View From Heaven

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 9 (v.1) - Chapter 8

Submitted: March 23, 2008

Reads: 159

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Submitted: March 23, 2008



Chapter 8

Five o' clock at last. The muscles in Cecily's back cried out miserably with each bump, dip, jerk, and throttle of the #3 King Drive CTA bus grumbling as if protesting to the sharp chill of the evening. Being on one’s feet for eight hours waiting tables proved more physically demanding than most people probably conceived. But Cecily barely paid any heed to the pain. Her thoughts were completely wrapped around the happenstance the day had brought.

At first sight of Jamie, she had been confused, agitated even with the disorienting situation. Of course she was delighted by the chance meeting. In fact, she occasionally dreamed about the moment when he would find her again. She would be beautiful, successful and would have accomplished unthinkable wonders which would make him envy her, if not fall instantly in love with her. Well, this was her dream as a young adolescent girl; life had not unfolded exactly how she planned. However, she still hoped the circumstances wouldn't find her tired, sweaty, and unkempt as she had been.

But a few minutes' conversation had been enough to make her forget all these unfortunate things and fill her with warm memories of the past. Seeing him again was like returning from a lonely month (or six years, rather) at summer camp, to the wonderful comforts of home. Time had simply made her forget just how comforting home could be.

Jamie had remained there for over an hour until Cecily's shift was through, picking casually at his food, catching a moment's conversation with her when he could. Sometimes he simply sat and watched her as she moved swiftly between the tables doing her very best to please her guests. She felt his eyes on her, following her every footstep, every smile to a customer, every flick of her wrist. It might have been a tad eerie, had it not been Jamie. Instead, it made her feel important and highly regarded. Here was a successful young man, newly employed in the high ranks of a multi-million dollar business, who probably had twenty other things he could be attending to at the moment. Instead, he found it suited him best to watch a sub-educated Chicago waitress scurrying through a restaurant full of people who made seventy-five times more a year than she. It seemed pretty pathetic, but she hadn't felt that special in a long time.

As her shift ended for the day, Jamie slipped Cecily a business card with his cell phone number and begged her to call him for drinks later in the week. With a last embrace, Jamie Hayworth ducked out of Maggiali's on West Ontario and became just one of the three million people in the city again. But now she knew where to find him.

Her first reaction as she stepped into the refreshingly cold air permeated by the sound of rush hour traffic was to call her mother with the news; she couldn't wait to hear the surprise in her voice. As Cecily had always held Jamie close as a brother, her mother had held him as a son. Sadly, he had meant more and more to her as she watched him grown into a decent young man while Ben took all the wrong paths.

Watching him move on, Cecily thought, must have been like watching a little bit of her hope walk out the door. She would be beside herself with happiness to know he was back home.

Her mother’s number on the screen of her cell phone, and her thumb hovering over the green button, Cecily was just moments from connecting the call when she nearly ran into the side of the #3 King Drive bus—the route to her mother’s apartment—parked alongside Maggiali's.

Divine intervention. She didn't know if she real really was in tune with this warm and fuzzy sentiment—the whole idea of God reaching down from the sky and willing something totally unexpected into being. It was a comforting thought, but years of skepticism had made Cecily more apt to believe that life just took its own course. It was a big world so full of chaos and random events that eventually coincidence, however astounding, was inevitable, as had been proved today when Jamie walked into her place of employment.

But if God wasn't sending her a message, that rusty old bus full of smelly people sure was. You haven’t seen your mother in two months and you live in the same city, Cecily. How many more excuses can you come up with for not visiting the woman who has raised you and, frankly, still pays some of your utility bills from time to time? Your ride is sitting right in front of you waiting, so let's be a little more humane and let your gracious mother see your face for once.

The CTA's reasoning was good enough for her. Cecily had stepped resolutely onto the bus, deposited her change, and strapped down for the tiresome ride to her little haven she so often forgot existed.

