- 2014 Community Novel Project of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library
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Read Online: Superimposed Chapter 3 by Holly Mace
Holly pulled over in a parking lot at 29th and Wanamaker and dug her cell phone out of her bag. The past five hours with Joe were nerve-wracking, and she needed to speak to her supervisor at Hospice.
“Karen, it’s Holly. I really need to talk to you about Joe Grimaldi. I don’t think I can do this.”
“Hi, Holly. I was expecting your call,” replied Karen. “I know this assignment was short-notice, and I didn’t have much time to fill you in on Mr. Grimaldi’s case.”
“No Karen, it’s not just that. Well, it’s that; but it’s more. Something just seems…off. He KNEW me, Karen. How did he know me?” Holly’s voice was rising, as it did when she was anxious. She hated that she couldn’t control that.
Just as Karen started to respond, Holly heard another voice in the background. “Karen, Mr. Grimaldi is on line two for you,” said Rose, the receptionist.
“Why is he…” Holly started.
“I have to go,” Karen cut her off. “If you want to talk to me, meet me here in the office in 20 minutes.”
Holly’s head was swimming. Last-minute assignments like this never happened. Then she gets there and Joe all but admits that he requested her? Why? Who was this man? Even after spending five hours there, she didn’t have any answers.
After Joe’s collapse, he’d slept off and on for the rest of Holly’s shift. When he was awake, he appeared to be too groggy to answer Holly’s questions. And when Holly decided to finish her tour of the house herself, it elicited even more questions. Every door was locked that didn’t lead into a common room. It was like the majority of the house was cordoned off. There was no open stairway to get to the other floors from the rooms that Holly could access. What was going on?
Well, she’d get some answers from Karen in a little while. Time to find a drive-through for a quick bite to eat and return her mom’s phone call.
“Hey Mom. What’s up?” Holly asked, already knowing the reason for the call.
“Hi honey. How are you? Heard anything?” Her mom’s voice was always so soft and reassuring.
“Nothing. Just like every other day.” Holly said.
“Well, one of these days you’ll have a different answer – I just know it,” her mom said.
“I’m glad you think so, Mom,” Holly replied. Time to change the subject. “Hey, do you know a guy named Joe Grimaldi?”
“Well sure, honey, everyone in Topeka knows that name,” her mom replied.
“I realize that,” Holly said, “but why would he know ME?”
“Friends maybe?” her mom suggested. “Maybe he was referred by someone who had a family member you worked with through Hospice.”
“I don’t think that’s it,” Holly replied, shaking her head. “He acted like he didn’t want me to know he specifically requested me. Like it was a secret.”
“Oh, Holly!” her mom laughed lightly. “You always look for the mystery in everything.”
“That’s because a big part of my life has been reduced to one big mystery,” Holly shot back.
There was silence on the other end of the line.
“Sorry – I know you don’t have answers for me. I shouldn’t take it out on you,” Holly said, getting choked up.
“I know, honey,” her mom replied softly. “But I haven’t given up hope yet, and you shouldn’t either.”
“It’s been a year, Mom. Anyway, I have to go. I need to talk to Karen about this Grimaldi guy. I love you. Talk to you later.”
Holly shut her car off in the Hospice parking lot and glanced down at her left ring finger again. She’d caught herself doing that a lot lately. It should have had a ring on there by now, but fate had had other ideas. It had been a year and there were still no answers. How does someone just disappear like that? There must be answers, but so far Holly hadn’t found them. It was especially hard since it was a matter of trying to get information when it was an undisclosed location and some secret military exercise.
James was a coworker at Hospice, initially. He and Holly became instant friends, and then eventually they started dating. It was about two months after James proposed to Holly that he announced that he had joined the U.S. Army. He said he felt called to do something more to help people.
Holly remembered feeling like she was being abandoned again. Her father had left when she was seven years old. At first, it was as if the only thing that changed was that he lived at a different house. Holly still saw her father every week and stayed with him every other weekend. But then something changed. Holly’s father went from relationship to relationship, and maintaining a relationship with his daughter was put on the back burner. He was constantly making and breaking promises, until it got to the point that the one thing Holly could count on about her father was that she couldn’t count on him for anything. Despite knowing that, there were still those lingering questions – even in adulthood – as to why he didn’t want her but would spend time with the children of whoever he was seeing. Holly knew the problem was him, not her, but there were still those nagging issues of feeling abandoned.
