See Part 1 for all the important stuff.
Terrance was ready to pull his hair out as he glanced into the reception area and saw all the people there. The temperature had dropped overnight and snow was falling. The homeless who couldn't get into the free warming shelters were just hanging out in the reception room to keep warm. Others were there to be seen by the lone doctor on-call for the evening who had called in sick. It was just another joyous evening in the Sheridan Free Clinic.
“We're in trouble, sugar,” he commented to the woman seated behind the reception desk.
“You're telling me, Ter?” Rhonda Murray quipped. “There's about a hundred patients out there waiting for a doctor to show up. Not to mention we're out of that free coffee that was donated to us last week. I feel a riot coming on.”
“I called Stone and left her a message. Not sure if she's available. And there's no one else who can cover.”
“You think we should just tell people to leave?”
Terrance glanced at the clock. “No, give it another fifteen or so. It's not quite eight, yet.”
“Do we call in the cops when the time comes? I don't see these people leaving quietly, Terry.” She peeked over the desk at the people all huddled together against the chilly wind leaking in through the doors. Her own floor heater was on full-blast, but wasn't doing much to offset the chill. “I really don't want to create a mob scene when we send them all away and lock the doors on this place.”
“They won't create a fuss, Ronnie,” Terrance pulled his fleece sweater tighter around him. “These are decent people. Most of ‘em, anyway. They're just looking to see the doctor.”
“Who may or may not show,” Rhonda added. “This place isn't set up to be a shelter, Ter.”
“I know,” he grabbed two files from the pile on the desk and walked away.
Terrance went to one of the exam rooms and stepped inside. An older black man in a shabby overcoat and knit cap sat on the exam table.
“Hello, Mr. Burke,” Terrance greeted the man with a small smile.
“Hey,” the man nodded as a hoarse cough erupted from deep in his chest.
“Nasty cough you got, there, man,” Terrance noted. “How long you had it?”
“Been a couple weeks, now,” the man replied. “Getting' worse, too. Can't seem to shake it.”
Terrance pulled the stethoscope from around his neck and put it in his ears. “Can I get you to remove your coat and a few layers so I can listen to your lungs, man?”
Burke slowly removed his overcoat and carefully laid it on the table next to him. He then proceeded to remove about five more layers of clothing until he was sitting there in a stained tank top, suspenders and pants. His feet were covered by a worn pair of military combat boots, circa 1970.
Terrance stepped up to the man and started listening to his chest. “Take a deep breath for me, Mr. Burke?” The man did what he asked. “Another?” He then moved the stethoscope to the man's back. “Another?” He listened as Burke coughed a few times. “Okay, man, you can put your clothes back on.”
Terrance removed the stethoscope from his ears and wrapped it around his neck. He then turned away to give the man some privacy, as he made a few notes in the file. He then took his cell phone from a pocket and speed-dialed a number as he left the room.
“Hey, got a patient in his sixties with the early stages of pneumonia,” Terrance said as he ducked into an alcove. “Yeah, he's likely living on the streets. What do you want me to do with him?” He listened to the voice on the other end. “He came to us first, Amy. ‘Course he doesn't have insurance.” He listened again and nodded. “Okay, I'll send him your way, then. Thanks.”
He hung up and shoved the phone back in his pocket, then went back to the exam room where Burke was already dressed in his many layers.
“I got good news and bad, man,” Terrance said.
“Just give it to me straight, Ter,” Burke said, as he put his knit cap back on his gray head.
“Well, the bad news is you got the early stages of pneumonia, man,” he said. “But the good news is I talked to my girl over at the shelter over on South 4 th Ave. Ask for Amy and she'll get you a bed and something hot to eat. Just tell her Terrance sent you. Okay, man?”
“Thanks, Ter,” the man took his hand and shook it gratefully. “I knew you'd come through for old Burke.”
“I do my best, man,” Terrance ushered him out the door and escorted him back down the hall.
A blast of icy cold air from behind him had him turning to see who was coming in the back door. To his happy surprise he saw Brandan Stone removing a Christian Dior wool scarf and her thick rancher's leather coat. She gave him a quick wave as she peeled off a few more layers.
“Well, well, well,” he said as he sauntered up the hall toward her. “I see you got my message, sugar.”
“You caught me right in the middle of surgery,” Brandan smiled tiredly. “But here I am.”
“You look beat, sugar,” he studied her for a moment. “They still calling you in at all hours?”
“No,” Brandan put on the white lab coat that was hanging there for her. “I just haven't quite caught up from the last week of sleep deprivation.” She adjusted the collar and went to the sink to wash her hands. “Not to mention things at home are a little tense since I kicked Aaron out the other day.”
Terrance stopped dead. “You kicked your brother out?”
“Yes,” she grabbed a few paper towels and dried her hands. “It was time.”
She held up a warning finger. “I don't want to talk about it right now, Ter,” she glared. “Let's just deal with your situation first. ‘kay?”
“Yes'm,” he ducked his chin demurely. “How do you want to do this?”
They walked down the hall toward reception and stopped behind Rhonda's desk.
“Hey, Ronnie,” Brandan greeted the busy woman.
“Well, lord bless us all, Dr. Stone, aren't you a sight for these sore eyes?” Rhonda swiveled around to greet Brandan with a wide smile. “Didn't think you'd make it.”
“I didn't think I would, either,” Brandan said. “It's getting pretty bad out there. The roads are terrible. Snow's falling by inches and the plows aren't running until it lets up a bit. We may actually get more than a foot before morning.”
“Damn,” Rhonda shook her head. “That means the kids won't have school tomorrow. I really can't make Cynthia stay all night with those rugrats of mine.” She stood up and reached for her coat, scarf and hat. “I'm gonna have to get my but home before the snow gets so deep that my Jeep won't push through it.” She grabbed her purse. “You two gonna be okay without me?”
“We'll be fine,” Brandan glanced at the waiting room and held back a wince at all the number of people huddled together out there. “What are all these people doing here?”
Rhonda didn't answer. She just high-tailed it out of there as fast as her short legs could take her.
“Some are just here to warm up until we kick ‘em out,” Terrance explained. “Some are here for actual medical reasons. Take your pick.”
There were families sitting out there with little kids. Single mothers with small children, mostly. A baby bawled non-stop. Several people had hacking coughs. An older couple sat huddled together in front of the reception desk. Brandan could tell they were both there to see a doctor. They were both holding tissues and coughing into them. It was going to be a long night.
“Why don't you take the lighter cases,” Brandan suggested to him. “I trust your judgment. If they need meds, let me know. Do we have enough antibiotics to get us through the night? Looks like we might need them.”
“I think so,” Terrance handed over the key to the drug cabinet to her.
Brandan took the key and tucked it into a pocket. “Okay, let's go out there and do this. I want to get home to my own bed tonight. No offense, but that cot of yours sucks.” She grabbed an empty clipboard and a blank piece of paper. She made a quick makeshift chart, labeled it and tucked it under one arm.
