Chapter One

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Author's Note: Rated EKR - Extra Kleenex Required.

For Cristi

Mathew Ellis stood at the wall of windows behind his desk staring down at the world below. The streets, the traffic, the people—all moving at what appeared to be a snail's pace. The sky overhead was anything but encouraging. The rains that followed Easter returned, leaving the city to function beneath a depressing shadow. He'd hoped that his first day back at work would be demanding and eventful. He'd prayed, actually, that his first steps into the office be met with a rash of fires only he could put out. The silence that left him aching at home had followed him downtown, and he now listened to the sounds of his own twisted thoughts banging loudly inside his head. He checked his watch. It was almost lunchtime though food had fallen sharply to the bottom of his list. For a string of dark days, feelings of hunger had been overshadowed by deeper feelings. Something much more desperate than what his next meal would be.

He resumed his spot behind the massive desk, resting quietly in his leather chair. It was, he observed, exactly as he'd left it the Friday before Easter. He ran his hand across the ink blotter. It sat crisp and fresh, without a single notation or drop of ink. The phone beside him showed no signs of activity. The morning correspondence folder, normally overflowing with a mass of memos and faxes sat completely empty. He'd been away for three weeks, and it appeared no one had noticed. The wheels continued to turn, as each and every cog within the prestigious firm performed its given task. He wanted to be thankful—to realize and appreciate his hand in establishing a firm that could thrive without him. But the man he'd become could not see the bigger picture. He needed distraction. He longed for corporate diversion. He needed to feel needed. If not at home, then at least at work.

The days following his father-in-law's departure had been almost unbearable. His wife's shell had become impenetrable, and her need to communicate in any form was unapparent. The ghost he'd witnessed the day of the funeral had now taken up full time residence and the home they shared together at the desirable Bunker Hill address had become a prison. She hardly ventured downstairs, drifting silently between their bedroom and the nursery to pass the hours. Her moments of sleep and wakefulness were impossible to differentiate. He prayed that his decision to return to the office be protested, and that maybe she'd finally open up to him. But she'd merely nodded when she learned of his plans, showing neither acceptance nor rejection.

He reached into his wallet and found the business card Dr. Sumner had given him. Now smudged and wrinkled, he'd studied it intently for days on end, committing every letter to memory.

Dr. Emily McNichol, PhD, LPCC, FT

Psychotherapist/Crisis Interventionist

He tapped the card against his desk then reached for the button on the intercom.

"Yes, Mr. Ellis?" His assistant, Andrea, answered with a soft and pleasant tone.

"Could you come in here for a minute, please?" Mathew asked.

"Certainly," she responded.

In less than thirty seconds, she entered his office, a small leather-bound notebook and pen in hand. She greeted him with a smile, taking a seat in front of his desk.

"Whenever you're ready." She opened the notebook and prepared to record his every request.

"You can close the notebook. I just want to talk." He motioned.

"Alright," she answered, a touch of wariness in her voice.

"How long have you known me? Roughly?" He folded his hands together, his elbows on his desk.

"Well, let's see. I started working for you about four years ago."

"So you've been plugging away out there at your desk for four years now?"

"Yes sir." She nodded.

"In the four years since you've been working as my PA, can you ever recall a Monday morning when there was complete silence in this office?"

Andrea thought a moment. "No, I don't think so."

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but I am Mathew Ellis, right? Head of this operation?"

"Yes sir."

"This is my firm?"

"Yes sir, it is." She nodded with a confused look.

"Then can you please explain why this folder is empty? Why the phone isn't ringing? And why I have yet to have one person knock on that door and apologize for interrupting me?"

His tone was in no way accusatory. Quite the opposite. His eyes and his tone both conveyed a desperate need for direction and a sense of purpose.

"Well, sir..."

"You think this is how it's going to be from here on out?" His face wrinkled with frustration. "Everyone walking around on eggshells?"

"Sir, I..." Andrea started but then stopped.

"Would you mind finding something for me to do? I'll send out faxes. I'll order lunch for everyone and deliver it personally. Just please give me something to do." His normally confident demeanor was absent and the friendly smile he so readily shared with everyone around him was missing.

"Well, my Rolls needs washing and I really should pick up my ball gown from Celebrity Cleaners." She said with wide, friendly grin.

"Thank you. You have no idea how much I needed that." He smiled; his first real one in weeks.

#

"Sunny! Lunch is ready!" Leo called from the bottom of the stairs. He waited for her response, but got none. A tray it is, he decided, turning back toward the kitchen with Bunny following closely behind.

Leo had spent the morning trying anything and everything to combat the unnerving quiet. He'd taken the dog on an extra long walk. He'd spent an hour in the gardening shed. He'd watched two different shows on The History Channel. With Mathew back at the office and Sunny a recluse upstairs, he longed for some type of stimulating conversation. He dialed the phone in the kitchen, thankful when his call was answered on the second ring.

"Sunny?" Mathew answered.

"It's just me." Leo responded.

"Is everything alright?"

"I tried to get her to come down for lunch, but no luck."

"Have you seen her at all today?"

"No. She slipped down and got some coffee I think. But that's when I was out walking Bunny. I'm going to take a tray up to her in a minute. How're you? You must be swamped up there."

"Don't I wish? This office is no different than where you're standing right now."

"That quiet?"

"Too quiet."

"You coming home for lunch?" Leo asked, hopeful for some company.

"There's something I need to do first, but I'll be home early."

Again Mathew examined the business card in his hand before ending the call with Leo. Once more, he pressed the intercom button on his desk.

"Yes?" Andrea answered.

"Listen, do you think you could clear my schedule for the rest of the afternoon?"

"I don't know, Mr. Ellis. We're awfully busy right now," she teased.

"What if I throw in a wax job on your Rolls?"

"Two coats?" She inquired.

"By hand," Mathew answered, finding his smile once more.

"Okay, but just this once," Andrea said with a laugh.

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