Betsy had probably been expecting her home sooner but did not shower either enthusiasm or dismay and Cassie's return. Cassie brought in her work bag and checked the mail. Once again there was the manila folder with the same letter she had received at work. She threw it away. Cassie watched some television before deciding to go to bed early. She slept restlessly and woke several times during the night. At some point Betsy got tired of her squirming and went to sleep in her cat bed. Cassie awoke feeling tired and sluggish. She had to drag herself out of bed and go through her morning routine but her brain was not there. She thought a hot breakfast would help her feel better but the oatmeal wound up feeling like a lump in the pit of her stomach. On the way to work Cassie stopped to get a large cup of coffee with two shots of espresso from Dunkin' Donuts and used it as a crutch to get through her morning. The receptionist had another envelope waiting for her when she walked in the door. Cassie only glanced at the letter to see that the countdown said four days before she put it though the shredder in the copy room on the way to her office. Cassie was assisting Dr. Spencer as she wrote up the report for the previous days' meeting when the phone in her closet rang. She went to answer it but it had already stopped ringing by the time she reached it. "Must've been a wrong number," Cassie commented as she returned to her seat across from Dr. Spencer. But just as she sat down the phone rang again. "Just let it go to voicemail," Dr. Spencer told her but Cassie was already up. This time she hurried to the phone. "Hello, this is Cassie," she answered. There were a few seconds of silence. Cassie was about to ask if anyone was there when an automated message began. "Cassandra Grayling, you have now received seven copies of our questionnaire over the last three days and have yet to respond. We will now ask the questions over the phone. Press one for yes, press two for now. The scale of one to five for certain questions starts with one as strongly disagree, two as disagree, three as neutral, four as agree, and five as strongly agree. When a question requires a short answer, you will hear a beep after which you may say your answer. Press the pound key when you have finished responding. Question one." Cassie hung up the phone. This was becoming ridiculous. "Was anyone there?" Dr. Spencer asked as she sat back down again. "It was some recorded message; I didn't listen to the whole thing." Cassie tried to busy herself so Dr. Spencer would not ask any more questions. "We're not supposed be getting any calls from telemarketers on these lines. You might want to tell someone though I'm not sure who would take care of that. Did you hear who the message was from?" Cassie shook her head, "No, I must've been yawning whenever they said the name, didn't hear a bit of it," she lied. "Well, if they call again, let me know. We can look into finding out if your number has been randomly listed somewhere that telemarketers can get to it." They got back to work.
A half hour before lunch time Cassie was not feeling any better and Dr. Spencer had noticed how much more quiet and subdued she was. As they were sorting the last of the report papers and stapling them together, Dr. Spencer said, "Why don't you just head home now? I can see that you're not feeling well and there's nothing else we need to get done today. You can take off and get some extra rest." Cassie was very grateful. She shut down her computer, grabbed her work bag, and was on her way home within ten minutes. Her mail had already been delivered when she got home, and Cassie knew what would be waiting for her, but she went straight inside and put her pajamas back on while she waited for the kettle to boil. She made herself a mug of chamomile tea and took it back to bed with her. She propped herself up with a few pillows and turned on the radio to NPR. It was the very end of the Diane Rehm Show, the point where Diane was asking her guests for their final comments. The topic was something related to Afghanistan. The local NPR station had their new program from twelve to one. Cassie dozed lightly over the next hour and missed whatever program was on. Science Friday with Ira Flatow was the next show she heard a bit of before falling asleep again. It was dark the next time she woke up and her radio was playing classical music. Cassie looked at the glowing red numbers on her clock. It was after eight o'clock and her stomach was churning. She made it to the bathroom just in time, frightening Betsy on the way there. After her stomach had sufficiently purged its contents, Cassie brushed her teeth, gave Betsy her dinner, got a glass of water and crawled back into bed.
