In Gifts by the Shore (Part 1), I introduced you to my main character, Marianna Greggor, a 39-year-old divorced mom of a college-aged daughter. Her older sister Ellen owns a bungalow in Sarasota, Florida, which Marianna is staying at for the summer. In Gifts by the Shore (Part 2), Marianna meets Gil Canton, a local businessman and artist, but they don’t exchange names…yet! More of their relationship is still to come but, as I’ve mentioned before, one of my inspirations for this story came from the very different sisters in Sense and Sensibility. So, this week, for Part 3, we go north to Connecticut, where Ellen and her husband live, and we check in on what’s happening with the elder sister while the younger one is rediscovering herself at the beach 😉 . This is not an S&S retelling, but it is a tale about siblings, mothers and daughters, good friends, and getting a second chance at love.
As always, I look forward to all of your thoughts, so please don’t hesitate to share!! Thank you. 😛
GIFTS BY THE SHORE
Ellen Slater had always considered herself to be a strong woman. A warrior, even. In the tax world. In her marriage. Everywhere. No one questioned her ability to do her job extremely well, reel in new clients, get thirteen things done at once—and all brilliantly. And they damn well shouldn’t doubt her. She was forty-four, clever, experienced and at the absolute top of her game.
Which in no way explained why, after doing nothing more challenging than having a ten-minute phone call with her longtime client, Stephen Gage Bartholomew, Ellen had sequestered herself in the far left stall of the women’s restroom—the one on the fifth and highest floor of the New Haven, Connecticut branch of Palmer, Jacoby and Slater—and was trying desperately to breathe deeply and keep her hands from visibly shaking in front of her.
She stared with increasing horror at her fingers, her nails polished with a tasteful rose-red sheen, but each digit trembling as if she were afflicted by some sort of palsy. Her heart raced, she found herself wicked short of breath and she was sweating straight through her cream-colored silk blouse. Disgusting. She figured she was either dying or—worse—going through early menopause.
What the hell was happening to her?! She’d just had a comprehensive physical in May, and her doctor had pronounced her in good health.
So much for what he knew. Stupid Yalie.
Ellen had every intention of telling off Dr. Cole when she spoke with him next…once she could stop quivering long enough to dial his number on her cell phone. It would, however, be a far less effective rant if she were, say, incapable of speaking above a whisper. Like she was at the moment.
She leaned against the cool ceramic tiles on the wall, letting the chilled smoky-blue squares ice the back of her neck, and debated whether or not to call 9-1-1. The fact that she could still “debate” made her less inclined to initiate such a call. Besides, the symptoms of whatever she was experiencing seemed to be lessening—at least she wasn’t feeling quite as lightheaded or nauseated as she’d been back in her office fifteen minutes ago.
Her office… Oh, dammit. She was supposed to have a conference call with her client Carole Grayson this afternoon. In twenty minutes. That just wasn’t going to happen. She’d have to ask her secretary to call Carole and reschedule. This illness—or whatever it was—was effing up her day, big time.
And it was going to take all of her strength just to keep news of her potentially imminent death from her husband Jared. The man might be smart, well-connected, over-educated and affluent, but he couldn’t even make a grilled cheese sandwich by himself without detailed instructions and/or a step-by-step flowchart. What would he do without her?
Hire a live-in cook, Ellen supposed. Or find himself a new wife.
She swiped the beads of sweat off her forehead with a bit of tissue, her breathing starting to come a bit easier now.
No, she definitely could not meet with Carole. And she would rather not tell anyone—not Jared and certainly not her whiny little sister—that she wasn’t in such great shape these days. They relied on her to be their rock. Jared was juggling a dozen projects at work, and Marianna had always been such a catastrophic thinker when it came to anything, especially other people’s health. The way she clucked like a little Mother Hen whenever Kathryn had the sniffles or her in-laws were sick…ugh. Always trying to make up for that bastard of a husband by being such a dutiful mom and daughter-in-law. The woman must have spent two decades in the Land of the Worrywarts after she married Donny the Freeloader. No way was Ellen going to give her sister something new to fuss over. Marianna had enough problems.
Ellen forced out some air and inhaled long and slow.
