Language: There is the use of expletives.
Hurt/Comfort: There are scenes of heartache to be dealt with by the characters.
My name is Susan Ricardo. I have short brown hair, a vivacious smile-so my mom says-light grey eyes. I'm a pudgy twelve year old who prefers to wear tracks and sweats rather than any of the pretty dresses that I'm forced to wear to dinner on Sunday's, especially if gram and granddad are coming over. My preference is to play with boys going on bike rides and generally, stuff boys do. I guess you'd call me the average tomboy of which I was proud. I could go toe to toe with any boy who challenged me in a fight. My parents were never happy about this-maybe it was just my mom. She used to moan and groan but my dad was kind and supportive. He always answered with the same phrase, Jude at least we know Sue can look after herself. I could too until a certain person came into my life and broke down the barriers to my heart.
Yes, Valentine's Day was auspicious that year for the entrance of Paige March arriving to live next door. Paige was the opposite of me in every way. She wore cute frilly and colorful dresses, and her hair was golden and reached the tips of her shoulders. When you looked into her oval face her blue eyes seemed to capture you in a spell and her pink rose bud lips were like a beacon for me I couldn't help but watch them as she talked and she did talk. Whereas I could maintain silence for most of the day if I chose, Paige would talk the hind legs of a donkey given the chance. She was eight years old and if I'd had a younger sister I would have probably ended up playing Barbie in the back yard with her. As it was, she ended up tagging along with me at every opportunity. The first time she did, I'd fallen from my bike after trying to do a stunt that had my heart pounding as I took off from a long ramp and tried, unfortunately failing, to fling my bike and myself across a three meter ditch. I ended awkwardly in the middle in a heap. The boys who were there all laughed and said they could do better. Paige, with tears in her eyes, ran to me and, with her pathetically small body, tried to help me up. She looked at me taking in the bruises on my face and the cuts on my knees before she shook her head. Then, she moved closer to me and in a move that I still to this day wonder how she managed-
She kissed me!
I was stunned by the emotion that flooded my body at that innocent gesture. Unaware how important it was to me at the time, I shrugged it off.
Paige and I had one thing in common we were both only children. My mom and dad, Judith and Rafael Ricardo both in their late thirties had married early because my mom was pregnant in high school. The baby was still born and I was an unfortunate accident several years later. At least that's what I heard on numerous occasions once I was able to comprehend that adults really didn't like each other all the time-even if they said I love you occasionally. My mom was a bank teller at the local branch of Stevens Mercantile Bank. Dad was an agricultural salesman and worked out of town a lot. We live in a town called Lancaster, farming country and everyone knows everyone for a hundred miles, or so they said. To me, a hundred miles was like going around the world.
Paige's, parents were professional people. Her dad, Peter March, was a dentist and her mom, Ruth, worked in government. Paige was the image of her mom and Ruth was definitely not as old as my parents. Her dad, Peter was older though he was virtually bald except for a halo of grey hair around the lower part of his head. It looked like a lawnmower had been at work and forgot a length. He was nice with a lovely welcoming smile and he always had time for people. I wasn't so keen on Paige's mom since she never looked happy-a bit like my mom who most of the time reminded me of a hound dog.
As things do, time assumes a mind of its own when you're young. Before you knew it high school beckoned and with it all the pressures of what you wanted to do when you grew up. I'd always figured something in the sports field. I was good at baseball, basketball and volleyball?any hand eye coordinated game really. When I was seventeen, there was the chance of a scholarship based on my athletic abilities. As it turned out, that was another momentous year in my life.
Dad left us!
Mom was devastated for all the wrong reasons I realized years later. She cried all the time and generally said nothing except to decry my dad. That wasn't the worse thing though. He'd run off with Paige's dad. My head was reeling at the time and when Paige and I met up that terrible night, we held each other close. We knew that at least together we'd make it through.
Kid's don't know anything!
I wasn't allowed an opinion. Deep down I missed my dad. He had always been the one to take any notice of my achievements at school and encouraged me in sports. Mom had always been there but never supportive. Now, when I needed it the most to make the decision that would shape my life, I was alone. Even Paige had deserted me. That thought alone sent tremors through my body that were worse than Dad leaving. I agreed not to see my dad for my mom. I was unable to see Paige because of my dad and her mom leaving town. In an abstract way, it made sense in my mind although at the same time I was heartbroken. I eventually made the decision about my future alone. I took the sports scholarship and moved a thousand miles from my family problems.
I'm not sure if my mom ever forgave me for moving away since she was always less than hospitable when I went there for vacations. She constantly reproached me that I didn't visit often enough, when I was in college and didn't seem to want me there when I was. The visits became shorter and more elusive as my mom tried match making every time I was home. I was already involved and my heart knew it even if my body didn't. I screwed numerous men and barely remembering a name or any pleasure that I received from the experience. I'd decided with mom's indoctrination that I was no better than dad was if I ever followed his deviant behavior. That colored not only her life but mine too in a completely different way. My personal feelings and romantic inclinations were pushed firmly inside a closet never to see the light of day.
