By Kennedy Northcutt ©2012
See Part 1 for all the important stuff.
Dinner began as a rather quiet affair for both of them, Brandan thought fondly. Terrance kept staring at her lopsided grin and she kept asking, “What?”
Finally, after what seemed like forever (but was more like five minutes) he looked her straight in the eye and said, “You met someone, didn’t you?” Then he rolled his eyes and sniffed a few times, grabbing her hand across the pristinely laundered and pressed tablecloth. “How could you?” He raised his equally pristine white cloth napkin to his dark eyes and wiped them, before suddenly flashing a toothy Cheshire grin. “All right, girl, spill it. What’s her name? Where’s she from? What’s she look like? Is she cute? Is she a looker? Does she have all her teeth? Tell me she isn’t one of those homely lesbian farm girls with short-cropped hair and a stocky build who wears that awful flannel all the time.” He shuddered. “I just can’t see you with someone in flannel, sugar. Mm-mm.” He shook his head.
Brandan just grinned from ear to ear. “Why do you think I met someone?” She shrugged nonchalantly. “Maybe I’m just happy that the weather is finally producing something more than a few scattered flurries.” She lifted her wine to her lips and sipped, never taking her eyes off him. “Maybe I’m just enjoying your company and a rare opportunity to be out away from a hospital or anything medicine-related.”
He gave her a sidelong glare, as their waiter suddenly appeared and placed a bowl of soup in front of each of them. Terrance glanced down at his bowl, then looked up and met her expectant gaze.
“Uh, what’s this?” He scowled.
“Soup,” she set her wine down and lifted her spoon. “Why? Don’t you like soup?”
He tentatively sniffed the green concoction, then winced. “Why does it smell like that? That’s just unnatural. Soup is not supposed to be green, honey.”
“You’re unnatural, Ter,” she lifted her soup to her lips and tasted it. “Try it. It’s delicious.Mmmm.”
Terrance eyed the green soup, picked up his spoon, ladled up the tiniest bit and cautiously tasted it. His face was contorted in grim anticipation, but quickly changed to surprise. “Ooo, sugar, thatis good. Has an earthy flavor. Like something straight out of a garden.” He then ate with gusto until every last drop was gone. “I taste a hint of cucumber and…What kind of soup was that?”
“You have the manners of a street thug, my friend,” Brandan shot him a raised-browed glare. “And it was cucumber soup. Chilled cucumber soup.With a hint of cayenne pepper, cilantro and mint.”
“Mm, not bad,” he rested his forearms on the edge of the table and clasped his hands together. “So, back to our previous discussion. Give me the deets on your mystery woman,” he prodded, pushing his empty bowl to the middle of the table. “I want all the juicy details, especially since this is only our first date and you’re already cheating on me.” He tilted his chin and raised a brow in his best imitation of a stuffy aristocrat. “I am sooooo very disappointed in you for doing that, my dear.”
Brandan nearly snorted soup out her nose, but managed to remain composed enough to continue eating. She took her own sweet time finishing the first course, before returning her attention to her companion. She pushed her empty bowl aside and rested her elbows on the table with her hands clasped in front of her chin.
“There’s really nothing to tell, Ter,” she shrugged. “I was eating lunch down at Papa Leone’s Deli whenthis cute blonde walked in, ordered pastrami on rye and left. End of story.”
He sat there in anticipation of something more, then impatiently huffed when Brandan remained tight-lipped. “And?” He prodded impatiently.
“And,” Brandan reached for her wine, took a slow sip, and set the glass carefully down. She knew it was killing him to have to wring every littledetail out of her and it was all she could do not to burst out laughing at the expression on his face. “And, nothing. There’s really nothing else to tell. We exchanged a few words and she was gone.”
“That’s it?” He blurted in his what’s-wrong-with-you-why-won’t-you-tell-me-more high-pitched whine. “Girl, you gotta give me more, here. I’m dyin’ to know. You’re never interested in any of the women around here. This is such a monumental occasion that it needs to be enjoyed like a fine wine—bouquet and all.” He lifted his own wine glass and took a long swallow. “Oo, that’s delish. Really delish.” He set the glass back down and glared at her. “Spill it, Stone,” he growled. “Or I’m gonna go back to all my peeps and tell them you’re a raving lunatic with neurotic tendencies.”
“They’d never believe you, Terrance,” she flashed a knowing grin. Then she realized she’d pushed him a bit too far and decided to relent. “She was very cute…” His eyes met hers and the unspoken question in them forced her to continue, “Okay, she was the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever seen. She had shoulder-length blonde hair, highlighted with streaks of red and strawberry-blonde. Her eyes were the most expressive bluish-green I’ve ever seen, and when she smiled…” A dreamy smile played at the corners of full lips. “It was like a warm summer breeze passed through the place. I swear she actually glowed like an angel. We exchanged a few brief words and she left. I don’t know where she went. Wasn’t paying much attention after she walked out and let in a blast of icy air that set my hair standing on end. I just went back to reading my book.”
“So, what did you two love birds say to each other?” Terrance asked. “And, please, don’t tell me you talked about the weather. ‘Cause I just can’t do weather. It’s getting nasty and depressing out there, sugar.”
Brandan looked abashedly at him and shrugged.
“Oh, you have got to be kidding me, Brandan honey,” he chided in that high-pitched whine of his. “You did not talk about the weather. Please tell me you didn’t, ‘cause old Terrance can’t take that kind of stupidity. You are a highly revered member of the medical profession, with more awards under your belt and letters after your name than any doctor has a right to possess. What is wrong with you, girl? Why is it so hard for you to speak to people on a normal level? Are you really that socially inept? Were you hiding behind the door like a shy little mouse the day they handed out social grace? Is that why you can’t talk to women and never have a girlfriend?”
“She started it,” Brandan pouted. “And I’m not socially inept, Terrance. I’m just busy. I don’t have time to socialize with anyone, much less visit one of those bars you’re always going on about. Besides, I think she was concerned about the way I was dressed.”
“How were you dressed?”
“In my surgical scrubs and a lab coat.”
“Huh?” He graced her with another shocked look. “How the hell did she notice you, then? You know those things aren’t flattering in the least, honey.Especially the white coat.Makes every woman’s butt look huge.”
“She didn’t seem to mind,” Brandan quirked her brow at him. “Except that she warned me that it was getting colder outside.”
“And your reply was? Miss dare-to-step-out-in-my-thin-cotton-scrubs-like-it’s-summer.” He shot back sarcastically and rolled his eyes for the added effect. “Are you trying to catch your death, girl? I swear you doctors don’t have the sense God gave a gnat when it comes to taking care of yourselves.Always walking around like you’re untouchable.So tough and sassy. One day it’s gonna catch up to your sorry ass and then you’ll be all ‘oh, Terrance, I shoulda listened to you.’” He sat back and gave her a you-know-it’s-true-girl look.
“Maybe so, but I know one thing…”
The waiter came and set their meals in front of them at that moment, effectively cutting off any further conversation.
“What’s that?” He raised a brow at her.
“Roast duck a l’orange?” She answered matter of factly. “It’s French. It’s also what you ordered, Ter.”
“Smart alack,” he growled. “I meant…”
“I know,” she decided to let him off the hook. “If I ever see her again, I won’t hesitate to ask her out to dinner, or coffee, or…something.” She raised two fingers in mock salute. “Scout’s honor.”
He smiled. “You go, girl.” Then he dug into his roast duck and ate it with as much gusto as he had the soup.
They continued eating the rest of their meals in silence, each lost in their own thoughts.
“Penny for your thoughts, chica,” Rosemarie leaned over and whispered to Caitlyn as they sat in their respective chairs for the final rehearsal before the night’s performance.
The gleam in Caitlyn’s eye should have spoken volumes, but she remained silent. She had been in a haze ever since her encounter with the dark-haired, blue-eyed beauty in the deli. After returning to her hotel room, she’d eaten her sandwich and then tried to catch a nap. Unfortunately, she hadn’t been able to sleep a wink. Every time she closed her eyes she saw a pair of sky-blue eyes gazing back at her.
“Just happy, that’s all,” she shrugged.
“Yeah, right,” Rosemarie scoffed as she settled her cello between her legs and rearranged her long, black skirt to make room for the instrument. She adjusted her tuxedo-style jacket as the cello rested against one shoulder. “Spill it, chica, or I’ll tell everyone you’re sleeping with Maestro Abraham.”
Caitlyn shot her friend a warning glare as she settled her own cello. She was dressed in the same tuxedo-style jacket and black skirt. So was everyone else in the orchestra. The only difference was that the men were allowed to wear pants. Caitlyn preferred pants and wanted to speak up about it, but could never bring herself to do so. She just wasn’t quite that assertive when it came to things like that.
Caitlyn put her bow to the strings of her instrument and tested each to make sure they were in tune. She adjusted the tuning knobs, then settled down to wait for the Maestro’s arrival. A calm settled over her as it did just before every performance. She was ready. They were ready. It would be a good performance and the audience would show their appreciation. Okay, maybe they would at least get one standing ovation.
