The HuffPost has revolutionized journalism by taking over the news business. Is fiction next? My new novel, Seeing Red, is being serialized three times a week on the Huffington Post. Here's the latest installment of the book. (Catch up with previous chapters at "Seeing Red on the HuffPost!")
"Jack, Jack, Please Come Back!"
Ronda, sitting in the hospital bed, has dialed Karen's number.
"Ron. How are you honey? I was over about noon and you were still snoozing away. I was planning to come again later."
"Thanks. I'm...I'm better today. I'm just afraid my stomach is going to start going haywire again when I eat."
"Well, they're probably gonna starve you for a few days. They have this idea that sometimes it helps just to shut the whole system down. Then, when you're stable, they might send you home with something to help you keep food dow..."
"Look, Karen," Ronda says, interrupting. "I sent Jack out of the room so I could talk. I need to figure out how...what I'm going to do."
"Do? I thought you had decided what you were going to do."
"I know. I know I said I wanted the baby no matter what. But that was before. Before I got so sick. I don't know, Karen. I'm not sure I can handle this...and..." she inhales. "I haven't talked to Jesús. And I need to, soon."
"I thought you had."
"No, I couldn't, not over the phone. I need to see him in person. Do you know where he is?
Because he was here before."
"Yes. I called him in New York. I told him where you were. He got on the first train, was there when I arrived at noon. And then, as soon as Jack came back to your room, about three, Jesús left in a hurry."
Ronda tenses. "You mean Jack saw him? Playing?"
"All Jack saw was this nice-looking man with a pony tail and hand-chiseled boots sitting in a chair beside your bed. Jesús had put the guitar away by the time I got there."
"Oh God. What did Jack say?"
"What do you mean what did Jack say? They just..."
Jack appears now, accompanied by a thin young nurse.
Ronda looks up. "Oh. Karen. I have to go. Look...come over, could you? Seven? Sure. Seven's fine."
She sets the phone in the cradle. The nurse's voice carries to every part of the room.
"Hello Mrs. Fallon. Glad to see you awake and back to the world of the living."
"Glad to be here."
"How are you feeling. Better today I hope."
"Much better. I just need to pee."
Jack leaves and Ronda and her IV pole are shuffled in and out of the bathroom and back to the bed.
"I assume the dizziness is because of the medication?"
"Yes, they gave you Compazine to calm your stomach," the nurse says, helping her get settled.
"Your head should be back in place by tomorrow morning."
"Is the doctor coming? I'd like to speak to him."
"Her. Dr. Barnard. Susanne Barnard. She'll be here in the morning, doing rounds. You can talk to her then."
"When will I go home?"
The nurse takes Ronda's pulse, and then wraps a blood pressure cuff around her arm. "That's up to her. But I wouldn't be surprised if you were with us at least one or two more nights." She pumps the bulb on the blood pressure cuff, lets the air out.
"I suggest you get as much rest as you can." She turns. "Oh, and one more thing. Better tell your son not to lie on the floor tonight. Somebody's bound to step on him."
"I'll tell him."
The nurse leaves, and Ronda is alone, thinking how much she wants to be home. And more than that, she wants to be normal. She wants to be free. Have her body back. God forgive me, she thinks, but maybe I am just too old, too tired, to have a baby. Maybe if I was 33, and not nearly 39. My own mother was a grandmother at 40.
Ronda looks up. Jack. Poor Jack. Oddly, he will be the most disappointed. Because when she finally told him, only a few days ago, that she was pregnant, and after he got over his initial shock, he laughed a little and said, "That's not so bad. Another kid. I never considered that we'd have another kid in the family."
Of course, she didn't bother to correct the misimpression. She didn't have the heart to tell him that this baby was definitely not part of the Fallon family. She figured there was no point in telling him more than he needed to know. Once she was sure, once she knew exactly what she was going to do, well, then she'd see.
And now, of course, she has to figure out a way to break the news gently to him. She needs to make him understand that sometimes, people go back on their decisions. People don't always keep babies, and can't always keep marriages together either.
"Did you hear me Ma?"
"I'm sorry, Jack, what did you say?"
