Holly Ann Ambrose, MD, PhD, PsyD, LPC, SLP.D, NBCCH, braced herself for the shock as she stepped out of the terminal at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. She’d been optimistic when she’d booked the flight, forced herself to be positive, but Holly could not stand Florida, and when she stepped out into the rock-solid August heat, the moment she felt the gotcha grip of air that said It’s hot here. Deal with it, she rebelled and lost all her artificial good intent. She would have tolerated it more often for Frank’s sake, but now she wasn’t so sure.
She got in a taxi cab and looked out the window at all the palm trees. Could a tree be any more non-tree-like? They shouldn’t even be called trees.
People thrived in tropical climates; even she could survive it for a few weeks at a time. But live here? It would take a whole lotta love.
Holly hadn’t found too much in the way of what could be termed interesting consulting work here in Florida. The local hospitals were glad to have her about, of course, and took her on at times, but she could sense the boredom of the local administrators, the feeling of phoning it in. They were overwhelmed with elderly. Their patients’ minds were either too far gone for help, or they were on autopilot. When you reached a certain age your mental processes, if they haven’t atrophied after 70 years or so, have marched along well-worn paths of a lifetime survived. Last long enough and either your pathologies stabilize, or the more serious ones reach an equilibrium. Seniors don’t go crazy, in other words, their insanity escorts them triumphantly into old age.
When she and Frank agreed to split their time between the Big Apple and the Sunshine State they had envisioned six months in each spot, each in their own more comfortable seasons, avoid the extremes, nothing too hot or too cold. Secretly she had hoped to draw him into at least the nine months in New York, and she could handle the darkest part of winter in the South. But that hadn’t worked out either.
So now here it was, August, and Frank hadn’t shown up in New York. So she came to Florida. Again.
Would their relationship ever get back to what it had been? Not if it meant being where they didn’t want to be, it wouldn’t. She knew that much. Did Frank know? Were they drifting toward an end?
Holly saw the benefit of Florida, for sure. The weather was almost tolerable in December and January. The old folks in their condo complex weren’t so bad, actually. There was Mrs. Farber, an old style city pol from Altoona or Trenton or Binghamton or some such semi-mythical municipality. Sharp as the day she first got herself elected and with the politico’s instinct for meddling, she looked after their Florida place more than it needed, or was required, or had ever been requested.
Frank, a New Yorker born and bred, liked it here, said he had always been drawn to it. He considered that his ancestors on his French side a few generations back were Cajuns and that he was drawn to the Southern style by ancestral DNA imprints. Nothing Holly could do got through to him that the Cajuns were fairly recently arrived in the South in the grand scheme of things, and that if he were having genetic memories of anything it was likely the cave artists in the south of France. Why didn’t they move there? That she could handle.
Frank was super smart but…well, not thick really, he was just Frank. And maybe that’s why she loved him. He listened to what she said, absorbed what he thought helped and filed away the rest for later, or for never.
Frank and she had been together now 11 years. Was it time to end it, and strike out on her own again?
The cab drove over the bridge to Lido Key from Sarasota. She hoped she’d surprise Frank there, but in the back of her mind she hoped not to surprise him too well. He would never bring someone back to their place, would he? Or would he? That would definitely be the end.
Could he be seeing someone else down here? Could the two of them even be exclusive any more? Was it she who was being unrealistic? After weeks, and now, sometimes months apart, could they really say they loved each other if they could manage to spend so much time voluntarily apart?
Her Blackberry buzzed, and she continued to ignore it. Work. Clients. Hospitals or counseling center administrators calling her for the run-of-mill assignments, or, most likely, problems with current assignments. The e-mails and voice mails were backing up, but if she allowed herself one look she’d be drawn in. Her patients would manage with the substitute counselors she’d arranged, and besides, some of them should learn to cope for themselves. Some of them, unclinically speaking, just needed to get a grip.
Could be a call or e-mail from Frank, but not likely. He hadn’t called her in weeks, and he was not a major user of e-mail, which he didn’t check daily. He claimed his field almost required that he disappear at times and the pervasive technology of the day and age he did not trust. Someone somewhere would know he had checked his e-mail, and quite possibly pinpoint his location. He wasn’t paranoid, as such, but knowing that someone he didn’t know knew anything about him he could hardly abide. He carried a cell phone but Holly suspected he let its charge die intentionally, in case he forgot to turn it off. The cell system, he’d say, knows where everyone is.
At the gatehouse Holly handed her entry card to the cabbie, who swiped it and the gate rose up out of the way. The familiar guard, nameless even after all these years, popped out of his little pink-and-beige stucco hut and gave a ritual wave. The cab drove through and then pulled up broadside to their two parking spots at Flamingo Terrace — a tacky name but, what can you do? It was Florida.
Both spots were empty. They paid for two, in case one of them had a rental. They’d have to rethink that, the way their finances were trending. Their “Southern car” — the black Monte Carlo — was not there. Where the hell could Frank be?
She tried his cell again. Nothing. Not answering his cell could mean nothing, or it could mean something, this time. It could mean he had been preoccupied with something else, mistaken it for a TV remote, and left it on the coffee table in the entertainment room. He had done that before, left the house with the TV remote in his pocket. He wasn’t dumb or absent-minded, if anything Frank thought in too much detail. He just distrusted electronics.
Or he could be preoccupied with someone else.
Frank was the smartest man she ever met, even though he had no string of degrees, but when it came to technology, Holly pegged a phenomenon for which she coined the term, The Frank Shadow. You couldn’t ever be sure of getting anything to him through an electronic tool.
