It took me three tries to get around the corner to the café in the morning. I didn’t want things to be different with Emily, but knew I couldn’t ignore what had happened.
Ema was waiting for me at the window and ran to me when I opened the door. “You’re back!” She cried.
I picked her up and held her close.
“Why weren’t you here yesterday?”
“I had to work through some things,” I said. “But I’m back now.”
“Good. Mama wants you to put fliers up for the concert today.”
I turned to look at Emily, behind the counter. She nodded.
“Anything else you have for me to do today, Ms. Jackson?” I asked.
“Not if you’re going to call me that!” Emily said, and there was a twinkle in her eye. She handed me the fliers. “Anywhere in the city you want to put them.”
“Have you heard from Jerome at all lately? We were going to go around together to put these up,” I said, leafing through the stack of paper.
“Not since the night in Central Park,” Emily said. “I’m starting to get worried. He didn’t say anything about being busy or away.”
“If he’s not here by lunch, we’ll have to dig out his business card and call him to make sure everything’s okay.”
Emily nodded. “Here’s tape.”
I hopped on my bike and rode away. Everything seemed normal on the surface, but I couldn’t help but feel that Emily still wanted me away from the café this morning. We may have “made up” the night before, but the root conflict still wasn’t resolved, and both of us knew that.
I kept thinking about what Clara had said, that I needed to help Emily as she needed to be helped, not how I thought it needed to happen. But nothing could happen if Emily acted like nothing had gone wrong. Maybe she just needed time, though. Perhaps we both needed time to think about how things should change and what my role in all that might possibly be or not be. And with that, I knew that I needed to change my relationship with my parents as well.
I really, really hoped that Jerome would be at the café when I got back for lunch.
“It’s not like him,” Emily said.
“If he’s just busy then that’s fine,” I said, biting into my sandwich, “but I’m starting to worry it’s not just busy.”
“Even when he’s said he’s swamped he’s still come by for a morning coffee, even if all he says is ‘hello,’” Emily told me.
I thought back to the night in Central Park. “It has only been four days,” I said. “They’ve just felt long.”
Emily shook her head. “I’m going to call. I’d rather call and find out everything’s fine than not call and regret it.”
She went behind the counter and punched numbers into the café phone. I watched from where I sat. She bit her lip and drummed her fingers on the counter while the phone rang. Then her face lit up.
I stood and moved closer so I could hear his voice on the other side of the line.
“That you, Emily?”
“Yes, it is.”
“I’ve been meaning to call, but couldn’t find your number.” He coughed.
“Is everything alright?”
“Well… no, not really.” He coughed again. “Bad case of pneumonia. Doctors don’t want me to leave yet.”
“Where are you?”
“At the hospital”
“Can we come visit?”
“They don’t let children come, but you can. St. Vincent’s.” He paused and cleared his throat. “I’d be glad of the company.”
“Either Walter or I will come,” Emily said.
Twenty minutes later, I was hopping off my bike and locking it into a bike rack at the hospital. Five minutes after that, I knocked on the door of Jerome’s room.
“Jerome, it’s Walter,” I said.
“Come in,” he said.
I pushed the door open, wondering how long it had been since I was last in a hospital.
“It’s so good to see you,” Jerome said.
“I’m glad to see you, too,” I said. “You had us worried.”
Jerome nodded. “I’m glad Emily called. It’s good to know-” He coughed a moment before continuing. “It’s good to know I’m so well looked after.”
“We both rely on you a lot. Especially right now, I think.”
“What’s going on?”
I sighed. “Sometimes it feels like everything.” I told him about the fight with Emily, my conversation with Clara, how distressed Emily had seemed when I watched her through the window the previous night, and that I wasn’t sure how things really were between us.
Jerome chuckled when I finished. “I know one thing for sure.”
“Clara’s a keeper.”
“I hate to admit it, but she was right. Even though I am trying to help Emily, I’m not really being sensitive to doing it how she needs it. But I don’t know how and I feel like a hypocrite trying to fix their relationship now because I know I need to fix my relationship with my parents.”
Jerome didn’t reply for a while. “I don’t know if ‘fix’ is the right word.”
“I don’t mean fix like you can just tighten a screw, but make things right,” I said.
“I still don’t know if it’s the right word.”
“What do you mean?”
“People aren’t like broken machines, Walter. We take more than a diagnosis and then a new part or some sort of adjustment to work properly again. If that were so I wouldn’t be here still. People have to heal and grow. I agree that your relationship with your parents and Emily’s relationship with her parents both need to change. I don’t disagree that they need some fixing up. But fixing is over-simplistic when you’re working with people.”
“I think you more than suppose. You’re realizing this right now as you and Emily work through things. If you could just fix it, then you wouldn’t still be worried after last night. Am I right?”
“It’s going to take time, Walter. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t sense that you’ve had a lot of conflict in your life before now.”
I shook my head.
“You were a good kid, but were never close enough to anyone to want to influence their life like you want to help Emily and never wanted to work to make a relationship right like you do with Emily and with Clara, and so if it wasn’t just ‘fixed’ you could let it stay that way. People take work.” He chuckled again. “Trust me, I know.”
“But how – where do I start?”
“I can’t just tell you what to do.” His dark eyes twinkled. “You’d never learn that way. So I have some more homework for you – but maybe it isn’t really more since Clara already gave it to you – watch Emily and learn what she needs and how she needs it. I know you want things to come together for the concert, but it may take longer than that. Learn to help Emily, and also watch your parents and learn how to reach them, too.” He coughed, but held up his hand for me to wait and not say anything. “It’s going to take time. Maybe not lots of time all at once, but little bits of time over long periods. But you’re on break – and you don’t have to do it alone.”
“But you’re not going to tell me what to do,” I said.
“I won’t tell you what to do, but I can still help you, and I’m not the only one. You have Clara and Ema, too. And don’t forget that Bible I gave you.”
I swallowed and nodded. I should have known by now that Jerome was always right and that would never spoon-feed anyone answers, so I shouldn’t have hoped for an easy way out. It was starting to look like if I wanted these relationships, I was going to have to work hard, and that the next two weeks might be some of the hardest in my life.
So I haven't written past this yet, but have some things mapped out. Not sure when I'll get to it, though!