For complete disclaimers see part 1.

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by Kim Pritekel & Alexa Hoffman



Part 9

I looked at my sandwich, wondering just what kind of meat they had substituted for chicken this time. The label on the wrap said grilled chicken; it was the color of chicken, and even had nifty little grill marks, however, never in all of my twenty-nine years had I tasted chicken that tasted so much like soy. Not even way back in my days at school. They managed to hide it better.

I wrapped what was left of it back in the wrapper, and set it aside, deciding I would be happy to munch on my bag of carrots. At least I’d remembered to bring those. I could still see my lunch sitting on the counter in the kitchen, completely forgotten as I ran out the door. I hated staying so late at Erin’s. I was lucky to remember my head the next day.

With a sigh, I popped another baby carrot into my mouth, glanced toward the door of the cafeteria to see if Erin was going to show up today. Looking at the clock, I realized I only had a little while longer to wait before I had to return to the lab. It was a very important day today. Dr. Samantha Torres and I had performed tests on a patient’s cells to see if he would respond positively to Exrenton, the medicine we were trying to perfect. Our specialty was the MS patients. Here at the Mayo Clinic, we saw the oddest, most complicated of cases. It was hard not to get frustrated sometimes when more and more cases were being brought our way every year.

"Hello, Dr. Littman." I turned and saw Erin tossing her purse down on the table, followed by the food she’d just picked up.

"It’s about time you show up."

"I know. I got held up." I looked at the scrubs she wore, a nurse in pediatrics, little teddy bears and ducks waddled all over the purple material.

"Um, interesting?" I nodded toward the outfit. She looked down at herself, brushing brown hair behind her ear, and shrugged.

"Well, the kids seem to like it."

"I’m sure they do. It’s cute." She looked at me, resting her chin on her hand.

"What’s wrong, Andi?" I looked at her, not really wanting to discuss our personal life here.


"That’s not true. Is it because of the weekend?" I sat back in my chair, tossing the remainder of the carrots onto the table.


"What’s to be angry about? We got over it."

"You got over it, I think you mean. You got your way last night. I doubt there was much for you to get over." She leaned forward, lowering her voice.

"Andi, all I wanted you to do was stay the weekend with me." She stared into my eyes. "Was that so bad?"

"It is when you can’t have the mind to consider what I say, and what I want. Yes, I have a problem with that, and yes, it’s going to make me angry."

"Oh, I didn’t mean to make you mad." She brushed her shoe against my leg. "Did you have fun over the weekend? Enjoy your time alone?" I nodded, taking a drink from my soda.

"I did. I told you I had a big week ahead of me, and I needed time by myself." She shrugged, looking at our co-workers, many of which I’ve never met, and sighed.

"You and I are so different, Andi."

"I’ll agree to that." She looked at me, and smiled.

"That’s about all you’ll agree with me on." I glared playfully.

"That’s not true. I mean, I agree that your feet stink, that your place is messy, that,"

"Okay, okay. Enough battering for one day." I grinned at her, letting her know that I was kidding.

"So, let me make up my pouting tonight."

"And how do you plan to do that?" I finished off my Dr Pepper, crushing the can in my hand.

"I’ll make you dinner. Grilled lemon salmon, your favorite."

"Oh, you are not nice." I ran a hand through my hair, trying to decide mentally if I wanted to go, if I’d have enough energy after what I knew would ultimately be a long day, to go. I looked at her. "Okay, you’re on."

"Great." She smiled, wide and bright. That had been one of the first things that had caught my eye three years ago. When she smiled she looked so young, so innocent. "What time?"

"Six? Seven at the latest."

"Oh, baby. You’re going to be here that late?" I shrugged, pushing my chair back from the table.

"It depends on how much we get done today."

"Okay. Talk to you later?"

"Yup." I ran my fingers over her shoulder as I passed by her, on my way back to the lab. As I walked down the hall, hands in the pockets of my khakis, I thought about my life, and where I was. I was on the verge of thirty, and I thought back to when I was younger, and what I had wanted for myself then. I had pretty much stayed on course, save for a few minor setbacks.