During the night Cassie had to return to the bathroom twice when her stomach attempted to empty itself of things that were not there. She was glad the next day was Saturday because she was fairly sure she had caught a stomach bug of some sort and needed to stay in bed. The next morning she had developed a fever and everything she tried to put into her stomach was coming back up. She sent a text to her mom saying: Went home from work early yesterday, still not feeling any better, stomach is upset and have a fever. Send chicken soup. –Cassie. Cassie's mom called her back and Cassie lay on her side with the phone resting on her ear so she would not have to hold it. "Is there anyone who can come over and make you soup? What's Marilyn up to today?" Cassie tried to think of Marilyn had said she would be doing this weekend but the memory eluded her. "I think she's out of town or something," she said softly into the phone. I'll just get up and make myself some soup later; for now I just want to sleep. Besides the soup probably wouldn't stay down anyway. And before you ask, I have been trying to drink water." Cassie's mom made a joke about Cassie not letting her be a mom anymore. Cassie managed a weak smile, "That is not true. I happened to know you were going to suggest staying hydrated and I wanted to beat you to the punch. I wouldn't know those things if you hadn't said them every time I was feeling the least bit ill. Carver would do the exact same thing. We know how you act when you're worried about us." "Do you want me to call your aunt? She's closer to you than we are. She could stop by and see how you're doing." Cassie's aunt lived just over an hour away and had a family of her own to take care of without having to worry about her niece. "I'm not asking Aunt Marie to drive all the way over here to make me some soup. She's busy enough taking my cousins all over the place." Aunt Marie and Uncle Dan had eight year old twin girls and a five year old little boy. Cassie usually babysat for them anytime her aunt and uncle went out of town for a weekend. Last time she had talked to her aunt, one of the twins had started playing softball while the other had started taking karate lessons. "I'll be fine, Mom. I'm not planning on running around outside or anything. It's just a stomach bug, some twenty-four hour thing, I'll be back to work on Monday." Her mom did not sound reassured, "If you say so dear. Take care of yourself. Call me if you need anything and I'll get a hold of your aunt." "Yes mother," Cassie acquiesced. "Call me later to let me know how you're doing." Cassie said she would and hung up. She set her phone back on her night stand and turned on the radio.
Car Talk was on with someone calling in about a weird sound their Buick was making. Of course, the hosts asked the caller to reproduce the sound, a regular request on their show to help with their diagnosis. The caller imitated the noise and one of the brothers recognized it as a loose belt somewhere or other. Near the end of the show, Cassie dragged herself out of bed to make some buttered toast. Betsy had been spending a quiet morning cleaning herself in her cat bed. Cassie slowly ate her toast and made herself another cup of tea before returning to bed. Whad'Ya Know was on next from Madison Wisconsin. It was not one of the live shows but at least Cassie had not heard it before. While she listened Cassie worked on a few crossword puzzles from her games book. She was pleased that the toast was able to stay down and the tea was pleasantly soothing. After the first quiz had ended on the show she remembered her plans with Stu for that evening. She was going to have to cancel. She felt a call would be much more appropriate than a text. Unfortunately, Stu did not answer his phone so she had to leave a message. "Hey Stu, it's Cassie. It seems I've caught some type of stomach bug. It started yesterday and I had to leave work early, been in bed since then. Whatever dinner you wanted to give me probably wouldn't be appreciated by my stomach so we'll have to reschedule. I'm free any night next week so let me know when is good for you. Talk to you soon. Bye." She went back to working on her puzzle book.
Stu returned her call later that afternoon. "Hey, I was at work so I couldn't answer my phone. Sorry to hear you're not feeling well. Anything I can do for you? Get you some soup from the grocery store?" It was kind of him to offer but Cassie still did not know him that well. "Thank you but no. I already have some soup here and tea and toast are the only things that I'm comfortable trying out at the moment. I'm sorry I had to cancel, I'm usually a pretty healthy person." "Well, at least it's just a stomach thing instead of the flu. I'll check my class schedule for next week and let you know what my teachers are up to. I'm expecting at least one class to be cancelled or moved." Cassie was pleased that they could reschedule. "I look forward to hearing from you," she said with a yawn and quickly apologized. "Alright Cass, I'm going to let you get back to sleep. Rest is good for you. Feel better soon. Eat your soup." "Will do. Talk to you later." Cassie set her phone back on the night stand and drifted back to sleep. When she woke up later, her stomach was growling for food. She was feeling more stable on her feet than before and her fever was gone. She texted her mom to say she was making soup. In the kitchen pantry, Cassie had a choice between chicken noodle and tomato. Her body was in the mood for tomato so she went with that. She had some oyster crackers in the cabinet and made a grilled cheese sandwich to go along with it. She ate her soup and sandwich in the study while ignoring her email and catching up on the news. This food in her stomach was much more fortifying and she was feeling better within the next hour. Next Cassie took a nice warm shower and put on a fresh pair of pajamas. She stripped the sheets from her bed and put them in the washing machine with the towels from the bathroom and kitchen. Cassie took her cell phone and puzzle book into the living room and turned on the television.
