It was two am. The house was quiet. Emma padded down the stairs then checked every window and door on the first floor. She saw the alarm had been activated (by Robert) and let out a sigh of relief.
Then she pulled her terry cloth robe tighter before making her way back upstairs.
Emma had just gotten back under the down comforter when she heard it again.
Emma shut her eyes tight and placed her hands over both ears. I have to get some sleep tonight. She thought to herself.
Why was this happening again?
Twenty five minutes later, Emma was at the medicine cabinet in the master bedroom. She reached for the bottle of melatonin, swallowed two with a mouthful of water before returning to her queen size bed. She turned on her side and let out another sigh.
Its either this or pacing the hall again tonight.
The trees outside the window danced in a rhythmic way. Emma wasn't sure if it was the graceful way they moved or the melatonin kicking in but soon she would drift off to sleep.
The following morning, after a strong cup of coffee at the breakfast table, she prayed she would feel better today. A robin flew by the kitchen door. Emma admired the beautiful shades of brown on his coat and the deep red of his under belly. Maybe this is a good sign. The voice in her head told her.
Emma sipped her coffee. She sat still. Took in the silence of the enormous old Victorian. Soon the house will be bustling with noise. It seemed important to let the calm wash over her. This would soothe her nerves plus get her through the weekend.
Emma rose from her chair and set the coffee mug down in the porcelain sink. She reached for a rag (which she kept on the counter)then begun to wipe down the counters.
The children entered the foyer first. Robert must've been gathering their belongings from his SUV. Celina (who was eleven going on fourteen) and Bobby(was eight but small for his age) were fighting the moment they came through the door. Emma left the kitchen in a hurry and greeted them both in the front hall.
"Mom, she hit me!" Bobby wailed.
"He had it coming. He took my phone and read my texts messages..." Celina chimed in.
Emma cut her daughter off.
"You don't hit your brother! You know how I feel about that.
Did you both have a good time?"
Celina rolled her eyes while never taking them off the screen of her phone. Bobby was wiggling out of his winter coat. Emma helped him remove his arms.
"I did! Dad took me to a baseball game."
"Wow that's great. You must've had fun. Celina, did you go with them?" Emma inquired.
"No, I hate baseball. I stayed at Dads with Allie. I had homework. He said I it was ok."
The front door opened again. Robert( who stood at six foot three) entered. His arms were loaded with a suitcase, a large purple duffel bag plus snacks. He dropped the bags onto the hardwood floor.
Celina was heading for the stairs. Bobby was talking so fast, Emma was having trouble keeping up.
"Um young lady, these are your things. Come and get them please."
Celina stormed over and lifted her duffel bag over her shoulder. She made a face and puffed out a breath. This didn't phase Robert.
"Its heavy." She complained.
"I told you not to bring so much."
Celina lugged it upstairs. Muttering the entire time.
"Whose Allie? And why was Celina spending time with her?"
" Hello to you too Emma. I told you about Allie, I've been seeing her for six months now. Celina had work to finish. They weren't really together."
Emma left Robert in the hallway.
Emma made a second cup of coffee along with a peanut butter sandwich for Bobby. Emma offered to heat up leftovers for her ex husband but he declined. She listened to Robert and Bobby discussing the Red Sox game in excruciating detail. They seemed to be reliving it right there at the table. Bobby would light up each time his Dad mentioned a home run or a grand slam. Baseball was something they had always shared.
No. Not now. Leave me alone.
Emma told the voice in her head.
Emma turned to face the counter with her coffee mug in her grip. She missed the edge and the mug smashed into pieces all over the tiled floor. Robert jumped up and hurried over to her.
He knelt down then started to gather the broken pieces together.
"Stay there Bobby! Its ok." Robert told him.
Robert stood up with most of it in his palms. He noticed Emma's hands were shaking. She held tight to the counter. He whispered.
"Are you not feeling well again?"
"I'm fine. Really I am. I set it too close to the edge, that's all."
Robert took Emma by the hand and led her to the table.
"You take it easy. I can sweep that up."