She slipped her hand beneath the neckline of her blouse and placed her palm on the bare skin above her heart. Still pumping furiously. Too furiously, considering she wasn’t running a 500-meter dash or sprinting up a flight of stairs.
What did they always say to do if you thought you were having a heart attack? Chew on baby aspirin?
Well, she didn’t have any baby aspirin. She didn’t even have any ibuprofen—at least not on her. Then again, it wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world to check with her secretary to see if she had anything like that on hand. That, of course, would mean admitting she was sick, though. She cringed at the thought, but if she was going to leave early, she’d have to tell someone. Might as well be Selena, whom she at least liked a little and felt to be somewhat loyal.
Ellen splashed a little water on her face, blotted with a paper towel and tried to tidy up her appearance as best she could. But, really, there was no way around it. She no longer looked like a tax partner. She looked like one of those unfortunate women who’d had their brains half eaten by rabid zombies in the latest horror flick. No one would doubt she had some terrible bug. Maybe it was a kind of summer flu? People got weird things like that, with symptoms like hers, didn’t they?
When she got back to her office, her secretary eyed her with concern. “Ms. Slater, are you all r—” Selena began.
“No,” Ellen said. “I’m coming down with something. Twenty-four-hour…hmm, maybe forty-eight-hour flu, I think.” She watched as Selena nodded sympathetically and leaned a few inches back from her.
“I’m sorry to hear—”
“Please reschedule my call with Ms. Grayson for next week, and cancel all of my appointments for tomorrow,” Ellen interrupted. “I’ll call in if I think I’ll be gone longer than that.”
“Of course, Ms. Slater,” the secretary said promptly. “I hope you’ll feel better.”
“Thank you.” Ellen escaped into her office, gathered her laptop, her phone, a folder of paperwork to be signed and a handful of peanut M&Ms. No, they were not exactly baby aspirin, but she’d changed her mind about asking Selena if she had any of that. And, besides, Ellen could tell her heart rate really had returned to normal (almost), and it was stupid for a person to take medication they didn’t need. Especially if chocolate tasted so much better.
When she was safely in her silver Lexus, though, she called her doctor’s office. “Yes, this is Ellen Slater. I need to speak with Dr. Cole at once.” She waited as the receptionist transferred her to Dr. Cole’s nurse, who then asked her to describe her symptoms.
“Why can’t I speak with Dr. Cole directly?” she asked instead. “Where is he?”
“He’s with another patient, Ms. Slater,” the nurse replied. “But if you’ll please tell me what you’ve been experiencing, I’ll be happy to—”
Ellen clicked off her phone.
She’d overreacted by calling in the first place. She was fine. Really.
She’d go home, rest up and be her normal self by tomorrow or the day after at the latest. And everything would return to the way it was.
Whatever had happened, it was just a fluke. She was sure of it.
Nevertheless, she stopped at a corner pharmacy on the drive home and picked up a bottle of chewable baby aspirin—that chalky orange-flavored stuff she’d hated as a kid—and forced herself to take a couple of tablets, along with a few swigs of Evian. She washed both down with a small pack of almond M&Ms (she liked to strive for variety in her snacking—everyone knew how different almonds and peanuts were—and, besides, nuts were good for you) and ordered some freshly rolled sushi for dinner from Tasty Tokyo’s “lite menu.” There were heart-healthy Omega-3s all over the place with that meal. Although, maybe not so much with the side order of fried calamari.
She was fine. Totally fine.
When the doctor’s office called and Dr. Cole left her a personal message on her cell’s voicemail, Ellen ignored it.
Instead, she picked up her carryout, drove home and crashed on the sofa.
But not before changing out of her cream silk blouse, so revoltingly drenched in sweat that she doubted even the drycleaners would be able to get the stains out. That she threw in the trash, wrapping it in a plastic bag first so Jared wouldn’t see it.
She had other blouses she liked better anyway.
(End of Part 3) What did you think is going on with Ellen? How is her personality different from her younger sister’s? Have you known anyone like her? We’ll be back in Florida with Marianna, Vivian and Gil next time… Look for Part 4 on November 3rd! Hope you’re enjoying the story. 🙂
p.s. There’s a Goodreads giveaway (open to residents of the U.S., Canada, Great Britain and Australia) going on until the morning of Oct. 27th for Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match — 2 signed paperbacks! Check it out HERE.