The moment she stepped out of the elevator onto the fourth floor of the Halsted Sunrise Apartments, Cecily was met with the delicious aromas of what she was sure was her mother’s cooking. Though she lived alone, Theresa Manning still found delight in making meals, and someone usually came along to take advantage of them. If you bake it, they will come, was her motto, and it had proved true again tonight. By the time she reached apartment 408, Cecily could practically taste whatever was cooking and her stomach growled miserably in response reminding her she had eaten very little that day. She heard her mother’s footsteps immediately after knocking. There was a moment’s silence as she peered through the peephole and then an exclamation of joy upon finding her only daughter standing on the other side.

Cecily barely caught sight of her mother before she found herself enveloped in Theresa's small frame.

“Oh, honey what a wonderful surprise. Did you take the train over?”

“No, sucked it up and took the bus. I've walked off most the motion sickness by now.”

Theresa took her daughter's jacket and led her to a bar stool at the kitchen counter.

“Well, good, then you can enjoy a nice home cooked meal.” As if on cue, she pulled a steaming pan of her famous four layer lasagna from the oven. Cecily's mouth practically watered at the sight. “You remember Mrs. Stedman from the church…getting on in years, now. Well she hasn't been feeling well, lately and her husband doesn't know the first thing about operating an oven. I planned on freezing half of this and bringing it to her in the morning. Now you can help me eat the other half.”

“I can't object to that.”

Examining the top layer of the dish closely, Theresa decided it could use a few more minutes in the oven. Then, she poured two glasses of White Zinfandel and took a seat across from Cecily, beaming.

“There are so many things for us to catch up on.”

Cecily could think of one thing, but decided to delay gratification in disclosing the information for a few more minutes.

“Well, Mom, we talk all the time on the phone, you know.”

Theresa patted Cecily's hand gently and smiled.

“Oh, I know. But sometimes it's just not enough. She took a sip of her wine and tugged absentmindedly at a loose thread on her green wool sweater. “And I suppose it should be enough just to have you here now, but I have to ask. Have you heard from Ben at all?”

Cecily knew the question was inevitable. Why shouldn't she worry about his welfare? Despite all his faults, Ben was as much Theresa's son as she was her daughter. That was the unconditional love of a mother—something Cecily truly wished she could share. At this point, she was ready to give up on her brother once and for all. He had given up on them long ago, so why bother exposing herself to the pain that would never be resolved for even one more minute? Still, she wished ceaselessly that a miracle might bring Benji back around, for her mother’s sake at least. She couldn't bear watching Theresa suffer in silence the way she did.

“No, Mom, I haven't. Her mother's face fell a bit but it was what she had expected to hear. But we're talking about Ben, here. No news is probably good news. Especially if it's the Police Blotters section.”

They both giggled lightheartedly at this. Sometimes all there was left to do was laugh at the matter because too many tears had been spilt. Theresa would never really accept the fact that Ben had removed himself permanently from their lives. But she had to accept that he was simply alive. Some small part of him was always with her as she tried to imagine at the moment where he might be, who he might be meeting, what he might be doing—no matter how good or bad, right or wrong the circumstances. They had to accept this if they were going to allow themselves to laugh again. His selfish behavior would not rob them of that.

The delicious meal was accompanied by plenty of small talk as Cecily and Theresa brought each other up to par on current events: happenings at work, encounters with mutual friends, amusing anecdotes—everything was divulged between mother and daughter until it was as if they hadn't been a minute apart. As a result, both women ended the meal each feeling a bit lighter and content, and it wasn't the wine to be blamed.

The dishes rinsed and stacked in the sink, Mrs. Manning immediately put on a pot of coffee remarking about the nasty chill outside. Cecily carefully carried her steaming mug into the tidy little living room area and sunk into a chocolate colored leather sofa, rewarding the muscles in her stiff and aching back.

