Disclaimers: This is an original story and may contain sex between women, violence, adult language and adult content or a combination of any of the above. If you are under 18 or relations between two women are illegal where you live, please move on.
Note: I made a promise to Zea and Candy and I always keep my promises. It's just the kind of girl I am. Friends are special and they are two of the best. So, this one's for you, girls. Thank you for your love, support and for getting this old carcass into the Royal Academy of Bards Hall of Fame. I also appreciate all of you who are reading my stuff. You all ROCK!!!
Feedback: I'm okay with it, but please be gentle. I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. I'm a musician of sorts, but I don't think playing hand bells qualifies me to perform with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Just play along and remember this is fiction. If you want reality TV, turn on your boob tube. They have plenty. Better yet, get your butt off the couch and go outside. Live a little.
Caitlyn Bradley has always known what she wants and has always pursued her dreams. As a cellist for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, music is her life and her first and only love. After college, she moved to New York and attended one of the most prestigious music academies in the country. She then went on to fulfill her dreams. But she quickly discovered that music is no substitute for true love.
Dr. Brandan Stone is a highly respected member of the medical community and one of the foremost orthopedic surgeons in the country. She has it all. The perfect career. A luxurious home near Minneapolis, Minnesota. Enough money to live a comfortable lifestyle. She volunteers her services at a local free-clinic and still finds time to attend the theatre as a season ticket holder. She has everything...and yet, she still longs for that one elusive element that would complete her life and bring her happiness—love.
Tragedy brings them together. Circumstances threaten to tear them apart. When music and medicine collide, sparks fly and two people from different worlds must choose between their careers and a love that could melt… Cold Stone .
It was ten o'clock at night and Caitlyn Bradley still couldn't bring herself to go to bed. She stared out the huge floor-to-ceiling window of her Greenwich flat at nothing in particular. Hugging herself, she shuddered involuntarily. The beautiful snowy New York skyline looked like something out of a fairy tale. A few flakes slowly drifted down to the street below. A few landed on the window and stayed for a moment, then vanished. The rooftops were turning white. It was almost magical, except for the constant roar of the traffic below.
She continued to stare sightlessly at the falling snowflakes, as her mind replayed the evening's festivities.
“Can I have your attention, please?” Maestro Isaac Jerevic's slight German accent was barely noticeable anymore to those gathered on the stage in the concert hall. “I have a wonderful announcement to make that I'm sure you will all want to hear.”
A hush fell over the black-and-white clad musicians as all eyes turned toward the gray-haired conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He looked like one of the maestros of old, with his long silver-gray hair combed back and flowing around his bony shoulders. His formal tuxedo with tails was tailored to fit his tall, slender frame perfectly. In keeping with the formality of his role as conductor, he wore an old-fashioned cravat that hung loosely from his open collar.
He smiled warmly when the room was silent. Gray-blue eyes softening with pride.
“Thank you,” he continued as a hush fell over the group. “I know you are all celebrating our final performance here in New York before you take this,” he put up both hands and mimed quotes, “show on the road, as you Americans like to say. Although I will not be joining you on your tour, my heart, thoughts and prayers will be with you every step of the way.” He paused to allow the spontaneous applause die down and another hushed silence to replace it. With a slight bow, he continued. “I will miss our time together, but I know that Maestro Abraham,” he nodded toward a much-younger man who also bowed his head briefly in acknowledgement, “will take very good care to uphold the prestigious reputation of our wonderful philharmonic.”
Caitlyn had been standing only a few feet away from the elder maestro, when his gaze suddenly met hers and she saw a twinkle in those fatherly gray-blue eyes of his. The smile he briefly flashed her was that of a proud parent, and she suddenly felt a tingle of anticipation race through her.
“It is my sincerest pleasure and honor,” his voice carried over the low murmurs that steadily grew amongst the gathered musicians, “to announce a much-deserved promotion.” The hush erupted into a louder murmur that quickly fell to a hushed silence as the maestro held his hands up for silence again. His gaze locked with Caitlyn's and she suddenly felt as if a thousand butterflies were trying to leave her stomach all at once. “The cello section will have a new first chair on this national tour,” he paused briefly to let his words sink in, his eyes never leaving Caitlyn's as hers widened in surprise. He took her shaking hand in his and held it. “Caitlyn Bradley, my sincerest congratulations to you. Your hard work has finally paid off.” He smiled brightly, then turned and left the room.
Caitlyn caught tears in those gray-blue eyes before he disappeared. Her heart swelled with pride as the enormity of his announcement hit her. He had been her teacher and friend for so long that she couldn't imagine going on this tour without his constant guidance and wisdom.
Ever since she had taken the third-chair cellist position with the NYC Phil six years prior, Maestro Jerevic had been her mentor. At first he was a difficult and demanding taskmaster, but as time went by Caitlyn realized his stoic and rather brusque attitude was just part of the persona he reserved for the rest of the world. Behind the scenes, when he was not up on stage or conducting, Isaac Jerevic was a wise and pleasant gentleman who cared deeply for the heart and soul behind music.
Caitlyn sighed, as the skyline came back into focus beyond the large picture window. Small flakes of snow were still drifting in the glow of the street lights below her window. She would sorely miss the man who had taken her under his wing all those years ago. He was one of two souls in all of New York City who had really understood how much music meant to her. It was her passion, her very soul and she could not imagine doing anything else. Music was her first and only love.
Besides teaching her everything he knew, Maestro Jerevic had also taught her one of the most precious lessons of her life. One night after a grueling practice, he said that although music expressed all the passion one carried within their soul, it was no substitute for expressing the passion of the heart and for finding one's true love.
A tear slid down Caitlyn's cheek and she impatiently swiped it away. She then picked up a throw pillow and hugged it tightly to her chest, as she rested her chin on top of one fist. She sighed as a lock of her blonde hair fell forward and she absently tucked it behind her ear. She remembered the several failed relationships she'd had over the past six years since she graduated from the conservatory.
There had been Kenny, the sixth-chair trumpet player in the small community orchestra. He was more focused on his ambitions of becoming first chair than he was on her. He had finally admitted that he had only cultivated a relationship with her to further his career. Her close relationship with the conductor, he had explained, had prompted his actions. After a week of drowning her sorrows at the local corner tavern, Caitlyn had finally admitted that their relationship hadn't been all it was cracked up to be. Kenny was a jerk.
That was when she met Charlie. He wasn't a musician at all. He was a bartender in Soho who loved music and attended concerts whenever his schedule allowed. When he had seen the third-chair cellist, he had fallen head-over-heels and basically chased after Caitlyn until she agreed to go out with him. Unfortunately, although she was flattered by his attentions in the beginning of their relationship, not to mention the fact that the sex was moderately decent, Caitlyn's affections soon waned. After only six dates she broke it off.
Charlie was devastated and continued to pursue her, until Caitlyn finally called him on it. She told him she didn't share his feelings and never would, to which he responded that he would never give up on them. Two weeks later, Caitlyn went to the police and got a restraining order. Three weeks after that, poor Charlie threw himself off the Queens Bridge and plunged to his death. The police found his body, bloated and blue, several days later. For whatever reason, it was Caitlyn they called to identify his body. She still couldn't get the image of it out of her mind. Charlie's lifeless eyes still haunted Caitlyn's dreams, from time-to-time, and she couldn't shake the feeling that she might have let him down in some small way. She hated feeling guilty over something she just couldn't control.
It was only after Charlie that Caitlyn stopped dating all together. She poured herself into her music and spent every waking hour practicing, until her fingers were calloused and her shoulder muscles bulged like a boxer's. Her hard work earned her a second chair position with the New York Philharmonic and her dreams took flight.
That was when she met Emily. At first they were merely friends, but soon they became the best of friends. They went to several Broadway shows together, because Emily didn't like “boring, old orchestra music.” She liked the romanticism that permeated the theatre, she often remarked.
“I love the hopeful optimism, the romanticism,” she would say with a dreamy expression as they walked back to Greenwich together. “All those happy endings. All those beautiful people in their gorgeous costumes. It just gives me hope that someday I'll find that special someone.”
Emily looked at Caitlyn longingly, prompting Caitlyn to snort in disgust. “Yeah, right, Em,” she answered pessimistically, dashing her friend's hopes. “Knights in shining armor don't exist in the Big Apple.”
“Oh, Cat,” Emily sighed in exasperation. “You are such a wet blanket when it comes to love. Why don't you start dating again? I know a nice guy who works down at the docks. He's tall, well-built and has all his teeth.” She smirked at the last comment.
Caitlyn frowned at the thought of dating some smelly dockworker. “I'm not that desperate, Em.”
“Yes, you are,” Emily answered. “Mr. Right is out there, Cat. You just aren't looking hard enough.”
Caitlyn considered Emily's words and, with a smirk of her own, said, “Maybe I should start looking for Ms. Right, instead.”
Emily's eyes snapped to Caitlyn's so quickly that the musician was hard-pressed not to burst out laughing at the shocked expression that showed on her friend's face. But it wasn't just shock. It was a mixture of shock, disgust and something close to revulsion.
“You're not serious,” Emily gasped, her voice lowering and her eyes darting to those around them in an attempt to determine if anyone had overheard the conversation.
Caitlyn's expression had sobered considerably when she realized her “best friend” was a homophobe. Why hadn't this come up before?
“Please tell me you're not homophobic,” Caitlyn said in a slightly lighter tone than she felt the other woman deserved.
She wanted to give Emily the benefit of the doubt. After all, they'd been friends for several weeks and Caitlyn didn't want to do anything that would jeopardize that friendship.
Emily straightened and gave Caitlyn a haughty look. “I don't associate with…those kinds of people,” she had answered matter-of-factly. “They're disgusting, Cat.”
“Really,” Caitlyn replied, barely containing her mirth at her friend's behavior. “You do know there are probably more gays in your precious theatre than in any other profession out there, don't you. What's disgusting about that?”
Emily's gasp of absolute horror caused Caitlyn to involuntarily burst out laughing, which didn't make the other woman happy in the least. Caitlyn couldn't help her reaction, however. She was just so surprised by the reaction that she couldn't help it. It was several moments before she could contain herself and swipe the tears of laughter from her cheeks.
