By Kennedy Northcutt ©2012
See Part 1 for all the important stuff.
Brandan turned into her driveway and waited for the gate to open before proceeding farther. It was the end of a hectic week and all she wanted to do was build a fire in her fire pit on the deck out back, sit down and stare mindlessly into the flames for a while.
The weather had changed dramatically since the snow storm a little over a week prior. Temps were in the high 50s and most of the snow was gone. All that was left were a few stray patches in shady places, here and there. Even the piles of dirty snow that had been pushed to the curbs and into ditches next to the road were all but gone.
That didn’t mean that the outbreak of the flu had abated much. Actually, there were more cases at the present than before the snowstorm. Doctors and nurses were dropping like flies and it seemed the entire medical community was scrambling to fill the gaps. Emergency rooms were filled to capacity every day and night, and there was a shortage of qualified staff that was bordering on catastrophic.
Brandan hadn’t had a free moment to herself during the entire week. She was exhausted and barely functioning on all cylinders. The few brief naps she’d been able to catch in-between 12-hour shifts hadn’t done more than push the exhaustion at bay for a few hours. Then she was right back to feeling like her butt was dragging. It was only by some miracle of fate that she hadn’t killed anyone or written a bad prescription. Or missed a stitch. Set the wrong limb. Sent the wrong patient for tests they didn’t need. There were a whole slew of possible mistakes a doctor could make on any given day, much less during an entire week with minimal sleep.
Yawning widely as she drove up the long drive to her two-story home, Brandan’s thoughts drifted in a haze. So much had happened in the last week that she could barely remember any of it. During the one time she wasn’t seeing patients or manning an ER, she was in court with her brother, Aaron. She sat there listening to a judge drone on and on about model citizenship, civic responsibility and some other b.s. that nearly put her to sleep. Brandan knew her brother’s nods were only for show, as he made a little speech about turning over a new leaf, becoming a model citizen and getting a job. The prosecutor seemed to buy every word. Or was she just charmed by her brother’s boyish good looks and charming smile? Who knew? Brandan certainly wasn’t fooled one bit by his promises to walk the straight and narrow.
Pulling her Escalade into the immaculate garage and shutting it off, Brandan let her chin rest on the steering wheel for a moment and suddenly experienced a moment of déjà vu.
“What the…” she sat upright and glanced around.
A memory tickled the back of her mind as she climbed out of the truck and made her way to the front door of the house. As she tossed her keys onto the entryway table, another moment of déjà vu hit her and stopped her in her tracks.
The name came to her so suddenly that she actually thought she heard it spoken out loud.
“Did you say something, honey?”
Brandan turned to find a gray-haired, matronly woman standing in the foyer with her hands on her hips. The woman was shaking her head in exasperation.
“You look terrible, Brandan honey,” the woman said as she approached. “Look at those dark circles under your eyes. Why, you’re a doctor, for cryin’ out loud. You should know better than to push yourself to the breaking point.”
“I’m fine, Aunt Millie,” Brandan sighed. “Just tired.”
“Psh!” Mildred Stone took Brandan’s arm and ushered her toward the back of the house. “I made a nice stew and some homemade cornbread for dinner. You’re gonna eat and then you’re headed straight to bed, young lady. No arguments.”
Mildred’s head only came up to Brandan’s shoulder, but the woman was built like a mini-tank. Brandan had seen her wrestle a grown pig during her younger years and that image still stuck. No one messed with Aunt Millie. Not even her brother Aaron.
“Aunt Millie…” Brandan groaned and rolled her eyes, but didn’t have the energy to argue—especially when she caught a whiff of the delicious aromas that were wafting from the kitchen.
“I haven’t seen hide nor hair of you all week, Brandy honey,” Mildred used the nickname Brandan hated. “Where have you been? Tell me you haven’t been sleeping on some musty cot in the back room of an emergency room somewhere.”
“No,” Brandan replied.
“Well, you haven’t been sleeping in your own bed, that’s for sure. Rachel and Rebekah let me know that this morning when I came by to check on things.”
Rachel and Rebekah Yoder were local Mennonite women who did housekeeping in the area. Silis Yoder was their cousin and he was also her gardener and groundskeeper. Brandan was grateful to Mildred for finding them, because she just didn’t have time to keep up with all the house and yard keeping duties for her twelve-room, two-story place. The house itself was nearly the size of a small mansion and the yard was three full acres of lawn, shrubbery and oak and maple trees. Silis and his two younger brothers took care of the yard, while Rachel and Rebekah took care of the house.
“Those two need to put a lid on my comings and goings,” Brandan grumbled. “I don’t pay them to tattle on me.”
“You don’t have any say in the matter, young lady,” Mildred shot back, as she ladled up a large bowl of stew and added a big chunk of bright-yellow cornbread. “Now, sit down and eat your stew before it gets cold.”
Setting the bowl on a rather plain, yet sturdy, oak table, Mildred went about collecting a spoon, a tub of fresh creamery butter and salt and pepper from various cupboards around the open kitchen. A walnut-topped center island with a built-in vegetable sink and indoor grill at either end was the center-piece of the large space. A wrought-iron pot and pan holder hung over the center island. Pots and pans of all shapes and sizes dangled high above Mildred’s head and out of her reach. Brandan knew the woman kept a folding metal step-stool tucked away somewhere, but had never seen her use it.
Brandan seldom used the kitchen, unless she was rummaging around in one of the two chef’s refrigerators for a midnight snack. There was also a wine fridge with a glass door that showed off a decent selection of fine wines. It had a lock on it and only she and Mildred had a key. Brandan didn’t trust Aaron to leave the wine alone when he was home.
Mildred grabbed her own bowl of stew and sat down at the table with Brandan. The table sat in front of a bank of French-paned windows that let in sunlight. Brandan squinted in the glare.
“You have dark circles under your eyes, Brandy,” Mildred commented over a mouthful of the chunky stew. “You’re gonna get sick if you don’t get some rest.”
“I’m eating as fast as I can,” said Brandan.
“I’m not talking about that. You can’t keep this up, you know, honey.”
“Things should calm down soon, Aunt Millie. They always do.”
“I saw your brother briefly this morning.” Brandan merely grunted. “He was on his way out. He said he was going out to find a part-time job and sign up for classes at the college.”
Brandan stopped and met Mildred’s gaze. “And you believe him?”
Mildred scowled. “Give the boy the benefit of the doubt, Brandy.”
“Why?” Brandan set her spoon aside, her appetite suddenly gone. “Why should I give him anything more than a roof over his stubborn head? He certainly doesn’t care about anything but himself and those asinine friends of his. My opinion certainly doesn’t matter to him, even if I’m the one who always has to bail his ass out of jail when the police pick him up for doing something stupid.”
“No,” Brandan shook her head. “No more, Aunt Millie. I’m sick and tired of his irresponsible behavior. As a matter of fact, I have half a mind to kick his ass out of my house and my life—let him find out what life is like on the streets on his own. He doesn’t deserve anything more from me. I’ve had it with his empty promises.”
“He’s your brother, Brandan Alexandra,” Mildred put a hand on Brandan’s arm. “And watch your language, young lady. You’re not too old for me to put over my knee.”