After taking a sip of the delicious coffee (chalked full of sugar and cream, just how she liked it), she went to set the mug down on the lamp stand adjacent to the couch. Fishing for a coaster, her eyes landed upon a wooden picture frame with the following verse carved into it:

“John 11:25: And whosoever liveth and

believeth in Me shall never perish."

It had been a gift from a friend at church following the funeral. Inside the frame was a haunting image which spoke of another time and place all together. It was a family photo of the four Manning’s, just months before the accident and her father's death. It was a summer setting in their backyard. All were dressed in matching white shirts and khaki pants, huddled closely on the lush, green grass with a perfectly pruned garden as their backdrop. Four faces—three of them much younger than she could remember—with perfect smiles beamed back at her. From all appearances, they were a jovial and care free family. But she swore, just looking into the eyes of each of them, she could see they were hiding something underneath. And as for her father, well, it was almost as difficult to look at his picture, as it was to really look him in the eye.

As Theresa joined her daughter with her own steaming cup, Cecily slowly turned the picture away from her in an absent-minded fashion as not to attract her mother's attention. Just the sight of it made her insides turn.

“Well, Mom, I have to admit—as wonderful as it has been to come and catch up and…catch a free meal—I really made the trip to give you some exciting news.”

“Oh, please don't tell me you're pregnant,” her mother mumbled, tongue-in-cheek.

Cecily giggled at her mother's off-beat humor, but groaned inwardly. Please, old Mrs. Stedman's probably gotten laid more than I have in the past year.

“I'm sorry, love,” her mother sighed warming her hands on the mug. “Must be the wine talking, still. What is this exciting news?”

Cecily proceeded to explain her incredible run-in with her old and dear friend. The words “Jamie Hayworth” were enough to make her mother nearly choke to death on her drink.

“My goodness, he must be married with three children by now.”

Cecily sniffed.

“No, quite the opposite, actually. He's just recently divorced.”

The word, ‘divorced', almost brought the scalding hot liquid spilling onto Theresa's lap.

“You're kidding me. That girl must have done something awful to him.”

“No, no, no,” Cecily giggled at her mother's naivety. “Jenna was her name. And things just didn't work out between the two of them. That is a feasible ground for divorce in this century.”

Theresa laughed gently.

“I know. But, it's Jamie. He's just always been the perfect gentleman. I couldn't imagine it…” She trailed off momentarily, but then a new look washed over her face. A devilish sort of look if such a woman was capable of it. Cecily deciphered it in an instant. “So, this dashingly handsome, all grown up Jamie is single again I take it?”

Cecily tossed up her arms in disbelief. Since the moment she was in bras, her mother had been searching for her daughter's perfect mate. Typically the only criteria were a good Christian boy who didn't smoke and had no major physical deformities, so she was excited by the prospects of basically any male Cecily so much as smiled at. Sometimes Cecily felt like a girl straight out of a Jane Austen novel whose mother's driving force in life was to see her daughter courted and married by the earliest possible date. At the same time, she knew her mother only wished more than anything that she find happiness in the world and a man who genuinely loved her. She had to admit her own desires weren’t a far cry from this, but after the kind of weekend she had had, she was considering giving up the fight for awhile.

“Mom, he's barely been divorced three months. And I am barely used to the idea of the adult Jamie. I'm sure he still sees me as little Sissy Manning…minus the braces and zits. We're going out for a couple drinks this week so maybe I can convince him to make the trek over here with me afterwards. I'm sure he's dying to see you.”

“And I, him. I'm so happy for this news. You forget how much you miss someone…”

Theresa stared distractedly into her cup. There were several moments of silence.

A glance at the red numbers on the clock sitting above her mother's T.V. told Cecily she had stayed much longer than she had intended. She quickly repositioned the bothersome picture frame before hopping to her feet and embracing her mother. Theresa squeezed her daughter tightly before nudging her out to arm's length and staring into her eyes, a line or worry etched into her forehead just above her brow.

“Take care of yourself, Cecily, will you?”