Maestro Abraham appeared from behind the right-stage curtain and loud clapping suddenly erupted from somewhere backstage. Then a blonde head peeked around the curtain and a bejeweled hand waved enthusiastically. The woman bounced up and down with such energy that her breasts nearly spilled out of the low-cut silk blouse she wore.
The orchestra members simply waited for the man to step up to the podium and take his place in front of his music stand. He leafed through his music, settled on a page, then looked up.
“I know we’ve had some difficult and rather tense moments,” his tone was somber. “But know that we represent the best of the best. You are the virtuosos of your craft, and tonight we will make beautiful music together.”
The orchestra members exchanged confused glances, but no one said a word. He raised his baton and they readied themselves. And the music flowed together in perfect synchronization, spilling down to the empty theatre and echoing off the walls.
Brandan pulled her Escalade into the VIP Valet parking circle and waited as a red-coated young man opened her door. A gust of snowy wind blew inside the warm confines of the SUV and Brandan gave the young man who waited patiently for her to exit a sympathetic half-smile. She thought his eyes showed a little too much anticipation, but chalked it up to the fact he would be escaping the cold for a few minutes as he parked her vehicle.
Brandan moved to the glass doors of the theatre and was met by Terrance, who offered his arm with a flourish. In the heels she wore she was practically a full head taller than he was, but that didn’t seem to matter in the least. Terrance was in his element, despite the fancy clothing and charged atmosphere.
“Shall we, my lady?” His voice so unexpectedly and uncharacteristically refined that she did a double-take to make sure she was with the right person.
“You turning British on me all of a sudden, there, Ter?” She took his arm and they went inside the lobby of the theater.
“No,” he raised his chin just slightly with an air of sophistication that nearly sent Brandan into a fit of giggles. “I have always considered myself a connoisseur of the fine arts, my dear.”
She playfully slapped his leather overcoat with her gloves. As they stepped up to the coat-check counter, she covertly slipped a ten dollar bill in his hand. He glanced up at her in question, but took the money, just the same.
“Do take care of our coats, won’t you, Terrance?” She imitated his snooty tone. “It’s a bit warm in here.”
“My pleasure, mum,” he bowed slightly then proceeded to removed her coat, as well as his own.
Brandan watched Terrance step up to the coat-check counter with ease. He looked great in his tailored tuxedo. The black and white ensemble was enhanced with a brightly-colored rainbow bowtie that shimmered in the muted lighting of the lobby. She marveled at how well he was able to adapt to his surrounding and wondered if he hadn’t missed his true calling.
“You would have made a fantastic actor, my friend” she quietly mumbled to herself.
She watched him flirt with the young man behind the counter and frowned slightly when she saw the young man slip a piece of paper into her “date’s” hand. Terrance gave the man a quick salute, then glanced at his hand. A dazzling smile lit his features as he turned and caught Brandan watching him. He quickly rejoined her and gallantly took her arm.
“I’m terribly disappointed in you, Ter,” Brandan feigned disappointment. “We’ve only been here five minutes and already you’re cheating on me. I thought this was a date.”
Terrance scoffed. “He’s really delish, don’t you think, sugar?” He asked, slipping back into his playful banter with ease. “I could take him home and eat him for dessert.”
Brandan let a smile play at the corners of her full lips. “Yes, he is,” she gave him a small grin. “Shall we?”
“Let’s,” he answered, resuming his earlier chin-up snobbish “airs” as they moved to join the rest of the elegantly-dressed theatre goers. “I say. It’s quite lovely, don’t you think?” He made a point of glancing around the entire lobby. “By the way, sugar,” he added in a conspiratorial whisper. “You look fabulous this evening. Is that a new dress you’re wearing?And new shoes? I love the bag, by the way. It is quite fetching.”
He made a point of checking out her floor-length Christian Dior gown in shades of deep burgundy. A multitude of tiny beads shimmered in the muted light and her sandal-adorned toes peeked out from the dress’ fringe. Her dark tresses were swept up into an elegant chignon, with one curled lock dangling enticingly downthe side of her face.
“Thank you, Terrance,” Brandan answered formally, making a point of admiring his attire as well. “You look quite fetching, yourself.”
He grabbed his tie as if to straighten it and lifted his chin another notch. “I say,” he said with the ghost of a smile, “I do believe we are the most handsome couple present. Wouldn’t you agree, my dear?”
Brandan was saved from having to answer or from bursting out in a bout of inappropriate laughter as they stepped up to one of the ushers at the door.
“Tickets, please,” the elderly gentleman held out his hand to receive the requested items.
Terrance had stuffed the tickets intothe inside breast pocket of his jacket for safekeeping and pulled them out with a gentlemanly flourish that bordered a little more on the feminine side. “Here you are, my good man.”
“Right this way, then,” the usher looked them over judgmentally for a moment longer than necessary, beforeescorting them to their seats down front.
Brandan had personally picked her season ticket seats and was paying a pretty penny to keep them, but she didn’t care. In her opinion, sitting third-row center definitely afforded the best view in the house and allowed her to see every angle of the stage. She preferred them to the front row, because those in the front row had to crane their necks to see.
The usher stopped next to the third row and handed the tickets back to Terrance, who stuffed them safely back into his pocket. When they were seated, Terrance turned to Brandan.
“That man needed to take a picture. It would sure last longer,” he glanced over his shoulder and noticed the usher was still staring at them. “Good thing I’m dressed to the nines or I’d go back over there and give him a piece of my mind.”
“Down, boy,” Brandan patted his leg reassuringly. “Just relax and ignore him. We’re here to have a good time, not fight with the bigoted help.”
“Yeah, well…” he crossed his arms over his chest and huffed. “I still don’t like it.”
“Me, either,” Brandan flashed a smile at him. “Just think what he would say if we told him we were both gay.”
Terrance burst out laughing.
“Hey, I thought you said we were going to watch the orchestra rehearsal,” he stared at the closed curtain in front of them.
“We didn’t make it in time,” her eyes scanned the crowd for anyone she knew. “Someone insisted we drive to the theatre, instead of walking. Took us forever to find parking.”
“It’s freezing out there. Beside, you were the one who insisted on having that giant piece of cheesecake for dessert,” he chided with an overdramatic eye roll. “You know what they say about that, don’t you? A moment on the lips…”
“Hey, I like to savor my cheesecake,” she shot back with an arched brow. “Besides, the performance will be a lot better than rehearsal. I guarantee it.”
“Yeah, but I won’t have time to check out all the hotties and decide which to take home with me,” Terrance quipped.
“There you go, again,” Brandan gave him a resigned sigh. “I can’t take you anywhere that you’re not trying to dump me for some eligible bachelor. I think I look a sight better than any man here.”
Terrance surveyed her up and down, “You so did not just say that, girlfriend. Because you do not and have never looked like a man. As much as I love you and love being your friend, I just don’t have those feelings for you, sugar. Never have, never will. So just put that one in your pipe and smoke it.”
Brandan chuckled. She grabbed his arm and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Don’t ever change, my friend. I like you just the way you are…” She glared at him with a little pout, “Even when you’re cheating on me.”
The last of the theatre goers finally found their seats and the lights dimmed. Anticipation moved through the audience like a wave as the curtain started to slowly rise.
Caitlyn was far more nervous than she’d ever been in her entire life. She was sitting first chair, so she was very close to the edge of the stage. Rehearsal had gone fairly well, considering. Despite her lack of sleep, she hadn’t zoned-out once. Her adrenaline was surging and she knew her parents would be right there in the front row. All that remained was the performance.
The lights came up brighter and Caitlyn had to catch herself to keep from squinting in the glare or glancing up at the lights themselves. She knew that would be a big mistake, because it would take her eyes several moments to readjust. She concentrated, instead, on the music in front of her and did one last mental check of what she already knew by heart.
“You okay, chica?” Rosemarie whispered from her place two chairs down.
Caitlyn smiled warmly and nodded. “Just a few last-minute jitters.”
“Don’t worry, kiddo,” Brenda said beside her. “No pressure. Just remember that if you go down we all go down.”
They all shared a companionable chuckle and then the curtain opened to a round of near-deafening applause. As soon as the curtain was completely open, Maestro Abraham walked on stage to another round of applause. He stepped up to his music stand, briefly bowed to the audience, then turned and waited for his baton.
The first-chair violinist gracefully rose from her chair, handed her instrument to the second-chair and presented the baton to the waiting Maestro with a small bow of her head. It was tradition and one that had been handed down from one generation to the next.
As soon as the first-chair violinist was seated and her instrument was returned to her, the Maestro lifted his baton. A sudden hush fell over the audience a moment before the music started.
Brandan was enthralled as the first strains of the opening number wove a tapestry of music through her soul. She closed her eyes and let the notes wash over her. Suddenly the music changed keys and she could hear the cellos more prominently. She opened her eyes and glanced toward the first-chair cellist. Her eyes widened in surprise.
“Something wrong, sugar?” Terrance leaned close and whispered in her ear. “You look like you just seen a ghost.”
Brandan quickly recovered from her initial shock and shook her head. “I’m fine,” she whispered quietly and returned her attention to the stage.