There was I, the silent and studious hanger on to every word her father said, and she walked into my life and attempted to change it. Her influence on my life had me enjoying the odd party when I wasn't on call and my infatuation with her was in no doubt as some colleagues ribbed me often enough. As I worshiped her father for my career, I adored Cheryl-she was a light in my subdued world. I was surprised, emotional and anguished for all different reasons when she said she loved me. How did I tell my mom that I was the same as my dad? Would she'd treat me with contempt and disown me? I didn't want that and I tried to explain that to Cheryl-she didn't understand. She cajoled me, kissed me, made love to me and I still wanted to remain in the closet. That wasn't her way or the life she wanted to live with someone she loved. Now, looking back, I wish I'd taken another path and confronted my fears and loved her with every fiber of my being. It would have been worth it. At the time, I allowed her to leave me behind and she moved on to other relationships. I, on the other hand, crawled into the security of my closet and denied myself the personal happiness she represented.
I'd spent years denying myself love and companionship because I felt guilty about my desires for women and my responsibility to my mom. All she'd done was fall in love with the wrong person and bottled up her anger after he left transferring her bitterness to me. I had to find my dad and make peace with him and finally allow myself a life outside my profession. It wouldn't be easy I was such a stubborn coward in the emotional arena.
When the child becomes the adult!
The spark that lights a flame!
Glancing down at the pager on my hip, I groaned inwardly half tempted to ignore it-my day had been full one. A hot bath, restful candles and a good book, maybe a glass of wine would be a comforting end to the long day. The vibrating against my hip bone annoyed me as I reached down to pluck the offending object from the belt of my trousers and took a look at the brief message. Fishing inside the pocket of the black linen jacket I was wearing, I retrieved my cell and rang the number associated with the message.
"Susan Ricardo, what's the problem." Listening to the message, a slight nod at the content was the only appreciable movement on my otherwise bland expression and immobile body. "I'll be right there." With decisive steps, I swung around and headed for the elevator that would take me to the patient's room, it was on level seven-it was an emergency. A few minutes later, I was striding down the corridor and the head nurse in the cardiac unit met me.
"Thanks for coming, Doctor; we'd hoped that we caught you before you left for the evening."
Glancing up from the notes she thrust at me, my lips curled into a tight smile as I acknowledged with the nod Nurse Crawford's words. She was a very good nurse and attractive too. Her chestnut hair seemingly stranded naturally with auburn, was in a fashionable short style. Her gentle hazel eyes, according to the accusations of junior grumpy lazy nurses on her shift, pretty much saw everything, mainly she was well liked for her professionalism- she was to me. Her smile was the thing that attracted me the most. It made her face glow, which was a great plus for worried patients. "Just." I replied then re-read the notes.
"We've placed Mr. March in room eight," she informed me as we headed toward the room.
Glancing at my watch I saw it was ten after eight, "What time did he arrive?"
"He was in emergency for three hours before they brought him here shortly before I paged you."
I felt my eyebrows hit my hairline. "Three hours? Why?"
The nurse stared at me intently before saying, "Apparently there was some mix up downstairs, and he was left on a stretcher longer than anticipated. By the time they found out what was wrong it was too late for an out- patient surgery."
Pondering that mix up I was not sure how to approach the situation as I continued to walk with the nurse. "I'll look into that later." Once at the door of the patient's room, I glanced briefly at the notes and committed the man's name to memory. I learned long ago that patients feel more comfortable if I used their name rather than a vague ah Mr.? "Let's go help this patient, he's waited long enough."
Entering the room, fitted out with every gadget possible associated with cardiac problems we both walked confidently over to either side of the man's bed. He was ashen but still lucid from what I could see. Peering down at him, there was a familiarity about his features-I was sure I'd seen before but couldn't quite place him as I gazed into watery pale blue eyes. His chart showed he was seventy-seven. It wasn't uncommon for the man to have a pacemaker but in his case it was failing badly.
"Mr. March, my name is Doctor Ricardo and I see we need to do a little replacement work on you." I gave him a polite practiced smile that wasn't friendly or warm merely professional. What I didn't expect was the rapid movement of his eyes and his quizzical expression.
"Ricardo?" the man whispered.
Nodding, I continued to speak. "Trust me this is a piece of cake. I'll have you up and around in no time. Nurse Crawford here will contact any relative you might want to know of your predicament. Right now, I'll examine you and in a couple of hours we'll have fixed you up." Susan began to do her prelim exam.
The nurse said, "Doctor Ricardo, the lab confirms that the blood work will be with you in an hour. Is there anything else you need?"