Those feelings that resurfaced when James had announced he’d enlisted in the Army took a while to suppress. James knew Holly’s past. From the day he had announced his enlistment, he’d made sure Holly knew he planned to come back to her. He said it in every letter, every e-mail, every text, every phone call. Holly took comfort in James’ words and would admonish herself for doubting him and thinking that her situation would automatically turn out to be one where she was left behind. James always told her to trust that everything would be okay.
However, approximately one year ago, that comfort turned to tragedy as James’ unit was deployed for an undisclosed mission in Kabul. James and two others from his unit were delivering supplies when they were apparently ambushed. Details were still sketchy. All that was known was that the vehicle was found empty. No supplies. No weapons. No sign of a fight. Nothing. No one.
Holly, who dealt with death every day, was not ready to deal with the possible death of her fiancé. She hoped every day for the call that James had been found. It was different than her job. The people who went through Hospice knew they were dying. There was time – at least a little – to make preparations. To tell their loved ones how much they meant to them…
“Enough!” Holly said out loud. She checked her makeup in the mirror, grabbed her bag, and headed inside to meet with Karen.
“Hi, Holly!” Rose said brightly from the receptionist desk. “Karen had to step out for a minute and run next door. Have a seat in her office, and she’ll be back shortly.”
“Thanks, Rose.” Holly headed down the hall to Karen’s office, stopping at the wall of boxes where paperwork and messages were left for the Hospice employees. Seeing nothing in her box, Holly continued to Karen’s office. Since Karen’s office was typically where family members and friends of the dying would meet to discuss the services that Hospice could offer, the room was furnished very informally with a couch and overstuffed chairs.
There was a bookshelf with books on death and the grieving process. Karen tried more than once to get Holly to read some of the books when she received word of James’ disappearance, but Holly wouldn’t have it. To her, the fact that nobody had been found meant that he was still out there somewhere. Until someone proved otherwise, she wasn’t going to consider herself grieving. Right now it was more like holding out hope and waiting.
Holly sat down in one of the overstuffed chairs and waited for Karen. Ten minutes passed. Then twenty. Holly was getting restless. She stood up and walked over to the window and then sighed to herself. She didn’t know what sort of view she was expecting, but it was the same as always – a parking lot filled with cars. Not much of a distraction. She noticed a man sitting in a dark four-door sedan looking at her and thought to herself, “I better get out of this window so this poor guy doesn’t think I’m watching him.”
She turned to head back around Karen’s desk to the overstuffed chairs, but something stopped her. There was a red file sticking out from the bottom of a stack of papers. She could see the name Grimaldi, Joe written on the tab of the folder. Her heart started to race. The red folders were the folders that Karen used when interviewing families and doing intake. Not everything in those folders was disclosed to the Hospice workers. It included things like last wishes, wills if the person had one – anything that the family felt they may need some assistance with or wanted to disclose at the end of their loved one’s life.
Holly listened for voices down the hall. All she heard was Rose on the telephone. Karen still wasn’t back. Did she dare pull out the file and look at it? Holly had always prided herself on her integrity, both on and off the job. However, with so many concerns and questions about this man, wouldn’t it be wise to look? She was going back and forth with herself – rationalizing it was okay, and then turning around and convincing herself it was wrong. Back and forth. What would the harm be? More information would be better, wouldn’t it?
She decided to simply lift the corner of the folder and peek inside. That way if Karen came back in the office, she wouldn’t have to try to place it back underneath the papers again. She pulled back the corner and saw the familiar curves of Karen’s writing. From what Holly could tell, it was a list. Must have been from a phone conversation.
Tuesday, 4:18 p.m.
