Excerpt from The Seat Beside Me




                                                                                          JANUARY 29/12:30 A.M.

    I don’t want to go.

    Dora Roberts tossed her keys on the kitchen counter and flipped through her mail, quickly setting it aside.
    She was too tired to deal with bills and solicitations. She’d do it when she got back.

    I really don’t want to go.

    It wasn’t that she didn’t like visiting her mother in Phoenix, but Dora had just been home for Christmas the month
    before, and her bank account was strained by two plane flights spaced so closely together—especially this latest
    flight that had been booked at the spur of the moment, costing her a bundle.

    Yet, how could she not be there when her mother went in for gallbladder surgery?

    A painful flare-up had sent her mother to the doctor for tests and a quickly scheduled surgery. If only it had
    happened while I was there at Christmas…

    Dora closed her eyes against the selfish thought and shucked off her shoes. Her mother was all alone except for
    her. Daddy gone. Dora, an only child. It was Dora’s responsibility to be there whenever she was needed, even if
    it was financially draining. Even if it had made her stay at the office of The Chronicle until nearly midnight,
    getting her work done so she could—

    The phone rang, sending her heart to her toes. She glanced at the clock on the microwave. It was nearly 12:30.
    No call at this time of night could be good news.


    “Dora, you don’t have to come! You don’t have to come!”

    “Mom? What are you talking about?”

    “I’ve been trying to call you and call you. Didn’t you get my messages?”

    Dora glanced at the answering machine, and at her cellphone. There were messages on both. “I just got
    home from the office. I didn’t think to listen.” She’d gotten off track. “What’s your message?”

    “I don’t have to have the surgery! It all started yesterday when I did a no-no and ate pizza. You know how hard
    it is for me to resist pizza, and so I had it for lunch knowing the pain would come. But then it didn’t.
    And that was so remarkable, and I felt so well, that I got my doctor to do another ultrasound. And am I ever glad
    I did. The ultrasound revealed there was nothing there. No blockage. No problem.”

    “But the previous ultrasound showed—”

    “The doctor doesn’t have an explanation for it. One day it was there and I needed surgery, the next day it wasn’t
    and I didn’t. He didn’t have an explanation, but I do. We do.”

    Dora’s thoughts had taken the same path as her mother’s. “You think it’s a God-thing, Mom? You think God healed

    “What other explanation is there?”

    “Perhaps they merely made a mistake the first time.”

    “It was my innards in both those ultrasounds, Dora.”

    “Perhaps the doctor read them wrong?”

    “Even I could see the difference.”

    “Or maybe—”

    “Dora. Dear child, I’m ashamed of you. Quit trying to explain away a miracle. You’ve been praying for me, haven’t

    “Of course.”

    “And I’ve been praying, and I know a lot of people at church have been praying. It’s a miracle and nothing
    you say can prove it otherwise. But the bottom line blessing is that you don’t have to rush back here.”

    “I really don’t mind,” Dora said, hoping it was at least partially true.

    “I know you don’t. You’re a good daughter. But I also know money is tight and you’re swamped at the paper.
    Didn’t you say so at Christmas?”

    “Yes, but—”

    “Well now you don’t have to come. Save your money and come down later in the spring, like we’d planned.”

    A wave of relief flooded over her. “Are you positive?”

    “Absolutely. Now get to bed. You’ve got to get up to go to work in a few hours.”

    “Thanks, Mom. Love you.”

    “And I love you too. But the thanks? I didn’t do anything. God did. So thank Him, all right?”

    Dora hung up the phone and did exactly that.


                                                                                 11:30 A.M.

    “It’s good you’re leaving.”

    Merry Cavanaugh coughed at her husband’s statement. “It is?”

    Lou turned the van into the terminal entrance leading to Sun Fun Airlines. Snow pummeled the windshield.
    “I know how close you were to Teresa in college. How long has it been since you’ve seen her?”

    Merry was disappointed Lou was oblivious of her real reason for leaving. “Four years ago. She was here
    after Justin was first born.”

    “She’s still single, right?”

    “She’s a vice president in her company.” Merry said it as if one fact had something to do with the other.

    “That’s too bad—the single part, that is. I bet she’s jealous of you.”

    Merry lifted an eyebrow. “I don’t think so.”

    “She sees you living the ideal life with a husband who adores you and a fantastic little boy who likes nothing
    better than to climb in your lap and give you a hug. What does she have? She has a stressful job and a lonely
    house. Thanks but no thanks.”

    No thanks? Are you crazy?

    Merry looked to the Sun Fun entrance coming up on their right. She only had a few moments before she was free.
    Yet she longed to let it all out, make Lou understand how she really felt. He was so clueless.

    Her chest heaved, and her hands gripped and re-gripped the handles of the carry-on tote in her lap. The
    awful truth threatened.

    Lou looked over at her and smiled. “You are so beautiful. Did you know that?”

    She hugged the door to get as far away from the words as she could. The fight left her—as it usually did
    when he said nice things. Maybe it was better he was ignorant to the truth. She’d talk to him after the trip—
    after she’d had time to think things through and get Teresa’s advice. The truth was, if she brought it all up now,
    he might not let her go.

    “Here we are.” Lou pulled up front, the tires slipping on the snow-covered street. He got out of the van to
    get her suitcase. Merry put her hood up, got out, opened the side door, and gave Justin a hug. “I’m going
    to miss you, sweetie.” In spite of everything, it was the truth.

    “I’ll miss you too, Mommy. Daddy says he has a surprise for me.”

    “He does?”

    “I hope he’s taking me to McDonald’s for breakfast. Do you think that’s it?”

    “Eat a sausage biscuit for me.” Merry gave her son another kiss and closed the door against the snow. She waved
    good-bye through the window.