“Ever since Mom and Dad died he’s acted like a spoiled, irresponsible child without a care in the world. I worked my a—my butt off after high school. Four years in the Navy, four doing my undergrads, then medical school and a long residency. I never once complained about all the hours I put in. I just did it. No one was going to give me a free ride. Why should I give him one after all he’s done to make my life a living hell?”
“Because he’s family,” the woman gently added. “He needs your support. He doesn’t need to be kicked out on the streets. Who knows what would happen to him if you did that?”
“He needs a swift kick in the a—butt, a wake-up call,” Brandan grabbed her bowl and took it to the sink. She turned the water on and rinsed the bowl out, then leaned against the sink. “Maybe I should just march him down to the recruiter and make him sign up for active duty. They might just be able to shove some discipline and motivation down his scrawny throat. God knows I can’t do it. I’m just not home enough to keep my eye on the worthless little turd.”
Mildred sighed and folded her hands under her chin thoughtfully.
“You might be right,” Mildred conceded. “Maybe some time away would do him good. I just don’t think your parents wanted either of you joining the military. You did it so you could afford to go to college and medical school. But Aaron isn’t you. He doesn’t have your motivation or drive to succeed. That doesn’t mean he’s worthless, though, Brandy honey.”
“I can’t keep bailing him out of jail, over and over again, Aunt Millie,” Brandan leaned heavily against the counter with her head bowed. “I just can’t do it anymore. I don’t have the time or the energy.”
Mildred got up and put a comforting hand on Brandan’s back. “I know, honey. I know. But there has to be another way. I don’t think Aaron is…”
“Talking about me again?”
Both women turned to find the subject of their conversation standing in the doorway with his arms crossed over his chest and a scowl on his handsome features. He wore a black leather jacket, worn blue jeans, scuffed biker boots and his blond hair was slightly wind-blow. Eyes the same deep-blue as Brandan’s glared at them from beneath darker brows and long eyelashes.
“Oh, Aaron, honey…” Mildred walked toward him, but he brushed past her and went to the refrigerator, instead.
“Something smells good,” he commented as he grabbed a carton of milk and downed half of it in a few gulps, then returned the carton to the shelf.
“It’s Aunt Millie’s stew,” Brandan turned around and leaned back against the counter with her own arms crossed in front of her. She was ready for a confrontation with her younger brother, and she was also a little pissed at him for his rudeness to their aunt. “But first apologize to Aunt Millie for being such a selfish bastard.”
He let the hint of a smirk touch his lips, as his eyes met Brandan’s in open challenge. “Sorry, Auntie,” he said without breaking eye contact with his sister.
“Oh, it’s all right, Aaron honey,” Mildred waved off his apology.
“No, it’s not,” Brandan continued to glare at her brother, who finally broke eye contact and was the first to look away. “We need to talk, Aaron.”
“Sorry, but I don’t have a lot of time to talk,” Aaron quickly grabbed a big chunk of cornbread and took a huge bite, absently spilling crumbs all over the floor.
“Use a damned plate,” Brandan growled, as Mildred grabbed a plate from one of the cupboards and handed it to him. “You’re not a heathen, Aaron.”
“According to you I am,” he shot back in irritation.
“Only because you always seem to think that the universe revolves around you and we’re all here to do your bidding.”
“Oh, and it doesn’t revolve around you and your job? Bullshit! You don’t give a shit about anyone but those precious patients of yours, Dr. High-and-Mighty Stone. You certainly don’t care about me or what I do, as long as I don’t get in the way of your fucking schedule.”
“That’s enough, you two!” Mildred shot them both a pointed glare. “This nonsense isn’t getting us anywhere and you know it.” She waited a moment before continuing, making sure she had their full and undivided attention. “Now, what we really need are level heads, not bickering. Sit down at the table. Both of you.” She snapped a finger up to stop Aaron’s protest. “Ah-ah, young man, I don’t want to hear any excuses out of you. Sit.”
“Yes, ma’am,” they both said in unison as they sat at the table like a couple of chastised kids.
“Okay, that’s better. Now, talk to each other like civilized human beings. And, please, no more expletives. They are completely unnecessary and quite vulgar.”
Brandan just glared at her brother while he bowed his head and rubbed at an imaginary spot on the table top.
“I’ll give you one minute to convince me that I shouldn’t march you right down to the local recruiter and make you sign up for service,” Brandan growled softly.
Aaron glanced at her out of the corner of one blue eye. “You can’t make me.”
“It’s either that or life on the streets,” she added. “You can’t stay here anymore. I’m sick of your attitude and for always having to bail your ass out of jail.”
He slapped a hand down on the table and shot to his feet. “And I’m sick of you always treating me like a goddamned kid! For Christ’s sake, Brandan, I’m old enough to make my own decisions!”
Brandan shot to her own feet. “Then make a responsible one for once in your miserable life!” She waved a finger in his face. “Make a decision to do something that doesn’t involve hanging out with a bunch of losers and getting high all the time! Go to college. Get into a trade school! Get a job! Do something besides waste the life God gave you!”
He stood toe-to-toe with her. They were the same height and could look each other in the eye. Twin pairs of blue eyes blazed with anger. Their eye color, height and tempers were the only things they had in common. In everything else they were as different as night and day.
“I don’t have to stand here and take this bullshit from you,” Aaron hissed, as he took a step back.
“Then don’t. Go find someone else who will take you in and let you mooch off them. I’m done letting you use my home as a flop house.”
“Fine,” he shoved past her without another word.
“You can pick up your stuff from the garage tonight!” Brandan shouted without turning around. “And don’t bother trying to use your house key! It won’t work after today! I’m having the locks changed just as soon as I can get ahold of the locksmith!”
The front door slammed with a resounding thud.
“No,” Brandan rounded on her aunt with residual anger still flashing in her eyes. “I’m done, Aunt Millie, and there’s nothing you can say to change my mind. I’m not dealing with him anymore. Let him be someone else’s problem.”
Brandan turned on her heel and headed for the stairs without a backward glance. Mildred just stood there shaking her gray head and wondering where she had gone wrong, as she listened to Brandan clomp up the stairs. The situation between her niece and nephew had never been as bad as it was at that moment. She just hoped some day they could mend their fences and find a way to come back together as a family. After all, they were the only family they had left.
Family. Caitlyn had had enough of hers to last a lifetime. It had been a week since they had wheeled her into a room all to herself. And every member of her family had seen fit to visit her every single day and sometimes into the night since then. They didn’t do much. Just sat there and watched TV.
That was the other thing. She hadn’t watched as much TV in the last ten years as she had during that entire week. Boring soap operas.Ridiculous game shows.Inane talk shows. Nighttime dramas, police dramas, legal shows, and sit-coms—the list went on and on. And every member of her family seemed to have a different favorite or favorites.
Caitlyn didn’t mind too much when Tammy brought the three kids up for a visit. Her two nieces and little nephew enjoyed watching the Disney Channel, which was tolerable. The cartoons were her favorite, especially the one with the two brothers who were always building strange contraptions and the irritating sister who was always tattling on them. She loved the bug-eyed dufus-guy and his nonsensical monologues about taking over the tri-state area. She just couldn’t figure out how the platypus fit into it all.