“Well, if that's how you feel,” Emily declared in her most haughty tone, yet, “I don't think we should be friends any longer.”
That had stopped Caitlyn in her tracks, literally. Emily had continued on for several more steps, until she realized Caitlyn was no longer by her side. It was Caitlyn's turn to look shocked as Emily stopped, turned and crossed her arms over her chest.
“You aren't serious,” Caitlyn said with a mixture of surprise and sadness. “You wouldn't end our friendship over this whole homophobe thing, would you?”
“Are you a lesbian, Caitlyn?” The direct question nearly floored Caitlyn. “Do you have a thing for other women? Is that why you don't date men?”
Caitlyn frowned, her eyes tracking elsewhere as she gave the question some serious thought. Was she? Is that why every relationship she'd ever had since high school had failed miserably?
“Caitlyn?” Emily insisted after several moments of silence. “Caitlyn, are you gay? Please tell me you're not. I just couldn't stand to think…”
Caitlyn's gaze met Emily's and, even in the muted light that shone down on them from the myriad of billboards hanging high above, she saw something there that made her shudder. As much as she wanted a friend, she wanted a non-biased relationship more. She wanted someone who would accept her for who she was and wouldn't pass judgment simply for what they perceived her to be. She also wanted someone to love her unconditionally. She also wanted to be able to return that love unconditionally.
As if someone flicked a light switch on in her head, she suddenly didn't quite know how to answer the question Emily had asked. Was she gay? Was she a lesbian? Did she prefer women over men? Or was there more to it than mere sexual attraction? She had never really given homosexuality much thought. She knew there were a few musicians in the Phil who preferred to sleep with partners of the same sex. There were even a few who slept with either or. But no one really talked about it. They were professionals and kept their personal lives to themselves, for the most part.
“I hate labels, Em,” Caitlyn finally answered soberly. “You know that. I've made that clear from the beginning of our friendship.”
“Just answer the question, Caitlyn,” Emily persisted, her arms still crossed defensively over her chest. “Are you a lesbian? Do you want to sleep with women?”
“Does it really matter that much?” Caitlyn answered, her hackles rising at her supposed friend's sudden change in attitude. “Why do you care who I sleep with? Why do you care about my sex life at all? You've never shown any interest in it up until now. Why?”
“Because,” Emily shrugged sadly. “It just never came up until now. I thought you were straight. I've never seen you with other women.”
Caitlyn sighed heavily at the woman's words, then she shrugged, “I'm sorry you feel that way, Emily.” She made a point of mimicking her friend's use of her entire name, rather than the shortened nicknames they'd used for weeks. “I guess this means we won't be friends any longer, which makes me sad because I really like you.”
Emily's sharp intake of breath sealed the deal. “Well, I…”
“Don't, Emily,” Caitlyn had interrupted, holding a hand out to forestall a scene. “If I was gay or a lesbian, and I'm not saying that I am, I can't be friends with someone who judges others based on their sexual orientation. You're a bigot, Emily, but I would still accept you for who you are. Unfortunately, I can't stand the thought that you would always think that I was hitting on you anytime I accidentally touched you. I know you can't help the way you are—or maybe you can—I just don't think I can be friends with someone who thinks a simple hug or a kiss on the cheek could taint a friendship.”
With that, Caitlyn crossed the street and resumed her trek home—alone. She had never looked back. Nor had she ever seen Emily again after that fateful night. It had torn at her heart to know that she had ended a friendship over something so petty and stupid. But, as much as she hated herself for forestalling the inevitable with her declaration, she couldn't bring herself to regret ending the relationship. Weeks later, she had finally realized that her feelings for Emily had been moving in a direction that she hadn't anticipated.
Breaking it off over the fact that Emily was homophobic had helped Caitlyn come to terms with a part of herself she had denied for far too long. Days later, she came to a firm realization that she was a lesbian. As she thought about it more and more, she realized there had been signs that she had stubbornly refused to acknowledge. A covert crush on one of the cheerleaders in high school and an innocent flirtation with one of her college band mates. Those were only two of a myriad of examples that Caitlyn had finally been able to call to mind and accept.
After that, she searched the gay and lesbian bars and night clubs for that perfect someone who could fill her heart and give her life meaning beyond her music. Of course, she also poured herself wholeheartedly into the one passion that would never disappoint her. Despite her best attempts to find love, however, she hadn't succeeded. The best she'd come up with was another platonic friendship with the woman who played fourth chair cello.
Rosie was a loyal friend who didn't judge Caitlyn at all. She accepted her, warts and all. Six years Caitlyn's senior, the slightly-pudgy, five-foot-two cellist had an optimistic outlook on life that proved to be infectious to everyone around her. Whenever things looked grim or the musicians were having a difficult rehearsal session that set everyone on-edge, Rosie would pipe up with some glass-half-full comment that put a smile on at least one or two faces. Even when she was being teased about the fact that her parents must have known the kind of person she would someday be, and therefore named her accordingly, Rosie would just smile and say something to confirm their words.
Caitlyn had become fast friends with the woman who seemed to instinctively sense her younger counterpart's need for friendship. When Caitlyn stayed after rehearsal to work on a particularly difficult piece in an effort to perfect her part, Rosie returned to the hall and badgered Caitlyn into leaving with her to “fetch a cup of José.”
“You work too hard, Cat,” Rosie said on one such occasion over a cup of strong coffee at their favorite café.
“I work hard so I can be promoted to first chair, Rosie,” Caitlyn answered with a warm, yet distracted smile. “It's my dream, my life.”
“You work hard to hide from the world, chica ,” Rosie shot back with a knowing smirk that reached deep into her dark-brown eyes. “You need to get out more. Find that someone who can show you what love is really all about.”
“My music is all that's important to me, right now,” Caitlyn answered dismissively. “I don't want a relationship. Relationships are too complicated.”
Then their conversation turned to more-mundane subjects, like what the latest hit on Broadway was or who was sleeping with whom in the percussion section—which was made up of mostly men.
No matter where their conversation happened to turn, Caitlyn always felt a sense of peace afterward. She had never told Rosie that she was a lesbian, however. She was even more afraid of losing Rosie's friendship than she was of facing her parents and telling them. Rosie was her rock in a world that just couldn't accept her for who she really was.
Caitlyn's thoughts returned to the present and she shuddered involuntarily at the track her thoughts had taken. The first stop on the New York Phil's six-month tour was Minneapolis, Minnesota—the very heart of the Midwest.
Caitlyn grew up in Pine City, just forty minutes north of the Twin Cities. Her parents, devout United Methodists and conservative Republicans, still lived in the moderate, single-story ranch that she and her sister grew up in. Caitlyn smiled when she thought of her sister, Tammy. When it was time for her to head off to Stout University, in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Caitlyn felt terrible about leaving her close-knit family.
She felt even worse when, at the tender age of twenty, she returned home for winter break and announced that she was moving to New York City to fulfill her dream of attending the Academy of the Performing Arts.
Her parents had been so proud and her sister so jealous. She still remembered Tammy's announcement, not five minutes later that she was engaged to her high school sweetheart, Jimmy Paige. The Bradleys decided to celebrate both momentous occasions. They quickly piled into the family truckster and headed to the nearest Baker's Square for dinner. It had been snowing furiously, but still they trekked out into the near-whiteout conditions.
Caitlyn smiled at the memory. She remembered her sister's wedding day. It took place not six months after the announcement, to the day. Tammy, who had graduated from high school only a month prior, was so sure and ready, dressed in a flowing white lace gown that had a million little fake pearls sewn into the satin fabric. Jimmy, on the other hand, had been shaking in his patent-leather shoes and wouldn't stop fidgeting with the tight collar of his rented tuxedo.
Caitlyn remembered standing at the front of the church, as maid of honor, with all the other bridesmaids, dressed in a simple teal satin gown that hugged her every curve. She could even picture the look in Jamie Smith's eyes across the aisle where the Best Man and the other groomsmen stood. There was longing in his sleepy, red-rimmed eyes as he gazed at her. Caitlyn had made a face at him, which effectively put a damper on his thoughts.
Unfortunately, he hadn't been completely put off and had asked her to dance with him more than once during the reception. Caitlyn put him off for as long as possible, citing the fact that they had dated in high school and it hadn't worked out between them. It wasn't until she poured a full glass of champagne over his head that he finally took the hint. Everyone laughed except poor Jamie. He just stood there dripping.
Caitlyn smiled at the memory and her thoughts returned to her sister. Tammy and Jimmy had both been so incredibly young to be getting married at the tender age of eighteen. Despite his obvious nervousness and reluctance to be “strapped down” to Caitlyn's enthusiastic sister, however, Jimmy had made it through with nary a scratch. That had been ten years and three kids ago.
Caitlyn felt a surge of longing to be with her family again and couldn't contain the excitement that was threatening to keep her awake all night. She glanced at the digital clock on the mantle and frowned when she saw that it was well past eleven.
“Damn,” she grumbled into the darkness. “Can't believe I stayed up this late.”
After a quick glance out the window to confirm that it was still snowing, Caitlyn got up from the couch and walked across the polished hardwood floor, carefully avoiding the scattered furniture in the loft-like living room. She reached her bedroom and flipped on the light, then headed for the bathroom. In minutes her teeth were brushed and she was dressed in a thigh-length t-shirt, ready for bed.
As she climbed between the cotton sheets of her queen-sized bed and pulled the maroon goose-down comforter up to her chin, her thoughts turned to the next day. It had been ten years since she'd returned home and she knew that when she stepped onto that airplane with the rest of the orchestra, her life would change again.
She was excited to return home as the first-chair cellist of one of the most prestigious orchestras in the world. She was even more excited to realize that her debut would be in her home state. Caitlyn imagined how proud her parents would be of her on opening night, when they saw her sitting in the lead position of the cello section. Her life had certainly changed, despite the fact she still hadn't found love. She was returning home, but she also knew there was no going back.