    Lou appeared at her side, suitcase in tow. The weather would prevent a lengthy good-bye. Just as well.

    “Have a good trip, Mer. Love you.”

    She accepted his hug and kiss. “Love you too.” It was the truth. But not all the truth.

    Merry hurried inside the terminal and removed her coat, brushing away the flakes that melted in the heated
    building. She rolled her suitcase to the check-in line and allowed herself a deep breath. I’m alone. Finally alone.
    No husband. No son. No plan except to have fun and remember what life was like before a family
    had tied her down with responsibilities. Twenty-nine was too young to feel so old.

    She felt absolutely decadent, even though part of the thrill had been dampened by the fact that Lou wanted
    her to go, urged her to go. When her old college chum had invited her, Merry had been afraid to even
    mention the idea to her husband, and yet, when she had, he’d jumped on the plan, even offering to dip into
    their meager savings to fund the trip.

    At first she’d been suspicious. Why does he want me gone? But she’d soon tossed such ridiculous notions away.
    Above all else, Lou could be trusted. Lou was true-blue, honest, hard-working, kind, generous, loyal…
    Everything she was not.

    But maybe a little time away would change all that. Maybe she was so down about her life because it was
    so disgustingly normal and routine. Maybe she was simply having a case of Thirtyitis. Had her twenties
    been all she’d wanted them to be?

    Although she’d always wanted to be a mother, Merry thought it would be more rewarding. Like in the TV
    commercials with the ever-patient mother, ruffling the naughty son’s hair while she gave him a forgiving smile.
    Always under control, always smiling, always fulfilled.

    Life didn’t work that way. Although she loved her family, she often found herself on the verge of strangling
    them—at least in theory. When Justin played with Merry’s brand new eye shadow, putting water in it, using
    it like watercolor paints, or when he scribbled on the walls with red crayons, Merry had not considered ruffling
    his hair and smiling. Not once.

    And those women who pined for their man to come home, whose hearts beat a little faster at the sound of their
    husband’s car? As often as not, Merry was relieved when Lou left in the morning, and her stomach grabbed
    ever-so-slightly when he returned. Not because she didn’t love him, but because he thought so
    much of her—was constantly telling her what a wonderful wife and mother she was—that she felt obligated
    to try to live up to his opinion. When he was home she couldn’t let down her guard and be herself. She was
    way too flawed.

    Lou deserved better. And she deserved…

    She thought of Teresa and Phoenix and four days of fun, sun, freedom, and—

    An announcement came over the loudspeakers. “We’re sorry, folks, but the airport has been temporarily
    shut down due to the blizzard. Please continue to check in and remain at your gates until further notice.
    Hopefully, we will begin boarding soon, making your delay as short as possible. Thank you for your

    Merry joined the groans of those around her. Apparently, the fun and sun would have to wait.


                                                                                                   11:45 A.M.

    Suzy lifted her father’s suitcase from the trunk of the car. “This is heavy. I thought you were only going for
    a few days.”

    George stifled a laugh. If only Suzy knew what was in the suitcase. The only reason it had any weight at all was
    so she wouldn’t be suspicious. At the last minute George had scooped up two drawerfuls of Irma’s
    things and dumped them in the suitcase for weight, adding as an afterthought his favorite framed picture of her.
    Of the women’s clothing, a picture, and the pills, the pills were the only thing that was a necessity.

    Suzy closed the trunk against the snow and hurried to her father’s side. She kissed him on the cheek. “Have
    a good trip, Dad. Stan and I think it’s wonderful you’re going. You and Mom loved to travel. It’s good you’re back
    at it again. Seven months is a long time.”

    Seven months, two days, and seven hours to be exact. And he wasn’t getting back to anything. His life was
    winding down and he had no intention of grabbing any key to wind it up again. George hugged Suzy longer than
    usual. This will be my last hug. He didn’t let the thought linger but with a final wave, hurried into the terminal
    and took a place at the check-in line.

    He’d check in, get to Phoenix, then check out. Literally.

    George had big plans. Once he was settled into their favorite condo in Sun City, he would visit some of his
    and Irma’s old haunts—to say good-bye. Then he would take matters into his own hands. Fun, sun, and suicide.
    Bon voyage, adiós, auf Wiedersehen, arrivederci, sayonara.

    Soon, Irma, soon.

    But then what? What happened after death? Would there be an angel chorus to greet him for the good things
    he’d done in his life? Or a devil’s jury to condemn him for his last act of desperation?

    Was it desperation? He didn’t feel desperate. Only weary, as if the air itself was too heavy to deal with. How
    could he be expected to go on living when breathing had become a burden?

    Planning his suicide hadn’t been easy and he’d tried to think of every detail. But why did every moron on
    earth have to come into his presence these last few days? First it was the stupid travel agent who’d booked him
    in coach when he’d specifically asked for first class. Then his cleaning lady had gotten all suspicious
    about why George had canceled her services. Then his lawyer had made a huge to-do about George wanting to
    update his will. So what if George wanted to cut the church out of the bequests? Things had changed. It was his
    money and he could toss it to the wind if he wanted to. People needed to mind their own business.

    The final straw had been the fiasco at the bank when he’d gone to withdraw all his money—all $68,392 of it. They
    acted as flustered as firemen forced to start a fire. Withdraw money? Oh, no, no, no, no, no. Their befuddlement
    made him wonder if they even knew the difference between a Czech and a check. They were such a pain about it,
    he considered asking for it in ones but relented, not wanting to give the poor teller a heart attack.

    But no matter. The money was now sitting in a desk drawer with a note to their daughter. Now that Suzy
    and her husband were taken care of, George could take this one last trip. In Irma’s honor... (continued)

                                                                        Copyright 2016 Nancy Moser
                                                                             Mustard Seed Press