Long time neighbor Mrs. Gaspari found Bryan's mother sprawled on the kitchen floor unconscious and unresponsive when she stopped by for her usual morning cup of coffee with her friend. Bryan received the frantic call at work from a hysterical Mrs. Gaspari telling him that they were transporting his mother to the hospital.
Now, four hours later, Bryan's mom remained unconscious in the ICU Unit, the victim of "a massive and debilitating" stroke according to the doctors. Survival was not expected and as his mother's guardian and health care proxy it was Bryan's decision as to whether or not to keep her on life support.
Bryan was aware that his mom had signed a do not resuscitate order so he knew the decision he needed to make. He just wanted to hold out a little longer before making the ultimate sacrifice.
Several nursing staff came and went checking on Mrs. Woodard's vitals and machine readings and Bryan noticed one in particular giving him interested glances whenever she came in to check on his mother. She was polite, compassionate and professional but there seemed to be something else about her that made him feel as if he was supposed to know her or something.
"You probably don't remember me," the nurse remarked the third time she came into the room.
Bryan was sitting in a chair next to his mother holding her hand while the nurse checked her vitals.
"Should I?" Bryan asked.
"I was in junior high when you were a junior and senior," she explained. "I was in the marching band and watched you and my brother play football."
"Oh?" Bryan was surprised.
"My maiden name was Duckworth," she said.
"You were Duckie's kid sister?" Bryan asked.
"Yeah, Makayla," she revealed.
"Junior high was pretty much off my radar back then," Bryan admitted. "So, sorry, but I don't remember you."
"I was in the backseat of my brother's car a few times when you guys were together," she said.
"Oh, yeah, with what's her name. Cornball's sister."
"Lisa," Makayla laughed. "Gee, you remember her and not me!?" She feigned being insulted.
"I think I remember you now," Bryan said. "You laughed a lot."
"Yeah, I was kind of goofy," she admitted. "But I definitely remember you."
"Thanks," he smiled.
"Anyway, sorry about your mom," Makayla said with sincerity as she continued to take the patient's vital signs and record numbers off the machines onto the chart.
"Where's Duckie now?" Bryan asked.
"California," Makayla reported. "Married with a couple of kids."
Bryan nodded his head. "Yeah, that's right," he said. "I got a couple of Christmas cards over the years."
"Well, it's nice to see you again, Woody," Makayla said as she left the room.
He followed her with his eyes. The last time he saw her she was probably thirteen or fourteen. Now she was in her early forties and a nurse! Her hair was still blond, not curly and wavy like it was when she was a kid but straight, cut to her shoulders. She wasn't as tall as her brother but she had a firm build and the recognizable Duckworth look. She looked sexy in her hospital scrubs.
Bryan sighed and returned to attention to his poor stricken mother. She looked absolutely horrible and he knew that there would be no heroics, rallies or recoveries. He needed to find the strength to make the hard decision.
Bryan was sitting with his mother a few hours later still holding her hand when Makayla returned to the room.
"A guy named Buddy called a few minutes ago," she announced. "He told me to tell you that he'd be here soon."
Bryan felt the blood drain from his face. "Excuse me," he said with a strained voice. "Who did you say called?"
"Buddy," Makayla replied as she once again checked the chart, machine and vitals.
"Are you sure the person said Buddy?" Bryan asked weakly.
"Yeah, why?" Makayla asked.
"You sure he didn't say Bobby?" Bryan demanded.
"No, I'm pretty sure he said his name was Buddy," Makayla replied
Bryan sucked in his breath.
"Are you okay?" Makayla asked when he saw the look on her face.
Bryan looked like he had seen a ghost. "My Uncle Bob's in Florida. He can't be here soon. Besides, he has my cell phone number. Why would he call the hospital?"
"I don't know," Makayla replied. "What's going on, Woody?"
"Buddy was my father's nickname," Bryan revealed. "He died ten years ago."
Makayla looked at him blankly. "You're kidding, right?"
Bryan fished out his cell phone and pushed a pre-set number. "Bob?" He spoke. "No, no change I'm afraid. Yeah. Soon. Hey, did you call the hospital a few minutes ago? No? Oh, okay. Yeah, I'll let you know. Thanks, Bob."