I certainly had the job of my dreams, though I had never imagined I’d still be in Minnesota. That’s every kid’s dream, isn’t it? To get out of their hometown? Home state? I had been on that trail, had even left Minnesota.

I sighed, smiling at a doctor who passed me, though for the life of me I couldn’t remember his name. The front desk of the Mayo Clinic was coming up just ahead. I glanced at the front door, seeing the bright May sunshine, then began to take a right, down the hall that would lead to my lab, but I stopped short, hearing some commotion at the front desk.

"What’s going on with my brother!" a woman snarled, the voice deep and harsh.

"Ma’am, I told you that you’ll have to talk with his doctors. Dr. Samung hasn’t completed his examination,"

"Look, I don’t give a rat’s ass what doctor man has to say. You tell me where he’s at right now."

As I entered the main entrance way, I saw a tall woman leaning menacingly over the front desk, the receptionist looked frightened out of her way.

"Honey, now you need to stop that." I looked and saw a shorter, blonde woman with a cowboy hat on, her hand on the other woman’s back.

"Stay out of this, Tyg."

"I said knock it off." The blonde pulled the woman by the back of her jeans, starting a deadly staring match between the two. I was almost afraid for the small blonde.

"Y’all can’t come into an establishment like this an scare the bejesus outta this nice lady."

The tall woman crossed her arms over her chest, then looked at the receptionist, who I’m not sure had even taken a breath, yet.

"I’m sorry," she mumbled, then turned away. I walked over to them, and the woman behind the desk’s face lit up.

"Dr. Littman!" Gee, I didn’t realize were so close.

"Hello." I looked at the two women looking at me expectantly, hope filling the taller one’s blue eyes.

"You a doctor?" I nodded. "Then tell me what’s going on with my brother, Johnny." I could tell she was near the boiling point again, and I had to do something to defuse her, and quick.

"Listen, I heard as I walked up here, so what do you say we get a cup of coffee?" The woman looked at me as if I’d grown three heads.

"Honey, Jamie, go on with her." The blonde was standing beside me, her hand on the other woman’s shoulder. "Let me take care of this." They looked at each other.

"Tyg, I am not about to leave him."

"Honey, you ain’t leaving anybody. Johnny is in good hands." The one named Jamie sighed, then looked at me, nodded.

"Alright, doc. You buyin’?" I grinned, nodded.

"Follow me." We walked down the hall, the heels of her boots clicking on the tile. "So, who’s your brother?" I glanced over at her. She looked straight ahead, her dark hair, which fell around her face, hiding much of her profile.

"John Madden."

"Older or younger?" I turned into the cafeteria, headed for the coffee line.

"He’s my baby brother."

"Oh, I’ve got one of those, too." I smiled up at her, then handed her a paper cup. "He’s back home now, though. I’m about to be an aunt." She smiled at me.

"Where’s home?"

"Winston. Not too far. Where are you from?"

"Texas, LaGrange." Both our cups filled with steaming coffee, I led Jamie to a table, away from the hustle and bustle of the lunch crowd.

"I’ve never been to Texas. What do you do there?" I rested my cheek on my hand. Jamie sipped from her coffee, wrinkling her nose.

"This stuff is weak. They’re obviously not used to the coffee on a ranch." She smiled, pushing her cup aside.

"Do you live on a ranch, Jamie?" she nodded.

"Tyg and me, that’s the woman out there," she pointed toward the door, "we run the Triple M Ranch down there. Move horses and cattle." I was surprised; she didn’t look much like a rancher. The other one, though. The country life was written all over her.

"Sounds nice."

"It’s beautiful."

"So tell me about John." Jamie looked down for a second, her fingers entwined, nervously rubbing against each other.

"He got sick, maybe a year ago. None of the doctors in the infirmary could do anything."

"Infirmary? I hear the doctors in the military’s infirmaries are wonderful." She looked down again, taking a deep breath.

"Johnny isn’t in the armed services, doc." She looked up at me, pain in her eyes. "A prison infirmary."

"Oh. I’m sorry." She shrugged.

"You keep messing things up, keep trying to beat the system, it’ll beat you back." She leaned back in her chair, one arms hanging behind the back.