“It's occupied at the moment, anyway,” he said, as he followed her out into the waiting room.
“Listen up, people!” Brandan stood just inside the waiting room with a dour expression on her features. At six feet tall and with those piercing blue eyes she was an imposing figure. Her no-nonsense attitude and military bearing just added an intimidation factor that few people ever challenged. “Those of you who aren't here to see the doctor need to leave, now! This isn't a shelter and you damned well know it. You know where the shelters are, anyway.” She waited a moment as several people got up, protesting under their breath, and left through the double glass doors. “Now, those of you who are here to see the doctor—and that better be all the rest of you—sign in on this clipboard.” She held it up. “We'll get to each of you when we can, but I can't make any promises that we'll get to everyone. Make sure you write down exactly what your symptoms are and how long you've had them. If you're just here for drugs, leave now. I'm not handing out any drugs tonight unless I think you really need them. We just don't have enough to go around.”
Brandan set the clipboard on the reception desk and went back through the door with Terrance right behind her. She could hear the uproar behind her as she strode back down the hall toward one of the exam rooms. It was empty. Brandan went in and shut the door for a moment. She needed to collect her thoughts and gird herself for the long hours ahead. A few brief moments of silence was just the thing and she took advantage of it.
“You ready, Dr. Stone?” Terrance peeked his head in. “I've got the older couple in Exam Room 1.”
“Thanks, Ter,” she gave him a wan smile.
“Hey, thank you, sugar,” he gave her a double thumbs-up. “You do that bit better'n any of the others. I knew I could count on you.”
“You owe me, Ter, big time,” she gave him her most intimidating glare.
“I know, I know,” he just shook his head. “Tell me somethin' I don't know, sugar.”
And then he left her alone again.
Caitlyn had ants in her pants and couldn't sleep. The TV was off—finally—and she was alone again. Her parents had been there for hours. They watched every one of their favorite shows and stayed until the late-night shows were done. Caitlyn kept waiting for the American flag to pop onto the screen and announce the end of the evening's programming. But cable TV wasn't like that anymore. An info-mercial came on, instead. The obnoxious idiot went on and on about the benefits of some product that Caitlyn could never see herself using, ever.
She sighed as she tried to listen to the music in her earbuds. Yani. Her sister had downloaded it to her iPod for her just that afternoon. Ashley had picked out several albums from her own CD collection for her auntie. They were her personal favorites.
Caitlyn wasn't really a fan of Yani. His music was good, but she still clung to the classics. Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Bach, Vivaldi, Boccherini, Saint-Saëns—the list went on and on. So many wonderful cello solo pieces to choose from. Yani just couldn't compare. Not that he wasn't the modern-day equivalent of some of the great classical composers. He probably was. He just wasn't Caitlyn's favorite. Or even a close second, for that matter.
Pressing her thumb against the iPod screen, Caitlyn flipped through her music selections and finally settled on a playlist she actually liked. The soft strains soothed her as she lay there in the muted lighting and tried to imagine that she was in her bed in her loft at home. With the wide windows overlooking the busy street below and the sounds of the ever-present traffic noise.
It wasn't the same. The bed certainly wasn't the same. Despite the yellow foam egg-crate pad she was lying on, she still wasn't comfortable. Not to mention the sights and smells that permeated every space of a hospital. She wanted out. She just wanted to go home and sleep in her own bed.
But her home was a thousand miles away. And her friends and fellow musicians were probably tucked away in their hotel rooms on the West Coast, by then. Caitlyn had lost track of the days and weeks that passed as she recovered from her injuries. She was a little sad that no one from the Philharmonic had contacted her. Not even Rosemarie. But Caitlyn understood how hectic things could get when you were constantly on the road. One town and venue seemed to blend into another as you counted down the days until you returned home. Your fellow musicians became your family, because you did everything together.
“They probably forgot about me,” Caitlyn muttered.
Caitlyn's eyes popped open, as she turned to find someone standing next to her bed.
“Wha—” Caitlyn yanked the earbuds out of her ears, as she stared in wide-eyed surprise.
“Hello again,” Brandan stood there holding a bouquet of fresh flowers in one hand and a wrapped gift in the other.
“Hey,” Caitlyn's surprise turned to genuine joy as she continued to stare at the woman. “What…time…”
“It's late,” Brandan said. “I didn't mean to disturb you. I just stopped by to bring you these.” She set the flowers on the tray next to the roses and handed the gift to Caitlyn. “But since you look like you're awake…”
“Yeah,” Caitlyn sat a little as she took the gift. “You didn't have to do this.”
“I didn't have to come here at two in the morning, either,” Brandan pulled up a chair. “And I wasn't even in the neighborhood.”
“Wait, it's two in the morning?” Caitlyn turned to look at the clock. Sure enough, it was. “What in the world are you doing way up here at this ungodly hour?”
“Visiting you,” Brandan smiled warmly. “I've been so damned busy, lately, that I just haven't had the chance to catch a moment away. And tonight seemed to be the perfect opportunity, despite the crappy weather and lousy driving conditions.”
“Is it really that bad out there?”
Caitlyn felt like she was dreaming. Was she? She pinched herself on the arm. Nope. She wasn't dreaming. Their conversation seemed so—normal. Like two old friends who hadn't seen each other for a time. It was a little disconcerting, but she decided to just go with it.
“All-wheel drive,” Brandan quickly replied. “I also managed to get behind a snowplow and travel in his wake for about ten miles. Of course, we were only going about 20 miles per hour, but, hey, beggars and all.”
Caitlyn looked down at the wrapped gift in her lap. “May I?”
“Go for it,” Brandan said. “I figured I needed to get you something that you would enjoy. Had to make a few calls to find out exactly what that might be, though.”
Caitlyn tore open the wrapping to reveal several CDs piled on top of each other. Her face lit up when she realized they were albums she didn't have on her iPod.
“You really didn't have to do this, Dr. Stone,” Caitlyn grinned from ear-to-ear. “But these are fantastic. I'll have to get my sister to download them to my iPod when she gets the chance.”
Brandan held out a flash drive and an iPod cord with an adapter. “Will this work?”
Caitlyn chuckled. “You think of everything.”
“I do,” Brandan said.
Silence stretched between them for a few moments as they just sat there studying each other.
“Listen, Caitlyn,” Brandan began, “I know this is probably kinda strange, me just up and dropping in on you like this…”
“No, not at all.”
“Let me finish, please,” Brandan said and then she watched Caitlyn nod. “Okay, so, I know this is a little strange, especially since it's so late and all. But…” She paused to collect her thoughts. “I was talking to Terrance this evening and I got to thinking about, well, you…”
Caitlyn listened intently and studied Brandan Stone as she did continued talking. The woman looked like she hadn't slept in weeks. There were dark circles under her blue eyes that hadn't been there the last time Caitlyn had seen her. Her eyes drooped slightly, too, like she was barely able to keep them open. Other than that, Brandan Stone was a gorgeous woman—at least in Caitlyn's mind.
