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The BLue Note 

Sara Schmachtenberger

“Here you go Ellie,” Lou slides a cocktail napkin towards me and places a glass of scotch on top. “Long day?” 

“The term ‘long day’ is a masterpiece of understatement,” I say, taking a sip. 

“Hard one huh?” 


I nod, unwilling to rehash the grim details of the last hours of my shift and watch as he takes the cue, grabs a towel, throws it over his shoulder and sets to work washing glasses at the far end of the bar. 


My finger plays with the edge of the napkin and runs across the cobalt blue type that spells out The Blue Note. I take another sip and savor the smooth icy burn that slides down my throat and look around. Long gone are the after work happy hour social set, the ones meeting for a few drinks with coworkers before heading to their homes at a respectable hour. Now, it’s peppered with those seeking a night cap and a quiet conversation or like myself, sitting at the bar sipping our liquid self reflection with our own thoughts and the occasional company of the bartender. 


I close my eyes and focus on the velvety voice of Nina Simone as it pours out from the speakers and blankets the muffled sounds of conversations around me. I allow it to carry me off, away from the stark white walls of the emergency department and it’s miles of sterile cold linoleum. But the respite doesn’t last long. I begin to feel the cold steel as it presses against my throat, my arms pinned to my sides as the desperate man behind me demands a fix and then a getaway. What follows is a jumble of movement and disorder that I’m told lasted only an hour but felt like an eternity. It projects across the theater of my mind like a sickening blur, until it rests on the pair of soft but commanding hazel eyes that provided a life preserver in an ocean of chaos. Silently promising me it would all be over soon and that I was safe, he would insure it. 


I open my eyes and roll my head from shoulder to shoulder desperate to relieve the tension that has turned my muscles into granite. 


“Mind if I join you?” A low voice asks over my shoulder. 


I sigh heavily and shake my head. “Actually, I’ve had a really rough night-” “Yeah you have.” 


I glance to my side to see what poor soul has been sent here from across the street to check on me. 


“May I?” He asks, brushing his dark wavy hair back and revealing those familiar eyes. 


“Um, yeah, sorry.” I move my bag. “I didn’t realize...” 


Lou reappears, “What can I get you?” 


“Guinness, please.” 


I watch as Lou pops the cap off the bottle and places it on top of the napkin in front of him. 


“Thank you.” He nods at Lou and then turns his body and attention to me. “We didn’t get a chance to properly meet, you’re Eleanor?” 


“Ellie, I go by Ellie.”


“Nice to meet you Ellie, I’m Griffin.” He holds up his bottle and nods. 


“Griffin,” I taste his name and tip my glass in response. “Thank you for what you did back there.” 


“You did all the work. You remained calm, listened to instructions, you handled yourself remarkably well under the circumstances.” 


“I sure didn’t feel like it on the inside. I can’t tell you how many hours of training we’ve received in the emergency department for this exact scenario-,” my voice catches in my throat. 


Leaning forward, he shakes his head. “There’s no amount of training that fully prepares anyone for what you’ve just been through.” 


I nod and let out a long breath. “Thank you.” 


“You’re welcome.” 


Lou returns and offers to freshen my drink. Griffin relaxes against the backrest of his stool as he makes polite conversation with him. This affords me the opportunity to familiarize myself with more than just his compelling eyes. 


Everything about him says strong, from his defined jaw to his broad chest. He even makes the beer bottle he holds in his large hand appear small. 


A small flutter of appreciation forms in my stomach but after the events of the past few hours, it’s all I can muster. I take another sip of my drink and listen to Lou’s questions and his polite answers about being on the Chicago PD.


“I don’t know how people like you and Ellie here do it. But I’m mighty grateful for your service.” 


“Thank you, I appreciate that.” Griffin smiles and then turns his attention back to me. “How long have you been a nurse?” 


“Just over ten years.” 


“How many in the ED?” 


“About 8 of them.” 


He whistles low in appreciation. “That’s a hard gig.” 


I nod. “There’s rarely a dull moment. What about you, how long have you been on the force?” 


“Almost fifteen years now.” He takes a pull on his beer. 


“Ever think of doing anything different?” 


His eyebrows raise and he swallows. “Should I?” 


“No, that’ isn’t...that’s not what I meant.” I stammer and let out a nervous laugh. 


“OK, just checking.” He chuckles. “Thought maybe you were critiquing my performance on the job.” 


I realize he’s joking and I can’t help but laugh. 


“What about you? Ever think of doing anything different?”


I run my finger along the rim of my glass and nod. “More so lately. I’m growing tired of the fast paced, non-stop exhaustion. I feel like if I’m not looking at a patient or a chart then I’m looking at the inside of my eyelids. There isn’t much time for anything else.” I take a sip of my drink and swallow the lump that’s forming in the back of my throat. 


I look up to find him staring at me intently, almost willing me to continue, so I acquiesce. “Then tonight, after being held at knifepoint, I feel it’s time to give myself the permission that I’ve been looking for.” 


“Permission to…” He leans in closer and motions for me to continue to elaborate. 


“To find something slower paced, that will allow room for more than just work and sleep. To get a life.” I choke on the last word. “Right now, if something would happen to me, the only person who would miss me is my cat.” I wipe away a stray tear. 


