I hope you guys enjoy this story... I don't even know where the idea came from, but I wrote this whole first chapter in under an hour a few nights ago and it just took on a life of its own... this story will have quite a few chps, but I'm not sure what I want the end result to be yet, so bear with me! And let me know if you have any ideas/suggestions while you read the story. Review & Enjoy!
Joan sat on her and Arthur's bed in jeans and a pink sweater, scrolling through the men's section on the J. Crew website. Arthur birthday was in a few weeks, and she always bought his presents in advance, because hiding anything, even a birthday present, from him was extremely difficult. She smiled to herself as she passed a section of polo shirts. Every time Arthur wore a polo, it reminded her of the days when they first began dating. They would often schedule lunch dates after his golf sessions while he was still married to Gina.
Joan's trip down memory lane was interrupted by her phone ringing. She assumed it was Arthur, asking what takeout she wanted for dinner. She went home early because there was nothing urgent to do in the DPD, and he stayed a few hours later, promising to return home with hot takeout by 8:30 pm.
"Hello?," she said breezily, closing her laptop.
"Joan? It's Cat."
"Cat!," Joan smiled. Catherine, her oldest sister, lived in Portland. They only saw each other on holidays, and mostly emailed back and forth, so it was always nice to talk on the phone when they could. "How are you?"
"Joanie, listen." Her sister's tone was serious. "I'm in North Carolina. Lily… she had another episode. A big one."
Joan froze. Lily was the youngest of the four sisters in Joan's family. Catherine was the oldest, then Elizabeth, Joan, and little Lily. Joan was fiercely protective of her sister, not just because she was a 36-year-old widowed single mom with a teenage daughter, but because she had been suffering from bipolar disorder since she was 15.
It was quite a sad story, to be honest. The 4 girls were raised by their mother, and their father left when they were young. Joan was only 6, but Cat was 13. She used to tell Joan that "daddy loved us, but needed some alone time." Joan and her sisters never wasted energy on feeling abandoned, and growing up in a house of 5 girls was actually kind of fun. But that house soon emptied out as all the girls went off to college. Lily was the baby of the family, 5 years younger than Joan, so when Joan got the call that Lily was in the hospital, she skipped the last 3 weeks of her fall term at Penn State and came right home.
Lily went on medication, and managed her condition quite well until she got married. Joan and her sisters were worried, especially after a 23-year-old Lily proudly announced that she was pregnant one Thanksgiving, but everything was going well. Lily and her husband, Michael, moved to the small town in North Carolina where he grew up, and raised their daughter, Audrey, in the house Michael grew up in. He was an only child, and his parents died when he was in high school, so Audrey and Lily were his only true family. Joan felt a slight twinge of envy for her sister, who was living a wonderful life with her little family, but mostly she was happy for her. In every picture Lily sent to her sisters, she was smiling brightly, kissing her husband, or with her arms wrapped around her daughter.
Right before Audrey's birth, Lily decided to stop taking her medication. She said that it made her tired, and she didn't want it to affect her daughter. The doctor okay-ed it, and so Lily was medication-free, and doing well. But when Audrey was 4, Michael was killed while serving in Iraq.
It still scared Joan when she thought of the weeks after Michael's death. She and Arthur had been married for about 2 years, and they both dropped everything at work to go to North Carolina. Arthur made just been made DCS, so he only stayed a few days, but Joan stayed 2 weeks. It was awful. Lily was barricaded in her bedroom, and when Joan and Elizabeth tired to coax her out, she would throw a fit. Cat took Audrey to the park on these days, when Lily would throw things and scream until she lost her voice. She would cut herself and drink and cry, refusing to believe that she had lost her husband.
Eventually, things got under control, and Lily slowly went on with her life. She was the school nurse for the local elementary/middle school that housed grades K-8, so she had the same schedule as her daughter and was able to spend time with her. She never went back on her meds, saying that Audrey needed her to be 100%. There was the occasional breakdown, but Lily had a good support system in town and her sisters were always a call away.
"What happened?," Joan asked, fearing the worst.
"Audrey called her best friend from school at 5 pm, saying that she hadn't been picked up. Today was Lily's off day, so she was running errands. Audrey went home with her friend, and the mother called Lily repeatedly, but there was no answer. They got in contact with a neighbor, who went over to the house and found Lily on the couch, unconscious. They rushed her to the hospital and Audrey called me, because she knew I was at UNC visiting Emily."
Emily was Cat's daughter and a sophomore at University of North Carolina, 3 hours away from where Lily lived.
Joan gasped. "Is she okay? Did you call Lizzie? Mom?"