But what Caitlyn really wanted most was a visit from a certain dark-haired, blue-eyed doctor. Dr. Stone had promised to return to see how she was doing, but hadn’t kept that promise. When Caitlyn asked one of the nurses if Dr. Stone had even been to the hospital since that night, the nurse said that she hadn’t seen the doctor but would ask around. Everyone she asked had the same answer. Dr. Stone hadn’t been seen since that fateful snowy night a week prior.
It was disheartening, to say the least.
Caitlyn sat there with the iPod her dad had brought her. It was full of her favorite music—mostly of the cello solo variety. She had even managed to download a performance by the New York Phil. It wasn’t the one she sat first-chair for, but that didn’t matter. She was performing in the cello section and that was all that mattered.
Caitlyn looked up to find a stranger standing in her doorway with a dozen red roses in a vase. The bearer of the flowers wore a wide grin as he stepped into the room. Caitlyn removed her earbuds and set her iPod aside.
“I’m not interrupting you, am I?” He glanced around the quiet room for a place to set the flowers. “Caitlyn Bradley, right?”
“Yes,” Caitlyn replied. “And you’re not interrupting anything. I was just listening to some music.”
He decided on her meal tray for the best place to set the flowers. He pushed the tray close to her with a knowing grin and then took her water pitcher to the sink to fill it.
“I’ll just bet you’re wondering who I am, sugar,” he flashed her a wider grin, as he filled the vase with water. He then pulled a card from the bouquet and handed it to her with a flourish. “The name’s Terrance. Terrance Stadler.”
“Do I know you, Terrance Stadler?” Caitlyn took the card from his hand, set it on her lap and opened it one-handed.
Caitlyn quickly scanned the pretty card she took from the envelope. The outside had the image of a pink rose on it and the inside…
Her eyes snapped to his. “Dr. Stone?”
“Mm-hm,” he nodded with that wide, toothy grin of his. “She wanted to bring them to you herself, but she’s been swamped with work. This flu that’s been going around is just running that poor girl ragged. But she managed to somehow find a few free moments to call in an order for these fine beauties. And then she asked her best friend Terrance—that’s me—to personally deliver them to you.” He pulled one of the roses from the vase and held it out to her.
Caitlyn took the flower and pressed it to her nose. “Mm, I love roses. They smell so wonderful. Like sunshine and summer.”
Terrance pulled a chair up and sat down next to the bed. He studied the younger woman for a moment and noted how different she looked from the night of the concert. There were still a few small cuts and bruises on her face and her hair was pulled back in a ponytail to reveal a bandage near her hairline. The oversized hospital gown she wore had a few wires sticking out the neck. Her left hand was completely wrapped in a thick bandage and her right one had the IV stuck in the back of it. One of her legs was in a cast and elevated on some pillows with her toes just peeking out slightly.
“How’re you doing, girl?” Terrance asked quietly.
Caitlyn saw the genuine concern in his whiskey-brown eyes. She liked him. His hair was done in about a hundred tiny little braids—or were they called corn rows—that were all pulled back into one ponytail that hung between his shoulder blades. His skin was as dark and smooth as fine chocolate. And those eyes of his were so full of compassion that Caitlyn felt tears pricking the backs of her own eyes.
“Well,” she cleared her throat, “Dr. Kim says I’m slowly on the mend.”
“Brandan filled me in on some of what happened,” he said. “I was there, you know.” He saw the confusion register on her features. “At the concert that night? You were spectacular, honey. Magical.” And then he grinned a Cheshire grin. “And my little after-party with coat-check David wasn’t too bad, either.”
She chuckled. “Ah, so that explains why you weren’t there when Dr. Stone came backstage to meet me.”
“So, you do remember?”
She nodded. “Bits and pieces. I don’t remember anything about the accident, which is probably just as well.” She glanced down at her bandaged hand. “They won’t tell me if my hand can even be saved or not. Dr. Kim just says to be patient and wait for Dr. Stone’s evaluation.”
“She’s the best,” Terrance put a hand on her arm and smiled. “And I’m not just saying that ‘cause she’s my bestie and all. Brandan really is the top ortho surgeon in the entire Midwest—probably the entire country, too. She’s very gifted and one hell of a doctor, too.” He then leaned in conspiratorially. “But don’t tell her I said that. No sir. She’ll deny every word of it. She’s just that modest.”
“Actually, she already told me she’s the best.”
“Nooooooo,” he exclaimed in mock shock. “She did?”
“Yes,” Caitlyn nodded. “When I woke up in the ICU, she was there and told me she would do her best to help me play cello again.”
“Take that to the bank, sugar,” he said. “When Brandan Stone says she’s gonna fix you up, she’s a woman of her word. I’m just a little surprised that she would talk herself up like that. It goes totally against her character to just come right out and say she’s the best. I guess that means she really does like you, sugar.”
“What?” Caitlyn couldn’t believe her ears.
“I said she likes you,” Terrance grinned. “Please don’t tell me you’re straight, sugar. ‘Cause then Terrance is gonna have to get his gaydar checked. Terrance’s gaydar is never wrong. Well, hardly ever, anyway. There was that one boy at a restaurant in Edina…” He waved dismissively. “Oh, never mind that. I’m still convinced he was gayer than Ellen. He was just buried so deep in that closet of his that he couldn’t find his way out.” He chuckled at his own joke, then sobered when he saw the look of confusion on Caitlyn’s face. “You are, aren’t you, sugar?” She just nodded. “Good! Then that takes care of one small obstacle. How about single?” She nodded again. “Fantastic!” He clapped his hands together in triumph. “Now, tell me you’re interested in that fine piece of white chocolate with the mushy marshmallow center?”
“Do. You. Have. Feelings.For. Brandan Stone?” He asked slowly.
Caitlyn just stared blankly at him for a moment. “Terrance?”
“Are you trying to set us up?”
“Mm-hm,” he nodded.
“Why? You don’t even know anything about me.”
“Um, besides the obvious?” He cocked his head. “As her best friend, it is my job to see that Brandan is happy. And nothing has ever made her eyes light up and sparkle and shine like when that curtain rose and she spotted you sitting on that stage. Her whole face suddenly transformed. It was like someone plugged in the White House Christmas tree, all sparkly and brilliant. And let me tell you something, girlfriend. I have never seen Brandan Stone look more radiant than when she closed her eyes and listened to you play. It was a damned Christmas miracle.”
“But…” Caitlyn glanced sadly down at her bandaged hand.
“Oh, don’t get me wrong, sugar,” he added quickly. “She liked you before she even heard you play.”
“Yeah,” he continued with a grin. “You shoulda seen her when she got back to the clinic after having lunch at the deli that afternoon. All starry-eyed and giddy. It was crazy weird, let me tell you. I have never seen stoic old grouchy britches light up like that before. Until we sat there in that theatre that same night and watched you perform, that is. Then she was all starry-eyed and practically droolin’ on that Christian Dior gown of hers. It was disgusting, girlfriend. I couldn’t stand another minute of it, so I ducked out of there as soon as the curtain started down.”