“So, what do you think?”
Caught off-guard by the sudden question, Caitlyn gave Brandan a blank look. “About what?”
“You weren't listening, were you?”
“I…” Caitlyn scrunched her nose. “No, I wasn't. I was thinking about how exhausted you look.”
Brandan's brow shot up. “I do?”
“Yeah, you do. You look like you could use a good night's sleep. Or maybe ten,” Caitlyn replied. “What in the world possessed you to drive all the way up here, when you should be home sleeping in your own bed? I'm not going anywhere, Dr. Stone.”
“That's what I was just—” Brandan shook her head. “I should go. I have no idea what I was thinking. My brain must not be working.”
It took a monumental effort for Brandan to get to her feet. The chair wasn't exactly comfortable, but it was the first time she actually felt…What? Like her world had suddenly righted itself? She stood there looking at Caitlyn for a moment.
“What?” Caitlyn asked after several moments of silence from the tall woman.
“You're beautiful,” Brandan blurted and then caught herself. “Ugh! I have to go. I'm not making any sense. Too damned tired.”
She got up and headed for the door.
She stopped dead and nearly fell over sideways when she turned back around. Her gaze met Caitlyn's and in that very moment she knew there was no way she was leaving the woman. Not ever. Wild horses couldn't tear her away.
“You want me to stay?”
“Well, I don't want you driving all the way back to Minneapolis, especially not if the weather is lousy,” Caitlyn said quietly. “Isn't there a place around here you can stay? A hotel or something? Or…”
Brandan tried to think through the exhaustion and excitement that was suddenly fogging her brain. “Probably.”
Caitlyn hit the nurse's button on the controller for her bed.
“Yes?” Came the tinny voice. “How can I help you?”
“Would you mind sending someone in here? I need help with something.”
The nurse showed up less than a minute later. She almost looked out of breath.
“What is it, Caitlyn? Are you feeling okay…” She stopped dead just before she would have collided with the tall, dark-haired woman blocking her path. “Dr. Stone? What—”
“Hey,” Brandan gave the younger woman a small wave. “Patsy. Long time no see.”
Patsy gave the clock a quick check. “It's really late, Dr. Stone. What are you doing here at this hour?”
“I came to check on my patient,” Brandan was all business. “You don't happen to have her chart handy, do you?”
“Er…you know it's nearly two-thirty in the morning, right?” Patsy looked past Brandan to Caitlyn.
“I'm aware of the time, Patsy,” Brandan replied. “But I was in the neighborhood,” a snort behind her made her turn and glare at Caitlyn, whose expression was all innocence as she studied her iPod, “so I thought I would come see how Ms. Bradley is doing.”
Patsy just stared at Brandan for a moment, as if the woman in front of her had completely lost her mind.
“And while you're at it, Patsy,” Caitlyn piped in. “Could you bring me a phone book. I'm in the mood for some pizza.”
“Uh,” Patsy looked from one woman to the other like they had both lost their minds.
“But, first, the chart, please,” Brandan added. “I want to see if we can get Ms. Bradley scheduled for surgery on her hand and shoulder soon.”
“Y-yes, doctor.” Patsy went to the computer and typed in her password. She waited for the screen to come up and then opened Caitlyn's file. “Here you go. I'll just go get that phone book.”
“Thanks!” Caitlyn called to the retreating woman as Brandan studied the computer screen. She couldn't help but laugh at their antics and the nurse's reaction. “That was priceless. I've never done that before.”
“What?” Brandan turned around with her own innocent expression. “Completely pull the rug out from under someone?” She waved dismissively. “I do it all the time. It's one of the perks of being a doctor. I can yank their chains and get my kicks. They usually don't have a clue I'm doing it, either.”
“He knows me too well to fall for any of my b.s.,” Brandan chuckled. “Besides, I respect him too much to yank his chain—much.”
Caitlyn chuckled again. “I think he feels the same about you.”
“Mm-hm,” Caitlyn nodded. “He loves you to pieces.”
“He said that?”
“Not in so many words, but I could tell. His eyes lit up every time he talked about you.”
“You sure he wasn't just high?” Brandan added with a wry grin. “Not that Terrance does that or anything.”
“No, he wasn't high,” Caitlyn gave Brandan an incredulous look. “Now, about that pizza.”
“Don't they have a delivery place around here?”
“Oh, you were serious?”
“You look like you could use a slice or two,” Caitlyn said. “Before we get you tucked away in a hotel.”
Brandan shook her head in confusion. “Are you high?”
Caitlyn glanced at her IV. “You tell me. I have no idea what pain meds they've had me on.”
Brandan checked the smaller bag. “Looks like…naw, this stuff doesn't make you high.”
“Well, I don't feel any pain, unless I move around too much. Then I definitely feel it.”
“According to your chart, they should be getting you up and out of bed tomorrow,” Brandan said. “That means that I can probably schedule you for surgery before the end of the week.”
Caitlyn glanced at her hand. “Do you need to examine my hand, first?”
“Not really,” Brandan replied. “I took a look at all the x-rays yesterday and Dr. Kim had the MRI results sent over this morning. I'm pretty sure about what I'm up against.”
“Is it bad?” Caitlyn couldn't keep a quaver from her voice.
Brandan sat back down and took Caitlyn's good hand in hers. It was the first contact they'd had since that fateful night and they both seemed to react at the same time. Their eyes met and they just stared at each other for a long moment.
“Tell me you feel that, too,” Caitlyn finally ventured.
Brandan tightened her grip on Caitlyn's hand. “I definitely felt something.”
Their eyes met again. Brandan leaned in closer and Caitlyn did the same. It was like something magnetic was pulling them together.
Then the moment ended abruptly when Patsy returned with a phone book in her hand.
“Found it!” Patsy held the book up triumphantly.
She didn't seem to notice the two women quickly move apart or the twin blushes that colored their cheeks. She also didn't seem to notice their clasped hands as she set the phone book onto Caitlyn's meal tray.
“Anything else you need, Caitlyn?” Patsy asked hopefully, like Caitlyn was her only patient on the entire floor.
“No, I'm good, Patsy,” Caitlyn replied.
“Is there anything I can get for you, Dr. Stone?”
“I'm good, too, Patsy,” Brandan replied with a faint smile.
“Okay, then,” the nurse turned to leave. “You know how to reach me if either of you need anything.”
As Patsy left the room, she closed the door behind her. Caitlyn and Brandan exchanged confused looks.
“That was weird.”
“You said it,” Brandan added, as she glanced down and found that she was still holding Caitlyn's hand. “Er…”
“You're gonna have to look up a pizza place,” Caitlyn squeezed Brandan's hand and then let go.
