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Home Mystery Stories Goodnight Emily

Goodnight Emily

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Richard Barrett gazed through the floor-to-ceiling office windows across the room without really registering the splash of sun on the lush gray carpeting, the roofs below or the tall buildings around his. He was doing a final 'test flight meditation', as he called it, of his latest design before submitting it to the builders. He didn’t mention this little fetish to other architects and designers because they might think it silly. He thought it a little silly sometimes, but remembered the tight, awkward, uncomfortable spaces he grew up in.

His sense of space guided his designs to get to, as nearly as possible, the human movement using them. Did people use them for living or business or making stuff? Did they move, live and breathe with an ease they didn't realize was the secret hallmark of Richard's designs? Making a client's life run smooth and easy was the invisible reason that Richard Barrett was always popular, busy, and in demand. And rich. He smiled a little thinking of all of it. He had accomplished quite a lot for a street kid.

Marianne quietly opened the door to the office. She was a handsome woman and used a great skill set for running his office. "Richard, you have a call on the landline." Richard raised his eyebrows in question. "It's Nurse Petrocelli from the children's hospital."

"Petrocelli? I'm not going this week."

"She said no excuses, she must talk to you. She's very....insistent." Marianne tilted her head and smiled. Richard smiled, too, shrugged, unwound his long legs and stretched.

"That's Petrocelli, all right. Thanks, Marianne." He picked up the phone as Marianne left. "Petrocelli? What's up. I wasn't coming over this week." Richard's small giveback for his success was occasional visits to the children's hospital. One of his boyhood neighbors had boy who wound up at the hospital and Richard's help had brought the boy there. He told the boy stories and read him favorite poems, a thing he liked to do anyway. His visits gathered more kids to listen and by now were an occasional event. They were very really sick kids, all kinds of sick, and their enthusiasm kept Richard performing his little act, even after his friend's boy had not made it.

"You have to come today, Mr. Barrett."

"Have to?"

"Yes, Mr. Barrett. It's Emily. She's asking for you."

"Well, tell her I may be there next week. I can see her then."

"Mr. Barrett, now." Petrocelli fell silent for a moment. "She's dying, Mr. Barrett. She may not make it through the night. I'm staying later tonight. I'll see you when you get here." The click ended the call with her usual result. Petrocelli gets what she wants.

Barrett pushed back in his chair. Little Emily. She wasn't really little. She was twelve or thirteen, but looked frail and smaller and younger. She'd been in the hospital for a few years and liked one of his stories. Called it her favorite, but it was a 'too young' story for her now.

 

*          *          *

 

Nurse Petrocelli walked down from the nurses' desk to meet Richard as he exited the elevator. Another nurse stayed at the desk. She was, like his secretary, Marianne, a good looking woman. Not beautiful, but attractive. Her white uniform looked painted on to a good figure. All together another striking woman, but with a little more edge and a little less height. She didn't smile, but started right in.

"Mr. Barrett, you should know a little about Emily."

"I do."

Petrocelli looked into Richard's eyes. "No, you don't. Just listen. Emily is the loneliest kid here. Of all the kids she gets the fewest visits. Her parents are always gone or going someplace. But somewhere gone. Do you understand me, Mr. Barrett? How some parents think about their sick children? They've been informed. They're in Switzerland skiing." The nurse looked away. "They'll try to make it back. They'll try, Mr. Barrett. That's why I called you."

"And why me?" Richard's hands turned out with his question.

"Emily asked for you," said Petrocelli. She locked onto his eyes again. "Don't let's get into why. Maybe she likes your stories. She asked me if you could come. Maybe you're her most frequent visitor."

Richard looked down at her and grimaced. This had to be tough work for Petrocelli to build into a career. He held up his slim leather case. "I brought my stuff."

She didn't smile, just nodded. "The doctor should be up in a little while. Let's go."

"Does Emily know?"

"Yes, I think she knows. I don't understand how kids know this stuff. But I think they do."

They turned into Emily's room. She was alone in the room, the lights somewhat dim. The equipment around her bed measuring and ticking out the vital signs they got from her wires and tubes. She was a small frail shape, but still pretty when she turned her head and saw him and smiled.