Caitlyn blushed. “You really think…”
“I don’t think. I know, sugar,” he nodded emphatically. “Brandan Stone has the perfect last name for how she is. That woman is like ice in Antarctica when it comes to women. I think I can count on one hand the number of times she’s been on a date in the last decade.” He held up one finger and nodded. “Mm-hm. That’s right. Some of the nurses call her Cold Stone behind her back, she’s such an ice queen. But I saw a totally different side of her after she met you in that deli, girlfriend. Mm-hm, yessiree. The ice queen melted like Frosty on a hot summer day.”
“Why are you telling me all this?”
He chuckled. “Because she sent me here on a special mission to make sure you know that she didn’t forget about you. That she has been thinking about you every damned day that she wasn’t able to drag her sorry ass away from work. And that means something, sugar.” He leaned against the railing and took her good hand in his. “She will come to check on you, girl. Just have a little faith.”
Caitlyn couldn’t help but smile and squeeze his hand. She really liked Terrance and wanted to be friends with him. But, more than anything, she wanted confirmation of what he had just said. Did Brandan Stone really have feelings for her? Did those feelings match the giddy flutter in her own stomach every time Terrance mentioned her name?
“Every word is true, Caitlyn,” he added when he saw the doubt in her eyes. “I know we’ve just met and all, but I kinda feel like we’ve known each other for a long while.”
“Yeah,” she confirmed. “Are you sure we’ve never met before?”
“Well, I grew up in the Bronx and moved here about ten years ago.”
“And I grew up here and moved to New York about that long ago. Is that weird or what?”
“Actually, I think it’s fate. Some cosmic magnet is pulling us all together for a reason.”
“You really think so?”
“Ah, honey, I know so. Why else would you end up playing your little heart out right here in Minneapolis where Brandan would see you? Why were you in that deli that afternoon? Why do you think you had your accident just a stone’s throw—excuse the pun—from one of the best ortho surgeons in the country? And don’t tell me those are all just coincidences. I don’t believe in coincidence, honey. Nuh-uh.”
Caitlyn actually chuckled. “Can I take you home with me? My parents would love you to pieces. You’re priceless, Terrance. Or can I call you Terry?”
“Not Terry, sugar,” he shuddered. “I am a Terrance through and through. And I’m also not the meet-the-parents type of guy.”
“Well,” Caitlyn added, “they are your typical Midwesterners and would probably both die from shock if I brought you home to meet them.”
“Ohhhh,” his eyes widened as he got a gleam of mischief in his eyes. “Then maybe I should make an exception for you, honey. Make a special trip to their house and introduce myself as your new beau.”
Caitlyn laughed. “Or you could just stay here until one of them shows up. Make things livelier than they’ve been all week. It sure would be a welcome change from all the TV they keep making me watch.”
His expression turned thoughtful. “Do they know?”
“Know?” She looked at him in confusion until his eyebrow went up. “Ohhhhh, you mean…” She shook her head sadly. “No, they don’t. Or maybe they do and just aren’t willing to admit it. Wait, how did you know?”
“Gaydar, honey,” he said matter-of-factly. “It’s my special gift.”
“I’m afraid I have no idea what gaydar is.”
“Well, it’s a kind of seventh sense, as it were. Some of us can just tell. Like radar, we can sense when someone bats for the same team.”
“And the rest of us?”
“You just have to rely on the good ol’ question and answer technique, sugar. ‘Cause the gaydar only works on those of us lucky enough to possess it. Sometimes you can tell and sometimes…well…” he finished with a shrug.
“I can never really tell,” Caitlyn sighed. “I tried a few bars in New York City, but the vibe just wasn’t right. Besides, most of the women wore leather and had short-cropped hair. Not exactly my scene, you know?”
“Or you were in all the wrong bars, sugar,” Terrance replied with a thin smile. “Somehow you just don’t strike me as the butchy, biker type.”
“More like the sadly artistic and socially stunted type,” Caitlyn gave him a wan smile in return. “My music has always been my first and only love. Don’t get me wrong. If the right woman came along, then…”
“Damn, girl! You really do need to get to know the good doctor better. It sounds like the two of you are a perfect match for each other—a match made in heaven.”
“Why? Is Dr. Stone good with relationships?”
“Pffft! Not at all, sugar,” he chuckled wryly. “Didn’t you catch ‘the last time she was on a date was about ten years ago’ hint that I dropped earlier? She has about as much luck with women as—” He stopped as he realized who he was talking to. “Let’s just say she needs practice. Like you, her work has been the be-all and end-all of her existence for too damned long. Matter of fact, that night we went to see the concert was one of the first times we’ve socialized someplace other than at the clinic ever. Brandan Stone is a workaholic, if ever there was one.”
“And you think that’s a selling point, Terrance?”
“Well,” he thoughtfully rubbed the curly stubble on his chin, “at least you’ll have plenty in common, sugar. Maybe between the two of you can find a way to figure out the whole relationship thing. The lord knows I can’t give you any advice in that department.”
“Oh, sugar, if only you knew how much I dread spending more than a few fun nights in the company of any man, especially the ones around here. My only saving grace is when Broadway comes to the Cities and I can sample some of the finer delicacies that drop into town. But, alas, they end up leaving the very next morning, usually on their way to a gig in some sleepy town in South Dakota or Iowa or some other godforsaken place that doesn’t even show up on any map,” he shuddered at the thought. “No, I am forever destined to remain a unique attraction here and a single one, at that. Although,” he continued thoughtfully, “as you said, if the right man were to come along, then…”
Caitlyn chuckled. “And what would this mystery man need in order to satisfy your distinguished palette, Terrance?”
“A winning personality,” he shot back with a sly grin. “And a fabulous physique. After all, he would have to keep up with this fine specimen of manly goodness.”
“All fine qualities, I’m sure,” Caitlyn did her best to keep a straight face. “I’m just looking for someone who doesn’t think I’m a total freak because I spend hours with a big stick of wood and a bow.” She sobered. “At least, I used to. Now I may have to be content sitting in the audience and living my dream vicariously through others.”
“Welcome to the real world, sugar,” he patted her arm. “We are a poor but happy folk who can only dream of having the kind of talent you do. At least you had the opportunity to sit in the big chair, so to speak, for one magical night. That’s more than most people achieve in an entire lifetime.”
“Yes, you’re right,” she glanced at her bandaged hand. “I just don’t know what I will do if I can no longer play my cello. It’s been my life—my entire reason for being—for longer than I can remember. I don’t know how to do anything else. I can’t imagine doing something else.”
“You could teach,” he said. “They do say those who can’t, teach. Maybe teaching music to the next generation is your new calling, if your hand doesn’t quite return to the way it was before. Maybe you are meant to find the next first-chair cellist of the New York Philharmonic.”
Caitlyn didn’t want to think about that. She didn’t want to even contemplate what her life would be like without the full use of her hand. But she knew enough—had seen enough—to know that her chances of regaining the full use of her hand were slim.
And then there were her fellow musicians who were no longer playing professionally.
Some became teachers who gave private lessons to those who could afford it. Others had to learn an entirely new profession that didn’t involve music. They sometimes played for smaller orchestras when the opportunity presented itself. There were a few who still remained true to their art, while earning a living elsewhere.
