherine revealed, knowing she now had permission to do so. “Tunnels, chambers, people living in a community of caring, where Vincent is safe and protected.” She took a deep breath and confessed, “That’s where I was those ten days. I was healing. Vincent was caring for me. Vincent…and his adopted father, who is a doctor.”

Charles sat back in his wheelchair, shock on his face. “So you did remember where you were. You were just….”

“Protecting me. Protecting us,” Vincent confirmed.

“Wow,” he said, all but the most basic language fleeing from his mind as he took in the impossible possibility of what they were telling him.

“You must come Below when you are able,” Vincent offered. “My father would love to meet you.” He smiled. “He uses a cane to get around Below, so once you can manage with one….”

Laughing suddenly, Charles replied, “That’s as good an incentive as any for getting out of this wheelchair!” Nodding his head, he added, “I look forward to it.”

He slapped the arms of his wheelchair. “Well, I think I’ll be getting back now.” When Catherine rose to accompany him, he raised a hand to forestall her. “I can get there myself, honey. I’ll cab to the apartment and get help from the doorman – we’re old pals by now. You stay and visit with Vincent. I’ve kept you away from him long enough.”

Before she could protest, he spun his wheelchair around and shot out through the beaded curtain. “Dr. Wong,” they heard him say, “help me flag down a cab, would you?”

“You’re lucky to have this second chance with him,” Vincent remarked after Charles Chandler had left the shop, pulling her close once more.

Catherine snuggled into his arms. “I think we’ve had plenty of luck to go around.”