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A Ghost of a Chance

by careythomas 11/16/17

--Preface--

Once again, thank you all for your feedback and comments -- they are what motivate me to keep writing!

This one took a while to get across the finish line, so thank you for your patience (and encouragement!). This story has been percolating in my head for a while, and when I heard Paul Simon's Graceland on the radio one day, the lyrics helped me frame the plot. As with my other stories, the narrative builds slowly but surely, so a quick fix this is not. Lastly, a sincere 'thank you' to Ripley for being my capable and trusted counselor on this endeavor.


--Prologue (Nine Months Ago - September)--

Cal Warner sat slouched in the club chair, her head tilted back as she stared out of the patio door window. It was quiet. The branches of the lemon tree in the backyard swayed hypnotically. The parallel beams of a car's headlights swung across the corner of the yard and faded as the car made its turn and went on its way. She closed her eyes.

"Hey..."

Cal sat up, startled by the greeting. She thought everyone else was asleep. She looked around the living room.

Nothing stirred. The hospital bed stood quietly next to her chair, empty, stripped of its linens. There was no reason for Cal to be sitting here anymore, but this had been her spot for so long, it seemed comforting to return here.

"Cal."

"Becca?" Cal's heart was beating awfully fast. Cal pulled her knees to her chin and curled up into a ball. Becca died a week ago. She's gone, Warner. She squeezed her eyes shut, but the tears came anyway. Cal wondered if tonight was the night she would finally run out of them.

"Cal."

"Go. Away." Cal mumbled, "Unless you are my split personality and you look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club."

"Oh, you silly rabbit."

Cal's eyes sprung open. There, sitting cross-legged on the hospital bed, was Becca. It was the Becca before the illness. Before paralysis atrophied her legs, before the edema had set in from all the medication they pumped into her.

"I'm way hotter than Brad Pitt." Becca grinned, tossing her long black hair over her shoulder.

"This isn't real, right?" Cal choked out, her eyes desperately clawing at the vision before her.

Becca bit her lip and shook her head sadly, "No. It's not real. Kind of a half-dream."

"I miss you. I want to be with you... I'd rather be with you..." The last few words escaped in a whisper.

"Don't you dare, Callan Warner!" Becca pointed a finger at Cal.

"It's true..." Those two words stumbled, hopelessly, out of Cal's mouth.

Becca looked less solid now, still sitting on the bed, but more like an image than a three-dimensional body.

"No... don't go. Please, don't go," Cal pleaded.

"I have to," Becca said gently, "You know that. I just wanted to say goodbye... and to tell you that you need to live. You need to believe you can."

Cal shook her head. She didn't care if she had lost her mind to far-fetched hallucinations. She'd much rather have this pseudo-dream than anything else. She let out a sarcastic laugh, "You are haunting me to remind me to stick it out for the kids?"

Becca crossed her arms, "You are no good for the kids if you are half dead inside. But it's not just about them. It's about you. You need to live. Promise me you will."

Cal wanted to promise, but she couldn't. Becca glared at her, tears springing up, "Cal Warner. Promise me!"

Great. I've made a ghost cry. "Fine, I promise," Cal surrendered. She rubbed her eyes, "Easy for you to say, by the way, you're dead."

When Cal looked toward the bed again, Becca was gone.

Cal looked around her, fully awake now. She groaned as she realized the trick her mind had played. "This fucking sucks," she said out loud, feeling suddenly oppressed by the misfortune the house witnessed. "We should go back to New York City," she told the empty room, "After the kids are done with the school year. Start new there."

She comes back to tell me she's gone

As if I didn't know that

As if I didn't know my own bed

As if I'd never noticed

The way she brushed her hair from her forehead

And she said losing love

Is like a window in your heart

Everybody sees you're blown apart

Everybody sees the wind blow...

Paul Simon, "Graceland"


--Chapter 1: The First PT Session (Present Day - June)--

Annie felt Jason's hands on her upper back and took a deep breath. Annie exhaled as her colleague pushed downwards. A satisfying arpeggio of cracks filled the room as Annie's spine realigned.

"Fuck, yes!" Annie exclaimed. Jason chuckled in response, "Never gets old, that one!"

"I really needed that, thanks J." Annie slowly stretched into child's pose and lingered there. "You need an adjustment?"

"I'm okay, thanks," Jason answered, "And I have a client in five minutes so get your butt off my table."

Annie jumped off and helped him put on new linens. A soft knock on the door made them both turn. Priyanka, the receptionist, stuck her head into the room, "Jason, your noon is here. Annie Frye, it's your lucky day: your noon rescheduled for tomorrow."

