Celia checked her waist pack to make sure she had what she needed, then she locked up her car and walked across the lot to the sandy road. After only a couple of yards, she spotted a large gathering of people sitting in a big field by a large pavilion. Her eyes widened when she got closer. The couples, and there were plenty, were mostly same-sex couples. Sure, there were heterosexual couples, but the majority, by far, were gay. Some of the young people sat in small groups, but, regardless of where or with whom they sat, everyone's attention was focused on the woman in front of them.
Hazel eyes narrowed, then widened again in recognition. "That's Kaelin," she said out loud. Celia stopped at the edge of the field, staying in the shade. Kaelin's voice carried clearly to her, obviously amplified by a microphone. There was warmth and gentle humor in her tone. Celia watched as the other woman gave her message, a Bible in one hand and the other holding fast to something.
She doesn't look like a preacher, does she? Celia mused silently.
Kaelin wore a pair of crisp khaki shorts, a dark green blouse with the sleeves rolled above her elbows, and hiking boots. Her black hair hung loosely around her shoulders, the ends curling the slightest bit.
Kaelin talked to her parishioners, and as she spoke of God, her eyes roamed the people in the field. Some sat on camp or lawn chairs toward the back; those in the front sat on blankets. It was a beautiful day, and she was thankful. The sky was bright blue with a few fat white clouds floating up high, and there was a slight breeze blowing, keeping the heat from being oppressive.
Kaelin caught a movement in the shadow of the big oak trees in the back of the field, but she couldn't make out who it was. Within minutes, she finished the sermon and gave the final benediction. Then she opened her palm and blew gently, the dandelion fluff she had just used to make a point carried away on the breeze.
"Ben, why don't you, Mike, and Billy get the burgers and dogs going while the rest of us get the other stuff ready?" she suggested as folks began to mill around.
Later that afternoon, after the last person had left, Kaelin carried her cooler to the Sportage and grabbed her backpack, then she headed toward the tiny historic village in the center of the park. All of the buildings were pre-Civil War, and they were restored to their former conditions and staffed by costumed volunteers. It was a wonderfully quaint place, and Kaelin loved to spend time there. On her way to the bakery, she stopped at the small white church and peered in the window, wondering if she‘d ever perform a service there. Smiling at the prospect, she walked on. At the bakery, she bought a huge brownie, and at the general store she grabbed a bottle of water.
Putting them in her backpack, Kaelin started off down the trail that led to the old iron furnace. The beautiful day made for very pleasant walking. Among the trees, it was almost cool, and very quiet. An occasional bird chirped and bug buzzed, but the trail was empty of human voices. Kaelin rounded a slight bend and found the perfect spot to sit and just be.
Ah, this is really nice, Kaelin thought as she settled herself on the tiny blanket she kept in her pack for just these times. She leaned against a big oak tree that overlooked the Manasquan River and closed her eyes in contentment.
She stayed that way for some time, not dozing off, but just resting. When she heard footsteps coming from the other way, she looked to see, of all people, Dr. Brayden striding toward her. The other woman was wearing loose olive green cargo pants, a t-shirt, and hiking boots. Her shoulder length dark brown hair was pulled back into a jaunty ponytail.
Celia's hazel eyes widened in astonishment when she recognized the woman sitting under the tree.
"Hi, Dr. Brayden," Kaelin said. "Pastor Ratchet," she reminded, a smile lighting up her face.
Celia grinned when she stopped next to the woman. "I know. When I saw you at the pavilion, I knew it wasn't the evil twin," she said.
"Ah, so that was you. I saw something right toward the end, and I wondered who it was. I'm glad it was you." Shifting slightly, Kaelin patted the blanket. "Join me?" she asked.
Nodding, Celia sat down, unbuckling her waist pack and letting it drop next to her. "Do you come here often? For service, I mean?"
Silence met the questions, then Kaelin burst into delighted laughter.
Realizing what she said, Celia groaned and hung her head. "I think I'll be leaving now."
Still laughing, Kaelin put a hand on Celia's arm. "No," she chuckled, "please stay."
Celia smiled. "I really didn't mean it how it sounded."
"I know. But thank you. I really, really needed to laugh like that." She wiped her eyes and blew out a breathe. "Whew, that felt good. And to answer your questions, we try to get here for service or cookouts or some other something as often as possible. Sometimes it's just a hike around the park and a ride on the train, other times it's a bit more organized. In September, as a matter of fact, we're planning to camp for the weekend."