Bryan closed the phone and looked at Makayla. "It wasn't him," he said.
"This is very strange," the nurse said with a perplexed look on her face. "I'm pretty sure the guy said Buddy."
"What did the voice sound like?"
Makayla shrugged. "Kind of raspy, I guess."
"Did you ever meet my father?" Bryan wanted to know.
Makayla shook her head no. "I have no idea who he was and I certainly didn't know they called him Buddy if that's what you're getting at."
"What did this Buddy say, exactly?" Bryan asked suspiciously.
"I'm not making this up, Woody," she said defensively. She closed her eyes and tried to recall the call word for word. "He said 'Hi, This is Buddy. Tell BJ –then he corrected himself and said Bryan – that I'll be there soon'," Makayla told him.
"BJ?" A chill went up Bryan's spine.
"That was my family nickname when I was a little kid," the white faced Bryan revealed. "BJ in his PJs. Nobody's called me that in years."
"Maybe someone's playing a sick cruel joke on you," Makayla said with a worried look.
"Not too many people left know about BJ," Byron pointed out.
"Well, maybe perhaps it was simply a coincidence," Makayla offered lamely, knowing there was no way it could be a simple coincidence.
"What, you mean a wrong number?" Bryan asked sarcastically.
"I don't know what I mean or what I think or what I'm supposed to say," Makayla admitted.
Bryan glanced at his mother and smiled. "Actually, I'm feeling kind of calm now," he admitted. "Sort of at peace with a complete lack of stress."
"Why?" Makayla wondered.
"Both my parents were devout Catholics," he said. "There was always a sense of Faith with them. They were never afraid because they always had a belief in the promises of Christ."
Makayla chewed on her lip. "I was never all that religious," she admitted. "My father was an atheist and my mother agnostic at best. I didn't grow up with any spiritual grounding. People find it strange that I became a nurse because of all what happens after you die stuff."
"So, you don't believe in Heaven?" Bryan wondered.
"I don't know what I believe," she replied.
"Could you tell the doctors I'm ready?" Byran gently requested.
"Do you think Buddy is really here now?" Makayla asked softly.
"I think he's here to take my mother," Bryan acknowledged.
Makayla gave him a long look before leaving the room and not long after two doctors entered the ICU room. Bryan was asked to sign a few forms and then the doctors turned off the various machines. The hospital staff left Bryan alone with his mother. A couple of nurses made her look comfortable and there seemed to be a peaceful look on her face as she lay in the bed. A priest came and administered last rights and he left a rosary in Mrs. Woodard's hands which were neatly folded across her stomach outside of the covers.
Bryan was dozing in his chair when he felt someone gently shaking him awake.
"Woody, it's me."
Bryan opened his eyes to see Makayla standing above him. She was dressed in casual clothes, obviously off duty. Bryan glanced at his watch and saw that it was after ten o'clock that night. His mother remained unconscious but alive. The nurses had been administering morphine to her for most of the day.
"What are you doing here?" Bryan asked.
"Buddy called again," Makayla announced quietly.
"What?" Bryan sat up straight in his chair. "What are you talking about?"
"He said it's time," Makayla informed him.
For a moment, Bryan's entire world stopped. "What?" he asked hoarsely. "Why would he call you?"
"I don't know," Makayla admitted.
Bryan remained silent for a moment trying to comprehend all of this.
"Do you want me to go?" Makayla asked.
"No, it's okay, stay," Bryan sighed, standing and looking at his mother.
Makayla sat in a chair, her eyes trained on Mrs. Woodard.
"Dad must have wanted you here for a reason," Bryan decided.
"Come on, it can't be your father," Makayla insisted.
Bryan walked to the bed and took his mother's hand in his. "Its okay, Mom," he said quietly. "You can go now if you want."
He glanced over his shoulder at Makayla who had a very serious and somber look on her face. "What did my father say, exactly?"
"He said 'Go tell BJ it's time'" she said.
A gurgling sound escaped from Mrs. Woodard's throat. Bryan took a seat on one side of the bed and Makayla sat on the other side, both of them holding one of Mrs. Woodard's hands. The rosary had slipped down her arm to her elbow but at least she still had it with her.
