Providence, p.1
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       Providence, p.1

         Part #1 of Providence series by Jamie McGuire
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Providence
Page 1

  Chapter One

  Loss and Found

  The average daughter respects her father. She might regard him as her hero, or she may place him so high on a pedestal that no object of her affection could ever compare. To me, my father deserved more than respect, or loyalty, or even love. I had a reverence for him. He was more than Superman; he was God.

  One of my earliest memories was of two men cowering in my father’s office as he spoke words I didn’t understand. His verdict was always final and never argued with. Not even death could touch him.

  When I answered my phone on December fourteenth, that reality came to an end.

  “Nina,” my mother sighed, “he doesn’t have much time. You should come now. ”

  I set the phone beside me on the bed, careful to keep my hands from trembling so much that it tumbled to the floor. The past few weeks had been an alternate universe for me, as I had been faced with one horrible cal after another. The first from a nurse at the hospital informing me of my father’s car accident. My number was the most recently dialed on his cel phone, leaving me with the horrifying task of being the one to break the news to my mother. In his last days, when reports of no improvement were replaced with gentle suggestions to prepare for the inevitable, I was thankful to be at the receiving end of the phone cal s.

  It felt strange to walk across the room and grab my coat and keys. The tasks seemed too mundane to begin the journey to say goodbye to my father. I lamented the ordinary life that seemed so long ago as I walked out to my car and turned the ignition.

  My father had risen to the top of the shipping industry ruling with an iron fist, but I knew the gentle side of him. The man that left important meetings to take my trivial phone cal s, kissed my scrapes, and rewrote fairytales so that the princess always saved the prince. Now he lay helpless in his bed, fading away in the vast bedroom he shared with my mother.

  Our housekeeper, Agatha, greeted me at the front door. “Your mother’s expecting you, Love. You best get upstairs. ”

  Agatha took my coat, and then I climbed the stairs, feeling the bile rise higher in my throat with every step.

  His private nurse brushed past me as I entered the room, and I winced at the sight of him. His face was sal ow with a thin sheen of perspiration, and his usual y clean shaven jaw was darkened with whiskers that crowded his parched lips. My mother spoke soft, comforting words to him as his chest heaved with every labored breath. The muted beeps and humming of the pumps and monitors were the background music to my worst nightmare.

  Like the other times I’d visited my father since his accident, my legs transformed into deep-seeded roots that tunneled through my shoes and plunged into the wooden floor. I couldn’t go forward or retreat.

  My mother looked up with weary heartbreak in her eyes. “Nina,” she cal ed. “Come, dear. ”

  Her hand lifted to summon me forward but my feet wouldn’t move. She sighed in understanding and walked toward me, her arm stil reaching out in front of her. I couldn’t take my eyes off of my father’s feeble attempts to breathe as she cupped her fingers around each of my shoulders and eased me forward. After a few reluctant steps, I stopped again.

  “I know,” she whispered.

  Peeling my shoes from the floor, I let her guide me to his bedside. My first instinct was to help him, but the only thing left to do was to wait for his suffering to end.

  “Jack, darling,” my mother said in a soothing tone. “Nina’s here. ”

  After watching him struggle for sufficient breath, I leaned down to whisper in his ear. “I’m here, Daddy. ”

  His breath skipped a bit and he mumbled inaudibly.

  “Don’t try to talk. Just rest. ” My shaking fingers reached out to his hand. “I’m going to stay with you. ”

  “Cynthia?” My father’s attorney and friend, Thomas Rosen, cal ed to my mother from the back corner of the room. With a pained expression she glanced at my father, clutched me to her chest for a moment, and then quietly walked to Thomas’ side. Their voices became a stream of humming no louder than the machines attached to my father.

  He sucked in another breath while I tenderly swept his salt and pepper hair away from his moist brow. “Neen…,” he swal owed, “Nina. ”

  My eyes wandered to my mother, who was in silent conversation, searching her face one last time for a sign of hope. Seeing the sorrow in her eyes, I looked back to my father and prepared to say goodbye.

