She was Dying Anyway

she was ding anyway

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chapter 1

drop-cap-zachary Goldman?”

Zachary nodded distractedly at the man with the clipboard. The movers were wrestling his couch through the doorway of the apartment, turning and angling it to get it through. He wasn’t sure whether they were inexperienced or whether the door was narrower than a standard door. He hadn’t expected them to have any trouble getting his few pieces of new furniture inside.

“Mr. Goldman.”

“Yes?” Zachary’s eyes were drawn back to the bald, sweating man in a grey jacket, who was thrusting a clipboard toward him.

“I’m here to hook up the TV.”

Zachary had guessed as much from the crest on his uniform.

“Yeah, sure.”

“You need to sign the work order.”

Zachary pulled his eyes away from the movers again to scan the heading and the signature line of the form on the clipboard.

“This says you’re done.”

“I am.”

“But you just got here.”

“I don’t need to do anything here,” the man said impatiently. “All of the wiring is done in the utility closet. I’m all done.”

“Oh… then I guess I need to test that it’s working.”

Their eyes were both drawn back to the movers as there was a crunch of the couch meeting the doorframe yet again and one of the movers swore angrily at the other.

“It is working,” the TV man said. “I’ve tested it all out.”

“But in here,” Zachary motioned to the apartment. “I should test it in here, make sure it’s hooked up to the right apartment.”

The bald man rolled his eyes at Zachary’s presumption. “Come on, buddy. I’ve got other jobs to do. This one has already taken longer than it should have.”

Since Zachary hadn’t even seen him until that moment, he had no way of knowing whether it was true, or whether it had been a two-minute hook-up. He knew he really ought to check to make sure everything was working. If he signed the work order saying that everything was done, and then ended up having to call the company to get it fixed, it would be an extra charge. He looked at the movers in the doorway, wondering how much longer it was going to be before they could get the couch in through the door, so he could get in to test the TV and make sure he was getting all of the channels.

“Uh, if you’ll just wait for a few minutes…”

“Do you even have your TV unpacked yet?”

That was going to be another problem, Zachary realized. The TV wasn’t even out of the box yet. In fact, it was probably still down on the truck. He couldn’t remember it being brought in yet.

“No,” he admitted. “Could you maybe come back after your next job? Or take your lunch break now and come back in half an hour? I’ll get these guys moving and get it all plugged in…”

The man thrust the clipboard at him again. “Just sign the form, buddy. If there’s a problem, you’ll have to put in a call.”

“But how long would it take to get you back here?” Zachary had dealt with enough utility companies to know that it could be days.

“I’ve done my job. You’re not going to need anyone to come back. Just sign the form.”

Zachary sighed and took it from him. The form was dense with fine print, and he knew he should read it all, or at least skim through it before he signed it. There was another volley of swearing from the movers, and a long creak of protest from the couch as they tried to bend it through the doorway. Zachary winced and looked over at them. He scribbled an unreadable signature on the form and handed it back to the TV guy, who took it, ripped off a carbonless copy for Zachary’s records, and left without a word of thanks. Zachary went over to talk to the movers about the couch.

“We’re going to have to cut it into sections,” the older of the movers said, wiping his forehead with the back of his arm. “Otherwise, it’s never going through this door.”

Zachary looked at the damage they had already done to the doorway and the wall around it. The couch was obviously not going to fit. And he wasn’t sure how anyone was going to reassemble it if they cut it up to get it through the door. He imagined the pieces sitting in his new living room forever, unusable.

“It will have to go back to the store. I’ll have to get something smaller that will fit through.”

The two men looked at each other, rolling their eyes.

“Sorry,” Zachary apologized. “I’ll call them.”

At least his phone was a cell and didn’t have to be wired in at the apartment. He was sure that would have gone wrong too.