They both felt a sense of loss as Brandan reached for the phone book and thumbed through it until she found the page for pizza delivery.
“Looks like we have one place nearby that stays open 24 hours and delivers,” Brandan said. “You have any preferences?”
“At two-thirty in the morning?”
“You're the one who wanted pizza this late.”
“You're the one who looks like she's on her last leg and can use a pick-me-up.”
They stopped and just stared at each other. Then they both burst out laughing.
“Are we married?” Caitlyn asked before she could stop herself.
“Sure sounds like it,” Brandan shrugged. “I'm just not sure it's legal in this state.”
“Why, are you flirting with me, Dr. Stone?” Caitlyn playfully batted her eyelashes at Brandan.
“Is it working?”
Caitlyn's expression sobered. “It's my understanding that relations between doctors and their patients isn't allowed.”
Brandan sighed tiredly. She was so tired that the conversation was getting out of hand.
“Pizza, first,” Caitlyn said. “Then sleep. We can discuss the rest another time.”
“Right.” Brandan picked up the phone and dialed a number. “Yes, I'd like to order a pizza to be delivered to Fairfield Lakes Hospital, room…” She put her hand over the receiver. “What room is this?” Caitlyn mouthed her room number. “Room 809. Just give us a 14 inch with,” she looked at Caitlyn again. Caitlyn just shrugged. “Do you have one with the works?” She listened. “Okay, go ahead and give us the Monster, then. Wait and I'll give you my credit card number.” Brandan took out her wallet and rattled off her card numbers. “Yes, and give the driver ten for his troubles. Thanks.” She hung up the phone. “What?” She asked as she found Caitlyn watching her curiously.
“Are you always so decisive?”
“Mostly,” Brandan shrugged. “Comes with the territory. Can't make life and death decisions if you can't make the easy decisions.”
“I have a hard time deciding on the type of conditioner I want to use on any given day,” Caitlyn said. “You should see my shower.”
Brandan sniffed. “You shower?”
“Ha-ha, very funny,” Caitlyn shot back with a grimace. “I could say the same about you, Dr. Stone. It's been a little ripe in this room since you arrived.”
Brandan chuckled. “Touchè.”
An empty pizza box sat on Caitlyn's meal tray as the two women finished off the last slices of the late-night/early-morning meal. They were content to eat in relative silence with only the faint sound of the air conditioning in the background.
“So,” Brandan grabbed Caitlyn's iPod and shuffled through her playlists. “Do you ever listen to anything besides the stuffy old geezers?”
Caitlyn nearly choked on the food she was choosing. “Stuffy old geezers? Really?”
Brandan continued perusing the music selections on the small device. “Vivaldi? Really? I'm surprised you don't have any Wagner on here.”
“Wagner is opera, Stone,” Caitlyn shot back. “I do cello. Not opera.”
“Oh.” Brandan was confused. “What's the difference?”
Caitlyn nearly choked again. “Are you serious?”
Brandan waited a beat and then smiled slyly. “No.”
Washing down her pizza with a few sips of Mt. Dew, Caitlyn chuckled. “Brat.”
Brandan's brow shot up. “Me? A brat? I have half a mind to take the rest of my pizza and…” She looked down at her empty plate. Then looked up in shock. “What did you do with my pizza?”
Caitlyn chuckled. “You ate it—brat.”
Brandan did a mock snort and went back to shuffling through Caitlyn's iPod. “At least I have a varied taste in music.”
“I have Yani on there, if that's more to your liking,” Caitlyn finished off the rest of her pizza. “Mmmm, that was the best pizza I've ever had. And that's saying something, since I live in New York.”
“It's Mama Leone's Chicago style,” Brandan said. “Their pizza is second to none and they're open 24 hours.”
“It just melts in your mouth,” Caitlyn sat back with a contented sigh. “Can't believe we ate the whole thing.”
“I can't believe you ate more than I did,” Brandan added. She then knocked on Caitlyn's cast. “Is this thing hollow? Are you saving those slices you devoured in that thing for later?”
“Hospital food sucks,” Caitlyn explained. “I'm not a big fan. It's bland and uninteresting.”
“One of my least favorite things about working in the medical profession,” Brandan said. “That's why I always scope out the best take-out places in the neighborhood and have my food delivered.”
Caitlyn studied Brandan for a moment. “You already knew about Mama Leone's, didn't you.”
Brandan looked like she just got caught with her hand in the cookie jar. “Yes. Does that make me a bad person?”
“Nope. It actually makes you my hero. I wasn't looking forward to lumpy oatmeal, greasy bacon and powdered eggs again. Now I can pass on breakfast.”
Brandan glanced at the clock as she sat back and wiped her mouth with a paper napkin. It was nearly five in the morning. She had managed to stay up all night and wasn't feeling as tired as she had when she'd first arrived.
“What?” Caitlyn's question broke into her reverie.
“I was just thinking about how awake I am right now,” Brandan said. “I don't feel like I did when I got here.”
“Is that a good thing?”
“Yeah,” Brandan smiled at her. “And I have you to thank for it.”
“Me? Why me?”
“Yeah, you. You're better than a can of Full Throttle or those other energy drinks I'm always sucking down.”
“Aren't those things bad for you?”
Brandan shrugged. “Depends.”
“How many you suck down at any given time,” she gave Caitlyn a wry smirk. “I'm a pro. And you're still better than any caffeinated beverage.”
“I have no idea. I just feel really alive right now, like I could go out and conquer the world.” She smiled brightly, causing her blue eyes to sparkle.
They both sat there in peaceful and companionable silence for a time, each lost in her own thoughts as the sun began peeking through the blinds of Caitlyn's window. Caitlyn couldn't keep a smile from her lips as she thought about what Brandan had just said. Alive. Yeah. That's exactly how she felt, too. Alive. And she was. She had survived what could have been a fatal accident. No, she hadn't survived without a cost, but she was still alive. She was also sitting there in the company of one of the most gorgeous women she had ever met.
And Brandan Stone seemed to like her. Would wonders never cease? Caitlyn sure was counting her blessings, then caught herself. Blessings were for religious nuts. She was just a lucky woman. A damned lucky woman.
“So, Caitlyn Bradley,” Brandan's voice cut into her musings. “What other interests do you have, besides music?”
“Uh…” Caitlyn was caught at a loss for words. “I like reading—when I get the chance.”
“And who might your favorite authors be? Please don't say you just adore the classics.”
Caitlyn chuckled. “No, I don't. They take too long to read. I'd have gray hair before I ever got a chance to finish anything by Dickens or Shelly or—heaven forbid—Brante.”
Caitlyn actually snorted. “No.”
“Not really, no,” she replied. “I don't get the chance to get by a book store very often, either.”
Brandan frowned. “Then what do you like to read?”
“Believe it or not, I like fan fic on the internet,” Caitlyn chuckled. “Especially stories about a certain dark-haired, blue-eyed heroine and her cute, blonde sidekick. But I read other stuff, too. Mostly on Rosemarie's iPad.”