"So what were his symptoms?"

"At first it started out with his energy just dropping to nothing. He’s a young guy, but just like that," she snapped her fingers. "He’d be dead tired. No one could understand it. Then, finally Tyg and me went to visit him, and he collapsed right there behind the glass. The cops took him to the infirmary, they sent him to the hospital, and then sent him back to prison. It kept happening, then he started bleeding from certain places, and back to the hospital he went. They gave him some drugs, did some tests, but nothing did the trick. So," she sighed. "Here we are." She looked around the cafeteria, then her eyes landed on me. "Can you help him, doc?"

"There you are. Come on, honey. We need to get." We both turned to see Tyg standing by the table. She smiled at me. "Howdy. Tyg McClure." I took her outstretched hand, and shook it.

"Andi Littman."

"Y’all can help Johnny, right?" Her eyes showed such concern, such care and love. I was touched by these two.

"We’re going to do our best, Tyg. That’s all I can say."

"And that’s enough." She gave me another winning smile, then turned to Jamie. "Come on, honey. The doctor wants to talk to us." Jamie pushed her chair back and stood. She looked at me, and smiled.

"Thanks, doc."

"Take care." She nodded, and Tyg tipped her hat, then they walked away. I watched them, the way they interacted with each other, so much love shining in both their eyes. I wondered if more love like that was out there somewhere. Would I ever see it?

* * *

I stepped out of the shower, the steam swirling around me. It was a chilly day, the wind making the fifty degrees seem much less. I wrapped a towel around me, tucking the ends together. I walked over to the mirror, swiping my hand across the smooth, cold surface. The whites of my eyes were red, making the green stand out even more. I was so tired, long days and little rest beginning to wear on me.

Since Dr. Torres had joined my staff, our work load had nearly tripled. She was intelligent and observant, and we usually never even realized that thirteen hours had passed. Samantha’s fiancé wasn’t happy with me very often. Work was my life. Perhaps Erin should fit into that somewhere. I was so confused with that.

After all the time we’d been together, I just couldn’t take that extra step. Couldn’t allow her to be completely in my life, but erected barricades for her to attempt to breach, knowing full well that the more of my wall she managed to crumble, the higher I built it.

With a sigh, I grabbed a comb and began to work on the tangles in my hair. I had a dinner date to keep.

* * *

"So, does it smell good in here?" I laid my jacket across the back of Erin’s couch, and followed her into the kitchen.

"Sure does. I’m starving." I leaned against the counter, arms crossed over my chest as I watched her work.

"Want me to do anything?" I pushed off, and walked over to the table, set for two, replete with candles, and a bottle of wine. I picked it up to read the label.

"You can pour that if you want. The food’s just about done."

"You got it."

"Oh, and push play on the remote, will you?" I saw the remote to the stereo sitting on the computer desk, and grabbed it, pushed the green button. As I worked with the corkscrew, I stopped, glancing over my shoulder at the stereo.

"I know how much you love Linda Eder," I heard whispered in my ear from behind me, arms snaking around my waist. "And, you seem to play this song a lot."

"I know. ‘Unusual Way’."

"That’s right." She kissed my earlobe.

"The song is just, I don’t know," I thought for a moment, trying to place why.

"Well, it is beautiful." Erin turned me around in her embrace, her eyes closed as she inhaled my skin. "You smell so good." I listened to the words of the song,

In a very unusual way, one time I needed you.

In a very unusual way, you were my friend.

Maybe it lasted a day, maybe it lasted an hour.

But somehow it will never end.

In a very unusual way, I think I’m in love with you,

In a very unusual way, I want to cry.

Something inside me goes weak, something inside me surrenders.

You’re the reason why, you’re the reason why

I closed my eyes, a pang of sadness shooting through me, though I couldn’t place it no matter how hard I tried.

"Andi?" My eyes slowly opened at the soft voice, low with concern. I saw the dark eyes looking into my own, the face so close. "Are you okay, sweetie?"

"Yeah. I’m fine. Why?" I tried to shake myself out of it, utterly confused.