Cecily opened her mouth to assure her mother she was doing just fine, but Theresa wouldn't let her speak.

“I know it isn't easy out there on your own. I wish I had all the money in the world to make your dreams happen right now. But I am so thankful that you have a good head on your shoulders. You will get there some day, this will all pay off.”

“I know,” Cecily replied her voice barely above a whisper.

“And your brother. I know his problems aren't yours...If you see him at all, try to take care of him, too. I think he will be less ashamed of his sister's help than his mother's.”

The younger woman nodded and promised to do this even though the very thought of Ben at the moment stirred her insides with anger. She would do it for her mother's sake.

Still slightly soured by the unpleasant trip to her mother's, and not completely certain of the bus schedule, Cecily opted to catch the El Train back to her Franklin St. apartment. To her dismay, she found no open seats in the car she chose, so she was forced to stand and hold on for dear life as she made the trek back home. Her thoughts ran astray once again as she tipped and jostled, her knuckles turning white as she gripped the slippery bar above her.

Why did her mother, after all these years, hold onto that frame holding that picture—and kept in full view for everyone to see? It actually made her blood boil. It was a sad reminder of what her mother had really become.

Mrs. Manning hadn't always been this way: this passive, quiet, submissive woman who spent her nights at home and hardly stepped foot out the door other than to go to work or make a visit to an elderly member of the church. Once upon a time Theresa Manning had been Wonder Woman in the eyes of her children. It seemed at times that she was up against a monster but she hardly faltered even once. Of course there were times when all of it was more than she could bear; Cecily would often sit and listen to her mother crying softly from behind closed doors until it nearly tore her heart in two. However, for her children, her mother was an endless rock who appeared all but fearless of the situation when they sought her comfort. That was the woman Cecily had once known.

That all changed almost immediately following her father’s death. In the first few weeks surrounding the funeral, the young girl witnessed a near serenity in her mother, and it was something she thought she understood. Theresa was by no means happy and care free for the time being, but calm and seemingly at peace. She talked quieter and less often, she was slow to make decisions. She took on fewer hours at work and spent her days and nights at home doing hardly anything worthwhile besides cooking and chores. Even at thirteen, Cecily processed that this would pass with time. Yet, the time did pass and this mood, this strange disposition, did not.

Ben’s troubles began and while her son’s behavior concerned her terribly, Theresa seemed to just watch from the sidelines as his life crumbled around him. It angered Cecily so deeply that she would make nasty remarks just to try to provoke her mother, but to no avail. This in turn only made her angrier. It was years before Cecily learned how to live with her new mother, but she had never really accepted it.

Cecily was so completely lost in her thoughts that she didn’t hear the announcement for Monroe Street—her stop—over the intercom. The problem was that she did not hear the signal for any stop at all. The brakes screeched onto the track bringing the train to its customary abrupt halt and Cecily’s grip on the pole overhead, which had now slackened considerably, slipped off completely in an instant.

It was as if she was falling in slow motion and she was able to reason all the humiliation she would be encountering in a second’s time. She had already begun to imagine how painful it was going to be when her body crumpled onto the hard surface beneath her (she’d probably end up with a couple of bruised elbows, a sore ass, and some seriously injured pride); how every eye in this cramped and crowded car would instantly fall upon her awkward figure sprawled across the floor. Then, she would have to dart back up onto her feet dodging peoples’ glances and words of concern pretending that nothing had ever happened as she dashed onto the platform. That’s how women handled these sorts of embarrassing things after all.

All of this had somehow occurred to her in the instant she first lost her balance, but now it occurred to her that what she had landed upon was in fact not the merciless hard rubber floor, but into the strong arms of what was conceivably a man standing behind her. With her back to her knight in shining armor, Cecily found herself already mumbling a discomfited ‘thanks’. However with her senses regained, the first thing she was aware of was the nagging familiarity of the arms still tucked a bit too firmly around her waist. She was just about to turn and meet her savior when she felt his lips come within inches of her ear.


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