She wasn't the same person she had been ten years prior. She was more self-assured and imminently more comfortable with what and who she was. She had made a name for herself and would show the world just what she was capable of. There was nothing in the world she could possibly want. However, deep down she also knew there was a part of her that longed to find that special someone who could make her life complete. Was she really out there somewhere, waiting?
Caitlyn blinked away the onslaught of fresh tears that threatened as she clicked the light off next to her bed. Loneliness descended on her like an old friend. The space next to her felt like a wide chasm. So cold. So empty. So unbreachable.
“Thank you, God,” she sighed as sleep finally claimed her.
“Clear my schedule for the rest of the day, Marion,” Dr. Brandan Stone impatiently barked to the frazzled receptionist. “I don't want to see another patient. I'm done for the day.”
Marion Peters glanced up from the flat computer screen in front of her and met a pair of piercing blue eyes that were as cold as the icicles dangling from the eaves of the clinic. She shivered involuntarily at the hard look the six-foot, dark-haired woman gave her.
“Are you sure, Dr. Stone?” Marion couldn't quite keep a quiver out of her voice. “You still have six patients and one consult on your schedule. Two of your patients are waiting in reception. They've been waiting for close to half an hour.”
Brandan wanted nothing more than to slam a fist on the faux-teak countertop. Instead, she leaned toward the fifty-something receptionist with her gray hair neatly pinned in a bun at the back of her head and pierced her with her most intimidating glare.
Ever since her stint in the Navy, where she had achieved the rank of Captain in less time than it took for most to make it to the rank of Lt. Commander, she was hard as nails and didn't take crap from anyone, especially those who worked for her.
Unfortunately, someone had yet to clue Marion in to the intimidation factor of one of her three bosses. She merely waited patiently for the storm to pass.
“I don't care if the Pope is here for a consult,” Brandan growled in frustrated annoyance. “I want my schedule cleared so I can take care of a personal matter. Understood?”
Miriam, who was inwardly hard-pressed not to bolt from her chair and scramble away, merely nodded patiently.
“Good,” Brandan said, her voice softening as she realized she was being an ass again. She yanked her crisply-pressed white lab coat off and tossed it over a nearby chair. “Tell Dr. Kilpatrick that I'll be in surgery all day tomorrow. I've got Mr. Abernathy's knee replacement in the morning, as well as Mrs. Green's hip and Mrs. Fisk's ankle reconstruction.”
“Will you be in the office tomorrow afternoon, then?” Miriam ventured tentatively, seeing the tiny frown lines in the doctor's brow begin to ease a bit.
She wondered briefly what had gotten under the woman's skin to upset her so, but quickly dismissed the thought. It was probably the doctor's good-for-nothing younger brother, again.
Brandan's frowned. She didn't like acting the ass in front of the good-natured receptionist, but lately she just couldn't help herself. She was…what? Dissatisfied? Disillusioned with life? She frowned at the thought. Her life wasn't going the way she'd anticipated and now she had to deal with her stupid-ass little brother.
“Sorry, Miriam,” Brandan apologized with a childish half-smile. “I didn't mean to snap at you like that.”
“Don't worry about it, honey,” the older woman smiled. “I've grown used to it, for the most part. There's nothing you can do or say to make me angry with you. Unless, of course, you tell me I'm fired.” She chuckled humorlessly.
Brandan considered teasing the woman, then thought better of it. She'd done enough damage for one day and didn't want to push her luck. Miriam was a jewel in the world of medical receptionists. Not only did she keep track of their busy schedules, she also manned the phones, occasionally filled in as nurse, organized the office and kept things running smoothly.
“After I finish with my…uh, personal business,” Brandan continued. “I'm going over to the free clinic to put in a few hours. Jeff called in sick this morning and they're pretty short-handed.” She looked up to find a pair of compassionate eyes watching her intently. “It's nothing,” she shrugged. “Just doing my part.”
Miriam snorted loudly before returning her attention to the computer.
“What?” Brandan asked, but the phone rang at that moment and Miriam answered it on the first ring, effectively dismissing the dark-haired doctor.
Brandan started to walk away, shaking her head in consternation.
“Drive carefully, Dr. Stone,” Miriam called.
Brandan turned to look at the woman and smiled, before heading for the back stairs. She grabbed her coat on the way out and took the stairs two at a time as she quickly donned the fleece-lined rancher's coat.
Reaching the bottom of the stairwell, she pushed open the outside door and almost stopped dead when a gusty blast of icy wind slapped her in the face. She donned the matching fleece-lined doe-skin gloves from her pocket and pulled her collar up around her ears, then headed for her black 4-wheel-drive Cadillac Escalade. As she hit the remote key fob, she heard the welcome click of the locks disengaging, opened the door and slipped into the driver's seat.
It only took a second for her to get the SUV started, the automatic seat warmers turned on and the heater turned up full-blast. She was on the road, headed towards the Minneapolis Metropolitan Police Department. Thoughts swirled through her head as she pulled into the nearly-empty visitor parking lot and found a vacant space near the front door.
Leaving the comfortable warmth of her Escalade, Brandan slammed the door and locked. The familiar “chirp” of the alarm activating assured her that her vehicle would still be there when she returned. It wasn't that she was paranoid. She was in a police parking lot for crying out loud. She just didn't like the thought of leaving her precious vehicle unsecured. It was a quirk of hers that had earned her a ribbing from a variety of sources, her brother included.
Brandan stepped inside the relative warmth of the police station and looked around for the nearest officer.
“Where do I pay someone's bail?” She asked a young woman in uniform. Brandan mused that the woman was still pretty wet behind the ears. She was far younger than any officer the doctor had ever seen.
“Over there,” Officer Stephens answered with a polite smile that didn't reach her hazel eyes. She pointed to a metal door with a small barred opening. “Go through that door and the clerk will help you.”
“Thanks,” Brandan returned the woman's smile, showing her even white teeth. “Appreciate the help, Officer…” she glanced at the woman's badge, which seemed larger than her whole chest, “Stephens.”
“No problem, ma'am,” the officer replied politely and walked away.
Brandan frowned at the woman's use of the word “ma'am” and sighed audibly. “Ma'am?” She quietly mused as she pushed through the designated door. “Ma'am?” She asked again in disbelief. “Do I look like a ‘ma'am?”
A clerk stepped up to the window with a confused frown. “May I help you?”
Brandan blushed in embarrassment at being caught talking to herself. “Uh, I wasn't…” she decided to just forge ahead and squared her shoulders, putting on her best “doctor” face. “I'm here to post bail for my brother.”
“Name?” The woman asked.
“Aaron Stone,” Brandan answered, pulling her wallet from her coat pocket. “How much is it?”
“Ten thousand,” the clerk answered without looking up from the computer screen in front of her.
Brandan's eyes widened, but she quickly hid her surprise. “Ten…thousand?” She pulled out her platinum American Express and shoved it into the silver slot beneath the bullet-proof window. “What the hell did he do?”
The clerk, a thirty-something uniformed woman with her mousy-blond hair pulled back in a frizzy French braid, answered curtly, “Don't know, don't care.” The card was shoved under the window, followed by a form. “Sign next to the red ‘X'.”
Brandan grabbed her card and shoved it back into her wallet, which she returned to her inner coat pocket. She then grabbed up the chained black ballpoint and signed her name to the three-page carbon form. After dating the form, she shoved it back under the glass, took the carbon page that was shoved back to her, folded it and put it in her pocket.
“Wait outside and an officer will bring him out to you,” the woman answered.
“Thanks,” she gave the woman a polite smile, but the clerk never looked up from her computer screen.
Brandan walked back out the way she'd come and found a vintage ‘70s chair to wait in while her younger brother was brought out.
An hour and forty minutes later—yes, she was clock-watching—the glass door to what she'd determined was the actual precinct opened for the umpteenth time. This time, instead of another officer, clerk or one of the numerous support staff, drug addicts and sleeze-balls being ushered in and out of the station, her brother emerged. He looked around, saw and headed straight over to her.
His blond hair was slightly mussed and there were dark circles under his blue eyes. Other than that he looked little the worse for wear.
The two siblings were as different as night and day. Where Brandan was tall, slim and had shoulder-length auburn hair, Aaron was several inches shorter, was slightly stockier and had sandy-blond curly hair. The only feature they both shared were the blue, expressive eyes that could turn icy and cold when their moods changed.
“Thanks for bailing me out, sis,” Aaron kept his gaze on his feet. “I really appreciate it.”
Brandan stood up and frowned at her sibling. “What the hell did you do this time?” She asked in annoyance. “I just put ten thousand on my credit card to bail your ass out of jail. What's the matter with you?”
Aaron looked up and winced at her frigid tone and the icy glare she gave him. “Hey, it wasn't my fault this time. I swear.”
“Really?” Brandan looked doubtful. “Do tell.” She crossed her arms over her chest and waited.
Aaron looked around, as if he were expecting someone to eavesdrop on their conversation.
“Can we just get the hell out of here, Bran?” He shoved one in the pocket of his worn Levis and the other through his hair. “I didn't get any sleep last night and I'm beat. Hungry, too. Starving.”
He wore a tattered black leather biker-style jacket that Brandan knew wouldn't keep him warm once they were outside. At that moment, however, she just didn't care. She was pissed that he didn't seem to be taking the situation seriously. Brandan turned on her heel and marched outside. She let the icy wind whip her hair and cool her anger.
“You didn't answer my question, Aaron,” she yanked her door open and climbed behind the wheel. She impatiently shoved the key into the ignition and started the vehicle. Then she flipped on the heater and waited for her brother to explain himself. “Well?”
Aaron sighed, crossed a booted foot over his knee and picked at the slightly-tattered sole. “We were in a bar on the south side when the cops decided to raid the place. The guys I was with all had drugs on ‘em,” he glanced at Brandan and caught the flash of anger in her icy-blue eyes. “I didn't have any on me, I swear!” He quickly added, holding up his hands. “I was just with them! Swear to God!”
“So you are guilty by association or something like that,” Brandan rolled her eyes. She wanted to believe him, she really did, but the cards were always stacked against him. “You and I both know that's bullshit, Aaron. There's something you're not telling me. Otherwise why would they have you bail set at ten thousand? That's a bit steep for someone who was just there.”
