Win Hamilton gingerly opened one eye, then the other, as if doing so might result in changing her environment or circumstances. Nope. She was still in the ugly hospital bed which had been placed in the middle of her beautifully appointed living room. She had lovingly decorated her two-story condo in downtown Pittsburgh over the course of a year until it precisely matched the vision she had created for it. She had filled the airy, light-filled space with ultra-modern furniture, and had chosen a minimalistic style and color pallet of varying hues of whites and greys. She had selected every piece of furniture, every accessory, every drawer pull to be beautiful and functional. There was nothing fussy or unnecessary. Win didn’t do fussy. Her mantra for design, whether it be architecture, her chosen profession, or interior design, was “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” This quote, from nineteenth-century textile designer and author William Morris, informed every design project she undertook, whether personal or professional.
The hospital bed she currently found herself in was indeed functional, but it was not beautiful. In fact, it was, in a word, hideous. The faux wood plastic footboard and headboard, and the black metal frame and side rails somehow made her feel like she was in a B grade horror movie, strapped down, helplessly awaiting whatever awful fate was drawing near. She had tried to find a less ugly bed, but the ones advertised as “stylish” and “sophisticated” on the various medical equipment websites she had visited were equally as revolting. But of course, she had bigger problems than an ugly, rented hospital bed. She was stuck in bed with a broken leg that was ensconced in a cast that extended from her foot to past her knee, and she had to keep her leg elevated for hours at a time. She really couldn’t get around without help, and the home health aides were useless. Timid and hesitant, they skittered around her like little mice, fussing over her until she wanted to scream.
From her hospital bed, Win could see into her home office just enough to observe the floating white shelves, muted glass topped desk, and the white leather sofa where she would sit for hours, reading and reviewing designs and project plans. She longed to be sitting in the grey leather desk chair that fit her body like a glove. From the hospital bed, Win could not see the many framed articles and accolades she had collected over the years. She had been featured in several “thirty under thirty” and “forty under forty” designations of up-and-coming or successful local, regional, and even national professionals. She had graduated from Cornell University, which was one of the top architecture schools in the country, studying for her bachelors and then masters, and was subsequently hired by a top firm in New York City, working on huge construction projects of high-rise luxury apartment buildings. Everything she touched turned to gold, and before long, the firm’s developer clients insisted that she, and only she, lead their projects. Most of the new business at her firm had come from the publicity and accolades she had generated, not to mention her immense reputation and abilities. After fifteen years, realizing that the real money lay in land development, she and a co-worker started their own firm, buying land to develop shopping centers, huge corporate complexes, and luxury residential buildings like the one she lived in. They opened their firm in Pittsburgh, where there was a lot of opportunity for development, but soon their reputation traveled around the world and they were hired for projects around the country and even internationally. In a few years, the firm was so successful that Win did not need to work. But she craved the high of finding fallow land, transforming it into something useful or beautiful, then watching it turn a huge profit for her. There was nothing like the feeling she experienced as she watched the zeros pile up in her bank account and investment portfolio. She was set for life. She was practically untouchable.
“Kimberly,” Win called loudly and somewhat officiously. “Can you get my files on the Winslow project from my desk?” As an afterthought she added, “Please.”
Win’s newest assistant had been with her for only a few months when Win had her skiing accident in Austria. Win had been vacationing in December with her French mogul boyfriend, Jean-Claude, whom she had met a year ago at an architecture association meeting. He, as the founder of a multi-national real estate development company, served on a panel that she had attended. Sure, he was self-absorbed, vain, and sometimes shallow and materialistic. But if Win was honest with herself, which was getting easier and easier to do being left alone with her thoughts for hours on end, she was in firm possession of those qualities as well.