My head shot up from what I was writing in the man's chart. "Good, I'll make arrangements with theatre," glancing at her watch she frowned, "It's going to be after ten I suspect now."
"You've been on call all day doctor are you sure you don't want Doctor Bentley to take over? He arrived a few minutes ago?"
It was tempting but there was something about this patient that compelled me to want to help him. "I'm good." Passing over the notes to the nurse I said thanks and headed toward the elevator bank. My stomach was rumbling and eating became my priority so I headed to the cafeteria. Once I'd eaten I was going to have words with management about the debacle in the emergency room. The patient should be resting at home instead of being stuck in a hospital bed. And I should be at home relaxing.
An hour after the surgery I checked on the patient and found him sleeping peacefully. The monitor showed that his pacemaker was working perfectly well. Satisfied that finally my work was done for the day, I scribbled a couple of notes on the chart and left the room. There was still something familiar about the man and that irked me because what it was still eluded me. With a tired sigh I spoke out loud, "I have a conference two hundred miles away tomorrow at lunch time?I need some sleep."
"I'm sorry, Doctor Ricardo, is there something else you needed?"
Glancing sharply in the direction of the voice I saw the nurse standing there waiting for an answer. Frowning slightly then shaking my head, I said, "No, will you ensure that doctor Bentley checks on Mr. March before he leaves in the morning unless of course?"
Nurse Crawford grinned. "Unless he deteriorates and we get to drag you out of bed."
"Exactly. "We both knew that was improbable, "I have a conference in New York and I'll be back the day after tomorrow. Doctor Partridge is taking my patients while I'm gone. I hope you have a quiet rest of the evening."
"Thank you, Doctor Ricardo. Take care on your travels."
Why would it bother anyone if I did or didn't travel safely? Quite out of character my mouth engaged and I quietly asked, "Would it matter if I didn't. Take care that is?"
The nurse blinked rapidly at my remark and with a concerned expression immediately replied, "Yes, yes of course it would. Why, would you think otherwise? You're one of the best surgeons we have-I'd say the best but old doctor Cransky would be peeved and he's such a sweetie. Since you came, people admire you a great deal, not only on my nursing staff but the rest of the hospital too not to mention your patients."
Allowing the woman to run at the mouth unaware what she was saying until the very end and the nurse's cheeks began to stain red. "I shall take your request for a safe journey on advisement, Nurse Crawford. Good evening." Turning away, I walked to the elevators and a few moments later disappeared behind the steel doors.
The conference had been informative. I was one of the guest speakers and offered my thesis on prevention of certain heart related illness-it had gone down well. The next morning, back at the hospital I looked at my patient's charts before I joined my interns for rounds. I paid particular attention to the note from Doctor Jonas Partridge who indicated there wasn't anything unexpected while I was gone. Then I noted that one patient had developed a fever that delayed his initial release.
Mr. March was the patient who had developed the fever and instead of passing it to one of my interns, I wanted to personally check on him. Something pulled me inexplicably to this old man's room. I gave a brief knock on the door before going into his private room. Walking in, I was surprised to see Nurse Crawford laughing with Mr. March as she checked his temperature.
"I'm sorry, Doctor, I wasn't expecting you for at least another ten minutes." The nurse blushed profusely and moved away from the bed.
Lifting my hand, "Don't worry, I'm early. Things are going well. Can I count on Mr. March to make my day so far a clean sweep?" I allowed a faint smile to trace my lips as I picked up the clip board at the bottom of the bed and read the notes. When I looked up, tired pale blue eyes caught my gaze. "I think you can, Doctor. I'm sorry for causing so much trouble."
I sat down in a chair next to the bed and looked at the man. "No trouble, Mr. March. Besides you reaped the rewards of my nurse's beautiful smile and conversation for a little extra time. However, as the results are excellent now I can authorize your release. Do you have anyone who can pick you up today?"
The old man nodded. "My daughter is due in a little over an hour. She'll think I brought her here under false pretences. She flew in from Paris...France, as soon as she could."
I felt my face scrunch at the coincidence of my consideration of the post in that very city. "Paris is a very beautiful city I believe."
Mr. March nodded. "Yes it is."
I then looked at the nurse and said, "Right, I think we can safely allow Mr. March to go home." Scribbling a few notes in his chart, I turned back to my patient. "Take care of yourself, Mr. March, I don't expect to see you here for some time."
"That's a promise, Doctor." The old man then quietly asked, "Do you mind if I ask if you're related in any way to a man called Raphael Ricardo, he used to live on Randal Drive, many years ago now?"
Any words I might have spoken dried up immediately-my mouth was filled with sand and breathing became difficult. I asked almost inaudibly, "My father was named Raphael and we used to live on Randal..."
"Susan, it is you! I thought it was but time is playing the very devil with my eyesight these days."
