Chapter Fourteen

After the breakfast dishes had been picked up and the few tears had dried up, we talked about a plan. The plan was, for now, to wait. Since we had no plans to go back to the hospital before Mr. Crawley left it, I told Katelynn when his due date was, knowing the leaking of the information could not contaminate the test results. We would then get a call, sometime tomorrow, according to our plan, to go have a visit with Dr. James, providing of course that Dr. James could wait that long. This is when we would get a complete physical scheduled for Katelynn, hopefully about a week away. Katelynn would be able to take the next week or so off and spend it at home with her family on the farm. She would then return for the physical, and then back to the farm.

After another relaxing and carefree week or so of frolicking with family out at the farm, at least as relaxed and carefree as one waiting to die in a few days can be, Katelynn would then return home, with one of her parents coming along to stay with her, the other remaining on the farm with Faith, for a few days until the 17th when she will check into a room on the third floor of the luxurious Park Nicollet Hospital. There, after the stroke of midnight, nurses and doctors and millions of dollars of emergency medical equipment will be standing by if needed, not to mention myself and probably her Dad on either side of her bed.

At least, that was the plan. It didn’t take long to come up with. I was simply quite relieved that she had agreed to make use of the accommodations at hotel hospital for the 18th. Most people may not have been able to talk their way into such a nice place on the eve of their foretold premature death with the intention of preventing it. Most people would be turned away, some even laughed at, a few maybe given a business card for "someone to talk to." But Katelynn has connections. She has Dr. James. We should have no problem booking a suite for the day. Check out time for Katelynn would (hopefully) be 12:01 a.m. on the 19th.

Having agreed on the plan, we stood from the couch and I went after a pair of gloves while she gathered up the items she had brought for the night’s visit. When I walked back out to the entry hallway by the front door where Katelynn was already waiting for me, she suddenly turned and asked, "If you are so sure Mr. Crawley is going to die tomorrow, what makes you think there is any hope for me?"

I knew she was at least feeling a little stronger. The question was not asked with the edge of desperateness or the tainting of depression, but rather quizzically or as an afterthought. It showed too that she was still thinking...she wasn’t giving up. Of course I had also been asking myself the same question and I told her the best answer I had come up with so far.

"Mr. Crawley," I explained, "is dying of natural causes, well, of some disease that is eating away his living cells and preventing the regeneration of new ones and leaving him defenseless even to all the most common viruses, but he is expected to die. Just looking at him, you know it is going to be soon. Even if a team of specialists were standing by to help sustain his life for another few hours or another day, it would only be for that many more moments of misery for him. But if Dr. James’ theory is even in the ball park, I am hoping the physical will show us something in you that wouldn’t have otherwise been found in time and we can get it fixed and all live happily ever after."

Too much hope flowing into her eyes as she came around to my way of thinking. I did believe all that I was telling her, but just as much of me was already grieving Faith’s losses and cursing the world‘s largest, invisible, evil domino for falling this direction. Yet morally right or wrong on my part to build up her hopes against a predestined tragic fate, it was what she needed if she was to even stand a chance at dressing her daughter for Halloween this year. Hope.

So I continued, "And even if they can’t find anything with a physical and some tests, and you do have to check in on the 17th feeling healthy and scared, they are there if anything happens. To save Mr. Crawley would only be for hours or a day or two at best. To save you would be saving a lifetime yet to come. It would be saving Faith, too."

Another tear. Damn. I’m always making her cry.

"Look," I said, pulling her gently closer to me with a gloved hand, "I really don’t know any more than you do. I wish I could tell you that there’s nothing to worry about, but I can’t do that. You need to be a little worried. But until we know why your numbers are what they are, I can’t believe that it has to happen. There‘s got to be a reason. We‘re going to find out that reason and then change the fact. Until I know that we can‘t do that, I think we can."

I could feel her trembling slightly as she pressed her eyes once again into my shoulder. I gave her a squeeze and received one in return that I thought for a moment was going to snap my spine.

Thirty-five minutes later, (she had obviously never been a courier or a cab driver) Katelynn dropped me off by my bike and promised to call me after she got done straightening the house so we could go out and get something to eat together. I didn’t want to hound her, but I didn’t want her alone much either. She was probably already handling all this better than I would have had the roles been reversed. I don’t know. I guess that’s another question to ask ourselves here, how we would handle knowing that for no reason at all we were supposed to die in a few weeks. Like I said, I don’t know. Anyway, I thought she was handling it all remarkably well, but there was no way I could tell how thin the wall was for her between handling it well and not.