Caitlyn just couldn’t imagine a future that didn’t include playing her cello. It wasn’t just unimaginable. It was…
“You okay, sugar?”
Terrance’s soft words brought Caitlyn out of her morbid thoughts. She looked up and realized tears were streaming down her cheeks.
“I’m fine,” she gave him a watery half-smile. “It’s just…” She did a one-shouldered shrug, since her upper right arm was immobilized to keep her shoulder still. “I don’t want to think about the future right now. I can’t imagine a future without playing my cello.”
In that moment she realized just how broken her body was. Her hand.Her knee.Her shoulder. Not to mention the fact they had to remove her spleen and do a patch job on her insides. Dr. Kim told her it was going to be a slow recovery, and she still had more surgery to face in the near future.
“Maybe I should go,” Terrance stood up to leave. “Let you rest awhile, sugar.”
“No, please,” Caitlyn sniffed back her remaining tears. “Please don’t go, Terrance. I’m sorry I’m such a mess. You must think I’m a basket case with all these tears and blubbering.”
“No, actually I think you’re doing pretty good, sugar. You haven’t called the nurse in here once since I came in. Besides, a few tears don’t scare old Terrance one bit. I’m a nurse in a free clinic, so I’m used to seeing people at their worst. You’ll be just fine. Don’t you let anyone tell you otherwise.”
She let him wipe the tears from her cheeks and nose with a wad of tissues. Actually, she really didn’t have a choice in the matter. Terrance just took charge and did what needed to be done, like any good nurse would do.
“How’s that? Better?” He sat back down.
“Yeah,” Caitlyn nodded. “Thanks.”
“My pleasure, sugar,” he balled the tissues up and tried a three-point toss into the garbage can across the room. “Damn. Missed again.”
“Is basketball a favorite pastime of yours?”
“I suck at sports,” he shrugged. “Always have. I got me two older brothers who were always whipping the pants off anyone who challenged them in a neighborhood pickup game back home. But old Terrance didn’t get the athletic gene. I also didn’t get the straight gene or the one that gets you tossed in jail for not paying child support on the babies you make with all the worthless ho’s who just want to live on food stamps and welfare.”
“Your brothers sound like wonderful people,” Caitlyn’s tone dripped sarcasm. “I don’t have a brother, just a sister. And she’s the apple of my parents’ eye. She’s married with three perfect little angels for children. I’m just the oddball musician who decided to up and move to New York City to study at Julliard. Just wait until they find out the big city corrupted their little girl and turned her into one of those perverted lesbians. My father’s words. Not mine.”
“Are you happy being who you are?”
“For the most part,” Caitlyn replied with a wry grin. “My current situation isn’t exactly what I’d hoped for. I’m supposed to be in Rapid City or Salt Lake City playing with the philharmonic. Not lying here in a hospital bed with my life and my career in the balance.”
“But you’re alive,” Terrance countered. “That has to count for something, sugar.
“Yes. It does.”
“And you have the opportunity of a lifetime right here in the greater Twin Cities area,” he added.
He rolled his eyes in exasperation and then looked pointedly at the roses on the tray. “Just for your information, sugar, Brandan Stone does not send flowers to just anyone. And she doesn’t get emotionally involved with any of her patients. She’s the consummate professional when it comes to that particular rule.”
“Oh,” Caitlyn blushed again. “So how is this going to work, then? She said she would be the one to do my surgery.”
He considered the question for a moment. “Huh, didn’t really think of that. You would officially be a patient if she does any surgery on you. That could get kinda dicey, especially when it comes to patient/doctor relations. The practice she works for is full of a bunch of crotchety old dudes who are sticklers for following the rules. They might not take too kindly to having one of their own dating a patient.”
“How much trouble could she get into?”
“Well, not sure. It’s just not done, far as I know.”
“Oh,” Caitlyn’s face fell. “Then maybe it’s better if we don’t…”
“Hush your mouth, sugar,” Terrance chided. “We will figure out a way to make it work, one way or ‘nother. I don’t wanna hear any more talk like that. You and Brandan deserve to be together, especially if the universe is doing all this cosmic converging to get the two of you together. We’re not gonna let a little thing like the medical profession get in the way of true romance, sugar. Nuh-uh. No siree. You just leave that to old Terrance. I’ll come up with a plan to make this work. Just call me cupid.”
He grinned from ear-to-ear and Caitlyn couldn’t help but smile at his optimism.
Brandan needed more optimism, or some time off at the very least. She was so bogged down with patients that she could barely tell a knee from an elbow. The problem she had was remaining objective when it came to following up with her patients. She hadn’t had the time to do so and kept moving appointments back until she was so swamped that it would be another week before she could catch up completely.
She made a few notes in a patient file as she walked to the counter where the practice’s receptionist sat. Marion was typing away at her computer as Brandan approached.
“Can you make sure Mr. Koslowski gets set up for an appointment in three weeks, Marion?” Brandan didn’t look up as she set the file on top of the counter and continued writing. She stopped and rubbed her eyes. “I want to make sure that shoulder of his is still healing properly.”
“Are you all right, Dr. Stone?” Marion asked with concern. “You look pretty beat. Maybe you should go home and get some more sleep.”
Brandan sighed heavily, leaned against the counter and looked up to find Marion watching her with concern. She knew she couldn’t hide anything from the woman and didn’t try.
“I’m fine, Marion,” Brandan gave her a small smile. “Just tired.”
“I know, Dr. Stone,” Marion kept her tone professional, as her eyes reflected compassion. “But even you have to admit that you can’t keep going at this pace. Something’s going to eventually give.”
In a rare moment of weakness, Brandan actually felt the weight of the world pushing heavily down on her shoulders. Marion was right. She’d been pushed to the very limits of her endurance both at work and at home. Something really was going to give. Brandan just had no idea when or where it would happen.
“Mr. Kowalski, Marion,” she said as she straightened up with a monumental effort. “Who’s my next patient?”
“You have a few minutes until your next appointment, doctor,” Marion reached over and grabbed a slip of paper from her desk. “Dr. Kim from Fairfield Lakes Medical called earlier. She wants you to give her a call when you have a moment.”
Brandan’s expression actually lit up. Sara Kim was Caitlyn Bradley’s doctor. Reaching over the counter, Brandan took the message slip from Marion.
“Thanks, Marion,” she gave the woman a slight smile.
“You’re welcome, Dr. Stone,” Marion returned her attention to her computer. “I’ll get Mr. Kowalski taken care of right away. Don’t you worry.”
Brandan barely heard the woman as she walked back up the hallway toward her office. She wanted to know what Sara had to say about Caitlyn, but more importantly she wanted to know how Caitlyn was doing. She hadn’t had the chance to call Terrance and find out how his visit with the musician had gone two days prior. And Terrance hadn’t called her, either. That was unusual for him. Normally he would be on the phone with her as soon as possible. Had the visit not gone the way Brandan had hoped? Or was there something more to it? Had Caitlyn taken a turn for the worse? Is that why Sara Kim had called?