She and Jean-Claude always had a good time together, jet setting around the globe to luxury vacation hotspots for long weekend getaways easily achieved thanks to his private jet. On the most recent trip, they had been at a ski resort in Austria, hitting the slopes in the mornings, reading by the fire or hiking in the afternoons, and then enjoying dinner at the finest restaurants, followed by clubbing. On the last day of their trip she had come off the gondola and lost her balance. Instead of pausing to right herself, Win tucked into position, put her poles under her arms and sailed down the slope. She had been going too fast and with the momentum and speed, she couldn’t regain her balance, and instead wind-milled her arms. She knew she was going to fall, and was able to shift into the snow plow position to try to slow down. She headed for the side of the slope and crashed into a row of snowy bushes on the far side of the slope. She heard her leg crack. The pain was excruciating. She had to be carted off the slope by the ski patrol, then airlifted to the hospital. From there it was all a blur. Painkillers, sedatives, anesthesia—she was pretty much out of it.
When she finally awoke, she had expected to find Jean-Claude by her side. Instead, Giselle, his assistant, was reading a magazine in the chair next to her bed. It was Giselle who explained to Win that she had broken her leg in several places, and that a metal rod had been placed in her leg during surgery.
As she listened to Giselle go on and on, all Win could think was what a disappointment Jean-Claude had turned out to be. He should have been there. As soon as it was obvious that Win could no longer be his happy-go-lucky companion and that she would need round-the-clock care for several weeks in a rehab facility, he had disappeared. He did, however, make arrangements to pay for all of her care in an expensive facility in Vienna, which she could have easily done herself. That was a month ago, and she hadn’t heard from him since.
At least he sent his plane to bring me back home.
Distraction. She needed a distraction. She hated to admit it, but his desertion hurt her feelings. True, many of her colleagues and acquaintances might be surprised to know that she even had feelings, but that was beside the point. She didn’t want to think about Jean-Claude anymore. Work. She would think about work. That was the most important thing in her life after all. Work had always helped her through many rough times. When she threw herself into designing or negotiating a land deal, she felt every burden lift off of her, and she became one with whatever project she was working on.
“Kimberly,” she yelled again. “Where’s that file?”
“Coming, Miss Hamilton,” Kimberly called from the kitchen where she was preparing a tray of food she had just unpacked from the delivery boxes. She organized the sushi on a small plate along with the sliced cucumbers soaked in vinegar, edamame, and a small bowl of miso soup. She placed a glass of lukewarm water and several dipping sauces on the tray, and walked into the living room.
“It took you long enough,” Win groused, as Kimberly placed the tray on the swing table that was attached to the bed rail and positioned in front of Win.
“Sorry,” Kimberly said, “the delivery was late. I’ll get you that file now.”
“Well, don’t get it now,” Win said, picking up her fork. “I can’t look at it while I’m eating, now can I?”
Kimberly did not reply for a moment and then said, very quietly, “Why are you so nasty? All I’m doing is trying to help you, since no one else will. The least you can do is be grateful and say thank you every once in a while. And as far as my continuing employment, you’re going to have to find someone else to help you with your personal needs. I’ll stay on as your professional assistant, but that’s it.”
And with that, Kimberly grabbed her coat from the closet and left, closing the door quietly behind her.
Stunned, Win put down her fork. No one had ever spoken to her like that before. Unwanted tears stung her eyes. She pushed the tray table out of the way. She had lost her appetite. Thank goodness her laptop was on the nightstand table and she was able to reach it. Tapping her finger on the track pad, she woke it up and pulled up the list of home healthcare companies that could provide her with someone to replace Kimberly.
She called the first one on the list.
“This is Win Hamilton,” she barked officiously, “I need to hire another aide to start right away.” When the person who had answered did not respond, Win said, “Hello?”
“Just a moment,” the voice finally said. “I’ll transfer you to Ms. Garrison’s office. Hold please.”
After what seemed like an interminable amount of time, Mrs. Garrison, the company’s president, finally picked up the line. “Hello, Miss Hamilton,” she said coolly. “I understand that you need another home health aide, but I’m afraid we won’t be able to accommodate you this time. But I’d be happy to suggest a few other companies to call.”
“And why is that?” Win asked, irritated.
“Miss Hamilton, we have sent you three aides in the past week and you have fired all of them. The last one you sent back after just an hour. It seems that we aren’t suited to each other.”
“Oh,” Win replied. “I didn’t realize it was that many. But surely there must be someone I haven’t tried yet. You must have more than three employees?”