She gave the performance her full attention and to one member, in particular. There, right in front of her, sat the blonde-haired, blue-green-eyed goddess from the deli. The woman’s eyes were closed as she concentrated on the strains of the difficult piece. Brandan was mesmerized by her skill and wondered briefly about their meeting.
Brandan closed her eyes again and tried to pick out the first-chair cellist’s part amid the entire ensemble. She could just hear it, but soon was lost in the countermelody and harmony that followed.
As the piece ended and Caitlyn lifted her bow from the strings of her instrument, she felt the initial hush fall over the crowd and then opened her eyes to an enthusiastic burst of applause. The Maestro bowed and was given a mic to make his opening speech.
As his words droned on, Caitlyn scanned the front row in search of her parents. She looked in the general vicinity of where their seat should be and saw two empty seats. Her heart dropped when she realized they weren’t there. But her initial disappointment was soon replaced by concern as she realized the weather conditions were wreaking havoc with the roads. Were they okay? Did they decide to stay home, instead of braving the elements? Or were they stuck in a ditch somewhere, waiting for a tow truck to get them out?
“I hope they’re all right,” she whispered.
She didn’t have time forfurtherthoughts as the Maestro turned back to them and raised his baton, once again. Caitlyn glanced out at the audience and quickly scanned the two rows behind the first in the hopes that her parents had decided to move back a row or two. Her eyes caught a pair of familiar blue, but her attention quickly returned to her music. She barely had time to ready her bow as the cue for the next piece was given.
Brandan could have sworn that the blonde looked right at her. She saw blue-green eyes widen before the woman’s attention returned to the music in front of her. It had been there, though. A brief flash of recognition. Or maybe she was just imagining things. Had the musician really looked at her? Did she recognize her from that brief encounter in the deli? Brandan’s hopes fell when she realized the woman probably didn’t. After all, she wasn’t wearing her scrubs, her hair was different and she was wearing makeup. No, the woman probably saw someone else in the audience she recognized.
The music resumed and the next piece was even more challenging than the first. Things progressed throughout the evening as each musical number became increasingly more difficult. Brandan was completely mesmerized to the point of being transported to another dimension within her own imagination. However, this time it wasn’t the music alone that had grabbed her attention.
After the sixth and final piece, the blonde glanced her way, yet again. This time there was such sadness in the woman’s eyes that it tugged at Brandan’s heartstrings. She had a hard time keeping herself from jumping on stage and enfolding the woman in a hug.
As the last ovation died down and the curtain closed one last time, Brandan stood up and headed toward a side door she knew led to the backstage area.
“Where you goin’, girl?” Terrance called to her retreating figure. “Brandan, where are you going, girlfriend?”
Too late, she was gone and he was left standing in the nearly-empty theatre. He grabbed their programs, Brandan having stuffed hers down between the seats, and headed for the main lobby. His mind turned to a certain coat-check man and Terrance hoped he wouldn’t be going home alone.
“Guess I’m not the only one,” he shrugged and headed for the coat check and a possible good time.
Brandan reached the backstage door and knocked. A different usher greeted her with a wary smile and effectively blocked her way with his stout body.
“May I help you, Miss?” He asked politely.
Brandan flashed him a dazzling smile, “Do you have to ask, Murph?”
The man blinked in surprise. “Well, hello, Dr. Stone.” A broad smile broke out on his weathered features. “It is such a pleasure to see you again. How are you?”
“I’m fine, Murph,” she gave him a hug. “The question is how are you? Or, more specifically, how’s that shoulder of yours doing? Did you listen to doctor’s orders and complete your physical therapy?”
He flexed his shoulder, “It feels great, Dr. Stone. You did a fantastic job. It hasn’t felt this good in ages.”
“And your golf game?”Brandan’s smile widened.
“I shot a 78 in Palm Beach just two weeks ago,” he beamed. “The wife and I decided to snowbird it right after Christmas. Unfortunately, looks like we came back a bit too early.” He glanced at the snow falling out the huge picture windows behind them.
“That you did, Murph,” she nodded. “But at least you managed to catch this wonderful performance.”
“They’re aces, I tell ya,” Murph winked. “It’s been a real pleasure having the New York Philharmonic here these last couple days. Their music is magical. I always try to catch the really good ones when they perform here.”
“I see that,” she added. “Listen, Murph. I’m wondering if you would be willing to help me out with something.”
“Sure, wha’dya need, Dr. Stone?” He asked. “I figured you didn’t drop by just to say hi to me, especially not decked out in that beautiful gown and all.” He glanced over her shoulder. “You here with someone?”
“I’m alone, Murph,” Brandan blushed, “I don’t usually do this kind of thing, you understand. And I know you guys really aren’t supposed to…Well, I don’t want you getting into trouble for me.”
“What’s on your mind, Dr. Stone,” he continued with a grin. “I owe you big time for what you did for me. Besides, I’m a docent. We don’t usually get in trouble, unless we do something really bad, like steal the wine glasses or the silverware.” He snickered.
“Can you escort me backstage so I can meet one of the orchestra members?” She asked. “I know it’s a lot to ask…”
“Sure, sure,” he replied jovially. “Why didn’t you just come right out and ask? It’s the least I can do for the woman who gave me a new lease on life.” He slapped his own shoulder. “I haven’t felt this good since I had my knee done a decade ago.”
“Thanks, Murph,” she ducked her chin and smiled. “You’re a good man.”
“Anyone in particular you want to meet?” He ushered her through the door. “Did one of the fellers catch your eye, Dr. Stone?”
Brandan couldn’t help the blush that suffused her cheeks and was grateful for the dim backstage lighting that hid her features in shadow.
“Not exactly,” she replied evasively.
Brandan followed Murph through a labyrinth of rigging, curtains, backdrops and shims, until they were actually standing within a stone’s throw of all the musicians milling around the backstage area. Brandan scanned the group, all dressed alike in their tailored tuxedos. She spotted a short blonde head and tapped Murph’s shoulder. When he turned, she silently pointed to the blonde and he nodded. They snaked their way through the crowd.
“Eh-hem,” Murph cleared his throat as he approached the petite blonde. “Ms. Bradley?”
Caitlyn turned around and her eyes met a familiar pair of blue eyes and a brilliant smile. Her heart skipped a beat and she nearly gasped aloud at the sight of the gorgeous woman standing there.
“Yes?” She quickly recovered her composure and met Murphy’s expectant gaze.
“Ms. Bradley, this is Dr…”
“Brandan Stone,” Brandan stepped forward with an outstretched hand. “Dr. Brandan Stone.”
Caitlyn couldn’t remember the last time she’d been struck utterly speechless. But as she gazed into those clear blue eyes in chiseled features better suited to a supermodel than a doctor, her ability to form a coherent thought, much less put said thought into words, completely escaped her.
Brandan hesitated briefly as the woman stared at her in dumbfounded silence. She smiled warmly and didn’t notice when Murphmoved away with a knowing grin and a few mumbled words.
“Are you okay, Ms. Bradley?” Brandan couldn’t keep the concern from her tone as the woman still stared.
Caitlyn blinked and pulled her gaze from the tall doctor’s.
“Uh, yeah, I’m fine,” she managed a weak smile. “Just tired, I guess.” She grasped Brandan’s outstretched hand and felt something almost tangible—almost electric—pass between them. “It’s a pleasure, Dr. Stone. Long time no see.”
“Brandan, please,” she smiled and released the smaller hand. “I just wanted to come backstage and say…” What? That she was attracted to the woman? That she felt something she had never felt with another human being before? Get a grip, Stone, she chided herself. “I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the performance tonight. You were amazing.Er, the whole performance was amazing. I’ve never heard anything like it.”
“Thank you,” Caitlyn blushed. “And, please, call me Caitlyn or Cat. My friends call me Cat.My close friends, anyway.”
An awkward silence stretched between them. Neither woman knew what to say. Then Brandan remembered her conversation with Terrance at dinner.
“Um, would you like to…er…” Brandan lost her nerve. “There’s a coffee shop just a few blocks from here. Would you like…”
Caitlyn stifled a yawn just as Rosemarie chose that moment to approach the pair.
“Hola, chica,” she greeted cheerfully and then stopped to stare in awe at the woman with her friend. Tall, dark and…utterly gorgeous.Those words popped right into her head. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your new friend?”
“Uh…” Caitlyn glanced at Brandan uncertainly.
“Brandan Stone,” Brandan held her hand out to Rosemarie. “I just thought I’d congratulate you all on an excellent performance.”
“Ohhhh,” Rosemarie smiled. “So, you’re a fan of our new first-chair cellist, are you?” She put a protective arm around Caitlyn’s shoulders and squeezed. “She’s amazing, isn’t she? A truly gifted and talented musician. We’re lucky to have her with us. Are the two of you planning on hooking up or what?” She looked at Caitlyn. “Did she ask you out? Did you say yes?”
The abrupt questions caught both womenoff guard. Brandan frowned as she caught the gleam of teasing in Rosemarie’seyes. And then she noticed Caitlyn rolling her own eyes in exasperation.