There was another benefit to this plan that I had reluctantly not told Katelynn about. I wanted her to be with someone for the most part, certainly in the evenings and nights when things naturally look darker and more bleak than they do in the morning sunshine. If not me, then family. Our plan had her already with family in three days. I was planning on being somewhere in Minnetonka. I had no idea how long I would have to be there, but I guessed it would be at least through dessert. I was glad she would already be sleeping under rural stars by then.

The rest of the day was much like the calm before the storm, at least in retrospect. While Katelynn busied herself with moving furniture and vacuuming walls and reorganizing a variety of drawers and cupboards around her house, I sat at home and watched the phone. I tried doing the crossword puzzle that hadn’t been looked at yet since I had slept in for a change but lost interest before I had even read the entire list of clues once through. I hadn’t gotten the answers to too many of the ones I had read, either. I couldn’t sit in the garage much longer than half a cigarette for fear that the phone would ring and I would miss it. Forget about the fact that I had run in the house on many previous occasions just to discover it had been another phone solicitor that had interrupted my ‘me’ time out in my garage/den. I know I certainly forgot.

I thought I’d try passing some time online playing hearts...started to sign on, then hit cancel when I heard the dial tone over the computer's speakers. Couldn’t tie up the line.

I tried cleaning. My heart wasn’t in it.

I finished the Oreos, wanted to go buy some more but didn’t want to leave the phone. Thought about getting a mobile phone. Hadn’t seen the need before now. Tried to sleep, next to the phone. Couldn’t. And when it finally did ring, I had been looking at it at the precise second it sounded off and I jumped backwards a moment from shock before recovering in time to answer it, still before its second ring. Katelynn was telling me how clean her house now looked while my heart slowed back to its normal pace. Like I said, she was handling herself a lot better than I think I could have.

At dinner, over all you can eat riblets at Applebee’s, we talked about many, many things, none of which had anything to do with death or fate or God. We talked about Faith and how she was adjusting to leaving the nest and going to school. We talked about why she was a nurse and why I wasn’t. We talked about movies and actors, of tsunamis and hurricanes, of Dr. Seuss vs. Captain Kangaroo. We allowed Mr. Crawley’s final night to be as lonely as most of the rest of his nights had been in his comparatively short life. No one was by his side on this eve of his parting. In fact, no one ever spoke to Mr. Crawley again. As Katelynn and I debated which was more frightening, a giant yellow talking bird or a miniature purple singing dinosaur, Mr. Crawley electronically lowered his bed and closed his eyes for the final time. He didn’t die right away. He was well rested for his departure from life as we know it. He had died sometime in his sleep. It was determined later, when he didn’t wake up for his morning medications, that it had been sometime between three and four a.m. when his overworked heart had simply called it quits. I called Katelynn at seven a.m., shortly after talking to Dr. James. He didn’t sound excited. He was more professional than that. But even through the phone line, I thought his casual sounding voice sounded a bit too casual, like a fake, possibly practiced casual. Even through the phone line, I could hear him not being excited.

* * * * *

Katelynn was waiting as I rode into her driveway. I parked on the little sidewalk winding its way past the bushes to the front door and climbed into the passenger seat of her idling car. It was the first time I had ever seen her not dressed in white. She wore her long hair unrestrained, flowing over her shoulders, covering the straps to the light blue sleeveless blouse tucked into her dark blue jeans. The Nikes were white, just like the white hospital issued shoes I had always seen her wearing, but the remarkable difference in her appearance with the addition of color made it at first difficult to read her mood. She didn't say good morning as I shut the door and put on my seatbelt. I didn't think her rude not to. She already had, of course, when I had called her thirty minutes earlier, but this was not a good morning, if truth be told. This morning my streak had officially increased to two. I was hoping it wouldn't get to three until after she was out of town.

Everything went for the most part as planned as far as the meeting with Dr. James was concerned, giving me a false sense of control over the situation. Dr. James, remarkably enough, had not thought of giving Katelynn a physical until I made the suggestion. He had been too focused on what he thought he might have discovered in me to give Katelynn much thought at all to this point. Up until the meeting, where he quickly understood that his oversight was my sole concern, Katelynn's predicament hadn't yet truly hit home with him the way it obviously had with us. Not five minutes into the meeting, his priorities had been put into proper order as I laid out our plans for him.