There was a special on her local PBS station about the Leo Frank case from Marietta Georgia in the early 1900s. Leo Frank, a New York Jewish man living in the south, had probably been wrongfully accused of murdering a teenage girl who worked at the pencil factory where he was a superintendent. There was a fair amount of anti-Semitism and resent against him being a Northerner in the case and some key evidence was ignored by the court because Frank seemed creepy to people. In truth, he was a nervously shy person who mostly kept to himself; even his wife did not fully understand him. There was reason to believe that Jim Conley, one of the Black men working in the factory as a janitor, may have actually been the killer. His testimony in court claimed that he had assisted Frank in taking the lifeless girl's body from the upstairs office to the basement. He also claimed that Frank had paid him two-hundred dollars for the service. The coroner reported that the girl had been strangled and probably raped, and the police found that the pay she had come to retrieve that day had been stolen, which could have been a motive for Conley. The court proceedings were already biased against Frank and he was given a death sentence. When that sentence was commuted to life in prison by the out-going governor, a lynch mob found the prison where he had been moved, took him back to Marietta, and hung him. It was a case of an outsider not being understood by the community. The town of Marietta could deal with Black people such as Jim Conley, to a degree, but not with Jews. It was a very interesting show, such that Cassie did not get any of her puzzle done. She changed the station to find a movie afterward. There was one showing on HBO that she had been wanting to see. Outside her front window the snow was falling heavily. The thermometer she had stuck to the outside of the window read twenty-eight degrees. Cassie went to make herself another cup of tea during one of the commercials breaks and moved her laundry to the dryer. She also grabbed her mail from the mail chute. There were two manila envelopes – one from yesterday and today's mail. Cassie threw them away and poured her tea. Betsy came to sit on the blanket Cassie had across her legs for a while during a segment of the movie. They had a quiet evening together and Cassie went to bed early.
The next morning Cassie was feeling almost back to normal. She chose Cream of Wheat for breakfast instead of oatmeal and hot cocoa instead of tea. Cassie's mom sent her a text asking if she was feeling any better. Cassie called her back and they had a quick chat. "What are you planning to do today honey?" her mom wanted to know. "I'm just going to take it easy, do some reading, watch some tv. I might go grocery shopping this afternoon. I need to buy some juice and a few other things." Cassie mom suggested that she also pick up some vitamins to strengthen her immune system. "I'll go into GNC or somewhere while I'm out. There's some vitamin store in the shopping strip on the way to the grocery store. I'll figure out something." They talked a little longer about how Cassie might have gotten the stomach bug but there was no clear culprit. "I did go out to eat at a diner on Thursday night but it wasn't like I had food poisoning or anything." "Is there any sort of bug going around at work?" Cassie's mom asked. "I don't think so. When I go back tomorrow I'll ask around. Maybe someone's kid caught something from school and their mom or dad brought it to work. I think I'm gonna go do some reading now." "Alright baby, give me a call later. I love you." "Love you too Mom. Bye." Cassie went back to lounge in bed with a book for a while. Sometime later she got a text from Stu asking if she was feeling any better. She responded: I am, thanks. Thinking of going for groceries later. Might I drop my list again and see you there? Stu said that if she told him what time she would be losing her list, he would be there to pick it up for her. They agreed upon five o'clock, which gave Cassie enough time to find the vitamin store to stock up before it closed. She read until just before four, hopped into a quick shower, and was out the door by four-twenty.