“Honest, Bran,” he added. “I didn't do anything wrong. You have to believe me, sis!” His voice rose as he tried to sway her to his side. “Look,” he continued in a much calmer tone, “I know I've screwed up in the past…”
“Screwed up? Screwed up!?!” Brandan couldn't hold her temper in check any longer as she rounded on him. “Do you really expect me to believe that you weren't carrying drugs or doing something else that landed you in that…that…” she slammed a hand against the steering wheel hard. “Jesus, Aaron! You're on probation. It's a wonder they didn't lock you up and throw away the fucking key! When are you going to grow up and take responsibility for your actions? Huh? I can't keep doing this. I just can't.” The wind quickly left her sails.
Aaron frowned, “I swear, you never believe me!” He crossed his arms over his chest and pouted like a petulant child. “You never believe me! So why do I fucking care? Why should I? All you care about is your motherfucking career and your…” he slammed a fist against the dashboard, “fucking shit!”
“You don't give a shit about anything or anyone but your damned self, Aaron,” Brandan accused, her steely gaze meeting his in a battle of wills. “You never give me a reason to believe you, and you certainly don't deserve to have my trust or my respect.” She sighed. “I just wish…” She paused and turned her gaze toward the bleak Minnesota landscape. Small flakes of snow were dancing around the air like miniature dust motes. She sighed again, this time in resignation. “It's my fault,” she said in a small voice devoid of emotion. “It's all my fault for not being there for you.”
His eyes widened in surprise. “What?”
“I failed you,” she continued in a quiet and defeated tone. “I should have been there when you needed me, done something to curtail all the bullshit, but I didn't. I just thought you would eventually grow up and take responsibility—do something useful with your life, instead of throwing it away.”
He leaned closer and put a hand on her leg, “You did the best you could, sis. I just…” he pulled away and turned to stare out the passenger window at the snow flurries. “They're my friends, but you're my family…and I…I'll get a job…” His tone suddenly turned apologetic. “…and…and I'll make this right. I'll pay you back. I promise. I'm not a screw up. I swear.”
Brandan gave him a sidelong look. After several long moments he met her gaze and they just sat there. Her eyes were filled with a sad hope that she didn't feel in her heart. He smiled that charming smile that always melted the hearts of those who knew him. His boyish looks and charm were enough to melt even the hardest hearts. Hers was harder, more chiseled and in her eyes was a wisdom far beyond her thirty-two years.
“Let's go home,” she started the engine and put vehicle in gear.
The drive home was rather uneventful and utterly silent. Even though Brandan usually had the radio cranked so she could sing along to her favorite tunes, it too was silent. When Brandan pulled up in front of the two-story house, she glanced at the winter-covered shrubbery and snow-covered lawn before parking in the garage. Her brother quickly exited the vehicle and was inside the house before Brandan could say a word. She just sat there, staring at the garage wall for a long moment.
“Where did I go wrong?” She sighed heavily.
Caitlyn spent another hour on stage after everyone else was dismissed from rehearsal. It had been a grueling session, with the new maestro pushing them through piece after piece and citing the fact that they were the pride of New York City at every turn. The six pieces Maestro Abraham had chosen for their first set were incredibly challenging for the string section, and the cellos especially.
Her first rehearsal as the first-chair cellist had not gone as well as she had hoped, so she was staying until she was satisfied. Expectations were high and Caitlyn wanted her opening night, which was the very next evening, to be a performance worthy of a standing ovation.
She invited her parents to the performance and was supposed to deliver the tickets that evening, when she went to their house for dinner. Unfortunately, she hadn't quite perfected a key section of the fourth piece—Saint-Saëns, Carnival of the Animals, “The Swan”. It wasn't her favorite piece. There were several measures that were really bothering her, but Caitlyn wasn't one to let a piece get to her. She had gone over the piece twelve times and each time there were several chords and a part in the twelfth measure that made her grind her teeth in frustration.
Sweat beaded her brow as she made her thirteenth attempt. The lights that shone down on the stage generated enough heat to roast a Thanksgiving turkey. Not to mention Caitlyn's efforts were physically demanding. Her right arm guided the bow that moved back and forth across the six-stringed instrument, while her left hand worked furiously to produce each note and chord. The fingers on her left hand were calloused from constant practice and the muscles of her right shoulder bulged with her efforts as she leaned into the instrument. When she was in the groove, as she was now, her eyes glided across the page and she felt the music flow effortlessly through her.
She could feel the burn between her shoulders as she continued to push herself. She felt as if she'd been practicing for hours, which she had. She was tired, exhausted actually. The three-hour plane flight with the rest of the orchestra had not given her any chance to rest. It didn't help that she hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, either. Her mind just wouldn't let her rest. And now, here she was, pushing herself to the breaking point, yet again.
If she closed her eyes, which she finally did, the music came to her and seemed to magically emanate from her with a will of its own. That was what a true musician was capable of. Caitlyn knew it wasn't about talent or ability alone. Playing in the NYC Phil was more than merely playing music. With her eyes closed she could still see the notes in her mind's eye, but she also felt them as the notes slid together and melded into a sweet symphony of sound.
As the final notes poured out and her bow and fingers slowed with the final retard, Caitlyn became aware of her surroundings, once again, and she realized she was no longer alone. As her bow lifted from the strings and the echoes of the last chords faded, she looked up to see a shadowy figure sitting in the fourth row.
“Can I help you?” She shaded her eyes from the glare of the overhead lights.
“No, but I can certainly help you,” came the chuckled reply.
The figure moved out of the shadows and walked up onto the stage. Caitlyn breathed a sigh of relief when she realized it was her friend and fellow cellist, Rosemarie.
“Jeez, Rosie,” Caitlyn exclaimed. “You nearly scared me to death with all that cloak-and-dagger sneaking around. What are you doing here? I thought you went with the rest of the group.”
“I did, chica ,” the short Hispanic woman answered with a motherly grin. “I came back to check on my favorite first-chair.” The woman moved to stand next to Caitlyn and shook her head. She sighed in exasperation. “You push yourself too hard, Cat. Even the worst of us is a virtuoso and can play this piece with our eyes closed. You know this music like no other and still you practice. The Maestro made you first-chair for a reason, chica ,” she smiled warmly. “You need to get out more. Come,” she motioned toward the exit. “A bunch of us headed downtown for drinks. You come, too, and we will show you that there is life outside these concert walls.”
“I'm fine, Rosie,” Caitlyn returned the smile. “Really. I just want to practice a little more. Our performance is tomorrow night and I just don't quite feel it, yet.”
“I still say you push yourself too hard, chica ,” Rosie tsked. “Come with us, mi amiga .” She wiggled dark brows and grinned broadly and somewhat conspiratorially. “Albert is there and you know how he gets when he's had a few drinks.”
Caitlyn smiled knowingly at the thought of Albert Tenscher consuming alcohol. “Yeah, the last time we took him out he ended up doing a striptease on the bar.”
She still couldn't reconcile that image with the stoic, prudish timpani percussionist who wore a bow tie every day of his life. He hadn't been wearing his bow tie for long that night.
Rosie rolled her eyes and laughed. “Who knows what we can get him to do this time, mi amiga . Maybe he will take his pants off and live a little.”
Caitlyn laughed at the mental picture. “I wish I could,” she sighed. “Truth is, I have to visit my parents and deliver their tickets.” She let out a heavy breath. “They're expecting me tonight and I don't want to disappoint them.”
“Oh, that's right,” Rosie suddenly realized. “This is your home turf. Will they let you take the limo? Or…”
“I rented a car at the airport,” Caitlyn tucked her bow under her arm and stood up. “Guess I'd better get going if I'm going to make it in time for supper, though.”
“You sure, chica ? Dios mio , The roads aren't too good out there, right now.”
“Is it snowing?” Caitlyn frowned.
“No, it's not snowing as much as it is flurrying and icy,” Rosie answered. “The forecast is for snow later this evening, though. Maybe you should stay here. Come with us, Cat. It won't be the same without you.” Her expression became a bit playful. “Maybe they'll have a karaoke machine, eh?” She gently elbowed her good friend in the arm. “We can sing a duet?”
“No,” Caitlyn rolled her eyes and shook her head. “I don't sing. Never could. Play music? Yes. Sing? Absolutely not. Besides, I'll be fine, Rosie. I'm used to driving in snowy conditions, remember?” She gave the other woman her most endearing smile and winked at her. “Go on. You don't want to miss your chance to see Albert's antics. And sing a song for me if they have a karaoke machine.”
“Okay, chica , but don't say I didn't try my best to persuade you.”
“I won't, Rosie, I promise.”
The two women hugged briefly before Rosie headed out. As she walked up the aisle towards the main lobby, she stopped and turned, then waved and continued on.
Caitlyn shook her head as she watched Rosie disappear. She loved the older woman like a sister, but sometimes she almost felt a bit smothered by Rosie's motherly concern. As she picked up her cello case and turned, she stopped.
“Oh!” She gasped as a man emerged from the stage-right shadows. “Maestro Abraham, you startled me.” She hefted her cello in front of her and waited for him to approach. “I didn't know you were still here.”
Tony Abraham strode confidently toward her. He wasn't tall by any standards, nor was he short. Of medium build, he wore a white dress shirt that he kept unbuttoned at the collar. Over that he wore a tailored navy blue blazer with gold buttons. He wore a pair of black jeans that hugged his legs and fell over a pair of worn brown loafers. With his hands in the pocket of his jeans, he stopped in front of Caitlyn and flashed a smile.
“I was practicing, as well,” he shrugged. “It helps me focus if I do so on the eve before a performance. One of those quirky things we musicians do. Kind of like practicing a piece until we know it backwards and forwards.”
Caitlyn carefully set her cello case aside. “I know what you mean.”
Caitlyn hadn't known the young conductor for very long, but in their brief encounters she always got the distinct impression he was pursuing her. Although he had never made a move or asked her out, she still felt as if he watched her more than he did anyone else. It gave her the creeps, in a way. It was something Maestro Jerevic would never do.