“Huh,” Brandan tried that one on for size. “Fan fic. As in fanatical fiction? Or?”
“As in stuff written by fans of a particular TV show,” Caitlyn supplied. “I used to watch the show when it was still on, especially since it came on late at night after I was done with rehearsal. I was always so wound up from playing that I needed to just vegetate and unwind. There wasn't much on TV at two and three in the morning, so I found this one show. It had a sort of cult following and people started writing stories about the characters. There are a bunch of sites on the internet now that keep those stories around. Some people even keep writing about it, even though the show has been off the air for years now.”
“I must have missed that one while I was serving in the Navy, going to medical school and doing my residency,” Brandan shot Caitlyn a wry grin.
“You probably would have like it. The lead was this Amazonian warrior woman who went around fighting warlords and tyrants and gods and stuff. Her sidekick made the show, though. She started out as this naïve farm girl seeking adventure and ended up filling a warrior's shoes, so to speak. The show actually lasted six years before they killed off the main character and left the sidekick to be the hero. Not exactly the ending I was anticipating. But the fanfic keeps things going.”
“Ah. I see,” she didn't really.
“So, what about you?” Caitlyn tossed back. “What do you like to do in your free time, doctor? When you have some, that is.”
“I take about three weeks out of the year and go up to my family's property in northern Minnesota,” Brandan said. “No phone. No internet. Just me, myself and I—and the great outdoors. It's peaceful and I don't have to answer to anyone.”
“What do you do up there?”
“Mostly sit and watch the sun rise and set over the lake. Listen to the loons and geese. Fish for trout and bass. Eat. There's a small town about a mile away. They have some touristy shops and stuff. I support the local economy as much as I can while I'm there.”
“Do you own a boat?”
“And you keep it up there?”
“I hire someone to take care of it and store it over the winter. Why?”
“I like boats. Used to go water skiing with some friends during high school. Haven't done it in years.”
Brandan smiled. “Water skiing, huh? Guess I didn't peg you for the water skiing type.”
Caitlyn gave her a wry grin. “There's more to me than just music. Not a lot more, but enough to matter.”
“And New York? What did you do for fun there?”
“Saw a few Broadway musicals—the revival of Guys and Dolls, Wicked, South Pacific. I loved R.E.N.T., Chicago and Spamalot.” She noticed Brandan eyeing her curiously. “What?”
“Broadway musicals? Seriously?”
“What's wrong with Broadway musicals?”
“You're a connoisseur of classical music. What about Broadway appeals to you?”
Caitlyn considered the question thoughtfully. “I really don't know. Maybe the romance or the various layers. The music is okay, but I just get lost in a good musical.”
“My favorite is Fried Green Tomatoes.” She then caught herself. “And A League of Their Own.”
“Already asked and answered, Stone. You?”
“Hm, have to get back to you on that.”
“Don't you read?”
“Sometimes. My favorite movie is Scarface. Love Al Pacino. He's so tough and gritty.”
“Just the movie.”
“Favorite romantic comedy?”
Brandan scrunched her face in thought. “Don't really have one.”
“Me, either. Especially since most deal with hetero love stories and I'm not all that interested in watching a man and a woman get it on.”
Brandan snickered. “Yeah, me either. But they don't make too many girl-on-girl romantic comedies, at least that I've seen. Porn? Yes. Romantic comedies? Not so much.”
“Okay, then. How about your favorite girl-on-girl porn?”
Brandan snorted and nearly spewed the Mt. Dew she was drinking. “Are you serious?”
“Well, you brought it up first, as I recall.”
“Just answer the question, Stone.”
“I really can't. I don't have a favorite. I just don't watch all that much TV. Period.”
“Hm,” Caitlyn looked thoughtful. “Maybe we should remedy that. At least get you interested in something besides medicine.”
“Are you challenging me?”
Caitlyn gave her a Cheshire grin. “Maybe.”
Brandan finished the last of her Mt. Dew and three-point tossed the can into the garbage. She didn't miss. Then she sat studying Caitlyn for several silent moments until the exhaustion receded a bit as the caffeine kicked into high gear.
“You look like you need to go home and sleep. Why don't you?”
Caitlyn's unexpected comments brought Brandan up short. Her eyes locked with the musician's gaze and held it. They just stared at each other, both mesmerized by the other. Electricity seemed to crackle between them and the world just stopped for a few heartbeats. Their souls communicated what their mouths could not.
Brandan was the first to break eye contact.
“Maybe I should go,” she rose from her chair and stretched, then glanced at the clock. “Yeah, I definitely need to get home.”
“Will I see you again anytime soon?” Sadness crept into Caitlyn's expression when she realized their time together was truly at an end.
“Oh, you betcha,” Brandan tossed the rest of the trash into the small waste basket, including the empty pizza box. “I still need to set up a time to do that examination, so we can get you scheduled for surgery. I want to take a good look at that hand and explore our options.”
“I thought you already looked at the x-rays and MRI.”
“I did,” Brandan leaned on the rail of Caitlyn's bed. “But I still need to look at it and get a feel for what I'm up against.” She watched Caitlyn look down at the heavily-bandaged extremity and put a comforting hand on her shoulder when the musician's expression fell. “Hey,” Brandan waited for Caitlyn to look up at her, “I'm going to do everything in my power to hear you play that cello of yours again. Just have a little faith. Okay?”
Caitlyn smiled wanly. “Faith isn't really something I've had a lot of in a very long time.”
“Well, maybe it's time you found yours again,” said Brandan as she leaned in close.
Caitlyn's breath hitched when she thought Brandan was going to kiss her. She waited and her eyes drifted shut. Then she felt warm, soft lips…against her forehead. Fingers gently brushed her cheek in a feather-light caress that had her eyes fluttering open. Brandan smiled and her face looked years younger in that moment.
“See you later, Caitlyn Bradley.” Brandan's voice was low, sultry.
“O-okay,” Caitlyn stammered as she felt her heart race and flutter. Was it doing somersaults in her chest?
Brandan's thumb stroked Caitlyn's cheek one last time before she reluctantly moved away toward the door. Caitlyn watched her leave and felt a sense of loss that was so profound that she was glad she was lying down. Otherwise she might have fallen to her knees on the hard tile floor. She could still feel the faint trace of warm, soft lips on her forehead and the gentle brush of those fingers against her cheek. They were like whispers of things to come.
Her chest ached and tears sprang to her eyes. Emotions so alien to her that she had no idea how to deal with them suddenly washed over her. She looked down at her bandaged hand and then up at the vacant doorway. Sniffing back tears, she let her head rest against the pillow behind her as she took a small measure of comfort in the fact that Brandan Stone promised to see her again.
“There you are!” Mildred's exclamation almost made Brandan trip over her own feet as she started climbing the stairs and suddenly dead-stopped in mid-motion. “Where in the name of the good Lord have you been all night, young lady? I've been worried sick.”