There was a long pause and then Mrs. Garrison said, “It’s not a matter of how many employees we have, Miss Hamilton. We have decided to sever our relationship with you, for the sake of our employees. Now, if you’d like a list of other places you can call…” Win interrupted, “No, don’t bother.” She ended the call and carefully placed the phone down on the table, resisting the urge to hurl it across the room.
For the first time in a very long time, Win didn’t know what to do. And to make matters worse, she needed to use the ladies room, but was under strict instructions not to get out of bed without help. But what was she supposed to do?
She swung out from the torso so she was sitting on the edge of the mattress, grabbed the crutches leaning against the bed, and positioned them under her arms. So far, so good. The physical therapist had been so annoying, telling her not to take things too fast and not to push herself. Her recovery would take time and if she did too much, she would suffer a setback. She had broken her tibia in two places, and her fibula, and the surgery, or rather surgeries, required to patch her up had been quite extensive.
Carefully, Win lifted herself up off the bed and leaned forward to put all of her weight on the crutches and her good leg. She wrapped her hands firmly around the crutch handles, and putting all of her weight on the crutches, swung her good leg forward about a foot, careful not to put any weight on her broken leg, just as the physical therapist had taught her. She brought the crutches forward simultaneously. How she longed to go upstairs to her master bedroom, complete with a steam shower and heated floors. Thinking of the heated floors made her look outside. Another mid-January snow storm howled outside her window and the pretty morning’s snow had been replaced by sleet.
Win had just reached the bathroom when she took her hand off one crutch to reach for the door handle. That’s when her good foot skidded a little, just enough for her to slightly lose her balance. She was able to hold onto the crutch so that she didn’t actually fall to the floor, as much as she just eased herself down, stretching out on her left side. It was obvious that she had not hurt herself in any way. She did a mental checklist. There was no pain in her leg. She looked at the cast and the position of the leg. Nothing looked out of place. So the only problem that remained was how she was going to get up from the floor. Knowing that she couldn’t get up herself, she moved to a sitting position and had to scoot backwards on her rear end, using her hands to lift her up.
By the time she had reached the bed, she was sweating profusely through her silk pajamas. She reached as far up as she could to try to grab her phone off the tray table, but it was too high. She strained to pull the lever, and lowered the table, until she could finally feel around with her hand reach her phone. Relief swept over her. But who to call? Kimberly had made it clear that she was no longer going to help her. Her sister, Autumn, lived only an hour away in Finch’s Crossing, but that would have to be a last resort. There was no getting around it—she would have to call 911. As she lifted her hand to tap out the digits, her front door opened and Kimberly emerged from the foyer into the living room.
“Oh, Miss Hamilton,” Kimberly cried, running to Win’s side. “What happened? Why are you out of bed?”
“After you deserted me,” Win said pointedly, “I had to use the ladies’ room and there was no one around to help me.”
“Why didn’t you call me?” Kimberly asked. “I’m not heartless. I would have come back. I just had to let off some steam.”
Win, exhausted physically and mentally exhausted, leaned back against the side of the bed. “I honestly don’t know.”
Kimberly helped Win up and took her to and from the powder room. After Win was settled back into bed she said wearily to Kimberly, “If I doubled your salary, would you stay and help me?”
“Isn’t there anyone else who can help you?” Kimberly asked. “Don’t you have relatives nearby? You must know someone who would help you.”
Win sighed. “No, not really. But never mind. I’ll figure something out. You can go now.” Win cringed at her own words, dismissing Kimberly, the only person in the world, it seemed, who cared about her at the moment. Why did she do that?
“Yes, ma’am,” Kimberly said with a mock salute. “I’ll come by again in a few hours with dinner. But after that, we’ve got to figure something else out.”
Autumn Hamilton Rasmussen turned the front door handle of her home in Finch’s Crossing with one hand while groping around in her purse for her ringing phone. “Hello,” she said distractedly, noticing that she did not recognize the number.
“Mrs. Rasmussen, this is Kimberly Hoyt,” said the voice. “I’m Win’s personal assistant.”
Autumn froze in the doorway, and then scooted out of the way as her husband, Ethan, brushed past with two large suitcases. “Is she okay?” Autumn asked, suddenly worried. She had so little interaction with her older sister, and it seemed out of character for Win to have her assistant call her.
