Doctor’s Orders: Chapter One
Telephone call. Important.
I look up to see my secretary Stacy standing behind the glass conference door gesturing wildly. The moment she finally catches my eye, she brings her hand to her ear, mimicking a phone receiver.
I shrug, perplexed. I get phone calls every day. What makes this call more important than what the president of the company is saying about the year’s outstanding ad campaigns? Considering that one of those campaigns happens to be mine—the one I cut my vacation short last year when my boss, creative director Ryan Pearson couldn’t make it—you bet I’m waiting for some recognition. Even better, a promotion because it’s sure as hell long overdue.
But as hard as I try to focus on what the president of the company is saying, Stacy keeps going, still trying to capture my attention from behind the glass partition. She continues to flap her arms until Ryan nudges me underneath the table and cocks his head toward the door.
It’s your mother, Stacy mouths as I turn to look at her again. She holds up her cell phone, pointing to it with her other hand. Check your messages.
I’d switched my phone to Silent for the meeting and the moment I touch the display, I see the notifications appear. My chest tightens when I read the first one and a rush fills my ears.
Your mom had a stroke. She’s in the hospital.
I get up from my chair, the movement so abrupt that the president of the company stops talking and everyone turns to look at me.
“Yes, Miss Turner? Do you have something to add?”
“I’m sorry. I… I have a family emergency. I have to leave,” I mutter and gathering my phone and my briefcase, I hurry toward the door. Stacy opens it for me and I step outside, as if in a daze. My heart is pounding and blood is rushing between my ears.
“Who called?” I ask Stacy as we hurry to the elevator.
“Your Aunt Libby did,” Stacy replies. “She’d been trying to reach you on your cell phone for the last hour before calling the main switchboard for your extension. She said your mom had a stroke this morning and she and your uncle took her to the Emergency Room.”
Aunt Libby is my mother’s sister and the only family she’s got back in Auburn Springs. “Did she say how my mother’s doing right now?”
“No. She just wanted me to let you know about your mother and that she hopes you can come home immediately,” Stacy replies. “By the way, I checked on flights leaving today.”
“Thanks, Stacy. I’d like to leave today if I can.” I step out of the elevator and hurry toward my office at the end of the hallway. It’s not the corner office I’d always wanted, the one with the amazing view of Manhattan, but after starting out in a cubicle six years ago, I’m not complaining. As a senior copywriter for Prescott Media, I’ve come a long way. It doesn’t matter that I mostly do Ryan’s job because he’s clueless about what a creative director is supposed to do other than take all the credit.
I sit behind my desk and go through my text messages. There are voice messages, too, and when I tap on the latest one, Aunt Libby’s voice shrieks from the speaker before I get the chance to slip on my ear buds.
We were having breakfast and suddenly she didn’t make any sense, Aunt Libby says, panic in her voice. Thank goodness I knew the signs of a stroke, Ava, or I wouldn’t have known to call 9-1-1 right away. We’re in the hospital now and they’re doing tests on her.
I tap her phone number and Aunt Libby picks up on the second ring.
“Ava! Finally! Your mother’s been asking for you.”
“I’m sorry, I was in a meeting,” I say as Stacy steps out of the office. “Is she there? Can I talk to her?”
“She’s getting some kind of a scan so it’s just me and your Uncle Doug. They did get her admitted and they tell me she’ll be here at least forty-eight hours. Maybe more,” she says. “Can you come home?”
“Depending on how fast I get on a flight, I should be there by tonight or at the latest, tomorrow.”
“That’s good to hear,” she says, sighing. “I plan on staying with your mom until they kick me out of here, but she’ll feel much better if you’re here. You haven’t been home in a year, honey. The last time you came home, you left two days later for some last-minute work trip.”
“I know, but I’ll be there as soon as I can.” And I’ll stay for as long as I need, I tell myself silently.
I thank Aunt Libby for keeping me updated before hanging up. I don’t know how long I sit at my desk staring at my blank computer monitor, but I’m grateful for the knock on the door that snaps me out of my thoughts.
“I found a flight to Sacramento that leaves in three hours. It should get you in at around eight, Pacific Standard Time. Will that work?” Stacy asks as I glance at my desk clock.
“I’ll take it.” The sooner I get to my mom, the better I’ll feel, considering I already feel guilty for working on the other side of the country.
“I’ll get the car reserved as well,” Stacy adds. “I understand you have to drive a ways to get to Auburn Springs.”
“I do. Thank you, Stacy.”
“I hope she gets well soon,” Stacy says.
The moment my assistant leaves the office, I make a few phone calls: Human Resources to let them know that I have a family emergency and that I’ll be out of the office for at least a week, and Ryan to tell him he’ll have to lead the project without me. Since he’s still at the meeting, I leave him a message.
He calls me back two minutes later. “I’m so sorry to hear about your mother, babe. I hope she’ll be okay.”
“Thanks,” I say, about to hang up but Ryan clears his throat.
“What about the Key Largo project?” He asks, referring to the ad campaign that’s due in less than two weeks.
“What about it?”
“You know I can’t finalize the campaign without you, Ava,” he says, his voice lowering. This always happens when he wants something. “Do you think you can work remotely?”
“Ryan, my mother had a stroke. I don’t think I’ll be able to focus on anything but her.”
“I understand, babe, but I’m sure she’ll be okay. And you know how this project is very important to me, to us,” he says. “And what about the team, huh?”
“The team will be fine while I’m gone, Ryan, assuming you do your job as creative director.”
The silence on the other end of the line is deafening. “What are you trying to say, Ava?”
I sigh. Ryan has been our Creative Director since day one but he’s also the son of the president of the company who pretty much got the job handed to him on a silver platter. He’s learned a lot on the job, but not without much input from people like me. It doesn’t help that we secretly dated for almost a year and by the time we called it quits a few months before the Las Vegas convention, I felt like someone’s dirty secret, like a mistress.
“Ryan, my mother had a stroke and I need to catch a flight for Sacramento. That’s what I’m trying to say.”
“Can you just do what you can while you’re there?” he asks, his voice softening. A different tactic, I’m sure. But as much as I wish I could tell him that no, I can’t, old habits die hard.
“Sure. I’ll do my best.”
I hear him breathe a sigh of relief. “Thanks, babe. I owe you one. Once we get this campaign launched, I’ll put in a word for you about that promotion.”
“You said that the last time I saved your ass.”
“I mean it this time, babe,” he whispers. “You’re the wind beneath my wings. You know that, right?”
When I don’t say anything, he continues. “We need you, Ava. I need you.”
“Look, I told you I’ll do what I can remotely. But I have to go,” I say doing my best to keep my annoyance in check. He’s still my boss. “Text me the updates on the project and we’ll go from there.”
As I gather my things, I wonder how my mother must be feeling right now. Even though I last visited her a year ago, my original seven-day trip had been cut short on the second day because of work. I can still remember my mother watching me as I packed my things, asking me when I’d ever take the time to put family first.
I just didn’t expect her to have a stroke for it to happen.