After a few minutes, Bryan stood at the head of the bed with his hand on his mother's forehead. "Go be with Buddy," he said. "Feel the welcomed arms of God. I love you and I will always remember you."
There was a small gasp from his mother's mouth and then nothing. Bryan glanced at Makayla. "Is she still breathing?" He asked.
The nurse stood and felt Mrs. Woodard's pulse. "She's gone, Woody," Makayla announced. "I'm sorry."
"Goodbye, Mom," Bryan sighed, falling into his chair and letting out a long deep breath.
Makayla stepped behind the chair and put her hands on his shoulders. "You okay?" she asked after a few quiet moments.
"I thought maybe I'd break down in tears and be overwhelmed with grief when this moment came," Bryan admitted, lifting his hand up and taking hold of one of hers. "But I actually feel a sense of completeness."
"You know, I see people die around here all the time," Makayla said. "But I've got to tell you that this was one of the most unbelievably serene and beautiful moments I've ever experienced."
"My mother lived a long and full life," Bryan smiled. "There was so much love and joy to her. But I know she missed my Dad and now they can be together again so
even though I'm sad I won't have her anymore, I know that all is well and I'm actually filled with elation."
"Stay with your mom for a few minutes," Makayla suggested. "I'll go tell the duty nurse she's gone."
Bryan spent a few quiet moments alone with his mother's body, said his final goodbye, kissed her on the forehead, and left the room. Makayla was waiting for him behind the nurses' station and she walked him out of the hospital.
"Do you think it was a strange coincidence that it all happened like this?" Bryan asked.
"I don't know," Makayla confessed. "It was definitely one of the weirdest days I've ever had and I'm still trying to figure out the whole phone thing."
"Maybe this wasn't a coincidence," Bryan decided. "Maybe it was supposed to happen this way for a reason."
"What was supposed to happen?" Makayla asked with confusion.
"I feel completely blessed," Bryan said. "The end was peaceful and that's all I can really ask for."
"Yes," Makayla agreed.
"Most people hold some sort of belief about what happens after we die," Bryan said. "People say that souls go to heaven or experience rebirth or that we see our loved ones. Most people have beliefs but most don't have knowledge. I can now say that I know."
"Know what?" Makayla asked.
"I know that there is the other side," Bryan told her. "Otherwise, how could my father have called you?"
"I don't believe that was your father, Woody" Makayla said in a serious tone.
"Who else could it have been?" Bryan wanted to know.
They had reached her car and she stopped short, looking at him with uncertainty.
"Now we both know that we will see our loved ones again," Bryan said. "Whatever happens after that is a mystery until we experience it for ourselves. But I know for sure that our loved ones are waiting for us and that they will help us cross over into that great mystery when it's our time. And when it's necessary, they will find a way to let us know like my father did today."
"I wish I had your Faith," Makayla sighed.
"Anyway, thanks for everything you did," Bryan said, giving the nurse a spontaneous hug. "You were great."
She was caught off guard by the unexpected display of affection. "Sure, Woody, it was nice to see you again, although I'm sorry it was under these circumstances."
"I'm glad you were here," he smiled. "I'll see you."
"Good night," she said, feeling confused and uncertain as she climbed into the car.
Bryan gave her a wave as she drove away.
### ### ###
Bryan was painting the living room when the doorbell rang. He put the brush down on the edge of the paint can and answered the door, surprised to see Makayla the nurse standing on the porch. She was wearing jeans and a gray sweatshirt.
"Makayla!" He said with a wide grin. "Wow, this sure is unexpected! What are you doing here?"
"Buddy called again," she said, stone-faced.
"Oh yeah?" Bryan reacted with amusement.
"This isn't funny, Woody," Makayla said with a frown. "Is this some sort of gag or something?"
"What do you mean?" He asked.
"Did you call me?" She demanded.
"Of course not," he said, insulted and hurt. "Why would I do something so pathetic?"
"Well, who the hell is this person who keeps calling?" She asked angrily. "It's really starting to give me the creeps."
