Ashley sat huddled on the sand hugging her knees to her chest fetal-like watching the setting sun while she wondered what she was doing here. The rhythmic sounds from a drum circle further up the beach seemed to compete with the rumbles of a distant thunderstorm off to the West. A beautiful scene, to be sure, she thought, were it not for the traumatic memory of a violent police chase and gunfight which caused her to wince at each pop of the beat.
The rhythm finally became soothing and she was about to nod off when she heard a voice from behind her ask, “Mind if I join you?”
Looking up she saw her landlord standing next to her holding a bottle of wine and two glasses.
“Mr. White, you startled me.”
“Please call me Randall or Randy if you prefer. We don’t stand on any formalities around here.”
“Okay, please pull up a bit of sand,” Ashley replied.
Randy eased himself slowly onto the sand and asked, “Care for some Chardonnay?”
“That would be great, thanks.”
Randy poured the wine and set the bottle in the sand then they clinked glasses as he toasted, “To a great evening and the beach life.”
After a few minutes Randy said, “Please forgive me, I don’t mean to pry but to paraphrase an old song, you seem to be out of aces.”
Ashley didn’t get the song reference but she got his meaning.
“You might say that,” she said.
Sitting on the beach Ashley recounted her story for Randy, a story she had refined and repeated perhaps a thousand times, one that was just as painful now as the first time it was told. “I had gone into a convenience store to buy a bottle of water. There was a man standing at the checkout counter and I made my way to the coolers at the back of the store. It was then that I heard a gunshot. Running to the front of the store I saw that the clerk had been shot and the man who had been at the counter was running out the door. I chased him down the street while I radioed in for backup and an ambulance. After a couple of blocks, the suspect ducked into an alley and at the same time, a kid of about 14 came out of the darkness and fired a shot at me. I thought it was the perp and returned fire hitting the boy in the chest killing him.”
“So why did the boy take a shot at you?”
“As it turned out, it was some sort of insane gang initiation stunt and there I was right on cue.”
After a few minutes pause, some deep breaths and a sip of wine Ashly continued, “The event got the community all riled up and it made the news. According to department policy they put me on administrative leave, I had to go to counseling and I was put on desk duty as the case made its way through internal affairs and the courts. I was ultimately exonerated but the department strongly suggested, ordered in fact, that I take some time off, so here I am. I know now I can never go back.”
“Sorry, I don’t usually spill my guts like that and I’m sure not looking for some sort of absolution or pity. Must have been the wine and the mood of sunset on the beach,” Ashley said.
“No need to apologize. I hope we’re all friends here,” Randy said, “perhaps after a few days of walking the beach and letting the surf wash over your toes you will figure things out. Let’s call it beach therapy.”
“I hope so,” Ashley replied, “thanks for listening.”
Ashley awakened to the sound of hard knocking on her door and Maria, the housekeeper, screaming “Senorita, ven rápido por favor. Ven rápido.”
Still in her PJs she went outside and ran with Maria down the driveway to a white cottage with a sign next to the door proclaiming it to be the White House.
Inside the cottage she saw Randy lying apparently unconscious on his side in the galley kitchen area that was, along with the bathroom, between two large rooms. Kneeling beside Randy she looked for any blood. Finding none she checked his pulse and breathing. Using her command voice she said, “Maria, call nine-one-one immediately.”
Within five minutes the EMTs arrived and outfitted Randy with an oxygen mask, strapped him to their spine board and loaded him into the ambulance. Neither Ashley nor Maria knew much about Randy to be of any help with the EMT’s paperwork.
As Randy was being prepared Ashley grabbed his wallet off the dresser in the bedroom so she could provide his identification at the hospital, ran back to her apartment to get her car keys and yesterday’s clothes she had dumped in a heap on the floor and followed the ambulance over to the community hospital on the mainland.
At the ER check-in the nurse asked a series of questions about Randy regarding his health and who his doctor was. But Ashley was unable to answer, after all, she had only known Randy for a day. The nurse then asked for Ashley’s name and how she was related. Ashley gave the nurse her name and lied when she told her “I’m his caregiver.” The nurse gave Ashley a look of skepticism and she knew that this answer would come back to haunt her.
As Randy was taken away to be examined Ashley found her way to the waiting room. What was she going to do now, Ashley thought. I could just walk away but maybe I’ll stick around for a while, see if I can be of some help. At least I will serve some useful purpose. Beats sitting around wallowing in self-pity and feeling like a failure.
After several long hours in the waiting room dozing, pacing the floor and reading every piece of printed material in sight, Ashley was approached by a smartly dressed woman who extended her hand and asked, “Ashley Thomas?”
“Yes,” Ashley replied as she stood to shake the woman’s hand.
“I’m Ellen Rogers from the State Department of Elder Affairs.”
Boy, I’m in trouble now, Ashley thought.
Ellen continued, “The hospital notified the department when your friend Mr. White was admitted and suspected that you were not a caregiver as you claimed.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t mean …”
Ellen interrupted, “In this area we have so many elderly especially people like Mr. White who are elder orphans, folks with no spouse or family, who are heroically trying to maintain their independence. This leads to a lot of opportunities for the unscrupulous among us to conduct all manner of scams against our elderly residents. I’m sure you understand.”
Breaking eye contact with Ellen, Ashley let her chin drop to her chest, as an ex-police officer, she reminded herself, I should have known.
“Anyway,” Ellen continued, “the doctors tell me that Mr. White has experienced a mild stroke and expect him to recover fully after some rest and physical therapy. He will be in the hospital for about a week then he can go home where he will need to continue his rehabilitation. You are free to visit, but if you have in mind being a caregiver you might want to take some courses and perhaps get certified.”
Ashley knocked on the door of Randy’s White House. When she went in Randy was waiting, as usual, in the hallway supported by his walker. “Are you ready for our beach therapy?”
This story was submitted to a contest sponsored by my local library. It did not win.