Pastor Steve Morris – J. Grimaldi
Services ASAP – 3-4 months to live
Widower, no local family – doesn’t speak to family
Keeps private doctor on retainer. No hospital visits unless doctor accompanies him: no exceptions – not even in case of emergency
Prescriptions are filled by local pharmacist only
Requesting Holly, unsure why, but J.G. insisting – need her to sign confidentiality waiver that J.G.’s attorney created in order to maintain assignment – violation could result in termination and lawsuit
“What in the world….” muttered Holly.
“Oh, hey, Karen!” Holly heard Rose’s greeting from the hallway. “Holly’s waiting for you in your office.”
“Thanks, Rose.” Holly could hear Karen’s footsteps getting closer. She quickly jumped back away from the desk and practically leapt over to the chair she had started out waiting in.
“Hi Karen,” she said casually. At least she hoped she sounded casual.
“I’m so sorry to keep you waiting,” Karen said. “I had to run some paperwork down the road and didn’t think it would take me as long as it did.”
“No problem,” said Holly. “Listen though, we really need to talk about this assignment of mine. Something seems really strange.”
“I agree, but I’m afraid I’m limited in what I can tell you,” said Karen.
“What does that mean?” asked Holly.
“Well, in order for us to take Mr. Grimaldi on as a client, I was required to sign a confidentiality statement. In it, it specifically spells out what I can and can’t disclose about what I know,” said Karen. “If I violate any part of it, he won’t follow through on his part of the deal.”
“What deal?” asked Holly.
“Oh Holly, it’s the most wonderful thing!” exclaimed Karen. “Mr. Grimaldi wants to help us secure a larger office space and help with a donation to expand our services! Isn’t that great?”
“What’s the catch?”
“There’s no catch. Well, I guess the catch is that he’d only follow through if we assigned you as his Hospice worker, and if you and I both follow the very specific instructions we’ll be given throughout his time with us.”
“Karen! That doesn’t sound at all sketchy to you?”
“Holly, he’s an eccentric old man facing the dying process. People do all kinds of irrational, unexplainable things when faced with their own mortality.”
“Why does he want me to work there?” Holly demanded.
“I don’t know.” Karen raised her right hand as if taking an oath. “Holly, I swear, they haven’t told me why. Just go with it. You’re such a good worker – I’m sure it’s just another referral.”
“Who referred him? A family member?”
“No, it was his church pastor,” said Karen. “Mr. Grimaldi doesn’t have any family.”
Holly thought back to the notes she saw on Karen’s desk. “He has an awfully large house for not having any family. You’re sure there’s no one?”
Holly couldn’t be sure, but it appeared that Karen was fidgeting a little at that last question.
“The pastor said he has no one.”
“So what is he dying from, other than an obvious heart condition?” asked Holly. “He collapsed while I was there today, and he has quite a few prescriptions that I’d associate with heart disease.”
“He doesn’t want his exact condition disclosed at this time. Maybe eventually.”
“So what exactly am I doing there?” asked Holly.
“What you always do and do so well – you’re doing what you can to make him comfortable during the last weeks and days of his life.”
“And making myself more and more uncomfortable in the process,” muttered Holly. “Days and weeks? I thought he had three to four months to live.”
The words escaped Holly before she could stop them. She held her breath, hoping that Karen wouldn’t realize she had peeked in the folder.
“Well, the pastor doesn’t know exactly. Only Mr. Grimaldi and his doctor know for sure,” said Karen. “So we prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”
“What did he want when he called here earlier?” asked Holly.
Karen seemed to be caught off guard at first, and then seemed to remember that Holly had been on the phone when that other call was announced.
“Oh, he just wanted to check in with me to let me know that the first day went well in his opinion, and that his attorney had some paperwork for me to pick up.”
“Attorney? Paperwork?” asked Holly, raising an eyebrow. This assignment was starting to sound like a present-day television drama.
“Well, there are the legal documents pertaining to his gift to Hospice and the conditions associated with that,” said Karen. “And then there’s his contract with you…”
“Now, Holly, it’s not that bad, like I already said. Mr. Grimaldi is a businessman to the core, even at the end of his life.”
“So where’s this contract?”
Karen reached down into her bag and pulled out a folder, yellow this time. “It’s all in here. Maybe you want to take it home and read through it after you’ve had some time to calm down?”