Brandan sighed, as she backed down the steps and turned to face her aunt. Mildred looked ready to blow a gasket. Brandan was on her last leg, both physically and emotionally. It had been a long, lonely drive home.
“I…” Brandan began, then realized she was slouching like a chastised kid and straightened up. “I went to visit a friend after work.”
Mildred glanced at the clock in the foyer. “It's nearly ten in the morning, Brandy. Tell me you didn't stay out all night and then drive home in this weather?”
“I did,” Brandan shrugged. “It wasn't too bad out there. Just a few patches of ice, here and there. The plows have been busy. And the salt is doing its job.”
“You look like something the cat dragged in off the streets and mauled for several hours,” Mildred added. “You're gonna make yourself sicker than sick if you keep this up, Brandy honey.”
“I'm fine, Aunt Millie.” Brandan yawned for a good five seconds. “Sorry.”
“Get up to bed. Right now, young lady,” Mildred shooed her up the stairs. “And I don't want to see the whites of those baby-blues until you've had at least eight solid hours of sleep. Ya hear?”
Brandan dragged herself up each step as if her feet were made of lead. When she reached her room, she stripped to her underwear and collapsed into bed lifelessly. She was out like a light as soon as her head hit the pillow. A small smile graced her lips as she fell into a deep and dreamless sleep with thoughts of Caitlyn Bradley whirling around in her head.
Her first conscious thought as she slowly drifted up from the darkness was of clear green eyes in the face of an angel. Music played softly somewhere nearby and she realized it was her clock radio. Opening one eye, she glanced at the digital display. She blinked several times so she could focus on the blue numbers.
Then it hit her that the little dot next to the numbers was present. It was nine o'clock at night. Brandan sat bolt upright and shook off the last vestiges of sleep. She sat on the edge of the bed for a moment and collected herself, then got up and strode to the bathroom.
After a quick, scalding hot shower, Brandan dried off and slipped into a pair of sweats and a t-shirt. With her hair wrapped in the towel, she padded around her room, picking up her discarded clothing and tossing them in the hamper next to the door. She knew what her aunt would do if she discovered Brandan had left her room in a shambles. So she also quickly made her bed, slipped on a pair of Uggs and headed downstairs.
“Well, ‘bout time you came back down here,” Mildred's voice carried from the kitchen. “I was beginning to think you would be out for the rest of the week.”
Brandan entered the kitchen and headed for the coffee pot. The aroma of fresh coffee drifted to her nostrils and brought a smile to her lips.
“How long was I out?” She said as she grabbed a large mug and poured herself a full cup.
Mildred sat at the table with her favorite Bible open in front of her. She glanced up from the worn pages and studied her niece as Brandan sipped her coffee.
“It's still Thursday, if that's what you're asking,” Mildred replied. “There's some leftovers in the fridge and a piece of chocolate cheesecake, too.”
Brandan went to the fridge and found the leftovers.
“You made pot roast?” She set three containers on the counter.
“I made enough for you to take to work with you the rest of the week.” Returning her attention to her Bible, Mildred scanned the pages for where she'd left off.
“Thank you,” Brandan grabbed a plate out of a cupboard and spooned up a generous helping of mashed potatoes, pot roast and carrots. “Looks delicious, Aunt Millie.” She popped the plate into the microwave and hit a button.
“Heard from your brother today,” Mildred commented without looking up from her Bible. “He's doing fine. Living with a friend and got a job in one of the shops at the mall. Aero-something or other.”
“Aérpostale,” Brandan supplied absently as she pulled her meal from the microwave and carried it to the table. “It's a clothing store for the younger generations. Torn jeans, t-shirts with their logo on the front and back, tank tops, short shorts—that kind of thing.”
“Ah,” Mildred nodded. “It's a job, Brandy. He kept his promise.”
“We'll see,” Brandan's skepticism was palpable.
“Will you be going out tonight?”
“I have to work,” Brandan got up, went to the refrigerator and took out a carton of milk. She poured herself a glassful and sat back down at the table. “Checked my phone earlier and they want me to fill in for another doctor who called in sick.”
“Stop,” Brandan held her hand up to stop any further protest. “I'm a doctor. It's my job. And it's who I am.”
“You work at a prestigious clinic and don't need to take all these extra hours,” Mildred pushed. “You have patients who rely on you to be at the top of your game. What are you hoping to accomplish with all this extra hospital time, Brandy? It's not like you're a first-year resident who needs to prove herself. You've already done your time.”
Brandan picked up her plate and glass of milk, then headed out of the kitchen. “I don't need a lecture, Millie.”
“Now, just a darned minute, young lady…”
Brandan continued without stopping until she stepped down into the den at the back of the house. She set her meal on a table in front of a huge leather sectional and an 84-inch TV. Grabbing the controller for the TV, she turned it on and sat plopped down in the middle of the couch. She then flipped to an on-demand service she subscribed to and scrolled through her choices. There were so many possibilities to choose from that she didn't have a clue what she wanted to watch, anyway. So, she flipped the TV off, hit a button on another controller and watched a fire come to life in the fireplace next to the TV. She then used that same controller to turn on the stereo system. Soothing music poured from the Bose speakers strategically placed around the room.
Sitting back with her plate balanced on her thighs, Brandan propped her feet up on the table and relaxed. She ate in silence while a string quartet played a soft accompaniment in the background. It was peaceful—quiet. So nice to just sit there and watch the flames flicker and dance. She wasn't in a real hurry. The hospital said she didn't have to be there until midnight. She had about an hour before she had to leave.
Finishing off her meal and setting the empty plate aside, Brandan let her mind wander as her eyes drifted shut. The music crescendoed and she felt a tingle run through her when she remembered the concert just a few weeks back. It seemed so long ago that she sat in the audience, mesmerized and transfixed. And when she closed her eyes, then, like she did now, she could actually hear Caitlyn's cello amongst the others. There was both heart and soul in Caitlyn's music that sucked Brandan right in and held her in a trancelike limbo. It wasn't just beautiful. It was pure magic. Wondrous and breathtaking.
Brandan didn't know if she would be able to repair the damage to Caitlyn's hand. The shoulder would eventually heal on its own. But that hand was another story. There was no telling how much nerve and bone damage there was until Brandan went in arthroscopically and saw for herself. If Caitlyn's hands weren't her life, Brandan would be content to just go in and do what little she could.
But that wasn't the case.
Caitlyn was a talented and gifted musician. She didn't just play music. She put her entire being—her very soul—into every piece she played and brought the music on the page to life in a way that Brandan had never heard before. It transcended simple talent. It was a gift—a gift and a blessing from God. And Brandan was sure that Caitlyn's hand was very much a part of that gift. It wasn't just a hand. It was the instrument through which she channeled every emotion, every aspect of herself, into music that made the heart sing. And it needed to be completely whole again.