The movers left the couch in the hallway as they went down to bring the next piece of furniture in off the truck. Hopefully, the bed. He could live without anything else for a few days, but he was really looking forward to sleeping on a bed again, after the months of sleeping on Bowman’s couch. Not that the couch wasn’t comfortable. But it was a couch. He would have his own space back, out of Bowman’s way. A bed of his own. His own TV.

Zachary looked around the small apartment. He had viewed it in the evening a couple of weeks before, when the lighting had been softer, and it hadn’t looked quite as dingy as it did in the late morning sun. The landlord had said that he would repaint it, but it was obvious he hadn’t.

There was a tentative knock on the open door of the apartment, and Zachary pulled himself from his consideration of the merits and deficits of the apartment to turn around and see who it was. Another utility man, the landlord, the movers…

But it wasn’t any of those. It wasn’t another form or agreement he was going to have to sign. It was a petite blond woman. Her hair was still much shorter than she preferred it, but at least it was her own hair. It had come back in just the same as before chemo, no change in color or curl, as the doctors had warned it might. Bridget’s face was filling back out so that she no longer looked sick or waifish, but like herself.

“Bridget! Come in!”

She lifted the grocery bags by way of explanation. “I brought you some things.”

Zachary hurried over to relieve her of her load. He hesitated, always unsure how to greet her appropriately.

“You didn’t have to do this.” Zachary indicated the bags, settling on just taking them from her without any handshake or friendly kiss on the cheek.

“I figured you would be busy with all of the other arrangements and wouldn’t have the time to feed yourself properly.”

Zachary put the grocery bags on the counter in the kitchen and started to go through them. The fridge was already plugged in, luckily, so nothing would spoil if he put it all away.

“That was really thoughtful. I hadn’t even thought about food,” Zachary admitted. He ran a hand over his hair. He kept his dark hair short, so it wasn’t messy even if he happened to forget to comb it when he got up, but he couldn’t remember if he had bothered to shave when he got up that morning. He hadn’t expected to have to be presentable for anyone. He scratched his jaw and found it was covered with stubble. Not just one day’s growth but probably a few. Another of the things he didn’t put a lot of thought into, especially if he was on surveillance. People didn’t pay much attention to a man who was a little unclean or rough-looking. They tended to avoid eye contact, in case he might ask for money or a job.

“No, I didn’t think you would,” Bridget agreed. She grabbed a carton of milk from one of the bags and put it into the fridge, then proceeded to unpack the other items. Zachary grabbed a few dry goods to put into the cupboard before she could do the whole job herself.

When they were finished, Bridget turned and looked at the rest of the apartment. Most of it was visible from the kitchen.

“This is nice.”

Zachary was sure that, to Bridget’s critical eye, it didn’t qualify as ‘nice.’ He knew how exacting her standards were. She would never even have considered the place for herself. But Zachary wasn’t going to be doing a lot of entertaining. His needs were modest and, despite the little bit of recognition he had garnered on a couple of recent cases, his cash flow was thin and irregular, and he needed to be sure not to get anything that would be too expensive for his usual income.

“Thanks. Um… I’d ask you to sit down, but I don’t actually have anywhere yet…”

“It will be nice for you to be back in a place of your own again. I’m sure Mario was a good host, but you both need your own space.”

“Mario’s been great.” Mario Bowman really had been a lifesaver, letting Zachary come to stay with him for a ‘few days’ when Zachary’s own apartment had burned down, and allowing him to continue to recover there until he was able to get back on his own feet again. Zachary hadn’t been comfortable intruding on Bowman all the time; he couldn’t imagine how uncomfortable it must have been for Bowman to have someone else in his territory, always underfoot, for what had ended up being weeks on end. “But no one will be happier than him that I’m out of there now.”

The movers arrived, with kitchen furniture this time, so in minutes, Zachary and Bridget were able to sit down to visit.

“You’ll have to take care of yourself,” Bridget said. “You won’t be able to rely on Mario to keep the fridge stocked or make supper.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” He would have to make sure he was eating properly, something that was too easy for him to forget when he was distracted by a case or other things going on in his life. “I’ll be fine. I’ve done it before.”