"You like to camp and hike, then?" Celia asked, fascinated by this woman.
"Don't all lesbians like to do the outdoor thing?"
Celia looked shocked.
Kaelin laughed again and nudged Celia with her elbow. "I was kidding. It's that whole stereotype. But yes, even if I wasn't gay, I'd still like to do all of that. Well," she amended, "everything except biking. I'm always afraid I'm going to fall off and get my head crushed by a tractor trailer and be dead," she finished.
"Wow, talk about a psychosis," Celia mused, shaking her head. "I'm not too terribly fond of biking, either, though. I'd prefer to get there on my own two feet, thanks."
"Amen," Kaelin agreed.
In the silence that ensued, Kaelin reached into her pack and pulled out the brownie. She held it up and asked, "Care to break brownie with me?"
It took Celia a minute, but then she got the reference. Her laughter surprised Kaelin. It was young and carefree, and so very contagious. Kaelin couldn't help herself; she started laughing with Celia.
"Pr. Cahill, I'd love to share your brownie with you. Thank you," Celia said finally.
"You're welcome, Dr. Brayden." She broke the brownie in half and handed one piece to Celia. "Here you go."
After she bit into it, Celia chewed slowly. "Mmm, this is delicious. Thank you again."
They finished the treat, then Kaelin glanced at her watch and sighed. "Well, as much as I don't like saying it, I better get going. I'm meeting with Lena at 6 tonight."
Kaelin nodded. "She called yesterday afternoon and asked if we could meet today."
"Please, Kaelin, you have to be careful-" Celia began, but she stopped when Kaelin smiled gently at her.
"Dr. Brayden, I promise I know what I'm doing. I have a master's in Counseling Psych, so this isn't something I'm unprepared for." She held up three fingers. "Scout's honor."
"It's not that I doubt your qualifications, Kaelin. It's just so easy to become overwhelmed and not be able to find your way back," Celia said urgently. She looked intently at Kaelin. "Just don't lose yourself, okay?"
Kaelin studied her hands as they rested in her lap. "I won't. Not this time, anyway," she murmured softly.
"You sound like someone who's been there," Celia said, watching Kaelin closely.
Knowing gray eyes looked steadily at her. "So you do you, Celia," Kaelin replied.
Sighing, Celia broke the eye contact first and looked out at the water. "I'm sorry," she apologized. "I had no business saying that."
"You were just saying out loud what I was thinking, so don't feel bad, okay?" Kaelin grinned at Celia. "It's really time to go now. Are you heading out or taking another trail?"
"I was on my way out, too."
The two women stood, and Celia waited while Kaelin rolled the blanket and put it in her pack. She led the way, walking in front of Kaelin because the trail was too narrow to walk side by side. It didn't take them long to reach the village.
"Next time I'll supply the brownie," Celia said suddenly as they walked past the bakery.
Feeling a sweet warmth at the unexpected words, Kaelin nodded. "You're on, Doctor."
In the parking lot, they exchanged good-byes, then the women went their own ways.
Later that night, Celia was going over some paperwork and sipping a cup of coffee when her cell phone rang. When she heard the voice on the other end, she smiled, tossed the folder on the couch next to her, and put her feet on the coffee table.
"Hi, Dr. Brayden. It's Kaelin Cahill."
"Hi, Kaelin. You're supposed to call me Celia."
"You're right, I'm sorry."
Noting the fatigue in the other woman's voice, Celica became concerned. "Kaelin, are you okay?" she asked softly.
Kaelin sighed. "Tonight was harder than I imagined," she admitted. "Things she told me… anyway, I called to find out-"
"Wait. Please," Celia interrupted. "Let's talk about your meeting with Lena."
"Celia, I'm afraid I wouldn't even know where to begin."
"How about at the beginning?" Celia suggested.
Kaelin sighed again. "We will, I promise. But right now, I just need time to sort it all out. Let's set up that meeting for tomorrow; I'll be better able to fill you in then. All right?"
Understanding the other woman's need, Celia nodded. "Fair enough.
I'm seeing Lena at 10 tomorrow, so why don't you come by the office at 11:30?"
"That's fine I'll see you then. Good night, Celia."
"Good night, Kaelin."
At precisely 11:30, Kaelin opened the door to the small waiting area of Celia's office. She smiled at the woman behind the counter and told her who she was.