Brandan sat down behind her polished cherry wood desk and just stared at her phone. Anxious butterflies were fluttering wildly in her stomach as she reached for the phone and punched in the numbers from the pink memo slip. The phone rang several times before a female voice on the other end answered.
“Hello, this is Dr. Kim.”
“Hey, Sara, it’s Brandan Stone.”
“Well, hello there, Dr. Stone. It’s been a while. How are things down there in the Cities?”
“Pretty hectic. This flu is kicking everyone’s butt, including mine.”
Brandan realized what the woman probably thought she meant. “I don’t have the flu, just busy filling in for those who do and trying to keep up with my own workload, too.”
“Ah, I understand. It’s been pretty hectic here, too. We’ve had our share, but I think the worst of it has passed. Now we’re just dealing with the usual.” There was a short pause, then, “The reason I called is that I wanted to update you on Caitlyn Bradley. You know, the driver of the car in that semi accident the night of the big storm?”
“Yes, I remember,” Brandan just managed to keep the anxiety from her voice. “How’s she doing?”
“Well, that’s what I wanted to discuss with you,” Sara continued. “Do you have a few minutes?”
“I do, actually. I’m between patients at the moment.”
“Oh, good. Well, her prognosis is better than I expected, as far as the internal injuries go. Her vitals have been stable and she hasn’t developed any infections or had any setbacks. But I’m concerned about the other injuries, especially her right hand. The swelling has gone down and we’ve been keeping a close eye on it.”
“Have you been able to take x-rays?”
“We did, just this morning, actually. We did a full set on the hand, her left shoulder and her right knee. I also ordered a complete MRI scan for later this afternoon.”
“Can you email me the x-rays, Sara? I’d like to take a look at them and see what we’re up against.”
“One step ahead of you, there, Brandan. Had them sent to both your office and your personal email. Wasn’t sure where you would be today, so wanted to make sure I touched all bases.”
“Thanks, Sara,” Brandan reached for the mouse of her computer and shifted it enough to get the computer out of sleep mode. She then logged into her email and waited for her inbox to download her incoming messages. She found the one from Sara Kim and opened it, then opened the attachments and studied the images that popped up on her screen. “Hm.”
“I take it you got them okay?”
“Yes, I did. I really appreciate you sending me these, Sara.”
“Not a problem, Brandan. Anything I can do from here on out, just let me know. You have my number.”
“Then I’m going to let you go. Take care of yourself and try not to catch that crud that’s going around.”
“Thanks. I’ll try.”
Brandan replaced the receiver and continued to study the images on her computer screen. She enlarged the x-ray of Caitlyn’s hand and winced at the sight that greeted her. Shards of bone and cartilage were scattered throughout what once was a beautiful hand. Now it was a complete mess. Brandan ran a hand through her hair as she continued to study the image closely, her mind racing with possible ways to save the limb.
A quick rap on the doorframe nearly made her jump.
“Dr. Stone? Do you have a minute?”
Brandan looked up to find an older, silver-haired and balding man with a silver goatee and his characteristic stern grimace standing in her doorway. It was one of her bosses, Charles Stieg. He was a brilliant surgeon and a pioneer in arthroscopy and other orthopedic techniques. He had worked at Mayo’s for years before deciding to open his own practice in the Twin Cities. Now he and his partner, Dr. Samuel Johnson, traveled around the country to various conventions and shared their insights on future techniques in the orthopedic field.
“What can I do for you, Dr. Stieg?”
“I need you for a patient consult. Can you join me in room three?”
“Yes, sir, I’ll be right there,” Brandan quickly closed the attachments and her email, then put the computer to sleep again.
It wasn’t that she didn’t trust the people she worked with. Her bosses were good men and quite professional when it came to patient confidentiality. Brandan couldn’t quite put a finger on exactly why she didn’t just leave her computer as is. Maybe it was that she just wanted to study Caitlyn’s x-rays by herself, without distractions.
Staring at the black screen for a moment, Brandan tried to make some sense of the foreign feelings she was having every time Caitlyn’s name came up. Even during that phone call with Sara Kim. Brandan could feel her stomach flutter every time Sara mentioned Caitlyn’s name.
Brandan girded herself for the work she still had to do, as she stood up and straightened to her full height. It wasn’t even noon yet and she still had patients to see all day. She just wanted to leave and take a little trip up to Fairfield Lakes. She hadn’t seen Caitlyn in so long that she was beginning to think the woman was just a figment of her imagination.
“Are you coming, Dr. Stone?”
Stieg’s impatience was palpable and Brandan knew he wouldn’t give up until she relented. So, willing her tired body to move, she left her office.
“There, that’s better, don’t you think?”
Caitlyn didn’t know what to think as she stared at her reflection in the mirror her sister was holding up for her. The few scabs and bruises were mostly gone, leaving only a few residual scars as reminders of the accident. She still had the bandage at her hairline where the stitches remained. But at least her hair was neatly brushed and in a loose ponytail that draped over one shoulder. And the wires were gone, as were the numerous machines that had been her companions since the accident.
“I think you look beautiful, Auntie Cat,” a little voice next to her said.
Caitlyn smiled. “Thank you, Trevor. I think you’re the most handsome young man I know.” She then tickled his belly. His giggles made her smile widen.
“She’s a princess,” another little voice said, as a princess Barbie landed on the blanket that covered Caitlyn’s good leg. “A beautiful princess.”
“Oh, please, Britty,” came the eye-rolled response from six-year-old Brittany’s eight-year-old sister, Ashley. “Auntie Cat isn’t a princess. She’s in the hospital. Princesses don’t go to the hospital. They live in castles.”
Caitlyn stifled a chuckle at the logic behind Ashley’s response. Her sister just rolled her eyes and glared pointedly at her.
“She takes after you more and more every day, Cat,” Tammy gave her a wry grin as she stroked her daughter’s dark head. “The only difference is she doesn’t look a bit like you.”
“No, she looks like her mother,” Caitlyn glanced from Ashley to Tammy with a knowing grin. “Identical. Right down to the hazel eyes and the dimple in her chin.”
“With your personality,” Tammy smirked. “A deadly combination.”
“You think she’ll inherit my musical talents?”
“I already have her in violin lessons, big sis.” Tammy sat down in the visitor chair, as the kids lost themselves in cartoons on the Disney Channel. “She’s got your ear for music. Although hers is a little more up-to-date than those old stuffy classics you were always listening to when we were young. She especially loves Yani’s stuff. Can’t get enough of it.”
“Why haven’t you mentioned this before now?”
Tammy shrugged. “Just never came up. Besides, you’ve been a little busy, lately.”
“Yeah,” Caitlyn sighed. “You still could have mentioned it. You didn’t say a word about it the night we had dinner together.”
“You did most of the talking,” Tammy glared. “You wouldn’t stop going on and on about the Philharmonic and your adventures in New York. Who could get a word in edgewise?”
“Don’t be,” Tammy smiled. “It was fun to listen to all the craziness that goes on in New York. Jimmy and I were actually planning a trip to the Big Apple next year. We wanted to come and see what all the fuss is about. Maybe catch a couple Broadway shows. Experience a little of the night life. After all, we really didn’t get much of a honeymoon.”