She paid off the cab, entered the foyer, tapped her security code into the panel and was allowed entry. The air conditioning of the lobby was refreshing and the place smelled much better than the outside. Being right on the Gulf wasn’t bad for the air quality but in and around the complex most smells maintained their cohesion for a long time. Walking around outside you could pass though distinct clouds that had formed and hung together all day, or possibly longer.
And Holly hated the palm trees most of all, especially the squat fat ones that looked like they were about to pull up some shallow roots and chase you.
She rode the elevator up to three and their unit, one of the two on that floor. There she let herself in quietly, hoping Mrs. Farber wouldn’t hear and pop out of her door across the hall with a big “Hallooooo, Miss Holly!”
Mrs. Farber, far removed from the smoke-filled, northern urban backroom battles-of-will for decades, had picked up many southern ways in her long retirement, including mint juleps and addressing every female over two-years-old as Miss.
There. She was in, and no Mrs. Farber. Maybe she was out too, playing bridge, shotgunning doves or whatever they did for pleasure down here. Holly dropped her travel bag just inside the door. She walked over to the floor-to-ceiling picture window. The view was nice, wasn’t it? And it was not too long a drive up the island from the bridge at Lido, convenient enough to Sarasota, Tampa and/or St. Pete, for when a little culture was called for. And then she wondered again where Frank might be.
“Frank.” she said out loud. She didn’t like talking to herself, yet that man moved her to it. No one else ever did. Why did she bother?
Because she must. Some things you just were required to do. Love was one of them.
She looked around for any sign that Frank had been there recently. She sniffed for the magnitude of his Frank scent. Not too faint. He had been here in the last two days. She looked in the bathroom. His shaving stuff was gone, in his travel kit most likely. He was traveling. Damn.
She treated herself to a quick look in the mirror to see the damage done by her first hour in the August Florida blast furnace. Holly had jet black hair, raven-haired, as she’d heard it put; but she didn’t like that formulation. She worried about when the first gray hair would appear, and worried at what she would do about it. She weighed her options, tried to look at it positively. Maybe go all the way, strawberry blond, to match her lightish complexion. Maybe go completely the other way and dye it all steel gray. With her blue eyes that might be quite striking, but the people who knew would wonder if they’d been in a coma for ten years. No it would be too early for that. It would age her prematurely, so there wasn’t that much up-side to it besides spiting a single gray hair. Not worth it. But something would have to be done. She couldn’t very well go around with a distracting single gray hair or — horrors! — two wiry gray hairs.
It might be nice to be a blonde for a while. She may have been Greek but the family had absorbed some fairer traits somewhere along the line and Holly got her share of them. The family legend had it that a Frankish crusader married into a local Cypriot clan, which grew into part of her family tree. She didn’t know if she bought that. She kind of doubted the married part.
Holly adjusted the air conditioning — which had switched on automatically when she entered — down three degrees. She was starting to get a chill. Had Frank bolted for Miami? Holly severely resisted going much further south than Fort Myers as a matter of policy. Frank was always pushing to drive down to the Gold Coast, Boca Raton, Miami or Ft. Lauderdale, Coral Gables or, heaven forbid, the Keys. He was hoping something down there would catch her fancy.
Her Blackberry buzzed again, differently this time, more insistent, even though consciously she knew it was exactly the same. She took it out of her bag, held it away from her and squinted through one eye to see the screen. Rose Steiner. Dr. Rose calling. It took all the willpower she could muster to keep her thumb off the connect key. Might be a case.
She’d call back. Then she quickly stuffed the phone down into the depths of her travel bag, down with her personal phone, her “secret phone” according to Frank. Must be secret to him, he never called it.
Holly opened the door to the cabinet in the condo’s roomy dining/living area. It was an open interior design, so except for the sleeping quarters, there was no separate dining room. Good. Either Frank hadn’t finished it off or he had been his usual diligent self about replenishing. She drew out the nearly finished bottle of Basil Hayden’s. She reached farther in and got one of the two unopened ones, then got a tumbler and poured out the dregs of the one bottle and about three additional fingers from one of the others.
She took her drink out to the deck. Looked out at the Gulf for about 23 seconds, enough for two strong pulls at the bourbon. She vaguely thought that she and Frank might be communing across whatever distance there was between them; she knew that wherever he was there was a high likelihood that he was drinking a Basil Hayden’s too.
She looked out at the flat metallic blue of the Gulf. Didn’t grab her. No, but it grabbed Frank, so warm and enveloping, the heat and the Gulf. She much preferred the tall hard New York skyline, the buildings straight up and erect…
“No! It could not be that Freudian!” She spat out loud, as she turned away from the scene. She liked tall erect forms and Frank liked moist absorbing landscapes that you could enter? No way.
She’d have to dig up another reason. The Florida vs. New York argument could not be so easily given over to her profession’s fallback, Freud, the a morass in whom all scientific thought enters and gets lost forever. Freud, the Everglades of Psychology!
She turned back to the view and looked out at the Gulf again, trying to appreciate it once more. But now she felt a bit gender-confused.
Distracted, and now partially into a psycho-work mindset, she gave in. She retrieved her bag, dug out the phone again and scrolled through the call log. She read the latest message, the one that had buzzed so insistently. Then she dialed the cab company.
She called the head Psychiatric Emergency Services unit at Bellevue and left a message that she’d be on the next flight.
Then she tried again to call Frank.