“Would you like me to escort you to the parking lot?” He offered his arm. “Or would you like a ride to the hotel? I have one of the limos waiting out front.”
Caitlyn took the handle of her cello case and lifted it. “No, thank you, Maestro,” she held the case between them. “I have a car outside. And I'm heading north to visit my parents. They're expecting me.”
“Tony, please,” he moved to grab the heavy case from her. “Caitlyn.”
“It's okay, I've got it,” Caitlyn sensed his intentions. She hefted the case higher and proceeded toward the steps to the side of the stage. “Thank you. See you tomorrow.”
“You're not staying in the city tonight?” He walked next to her. “Do your parents live far?”
Oh, here it goes, she thought. “They live about forty miles north,” Caitlyn gave him a polite smile. “I really have to go, Maestro. Thank you, again.”
They had reached the red-carpeted walkway and Caitlyn got the distinct impression man wasn't taking no for an answer. So, she stopped and turned to face him, almost hitting him with the neck of the cello case.
“Sorry,” she apologized. “Look,” she continued, setting the case down between them, “I'm very flattered by your interest, Maes-…” she saw his mouth open, “Tony,” she quickly corrected. “But the truth is I'm just not interested in a relationship with you.”
“Oh,” he put up a staying hand and then put both hands in his pockets. “Please don't misunderstand, Caitlyn. I just thought we could, you know,” he shrugged, “get a bite to eat. As friends. Nothing fancy. No strings attached, so to speak.” He grinned at the unintentional pun. “I find you very attractive and…”
“Tony,” Caitlyn cut him short. “I'm not interested in sex with you, now or ever,” she finished quickly. “Okay?”
He graced her with his most charming smile. She could tell he was confident that it worked on others and would work on her, too.
He leaned in close. “You sure, Caitlyn?”
“Positive,” she gave him a firm nod.
“Okay then,” he shrugged in an effort to hide his disappointment. “Then at least let me escort you to your car? After all, you're my first-chair cellist. I don't want anything happening to you the evening before our first performance.” His hazel eyes shone with a gleam of sincere friendship. “Friends?”
Caitlyn hefted her cello again, “Friends,” she nodded as they proceeded toward the front of the theatre in companionable silence.
“So,” he said as they reached the glass outer doors. He glanced outside and saw that it was flurrying in the dusky twilight. “You sure you won't change your mind? I hear there's a little bistro just up the way that serves a mean calzone.”
Caitlyn shook her head with a wry grin, “Does that line work on all the ladies, Tony?”
Tony shrugged, “Sometimes,” he sighed. “Let's just say it works and leave it at that.”
They made their way to the parking lot where two identical rental cars were parked a few yards apart. Caitlyn veered off towards the only light-blue Topaz still in the parking lot, while Tony stopped at a black limo parked right out front. Snowflakes drifted in the stillness and twilight.
“Nice rental,” Tony grinned, as the limo driver opened the door for him.
Caitlyn shoved her cello case in the back seat, closed the door and hesitated at the open driver's side door.
“Have a good night, Maestro,” she climbed easily behind the wheel. She started the car and lowered the electric window. “See you tomorrow for rehearsal.”
“Drive safely, Caitlyn,” Tony gave her a boyish grin, as he ducked inside the limo.
Caitlyn drove away and headed toward Highway 35. Thoughts of Tony Abraham quickly faded as she headed north to Pine City. She shoved a CD into the slot of her radio and let the soft strains of a Mozart concerto fill the air.
“Why is it I attract all the wrong people?” She quietly muttered as she pulled onto the wet highway. Snow was falling more heavily, but the roads were only slightly wet and weren't too bad. She chalked that up to the fleet of snowplows out there dropping salt by the truckload. “Maybe I'll just stay the night at Mom and Dad's if the weather doesn't clear,” she said. “I can always beat the early traffic and drive back first thing in the morning.”
She settled back into the driver's seat and concentrated on the road ahead. Time enough later to figure out what she would do. The music lifted into a crescendo, while Caitlyn concentrated on the road ahead.
Brandan rounded a corner and nearly ran into someone coming out of one of the bathrooms. The tall, black man was carrying a small clear-plastic cup with yellow liquid in it. He quickly wrapped his arms around the container and held it close to his body.
“Hey! Watch it, lady,” the man barked. “Took me twenty minutes to get this sample.” He continued to mutter as he slowly hobbled down the hallway.
Brandan simply stepped aside and let the man pass. He was dressed in a dirty overcoat and wore a filthy knit cap on his bald head. There were so many homeless who came to the tiny free clinic when the weather turned bitter that Brandan was used to just staying out of their way. She carried the chart to the next room, knocked once and entered.
“Mr. Davis,” Brandan looked up at a man in his late forties calmly lying on the paper-covered exam bed. “What can I do for you this evening?”
Conner Davis watched the tall doctor approach and smiled. “Tell me you'll have dinner with me tonight, Doc?” He winked at her.
“Somehow, Mr. Davis,” Brandan kept her expression neutral but quirked one dark brow slightly, “I don't think the Mrs. would go for that. Why don't you tell me why you're here so we can get this show on the road? I'm a little busy, as you probably already know.”
“Oh, all right,” the man sat up and let his bony legs dangle over the side of the bed. “I told the Mrs. I didn't need to be here, but she insisted. I got a little case of indigestion and suddenly she's all over me to go to the hospital. Figured this was the next best place.”
Brandan grabbed the man's wrist and checked his pulse, then took the stethoscope from around her neck, put the earpieces in and pressed the other end against the man's chest.
“Deep breath,” she ordered, listening intently as the man breathed. She moved the diaphragm to the man's back. “Take another breath for me, Mr. Davis.”
He breathed deeply a few times and she listened carefully, then pulled the earpieces out and re-wrapped the device around her neck.
“Well, Doc?” The man asked expectantly. “What's the prognosis? Am I gonna live?”
Brandan placed her hand on his chest and tapped it with her other hand several times. She then made him lay back down so she could check his vital signs.
“Is it a burning pain?” She asked, repositioning the stethoscope again. “Did you take an antacid? Are you on any medication I should know about? Aspirin? Angina medication?”
“I took an antacid, but the pain didn't go away and my fingers have been tingling,” he scowled. “Tell me, Doc. Is it serious? Is it my heart?”
Brandan considered her options. If the man were at the hospital and had insurance she would order a complete battery of tests just to be sure he wasn't suffering from angina or a heart condition. Unfortunately, when one sought treatment at the free clinic, the options were limited. She scribbled a few things down on the chart to give herself a few seconds to think, then met the man's expectant gaze.
“Do you have insurance, Mr. Davis?”
“No, ma'am, I don't,” he answered. “I'm a farmer and we lost our insurance last year when the crops didn't…well, you know.” He looked away for a moment as he struggled with his pride, then looked back up into those intelligent blue eyes. “Give it to me straight, doc. What's wrong? Am I dying? How long do I have?”
Brandan hugged the chart close to her chest and let the hint of a smile show. “Well, Mr. Davis,” she began, “I can't really give you a proper diagnosis without doing a complete workup, which I can't do here. But I think you already knew that. I'd really like to have you checked into Abbott Northwestern, where they can do some tests and make a proper diagnosis.” She gave him a stern glare. “I don't think you're having a heart attack, but I do think you might have a blockage that's causing your discomfort. Your blood pressure's higher than normal, and I'd just feel more comfortable sending you to the hospital. I have a very good friend in Abbott's heart institute who will take very good care of you. He's the best in the Midwest.”
The man's face turned slightly ashen as her words sank in. “I…I can't afford to be laid up with a heart condition, Doc,” he said quietly. “Are you sure it's just not a case of indigestion?”
Brandan placed a reassuring hand on the man's arm. “I'll arrange for an ambulance to take you to Abbott, Mr. Davis. I don't want to take any chances. Okay?”
“Can you send my wife in?” He asked. “I think I'd better discuss this with her. She's the one who takes care of the finances, so she'll know better than me.”
Brandan nodded and squeezed the man's hand. “I'll explain the situation to her myself, Mr. Davis.”
Brandan exited the exam room and headed to the nurse's station, where she found Nurse Terrance Stadler hard at work.
“Hey, Terry,” Brandan greeted him with a nod.
He turned and graced her with a winning smile, “Well, looky here. If it ain't the high and mighty resident orthopedic reconstructive surgeon come to grace us with her austere presence. How're you doin', sugar? That practice of yours not keeping you busy enough? Or did you miss this fine bit of chocolate goodness? Hm?”
She chuckled. “Let me get back to you on that.” She returned her attention to Mr. Davis' chart. “Can you please send Mrs. Davis back here, so I can fill her in on her husband's condition?” She scribble something on the farmer's chart. “And call for transport to Abbot's. Mr. Davis needs a full workup for some chest pain he's been experiencing. Let Dr. Chandler know that I'm sending Mr. Davis to him.”
“Sure, sugar,” Terrance took the chart she handed over to him. “Anything else ol' Terrance can do for my favorite volunteer doctor?”
“Shave,” Brandan winked at him. “You're getting a little scruffy around the edges, Terry. A haircut would do you a world of good, too.”
Terrance gave her his best hurt-puppy look, “You wound me, girl. Wound me. These locks,” he fingered the long dreds proudly, “are my prize, sugar. They are the crown atop this beautiful head. My crown of glory, sugar.” He lowered his voice conspiratorially. “And the boys just love ‘em.” Then he winked at her as he headed toward the reception area.
Brandan just shook her head at his back. He was a good friend and had been there for her on more than one occasion, which was why she was still so willing to volunteer her time for a few hours a week at the free clinic. Terrance was the clinic's rock and put his heart and soul into the place. His family had grown up in the heart of downtown Minneapolis and, as soon as he had graduated from nursing school, he returned to give back to the community that had supported him all those years.
“Dr. Stone,” a woman's voice caught Brandan's attention. “It's good to see you here again.”
Brandan's eyes rolled involuntarily, but she put on her best stoic mask as she turned to face the source of the sickly-sweet greeting.
“Amanda, such a pleasure to see you,” Brandan gave the woman a smile that didn't reach her eyes. “How are you?”