“I…uh…” Brandan tried to come up with something that didn’t make her look like a love-struck nitwit, but she was completely at a loss. “Well, I guess I’ll just…” she motioned with her head toward the theatre lobby. “It was nice meeting you both, but I should go and leave you all to celebrate your triumph. It was a pleasure, Ms. Bradley.”
Caitlyn watched in dumbstruck silence as Brandan turned on her heel and hurried away. She wanted to call her back, to accept the invitation to go to coffee or something, but her mind was in turmoil over the absence of her parents and her exhaustion over her lack of sleep the night before. Not to mention her surprise at seeing the woman of her dreams. Wait. Did she just think that or did she say it out loud?
“Thanks, Rosie,” Caitlyn glared at her friend. “You scared her off.”
“Me?” Rosemarie could only stand there and gawk at her friend’s sudden grouchiness. “You’re the one who seemed completely unable to communicate, chica. What? El gato suddenly got your tongue? Miosdio, you are incorrigible. She was gorgeous. And did you see that dress of hers? I think it was a Christian Dior.” She whistled loudly. “That woman’s got money.”
Caitlyn sighed heavily. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you.”
“I should hope not, chica,” Rosemarie crossed her arms over her chest, then let her expression soften. “She seemed very nice, too. Do you know her?”
“We met this afternoon at the deli around the corner,” Caitlyn replied with a shake of her head. “I think she was about to ask me out when you walked up and interrupted her.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, chica,” Rosemarie gave her a one-armed shoulder hug. “I had no idea. I never would have…”
“It’s all right, Rosie,” Caitlyn smiled tiredly. “With all the traveling we’ll be doing over the coming months, I don’t think a relationship is such a good idea, right now.” She paused thoughtfully. “Although, she is quite the looker, isn’t she?”
“Muycaliente, chica,” Rosemarie blew on her fingertips and rubbed them on her lapel. “Absolutamenteprecioso.”
“No habloespañol, remember?” Caitlyn replied with a frown. “I grew up just a few miles north of here. Spanish wasn’t exactly a second language in our little town.” She caught the look of disbelief Rosemarie was giving her. “What?”
“Miosdio,” Rosemarie muttered, rolled her eyes and shook her head.
They walked back towards the rest of the group, who were milling around the backstage lobby area. Some were talking. Others were packing up their instruments or doing a little fine-tuning. The place had that age-old theatre feel to it. The slight aroma of stage makeup, sweat and dust clung to the place and gave it a welcome feel. Things weren’t as bright and shiny backstage as they were where the public roamed. The magic was there, but it was a different kind of magic that only performers and entertainers knew. Stage magic had its own special quality that the public just couldn’t appreciate. But it was never as glamorous as the public was led to believe.
Caitlyn had noticed a few moth holes on the bottom fringes of the heavy curtain that separated them from the audience before the performance began. She had also noticed other things. Small things.A dent in a wall here.A gouge in the floor there. Restrooms that were clean, but well-worn. Sinks stained with years of grease paint. Doors that popped open when one tried to close them. The smell.
Caitlyn didn’t really care anymore. All she wanted to do was head home and climb into bed. It didn’t matter that her bed was a thousand miles away. She would settle for the bed she had spent her childhood in. It was a bed, after all. Even if she had to tolerate her family as part of the bargain.
Caitlyn sighed, “I suppose I should get my things together and head to my parents’ house.”
She didn’t want to drive the forty-some miles, but had promised to be there for the get together. Besides, she wanted to know why her parents didn’t show up. It’s not like they didn’t have tickets. She made sure there were two at will-call.
“Are you sure, chica?” Rosemarie gave her a concerned frown. “I hear the roads are getting very bad. Maybe you should just come with us. We’re going to that little tavern down the street,just as soon as we change out of these ridiculous monkey suits.”
“I’m sure, Rosie,” Caitlyn gave her friend another tired smile. “I promised my parents I would be there for a family get together. That means I have to go tonight. My mom wants it to be a sort of family reunion. My sister and her family will be there, too.”
“Speaking of your parents, were they here tonight?” Rosemarie knew the answer the moment she asked the question. “I didn’t see them. I thought you got them front-row seats.”
“They didn’t make it, I guess,” Caitlyn frowned. “That’s the other reason I want to go tonight. I need to find out why they didn’t come. Be there in person to ask them and just make sure they’re okay.”
“Okay, chica,” Rosemarie gave her friend a motherly hug. “Be very careful, though. Drive slowly. And watch out for those loco drivers on the road.”
Caitlyn returned the hug and pulled back enough to give her friend a reassuring smile. “I’ll be fine, Rosie. Don’t forget that I used to drive in this stuff all the time while I lived here.”
“That was a long time ago, amiga,” Rosemarie pointed out. “We don’t drive in New York, so you’re probably out of practice.”
Caitlyn chuckled, “Yes, mom.” Then she gave her friend one last hug.
Snow was falling heavily and covered much of the surrounding buildings, sidewalks and streets. From the looks of things, the storm that the weathermen had been predicting all day had finally arrived. Brandan glanced up at the steadily-falling white flakes and shivered unconsciously inside her heavy coat. She was standing at the valet station, waiting for her Escalade to be brought up. She was alone.
When she’d reached the coat check, there was a note attached to her coat that read, “Had a wonderful evening. Soon to be spectacular. Hope yours is the same. Love, T.” She pocketed the note and smirked at her friend’s triumph, then frowned at her own stupidity. She’d been chastising herself ever since she’d left the backstage area.
Brandan had considered going back to finish what she’d started, but each time she thought about it she just talked herself out of doing it. The blonde musician—Caitlyn—would just think she was nuts. Or worse. Brandan really wanted to get to know the blondecellist. Caitlyn. The name echoed in her mind and she smiled wistfully.
“If you wanted to get to know her so much,” she muttered quietly, “Then why didn’t you ask her to have a cup of coffee with you? Would it really have been that hard to do?”
A young valet brought her Escalade up and stopped in front of her. As he held the door open, she handed him a generous tip and climbed into the already-warm and cozy vehicle. Once settled, she glanced one last time at the theatre, trying to convince herself that she should just go right back inside and ask the woman out.
“Yeah, like it’s that simple,” she mumbled. “She’s probably already taken. Or straight. Wouldn’t that just be your luck?”
Or straight. The woman probably wasn’t even her type. Or…Then why did she look so sad during that last piece?Like someone had just broken her heart. And why was she searching the audience, as if looking for…Who? Did Caitlyn Bradley have a handsome lover out there somewhere? Did they have a fight? Was that why she looked so forlorn?
Brandan could have sworn there was something between them when Caitlyn shook her hand. She actually felt a jolt that she couldn’t explain. And Caitlyn’s smile. It lit up those blue-green eyes of hers and made her whole face look years younger. She was…adorable? Beautiful?Gorgeous? Words failed to accurately describe what Brandan really wanted to say.
As Brandan pulled away from the valet station and onto the deserted city street, a noise in her small bag caught her attention. Pulling over to the side of the snow-covered street, she reached inside her reticule and pulled out her iPhone. Glancing at the new text message she frowned.
“Damn,” she quietly exclaimed.
She clicked on her contacts, made her choice, hit send,then waited.
“Hey, Mike,” she said. “What’s up? I just got your text.”
She listened to the voice on the other end and frowned when Mike explained the situation.
“No problem,” her frown deepened. “I can be there in…” she glanced out the side window and watched the snow accumulate on the street until she couldn’t tell where the street ended and the sidewalk began. “Give me about thirty minutes. Yeah, it’s pretty bad out here.” She listened again, “No, I’m just up the street from Orchestra Hall,” a pause. “Yeah, downtown. I’ll be there, Mike. I gotta warn you, though, manning the ER on a night like this is gonna be a piece of cake. I don’t think anyone is stupid enough to drive around in this crazy weather.” She listened again. “No, I’ll be fine. I’ve got all-wheel drive on this baby, so she handles well in any kind of weather.” A smile tugged at her lips. “Don’t worry about it. Just take care of that wife of yours.” A pause. “I wish. You just tell Sandy to take it easy and don’t worry.” Another pause.“All right. Bye.”
She hit the send button again to end the call and surveyed her surroundings. The snow was now falling hard and fast enough to create near-white-out conditions. She didn’t doubt that she would make it to Fairview Lakes Regional in time to relieve the doctor currently manning the ER. Mike told her that Jeremy had been there for two straight shifts, because an outbreak of the flu had effectively incapacitated a third of the staff, including three ER doctors. Just what they needed.
When all else failed, the area hospitals called on any doctor that was available, whether they worked at a hospital or not. It was an unspoken rule in the greater Minneapolis area and one that had worked well for years. Brandan didn’t mind in the least, because she knew she wouldn’t be able to take her mind off the night’s events, especially if she were to simply go home and try to sleep. This way, maybe there would be something that would take her mind off her inability to call up enough courage to ask Caitlyn Bradley out after the concert.
Caitlyn could barely see the road ahead of her. She was traveling north on Highway 35 at a slow and steady 40 mph. Each mile that passed seemed to dump buckets more snow on the road and there wasn’t a single snowplow in site. They were probably sitting somewhere, drinking coffee and waiting for the weather to clear enough to justify plowing the streets and roads.