  “Daddy,” I began, but words failed me. My eyes closed as the urge to ease his suffering grew insistent. A faltering breath escaped from my chest and I started again. “I should tel you that it’s okay…that you don’t have to stay for me, but I can’t. ”

  His breathing slowed. He was listening to me.

  “I don’t want be the one to let you go, Daddy. I want you to get better. But, I know that you’re tired. So if you want to sleep…I’l be okay. ” The corners of his mouth shook as they attempted to turn up.

  My mouth smiled as my face crumpled around it. “I’l miss you, Daddy. I’m going to miss you so much. ” I sucked in another breath and he did the same, but his was different this time. He had no more fight left in him.

  I glanced back to my mother, who watched me with heavy, wet eyes. He took in another deep breath and slowly exhaled. His life slipped away as the last bit of oxygen left his lungs. The sound reminded me of a tire losing air, slow and level until there was nothing left. His body relaxed, and his eyes became vacant and unfocused.

  The nurse silenced the solid tone of the heart monitor while I scanned his peaceful face. The realization that my father was gone washed over me in waves. My insides wrenched, and my arms and legs felt foreign, as if they no longer belonged to me. I nodded and smiled, ignoring the tears that spil ed over my cheeks. He trusted my words, and so he let go.

  Thomas touched my shoulder and moved to the head of the bed. He reached over to place his hands over my father’s eyes and whispered something beautiful in Hebrew. I leaned over my father’s chest and hugged him. For the first time in my life, he didn’t hug me back.

  Looking down to my hands, I scanned the obituary from the funeral. Separated by a dash, the dates of my father’s birth and death were displayed in elegant font on the front cover. I grimaced with the recognition that such a short line of ink was meant to signify his life.

  The paper fit snugly in the inside pocket of my coat just as the wet sloshing of bus tires approached, slowing to a stop in front of me.

  The door opened, but I didn’t look up. The sounds of commuters stepping out onto the sidewalk never came. My neighbors had little need for public transportation, specifical y so late in the evening. Those that used it at al were the hired service that worked in the colossal residences nearby.

  “Miss?”

  The bus driver cleared his throat to get my attention, and when I failed to acknowledge him, the door swept shut. The air breaks released, and the bus slowly pul ed away from the curb. I tried not to think about the day that had just taken place, but my memory became saturated with it.

  Just as I did in childhood, I rocked back and forth to comfort myself. The warm peach hue had long since left my fingers, reminding me of my father’s folded hands as he lay in his coffin.

  A frigid breath of air flooded my lungs and my chest heaved, giving way to the sob that had been clawing its way to the surface. I had thought moments before that my eyes couldn’t cry anymore, and I wondered how much more I would have to endure before my body would final y be too exhausted to continue.

  “Cold night, huh?”

  I sniffed and shot an annoyed glance to the man settling into the space next to me. I hadn’t heard him approach. He breathed on his hands, rubbed them togeth
er and then offered a reassuring grin.

  “I guess,” I answered.

  He looked down at his watch and sighed. “Damn it,” he muttered under his breath. “Guess we missed the last bus. ”

  He pul ed a cel phone from the pocket of his black motorcycle jacket and dialed. He greeted someone and then requested a taxi.

  “Did you want to share a cab?” he asked.

  I peered over at him, immediately suspicious. His blue-grey eyes narrowed as he raised one eyebrow at my expression. I must have looked like a maniac, and he was reconsidering his offer.

  I folded my arms, suddenly feeling the discomfort of winter breaking through my coat, seeping into my skin, piercing through to my bones. I had to get back to school; I stil had a paper to write.

  “Yes. Thank you,” I said with a shaky voice.

  After an awkward moment of silence, the man spoke again. “You work around here?”

  “No. ” I hesitated to continue the conversation but found myself curious. “You?”

  “Yes. ”

  How odd. He didn’t look like hired help. I glanced at his watch out of the corner of my eye. Definitely not help.

  “What do you do?”

  He didn’t answer right away. “I’m…involved in the home security sector,” he nodded, seeming to agree with himself.

  “I’m a student,” I offered, trying to clear the ridiculous quivering in my voice.

