Steve, my militant-but-secretly-sweet-as-coconut-pie therapist, offers me a high-five as we finish our last physical therapy session, one he graciously agreed to conduct in the park, beneath my favorite shade tree.
“Woman, you are a model patient. Truly.”
I give a playful curtsy. “All I’ve ever wanted to be.”
“What more could any person want?” he asks, before adding in a softer voice, “Seriously, you slayed this, Ruby. Take a moment and own it.”
“Okay,” I whisper, falling silent for a few seconds as my heart swells. Steve has been a fixture in my life for 365 days times two. He’s been my cheerleader, my drill sergeant, and in some ways, my shrink. My throat goes tight. “I’ll miss you, but I’m also really glad I don’t have to see you again. Except at the grocery store when we’re buying cherry granola.”
Steve and I have a habit of running into each other outside of therapy—he’s a life-long Park Sloper and I’m always in his neighborhood for work—so I know our paths will cross again. Just not while he’s forcing me to do squats until my femurs feel like they’re about to splinter into a thousand pieces.
He squeezes my shoulder with a smile. “I get it, girl. That’s how it should be. Now go out there and conquer the world.”
He pulls a cherry lollipop from his gym bag and offers it to me, making me laugh. “Even better than granola.”
We wave goodbye, and I set off across the park.
The candy melts on my tongue, filling my mouth with my favorite flavor on earth as I head up toward Sweetie Pies. I love cherries—fresh, baked, juiced, or reduced to their sweetly sour essence and used to flavor candy—I’ll take it all. Gladly. Gratefully.
Any day with cherries in it is a good day.
A day with cherries and a new lease on life? Heck, I should be dancing down the sidewalk, singing and twirling and tossing flower petals and hugging strangers. I should be triggering my own spontaneous musical number, complete with backup dancers and a solo by a famous tenor who sticks his head out of the sunroof of his limousine as it cruises by.
Plus, Jesse has a surprise for me.
My step should be springing like whoa.
Instead, I have . . . dread.
Dread, on a day I was positive was going to be a turning point, the end of the saddest portion of my life and the first page in a shiny new chapter titled “Back to Normal.”
And the worst part is I have no idea why I feel like a balloon filled with poison is hovering over my head, primed to pop.
Why dread? Why now, when my damaged legs are finally strong enough to carry me through a five-mile run, New York is enjoying its coolest, most delightful July in ages, and I have two weeks of vacation stretching out in front of me like a table filled with fancy supplies from my favorite East Village art store?
I even have new pens and paints waiting for me at my apartment. Once we’ve closed up shop at Sweetie Pies for our annual summer break, I’ll be able to doodle and watercolor-wash for hours without anyone interrupting to ask if I’ve alerted the produce delivery service that we want the blueberries from Maine, not Vermont, because the Vermont ones are unacceptably squishy this year. Or to warn me that the rising price of buttermilk is a shocking development that should be factored into the budget for next month. Or to loudly, frantically, and dramatically fret that a freak November heat wave is going to ruin the Thanksgiving shipping season, and more than a hundred years of success will be wiped out due to poor performance in the fourth quarter.
I do love being part of the family business—Sweetie Pies has been a Brooklyn tradition since 1915, when my great-grandmother started selling her now-world-famous caramel apple crumble off a cart near her Park Slope brownstone—but my parents are old pros at making mountains out of business molehills.
Pete and Barb laugh more than any couple I know, but they also worry—a lot—about everything, from the price of eggs to the cleanliness of the sidewalk outside the shop to whether selling day-old pies is an affront to the Sweetie Pies commitment to quality or just good business sense.
The one thing they haven’t seemed to worry about is me.
From the day I woke up in the hospital after the accident, aching all over and not sure which pain was worse—the agony in my legs or the keening in my heart when I learned my best friend was gone—my mom and dad never doubted that I would make a complete recovery. I would not only walk again but run and dance and play hopscotch in the alley behind the shop with my kids someday, the way Mom did with Cousin Gigi and me when we were girls.
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