But there was also more. Brandan didn't just want to heal Caitlyn and send her on her way. She felt a connection to the musician that she had never felt with another human being before. A deep connection that couldn't be explained with mere words.
There was a reason they were brought together on that fateful night. A power greater than either of them had seen fit to bring them together in that deli that very same afternoon. Something passed between them, even then. Something cosmic and unexplainable. And, for Brandan, her fate was sealed and her heart was completely won over when she sat in the audience and listened to Caitlyn play with a passion that wrapped faith, hope, love and devotion into one incredibly talented package.
Brandan knew, in that very moment as she sat there in front of the flickering flames with the soft strains of music surrounding her, that she was head-over-heels in love with Caitlyn Bradley. There was no denying it. There was no going back. The woman had stolen her heart and now held it in the palm of that injured hand of hers.
Her mind made up, Brandan knew what she had to do. She knew it as assuredly as she knew her parents were both smiling down on her from heaven for all that she had accomplished in her life. She just hoped she was up to the challenge.
A week later, Caitlyn sat in an exam room at Johnson-Steig, in Minneapolis. Her sister had driven her there for her appointment with Dr. Stone. The hospital had released her two days prior and she was staying with her sister and brother in-law. They owned a four-bedroom, one-story ranch in Cambridge. It was decided that Caitlyn would be much more comfortable in a real bed in a room of her own, rather than in a hospital bed in the living room of her parents' two-story house. Besides, Cambridge was closer to the Cities than Pine City.
Climbing stairs was still out of the question, even though the cast had been removed and she was in a splint. Her knee still wouldn't hold her weight and probably would need intense physical therapy before she was completely back on her feet. Unable to use crutches because of her shoulder and hand, Caitlyn had to be wheeled around in a wheelchair. But at least she was out of the hospital.
And now it was time to deal with her hand. She looked at the thick bandage that kept her from seeing any part of the appendage. That arm was in a sling, while the other was immobilized to keep her shoulder from moving. She had limited use of her right arm, since the immobilizer wrapped around her midsection and held her upper arm close to her body. The hospital had given her a ball to squeeze with her right hand to gain strength back in it.
She squeezed the ball as she sat there waiting for the doctor.
“It's going to be okay, Cat,” Tammy put a hand on her sister's shoulder and gently squeezed as she smiled reassuringly. “You'll see.”
Caitlyn swallowed nervously. It was time. Dr. Stone was due to arrive anytime. Excitement and nerves were playing havoc with her and had been since the call came to notify her of her appointment. Dr. Stone was going to examine the hand and make her determination. It was time. Time to take the bandages off and see just what they were dealing with.
Caitlyn glanced down at the bandaged appendage with a heavy heart. She was scheduled for surgery the very next morning. Another surgery on top of everything else that had already happened. More recovery time. At least this time she could recover at home—at her sister's home. Caitlyn was worried about that, too. Her sister's house wasn't exactly a quiet and peaceful place to recover from surgery. The kids were loud and rambunctious, even though Tammy did her best to keep them quiet. But they were kids.
Besides, Caitlyn felt a little guilty adding to Tammy's already-heavy burden. She was another mouth to feed, another person to take care of. Tammy didn't complain, but Caitlyn knew her presence in the house was more than Tammy had bargained for. There just wasn't anything Caitlyn could do about it.
Staying with her parents would have given her the peace and quiet she didn't have in her sister's house. But she didn't want to put her parents out like that. They would have had to rearrange the living room and that hadn't been done in decades. No, she was content to stay with her sister and her family—at least until she could head back to New York or…
Caitlyn didn't know what she was going to do. Her future was completely uncertain. Music? New York? She was still paying rent on her loft, but didn't have a clue how long that could continue. She also didn't know if she would still have a place in the Philharmonic. Rosie had called her once and told her Brenda was currently filling in as first-chair in her absence. But Rosie also said it wasn't the same. Brenda was good, but she just didn't have the passion Caitlyn did.
And Rosemarie wasn't about to challenge anyone for that first-chair slot.
The door opened and Caitlyn looked up. The woman of her dreams stood there in a white coat with her dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. Eyes the color of a summer sky met hers and Brandan smiled.
“Hello, Caitlyn,” the doctor greeted her and then turned to Tammy with a hand held out. “And you must be…”
“Tammy, Cat's sister,” she supplied as she shook Brandan's hand. “We met briefly in the hospital.”
“Ah, yes,” Brandan nodded. “Your children are adorable.”
Tammy smiled brightly. “Yeah?”
“Especially that little guy—Trevor is his name?”
Caitlyn watched her sister's smile broaden. There was only one word that could describe what she saw in Tammy's expression—charmed.
“I'm going to have to ask you to step back out to the waiting room for now, Mrs. Paige,” Brandan waited.
“I'll be just outside, Cat,” Tammy smiled at her sister and then left the room.
Brandan went over to the sink, washed and dried her hands, then donned a pair of nitrile gloves in a bright shade of purple.
“Ready?” She asked Caitlyn who merely nodded.
A nurse came in with a metal tray full of instruments and wheeled it over to the exam table. She then placed a sterile covering over table-like tray next to Caitlyn. Brandan grabbed a pair of scissors, pulled the flat table-like tray over and lifted Caitlyn's arm onto it. Once she unwrapped the Ace bandage, Brandan started cutting away at the thick bandaging. She gingerly peeled away layer after layer until she was down to just the gauze.
Caitlyn held her breath as she watched Brandan work. Layer after layer of bandaging went into the garbage, revealing more bandaging underneath. Once there was just the gauze layer left, Caitlyn could see how swollen her hand and wrist still were. They were also bruised beyond recognition.
“This is probably going to hurt,” Brandan warned with a quick glance up at Caitlyn's face and a reassuring smile.
“No more so than usual,” Caitlyn replied with a small half-smile. “Just get it over with. I'm ready.” She gritted her teeth in anticipation.
Brandan slowly peeled the gauze back and away from the swollen flesh of Caitlyn's arm, wrist and hand. She was careful not to put any pressure on the swollen flesh as she did so. Caitlyn's fingers were bent and mangled so badly that they no longer really resembled fingers at all. Her wrist was swollen to twice its normal size and her hand was puffy and discolored.
Caitlyn winced, but not because of any pain she was experiencing. “It looks…”
“Like we have a lot of work ahead of us,” Brandan finished for her. “Patty, can you make sure Dan is ready for us? I'd like to get some clearer images before we do surgery tomorrow.”
“Yes, doctor,” the petite brunette replied and then left the room.
Brandan sat down on the rolling stool and carefully examined the hand without touching it.
“It looks awful,” Caitlyn said softly. “I didn't realize just how bad it is.”
Brandan continued her examination and gently took Caitlyn's hand in hers and turned it over. She didn't need more images to tell her just how extensive the damage was. She could see by the twisted angles and heavily bruised flesh that Caitlyn would be lucky to keep her hand, much less be able to use it.