"Why don't you come in?" Bryan suggested.
She sighed but agreed, stepping into the room.
"I'm moving back in," Bryan explained when he saw her looking around. "I was in an apartment after the divorce and now that the house is empty I figured I might as well move in instead of selling it."
"Makes sense," Makayla said with a nod.
"So what did he say?" Bryan asked.
"Who?" Makayla asked with confusion.
"Buddy!" Bryan grinned.
She made a face. "He said you need my help," she said with a frowned forehead.
"Painting?" Bryan wondered.
"How the hell should I know?" Makayla asked with annoyance.
Bryan laughed and motioned her toward the couch that had been moved to the middle of the room. "Have a seat, Makayla," he said.
She did what he asked and Bryan took a seat next to her.
"I haven't seen you since mom died," he said.
"Yeah," she acknowledged.
"That was three months ago," he pointed out. He scratched his chin in thought. "Do you think that's why Buddy called?" He wondered.
"Why?" She asked.
"To get us together again?" Bryan replied.
"I didn't think you could play matchmaker from heaven, Woody" she said sarcastically.
"I didn't mean it that way," he said, trying not to blush.
"Well, what did you mean?" She asked.
"I don't know," he said with a shrug.
She eyed him with interest. "So, you're divorced?"
"Yeah, about five years now," he sighed.
"Me too," she replied.
"Oh," he said, surprised by the news.
"I guess we're both damaged goods," she remarked with a touch of self-pity.
"Maybe that's why Buddy called," Bryan teased.
She rolled her eyes but then gave him a long look. "So, how are you doing?"
"I'm okay," he said bravely. "There's been sadness and some emptiness," he admitted. "Having to get rid of a lot of stuff in here has been difficult. I feel like I'm throwing away the past. My daughter came home for a week for the funeral and my ex even showed up for the services too."
"That was nice of her," Makayla commented.
"It was hard not to like my mother," Bryan smiled. "She was such a forgiving soul. She was never mean even after we split up."
Makayla looked around the room again. "I am a pretty good painter," she bragged.
"Would you like to help?" Bryan asked hopefully.
"Okay," she decided on the spot.
He got her an old tee shirt to wear which she put on in the bathroom, emerging with a small hand towel wrapped around her hair in a bandana style and with bare feet. They spent the rest of the day painting, Bryan climbing up the step ladder to reach the upper half of the walls with the paint roller, Makayla doing the borders and edges with precision and attention to detail. Bryan told her about cleaning out the house for the past several months and how weird it felt giving away his mother's possessions to church tag sales and carting tons of junk to the town dump.
They both came clean about their marriages, Makayla dealing with a jealous and insecure husband who didn't like having a wife making more money than he did working a more glamorous job than his truck driving career, plus her long hours in the ICU.
"That's what happens when you marry your high school sweetheart a year after graduation," Makayla sighed. "How was I supposed to know he was going to drop out of Blue County Community College after a three semesters and decide he didn't to go to school anymore?"
Bryan said he thought he was in a happy marriage until two months after his daughter's wedding when his wife revealed she had been cheating on him for nearly two years with a co-worker at her insurance agency.
"I moved out that night," Bryan said. "Haven't been back since."
"Must have been hard on your daughter," Makayla remarked.
"She's happily married and living in St. Louis," Bryan said. "There wasn't much she could do about it anyway."
"I'm sorry that happened to you," Makayla said.
"My mother kept trying to fix me up with these women from church and with daughters of her friends and all that," Bryan laughed. "I've been out on more dates in the last five years than I did all through high school!"
"Never met anybody worth taking a chance on?" Makayla asked.
"Not really," Bryan admitted. "What about you?"
"Oh, I dated a doctor for a while but that turned out to be a mistake," she said. "There were a couple of other guys but nothing serious."
"I was thinking after my mother died that I might not ever get a date again," he joked.
"Maybe she's the one who told Buddy to call me," Makayla said lightheartedly.
They ended up painting the living room, hallway and the den before realizing it was nearly eight o'clock at night. Bryan ordered a pizza delivered and he poured them some wine. They dined in his old bedroom upstairs where the paint fumes weren't so strong. Makayla looked cute with specks of light purple paint splattered on her face.