Dr. Amanda Peterman had been in the same surgical residency program with Brandan, once upon a time. The woman was a busy-body who tried at every opportunity to discredit the orthopedic surgeon. When Brandan had accepted a position with the prestigious Johnson-Stieg Clinic for Reconstructive Surgery, Amanda had been livid. In her mind, she was a much more capable reconstructive surgeon than Brandan Stone. Unfortunately for Amanda, however, Brandan's three partners didn't agree and had hired Brandan, instead.
Brandan's mentor, Dr. Samuel Johnson, had once commented to his colleagues that Brandan Stone was one of the most gifted surgeons in her field and the orthopedic world would be hard-pressed to lose her. He had taken her under his wing and taught her all he knew. Brandan had absorbed everything she could from Sam and had far exceeded his expectations. When he and two other doctors decided to open their prestigious Johnson-Stieg Clinic for Reconstructive Surgery, Brandan had jumped at the chance to be one of the ground-floor partners. They asked, she accepted and the rest was history.
“So, to what do we owe this pleasure?” Amanda's voice grated on Brandan's last nerve.
“Just doing my part, Amanda,” Brandan's tone was clipped.
She briefly wondered what was taking Terrance so long to fetch Mrs. Davis. She really needed a distraction at that moment to get her away from her arch-rival.
“Slumming, more like,” Amanda shot back. “You really don't need to continue this pretense, Brandan. Now that you're the pride of Johnson-Stieg, you should be dedicating all your efforts to making the big bucks. Don't they have enough patients to keep you busy?”
Brandan inwardly cringed at the woman's snotty tone, but outwardly she remained calm and composed. “I'm just giving back to those less fortunate than I am, Amanda. I do what I can.”
Before Amanda could say more, Terrance returned with a forty-something woman by his side. He noticed the other doctor's presence and knew Brandan's feelings about Amanda Peterman.
“Dr. Stone,” he ignored Peterman and stood between the two women. He then motioned for Mrs. Davis to step up next to him. His move effectively cut Brandan off from Amanda's line of sight. “This is Mrs. Arthur Davis.”
The woman was short and stocky with sandy-blond hair sprinkled liberally with gray. She carried herself with assurance and extended a friendly hand toward the tall doctor.
“Mavis Davis, Dr. Stone,” her cheeks were rosy and plump as she smiled.
Brandan shook the woman's hand and tried her best not to laugh aloud at the woman's ridiculous name.
“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Davis,” she said graciously. “Shall we?” She motioned for the woman to precede her toward her husband's room.
Amanda stood silently by, feeling slightly put off by the fact that everyone was suddenly ignoring her. She grabbed the next patient's chart and marched off down the hall without another word.
It didn't take long for Brandan to explain the situation to Mrs. Davis and get her to agree to allow her husband to be transported to Abbott's for the necessary tests. In less than an hour, Arthur and Mavis Davis were on their way.
Brandan saw six more patients after that—a lacerated knee, a young boy who'd been hit on the head with a baseball bat, three broken bones that had to be set and a woman who was suffering from the effects of hypothermia after her landlord turned off the heat in her apartment. She talked to Social Services on the latter, after referring the case to the Minneapolis Police Department for investigation.
By ten that evening, Brandan was headed out to her Escalade and on her way home. Her day had been jam-packed and she was ready to put it all behind her. She knew her brother wouldn't be there when she got home, but hoped she was wrong. They still hadn't resolved anything, which was pretty normal.
Ever since their parents had basically left them to fend for themselves, the two had been at odds with each other. Brandan had scrimped and saved, working her way through college and then medical school. Her brother, on the other hand, had slipped through the cracks when he started hanging with the wrong crowd. It wasn't long before he'd dropped out of high school and was constantly in and out of trouble.
Brandan pulled her hair out of its ponytail, shook her head and raked a hand through the shoulder-length locks. Going home meant she would either face a fight with her brother, if he was there at all, or face an empty, lonely house. She consoled herself with the reminder that she would be attending the symphony the very next night. She'd received her tickets in the mail and was looking forward to the opening tour of the New York City Philharmonic.
She loved the symphony. It was the one thing in her life that she always looked forward to. When she sat there with the strains of a melody countered by the soulful harmony melding into a beautiful symphonic blend, she could almost forget the world existed. Music was the one escape she had from a life filled with constant demands and responsibilities. She could close her eyes and imagine herself transported to distant lands and far-simpler times.
Brandan sighed in resignation as she hung her cotton lab coat on a vacant knob, grabbed her backpack and headed home.
“You leavin' already, doc?” A familiar voice called from across the hall.
Brandan smiled. “Yeah,” she replied. “You wanna meet me at Callahan's, Ter?”
She chuckled at the conspiratorial joke they always shared. It had started with that stupid commercial and had grown to ridiculous proportions.
“Nah,” Terrance waved her off. “I got me a boatload of paperwork to finish before I'm headed out.” He glanced up from his computer screen. “Besides,” he added with a grin, “I got me a little som'in' som'in' waitin' when I get outta here.”
“Oh, do tell,” Brandan leaned on the counter. “Details, Ter. I want details.”
“I got more pride than to kiss and tell,” he chuckled good-naturedly. “Besides, I don't foresee leavin' here anytime soon. We had a busy night tonight. Must be the weather.”
“You want some help?” Brandan asked, straightening to lean casually against the worn counter. “I'm pretty good with a computer.”
“What, you suddenly lowering yourself another peg and volunteering to become a nurse's assistant?” He glared at her doubtfully. “Go home, Dr. Stone. You are officially off the clock.”
Brandan's eyebrow raised in question. “Well, this is a first. Terrance Stadler never turns down a chance to dump paperwork on someone else.” She stepped around the counter and playfully reached a hand toward his head. “Do you have a fever, my friend? Are you feeling okay? Did you fall and hit your head?”
He deftly evaded her hand. “Go home, girl, it's late and you need your beauty sleep. Let me get this stuff done so I can go have some real fun.”
Brandan returned to the other side of the counter just as someone turned off the lights at the far end of the clinic and yelled “See ya!”
“Drive safe, Bridget!” Terrance called back, then returned his attention to his computer. “Why're you still here, sugar? I hear the weather's not getting any better out there. You have a death wish or something?”
“I'm stalling,” she rested her chin on her fist and sported a pout. “I don't want to go home.”
“Troubles on the home front?” He glanced up at her and saw the troubled look in her eyes. “That little brother of yours givin' you fits again, sugar?”
“Among other things,” she sighed deeply, then straightened up and set her shoulders. “Guess it's time to face the music. Speaking of which, you wouldn't want to be my date for the symphony tomorrow night, would you? The New York Philharmonic kicks off their national tour at Orchestra Hall.”
Terrance caught the enthusiasm in her tone. “Why? You buying?”
“Yeah, I'm a season ticket holder, actually,” she shrugged. “It's the one thing that keeps me sane in a world full of utter insanity.”
“You're the sanest person I know, sugar,” he flashed a genuine smile. “I don't doubt your sanity for a moment. But I do doubt my own all the time, especially when it comes to hanging around this place.”
“Sanity is overrated.”
He reached up and patted her hands that were clasped together and hanging over the edge of the counter closest to him. “You need to find someone to take your mind off things, that's all. Some nice girl who can curl your toes and put a spark back into those gorgeous blue eyes of yours.”
“Thanks,” she snorted. “Like my schedule would accommodate a relationship. Not likely. I haven't had sex in so long I'm beginning to wonder if it's even worth it anymore. Well,” she continued a little louder, slinging her backpack over one shoulder, “guess I'd better get going while the gettin's good. Have fun tonight and let me know if you'd like to go with me tomorrow night. I can pick you up at six.”
“I'll save you the call,” he said. “Pick me up at five and we'll make it a real date. I know a little bistro just around the corner that serves a mean calzone. My treat.”
Brandan smiled. “Tell you what,” she said, “I know the place you're referring to and their calzones don't hold a candle to the cuisine at Vincent's. My treat. And I'll pick you up at four-thirty, just to be on the safe side. I like to get to the hall early and listen to the orchestra as it rehearses.”
“They let you do that?”
“No, but I know someone who'll let us in through a side door,” she winked. “He still owes me a favor for putting his shoulder back together.” She stood there for a moment longer, just staring off into space.
“Go home, Doc,” Terrance finally said when she hadn't moved. “I'll never get outta here if you don't.”
“Oh, all right,” she pouted again as she turned and left him to his computer. “Stay safe and see you tomorrow.”
“You too, sugar,” he didn't bother to look up from the click-clacking of his keyboard.
Caitlyn's eyelids drooped as she stared into the fireplace in her parents' living room. She was half-sprawled on the old, faded couch, wrapped in an afghan her mother had crocheted years ago. The familiar sights and sounds of her childhood warmed her more than the faded afghan.
She glanced over at her mom who was knitting a small blanket in shades of blue, white and yellow, while her father read the newspaper by the light of an old lamp. It was such a familiar scene that Caitlyn almost felt like a teenager again. The wistful strains of a familiar Beethoven piece blended into the background and gently teased her ears until the tempo increased and the brass section belted out a fortissimo adagio.
Her heart actually skipped a beat.
“I think I'll head to bed,” she said on a yawn. “Is my room still…” She let the words die on her lips as she swung her legs over the side of the couch and her bare feet sank into the faded shag carpet.
“Just as you left it, dear,” her mother said without looking up from her knitting. “Maybe a little cleaner, but all your things are still there. Pictures. Posters. Even that lovely quilt Grandma Shirley made for you when you were little. How old was she, Jacob?”
Caitlyn glanced at her mother and frowned. “I thought you were going to turn it into an office, Dad.”
Her father looked up from his newspaper, which he neatly folded and dropped into his lap. He removed his reading glasses and met his oldest daughter's gaze.
“Thought you might want to come back and grab your things first,” he shrugged. “Didn't want you to have to pour through a bunch of boxes to find it all.”
Caitlyn smiled. “Guess I did leave in kinda a hurry after high school, didn't I?” She smiled shyly. “I was so anxious to get out here and start my life that I didn't stop to think of all I left behind.”