“I guess that depends on your definition of okay,” Kimberly said. “She’s been having a rough time since the accident…”
Autumn interrupted her, “What accident?”
“She didn’t tell you?” asked a confused Kimberly.
“Tell me what?” Autumn asked, as she joined Ethan at the car and slid into the passenger seat. “Did you remember your snacks?” she asked Ethan in a whisper, cradling the phone on her shoulder and fastening her seatbelt.
Ethan scrunched up his face in confusion, but nodded his head.
“She had a skiing accident in Austria about a month ago and broke her leg,” Kimberly was saying. “She was at a rehab center there for a while, but now she’s home and she needs at least another month of almost-full time home care. She’s still pretty much bedridden.”
“Oh, thank goodness,” Autumn said, “I was afraid you were going to tell me that she was dead.” When Kimberly didn’t say anything, Autumn continued. “Sorry, bad joke. Of course it’s terrible. Who’s been looking after her until now?”
“Look, Mrs. Rasmussen,” Kimberly said, obviously frustrated. “Long story short, your sister has pretty much run out of people who are willing to help her. She’s been blacklisted by two home healthcare companies already and as far as I can tell, she doesn’t have any friends, at least not any real friends. I’ve been taking care of her, but I’m at the end of my rope. I can’t do it anymore, and besides, I’m not qualified to administer medical aid. I found you in her contacts in her phone while she was sleeping. I’ve told her I’ll stay on as her professional assistant, but she’s got to make other arrangements for a home aide. She’s also giving the physical therapists a lot of grief, and on top of that, I think she may have an infection from one of her incisions.”
“Sounds like Win,” Autumn responded. “I’m actually on my way to Pittsburgh now to drop my husband at the airport. I’ll swing by once that’s done. Will you stick around until I get there?”
“I guess so,” Kimberly responded grudgingly.
Autumn didn’t blame Kimberly. Win was a handful and could alienate people in a matter of seconds. It was a wonder that she had gotten as far as she had in her career, but despite her coarseness, she had become a superstar architect and entrepreneur.
“Okay,” Autumn answered. She looked at her watch. “I’ll see you in two hours, tops. Hang in there. And Kimberly, thanks for calling.”
Autumn ended the call and blew out a deep breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. She turned to Ethan, who had driven them out of Finch's Crossing and onto the Interstate. “Win’s had an accident and is stuck in bed with a broken leg. Apparently there isn’t anyone to help her anymore. She’s alienated everyone she knows.”
At the mention of his sister-in-law, Ethan bristled. There was no love lost between he and Win. He had known Win long before he met and fell in love with Autumn, and was utterly flabbergasted when he learned that Win was Autumn’s sister.
Autumn put her hand on his arm and he visibly relaxed. “It’s a good thing you’re going on this trip,” she said, “because I think I’m going to be driving to Pittsburgh a lot to look in on Win.”
* * *
After dropping Ethan off at the terminal, Autumn scooted into the driver’s seat, adjusted the mirrors and merged into the busy airport traffic. While she was going to miss Ethan terribly, as would her step-daughter, seven-year-old Heather, Autumn was relieved beyond measure that he would be gone for a month, litigating a case for a mining company in South Africa.
Before she exited the airport, it dawned on Autumn that she had never been to Win’s condo, and although she had the address, she had no idea where it was. This thought saddened her. Years ago as little girls, the four Hamilton sisters had been the best of friends. Their Bohemian parents had named them after the seasons, and as a result, they were easy targets for merciless bullying in school. Winter, the eldest, was bullied the most. By the time she was in high school, Win was extraordinarily beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that people were so intimidated that they turned their jealousy into bullying. Winter responded by cultivating an air of aloofness, and could be pretty mean herself, either directly, or in her particular version of passive aggressiveness. By the time Winter was a senior, she had earned the nickname “Ice Queen.” At that point, it seemed as if Win just closed in on herself, and shut everyone out, including her family. When she left home for college, she legally changed her name from Winter to Win, and used her steely demeanor to excel. She was valedictorian of her graduating class and landed a dream job right out of college. And although she lived in Pittsburgh, just an hour away from Finch’s Crossing, she rarely made it home. And when she did, she was in and out like a lightning bolt, sometimes in less than twenty-four hours.