  He stared at me with an expression I couldn’t quite decipher, and then looked forward again. He was older than I, though not by more than five or six years. I wondered if he knew who I was. There was a glimmer of familiarity in his eyes, though I couldn’t quite place it.

  His cel phone vibrated, and he opened it to read a text message. He attempted to hide an emotion and then snapped the phone closed without replying, and didn’t speak again until the cab arrived.

  He opened the door for me, and I scooted over to the farthest end of the seat while he slid in behind the driver.

  “Where to?” the cabbie asked in a throaty voice.

  “Brown University,” I instructed. “Please. ”

  “Uh-Huh. One stop?”

  “No,” my unanticipated companion said.

  I noted that he was careful not to mention his address, and that struck me as odd. Maybe it wasn’t odd at al ; maybe I was more curious about him than I would have liked to admit. I was surprised that I had noticed anything at the moment, and found myself grateful to this stranger for the diversion he’d inadvertently created for me.

  “I’m Jared by the way,” he grinned, holding his hand out to take mine.

  “Nina. ”

  “Wow, your hands are freezing!” he said, clasping his other hand over mine.

  I pul ed my hand away, noting his exceptional y warm grip. I watched him for a moment, listening to any inner voices that might have sensed danger, but the only feeling that stood out was curiosity.

  After the realization of his offense, he apologized with a smal smile. I tucked my hair behind my ears and stared out the window. The wind whipped around outside, blowing the col ecting flakes across the road like white snakes slithering ahead. I shivered at the image and pul ed my coat tighter around me.

  “Brown, huh?” Jared asked. His cel phone vibrated in his pocket and he flipped it open once again.

  I nodded. “Brown. ” He continued to look at me so I offered more, “Business major. ”

  The residual frustration from the unwanted cal er melted away once our eyes met. It seemed as if he’d just noticed I’d been crying.

  “Are you al right?”

  I looked down, picking at my nails. “We buried my father today. ” It occurred to me that I had no idea why I was sharing such personal information with a stranger.

  “You were close,” Jared said. It was more of a statement than a question.

  I waited for the expected pity in his eyes, but there was none. My relief caused me to smile which in turn made a grin turn up one side of his mouth. I noticed then that he had a nice face. It was more than nice, now that it had come to my attention. He was quite attractive, real y….

  “Where’s your place?” The cabbie squawked. I peeled my eyes from Jared and pointed in the direction of my dorm. “East Andrews Hal . ”

  The cab pul ed in, and Jared automatical y stepped out. As soon as his door had shut, mine opened.

  “Thank you,” I said.

  “It was nice to meet you, Nina. ” There was an edge to his words. It went beyond politeness or even sincerity. He spoke the words with conviction.

  I nodded and side-stepped toward my dorm. He paused before getting into the cab to smile at me once more, and for the first time in weeks I felt something other than hol ow. I watched the cab pul away and then turned against the wind to walk toward Andrews.

  Once inside my room, I noticed my appearance in the mirror and gasped. Good God, it was no wonder that Jared felt compel ed to come to my aide! I looked like a homeless, desperate crack addict overdue for my next fix! My brush ripped through my blonde bob and I pul ed my bangs straight back, pinning them away from my face. I went to the sink and scrubbed away the smeared mascara and streaky foundation.

  With a frown, I pul ed my cel phone from my pocket and pressed the speed dial to cal my mother.

  “Nina?” she answered.

  “Back in my room, Mom. ”

  She sighed. “Good. You know I don’t like for you to take the bus. Robert could have driven you. Take two of those pil s I gave you today, al right? They’l help you sleep. ”

  I rol ed my eyes. My mother: the frequent flier of Providence drug stores.

  “I’l probably fal asleep the second my head hits the pil ow. ” Not the pure truth, but it would do to keep my personal pharmacist at bay.

  “Okay, Darling. Sleep wel . ”

  My dorm room seemed smal er. The white wal s were pitiful y empty on my side. Feeling I was being watched, I peeked across the room at my roommate. Her side of the room was covered in posters of teddy bears and team colors. My decor consisted of an ornamental frame on my night table displaying a picture of me and my parents at high school graduation just a few months before.

  “How’s your mom?” Beth asked from under her baby pink comforter.

 
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