"You just, well, you look like you’re about to cry or something."

"Yeah, I don’t think so." I stepped out of her embrace, taking a deep breath before putting on a smile. "Come on, woman. Where’s this food you promised me?" She looked at me for a moment, her eyes staring into mine, then turned and headed back into the kitchen.

I grabbed the remote, and forwarded the CD to the next song.

"Sit." Erin began to bring dishes out of the kitchen, loading the table up with incredible smelling food. I grabbed the wine bottle, pouring each of us a glass, then sat.

"This looks and smells wonderful, Erin." She smiled at me.

"Thanks, sweetie. Well, dig in!"

I piled my plate high with the incredible smelling salmon, asparagus and baby potatoes.

"I don’t know what I’d do without your cooking, Erin." I closed my eyes as I savored my first bite of fish.

"Learn to cook yourself?" She smiled at me, then began to eat. Erin prattled on about her day, and her mother coming to visit from Arizona in August, and about the latest patient that had been checked into her unit at work, I watched her speak, watched her fingers as they gripped her fork, or the knife as she cut into the meat, the way they wrapped so delicately around the stem of her wine glass. Her lips, just short of being completely full, but soft all the same. Eyes, dark and mischievous, yet caring and full of love and kind words for those that she cared about.

All those great qualities that Erin possessed, and yet I couldn’t bring myself to truly let her in, to give what I had. Hell, I’m not so sure I even had it to give. So, perhaps it wasn’t Erin at all. It was me.

I’d been in three relationships since coming out during my second year of college, and had had several more lovers, but not one of those women were able to get inside.

Coming out, that was a time that I’d like to forget, but never will be able to. I remember standing in my mom’s kitchen, knowing I needed to tell her. At that point in my life, honesty was no longer an issue. I had been leaning against the counter, staring down at my hands, trying to find the right words.

"Honey, what is it?" my mom had asked, handing me a cup of decaf. I looked at her, taking a deep breath.

"Mom, I think I have something to tell you."

"More surprises, huh?" She smiled, I smiled back.

"Yeah, I guess so. I’ve had something on my mind since, well, for awhile now." I ran my hands through my hair nervously. I felt a hand on my shoulder, and my eyes found their way to her gaze.

"Honey, no matter what it is, I’ll always love you. You know that, right?" I nodded, feeling my throat begin to choke up. God, I hated this. Always so damn emotional now.

"Mom, I think I may be gay." My eyes began to sting, the tears close to the surface. I forced myself to look at my mom, I needed to see her acceptance. She looked surprised for a moment, then a slow smile spread across her face, as she nodded.

"I wondered. I mean, other than Scott, you just never really seemed interested." I swallowed my emotion back as I nodded, with a weak grin.

"Yeah." I felt horrible, like I was disappointing her. "I’m sorry."

"Honey," arms surrounded me in a tight hug. "Oh, honey. Don’t you dare apologize for who you are. I won’t lie to you in that I’ve always wanted to help you plan your wedding, pick out a dress and all that, but Andrea," she placed a hand on either side of her face, making me look into her eyes. "I couldn’t be more proud of you. No matter what you or Chris decided to do, I’d be proud. If you chose to become a ditch digger, and that made you happy, as long as you were the best ditch digger you could possibly be, I’d be proud to be your mom."

The tears began to fall in earnest as I clung to my mother.

"Honey? Andi?"

"What?" I shook my head, trying to get the past out of my head. "Sorry. Got lost in thought."

"I guess so. Are you ready for dessert?" A slow smile spread across my face.

"Bring it on." She tossed her napkin aside, and headed back to the kitchen to grab the chocolate mousse that I had been waiting for all night.

"So what do you have going this weekend?" she asked, carrying two chilled dishes.


"Oh. Didn’t you guys get together a few weeks ago?" She handed me a spoon.

"Thanks. Yeah, but she has a science fair coming up, and wants some help. So. We’re going to make a weekend of it."

"It’s really great, this whole mentor program thing you’ve got going."

"Thanks." I smiled, and dipped my spoon into the dessert.