Sighing at the painful memories, Autumn pulled back over to the curb and tapped Win’s address into the navigation feature on her phone. She found herself driving into downtown and pulled up in front of a modern and no doubt luxury high-rise building. When she pulled to the curb to figure out where to park, a uniformed doorman emerged, helped her out of her car, and then whisked it away.
I really hope this is the right building, Autumn thought, as she watched Ethan’s beloved vintage Jaguar sedan disappear around the corner.
Autumn looked up at the mirrored high rise, almost getting dizzy as her gaze moved up, story after story after story.
“Here goes,” she said aloud, and entered the building with the help of another doorman who held the door open and directed her to the elevators. He had practically tipped his hat and clicked his heels. Autumn made her way across the marble-floored lobby. Elegant modern furniture and huge striking paintings completed the look. A woman stood behind a long glass counter with a sign that read “Concierge.” Autumn looked up and saw two huge mirrored chandeliers hanging down from the atrium. She was dazzled. But then, everything that she had ever seen about Win dazzled her. Except her demeanor. Well, also her selfishness. And conceit.
Come off it, Autumn scolded herself, as she pushed the up button to call the elevator. She was there to help her sister, not dig up past hurts and old wounds.
As she waited, Autumn looked at her reflection in the mirrored elevator door. She was wearing faded jeans, a retro Charlie’s Angels t-shirt, and her trademark red cowboy boots. Her black wool coat was open because it was missing at least one button. She reasoned that she hadn’t had time to change when she had gotten the call from Kimberly, and she couldn’t have been expected to, either. She had planned to drop Ethan off at the airport and head straight back to Finch’s Crossing and her studio, where she was in full swing getting ready for a show of her paintings in Arizona.
Finally, the elevator arrived and the doors opened. Autumn stepped on. More mirrors. She imagined Win in elegant silk pajamas with her hair perfectly coiffed. She probably had a manicurist come to do her nails while she was bedridden. Oh, how Autumn despised herself when she got tangled up in this loop, comparing herself to her older sister.
Just a few hours ago, she, Ethan, and Heather had been enjoying a farewell breakfast at the island in their kitchen in Finch’s Crossing, Heather reciting the poem she had composed for Ethan’s trip, and reminding him to FaceTime them every day. The memory calmed Autumn and she pressed the button for the penthouse. She found her heart thudding just a tiny bit when she knocked on Win’s door. A young woman, beautifully turned out in a burgundy wool dress with a high collar, long sleeves and high-heeled boots opened the door.
“You must be Kimberly,” Autumn said as she stepped in and the girl moved aside.
“You have no idea how glad I am that you’re here,” Kimberly whispered as she took Autumn’s coat and hung it in a closet. “She’s in the living room and she just woke up so she’s going to be cranky.”
“When isn’t she cranky?” Autumn observed, and she was relieved that Kimberly gave a little laugh.
“Anyway,” Kimberly said. “I have to go to the office to pack up some files and then go home to get my own things ready. I’m guessing we’ll be there about a month.”
Autumn was confused. “Be where?”
“At your place, of course. But don’t worry, I’ll bring everything with us, including the hospital bed. You’ll need to put it in a downstairs room.”
“Wait a second, back up,” Autumn said, pulling her hobo handbag tightly over her shoulder, as if she was getting ready to leave. “Win thinks she’s coming to my house?”
“After I told her about our conversation, she said you wouldn’t mind,” Kimberly answered matter-of-factly, “and that you couldn’t stay with her here so going to Finch’s Crossing is the only solution.”
“But, but,” Autumn stuttered, amazed at the liberties her sister was taking. Her mind whirred. Of course there was room to accommodate Win. Their large Victorian family home had originally been built for a family of six children. The morning room off the kitchen, where Autumn loved to take her first cup of coffee and read the newspaper in front of the fire, would be sufficient. “But why are you going home to pack your things?"
