#fridayflash: Almonds

I’m going on hiatus from #fridayflash for a while – too much else on my plate now, and in the coming months. Thanks to everyone who’s read and commented on my stories to date; I hope to rejoin you again, probably next year, after the launch of the revised/updated edition of The IndieAuthor Guide this winter.

“I miss the almond tree.”

Nancy looked up from her coffee. “What, honey?” she asked.

Ryan sighed. “I miss the almond tree,” he repeated, gazing out the window at the spot where the tree once stood in the backyard. Now there was a walkway leading to the remodeled back part of the house, where Nancy’s bedroom was.

Nancy wasn’t sure how to respond. She glanced up at the clock, and the daily routine came to her rescue. “Ryan, if you’re going to catch the school bus you need to leave right now.” She helped him gather his things and gave his shoulders a squeeze as he headed out the door. “Pick you up after basketball practice,” she said.

“’Kay. See ya.”

As the door closed behind him, her mind was already racing with worry. The almond tree? What did it mean? He used to climb that tree when he was, what? Nine, or ten? But that was so long ago. She scanned her memories of the months leading up to the remodel; it was a happy time. And Scott’s car accident happened months afterward, it had nothing to do with their home improvement project. Was Ryan associating the tree with his memories of a time before his dad died? The walkway had been her idea; was he blaming her for Scott’s death, somehow? She reached for the phone and dialed Dr. Crandall’s number.

“Dr. Crandall’s office. May I help you?” answered the lilting voice of the secretary.

“Yes, hello Alice. This is Mrs. Munroe. I need to speak to Dr. Crandall.”

“Um,” Alice’s voice trailed off, “let me see if he’s…yes, he’s just getting off the elevator. Hold, please.”

A moment later, Dr. Crandall came on the line. “Hello, Mrs. Munroe. What can I do for you?”

“I think I need to bring Ryan in. Right away. Today, if possible.”

“Has there been some sort of incident?”

“He seems very sad all of a sudden. He’s been talking about the almond tree he used to climb in our backyard when he was little. We had that tree taken out when we remodeled. I think he’s associating the tree with the way things used to be, you know, before Scott died.”

“Well of course, I’m happy to see him if you think he needs my help. Let me hand you back to Alice, and tell her I said I’d see you at five-thirty.”

“Thank you, Doctor. Thank you so much.”

Later, as Nancy drove Ryan north on the I-20, he looked up from texting his girlfriend long enough to notice they weren’t on the way home. “Where are we going?” he asked.

Nancy took a breath and steeled herself for his reaction. “I’m taking you to see Dr. Crandall.”

“Mom!” he whined. “Why?”

“I noticed you seem a little sad lately, and I thought it might help you to talk to someone.”

“I’m not sad. I’m fine.”

“Ryan, denial isn’t going to help.”

“Again with the psycho-babble,” Ryan huffed, throwing his hands up in frustration. “Jeez, Mom! Give it a rest. Dad’s been gone for like, four years now. Aren’t you ever going to stop with this stuff?! Aren’t you ever going to go back to work and get a life of your own so you can stop messing with mine?!”

“Look, the appointment has already been made. If you need to talk to Dr. Crandall you can. And if not, well…better safe than sorry.”

He angrily turned his back to her and stared out the window in silence the rest of the way.

“Ryan!” Dr. Crandall said as he opened his waiting room door to them, clapping a hand on Ryan’s shoulder. “Come on in.” He turned to Nancy. “You don’t mind if Ryan and I speak in private?”

“Of course not, Doctor.” She took a seat in the empty waiting room and picked up a magazine. “I really appreciate you seeing us after hours.”

Dr. Crandall nodded and he and Ryan disappeared behind his office door. Less than five minutes later, the door opened and Ryan stepped out into the waiting room, already texting his girlfriend again. “Ryan,” Dr. Crandall said, “You can wait here.” Ryan barely acknowledged the instruction with a slight nod as he lowered himself into a chair. “Nancy?”

“Yes, Doctor?” Nancy asked, standing up.

“Ryan likes almonds. That’s all.”

“Oh, what a relief!” Nancy said.

“Is it?” Dr. Crandall asked, ushering Nancy into his office and closing the door behind him. “Let’s talk about that.”