“Oh, I don’t think knowing that I’m signing my life away for some guy who won’t say why he requested my assistance is going to calm me at any point in time,” said Holly. “You’re really okay with this? You don’t think I’m in any danger?”
“Holly, if I thought you were in the slightest bit of danger, I wouldn’t go along with this, not even with the promises of a huge monetary donation,” assured Karen.
“Okay, I trust you. But I still don’t trust him,” said Holly, holding out her hand to Karen for the file.
Karen handed it over. “It seems to be pretty simple. Not a lot of legal jargon.”
As Holly started reading, certain phrases jumped out at her:
Case notes cannot be accessed by any other employee;
Must check in cell phone at beginning of each shift to assure no photos or recordings are taken;
Must keep all medical information confidential except to Mr. Grimaldi’s private physician;
No calls to 911 without permission of private physician;
No answering Mr. Grimaldi’s telephone;
No access to designated areas of the house without accompaniment by Mr. Grimaldi or his security staff;
No communication with members of the media at any point in time during this assignment or after Mr. Grimaldi’s death…
“Karen! What in the world is this?” asked Holly. “Security? Media? Why would I be talking to the media? He’s not THAT well-known. It’s not like his passing would make the evening news.”
“Well, he seems to think there are loose ends that may not necessarily get tied up before his passing that could result in some legal issues,” said Karen.
Before Holly could even utter a sound, Karen raised her hand again. “Holly, before you even ask, that’s one of the things I can’t elaborate on. Just trust that this will all be okay.”
Words Holly had heard before…
Chapter 4 will be published next week at https://www.tscpl.org/community-novel
About Holly Mace
Holly Mace grew up in Alpena, Michigan and moved to Topeka nine years ago. This is her second year contributing to the Community Novel. She attended Central Michigan University where she majored in journalism and went on to write for The Alpena News for six years. While writing is no longer her profession, it is still her passion. She currently is HR Director for Sunflower Supports Company in Topeka. She is a member of Faith Lutheran Church. In addition to writing, she enjoys reading, various crafts including card-making, searching for treasures at thrift stores and antique stores, and constantly being kept on her toes by her ornery cat, Toby.
An Interview with Holly Mace
What is your writing background? What sort of work do you usually write?
I majored in journalism in college and worked as a staff writer for a daily newspaper in Michigan for six years after that. If I’m being totally honest, the majority of my writing right now is either meeting minutes or our company newsletter at work, or meeting minutes at church. Other than that, it’s mainly journaling at home.
Who are some of your favorite authors? Are there books, poems, or stories that have inspired your own writing?
Some of my favorite authors and writers include Mitch Albom, John Grisham, Lysa TerKeurst and Beth Moore. I love Lysa TerKeurst’s style of writing because it’s very down to earth yet very inspirational at the same time.
Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?
I had so much fun with last year’s novel. It was great to find that part of myself again and to prove to myself that I could do it.
Have you ever written fiction in collaboration with other authors before?
Not before last year’s novel.
Do you usually write in a burst of inspiration, or is your work carefully outlined? Did writing for the community novel differ from the norm?
For last year’s novel, I was Chapter 18, which required a lot of outlining and mapping. However, being Chapter 3 this year allowed me to just sit and write whatever came to me.
What do you like about the premise and characters of this year’s Community Novel Project? What challenges you about them?
It goes without saying that I like the name of the female main character, Holly. I like that they have secrets, whether they turn out to be big or small. It makes them easy to identify with. What challenged me was trying to reign in some of my ideas and not throwing out too many new details.
What was your first reaction when you saw the chapter before yours?
I was very glad that I was assigned a present-day chapter! The chapter before mine was a flashback chapter and was awesome!
What do you like most about the chapter that you contributed to the 2014 Community Novel?
I liked some of the new details that I revealed about Holly and her past, as well as the mystery that is Joe Grimaldi.
What do you hope happens or doesn’t happen in the chapters that come after yours?
I don’t really have any certain direction I’d like to see people take in the chapters following mine. I’m just interested to see where they take the details that I came up with.
What sort of writing can we expect from you in future?
I’m not currently working on any writing projects, but I think I’d like to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. I planned to do it last year, but that didn’t work out.