"Tough as Nails"


“I would urge you to get here as soon as possible,” the hospital psychiatrist said. “How soon would that be?”

It was already late morning. How would she get there? Should she fly or try to drive? Questions pounded her brain. She’d never been to LA, with its legendary traffic. If she flew, wouldn't she still need a car? Wouldn't it be better to have her own? Could she make that seven-hour drive by herself? My god, she was pushing seventy. She dreaded the next forty-eight hours.

And what about Rylee and the animals? She’d need to make some arrangements for them. It didn't make any sense to bring Tucker with her, much as she would have liked her pooch’s company. But Rylee? No, she was staying home, too. She had school.

Meanwhile, Dr. Choi waited on the other end of the phone. “Sorry, I've been trying to think about how quickly I can get there. There's no way I can get there today. I have to pick Shelby’s sister up after school and make arrangements for the dog. But can I talk to her on the phone?”

“She’s still pretty out of it right now, but by tomorrow we're hoping she'll wake up.”

“Okay, I'll get there tomorrow, but it’ll probably be late afternoon. Will you be available then?”

“Yes. Have them page me when you arrive.” The psychiatrist left details for how she could find Shelby's room at the City of the Angels Medical Center.

Thirty minutes earlier, on the Wednesday after Labor Day, Elin Bergstrom had gotten a phone call that turned her life upside down—again. She cursed Ian for the hundredth time for leaving her with this mess to deal with. How was she, having never been a parent, despite her years of teaching children, supposed to deal with crises like these? Really, it just wasn't fair. Fair. Hah! Who said life was fair? Isn't that what Ericka always said?

Well, she could whine and mope or she could get busy figuring out what she needed to do to get over to LA.

***

She drove to Rylee’s school and got into the long line of cars waiting to pick kids up. God forbid a high school sophomore take the school bus home in fancy schmansy North Scottsdale. As she waited in the pokey line inching forward, she thought about what to tell Rylee. How much could that poor kid be expected to deal with? As she approached the pick-up spot, she spied Rylee talking to a group of kids, both boys and girls. So cute in her skinny blue jeans and white tank top, long red hair pulled back into a sleek ponytail. When Elin arrived at the spot, she opened the passenger-side window and yelled “Rylee.”

“Gotta go,” she heard her say, waving goodbye to the other kids. Was she finally making some friends?

“Hi, Grandma.”

“Hey. How’d school go today?” Although it took all of her self-control not to blurt out the bad news about Shelby, she’d decided on small talk for the drive home, waiting until they were eating their snack to tell Rylee about her sister.

“Okay, I guess. Same old, same old, really.”

Why did adolescents have to be so difficult to talk to? “How was soccer practice?”

“Pretty good, actually. I scored two goals. When does it cool off here?”

“Not ’til the end of October. Two goals are great. Are you enjoying soccer again?”

“Starting to. It’s easier when you know the other girls, I guess. The group’s hard to break into. They’re pretty tight with each other.”

“Yeah, you’ve mentioned that before. I’m sure it’s been challenging being new to a group that’s been together for a while.” Rylee still resented having to move in with Elin, away from all her friends and the life she’d had in Bethesda, MD.

“Did you get your hair done today? It looks nice.” Elin had made a trip to the salon earlier, to have her newly gray hair cut into a stylish bob. As a gift to herself after Ian died she’d let it go gray. So what if it made her look older?

They arrived home and Elin pulled the Audi into the garage. As they walked into the house Elin said, “Rylee, after you put your stuff away, before you get started on your homework, let’s have a snack. There’s something I need to talk to you about.”

“Okay.”

Elin walked into the kitchen,