“Parents? Friends?” 


“Back home. Friends are all married with children and living in the suburbs or equally exhausted coworkers.” 


“Where’s home?” 


“It’s a small town, you’ve probably never heard of it. It’s about three hours west

from here, Galena.” 


“No kidding? Dubuque!” He smiles and points to himself. “East river.” “You’re a Warrior?” I gasp.


The next hour or so flies by as we order two more rounds and discover that not only did we grow up in towns twenty minutes apart, know a lot of the same people but that we graduated from high school only a year apart. We fire off questions back and forth trying desperately to figure out if and when our paths ever crossed. 


“Who took you to prom?” He asks, finishing the last of his beer. “Junior prom I couldn’t go, I had mono.” 


He arches one eyebrow. “Mono? Isn’t that the kissing disease?” 


“Don’t judge,” I sniff. “Senior prom…” I stare off into the middle distance trying to remember. Then it dawns on me. “Actually, you’ll know him, he went to your high school. Tyler Cunningham.” 


“You went to senior prom with Ty Cunningham?” 


“Ty, that’s right!” 


He leans toward me, his eyes narrow slightly. “Did you kiss him?” 


“Mono isn’t contagious that long, I didn’t infect him if that’s why you’re asking.” I laugh. 


He chuckles and shakes his head. “Well, did you? Kiss him?” “No, he wasn’t that into me.” 


“I find that hard to believe.” 


“What, that someone could resist this?” I motion to my face and laugh even harder.


He nods. 


My face warms for the second time tonight. “Well, out with it. What’s become of Ty Cunningham?” 


“He’s married, has three kids. I talked to him just the other day as he was putting my nephew to bed.” 


“Your nephew?” 


He nods. “He’s married to my sister.” 


“No way!” I lean forward but misjudge the distance and end up putting my hand on his knee to steady myself. I look down at my hand in horror and up at his face, embarrassed. “I’m so sorry. Long shift, held at knifepoint, empty stomach and two stiff drinks.” 


He smiles. “No complaints here.” 

“I better get home. Lou?” I call down the bar. “I need to close out my tab.” “It’s all taken care of.” He waves and then points at Griffin. 


“Thank you, that was very kind of you.” I say as I lower myself off the stool and thread my head and shoulder through the strap of my bag, placing it on my hip. 

He stands up and towers over me by almost a foot. “How are you getting home?” 

“Oh, I didn’t drive here. I just live two blocks that way.” I point over my shoulder.

“I’ll walk with you?” 


Not sure if that was a question or a statement but I nod all the same. He pushes open the door and holds it for me as we walk out into the crisp night air. 

He follows my lead on the direction to go and falls in step with me which must be hard with his much longer legs. 


“Do you ever miss it? Galena?” 


“I do. I miss seeing the stars at night. It’s funny how I couldn’t wait to get out and move to the big city but now I miss the slow rhythm and simplicity of a smaller town. How about you, do you miss it?” 


“Occasionally. Lately, more so. I was shot in the shoulder and was released back to active duty only a few months ago.” 


I stop. “You were shot?” 


“It was a clean shot and it just got the muscle thankfully. I got lucky.” “That must have been frightening. Do you have any residual pain?” 


“Not anymore. I actually think the shoulder is even stronger from all the rehab. But it makes me wonder if next time I won't be so lucky.” 

He begins walking again and I get the distinct impression that he is done talking about his gunshot wound. 


I walk along with him in silence for a few minutes. Listening to sirens wail a few blocks away and the distant rattling of the elevated train. “Have you

noticed it’s rarely quiet here? There is always noise. I used to find it comforting but now it seems to just pollute the air.” 


“It’s funny you should say that. My Mom was just here visiting and she told me that all the lights and sounds are over stimulating and are too much.” 


We come to the corner and wait for the light to cross. The crisp night air has turned colder and I shiver in response as I watch the passing cars. 


“You’re cold.” 


I am suddenly enveloped in warmth and the subtle scent of cologne. Placing his jacket around my shoulders he then stands in front of me and pulls the lapels closer together. 


My head swims as I look up at him. 


“Better?” He asks, rubbing his hands on my upper arms. 


All I can manage is a nod as I watch how the lights of passing cars dance across his prominent features. My fingertips begin to ache, wanting to touch the defined edge of his jaw and my eyes fixate on the fullness of his lower lip, making my own tingle. 


A car horn blares, startling us both apart as the crosswalk chime lets us know we now have the right of way. We quickly cross and I motion. “I’m just in this building, here.” 


He follows me up the few steps of the stoop and watches as I put the key in the lock, opening the door.


“Just saying thank you doesn’t seem like enough for everything. The way you handled the situation earlier at the hospital and then for tonight. It’s been an insane whirlwind but somehow I feel very calm.” I reach up and place my hand alongside his cheek. “So, thank you.” I stand on my tip toes and lean up and place a quick kiss on his other cheek. 

I shrug out of his jacket and hand it back to him. As he puts it on I fish for a scrap of paper and a pen in my bag and write my number down on it. 


“Here.” I hand it to him. 


He accepts it and pulls me into a hug and brushes his lips across my cheek. 


“Goodnight Galena.” 


“Goodnight Dubuque, east river.”

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