"Just let me buzz-"
"I'm right here, Robin," Celia interrupted, stepping through a door next to the desk. "Hi, Kaelin," she greeted, smiling warmly. "What do you say we go downstairs to the cafeteria and grab something to eat? I'm starving."
Kaelin smiled back. "That sounds wonderful."
While they waited for the elevator, Celia asked about Kaelin's morning.
"Mondays are my usual days off, and this morning, I slept in, did my walk, and spent the rest of the morning in my garden."
"Vegetables or flowers?"
"Vegetables. It's just a container garden because my yard is so small, but I get enough to eat fresh and then freeze some. It's not much, but I enjoy it."
When they got off the elevator, the first thing that hit the two women were the delicious smells coming from the noisy cafeteria. Kaelin followed Celia through the line, picking up a small salad, chicken cacciatore, and a bottle of water. Before paying, she stood in front of the small ice cream cooler, but she stepped away without taking anything. Shaking her head, she reached back in, grabbed a bar, and dropped it onto her tray. She met Celia's hazel eyes with a wry grin. "What can I say? It's my downfall."
Celia laughed. "Well, it could be worse."
After they paid, Celia led Kaelin through the crowded dining room into a small, empty room marked "DOCTORS." The room held two small round tables with 4 chairs each, a couch and loveseat, and a counter along one wall that had a coffee pot and the accoutrements that go with coffee. "One of the perks of having a title," she told Kaelin.
They settled at one of the tables and chatted while they ate.
"This is surprisingly good for cafeteria food," Kaelin commented after tasting the chicken.
"It's catered by an outside company."
"That explains it then."
"Tell me about your meeting last night, Kaelin. You sounded exhausted on the phone," Celia said.
Kaelin put down her fork. "I'm sorry about that."
"Please don't apologize. I know it's not easy."
"No, it's not. She did all of the talking, and I listened, for the most part. I prayed with her and for her. She cried, I hugged her, then she left before it got dark."
"Lena mentioned that she was afraid of the dark now. Afraid to be outside, afraid to go outside. That's normal, though, and in most cases, it passes eventually."
"Mm," Kaelin agreed absently, toying with the corner of her napkin.
"Kaelin, can I ask you something," Celia asked suddenly.
"Of course." Gray eyes looked steadily at Celia, eyes that couldn't hide anything.
"Will this be too difficult for you?"
"Will it be for you?" Kaelin shot back.
Celia shook her head. "No. This is my job, it's what I do. It's why I'm here," she answered, gesturing to the room.
"That same answer applies to me, Celia. It's part of my job, it's what I do. And it's why I'm here."
"Yes, I know that, bu-"
"Let me finish, please," Kaelin urged, laying a soft hand on Celia's forearm. "I won't deny that the whole situation is difficult; it is. Some of what Lena told me was hard to listen to. But I'll be fine. Now," she finished with a warm smile, "what do we need to do for Lena and Danni?"
The next twenty minutes was spent talking about the treatment plan. Then Celia looked at the clock on the wall. "I have another appointment in 15 minutes, so I need to get back upstairs. Why don't I call you tonight so we can set up a schedule to meet about their progress? Have your calendar out and we'll go from there."
"Sounds good. I'm going to look in on Danni, then Ratchet and I are going to the mall for a bit. By the way," Kaelin grinned, "you're going to have to tell me sometime why you two dislike each other so much," she teased.
Hazel eyes clouded, then Celia looked away. "It's a long story, one that I'd rather not talk about," she admitted stiffly.
"Oh, Celia, I'm sorry. I was teasing," Kaelin said quickly, concern heavy in her voice.
Celia shook her head. "It's probably better if you hear it from me. We disagreed about a patient's care when Morgan worked on Rosa. She was right and I was completely, utterly wrong."
"But surely you disagree with other staff members."
Haunted hazel eyes turned back to look at Kaelin. "But never with such devastating consequences," Celia whispered harshly. Then she turned and left the room.
"Celia, wait!" Kaelin called, hustling after the doctor. She grabbed her arm, stopping the other woman. "Wait a minute, okay? Let's walk together for a bit."
They walked for a few strides in silence, then Kaelin spoke quietly. "Nobody's perfect, Celia. You know that. Every one of us has made, and will make mistakes. Some a whole lot worse than others. But it's not wrong to make mistakes." She shrugged. "What we learn from those mistakes is the important thing."
Celia stopped and smiled at Kaelin. "How did you get to be so intuitive, Kaelin Cahill?"
