I walked into work and found myself in another world.
Emma Shore whisked aside curtains on a twelve-foot-tall wall made entirely of glass. The shock of sudden, blinding beauty disoriented her momentarily. The sun reflected brilliantly off an azure, beckoning Lake Michigan and filtered through a grove of white-trunked birches lining the water. Leaves fluttered like green-gold coins, fracturing the light in her dazed eyes. White spray flew into the air when a wave hit the black, jagged breakers in the distance.
The design of the house in which she stood was revolutionary, at least in Emma’s limited experience. The mansion cascaded down the bluff to the sealike great lake, each layer of the house a stepping stone to the next, one level’s roof the above story’s magnificent terrace filled with picturesque outdoor seating and colorful pots of flowers. On the lowest level near the lake, a clear blue swimming pool tempted someone to pierce its serene surface.
Paradise. Out there it was, anyway.
She turned. Golden-green dappled light transformed the formerly shrouded, luxurious bedroom. Unfortunately, the other occupant of the room, Mrs. Shaw, appeared all the more disapproving in the sunlight. The rest of Emma’s fellow nurses and nursing assistants from New Horizon Hospice were already familiar with this assignment, having been at the Breakers for several weeks. Emma was the new girl on the block and bound to make a few missteps.
Apparently, she’d just made her first.
She studied the elegant, thin older woman with the blond bob, dressed in tailored chic as she crossed the suite. The woman had introduced herself a few minutes ago as Michael Montand’s personal domestic assistant, whatever that meant. Emma’s supervisor had labeled Mrs. Shaw more concisely the housekeeper. Apparently, even a housekeeper of the Montand caliber could pass as an aging supermodel. Whatever her title, Mrs. Shaw had clearly decided Emma was trouble. Emma’s reassuring smile as she walked to the empty bed was meant to quiet the other woman’s anxiety. Emma was a nurse and a patient advocate, not a rebel. It wasn’t her fault if the family or staff of her patients sometimes couldn’t discern the difference.
“This is a sickroom,” Mrs. Shaw said over the concerto playing softly on the stereo. “The way you’re acting with all this sunlight and music, and having Mrs. Montand showered, you’d think you expected her to go to a party tonight.”
“The sick appreciate beauty as much as the living. Usually more so.”
“She’s not sick. She’s dying.”
“Not yet,” Emma stated unequivocally, ignoring Mrs. Shaw’s shocked, outraged expression at her confident tone. She was a hospice nurse, true, but she’d also had her fair share of experience with death—much more than an average twenty-three-year-old. No. Her patient’s time wasn’t just yet.
“The doctors say—”
“I know what the doctors say,” Emma interrupted, trying to control the edge to her tone. She glanced toward the adjoining bathroom and lowered her voice to just above a whisper, hoping Mrs. Shaw would do the same. Her patient was on the other side of that door. “I just mean that in my professional opinion, the end isn’t imminent. Not today. Not tomorrow.” She resumed making the bed briskly. “Cristina said she loved classical music when I interviewed her earlier, so I turned on the stereo. Who doesn’t appreciate being clean? As for the drapes, has she complained of being bothered by sunlight before?” she asked, ignoring Mrs. Shaw’s glare when she used her patient’s first name. Cristina had given her permission to use it just an hour ago, and that was good enough for Emma.
“You speak boldly for someone so young,” Mrs. Shaw said, her frowning face disappearing for a happy moment as Emma snapped the blanket into the air, blocking her vision of the woman.
“Has Mrs. Montand said she disliked having the curtains open?” Emma repeated quietly, bending to tuck in the blanket.
“I’ve never heard her say one way or another, but she’s never had the opportunity to express her opinion. Mr. Montand has asked us to keep the curtains closed since Mrs. Montand returned to the Breakers to . . .”
Emma filled in the unsaid word in her head when Mrs. Shaw faded off. It never ceased to surprise her how people usually said the word so flippantly in everyday life, but refused to utter it when death hovered in the vicinity. Maybe they thought death would notice, and take them instead.
“We’ll see how Cristina responds to the view when she comes back from her shower. It’s easy enough to pull the curtains again. Cristina might find the sunlight refreshing,” Emma finished the conversation with a friendly but firm tone.