“I can well imagine how Wisconsin Dells compares to a trip to the Big Apple,” Caitlyn snickered. “All those water parks and tourist traps, as opposed to Broadway shows, ethnic cuisine and more museums than one can experience in a lifetime.”
“Traffic, noise, and all those people scrambling around elbow-to-elbow, not to mention the smell of fresh garbage and old grease,” Tammy countered. “At least the Dells have Ducks.”
“Haha,” Tammy frowned. “You’re sooooo funny. You know what I mean.”
“Mom and Dad took us there when I was six and you were four,” Caitlyn said. “How much different was it when you and Jimmy went there?”
“It was romantic,” Tammy shot back with a raised-browed glare. “We even enjoyed staying in a suite at one of the resorts with an indoor water park. Of course, we really didn’t make much use of the water park. We were a little busy with other…um…pursuits.”
“Nothing. I just don’t want to hear any of the gory details.”
“Because,” Caitlyn glared at her sister. “And let’s just leave it at that.”
Tammy’s dark brows came together in a scowl. “Is there something you’re not telling me, Cat?”
Caitlyn glanced at the kids, who were enthralled by the dufus-guy and that strange platypus.
“Not with the kids here,” Caitlyn said.
“Why don’t you take your brother and your sister down the hall to the vending machine?” She fished some money out of her purse and handed it to the eight-year-old. “Get them a treat and get one for yourself, too.”
“Yay!” They all exclaimed on their way out of the room.
The two women watched the kids scramble out of the room and listened until they were well down the hall.
“Now,” Tammy returned her attention to her sister. “Tell me what the big secret is. I’m all ears.”
Faced with Tammy’s undivided attention, Caitlyn suddenly felt like she was on the spot and her courage drained out like the fluid in the catheter bladder.
“Um…” Caitlyn squirmed uncomfortably, then realized how stupid she was being. Tammy was her sister. She knew all Caitlyn’s odd little quirks. At least she did when they were kids. “I’m not sure where to start.”
“How about you just tell me what your little secret is before the kids get back,” Tammy said.
“I’m a lesbian.” Caitlyn didn’t mean to blurt it. It just happened.
And then she saw her sister’s face go through about three different expressions before landing on something close to shocked indignation.
“You’re a…a lesbian?” The last came out in a whisper. “How?When?”
“Seriously, Tam?” Caitlyn’s look was incredulous. “You mean to tell me you had no idea?”
“I had no idea,” Tammy responded with a shrug. “What makes you think you’re a lesbian, Cat? The Big Apple finally corrupt the little sister I once knew?”
“No,” Caitlyn picked at her blanket. “I just know—have always known. I just…” She shrugged one-shouldered. “I grew up here, Tam. Pine City isn’t exactly a hub for inclusion. Most of the kids we went to school with have never been more than 50 miles from this place.”
“Except you,” Tammy added.
“I had to go, Tam. You know that.”
“I do,” Tammy nodded. “Doesn’t mean I liked it. You left without so much as a goodbye. And you left me here to deal with Mom and Dad on my own. I’m not sure I can ever forgive you for that.”
“And you married Jimmy and have three wonderful children.”
“I do,” Tammy agreed. “And you’re a talented musician with more courage than all the people put together in our small town. So why tell me you prefer sleeping with women?”
“Because it’s true.”
Tammy studied Caitlyn for a few moments. There was definitely something different about her sister that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. It wasn’t just the recent injuries. There was a maturity to Caitlyn that wasn’t there before—a confidence that hadn’t been there when they were growing up.
“Please, Tam, say something,” said Cat quietly. “Tell me I’m still the same person I was when I left.”
“I don’t know about that, Cat. You look a little like the same person, but you’re different. Older. More mature. New York seems to suit you.”
“It does. It did,” she added quickly. “I don’t know if I can ever go back.” She looked down at her bandaged hand. “Especially now.” She swallowed back a fresh bout of tears. “I had a dream to make it as a bigshot musician when I moved there. Now…”
“Now you get to find out how the other half lives,” Tammy smiled sadly.
“Mom and Dad offered to give me back my old room, once I’m well enough to climb the stairs,” Caitlyn said. “But I don’t know. I might just get my own apartment in the Cities. I’ve been on my own so long that moving back in with the parents is…”
“Pathetic?” Tammy finished for her.
Caitlyn chuckled. “Yeah.”
“Except that you’ll need help until you’re back on your feet.”
“Probably,” Caitlyn said. “If I sell my place in New York, I should be able to afford to hire someone part-time, at least for a little while. And I’m still getting paid by the Philharmonic, until they find out I can’t play for them anymore.” The last was said on a choked sob.
“Hey, hey,” Tammy shifted closer and brushed the hair back from Caitlyn’s face. “You can’t give up just yet. They might still be able to fix your hand, good as new.”
Caitlyn lifted her tear-streaked face. “And what if they can’t, Tam? What if that performance was the final one of my entire life?”
Tammy got up and lowered the rail on the bed. Then she sat down next to her sister and just held her.
“Then we’ll figure something else out,” Tammy said as she kissed the top of Caitlyn’s head. “Maybe you can find yourself a rich guy…er…woman to take care of you for the rest of your life.”
Caitlyn chuckled through her tears. “Yeah, like that will ever happen.”
“Hey,” Tammy pulled back enough to look Caitlyn in the eye. “It worked for Ivana Trump. It could work for you. Have a little faith, Kitty Cat. You never did have much of that, despite the fact Mom and Dad made us go to Sunday School every Sunday when we were kids.”
“Yeah,” Caitlyn sniffed. “Dad was a little pissed when I told him God was a figment of his imagination.”
Tammy laughed. “You were six. Or was I six?”
“I don’t remember,” Caitlyn let her sister wipe her tears. “I just remember spending hours staring at the pages of that old Bible of his. What? Did he think I was going to become a believer by osmosis?”
Tammy chuckled as she finished wiping away Caitlyn’s tears. “Maybe. I still can’t believe you stood up in the pew that very next Sunday during service and proclaimed yourself an atheist. You certainly had everyone’s attention at that point.”
“It did kinda reverberate through the community for years afterwards,” Caitlyn added. “Mrs. Sherman refused to give me piano lessons because she considered me one of Satan’s minions.”
“She told you that?” Tammy looked at her in shock.
“Jimmy did, right before graduation,” Caitlyn said. “He said it was his gift to me and would help me make my decision to head to New York.”
“No, not really. I got my acceptance letter to Julliard months before that,” Caitlyn continued. “But it was nice to know he cared enough to share the information with me.”
“He loves you like a sister, you know.”
Caitlyn looked up at her sister. “Will he still feel the same way when he finds out I’m a lesbian?”
“Hm,” Tammy pretended to consider the question for a moment. “You might have to ask him that question. I really can’t answer it for him. But I can say he has gotten a lot more open-minded since his best friend, Nathan, came out of the closet a few years back.”
“Nathan’s gay?” Caitlyn couldn’t believe her ears. “Nathan Pierce? The captain of the football team?”