Her father's smile was warm and understanding. “You did what you had to, Cat. And who could blame you for wanting to leave all this for the lights and noise of the big city?”
They both heard a soft sniffle from the other chair and Caitlyn turned to find her mother trying desperately to hide her tears.
“Mom?” Caitlyn knelt in front of her mother and frowned. “What's wrong? Why are you crying?”
Her mother merely shook her head and blew her nose on a tissue she always kept up one of the sleeves of her sweater. She waved the tissue dismissively, “Go to bed, dear. It's nothing. I'm fine.”
Caitlyn placed a comforting hand on her mother's knee and gently rubbed the polyester-blend fabric.
“I'm sorry,” Caitlyn gave her a wan smile. “I didn't mean that like it sounded. I was just...” She looked over at her father, who was trying inconspicuously to wipe away tears of his own. “I never meant to hurt you. Either of you. I just…I just…” words failed her and she longed to express those words through music. It was the one way she truly knew how to express herself.
Caitlyn stood up, walked into the hallway and headed upstairs. She stopped on the landing and looked back at her parents. They hadn't moved. Both were still sitting in front of the fireplace, just like they always did.
“We're very proud of you, Cat,” her father's voice was so soft that it barely reached her.
The words were so unexpected that they warmed Caitlyn to hear them. She darted back to the living room and launched herself into her father's lap, giving him a heartfelt hug.
“Thank you, Daddy,” she kissed his wet cheek. “That means a lot to me.”
As quickly as she had jumped into his lap, she hopped off and bolted for the stairs. She briefly wished her legs were longer so she could take the stairs two-at-a-time. Being short had some definite disadvantages.
When she reached her room, she flipped the light on and found it in the same exact condition it had been in when she left all those years ago. Her overnight bag sat in the middle of her bed, which was neatly made and covered with the multi-colored quilt her grandmother had made right before she died.
The room itself was slightly smaller than she remembered, but the cool green walls beckoned to her. She walked to her small writing desk and ran a hand over the smooth wood finish. She glanced up to find all the pictures of her friends from high school still pinned to the corkboard on the wall. She grabbed one picture in particular, and smiled wistfully at the image of a young man in a navy-blue blazer.
Paul Dinsmoore was her high school sweetheart—at least she thought so back then. That was long before she realized her tastes actually ran in the opposite direction. He was everything she'd believed she wanted. A high school athlete, he was pitcher for their Varsity baseball team. He was also in the running for Valedictorian, but missed being picked because he hadn't finished a key project in his American Journalism course at the local community college. He got a B in the class and his grade point dipped.
When Caitlyn, whom he always affectionately called “Kitty Cat”, announced that she would be leaving the state to attend college in Wisconsin, he had dumped her. She hadn't known at the time that he was secretly sneaking around behind her back with her best friend. She'd found that one out later, when she'd returned home on spring break to find the two married and expecting their first child. Somehow, though, the shock of that announcement hadn't quite affected her like she thought it should.
Caitlyn smiled at the memory and tucked the photo back in the corner of her cork board. She glanced at the other photos and smiled wistfully at them, then returned her attention to the bed. She walked over, grabbed a sleep shirt out of the overnight bag and tossed the bag on the floor. In seconds she had the sleep shirt on and was climbing under the chilly sheets.
She heard footsteps climbing the stairs and hesitated when the footsteps stopped at her bedroom door. The door opened and her father poked his gray head in.
“Everything all right, Cat?” He asked, a routine she remembered all too well.
“Yeah, Daddy, just fine,” she snuggled down and pulled the warm comforter up under her chin.
“Sweet dreams, then,” he flipped the light switch and plunged the room into darkness. “See you bright and early.” He smiled and shut the door.
“'Night, Daddy,” she softly answered, listening to his footsteps as they faded away down the hallway.
Caitlyn waited for her mother's footsteps, which usually weren't far behind her father's. Sure enough, several minutes later she could hear them coming up the stairs. The footsteps hesitated at Caitlyn's bedroom door, but instead of her mother opening the door and saying goodnight, they proceeded down the hallway in the direction of her parents' room.
Caitlyn sighed. All throughout dinner that evening her mother hadn't said more than a few words and only when she'd been asked a direct question. Caitlyn had done her best to get her mom to open up, but the woman just didn't seem inclined to do so. When the conversation turned to the topic of Caitlyn's sister, however, her mother had joined the conversation with interest. She practically beamed with pride at the mere mention of her younger daughter's name.
Caitlyn inwardly cringed when she realized where her mother was taking the conversation as she spoke of Tammy's devotion to being both a wife and mother. When the fateful question was finally thrown at her, Caitlyn nearly choked on the bite of chicken she'd taken just a moment before.
“So, dear, when will we be receiving an invitation to your wedding?” Her mother asked hopefully.
Recovering quickly from her initial surprise, especially since she knew full-well that question would eventually be thrown at her, Caitlyn decided to just go with it.
“I don't know, Mom,” she answered truthfully, taking a drink of her sweetened iced tea to clear the lump in her throat. “I don't have anyone in my life right now. My music takes up so much time that I just don't have any left for a real social life.”
“Oh, that's just too bad, dear,” her mother had said with such sadness that Caitlyn almost blurted her real reason just to shut her mother up. “Aren't there any nice men in New York City who are interested in dating a nice young woman like you?”
Caitlyn had nearly choked again, but this time pushed the food into her cheek, instead. “No, Mom, there just aren't,” she'd lied. “They're either gay…” her mother gasped at this, but Caitlyn ignored her, “…or they are too busy working and supporting their drug habits…” another gasp. Inwardly, Caitlyn smiled at the reaction. “I'm not a big fan of either.”
“Gay?” Her mother cringed. “If they're gay, then how do they…” She stopped herself and shuddered. “On second thought, I just don't want to know. It's just so unnatural. Scripture tells us…”
“It's not as unnatural as you might think, Mom,” Caitlyn shot back. “Besides, being gay doesn't make you unnatural or disgusting. It's just a part of who you are.”
“That's enough, Caitlyn,” her father gave her a stern glare. “I'll have none of that talk at my table.”
“Yes, Daddy,” Caitlyn demurred. She couldn't help it. That look always put her in her place.
Her father then turned the conversation to talk of sports. Her mother immediately went back to saying very little, returning her attention to her plate, instead. Caitlyn and her dad talked about the Twins' chances of making it to the World Series in the coming spring, to which her father said he doubted it. They talked about his job as a plumbing contractor, while all the while Caitlyn's mother remained silent.
In the years since she'd moved to New York City, Caitlyn had only received about three phone calls from her mother—one to announce that she (Caitlyn) was an aunt, one to let her know her parents were going on a cruise to Alaska and one to announce she was an aunt again. When it came to conversations with her parents, it was her father who called. Caitlyn knew her mother was upset at her for leaving, but thought the woman's attitude would eventually change. Apparently it hadn't. Neither had her parents' bigoted views on people.
“Guess I'll just have to try a different tactic,” Caitlyn mumbled to herself in the dark. “If the mountain won't come to Mohammad…”
She turned on her side and closed her eyes, listening to the night sounds beyond her window. There weren't many, not during the winter. There was a tree branch creaking in the wind and banging against the house somewhere. She opened her eyes and looked out the window that faced the moon. She could just see it peeking out of a few gray clouds. It was big and bright, as were the thousands of sparkling stars twinkling high above.
“Star light, star bright,” she whispered softly, “the first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might…” A sudden yawn caught her by surprise as her eyes drifted slowly closed. “…have the wish I wish tonight.”
An insistent tapping focused the orchestra's attention, yet again.
“Would you all please go back to measure sixty and try again,” Maestro Abraham's patience was at an end. “Watch for the crescendo at sixty-three and don't rush the tempo at seventy-two. Come on, people, tonight is opening night and you're not giving this rehearsal the attention it deserves. Now, take it from sixty…” he brought his baton up and held his other hand up with it as everyone in the orchestra waited for his cue.
The cue came and…
The baton almost instantly was tapping emphatically against the music stand again. “No, no, no, people…”
Caitlyn wanted to scream in frustration. They'd played the piece six times and each time the man had stopped them just after measure sixty. He was adamant they play the crescendo perfectly, even though the composer had been quite vague in his musical directions. There wasn't actually a crescendo written into the piece, but Abrahams seemed to think it needed one.
She rested the neck of her cello against her shoulder and let her bow dangle from her right hand resting on her knee. After sleeping for three hours, she had suddenly bolted upright in bed. After that she couldn't get back to sleep. The clock on her nightstand said it was only three in the morning. Her thoughts kept circling around that wish she had made right before she fell asleep. Had she actually been dreaming before she suddenly popped awake?
“I wish I may, I wish I might…”
She had asked the stars above to help her find someone who would love her and cherish her as much as she wanted share love and cherish someone. Life just kept moving along and she was afraid she would wake up one day and find out that she'd missed out completely.
It was somewhat of a tradition for her to utter those words right before she fell asleep. She recalled all those nights when she'd done the same thing. In those earlier years, she'd had every hope and dream that she would find a nice young man her parents would approve of and who she could love. Little did she realize that wasn't what she really wanted, at all.
The baton brought her attention back to rehearsal and she readied herself for yet another attempt at the “piece from hell” as she thought of it. Bach's, Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor , a complex composition in which the theme/subject is developed by imitative counterpoint and the first imitation of the subject overlaps the initial idea, was becoming more tedious with each passing moment.
“All right, people, let's take it from the beginning of measure thirty,” irritation dripped from every word. “Stay focused and be ready for measure sixty, will you? Let's get it right this time, so we can move on to the next piece.”
She was beyond caring if they ever got the damned thing right. All she wanted to do was head back to her hotel room and take a much-needed nap before the concert that night. She cringed when she thought about what she would be doing after the concert.
Her mother had unexpectedly called her cell phone early that morning, just after she'd left their house, to tell Caitlyn she'd invited a few people over for a little get-together after the concert. Caitlyn had voiced her objections, but every word fell on her mother's deaf ears. Her mother insisted Caitlyn be there, as her sister and family would be there to visit with her.