After changing into a pair of jeans and a heavy knit sweater with a cotton turtleneck underneath, she’d left the hotel and headed home. She tried to call her parents twice, but there was no answer. Despite the fact that she was bordering on complete exhaustion, she still decided to make the trek north.
So, there she was.In one of the worst snow storms of the year.
She was on her third can of Full Throttle and was finally feeling a bit more awake than when she’d left the hotel. After asking the front desk clerk for a weather update, which didn’t bode well, she’d purchased three of the high-energy drinks from the gift shop. They weren’t her favorite. Coffee would have been better. But beggars can’t be choosers.
She saw a pair of red lights in the distance that resolved into more red lights. She squinted in an effort to see what the shape looming ahead was. Then she realized the lights seemed to be headingright toward her, even though she knew she was the one closing in on them. She looked down at her speedometer and winced. It read 55 mph, where only a moment ago she was traveling at 40. She let up on the accelerator and watched as the lights continued to barrel down on her.
Snow was flying in swirls around the back of the semi’strailer as it loomed ever closer. Caitlyn knew she was slowing down, but the truck was still closing in—or, rather, she was closing in on it. She eased her rental into the left lane and felt the wheels slideon ice and snow as they tried to grip the road beneath.
Then all hell broke loose. The rear end of the semi’s trailer suddenly swerved into her lane. The driver, in an effort to compensate for the sudden slide, hit the brakes and let off the gas. That move threw the truck into a full-blown jackknife spin and Caitlyn found herself on the receiving end of hard jolt. The trailer hit the side of the rental and shoved her side of the car into the concrete barrier next to her. Metal scraped on metal as she tried valiantly to keep the front of her car from slamming into the concrete barrier to her left. She also had a split-second decision to make. If she sped up she might be able to get away from the truck.Unfortunately, any kind of curve in the road ahead would be impossible to navigate. She couldn’t see well enough to know what lay ahead. But if she slowed down, she was sure she would be crushed to death by the semi’s trailer.
A second later the decision was made for her and completely out of her hands. The trailer veered into the side of her car again, knocking her into an uncontrollable spin that sent her careening out of control. She tried desperately to hit the brakes and regain control of the rental, but nothing seemed to work. She was sliding out of control at a disastrous rate of speed. The car flipped and rolled several times and everything went crazy.
As the driver’s side door slammed into the rear of the trailer, Caitlyn could only hold on for dear life and pray. The sound of tires screeching, metal buckling and glass shattering filled the air around her. Everything went dark and the airturned frigid with an icy blast of wind. The last thing Caitlyn was aware of was a still silence that suddenly followed the chaos.
Brandan hadn’t had a moment of peace since entering the ER of Fairfield Lakeside. She’d barely had time to change into a pair of scrubs before she was off and running to take care of her first patient of the night. The ER only had two doctors on duty.Threeothers were out with the flu. Six cases of flu victims had come and gone. She’d also stitched a knee, set a broken ankle and a broken elbow—both patientsfell on the ice while trying to shovel their driveways. There were also three cases of hypothermia from ice fishermen who’d been caught in their shanties out in the storm.
She slumped tiredly against the nurse’s station and stifled a yawn.
“Busy night, eh, Doc?” An older black nurse smirked from behind her computer screen, where she was typing in the evening reports. “Bet you banked on a nice, quiet one ‘cause of this storm. Don’t look like it’ll be lettin’ up anytime soon, either. No siree.”
Brandan rubbed a on the back of her neck, “Yeah, not as quiet as I’d figured.”
The nurse glanced over at a radio that had just blared at them about a traffic accident involving a semi and a single-passenger vehicle.
“Transporting both drivers to Fairfield Lakeside,” the voice crackled over the radio. “ETA three minutes.”
“I guess that means breaktime’s over,” Brandan sighed. “Damned if I’m not regretting taking that call from Mike.”
“Grab some orange juice from the fridge, Dr. Stone,” the nurse ordered. “You look like you could use a little pick-me-up. There’s also popsicles in the freezer and apples and oranges in the cupboard behind me. Take whatever you need.”
Without another word, Brandan reached into the mini-fridge under the counter and pulled out two small cups of sealed orange juice. She pulled the metallic lid off one and downed it in two gulps, then did the same with the other. As she passed around the counter, she tossed both cups into the nearest garbage can and headed back out to wait for the ambulances.
As Brandan walked across the emergency room, a nearby nurse handed her a yellow disposable gown to cover her scrubs. The woman, Tina by her nametag, also wore the same gown. Where Tina’s extended to the tops of her tennis shoes, Brandan’s only reached mid-calf.
“You ready for this, Dr. Stone?” Tina’s voice quivered slightly.
“Are you?” Brandan shot back with a raised brow. “You look a little green around the gills, Nurse Kramer.”
“This will be my first auto-semi accident, so…” she shrugged. “No, I don’t really think I am. I’ve heard so many stories.”
“Just do as you’re told, Nurse Kramer,” Brandan answered confidently. “You’ll be fine. Patients usually don’t bite—much.”
They reached the sliding double doors just as a pair of red lights flashed in the dark, snowy night. An ambulance pulled to a stop directly in front of them and the driver jumped out. Brandan quickly approached the back of the ambulance where the driver was throwing the doors wide.
“What do we have, Mitch?” Brandan helped him unlocked the wheels of the gurney in the back.
“Really bad semi/auto collision on I-35,” the driver helped pull the gurney out onto the wet asphalt. “Victim One is the driver of the car—female, early-to-mid thirties. She was pinned between the steering wheel and driver’s side door. Had to be extracted with the jaws of life.”
They had the gurney’s wheels extended and were joined by the ambulance driver’s partner, a young paramedic who was carrying an IV bag. “Pulse is thread.BP 90 over 48.”
“Get her inside,” Brandan shivered slightly as a blast of icy wind whipped at her hair and gown.
They moved the gurney through the two sets of sliding double doors and the change in temperature was immediate. There was warmth and light, the latter of which allowed Brandan to glance down at her patient. Wet and tangled hair obscured much of the woman’s bloody features.
Another doctor and nurse suddenly went running past. The other doctor was male and a good head taller than Brandan, who was six feet tall. On his way past, he glanced her way.
“Take exam room six,” he ordered breathlessly. “I’ll put the semi driver in eight.”
Brandan merely nodded and continued on. She glanced down at her patient again. Eyes closed, the woman almost looked like she was sleeping, except for the blood and pieces of glass and debris covering her face. An immobilizer kept her head still and an oxygen mask covered her mouth and nose. She was strapped to a padded backboard and her head was supported on three sides by padded immobilizers. A heavy wool blanket covered her entire body up to the neck brace, effectively hiding any visible injuries. The only thing Brandan could tell by the quick visual examination was that the woman was Caucasian.
Caitlyn felt herself drift up from the darkness, despite her best efforts to stay in that peaceful place. The first thing she was aware of was a faint light behind her closed eye lids, then suddenly one of her lids was pulled open and a bright light flashed in her eye. Her lids closed and the other was treated to the same abuse. She wanted to turn her head away from that blinding light, but she couldn’t move. Something held her firmly in place.
“You’re gonna be okay,” a quiet voice penetrated the darkness. Caitlyn believed the words as she slipped back into unconsciousness.
Brandan looked at one of the paramedics. “Any ID on her?”
The baby-faced blond standing across from her shook his head. “Officers at the scene found her purse and probably have it with them.”
“Tina,” Brandan turned to the nurse next to her.
“Yes, doctor?” Tina stepped up to the other side of the gurney.
“Call upstairs,” Brandan ordered, “and let them know we’ll need a full CT and MRI, as well as a type and cross match.” She pulled the stethoscope from her neck and listened to the patient’s heart. “As soon as we have her stabilized, let’s get her cleaned up, so I can see where all this blood’s coming from.”
“Yes, doctor,” Tina sprangimmediately into action.
As soon as the nurse disappeared, Brandan returned her attention to the paramedics.
“Let’s get her onto the bed,” she ordered.
Both paramedics carefully lifted the entire backboard from their mobile gurney to the wider hospital bed. They then rolled their gurney out of the room.
“Guys,” Brandan called to them and they both stopped and turned. “Thanks and make sure you grab some coffee before you head back out.”
Both men smiled broadly.
“And guys?” Brandan continued when they were almost out the door. They both turned back again. “Drive safely out there.” They nodded and disappeared.
Brandan returned her attention to her patient and noticed a lock of damp hair sticking out from one of the padded immobilizers. She thought briefly about the blonde cellist and wondered what the woman was doing at that moment. Was Caitlyn Bradley snuggled up with her boyfriend in her hotel room, safe and sound? Or was she at the after-concert party with the rest of her musician buddies, including the matronly Hispanic woman?
Tina returned to draw the requested blood sample. “I let the techs upstairs know we have a patient for them. They’re sending down an orderly.”
“Good.Thanks, Tina,” Brandan replied as she continued her examination. “Let’s get her face cleaned up and remove these immobilizers so we can see what we’re dealing with. Also, get that blanket off her so I can see if there are any other injuries we need to deal with immediately. I’ll be back shortly. I’m going to see if those officers have an ID on her yet.” She left her patient in the capable hands of the nurse.