"Best news I've heard all day! Thanks Pri," Annie grabbed her phone and headed out of the office.

"Don't go too far, I'll need you to cover walk-ins or last minute appointments."

Annie nodded, "Want me to grab you some lunch?"

Priyanka shook her head, "I brought something from home, but thanks though!"

Annie stepped out onto Broadway and took a deep breath. It was the last week of June and the humidity of the summer was just teetering on the edge of being suffocating. Her phone buzzed and Annie smiled when she saw a text from her best friend, Alex Mak, "No way!"

Annie dialed Alex's number, "Hey Mak-attack! Did you just land?"

Alex flew into town from London at least once a month, sometimes staying for a week, sometimes for a day. The two friends made a promise to each other that they would always make time to meet at least once each trip. Annie was surprised to get Alex's text as she wasn't expecting a visit for at least another week or so.

"Landed at 11:00. Last minute thing Mona wanted me to go to. I just got to the city -- have you had lunch yet?"

"Nope. Usual place? Ten minutes?"

"You got it. Can't wait to see you, Bella-bear!"

Annie hung up and made her way west. Alex was already at their favorite diner when she arrived.

"Annabelle!" Alex pulled her friend into a tight hug.

"Alexandra! Geez -- easy buddy." Annie smiled and hugged back, "Are you on your way to a meeting?"

Alex looked down at her work suit, "Sort of. Conference downtown. Then an 11pm flight back to London so I can go to a meeting there tomorrow afternoon. Total bollocks... Sorry I didn't give you much notice -- I didn't get much notice myself."


"You know they have this thing called video-conferencing now, right?" Annie teased, disappointed that her friend wouldn't be staying for longer.

"I wish I could have done that. But I'm on a panel at the conference, so it's not conducive to beaming in via the interwebs. And... I get air miles. Buckets of them."

Annie whistled, "Moving up in the world, Alex!"

"Fake it till you make it! I intend to just nod and look like I know what I'm doing. Come on, let's order food -- I'm famished."

The two friends caught up over lunch. Alex relocated to London over three years ago, a happy convergence of work and love: Alex started dating Jess, who lived in London, and Alex's firm opened an office in the UK not long after they got together. Annie felt like she was the one who lost out in the process, but luckily, Alex's job had her shuttling back and forth over the Atlantic enough that the two still managed to see each other quite a bit.

"How's Jess?" Annie pointed at the silver band on her friend's finger.

Alex nodded and grinned, "She's well -- she says 'hi' by the way. We're trying to figure out if we want to do anything special for our anniversary later this summer... It's been almost three years since the wedding, can you believe it?"

Annie grinned, "It's pretty amazing, but I'm not surprised at all. I'm so happy for you guys."

Alex beamed, "What about you? What's new?"

"Not much. Could do with a couple more regular clients, but no complaints."

"I wasn't talking about work, Annie."

"I know. But nothing new since you were here for reunion in May: still broken up with Zoe... who is now one hundred percent certain that we should get back together even though she cheated on me," Annie shrugged and, in a posh British accent, added, "Bonkers... Frightfully disappointing, isn't it?"

"No love lost, honestly. She seemed like the type of person who only wants the thing she can't have," Alex paused before noting, "Your British accent remains deplorable, by the way."

Annie's eyes danced with mirth, "Better than your American accent... I'm bummed you aren't staying longer -- I was hoping you'd help me drown my sorrows in ice-cream and and your trove of sappy movies."

Alex shrugged sheepishly, "Sorry... Hey, are you making fun of my movie collection?"

Annie's eyes flashed with mischief, "Yes. And your hefty collection of Bletchley Park books. I never knew that you were such a World War II geek."

"I'm not. I just got interested in Alan Turing," Alex said enthusiastically, "He did some pretty amazing stuff... in spite of everything."

Annie ruffled Alex's head, "Still a geek though!"

"Hey!" Alex ducked, "Easy on the hair!"

"Dude," Annie pointed at Alex's head, "You have enough gel there to withstand a category five hurricane."

"Wow, not pulling any punches today, are we?" Alex stroked her chin and narrowed her eyes, "Perhaps we ought to revisit the no-rent agreement."

Alex had a two-bedroom condo in New York that she'd been renting out since her relocation to London. When one tenant had a run-in with the landlord, she asked Annie to help. Since then, Annie's been housesitting and managing the sublet arrangements for the second bedroom.

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