"It felt weird moving into my parents' old room so I didn't," he explained when Makayla saw the cluttered smaller bedroom with the bedroom furniture from his apartment stuffed into the room.
"You can't stay in here forever," she said.
"Maybe after I paint the other room," Bryan remarked.
They were sitting on the edge of the bed. The now empty pizza box was on the floor and they were finishing the wine. Bryan was beginning to wonder if they had run out things to say.
"I want to know who the hell has been calling me!" Makayla grumbled as she emptied the last of her wine glass down her throat.
"You really don't think it was my father?" Bryan asked with interest.
"It's impossible, Woody, and you know it," she insisted. "You have any friends who have been trying to fix you up?"
"You really think somebody would call the hospital when my mother was on her death bed to help get me a date with an ICU nurse?"
"Well, somebody called me," she complained.
"On your cell?" Bryan asked.
"Let me see it."
She dug the phone out of her pocket and handed it to him. He went to the history menu.
"776-0261?" He said with surprise.
"That's my father's old work number at the liquor store," Bryan revealed.
"Okay, so maybe someone who used to work for him is screwing with you for some reason."
"Mom closed the place after Dad died," Bryan said. "The building has been empty for years. I just inherited it and have no clue what I'm going to do with it."
"Well, somebody new got assigned the old number then," Makayla said.
Bryan dialed the number and a recording came on. "It says this number is no longer in service," he said, holding it to her ear so she could hear.
"This is very strange," she protested.
"Can't you just accept things for what they are?" Bryan asked.
"That your dead father is trying to fix us up?"
"That unexplained things happen for a reason," he countered. "That sometimes we're just supposed to go with the flow and not ask questions. You're a nurse in an ICU. I bet you've seen plenty of unexplained miracles and other happenings you accepted."
She sighed. "You know," she said after a few moments of reflection. "You were my first man crush! I used to bug my brother about when you were coming over or beg him for rides when I knew you were going to be with him."
"They would have put me in jail, Makayla," Bryan remarked. "Four years age difference might as well have been fourteen years at that age."
"You never even noticed me," she pouted.
"I notice you now."
They were still sitting side by side on the edge of the bed and Makayla stared at him for a long moment before she took his face in her hands and kissed him passionately hard. As the kiss continued, Bryan was happy to gently push her back on the bed and he allowed his hands to find her hair.
"Is this what you thought about when you thought about me all those years ago?" He grinned.
"Yes," She admitted in a whisper, staring into his eyes. She let out a deep breath and studied his face. "Why do you notice me now?" She wondered.
"Because you're pretty and sexy and smart and you were there for my mother and somebody keeps calling you back to me," he explained.
She blushed as he rubbed the back of his hand along her cheek.
"I'm all stinky and sweaty and painty," she told him.
"Why don't you take a shower?" He suggested.
"Maybe I should just go," she countered.
"Please stay," Bryan told her. "Go take a hot shower. You'll feel better."
He smiled hopefully as he leaned down and kissed her. Makayla chewed on her lip for a moment before she gently pushed him away, climbed off the bed and headed to the bathroom down the hall not sure what in the heck she was thinking or doing. She stripped out of her work-soiled clothes and stepped into the shower. The hot water was soothing and as she stood under the spray she wondered what she was getting herself into.
Makayla hadn't dated much since her last relationship went belly up and she had become used to her lifestyle and routine, burying herself in her work and at forty-four did she really want to begin all over again with a new guy, even if it was her first man crush from all those years ago?
And what was the deal with those damn phone calls!? No way could it be his dead father calling. Was Woody some sort of sick mental case who had devised this psycho plan just to get himself involved with her? There really could be no other explanation and given that truth did she really want anything to do with somebody who was so emotionally unstable?
Makayla finished her refreshing shower, stepped out of the stall and dried herself off with a guest towel. She combed out her blonde hair and then put on a white robe that was hanging on a hook on the back of the door. Was it his dead mother's? She sighed and looked at herself in the mirror.
"Do you really know what you're doing, Buddy?" She asked before returning to the bedroom where Bryan was tiding up the room. She watched him for a few moments until he noticed she was there.