When Katelynn and I had walked into his office, loosely linked at the arms, the envelope with Mr. Crawley's name on it, still sealed, sat alone on his desk. Everything else had been cleared off the desk as though the letter might suddenly explode and damage anything left within its destructive range. Dr. James was already picking up the sealed envelope before our bodies had completely lowered to their prospective seats.

"It says today," I said as I sat, hoping to spoil any dramatic climax he was playing out in his head. All he had said during his phone call that morning had been that Mr. Crawley had died during the night and he was wondering how soon Katelynn and I could get there. I told him that I would call Katelynn and that I suspected we could probably be there in an hour, hour and a half, or something close. He didn't actually say "Hurry up," as we hung up, but it was in his voice and I had purposely gone out to the garage to smoke a cigarette and greet the new morning in proper fashion before going back in to wake Katelynn with the news.

Dr. James, though without the smile, reminded me of Johnny Carson on The Late Show, sitting at his desk, a swami hat poised slightly askew on his head, Ed McMahon seated on his right, Carson lifts up the sealed envelope, holds it out in front of his face, his other hand at his temple simulating deep concentration, "The answer is..."

"48:1" Dr. James said, as he went ahead and quickly broke the seal and pulled out the scrap of paper with Mr. Crawley's foretold death date written on it, ignoring my comment, or maybe just so rapt in the moment he hadn't even heard it.

His displaced and almost morbid thrill exhibited with this confirmation found in the envelope was being unsuccessfully restrained and I knew right away that he needed to get his priorities straight.

"We knew it would be," I had said. "So that isn't even important at this point. What is important is what we are going to do for Katelynn."

"But do you realize what this means?" he asked, remaining under perfect professional control despite the very perfectly unprofessional wild look in his dark eyes.

"What it means," I said firmly, "is that we have less than three weeks to figure out how to change Katelynn's numbers."

From there, with out giving up the floor, I rolled out the plans Katelynn and I had put together the previous morning. I spoke with a confidence that I had rarely, if ever, previously displayed in my life. Certainly out of character for me over the last fifteen years or so. Maybe it was the new look, the older looking chrome dome, the dark, more distinguishing facial hair I had to keep tame each morning. Maybe it was a sense of responsibility to Katelynn, or even out of guilt for injecting all this doom and gloom into her life. Or maybe I saw it as a chance for some redemption, a chance to change something where once before I had failed to do so. Maybe I was looking to relieve some of the still lingering guilt for not having changed my own parents' fate, for failing to prevent their pointless deaths.

For whatever the reason, I spoke with the same sense of authority Dr. James had empowered over Katelynn and I at our first meeting. Before even allowing Dr. James a chance to agree or disagree to the plans as though there was already no room for discussion on the matter, I said, "Then after we have safely delivered Katelynn to the thirtieth day of her twenty-ninth year, you and I can sit down and discuss what we might be able to do to cease this new talent of mine. I do not want it and I am not going to become yours or anyone else's subject for the advancement of medical science. I want to make that perfectly clear right here and now. If you won't help us, and then me, I will find someone who will. That is what the scrap of paper you hold in your hand means. That and nothing else."

I don't think Dr. James agreed with everything I had just spewed out at him, but to his humanitarian credit, he could at least see the importance in putting medical science second to the safety of Katelynn. He had agreed to the physical, the timing, and the suite, if still needed, at the hospital, where he too will also remain on call all night and the following day, starting on the eve of Katelynn's d-day, the 17th. He had even suggested a small variety of other tests at the time of the complete physical that Katelynn subsequently agreed to. But he never actually verbally agreed to the rest of the demands surrounding the plan. I figured I had gotten what I needed for now. I could deal with the rest, if need be, when the time came. If I could have read his mind, I would have probably discovered him already plotting to expose my talent once we got past Katelynn's date, making it harder for me to hide from the world of medicine than just from himself. If he could have read mine, he would have discovered me making plans to disappear, preferably to my own personal island, the moment I knew Katelynn was safe.