Tina carefully removed the three red padded immobilizers, careful not to move the patient’s head at all just in case there was a neck injury they weren’t aware of. She filled a pan with warm water and proceeded to wash the woman’s face. She noticed a few lacerations and several shards of windshield glass embedded in the woman’s skin. She cleaned around the glass enough for the doctor to remove them.
She then carefully pulled back the blanket and found that the woman’s left hand had been wrapped in layers of gauze and immobilized in an inflatable brace. She did a cursory examination but could see no visible signs of bleeding through the gauze, so she left that for the doctor, as well. She then carefully pulled the blanket all the way off and quickly replaced it with light-weight hospital blanket that had been warmed beforehand.
As she moved back up to the patient’s head, she noticed a pair of bloodshot green eyes watching her warily.
“Oh, you’re awake,” Tina smiled. “How do you feel, hon?”
The green eyes surveyed the room, then settled back on the nurse. Tina noticed they were slightly out of focus. A moment later the eyelids fluttered closed.
Brandan headed directly for the nurse’s station and leaned on the counter.
“Tell me when the police get here, will you, Lucy?” Brandan noticed the woman was hard at work at her computer again. “I’d like to know the name of our patient in six.”
“They’re talking to the paramedics over by the staff lounge, Dr. Stone,” Lucy didn’t bother looking up from her computer screen as she continued to type away.
“Thanks,” Brandan headed in the direction of the lounge.
Sure enough, she found two uniformed officers talking with the two paramedics. They were all drinking coffee and glancing out the sliding glass doors at the near white-out conditions.
“Hey, Doc,” the young blond paramedic waved her over. “She wants to know the name of the woman in the Topaz who was brought in from that semi/auto accident, earlier.” He said to one of the officers.
Officer Carlson turned to the approaching doctor, “Says here on her New York driver’s license that her name’s Caitlyn Bradley,” he turned the license toward her.
Brandan felt all the blood drain from her face as the words hit her like a physical blow and she took the license from the man’s hand. Her stomach was churning and her knees suddenly went weak. She felt sick, but somehow managed to pull herself together as she handed the license back to him. She was a doctor and her patient needed her. She just kept telling herself that over and over again.
“Any idea how serious her injuries are, Doc?” The other officer—Beck—asked. “Any chance she’ll regain consciousness, so we can get her statement before we head back out?”
“No,” Brandan said a little too quickly. She realized the guys were only doing their jobs, but something inside her wanted to protect the woman in her care. “Sorry, guys. But I’ll let you know when she’s up to speaking to you. Right now, we need to assess her injuries and figure out the best course of treatment.”
“Thanks, Doc,” Beck replied.
Brandan walked back through the ER to room six and hesitated briefly before entering the room. She didn’t want to go inside and see what the accident had done to the young musician. But she knew she had to. When she saw Caitlyn’s hair, she knew. She just didn’t want to believe it.
“Damn,” she uttered softly as she stood at the side of the bed.
“Doctor?” Tina looked at her with concern. “Did you say something, Dr. Stone? Is something wrong?”
“No,” Brandan answered. “How is she?”
Tina finished hooking up the last of the monitors and flipped them on. She checked the lines for the IV and made sure that the EKG and heart monitor were functioning properly.
“She was awake briefly, but then slipped back under again,” Tina finally answered. “Her vitals are stable at the moment.”
“Where’s that orderly?” Brandan impatiently checked Caitlyn’s eyes again. This time she noticed their green color and silently chastised herself for missing that detail earlier. “I thought you said they were sending someone down here, right away.”
“They will, as soon as they’re ready for her, Doctor,” Tina made a few notations on the computer near the door.
“They were backed up with other patients.”
“Did you notice a laceration on her head that might explain the blood on her face?” Brandan asked in a less intimidating tone. She knew the woman was only doing her job.
“Just these small bits of glass and one lacerationnear the hairline, Doctor,” the nurse’s tone returned to normal, as well. “She also has several contusions on the left side of her head.Probably from the impact with the driver’s side window.”
Brandan pulled on a pair of nitrile gloves and gently pulled the hair away from Caitlyn’s forehead to reveal a still-oozing cut that ran along her hairline. She gently examined the wound, poking and prodding to determine how deep it was.
“We’ll need to stitch this, but for now let’s just put a couple butterflies on to hold it,” Brandan murmured to the nurse next to her. “Who’s the surgeon on-call tonight?”
“Sara Kim?” Brandan’s brow shot up. “Hm. Glad to hear at least one thing will go right tonight.” She checked each piece of glass that was embedded in the musician’s face. “We need to notify someone that she’s here.Someone from the Philharmonic or a relative.”
“Lucy is working on locating her family,” Tina answered.
“Good,” Brandan finished examining Caitlyn’s face. “Are there any other wounds that we should take a look immediately at before we send her upstairs?” She had noticed a young woman in scrubs waiting patiently near the doorway.“Anything that can’t wait?”
“The paramedics applied a gauze dressing and splint to her left hand and arm,” Tina pulled the blanket down to reveal the splint. “Brian also mentioned that he thought she might either have a broken right collar bone or a dislocated shoulder. He couldn’t really tell.But he did say she seemed to respond to being touched in that area when they were removing her from the car. Also,” Tina pulled the blanket down even further, “Chad said her legs were pinned in the wreckage. He wasn’t sure how extensive the damage. All he knew was she wasn’t bleeding externally.”
“Okay then…” Brandan nodded to the orderly who entered the room silently. “Let’s get her upstairs and get that scan. I also want a full set of x-rays.Do we have that type and cross, yet? Put her on a 20cc drip of ringers and be sure they don’t miss anything in the CT or MRI.”
“Yes, Doctor,” Tina shot Brandan a puzzled frown.
She knew the doctor was thorough, but her orders seemed to be a little more than any other patient would receive. Figuring that discretion was the better part of valor, she decided to keep her opinions to herself as she helped the orderly wheel the patient out of the exam room.
The snow was still falling heavily when Rosemarie was startled awake by the bedside phone. It rang again and she looked blearily at it before grabbing for the receiver and fumbling to get it to her ear.
“Hello?” She mumbled sleepily, then listened as the person identified themselves on the other end of the line. “Yes, this is Rosemarie Gonzales. Who…” She listened again. “Si, yes, I know Caitlyn Bradley.” She sat up and was instantly wide awake. “Que? What happened?” She listened intently as the voice on the other end explained the situation. Rosemarie’s mouth fell open and all the blood drained from it as she listened intently. “Uh, yes, I’m still here. I think. I think her parents should also be called.” A pause. “Yes, I have their number. I will go ahead and call them. No, I don’t think…Well, maybe you should send an officer to their home to pick them up. They were supposed to be at the concert here in Minneapolis tonight, but the weather probably kept them home. No, they live in Pine City. Yes, I think they are the only Bradleys in Pine City. Thank you.”
She hung up the receiver and sat there in stunned silence as the dire news sank in. Then she reached for the phone again and dialed the operator.
“Yes, I need the number for the Bradleys in Pine City, please,” she said.
“Mr. and Mrs. Bradley?” Brandan approached the small group huddled together on the far side of the waiting room.
She’d been in surgery for three hours and, by the quick glance she’d had at the clock, it was nearly four in the morning. When the CT scan, MRI and x-rays had come back, she’d immediately consulted with the surgeon on call, Dr. Sara Kim. There was no question Caitlyn Bradley needed immediate surgery.
Caitlyn had suffered more than a few bumps and bruises. A ruptured spleen and internal bleeding had prompted the need for emergency surgery. The MRI had also confirmed she had a torn and dislocated right shoulder, as well as a crushed right hand and torn tendons in her knee. Those would eventually require surgery. Unfortunately, those surgeries would have to wait until Caitlyn’s condition stabilized and she was out of immediate danger.
“Yes?” Asked a short, rather plain, older woman who stood up and headed for Brandan. A slightly taller, gray-haired man in his late fifties to early sixties shadowed the woman. “We’re the Bradleys. How’s our Caitlyn doing?”
Brandan noted the worry on their faces. “I’m Dr. Stone,” she nodded a greeting to them. “I was in the ER when your daughter was brought in earlier.”
“Yes, we know who you are,” Mrs. Bradley held her husband’s arm tightly. “The nurse was kind enough to give us an update. How’s Caitlyn? Is she…”
“She made it through surgery and is in recovery,” Brandan said. “We’re keeping a close eye on her, for now.”
Jacob Bradley squeezed his wife’s shoulders. “Surgery? The accident was that bad?”
“Yes,” Brandan nodded. “There was…” she absently rubbed a knot in her neck. “Caitlyn came in with some serious injuries that needed immediate attention. She had a ruptured spleen and some internal bleeding that we needed to address. She’ll need additional surgery once we know her condition is stabilized.”
“More surgery?”Tears sprang to Miriam’s eyes.
Brandan noticed the hard look Mr. Bradley was giving her and briefly wondered if he knew... No, that was impossible, unless…Had Caitlyn mentioned the two brief meetings they’d shared to her parents? Then Jacob Bradley kissed his wife’s temple and whispered words of comfort to her. For a fleeting moment Brandan wished she had someone in her life she could have that kind of connection with.