“Yep,” Tammy nodded. “He actually lives in the Cities now. I think his boyfriend is the head of some charity or something. Anyway, they go to all the Pride events and raise money that goes mostly to anti-bullying campaigns. They also marched on the capitol when Minnesota was considering banning same-sex marriage.”
“He still as gorgeous as he was in high school?”
“His boyfriend certainly thinks so,” Tammy snickered. “Of course, the guy could be a model for GQ for all I know. He’s that good-looking. Why is that, anyway? Why are all the gorgeous men either jerks or gay?”
“I have no idea,” Caitlyn just shook her head. “If I had the inclination to date any of the men who live in New York, I’d be hard-pressed to find a guy who is handsome and straight. They just don’t exist there. Or they’re hiding away in straight bars somewhere in Soho or the Bronx or Queens. Of course, if they live in Queens then they’re probably married to their Barbie doll wives and have two-point-three children who attend an expensive private school.”
“Yeah,” Tammy agreed. “Here, the men are mostly just fat, dumb, work in a factory or all of the above. Or they are married to their high school sweethearts.” She snickered. “Like my Jimmy.”
“Isn’t he kinda fat and dumb?” Caitlyn teased.
“In a huggy bear kinda way,” Tammy winked. “And I love him to pieces. When he’s not parking his butt in his Lazy-Boy and expecting me to fix his dinner.”
“Really. It isn’t the cliché I thought it was, actually,” Tammy frowned. “Now, back to our conversation before you so expertly changed the subject. How do you know you’re a lesbian?”
“Besides the obvious?”
“The obvious what?”
“That I prefer women to men?”
“Oh,” Tammy considered that for a moment. “But how do you know you prefer women over men? Have you…”
“Yes,” Caitlyn cut her off before she could say more and embarrass them both. “Let’s just say I know more about it than I did when I was dating some of the boys around here. And they had nothing on what I’ve learned.”
Caitlyn rolled her eyes. “Yes, really. I was never really interested in any of the guys I dated during high school. They were…” She shrugged. “Good people, I guess. But I wasn’t interested in having sex with any of them.”
“Did you?” Tammy blushed. “Have sex with any of the guys, I mean.”
“One,” Caitlyn replied. “Jason Beckman. He was a sophomore when I was a junior. He had the most beautiful, long eyelashes I’ve ever seen on a guy. And he was a decent kisser.”
“And you two had sex?” Tammy scrunched her nose.
“On his parents’ couch in their basement when they weren’t home,” Caitlyn said. “We got halfway through it when we both realized we were totally not meant for each other. It was a little embarrassing.”
“Not to mention you were way too young to be having sex,” Tammy added with an eye roll. “What in the world were you thinking, Cat? You could have ended up pregnant or something.”
“I didn’t. He never got that far. We never got that far.”
“So how did you know?” Tammy gave her a pointed look. “I mean, did some girl make a pass at you? Or?”
Caitlyn considered the question thoughtfully for a moment. “I had a crush on my best friend at Julliard. Her name…well, that’s not important.”
“Was she a lesbian, too?”
“Nope,” Caitlyn shook her head. “I came out to her and she dumped me like a sack of potatoes. Ended our friendship right then and there. I never spoke to her again.”
“Wow, that’s…I really don’t know what to say.”
“I just poured myself back into my music and eventually got over it,” Caitlyn continued sadly. “I miss her sometimes. We were really good friends.”
“But you said you’ve slept with…well, you know,” said Tammy.
“Yes, I have. My first experience was a little, different. I wasn’t really prepared for it, even though I kept telling myself I was.”
Tammy leaned in closer. “Was it anything like the lesbian porn you can rent at those adult stores?”
Caitlyn blushed to her roots. “Tammy! I can’t believe you even know about stuff like that.”
Tammy just laughed. “Hey, I’m not a total prude, sis. Besides, Jimmy keeps them in his sock drawer in our bedroom for special occasions. I’m not a big fan of girl-on-girl sex, but it seems to work for him. Although, I think he’s more interested in all the panting and moaning than he is in the actual sex. We’re usually pretty hot and heavy by the time they get to the good stuff.”
“And exactly what is ‘the good stuff’?” Caitlyn managed to keep a straight face.
But the kids chose that moment to burst through the door and interrupt the conversation.
“Hey, you three! Quiet!” Tammy chided them as they giggled and chased each other around the room. “Well, I think that’s my cue to get these three home for their afternoon naps. Besides, Ash and Britt have school tomorrow, so I need to make sure the laundry is done and they have all their school work finished.” The two girls groaned. “That’s right, girls. Time to go. Tell Auntie Cat goodbye and you’ll see her again later in the week when we stop by for another visit.”
Brittany climbed up onto her mother’s abandoned chair to be on a level with Caitlyn. “Bye, Auntie Cat. See you later, alligator.”
“Bye, sweetie,” Caitlyn gave the six-year-old a kiss on the lips. “Get your homework done and listen to your mom. She knows a thing or two about that stuff.”
The next to crawl into the chair was little Trevor. He had chocolate all over his mouth and a wide grin on his face.
“Bye, Auntie Cat,” he said as he leaned in for his kiss.
Tammy wiped his mouth of chocolate before Caitlyn had the chance to give him his kiss.
“Mm, still tastes like chocolate,” Caitlyn said as she licked her lips and smiled. “What kind was it, little man?”
“Reesis,” he replied with a big grin. “My fav’rite.”
“Mine, too,” Caitlyn lifted her good hand and gently poked him in the nose, making him giggle. “See you later, alligator.”
“Af’er while, croc’dile,” he scrambled down from the chair and went to stand by his mother and sister near the door.
It was Ashley’s turn. She didn’t need to get up in the chair to be on a level with her aunt.
“Do you want me to raise this back up before we go, Auntie Cat?” She motioned to the railing.
“Give me a hug, first?”
Ashley looked a little tentative for a moment, but Caitlyn managed to shift her arm enough to make room. Ashley was very careful as she gave Caitlyn a gentle hug. Once the hug was over, Ashley lifted the rail and secured it in place.
“See you later, Auntie Cat,” she said, as she joined her family by the door.
“Get some rest, Cat,” Tammy said, as she herded them out of the room.
“Will do,” Caitlyn waved at the kids, who waved back before disappearing from sight.
Then Caitlyn sat there in the silence that followed. It was so quiet, in fact, that she suddenly felt very lonely. She glanced up at the TV, but decided against that particular form of entertainment to pass the time. Instead, she let her eyes drift shut as she replayed her conversation with her sister. But then she remembered that last bit of conversation they were sharing and she just couldn’t go there again. She didn’t want to think about what her sister did in bed with her husband. And she certainly didn’t want to know what ‘the good parts’ were. She had never seen a single lesbian porn video. She just hadn’t had time to watch that kind of thing when she was living in New York. Besides, she didn’t need porn, not when she could experience the real thing.
Unfortunately, those moments were few and far between. Certainly nothing to write home about, even if she thought writing home about anything in her life would really matter to anyone. Then again, maybe if she had written home about being a lesbian, then her parents would have had time to get used to the idea. Then she wouldn’t have to drop the bombshell on them face-to-face. Those thoughts just kept rolling around in her head as she continued to lay there with the quiet pressing down on her.
Continued in Part 4
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