The meeting only lasted twenty minutes. Dr. James, at least through the 18th of next month, was on our team. Until then, he was a friend and an ally. After then, he would most certainly become the enemy.

We returned to Katelynn's home after the meeting. As I headed for my motorcycle, she asked me if I wanted to come in for some breakfast. I had already eaten my traditional bowl of cereal before leaving to meet her that morning, but I didn't tell her that. Any excuse to hang around a little longer was fine with me, and it wasn't only due to concern over her mental health and stability with her life hanging in limbo. In fact, she looked stronger than I would have predicted from her silence before we had met Dr. James. Hearing me almost scolding Dr. James and getting him to see things our way, I think may have instilled yet another small layer of strength and hope inside her. She smiled, bashfully looking down at her food several times when I caught her glancing at me over the omelets she had made. I could only bashfully smile in return and try to concentrate on my food. A task requiring more effort than I could ever remember.

After breakfast, after filling in every single square in the Tribune's morning crossword puzzle together, and after each of us had won a game of scrabble (a rubber game wasn't necessary since she had beaten me in the first game by 150 points...I won the second by only 2) I made a couple of heaping sandwiches with whatever I found available in her refrigerator and we again traded bashful smiles while looking around the room and at our plates as we chewed our food.

After lunch, we walked to the park three blocks away and sat on a bench watching the preschoolers play in a fenced-in outside play area across the street. We sat there until all the kids had gone inside and another bouncy, energetic, noisy gaggle of grandchildren had flocked outside for some playful exercise. When their young spirits had flown back into the red brick building, we stood to slowly stroll back towards her home.

I think that was when the plan began to almost sway off track a bit.

Katelynn again wrapped both her arms around my right arm as we headed back in the direction we had come. She felt so natural there, so comfortable. There were no clumsy steps as our feet got tangled growing accustomed to each others' space. It was as though we had walked together in this fashion for years. At first I had assumed we were walking so slowly simply because we were in no hurry, had no plans, maybe just enjoying a pleasant late August day. But as we neared her home, with two and a half blocks down and half a block to go, I realized how much I didn't want this walk to end. Katelynn felt so good, so perfect, so right. I was feeling a little guilty for even allowing such thoughts to have any weight at all at this point in time. I was on a mission here. To save Katelynn. I couldn't afford to be taken in by her beauty, and I still hadn't actually decided which of her beauties shone brighter yet, the inner or the outer one. I raised my left arm and, reaching across my chest, a little beyond my right shoulder, the fingers of my left hand sunk into thick dark hair and stroked downward. It hadn't come from forethought. It came instinctively. My hand returned to her head after traveling the length of her hair once and lightly pressed against her scalp.

Two houses to go. Our pace, together, in unison, slowed a little bit more. I realized that she too would probably just as soon walk right on past her house right now, just keep walking, slowly, to anywhere, to nowhere, just don't let go. Keep holding me. Never let go. Keep walking.

One house to go. She raised her head and met my eyes as we walked but said nothing. No numbers come to mind. I was wearing my riding gloves despite the seventy-eight degree summer afternoon and I wondered if I had already been sweating before that look or only since. I wasn't sure.

We turned into her driveway, towards her house, never skipping a beat with our synchronized steps, the key to unlock our eyes temporarily discarded. Up two steps, over the threshold, where we stopped. The screen door banged shut on its own behind us. Katelynn let go of my arm, took two steps forward while I remained still by the front door recovering from the loss of the warmth she had been enveloping my entire right side with.

She turned to me and said almost in a whisper. "Take off your gloves."

I did.

Katelynn didn't move. She silently watched me remove my gloves and lay them on a small table next to the entry. Our eyes found each other again. She paused, slowly letting her eyes fall closed, and said, "Now come touch me, John, please."

* * * * *

Chapter Fifteen


Front Desk

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The Master Plan

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-One
Chapter Twenty-Two
Chapter Twenty-Three
Chapter Tweny-Four
Chapter Twenty-Five
Chapter Twenty-Six
Chapter Twenty-Seven
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Chapter Twenty-Nine
Chapter Thirty
Chapter Thirty-One
Chapter Thirty-Two
Chapter Thirty-Three
Chapter Thirty-Four
Chapter Thirty-Five
Chapter Thirty-Six
Chapter Thirty-Seven
Chapter Thirty-Eight
Chapter Thirty-Nine