"She's stable, but it looks like she took a lot of pills. I called Mom, but she's in London, so she won't be here til tomorrow. And I'm calling Lizzie next. You live closer, so I thought…"
"Arthur and I will be on the next flight," Joan said, jumping up and searching for her gray peacoat. When Cat said "pills," Joan felt slightly guilty, because she hadn't told her sisters that she had recently relapsed. She always told Lily, because Lily had struggled with drug abuse right around the time of her diagnosis. It was something they shared, sadly. Joan always attributed her and Lily's drug problems to their father, because their mother had never even smoked a cigarette. At 78, she was still in good health and teaching English Literature at Penn State.
But Joan was better now, and there was no need to make matters worse. Her sisters didn't need to know about her overdose, they needed to focus on Lily.
"Okay. I'm going to go call Lizzie. I'll see you soon, Joanie."
"Yeah… Wait, what about Audrey?"
"She's here with me. All I told her was that her mom wasn't feeling well."
Joan sighed. "Don't tell her yet, okay? Let's wait."
"Fine," Cat said wearily. "But Joan, she knows her mother has an illness."
"I know. But I don't want her to get too scared."
"Okay. See you soon. Love you."
"Love you too," Joan mumbled, dropping her phone onto the bed. She sank to the floor, still in shock.
"Joan?" Arthur walked into the bedroom, holding a bouquet of pink roses. Joan hadn't heard his car, so she was startled. She looked up at the door and saw her husband, a big smile on his face and her favorite flowers in his hand. The second he saw her face, he knew something was wrong. He set the flowers on the dresser and rushed to her side.
"Honey, is everything okay?"
Joan shook her head. "No. Lily… she's in the hospital."
Arthur looked shocked. "What happened?"
"She overdosed," Joan whispered, looking at the floor. After a few minutes, she looked at Arthur. He put his hand on her cheek.
"Oh, honey," he said. He stood up, pulling Joan with him. "We need to get down there right away."
Joan nodded, glad that her husband always knew what to do. He kissed her forehead and quickly changed into jeans and a sweater while Joan called the airport to see when the next flight to North Carolina was.
She slipped on her black ballet flats, located her coat, and grabbed a striped scarf.
"I just reserved two tickets for us on a 9:45 flight," she said to Arthur, grabbing her purse. He nodded.
"I'll call the Agency when we get to the airport, put Auggie in charge of your desk and find someone for mine."
"No, do it on the way. I'll drive," Joan said, digging her car keys out of her purse. Arthur took her hand in his and they walked downstairs.
"Are you sure?"
She nodded. "Yes. I may be in shock, but I can still drive."
Arthur smiled and kissed her before they got in the car. He knew how much Joan loved her sisters, and how important it was to her that they get there as soon as possible.
Joan hit the gas, thinking of Audrey as she drove. How do you tell a 13-year-old girl that her mother can't take care of herself anymore? Joan knew that after this incident, Lily would have to stay at the hospital for a while. Cat said that Audrey knew her mom was bipolar, and it was true, she did. But Joan didn't want Audrey to grow up fearing that she would become her mother. Just like Joan and Lily would have if their dad had been around. Sometimes, just because of this fact, Joan was glad her father left.
Joan put her father out of her head and took a right turn, getting off the freeway and heading towards the airport. Arthur was still on the phone, arguing with someone at Langley.
"No, Anderson will be supervising Joan's desk… Yes, I am aware of that. Well find someone who can do my job with a certain level of competence… what? The last person who covered for me was Joan… I'm not saying anyone can do it as well as her, but I want the next best thing…. I'll be back in a few days, but just find someone, Bill…. godammit."
He hung up and rubbed his temples. Joan smiled.
"Did you just say that because I'm right next to you?"
He shook his head and leaned over to kiss her hair. "No, I said it because it's true."
They parked their car and walked hand in hand to the terminal, where Arthur dealt with their tickets. They reached their gate just in time, and Joan remained completely silent until the plane took off. She turned to Arthur and whispered, "Arthur, I.. I never told my sisters about my relapse."
"I figured," he said, squeezing her hand. "It's okay, honey. Don't think about it."
"I just… Lily overdosed, and if I had called her a few weeks ago and told her what I went through, and how I stopped myself, maybe…"
"Shhh, no," Arthur said soothingly. He pulled Joan closer to him and she rested her head on his shoulder. "This is not your fault. Lily has been this way for 20 years. You couldn't have prevented it."
Joan sighed. "I guess."
"The flight is only an hour or so, soon enough you will be able to see her. She's stable, Joan. She'll be okay."
"But everything is going to change," Joan said. "I'm worried that an upset in her life will make matters worse, and if they decide she needs to stay in the hospital, she won't get to be with Audrey. Her daughter means the world to her, Arthur. She can't get better without her."
"She may have to," Arthur said. "But she has 3 wonderful sisters to help her."
Joan nodded and went back to being silent for the rest of the flight.