“As things stand, yes,” Brandan replied. “We don’t want to rush things, but I’m concerned about her hand. I’m not sure how extensive the damage is, because it’s so swollen and the MRI wasn’t conclusive.”
“What’re you sayin’, Doc?” Jacob scowled.
“I know she’s a talented musician,” she looked him straight in the eye. “I’m afraid the injuries to her hand might be too extensive for even surgery to effectively repair.”
“Forgive my forthrightness, Dr. Stone, but we’re more concerned about whether she’ll make it through the night,” Jacob gripped his wife’s shoulders. “She shoulda never been out there driving in this kinda weather. She knows better. This is just the Good Lord’s way of bringing her back to us and getting her away from that godforsaken place she moved to when she got it into her head…”
“Hush, now, Jacob honey,” Miriampatted one of his hands on her shoulder and met Brandan’s gaze. “Dr. Stone, can we see her now? We’ve been waiting here such an awfully long time.”
There were unshed tears in her eyes, and Brandan could tell the woman was barely holding it together. She looked at Mr. Bradley, who nodded sternly.
“First, we need to get her situated in theICU,” Brandan said. “I’ll send one of the nurses for you when she’s all settled.” Brandan started to walk away, but felt a hand on her arm and turned.
“Thank you, Dr. Stone,” Jacob Bradley said with a curt nod. “We appreciate everything you’ve done for our little girl.”
“You’re welcome, Mr. Bradley,” Brandan graced him with a warm smile as she patted the hand on her arm. “I was there for your daughter’s performance last night. She was fantastic. One of the best cellists I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to.”
A frown creased his brow. “You were there? But…”
“I live in the Cities,” she cut in, knowing where he was headed. “I’m just here filling in for a doctor who is out sick. Otherwise, I have my own practice in downtown Minneapolis.”
“Oh, well…” he continued, letting her go and smiling awkwardly. “Miriam and I were supposed to be there, but…Well, with the weather as bad as it is, we…”
Miriam took that opportunity to step forward, “It’s all right, dear,” she said to her husband. “The doctor doesn’t need to hear about all our problems,” she smiled at Brandan as she led her husband back to the group.
Before Brandan could turn away, Jacob stopped and looked her in the eye.
“Was she really that good?” He asked hopefully.
“She was better than good,” Brandan replied. “And I’m going to make sure she receives the best care possible while she’s here.”
He held her gaze for a moment longer, then nodded and turned to follow his wife. Brandan marveled at the color of the man’s eyes and realized where Caitlyn had inherited hers from. Though his were much older and a bit harder, they were the exact shade of blue-green as the young musician’s.
Brandan held that thought while she turned and headed back to the surgical wing and her patient.
Caitlyn was completely disoriented and slightly nauseous as the darkness began to recede. She could hear noises—a quiet beeping, a strange hissing and a low rumbling. She also knew she wasn’t alone. Someone was there with her.
Slowly opening her eyes, she blinked several times to clear her vision and found a vaguely familiar pair of blue eyes watching her.
“Hey, there,” Brandan smiled.
Caitlyn looked around at the unfamiliar surroundings. The muted lighting was a little painful, but she was curious enough to ignore the discomfort. The dark-haired woman standing next to her watched her with concern. There was a cool, steady stream of air in her nose. It had a slightly metallic odor to it. She noticed the monitors and IV bag to her left. Then she tried to move and pain shot throughout her entire body.
“Take it easy, Caitlyn,” Brandan said, putting a comforting hand on Caitlyn’s uninjured shoulder. “You’re in the hospital.”
“Wha…” her voice cracked and she cleared her throat. She was still really groggy, disoriented and confused. “What happened?”
A few pieces of crushed ice touched her lips and she opened her mouth to accept them gratefully.
“You were in an accident,” Brandan explained, as she spooned a few more pieces of ice into Caitlyn’s mouth. “Your rental car collided with a semi trailer. Do you remember?”
Caitlyn tried to clear her mind of the murky fog that still lingered. She wanted to shake her head but thought better of it. Something told her that would only bring more pain. Try as she might, she just couldn’t put the pieces together. She also knew the woman standing over her looked familiar, but she couldn’t put a name to the face.
“It’s okay,” Brandan reassured. “It’s been a rough couple of hours. You’re probably still disoriented from the anesthesia, as well as that head injury. Just relax. Okay?” She rubbed a thumb gently against Caitlyn’s bare arm. “Your parents are here to see you. Should I send them in for a minute or two?”
Caitlyn slowly nodded. As much as she wanted to see her parents and make sure they were okay, she was also really sleepy and didn’t know how long she would be able to keep her eyes open. Everything was off. But having the dark-haired woman there seemed to make it a little better. And the gentle stroke of her arm was very comforting.
Sensing her patient’s need for rest, Brandan said, “They’re right outside, so just hang on while I go get them, Caitlyn. Can you do that?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Caitlyn answered groggily. “I’ll try.”
Brandan went to the door and motioned to the Bradleys, who entered the glass-fronted,doorless room hesitantly. Miriam moved to her daughter’s side and looked at all the tubes and wires that ran to various monitors.
“How are you feeling, sweetheart?” Miriam gently brushed a lock of blonde bangs away from Caitlyn’s forehead. She wanted to hold Caitlyn’s hand, but didn’t know how to do so without hurting her. “You’ve had us really worried.”
“Hey, kiddo,” Jacob stepped up behind Miriam, placed his hands on her shoulders and smiled. “We’ve been worried sick about you. The doctor says,” he looked pointedly at Brandan who was standing on the other side of the bed, “you just had surgery and pulled through like a trooper.” Tears sprang to his eyes and he tried to blink them away.
“Surgery?” Caitlyn looked at Brandan in confusion. “Why?” Her voice was still hoarse.
“It’s okay, honey…” her mother stroked her cheek with the backs of her fingers.
“’S not, Mom,” Caitlyn replied groggily. “Hur’s.” She saw the worry in her mother’s eyes. “Dad,” she met his gaze and looked pointedly at her mother. “Take Mom home, please. I’ll be fine.”
Catching his daughter’s hint, Jacob put a comforting arm around his wife’s shoulders and guided her out of the room. As soon as her parents were gone, Caitlyn met Brandan’s gaze.
“Sorry,” she broke eye contact. “She hates seeing us in pain. Couldn’t handle it when we were kids.” She wanted to shrug it off, but thought better of it. “So?”
Brandan pulled up a chair and sat down to be more at a level with Caitlyn. She lifted the bed railing and leaned against it with a concerned frown.
“My straight pitch, excuse the pun,” her expression remained serious, despite her little joke, “is that you’re in pretty bad shape, Caitlyn.” She watched tears spring to Caitlyn’s eyes. “Dr. Kim managed to stop the internal bleeding, but you’re a long way from a full recovery. You’re also going to need more surgery. She didn’t want to keep you under the anesthesia for too long.”
“More surgery?” Panic suddenly registered on Caitlyn’s features.
Brandan put a comforting hand on Caitlyn’s good hand and blue eyes met blue-green. “I know this is tough to swallow, right now, but…” She didn’t want to scare the woman, especially after all she’d been through in the last 24 hours, but she also wanted to be completely honest with her. “I’m an orthopedic surgeon, Caitlyn, and from what I saw from your x-rays and the MRI, you have some pretty extensive injuries that will need to be addressed, including your hand.” She watched more tears springtoCaitlyn’s eyes and wished her next words could soften the blow. “I haven’t had a chance to look at it yet, but it isn’t good.”
Caitlyn broke eye contact and blinked, allowing the tears to flow freely down her cheeks. She looked down at her bandage-wrapped hand. It was completely covered. Not even her fingertips were visible. It didn’t hurt, but, then again, she couldn’t really feel it.
“Will I…will I be able to…” She couldn’t meet the doctor’s gaze. “I’m a musician. I can’t…” Her voice trailed off as more tears spilled from her eyes. She felt the oxygen rush into her lungs from the cannula in her nostrils and it made her a little light-headed. “Will I be able to play the cello again?” She asked point-blank.
Brandan braced herself for the disappointment she knew was coming, but nothing could shield her from the actual emotional pain she felt when Caitlyn turned those teary eyes on her.
“I’ll do everything in my power to see that you play that cello again, Caitlyn,” Brandan said quietly with more confidence than she actually felt. “But I can’t make any promises, right now, Caitlyn. I just don’t know what I’ll find until I do the surgery.”
“Are you the best?” Caitlyn sobered. “’Cause if there’s someone else who is better, then…” her voice trailed off. “I don’t mean to…” She breathed in deeply and let it out, not meeting Brandan’s gaze.
For some inexplicable reason Caitlyn didn’t want to hurt the doctor’s feelings. After all, Dr. Stone had been completely honest with her and hadn’t told her anything that she wouldn’t eventually find out on her own. She also saw something in the woman’s eyes that made her heart flutter every time their eyes met.