Emma opened her eyes. The room was bright so she knew it was still early. A blanket lay on top of her. A knock at the door followed by Robert coming into her room. She began to sit up.
He walked closer to the bed.
"Did I wake you?"
"No, I was already up. I promise you I'm fine. I would have canceled if I wasn't."
Robert was along side the bed. Emma smiled at him.
"Its quiet. Are they outside or something?"
"No, Mrs. Lewis stopped by to see you. When I told her you were asleep, she offered to take them to a movie."
"Oh Robert, this is my weekend. You should have told her no."
" This will give you a chance to tell me what's going on. I look at you and I can see your not right."
"There's nothing wrong with me. You worry too much. I've had some trouble sleeping but last night was better. I swear it. Did you put the alarm on?'
He looked confused but nodded anyway.
"Emma its me. I need the truth. I wont get mad and the kids can stay. Please, tell me."
Emma sat and refused to answer. Robert placed his hand over hers.
"Tell me. Please."
" At first I thought it was someone in the house. I would search every room but found no one. Then I began to check the locks, the alarm, making sure it was always on. But I kept hearing it. A voice always at night. It sounds crazy, I know that. But if its not the TV or a person who broke in... it must be me."
Tears were rolling down Emma's face. She made no attempt to wipe them. Robert gave her hand a gentle squeeze.
"How long Emma? When did it start?"
" A few days ago. I'm good during the day. I'm still working on my computer. It happens whenever I don't sleep."
"Have you gone back to Dr. Farber?"
"No. It'll stop Robert. It has to. He will change my pills, run tests. I cant go through that..."
"But your willing to live like this? No sleep, shaking, hearing voices! You have to go see him. That's not a request. How about today? They wont be back for hours."
"He isn't there late on Saturday. I can go Monday morning."
"That's too long. I want you to go today. I can drive you. Come on get dressed."
Emma sat in the waiting room. She flipped through pages of a magazine but wasn't able to concentrate. Robert paced behind her chair.
"Will you sit down your making me more anxious!"
Robert took a seat on the couch opposite Emma.
Emma tossed the magazine on the wooden crate they were using as a side table.
"Does it always take this long?"
"No, he must be busy. You insisted on coming today."
"Because I care about you and want you to get better."
"No you don't! You like me like this. Helpless and needy. Afraid of my own shadow!"
"Stop it Emma. I know what your doing and its not going to work."
"And what am I doing exactly? Come on Robert, tell me I would like you to explain..."
The door to the inner office opened and Dr. Farber walked out.
"What is going on out here?" The doctor asked.
Emma folded her arms.
"We didn't mean to be so loud. I'm sorry. It was my fault."
"Its perfectly alright. Its nobody's fault. Emma I'm ready you can come in."
Robert drove the thirty miles by himself. He had left the children with Allie. He took the elevator to the fourth floor. Then he headed down the hall to room 411. He steadied himself before entering the room. Emma was dressed sitting in a chair staring out the window. A nurse named Kelly was placing a small paper cup down on a tray.
"Hi, how is she today?" Robert said.
"Not so good. She thought you weren't coming."
"I left late and the traffic was brutal."
Kelly grinned at him and left the two of them alone. Robert brought a chair over and sat beside her. Emma never took her eyes off the trees.
"I know I'm late. Boy its warm in here."
Robert unzipped his winter coat. He looked around the room then back at Emma.
"I hate that your in here. The kids miss you. But I just don't think they can handle any of this. Bobby will cry I just know it. Emma, will you look at me?"
A long drawn out silence.
"I miss you too. We use to talk about everything. My job, your writing, the kids, money... I did this to you. This is my fault. You needed me and I was never ever there for you. I left you alone in that big old house."
Robert wipes the tears away from his eyes.
"I'm so sorry. I want you to know that. You have nothing to worry about. Just get strong. I got the kids. They really are a handful sometimes. But I wouldn't trade them for anything. All you have to do is get better. Please, please get better. Come back to us."
Emma turns from the window and touches Roberts hand. He is stunned.
"Hey, you wanna take a walk with me?"
Emma rises from the chair. He smiles at her.
"I would really like that." Emma says.