"Richard." Her voice was a whisper, the smile small, but almost surprised. He couldn't diagnose what his heart was doing when he saw her. Nurse Petrocelli stood at the door as he pulled a chair next to Emily's bed, slipped out of his coat and sat with his arm on the bed touching her thin one. Emily raised her weak hand and rested it on his arm, so light he could hardly feel the weight.

"I like it when you're here, Richard."

"Your parents will be here soon too, Emily."

She looked away and moved her head in the smallest 'no' shake. Her little smile was gone. In the silence in the dim light only the green geometric graph on the monitor over her bed moved. He knew she knew and he didn't know what to say to her. She spoke first.

"Richard?" He was always lightly amused by the way the everyday world called him Mr. Barrett, but he was just Richard to the kids. No last name.

"Yes, Emily?"

"Will you tell me a story?" Her voice was a quiet, gentle breeze and she was looking at him again.

"Yes. I guess I can do that. Now, let me see......"

"Tell me about 'The Green Mountain Kid Snatcher'."

"Aren't you a little old for that one, Emily?"

"But I like that one. I like the way you tell it, Richard."

He thought of all the stories and poems he had told the kids since he started coming here. The poems were picked because he liked hearing them himself. The stories were old children's tales mixed with new ones he made up. Richard was happy that the kids liked them as much as he did. But 'The Green Mountain Kid Snatcher'?

"Well, but...."

"Please, Richard." The words as intense and pleading as she could manage. Her eyes a bit alive with anticipation. He nodded in the twilight dimness and started. Emily smiled and seemed to relax into the pillows, watching him with sleepy eyes as she listened.

When he finished, he felt the weak pressure of her hand squeezing his arm. "Scary," she said. The delight adding some shine to her eyes. He put his hand over her frail one.

"Not so scary, Emily," he said. "He isn't really a bad monster, he's just lonely and he likes kids. And the kids on the mountain like him, and petting his soft fur and listening to his noises."

"Richard, will I meet the Kid Snatcher when I go up the mountain?"

He didn't answer, just looked at her. She slid her thin hand out of his and stretched it toward his face. With her skinny index finger she wiped the tear from his eye.

"Don't cry, Richard," she whispered and her hand fell onto his arm.

The monitor started to buzz, the green geometry went to a flat line on the screen. Nurse Petrocelli moved swiftly through the door toward the bed followed by two other nurses. She put the stethoscope on and pressed it to Emily's chest, again. Again. Then she nodded to the two nurses and put her hand under Richard's arm. He rose dumbly to her pressure and walked obediently with her into the hall. She was quick to come, he wondered if she was watching them.

"You were quick," he said. "Were you watching?" She shook her head 'no'. "Listening?" She nodded slightly. "Her parents?" No again. She handed him his coat and he slipped it on. Then she hung his bag of poems and stories on his shoulder and started walking him down the hall to the elevator.

He looked down at her while they waited. "What now, Petrocelli?"

She looked steadily up at him, but said nothing. The elevator doors opened. She pulled him closer by his lapel, reached in her pocket and brought out a tissue to wipe another tear from Richard's eye. Then, she gently, but firmly, backed him in as the doors started to close.

"Thanks for coming, Mr. Barrett." Her soft shoes squeaked when she turned and started back up the polished hall. The elevator doors slid closed.

Richard walked out of the hospital and started across the plaza to the parking garage. Tall buildings rose to the sky all around him. Mostly dark in the middle of the night with a few lights on in a few windows. He stopped and crossed his long scarf across his chest against the cold breeze from the river. He exhaled a long shuddering breath, the steam rising. "Richie," he mumbled, "what the hell are you doing here?" He tilted his head back and looked up the rise of the buildings to the spread of black  above them. All empty, the buildings, the sky, the plaza quiet. He stared up into the dark sky for a long time hardly even thinking.

The Green Mountain Kid Snatcher of all things. Going up the mountain. So forever high in the blackness he saw a pinprick of white that he gazed at until it seemed to waver. A tiny star, and did he even see it twinkle a bit? That little bit of beauty so deep in the night, twinkling so far away in the universe. He took his car keys out of his coat pocket, shook them and sighed again.

"Don't cry, Richard," he murmured, and smiled a little. Then whispered, "Goodnight, Emily."

 

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