* * *

I pulled up in front of the Torrini house, and cut the engine. It was such a nice, peaceful town, Pelican View. I always liked that. Plus, it wasn’t too far from either Rochester, where I lived now, or Winston, so I could visit mom either before or after I picked up Kendall. I opened the door, and stepped out onto the sidewalk, made my way to the front door.

Waiting patiently for the doorbell to be answered, and turned to look at the houses across the street, lawns turning green as summer marched closer and closer, flowers beginning to bloom.

"Andi. Hello." I turned to see Melanie Torrini standing in the open doorway. "How are you, dear?"

"I’m doing well. And yourself?"

"Oh, just fine, just fine. I read about you in the paper last week. We’re so proud of you." She reached out and squeezed my hand. "Kendall! Andi’s here for you."

"Thank you, Melanie. I really appreciate that." She smiled at me again.

"Kendall will be here in a moment. I need to get back to my muffins. I think they’re about to burn." She hurried toward the kitchen, and I heard footsteps pounding on the floor above me as Kendall ran toward the stairs. A smile automatically came to my lips, and I took a deep breath.

"Hi, Andi!"

"Hey, you." I smiled as the girl ran down the stairs. I was almost afraid she’d tumble down the rest of the way. She was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt with a daisy on the front, her dark hair back in a braid. Her eyes always amazed me – so bright and intelligent. "You ready?"

"Yup. Got my stuff right here." She patted the backpack she carried, smiling up at me.

"Okay, let’s go."

Kendall got herself belted up in the front seat of my Jeep, and turned to smile at me.

"So, how’s school?" I pulled onto the street, and got us headed back to Rochester.

"It’s good. I’m glad it’s almost over, though."

"Have any plans for the summer?" I turned onto the highway, headed home.

"Not really. My mom and dad are talking about going on vacation somewhere, but I don’t know where."

"Why not? Aren’t you going?"

"Well, of course!" She put her hands on her narrow hips. "I’m too little to stay home alone." I grinned, nodding.

"Too true."

"They just don’t know where we’re going, yet."

"Oh, I see." In my work I’m always around adults, serious types who don’t have the time or inclination toward messing around, or fun, really. But being around this little girl, so young and vibrant and innocent, always brought me back to a much simpler time. Kendall made me feel almost light, again.

* * *

"Any reaction, yet?" I shook my head, staring intently into the microscope. "Damn. I really thought we’d see something by now." I stood with a sigh.

"Me, too." I looked at my colleague. "Well, I guess we head back to square one." Samantha nodded.

"Win some, lose some, eh, Dr. Littman?" Running my hands through my hair, I nodded, doing my best to hide the disappointment.

"I really thought we had it this time."

"What went wrong?" Dr. Torres walked over to the microscope and looked in at the slide.

"I don’t know. I guess the cells just didn’t separate like we thought they would. I think the temperatures weren’t right; too cold, maybe. Let’s try again."

"Well, Dr. Littman, why don’t we-"

"Try it again, Dr. Torres. I know this will work." I headed toward the rat cages, looking for Mickey, the rat that had originally been tested on for our newest mix. I rolled my eyes when I heard the office phone ring. Damnit. I had work to do, and didn’t have time for this. "Dr. Littman." I stood by my desk, hand on my hip as I waited impatiently for the caller to talk.

"Hey, Andi."

"Hello, Erin. What’s up? I’m busy."

"Well, well, it’s the all-important Andrea Littman." I could hear the hurt in her voice.

"I’m sorry. What’s up?"

"There’s a patient up in critical who wants to speak with you." My brows narrowed.

"Me? Why me? Where’s the patient’s doctor?"

"Don’t know. She wants to speak with the research staff, and who better to talk with. Her name is, oh hell, I don’t remember. It begins with an h, I think. She’s in room 301."

"Okay. I’ll get up to her when I can."

"Thanks, babe." I smiled.

"Sure. Catch you later."


I hung up the phone, glanced at Samantha.

"Dr. Torres, I have to run upstairs for a few. Think you can handle this on your own?" My colleague turned to me, nodding.


I grabbed my lab coat from the hook on the back of my office door, and headed out of the lab.


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