"Oh," he said with a polite smile. "I guess I should freshen up too," he said.
"Sure, go ahead," Makayla said pleasantly. "I'll wait here."
She considered bolting (even in her robe) as she waited for Bryan to finish with his shower. This whole situation was awkward, strange, and mysterious and she wasn't sure if she was ready to throw caution into the wind and go with her heart and gut when her head told her telephone calls from Buddy just didn't make sense.
She took a few minutes to explore the room. Bryan had stacked up some of his old stuff from his youth in the corner to make room for his adult stuff from the apartment and she noticed a couple of school photos, including a framed photo of Bryan and Duckie from their high school football days. She smiled at the memory and suddenly she remembered just how crazy she was for the guy back then. Did it make any sense to act on it thirty years later?
Makayla turned to see Bryan standing in the doorway wearing a robe of his own.
"That was quick," she said nervously.
"You okay?" He asked.
She smiled. "Yeah, I'm okay."
Bryan went to the bed and sat on the edge, just like before. Makayla hesitated for a moment and then joined him. He took her hand in his and held it in his lap.
"You don't have to do anything you don't want to do," he said.
Bryan leaned in and kissed her with meaning as his hands caressed her back. He couldn't take his eyes off of her. Then his hand inched to the tie of her robe and she groaned as he continued to kiss her. This time she fell back on the mattress on her own and she didn't protest when Bryan carefully untied the robe band and let it fall open. His eyes went wide when he discovered that she was nude beneath the robe. He lay on top of her and Makayla felt the hardness between his legs as he continued kissing her.
"Oh, Gosh," Makayla nearly sobbed. "My man crush."
### ### ###
Makayla woke up in Bryan's bed the following morning with a slightly throbbing headache. She was nestled in his arms as they lay naked under the covers and she smiled when she remembered what took place between them.
"I must have had too much wine," she said when she noticed that Bryan was already awake and peering at her.
"It wasn't the wine," he assured her, leaning in to kiss her. "Good morning!" "Hello," she said, feeling as nervous as a school girl.
"Did you sleep okay?" He asked, smiling.
She felt strangely vulnerable lying with him naked under the covers but she wanted to enjoy the moment for as long as she could.
"Did we make a mistake?" She worried.
"My father never made mistakes," Bryan smiled.
"Oh, God," Makayla groaned, scooting out from under the covers and keeping her naked backside to him while she looked for her robe.
"What's the matter?" Bryan asked innocently.
"Your father's dead, damn it," she growled. She picked up the robe from the floor. "Was this your mother's?" She asked with annoyance, tossing it aside as she turned and put her hands on her hips, standing naked before him.
"Calm down, Duckess," Bryan told her, trying not to grin at her naked anger.
"Who the hell called me?" She demanded.
"Who the hell cares?"
"You don't?" She asked with surprise, not caring that she was naked in front of him.
"Nope," Bryan replied. "If it brought us together, I'm not asking or telling."
"Telling what?" She asked suspiciously.
Bryan laughed and climbed out of the bed, giving her a much needed hug and they stood together naked in the middle of the room holding on to one another.
"I happen to believe that it really was Buddy calling," he told her, kissing the top of her head. "I believe in signs and guardian angels and all the rest of it."
"Buddy doesn't need to see me naked," Makayla said as she dove back under the covers and Bryan joined her.
"Am I still your man crush?" He teased as they cuddled.
"After last night, is there any doubt!?" She giggled. But then she furrowed her eyebrows. "This has all been so unexpected. I don't know what to think."
"Then don't think at all," he suggested, kissing her nose.
She willingly kissed him back.
"Are you going to be okay with all of this?" He asked.
"You don't have a problem sleeping with an ICU Nurse who works weird hours?"
"You don't have a problem with a state land surveyor moving back into his dead mother's house with a dead father making phone calls on his behalf?"
She gazed at him for a long moment. "No," she decided finally. "I don't have a problem with that. Besides, I'm pretty sure the calls are going to stop now."
Bryan looked up toward the ceiling. "Thanks, Buddy," he said before kissing Makayla once more.