Straightening up again, Brandan caught the worried look Caitlyn was giving her.
“Tell me,” Caitlyn said softly. “I can take it.”
“Well,” Brandan removed her gloves and tossed them into the garbage, “there's a lot of external bruising and swelling still. It's hard to say…”
“I want the truth, Brandan,” Caitlyn insisted. “Please.”
Brandan met Caitlyn's teary-eyed gaze. “I can't really tell how extensive the nerve and bone damage is until I get in there. But it isn't good, Caitlyn. The swelling and bruising alone tells me that this will be my most challenging case, yet.”
“Will I lose it?”
The question caught Brandan off-guard and she couldn't help but reach out and rest her palm against Caitlyn's cheek. The gesture was so surprising that neither of them moved for several moments. Brandan just stared into Caitlyn's eyes without moving.
And then she did something so completely unexpected and so utterly out of character that she would never be able to explain why she did it. Brandan leaned forward and kissed Caitlyn softly on the lips. It was a gentle kiss only meant to last a moment, but once their lips were pressed together Brandan couldn't stop herself from wanting more. Her lips parted and her tongue darted out, tracing Caitlyn's as they shared the moment.
But then it hit Brandan like a lightning bolt out of the blue. She was kissing a patient. She suddenly pulled back in shock and stared at Caitlyn in horror.
“I…” Brandan tried to find the right words through the haze of passion that had suddenly exploded inside of her when their lips met. She stood up and moved away without meeting Caitlyn's gaze. “I'm so sorry.”
“Why?” Caitlyn asked curiously.
“Because,” Brandan shook herself and refused to meet Caitlyn's gaze. “That was completely unprofessional and way out of line. I…”
“I thought it was pretty amazing, actually,” Caitlyn let the hint of a smile touch her lips—lips that were still tingling from Brandan's kiss. “I enjoyed it very much.”
Brandan's eyes widened. “You did?”
“Yeah,” Caitlyn grinned. “If you hadn't done it, I probably would have.”
Caitlyn chuckled at the look on Brandan's face. “Surprised?”
“I'm not. I've wanted to kiss you for weeks, now. I was just a little too laid up to make the first move when you came to visit me in the hospital that night. The pizza was the best, by the way. The food they serve couldn't compare to what we shared that night.”
Brandan was flabbergasted. Caitlyn Bradley wanted to kiss her, too? How was that possible? And what did she mean by that last little bit? What did they share?
“Brandan? Say something.”
“Uh…” Brandan's brain was on overload. The kiss. Caitlyn's confession. Her confusion over kissing a patient. Everything was warring at once and Brandan didn't know what to do. “I've…I've never kissed a patient before—ever. It was…” She shook her head. “We can't.”
“Why not?” Caitlyn looked genuinely confused. “And please don't tell me you didn't feel anything, because I know you did. I saw it on your face just before you freaked.”
Brandan leaned back against the counter and tried desperately to make some sense of the myriad of emotions she was feeling. She was saved from replying by a knock at the door. Then Patty popped her head in.
“Dan is ready for her, Dr. Stone,” Patty said. She didn't seem to notice the tension in the room.
“Thank you, Patty,” Brandan pulled herself together.
“Would you like me to wheel her upstairs?” Patty asked.
“No,” Brandan replied a bit too quickly. “I'll take her up myself. I want to make sure Dan gets the images I need.”
“Yes, doctor.” Patty glanced from one woman to the other. “Is everything okay?”
“Fine,” Brandan said. “We were just discussing Caitlyn's options.”
“Oh, okay,” Patty ducked back out of the room and shut the door behind her.
Caitlyn looked at Brandan with an arced brow. “You sure you want to spend any more time with me, Dr. Stone?”
Brandan noted the emphasis on her title and winced. She was totally screwing up and she knew it. But Caitlyn wasn't exactly making things easier for her, now, was she?
“Caitlyn…” Brandan didn't keep the pleading out of her tone.
“Can you move my chair over here, please?” Caitlyn's tone was cold and devoid of emotion. “I'll do the rest.”
Brandan did as she was asked, then, despite the glare Caitlyn gave her, helped her into the chair. Once Caitlyn was settled, Brandan propped the door open and wheeled Caitlyn out the door and down the hallway toward the elevator. Neither woman said a word as they rode the elevator to the sixth floor. They were both lost in their own thoughts. Caitlyn brooded over Brandan's reaction, while Brandan tried reasoning through everything that had just happened.
The elevator reached the sixth floor and Brandan wheeled Caitlyn out into the hallway.
“Tell me you didn't feel anything and I promise to never say another word.” Caitlyn's voice was low, soft—almost tentative.
Brandan stopped the wheelchair in the middle of the hallway and turned Caitlyn until they were facing each other. She then knelt down to be on a level with her and checked the hallway to be sure there was no one to hear her.
“I—I can't,” Brandan said. “Because I did.”
Caitlyn let a small smile play at the corners of her mouth. “You did?”
Brandan nodded. “The thing is, Caitlyn,” she continued regrettably, “I can't. I'm your doctor and you're my patient. If we—you know—then I'd be crossing an ethical line that I just can't and won't cross. Not to mention I could be brought up on misconduct charges and lose my license to practice medicine.”
“Oh,” Caitlyn's face fell again. “I see.”
Brandan put a finger under Caitlyn's chin and lifted it until they were eye-to-eye again.
“I admit that I have very strong feelings for you,” Brandan continued. “I had those feelings for you that day in the deli and that same night at the concert. I really wanted to ask you to have coffee with me after the performance, but then your friend showed up and…”
“Rosie,” Caitlyn nodded. “You left without giving me the chance to ask you out. I really wanted to and told Rosie that shortly after you left. She felt terrible about it, let me tell you. I wanted to run after you and fix things, but you were already gone by the time I could pull myself away from the others. I just wish…” She ducked her chin and shut her eyes. “I should have stayed in Minneapolis instead of heading up to my parents' house that night. I should have…” She shook her head as tears sprang to her eyes.
“Hey,” Brandan lifted her chin again. “We'll figure something out, Caitlyn. Okay?”
Caitlyn sniffed back her tears. “Man, it seems like all I've been doing lately is cry. It's so stupid.”
Brandan smiled. “You've been through a lot. It's understandable if you feel overwhelmed by it all.”
“I haven't cried this much in ages,” Caitlyn snickered. “It's embarrassing.”
Brandan stood up and moved behind the wheelchair. “Let's get you to Dan and let him take care of you. After your surgery tomorrow, we'll see what the future holds.”
“Okay,” Caitlyn felt her heart breaking as Brandan wheeled her down the hall.
Life wasn't fair. First, the accident that might take away any chance for her to play her cello again. Now, she falls head-over-heels for her doctor. Life wasn't just unfair, it sucked.
Continued in Part 5
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