“Yes… but not well.”

It was strange that Bridget was there. It was nice of her to bring him food and help him to get settled, but he wasn’t quite sure why she would. They weren’t together anymore. She didn’t have any responsibility to look after him, as she was always quick to point out. Yet, in spite of the rift between them, she kept showing up, acting like she still cared what happened to him. She had gone on and was together with Gordon Drake now. Zachary was seeing Kenzie occasionally, though they hadn’t really settled into a dating relationship yet. Bridget should have just moved on and not had anything to do with Zachary.

“I’ll be fine,” he assured Bridget. Maybe that was all she needed. Just some reassurance that he wasn’t going to end up starving or in the hospital, somehow making her feel guilty for having broken up with him.

But Bridget didn’t make any move to get up and leave. She tapped a nail on the tabletop, a nervous gesture that was out of character for her. The ticking of her nail against the table ratcheted up his anxiety.

“Is… there something wrong?” Zachary ventured. “Is everything okay with you?” He had a sudden sick feeling. What if she had relapsed? What if the cancer had come back?

Bridget instantly read Zachary’s expression. “No, no. I’m fine,” she assured him. But her eyes filled with tears.

Zachary instantly went into full-blown panic. Her anger and criticism he was used to dealing with. Even her blame. But her tears were something he didn’t know how to handle. Bridget never cried. Even when she had told him about her diagnosis, it had been with dry eyes and a flat, stoic voice.

“What is it? What’s wrong? What can I do?” He reached out to her, and she actually took his hand, squeezing it for comfort. She blinked rapidly and looked up at the ceiling, trying to avoid shedding the tears that had gathered in her eyes. If it wasn’t the cancer, what was it?

Bridget breathed deeply to calm herself. When she spoke, her voice was even, but she talked more slowly than usual, and he knew it was a struggle for her to keep from crying.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned my friend, Robin Salter, to you.”

Zachary flipped through his mental catalog. He was good with names. As a private investigator, he needed to be able to make connections between people quickly, and it was amazing how often a previous name came into play on a new case. Seven degrees of separation became a lot less in a smaller community.

“Not that I remember,” he said, feeling bad he couldn’t make any connection to the name. Someone she worked with? Was in a club or other organization with? Bridget was very social; she and her family had a lot of friends.

Bridget waved away the apology in his voice. “I didn’t know her while we were together. We were in treatment together.”

“Oh. She had cancer too?” Was it appropriate for him to ask what kind? Or was that impolite? Invasive?

“Yes. Ovarian, like me. Only…” There was a slight waver in her voice. She was doing her best to hold it together, but she was right on the edge. She cleared her throat and took another deep breath. “Hers didn’t go into remission. It metastasized.”

Zachary’s stomach was a tight knot. That could have been Bridget. The doctor had warned them that treatment might not be successful. Only thirty percent went into remission. Zachary had dealt with the specter of death before, but not like that. Not looking at his beautiful, vibrant wife and knowing that she could die in a matter of months.

“And they… there was nothing they could do?”

“They tried. But she knew she was terminal.”

“I’m so sorry, Bridge.”

Bridget swallowed. “She died on Friday.”

He squeezed her hand, wishing there was more he could do to comfort her. “I’m so, so sorry.”

Bridget stared off into space. He wondered whether she was imagining her own life if things had gone differently. Her own death. What if that had been her? What had she accomplished in her life? Who would be mourning for her?

“I need your help.”

Zachary blinked, surprised. Even when they were together, Bridget had not asked him for help. She had been happy to be in charge of everything. She took on extra responsibility like it was a new suit to add to her extensive collection. Even now, with the divorce well behind them, she was still bringing Zachary groceries and fussing over his health and his ability to take care of himself.

She never asked for help.

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

She Was Dying Anyway

By P.D. Workman

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