It was a GNC in the shopping center near the grocery store. Cassie was able to describe what she was looking for and the woman working there was able to find a few suggestions to match her needs. Cassie chose a multivitamin for women with all the daily minerals she could need. Cassie stowed her purchase in her trunk and continued on to the grocery store. She arrived a little early so she sat in her car writing out her list. She remembered to include juice. At five, Cassie went inside the store foyer to wait near the shopping carts. Stu strolled in a minute later. "Where's your list?" he asked first, "You have to at least drop it on the floor." Cassie took her list from her pocket and dropped it on the floor. Stu bent down and picked it up. "I think you dropped this," he said holding out the list. "No, that's not mine," Cassie joked while still taking the list back. They got their carts and started through the store together. Again Cassie had written a list and Stu had not. "It's nice to see you feeling better, and good to know you had a legitimate reason for cancelling yesterday. Know how you got sick?" Cassie picked out a few apples, "I'm not sure. I thought maybe someone from work may have had a contagious kid, you know how kids at school just pass the same cold around and around and it just keeps mutating." Stu picked up some oranges. "Did you get some soup yesterday?" Cassie decided to grab a few grapefruits for breakfast that week. "I had some tomato soup, yes. Both you and my mother insisted so how could I refuse." "I'm glad to know I'm on the same page as your mother." They took their carts from the produce section and started perusing the aisles. "By the way," Cassie said, "I was in the library the other night and the librarian I spoke to there had a few helpful suggestions." They spoke about the differences between working for a private company versus a university. "Well, if you're working for some company, you're only doing research for what that company does. You'd want to make sure you really liked their specialty," Stu said while picking out some canned vegetables. "True, but don't you think you'll get the same questions every year as new students come to a school? Teachers might not change their assignments for every new group of students they get every semester," Cassie grabbed a few cans of black beans. "The librarian also told me that working at a university might mean doing research for the faculty too, or at least assisting them with their research." Stu picked up a few boxes of macaroni and cheese. "So which sounds more appealing to you: Researching one specific area for a company or one specific area for a school?" Cassie picked up a box of pasta salad mix and looked at the instructions. "I'm not sure. I suppose that's why the librarian showed me a few resources and told me to contact some people working in specialized libraries. He mentioned something about shadowing them for a day or two, which would give me a sense of what the day-to-day work is like." The pasta salad mix only required oil and water so Cassie put it in her cart. "Shadowing is a great idea. It'll really help you decide if that's the kind of job you want. Any other areas of interest besides libraries?" Stu took the pasta salad mix back out of her cart to look at it before getting a box for himself. "I just want to find something a little different that will still use my science background."
They continue meandering up and down the aisles until Cassie had gotten every item on her list and Stu was satisfied that he had not forgotten anything. When they got to the registers, Stu let Cassie go first on the condition that she would not run away like she had the previous week. Cassie had a few more bags this week and it would have been awkward to try and saunter away while pushing a cart. She waited until Stu was finished and they walked out to their cars together. Cassie's car was parked closer to Stu helped put the bags in the trunk. "So…" Cassie said as she closed the trunk. "So…" Stu said as he pushed her empty cart to the nearby corral. "You'll let me know about this week then?" Cassie asked as she opened the driver's side door but did not get in. "Yeah, of course. I should've checked that before I came here but the thought hadn't occurred to me." Stu moved one step closer. "Ah, no worries. There's still plenty of time and I have a pretty flexible schedule anyway." Cassie had unconsciously crossed her arms because of the cold but she consciously uncrossed them to seem more open. She was not expecting some random makeout sessions but a hug was not out of the question. "Okay, so I'll see you later this week?" Stu took his hands out of his pockets but then did not know what to do with them. "Yeah, whatever night you're free," Cassie said, "I'm gonna go now, I don't want to catch another cold." That seemed to jolt Stu out of his nervousness, "Oh, yeah, of course. I'll see you later." He gave her a quick one-armed hug and wheeled his groceries off to his car. Cassie climbed into hers and started the engine. "That wasn't so bad," she said to herself as she buckled her seat belt. She pulled out of her parking spot and waved to Stu as she drove past him and headed home.