“With the exception of maybe three other orthopedic surgeons in the entire world, two of which reside outside the States,” Brandan answered frankly, “yes, I’m the best. And I’m not bragging. I received the OREF Clinical Research Award. It’s the most prestigious Kappa Delta recognition one can receive in the orthopedic field. They gave it to me two years in a row. I’m also the youngest orthopedic surgeon to receive the Founder’s Award and the Physician of the Year award in the same year. My work with bone reconstruction and joint rejuvenation is well known in the ortho community.”
Caitlyn met Brandan’s gaze and knew the doctor was being completely honest about her accomplishments. She watched the emotions play across the dark-haired woman’s features and wondered briefly why Dr. Stone seemed so familiar to her. Try as she might, however, she couldn’t figure out where she’d seen her before.
“Can I ask you a question?” Caitlyn let out a tired sigh as she felt her energy quickly waning.
“Anything,” Brandan suddenly felt like the weight of the world was resting on her shoulders. She stifled a yawn as the events of the previous few days finally caught up to her. “Shoot.”
“You seem really familiar,” Caitlyn said, wanting desperately to touch the other woman in the same comforting way. “Have we met?”
Brandan smiled tiredly. “My name is Brandan Stone,” she said. “You probably don’t remember, but we met last night at the concert. We also exchanged a few words in the deli around the corner from your hotel yesterday afternoon.”
Caitlyn frowned slightly as she wracked her muddled brain in an effort to remember. She had a brief flash of a woman dressed in an elegant burgundy gown, dark hair piled high on her head. The rest was a vague blur.
“I think…I think I remember…a little,” Caitlyn was having trouble keeping her eyes open. She just didn’t want to sleep and lose this connection with the doctor. Brandan Stone. The name had a nice ring to it. “Things are still pretty fuzzy, right now.” A few more tears spilled from her closed eyes.
Brandan took Caitlyn’s hand in hers and gently squeezed. She felt that earlier little jolt pass between them again. It was weird—almost familiar. She watched Caitlyn’s eyes open and meet hers. Tears continued to roll down Caitlyn’s cheeks, as a small smile touched her lips.
Brandan didn’t want to leave. As strange as it was to sit there and hold onto a patient’s hand, she just couldn’t quite bring herself to get up and move. The feeling was so foreign, in fact, that she just didn’t know what to do. Doctors were trained to keep their distance from their patients. It was ingrained in them all through medical school and their residency. There was no room for attachment when you were treating someone. Distance was the only option.
But that just didn’t seem to be the case in this particular instance. Something about Caitlyn Bradley was pulling Brandan closer to the woman. And it wasn’t just attraction. It was something more—something far deeper than anything Brandan had ever experienced before. She couldn’t quite put a finger on what it was—or maybe she just wasn’t willing to explore her feelings any further.
And then Caitlyn yawned. Brandan noticed the tears had stopped.
“Well,” Brandan released her hold on Caitlyn’s hand and almost felt a sense of loss at the lack of contact. “That’s my cue. It’s time for me to let you get some rest. I’ll be back again to check on you and see how you’re doing.” She gently squeezed Caitlyn’s arm as she stood up.“Just rest, Caitlyn. And try not to worry.”
“Dr. Stone?” Caitlyn waited for the woman stopas she reached the door.
Brandan turned expectantly. “Yeah?”
Caitlyn hesitated, trying to think of something to say to bring the doctor back over to her. “Um…thank you.” The words were out before she could stop them.
“You’re welcome, Caitlyn,” Brandan smiled warmly and left the room.
Caitlyn sighed and closed her eyes. As much as she wanted to admit that she had feelings for the tall, dark woman, she didn’t exactly know how to come right out and say it without looking like a love-struck idiot. Then again, maybe she was just extremely grateful to the woman for saving her life.
“You’re an idiot, Cat,” Caitlyn murmured quietly as she drifted off to sleep.“Such an idiot.”
As Brandan drove downthehedge-lined driveway and watchedthe garage door to open in the distance, she sighed heavily. She was tired. Actually, she was exhausted. It had been an incredibly long drive home and there were moments when she almost drifted off to sleep behind the wheel. But she finally made it, despite the wet and icy roads. The plows had already cleared most of the snow away and salted the roads enough to dry some of them out. Unfortunately, the snow that remained melted from the salt and created icy patches. She tried staying alert.
When the door was open all the way, Brandan pulled her Escalade into the pristinely-kept garage. Turning off the ignition, she sat there a moment to collect her thoughts and try to call up enough energy to walk into the house. As much as she wanted to drag herself out from behind the wheel, she couldn’t motivate her body to move. The SUV was still warm and quiet—so very quiet.
Sitting there staring at the back wall, Brandan thought abouther last patient of the long night. Caitlyn Bradley. The musician’s condition was still tenuous, but at least she was stable. Before Brandan left the hospital, she made sure the musician was out of immediate danger. The shift-change nurses had all looked at her like she was losing her mind as she grilled them and repeated her instructions for Caitlyn’s care.
“They probably think I’m nuts,” Brandan snorted as she opened her door and climbed out of the vehicle. “I seriously need to take a step back from this one.” The words sounded hollow, even to her ears. “Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.”
Step back? How could she do that when Caitlyn needed her more than ever? She knew she had to keep her distance if Caitlyn was to continue as her patient.But she also knew deep down there was something between them that she would be hard-pressed to control.
“Get a grip, Stone,” Brandan mumbled as she slowly shuffled into the house.
She dropped her keys on a table in the entryway and headed for the stairs. She didn’t even bother to lookfor her brother or check the rest of the house to see if he was home. He could sit in jail and rot for all she cared. She would deal with Aaron later. Or not.
Brandan made it upstairs and ducked into her large master bedroom. She dumped her bag on the floor, stripped out of the scrubs she still had on and headed straight for the bathroom. After a quick shower, she doused the lights, returned to the bedroom, grabbed a pair of boxers and a Go Navy t-shirt from her dresser, then slid into bed with a loud groan. As soon as her head hit the pillow, she was out like a light.
Caitlyn was wide awake. A nurse had checked on her a few minutes ago, taking her temperature, checking her vitals and asking her questions that she could only groggily reply to. The noises around her were annoying and were keeping her wide awake now. Soft beeps and hisses.A drip somewhere close. Her sensitive ears picked up every little sound in the place, including announcements over a loudspeaker down the hall.
She hated hospitals. They were places where the sick and dying went. She had visited an aunt once when she was little and refused to ever go back again. The aunt, her father’s sister, died a short time later. Everyone showed up to the funeral, but Caitlyn could only remember the visit to the hospital as the frail old woman lay there with her eyes closed and tubes everywhere.
That was probably how she looked now. Tubes.Machines.Beeps, whirs, ticks and a low murmur of voices out in the hallway. Or was that a large room beyond the glass? She couldn’t really tell what lay beyond all the machines in front of her.
Not a single sound in that place was musical. None of it flowed in a rhythmic way that might lull her back to sleep. It was all just a jerky disjointed cacophony of senseless noise. Light, too. Why did everything have to be so bright? How did they expect people to sleep with so many distractions all around?
Taking a deep breath through her nose, she felt the oxygen from the cannula fill her lungs. She let the breath out slowly and closed her eyes. She just wanted to relax and go back to sleep. But sleep was so very elusive. What time was it, she asked herself. There was no window in the room to tell her if it was light or dark out. And there was no clock anywhere in sight.
She glanced at the IV next to her. Two bags hung from the metal arm and dripped liquid into a tube that went to the taped needle on her right hand. That hand still tingled slightly from another hand that had held it only a short time ago. She really wished that hand was still holding her own. It was so nice. So comforting.
She squinted at the IV bags and saw that one contained something called ringers lactate, while the other, the smaller one that dripped more slowly, contained morphine. No wonder she was still pretty out of it. They had her on morphine. Didn’t they realize what that stuff did to her? No, probably not.
Caitlyn let her eyes drift shut again. Closing her eyes cut down on the glare from the lights, but did nothing to alleviate the persistent throbbing in her head. And she still couldn’t sleep. So she just let her thoughts drift. So much had happened over the last few…was it hours? Days? She didn’t really know. She’d completely lost all track of time. But what did it matter? She was alive, at least. Alive and broken.
Then her mind turned to thoughts of a gorgeous doctor. The woman wasn’t merely gorgeous. She was…What word could describe such incredible beauty? Caitlyn really didn’t know. She was a musician, not a poet. All she could come up with was gorgeous. Tall.Dark hair.Amazing blue eyes. Features that belonged on the movie screen, not on some orthopedic surgeon. Weren’t most surgeons old men in white coats and ugly scrubs, anyway? Weren’t they bald or gray with a gruff bedside manner?
Not Dr. Stone.
Dr. Stone was nothing like what Caitlyn pictured out of a surgeon. And there was something about the woman that Caitlyn just couldn’t put a finger on. Dr. Stone was definitely worth getting to know better. Hopefully she would hold to her promise to visit Caitlyn again. And maybe the kind doctor would willingly hold her hand again. She liked it when Dr. Stone touched her. It was so nice. So very nice.
That was her last thought as she finally drifted off to sleep and a pair of blue eyes twinkled in her mind’s eye.
Continued in Part 3
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