Grinning widely, Kaelin just pointed skyward.
Celia laughed. "Enough said. And I have to go. I'll call you tonight. Enjoy yourself at the mall."
"I will. Have a good afternoon, Celia."
Early that afternoon, Kaelin pulled up outside of her sister's apartment, got out of her car, and got into Morgan's, knowing it would be unlocked. She laid on the horn and waved cheerfully when her sister dashed out of the apartment in bare feet and ran up to the passenger window, brandishing a butcher knife. When she saw that it was Kaelin she started to laugh and dropped her knife hand to her side.
"Watch your mouth."
"You scared the shit out of me!"
"Watch your mouth."
"When I heard my own car horn honking, I almost fainted!"
"Oops. I probably shouldn't have done that. Oh well. Hurry up, Morgan. I'm roasting in here."
"Come inside for a minute then."
"No way. We'll never get out of here if I do."
"Fine. Roast." Morgan trotted back inside, and a few minutes later she came back out, locked the door, and climbed in behind the wheel.
"Go back inside and change," Kaelin demanded, seeing what Morgan was wearing.
Morgan looked over at her sister and grinned. "Nope. This is too funny."
Grabbing the keys, Kaelin got out of the car. "Fine. I'll go change then."
When she came back, Kaelin had on a pair of denim short overalls, a dark green v-neck t-shirt, and a pair of sandals.
"You even put your hair up," Morgan snickered as they pulled out of the lot.
"If we went looking like we did, people would call us the Double Mint twins."
"Or worse, the Bobbsey twins. Make sure I get my stuff back."
"FYI, Morgan, the Bobbsey twins were fraternal. We're identical, in case you forgot. And you can have your stuff back after I wash it."
After browsing through several stores at the mall, Kaelin and Morgan decided to go over to Barnes & Noble. When they finished up there, Morgan drove them back to the apartment where Kaelin picked up her Sportage. Then she went home where she spent the rest of the afternoon on her hammock, engrossed in one of the books she had purchased earlier.
When the phone rang around 7, Kaelin almost fell off the hammock. She grabbed the handset quickly. "Hello?"
"Hi, Kaelin. It's Celia."
"Hi, Celia," Kaelin replied, sounding breathless.
"Did I interrupt? Is this a bad time?"
"No," Kaelin laughed. "I was reading a scary story and the phone startled me." She settled back in the hammock, her free hand tucked behind her head.
"Oh. Do pastors read scary stories?" Celia asked, a smile evident in her words.
"Yeah, it's called Revelation." When they finished laughing, Kaelin asked, "Do psychiatrists?"
"Not this one. Anyway, the reason I called was to see about a schedule."
"Right," Kaelin said, rolling off the hammock. "Let me just grab my planner." She padded barefoot across the yard, and climbed the stairs to the back door, chatting on the way inside.
"Did you have a good time at the mall?" the other woman asked.
"We basically did a drive-by, then went to Barnes & Noble."
"I love that place. I could spend an entire day there."
Kaelin laughed. "I have."
"Did you buy anything? Besides your scary story, obviously."
"Mmhm. I picked up a few things. Books are another one of my downfalls," Kaelin commented. "Here we go."
"How are Thursdays for you?" Celia asked.
"Mornings are good, afternoons are not, evenings are not."
"Good. Is 9:30 too early."
"That's perfect. How many Thursdays?"
"Let's just start with 4 weeks. We'll see how far they've progressed in a month and take it from there."
"I'll pencil it in." Quickly, Kaelin jotted down the meeting time on four consecutive Thursday mornings, then flipped the small book closed. "Are you free Saturday, Celia? Before you answer, let me tell you why so you can decline if you want."
"Okay, I'm listening."
"We have a women's outdoor club at the church, and we try to do something together at least once a month. This Saturday we're rafting the Delaware. It's only a day trip, but it is a long day," Kaelin warned.
"I'd love to. But I have to be perfectly honest. I've never rafted before in my life."
"Neither have I, but I've canoed plenty, so I don't think it'll be that hard."
"Count me in."
"Great. We're meeting in the church lot at 6:30. Bring lunch and dry clothes. We're carpooling, so you can leave your car here. Oh, I forgot," she added, "it costs $45. If you want to decline now, you still can. I won't be offended."
"I think I can swing forty-five bucks," Celia chuckled. "So Thursday morning, right?"
"I'll see you at the office, Doctor. Good night."
"Good night, Kaelin."
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