The music started and Caitlyn realized suddenly that the orchestra was playing without her. She looked up to find Maestro Abraham glaring daggers at her. He waved his baton impatiently and stopped the orchestra, to the disappointed groans of everyone.
“Are we keeping you from something important, Ms. Bradley?” He barked. “A lunch date, perhaps?”
Caitlyn couldn't help the flush of embarrassment that suffused her cheeks and heated her whole face.
“I'm…I'm sorry,” she apologized to the group and avoided the Maestro's eyes. “I guess my mind was elsewhere. Where were we?”
“Measure thirty, Ms. Bradley,” he shot back impatiently. “Please focus, would you? We don't have time for this.” He raised his arms again. “Are we ready, then?”
Just then one of the theatre doors slammed open and a figure hurried down the center aisle. She was wearing heels, so running wasn't really an option.
“Are you ready to go to lunch, Tony?” The woman's nasally voice broke the expectant silence. “I'm getting really hungry.”
All heads turned toward her, then looked at the maestro at once. Instruments settled into restful positions and the air seemed to crackle with anticipation.
“Just have a seat, April,” Abraham turned and gave the woman a tolerant smile. “We're almost finished.”
When the woman moved from the shadows and closer to the stage everyone could see that she was dressed in a short skirt and a pair of red cowboy boots. She had a heavy winter coat on made of some kind of animal fur and her bleach-blonde hair were piled haphazardly atop her head. She wore more makeup than was necessary.
A few of the orchestra members snickered at her garishness, but Abraham just ignored the snickers and murmurs.
“Are we ready, people?” He raised his baton again and just glared at them. “The sooner we do this right, the sooner we can all get out of here for a little while.”
The musicians raised their instruments and waited expectantly. Maestro Abraham waved the baton and the music flowed like a warm summer breeze. It was as if April's presence created some magical mystical power amid the tired and frustrated musicians. They hit every note in perfect harmony and soon the piece played itself out and silence reigned in the empty hall…until loud clapping and whistling suddenly erupted from the first row.
“All right, everyone,” Maestro Abraham gave them a lopsided grin. “Get some lunch, rest and be back here by five, sharp. You're dismissed.”
The members all seemed to move in one heaving wave as they quickly grabbed up their instruments and rushed backstage to put them in their respective cases. Even Caitlyn didn't hesitate to leave with the others, despite the fact she felt she could still use just a tad bit more practice.
“Give it a rest, chica ,” Rosemarie seemed to sense Caitlyn's hesitation. “Join us for lunch. I insist.”
Caitlyn looked at her friend and managed a tired smile. “I think I'll just get a bite at the hotel and take a nap in my room.” She yawned as if to make her point.
“What's wrong with you, Cat? You didn't sleep well last night?” Rosemarie gave her a motherly scowl. “You didn't drive all the way back here from your parents' house, did you?”
“No,” Caitlyn answered, her shoulders sagging slightly at the mention of her parents. “I just didn't sleep well last night. I guess being home brought back a few memories that kept me awake.”
Rosemarie nodded. “I didn't sleep so well, either. I don't know how I'm going to cope with moving from one hotel to the next over the next six months. I just don't sleep well in a strange bed.”
“Maybe you need someone to take your mind off the fact that you're sleeping in a strange bed,” Caitlyn teased.
“Oh, you should talk, chica ,” Rosemarie shot back and playfully elbowed her friend in the side. “Maybe you should forgo lunch and visit one of the local taverns, instead.”
Caitlyn paused as if to consider her friend's words. “Nah,” she shook her head. “I'm not sure where I'd find the right one to suit my…tastes.” She winked and grinned. “I never had the inclination to visit any gay bars here in Minneapolis when I was younger.”
“You are so bad, Cat,” the older woman chided. “I think your gaydar…would steer you in the right direction, amiga .”
Caitlyn just shook her head. “You know me, Rosie. I don't have gaydar. Is that even real?”
They had both finished stowing their instruments and setting the cases against a side wall. Grabbing their coats, they left through the back door. Caitlyn turned to her friend who was heading in the opposite direction with a number of other people.
“If I don't show up on time, please call over to the hotel, will ya?” She said to Rosemarie's retreated figure. “I really don't want Maestro Abraham thinking I'm a complete slacker. And I really can't afford to miss a performance.”
“Don't worry, chica ,” Rosemarie shot over her shoulder as she walked up the street. “You can't get out of this that easily. Besides, I've got your back. Go take that much-needed nap. You look terrible. Like something el gato dragged in.”
“Thanks, I think,” Caitlyn frowned.
She pulled the collar of her coat up a little higher to ward off the chill of the easterly wind that was gusting. She looked up at the gray sky and noticed a few flurries drifting here and there. It was getting colder and there was a hint of snow in the air.
As she headed toward the hotel a few blocks away, she thought about the coming evening's activities. She knew the performance would be fantastic. Somehow, despite all the problems they usually ran into during practice, when it came time for the actual performance everything just seemed to click. It was as if all their adrenaline just suddenly coalesced into a perfect symphony of sound and music. That was what she loved most about being part of the Phil. No matter how awful they were in rehearsal, they always surpassed expectations and mesmerized the audience during a concert.
As she walked down the sidewalk, she glanced around her and noticed a small deli just a block from the hotel. Shivering from the mind-numbing sub-zero temps, Caitlyn pushed open the glass door and stepped into instant warmth. It was heavenly.
She noticed there were very few patrons in the establishment, which only contained a few round tables. Her gaze lit upon a dark-headed woman sitting alone in a far corner and she noticed the woman wore a white lab coat. The woman glanced up at the sudden burst of cold air and their eyes met.
For what seemed like an eternity the two simply stared at each other, then Caitlyn broke eye contact and shook her head. Rubbing her gloved hands up and down her arms in an effort to get warm.
“Burr,” she shivered.
“Can I help you, ma'am?” A young kid behind the counter asked politely.
The “ma'am” part grated on her last nerve, but she managed to disregard it and stepped up to place her order. She scanned the menu that was handwritten in various neon colors against a black board.
“I'll have a pastrami on rye, extra kraut,” she continued scanning the menu. “Can you throw some brown mustard and a few pickles on it, too?” She grabbed a bag of baked ships and tossed them on the counter. “I'll also have an iced tea, no lemon.”
“Sure,” he grinned boyishly. “You want your sandwich cold or toasted?”
“Cold is fine,” she shivered involuntarily. “I still have a little walking to do, yet.”
“Alrighty, then,” he hit a few keys on the cash register and placed a cup on the counter next to her chips. “That'll be seven ninety eight.” She handed him a ten. “Here's your change,” he dropped it into her open palm with a smile. “Your order will be up shortly. The iced tea is over there.” He pointed to a beverage counter against the wall.
Caitlyn took her chips and cup to the beverage counter. She put a couple packets of sugar into her cup and then filled it almost to the brim with iced tea. She decided to skip the ice. There was plenty of that down the hall at the hotel.
As she waited for her order, she turned to survey the empty tables around her. Her gaze came to rest on the dark-haired woman again, but the woman had her nose buried in a book.
“It's getting colder out there,” Caitlyn commented casually when she noticed the woman wasn't wearing a coat and there wasn't one hanging on the coat rack near the door.
The woman glanced up. “Yeah, supposed to storm pretty bad tonight. They're talking winter storm warnings and possibly ten inches by morning.” She smiled and Caitlyn's heart skipped a beat.
The woman's soft voice resonated through Caitlyn like notes played on a bassoon or base cello and those eyes. In the brief glimpse she got of them, she noticed they were the color of a cloudless blue sky. Unfortunately, the woman returned her attention to the book before Caitlyn could be certain.
“Your order's ready, ma'am,” the kid said.
Caitlyn tried not to wince at his use of “ma'am”, but she couldn't help herself.
“Thanks,” she smiled politely, grabbed her lunch and headed for the door.
“Stay warm out there,” the dark-haired woman's voice seemed to instantly chase away the chill from the open door Caitlyn held.
Caitlyn turned to find the woman still buried in her book. “You, too.” And then she walked outside and resumed her trek to the hotel.
Brandan couldn't help thinking about the gorgeous blonde in the deli, as she finished her rounds at the hospital. She had checked on all three of her patients after returning from lunch. All three were awake and responding well.
Bluish green eyes the color of the Caribbean teased her mind's eye as she walked out into the hallway after visiting her last patient. She made a few notes on the man's chart as the afternoon nurse walked up to her.
“How's Mr. Abernathy doing, Dr. Stone?” Sarah Johnson gave her a cool smile.
“Just fine, Sarah,” Brandan scribbled a final note and handed the chart to the nurse. “He came through the surgery rather well, considering how much work I had to do on that knee of his and how much time it took.”
Sarah put the chart back in the holder next to the door and followed the doctor up the hallway. “So, Doctor, any big plans for the evening?”
Brandan knew the nurse was fishing, yet again. They'd been playing cat and mouse off and on for the past month and it was getting old.
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do,” she shot the woman a mischievous grin. “I have a date with a very handsome nurse.”
The look on the nurse's face was priceless. She appeared to literally swallow her tongue and it warmed Brandan's heart just a little to know that her teasing had paid off.
“A…a date?” Sarah swallowed.
Sarah was several inches shorter than the doctor, so she had to take more steps to keep up with her.
“Yep,” Brandan grinned broadly as she walked into the “Doctors Only” lounge and escaped any further questions. “Gotcha.” She quietly uttered as she went to her locker and quickly changed into her street clothes.
Once she was dressed, she opted to take the back stairs rather than risk another encounter with “Polly Persistence,” as she had started secretly calling the nurse. Within minutes she was in the parking lot and headed for her Escalade.
“Time to pick up Terrance and get this date started,” she muttered to herself with a smile.
She briefly wondered what had put her in such a good mood, then realized she had been grinning from ear to ear ever since her encounter with the green-eyed nymph in the deli that afternoon. She wondered where the woman was, then quickly dismissed the thought as she pulled out of the parking lot and headed toward Terrance's mid-town apartment.
Continued on Part 2
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