She turned the music down as she rolled up on the house. Sometimes after a shift like she’d just had, she needed it loud to keep her awake. But not tonight. Tonight, she was angry enough, frustrated enough to stay awake and drive to the coast if necessary. The concept, the idea, the thought of “enough” had been with her most of the day. Not the job. Joyce Maple was the chief of critical care at Swansea Health, a 250-bed hospital that served most of the county.
The virus cases had stabilized here, and she was back to her normal three 12 hour shifts and two overnights. They had a full staff-all healthy-and were finally fully stocked with what they needed to fight this freaking plague.
What she didn’t need however was her fucking husband-she still wasn’t thinking of him as “ex”-texting her between patients making demands about child visitation and his car. Which she was paying for, by the way. It was true that trying times reveal the true character of people. Happily, those she was surrounded with at work and in her tiny society at home have proven strong and positive. That turd, not so much.
She pulled into the drive automatically staying on her side until she hit the button above the visor to open the wide door into the empty two car garage. There was no “his and her” side anymore. Four months ago, she’d have been coming home to a husband and six-year old son. It wasn’t the largest or, truth be told, happiest family but it was what it was. It was a port in a storm-a place to hide from the world, a place to just BE. Which is what she needed right now. Which is why she was crying in the linen closet at work earlier. The first time that had happened. She was just tired and…fucking enough already.
Now she was coming home to her son Tommy, who would be asleep, and Megan Crockett, his babysitter. A blessing that one. Tommy had known her since he was a baby and since her university was on hiatus, she was back at home in the neighborhood with nothing besides online classes and art projects to do. They kept the proper distances and protocols, the girl even had her own masks because she worked with spray paint, so at least Joyce had someone in her life she could count on for something.
At home they had honed a routine that worked for them so far. When the garage door closed, Joyce got out of the car, kicked off her sneakers, stepped around to the laundry area and stripped. Her scrubs, top then bottom, and tonight her bra and panties went into a pile on the floor. She swore that she spent more time dressing and undressing at work than she did in front of patients. She wore no jewelry, no watch, nothing else. She bent and picked up the bundle to put in the washer surprised to find it empty. Megan must have done them. Sweet. And she knew better than to touch them before they were washed, so that was fine.
But she was distracted and moving slowly, more thoughtfully than usual as she tried to get the day out of her head. By now she should have been wearing the old robe or have moved to the bathroom for a shower but instead was standing in her altogether thinking about laundry when the door from the mud room opened and she heard Megan say, “Hi Joyce! I did…” They both froze for a moment, Joyce leaning naked over the washer and Megan with her hand on the doorknob.
“Shit!” said Joyce reaching quickly to snatch a bath towel off the stack on her folding table. She hadn’t been facing the house door either way-it was a full side view was all. No biggie. A side boob tops. “I’m sorry Megan…You should have knocked…” Joyce, holding a towel over her breasts that fell to her knees took a deep breath and closed her eyes hard for a second to reset. She opened them with a wry smile. “I’m sorry Megan. It was my fault…”
“I shouldn’t have just barged in.” Megan said.
“It’s okay. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize”, Megan said. “You’re beautiful.”
“Hah!” Joyce barked lightly. “But, thank you.”
“No problem. If I looked like you, I’d never wear clothes.”
“Stop”, said Joyce still smiling but blushing, nonetheless.
“I separated some eggs”, said Megan. “Was going to make you an egg white omelet. Cheddar or Swiss?”
“Megs”, she said using the nickname she called her ten years earlier when she was one of the neighborhood kids, “Like I’ve told you, you don’t have to cook for me.”
“Doctor Maple”, Megan said seriously, “I’ve eaten your cooking. So yes, yes I do.” Joyce’s eyes widened at being teased. “The county is depending on me.”
“You brat! If I had a free hand, I’d throw something at you.”
“Cheddar or Swiss?”
“Surprise me. But it’s really not necessary.”
“Of course it’s not ‘necessary’. A lot of things aren’t necessary. But would you like it?”
“Sure I’d like it.”
“And I opened that Chablis that was in the fridge…”
“Ah, THAT is necessary.”
“Figured since you weren’t going in till late shift tomorrow.”
“You remembered that…” Joyce said.
“Of course. Your schedule is my schedule.”
That simple statement caught Joyce in a way that surprised her. Of course, her babysitter would know her schedule. Since the dick had moved out and all this shit hit the fan, Megan had been her only constant relationship outside of work besides Tommy. Which was fine-who had time for anything else at this point. Her job was to keep everyone in her orbit safe. She had enough to worry about.
“Helloooo? Earth calling Doctor Maple. Doctor Joyce Maple.”
“Sorry”, Joyce said. “I’m in a bit of a fog tonight.”
“No wonder. That’s fine. Are you out of wheat bread?”
“No. The last is hidden in the freezer behind the ice cream.”
“Oh”, said Megan keeping a teasing tone, “Secret hiding places now?”
Joyce smiled wanly and shrugged indicating the towel covering herself. “I guess I have no secrets from you anymore…”
“Oh, I think you do…” Joyce cocked an eyelid. “I’m a butt gal. At best, I got a hip shot.”
Joyce gasped then coughed as a deep laugh rolled through her chest. It was an infectious tumbling laugh that Megan had no choice but to join. “Butt Gal”, she laughed as her shoulders heaved. “A new super hero!”
“We’ll make T-Shirts!” Megan laughed.
They cackled together from across the garage until Joyce ran out of breath. She swiped the corner of the towel across her eyes.
“I can’t remember the last time I heard you laugh.”
“Yeah”, said Joyce breathing normally again. “It’s been a minute.”
Again, the conversation wound down with neither seeming to be in a hurry to finish it until Megan finally spoke up, “Go. Take your shower. I’ll have the food ready when you are.”
“Don’t forget the wine.”
“I definitely won’t.”
Megan had turned and was on the way to leaving and closing the door behind her when Joyce called to her, “Hey Megs…”
When Megan turned, Joyce turned her back to her, her bare back uncovered from shoulders to ankles, and walked slowly into the bathroom, giggling like a girl.
Continued here Plague Life – Part II