“You don’t think I’d let her lose on you without any back up, do you?” Kimberly asked, grinning. “She and I have come to an understanding that I can live with. I was on the verge of quitting. I’ve arranged to stay at the Greystone Manor Inn,” she said, referring to Finch’s Crossing only hotel and fine dining restaurant. “I can do a lot of my work there, and I’ll come over for a few hours every day to consult with her. She’s got a big project underway and she is going to freak out if we don’t get going on it. Believe me, you don’t want to see her when she’s freaking out.”
No I don’t, Autumn thought. She’d seen plenty of Win’s temper over the years. It’s just like Win to throw herself on me, with no consideration of my feelings or circumstances at all.
Autumn followed Kimberly through the foyer into the sunny, light-filled living room. Everything, from the walls to the furniture to the art, was grey and white. There was no warmth at all. Win had painted herself into her own home.
“Hello, Autumn,” she heard Win’s voice say. Autumn moved toward the sound and saw her sister, as expected, looking beautiful in silk pajamas propped up on pillows in a hideous hospital bed. Autumn moved to the bedside and upon closer inspection noticed that Win’s hair was greasy, and despite her beauty, her pallor was grey. Just like her condo.
“Hello, yourself,” Autumn said. “Why didn’t you tell anyone you’d been in an accident?”
Win shrugged. “There wasn’t any reason to. There was nothing you could have done and I didn’t want anyone making a fuss.”
“I’m not sure you coming to the house is the right move,” Autumn said, changing the subject. “It’s not like we are going to wait on you and take care of your every whim. We simply can’t. I’ve got a show to get ready for, and Heather has school, violin and ballet. Not that there’s much a seven-year-old can do to help. And then there’s Ethan. Have you stopped to consider how he might feel about this?”
Win picked at an imaginary thread on her blanket. “As a matter-of-fact, I called his office to talk to him and his assistant said he was going to be away for the next month. So that is a non-issue.”
“Exactly,” Autumn agreed. “Which brings everything back to me. There’s only me to take care of you.”
“We can get a home health aide to come in every day and every night, too. They do that you know.”
“I hear you’re having trouble keeping people around,” Autumn pointed out.
Win had the decency to look sheepish. “I’ll need to turn over a new leaf.”
Autumn crossed her arms over her chest, and realized she was still holding on to her handbag. She dropped it to the floor and sat down on the side of the bed. Win looked tired and haggard.
“You’re not looking so good, Win,” Autumn said, and she was shocked to see tears rolling down her sister’s face.
“Yeah, I don’t think I’m doing too good,” Win answered.
Autumn knew how hard it was for her icy sister to ask for help, so Autumn saved her the humiliation of having to ask. “Okay then, let’s get you packed up and ready to go.”
Win reached over and squeezed her sister’s hand. Autumn looked up in surprise at the gesture, and it was then that her gaze wandered above Win’s head into the dining room, where three of Autumn’s paintings hung over a low, glass credenza. The paintings were from Autumn’s abstract period, when she used shimmery shades of whites and silvers on broad brush strokes. She returned her gaze to Win. “What?” Win said.
“I would have gladly given you any of my paintings,” Autumn whispered, choking back tears. She had no idea that her sister even knew what her paintings looked like, much less owned three of them.
Win shrugged and withdrew her hand, and returned to her old, steely demeanor. “Kimberly will get me packed up today and I’ll plan to arrive tomorrow afternoon. That should give you plenty of time to get ready.”
Yeah, no, Autumn thought. There isn’t enough time in the world to get ready for this.
As Autumn drove home, her mind clicked through all that she had to do, not the least of which would be to tell Summer, the youngest Hamilton sister and proud owner of a yoga studio in town, that Win was coming to stay. For years, Win had been particularly critical of Summer, not hiding her disappointment with Summer’s ten years of traveling the globe, living on the road, working part-time, often in low-paying jobs, when she had a perfectly good inheritance to live on. But Summer had saved the money for just the right use, and opening her yoga studio was it. Did Win even know that Summer was living in Finch’s Crossing now? Autumn wondered. It had probably not occurred to Summer to tell Win. Autumn thought back to the grand opening of Summer’s yoga studio six months earlier. Had she called or emailed Win and invited her to attend? No. It had never occurred to her, either. What did that say about her? What did that say about all of them?