"I said I was going to the cafeteria before it closes."
"Sure honey. Good idea. I'll see you when you get back."
Jack turns, is almost out the door. "Uh, Ma? I ..."
He scratches his head. Looks sterner than she's seen him look in a long time. "I just wondered if ..."
"I wondered if Dad was coming. I mean. Do you know where he is?
Ronda's lips fold in on themselves. "I don't know, Jack. He said he was going out of town. I think he said Long Island, the shore. To stay with Buddy Morrison. But I could be wrong. I honestly don't know for sure where he is."
"So you're not..." Jack shrugs once, "you're not going to call him?"
"I don't think so, not after what happened. You know. We had that fight."
"I know Ma. I was there, remember?"
"Come here Jack," Ronda whispers.
"Sit down," she says, patting the bed.
"I'm fine standing." His eyes look cold.
Ronda sighs. "I have to set something straight."
Jack is silent.
"Whatever happens, and whether or not your father and I ...whether we stay together, I just want you to know that I love you. And I love your brother. More than I could ever say."
Jack stares at her, and his gaze, she realizes now, is nearly as intense as the one Jesús always has for her. How curious, she thinks, that the two men she adores both share that quality.
"Mom, you don't really think you had to say that to me, do you?"
"I just wanted to Jack. I wanted you to hear it."
Jack sniffs. "I guess if I wanted to hear something, it would be that Dad is coming in to see you. That Dad is coming back. That you two have worked out whatever it is that's out of whack. That's all I wanted to hear, actually."
Ronda sets her thumb and forefinger into her eyes and rubs the orbs. They feel sore. Then she stares straight back at her son. "I'm sorry, Jack," she says.
"So he's not coming back?"
Slowly she shakes her head back and forth. "No, Jack. He's not. You must know that by now. There's just no way that we can..."
Jack's dark eyebrows converge, come together like the wings of a dark bird.
"Question. Does this have anything to do with the baby? Because I mean if it does, maybe you could just decide to ..."
Ronda is swiveling her head back and forth. "No, Jack. No. It's not the baby. Believe me please. It's not." She does not have the heart to say more.
"So why can't you work things out? I mean for God's sake Ma, I know Dad can be a total jerk drinking and mouthing off but I still think you could work things out."
She lets his words hang for a moment, unsupported.
"I'm just not sure that's possible, Jack," she says quietly. "You are almost a grown man, and I think you know that sometimes things don't work out. Your father and I have had problems, for a long time, but especially lately. Things aren't great, not great at all. You have to accept that."
Jack just stands there staring at nothing. Gradually his face takes on that familiar scowl, exactly like the one that would appear from time to time on her father's face. That look was always a warning: Giacomo's red flag. Watch out, that look said, because soon enough this otherwise reasonable man would boil over, start shouting and carrying on in Italian, swearing so all the neighbors could hear.
"I just don't get it at all!" Jack shouts in a desperate voice, clenching his fists and heading toward the door. At the entrance, he turns back to her. His face is ashen. "I want to know one thing."
He bites his lip. Tears rim his eyes. "I saw a man here before, when you were sleeping. I know I met him once. That Spanish guy. I'm sure he came by the house this summer one time, to give you something. I remember the ponytail." He turns away, so she can't see his face.
"When I came in today he was just putting his guitar away, and he was saying something to you, whispering something in a low voice in Spanish. I saw that and I saw the way he looked at you. What the fuck was he doing here, huh?"
He pauses. His face is as sad as she's ever seen it. As sad as that day when, at age ten, he got off the school bus only to find his father waiting at the door to tell him that the family's golden lab, Buster, had been killed by a car.
Now he points his forefinger at her, stabbing the air, and when he speaks, his voice is low and menacing.
"I hope you can tell me that his being here has nothing to do with you and Dad's problems."
She sees now that he's begun crying.
"Jack, please, Jack, please come back, Jack! Please." But he hasn't heard a word she's said, and before she can say another word, he has fled the room and all she hears are his feet sprinting down the hall.
READ THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF SEEING RED on Sunday, February 27, 2011. To read all previous installments, go to "Seeing Red on the Huff Post."