Feeling like someone had punched me hard in the stomach; I suddenly realized who this was. I desperately wanted to know about my father but the old prejudices against this man for taking him away from me seemed to overwhelm everything else. Clutching the back of the chair I'd previously sat in, my knuckles went white as I squeezed the metal as hard as possible. My vision became a tunnel where only the old man was visible. "Peter March? Of course...it is a small world."
"Your father would have been so happy to see you." A mist gathered in the old man's eyes as he spoke.
Clearing my throat slightly, I asked, "I take it you're not together?"
This time there was a glistening of tears in the man's eyes. "Your father passed a year ago, Susan. He just went to sleep one night and never woke up-a massive stroke. I was at his side to the end."
The room seemed to spin around me as the words sunk in-Dad was dead! I realized the irony of my helping the man who had taken my father away from me to continue his life. My legs walked like a zombie out of the room and I wondered how I was going to move from Peter March's room down the corridor and out of the building under my own steam.
The answer was unexpected.
A gentle hand settled on my arm and steered me towards some chairs on the wall of the corridor. "I think you need to sit down, Doctor. You look like are going to keel over at any minute."
Hearing the concerned words filled with compassion, I contemplated how could that be? The only person who could understand my pain was still in the room yards away.
The voice spoke again.
"Doctor Ricardo, Susan. I think it would be a good idea if you sat. I can make you some tea for the shock."
The numbness of knowing that my Dad was dead continued to wash over me then I looked blankly at the nurse. I would never have the opportunity to say all the things I wanted-needed-to him. When I caught the concerned hazel eyes I wondered how she would know what I was going through. Then I realized she had been in the room when I learned the news. "It's...I'm perfectly fine. Thank you."
Nurse Crawford obviously ignored my weak reply as she gently pushed me into the closest chair-I sat automatically. "I'll be back in a minute," she said before moving away.
Unable to reply, I allowed the remarkable situation encountered in Peter March's room to drift in and out of my subconscious. Fate had dealt me the lowliest of blows. It wasn't fair. Summoning up the inner energy reserves that came to my aid for lengthy surgeries, I glanced at the leather strapped watch on my wrist. If I didn't scrub up now, I was going to be late for my first surgery.
"Here's the tea I promised, Doctor."
A steaming cup floated into my line of sight and dazedly I took it and gave the nurse murmured thanks. I sipped the hot drink with little regard that the tea was hot and burned the inside of my mouth-I simply didn't care. My nerves were frazzled was and the tea was like ice water in comparison. "I need to go. I have surgery in half an hour."
"Do you think maybe that cancelling it and taking the rest of the day off might be a good idea?" Nurse Crawford asked.
"No." My one word answer seemed to reverberate around the cream washed walls and its message hung around long after the sound disappeared. I finally stood and returned the half empty cup back to the nurse and drew in a deep breath. "Life goes on. That's why we are here. I have three operations today-one of them can't be delayed. Good morning, Nurse Crawford."
I strode away and was sure I felt those caring hazel eyes boring into my back. As the elevator closed behind me I closed my eyes briefly. Now, there was no reason to stay here in Lancaster. It was time for me to move on. Another city, a country even might wash away the pain.
The female changing room was empty as I buttoned up my clean pale blue blouse and shrugged on the jacket that matched the trousers I wore. Sighing at the image in the mirror, the one thing that had traversed my mind several times even through surgery was that at forty-seven I was totally alone. In the recesses of my mind I had clung on to the possibility of seeing my dad again. While that was always a possibility I managed to skirt the loneliness that invaded me these days. Now there was no one in my life who would care if I fell under a bus tomorrow despite what Nurse Crawford implied. A "Life goes on. That's what I do. People are forgotten as time passes."
Gulping down the lump that formed in my throat, I checked the time-four-thirty. The mid- afternoon shift change would be taking place and I wondered if Peter March was still in the building. Then, in the midst of pain regarding the loss of my parent, I suddenly remembered what the man had said. Peter March's daughter was picking him up and that could mean only one thing-Paige. The woman who had captured my young heart and to this day probably held a part of it and always would was actually in the vicinity. With my heart beating rapidly I realized that after thirty years I might speak with Paige again. As speedily as I could I headed for the seventh floor. If fate had any decency Paige would surely still be there.
Nurses and others in the area looked up as my steps rapidly took me down the corridor toward the private room
A young nurse barely out of nursing school tried to catch up with me. "Is there something wrong, Doctor ? I wasn't aware we paged you?"
I wondered at the irony of that statement-Paige of another kind had unknowingly called my name. "Is Mr. March still here?"
The young nurse with a serious expression answered, "He left late this morning. A relative picked him up. Is there a problem? Should we contact them and have him brought back?"
My steps stopped dead so quickly that the young nurse cannoned into me. I barely noticed the bodily contact, or, the profuse apology. I frowned heavily. "He's gone.
"Yes, do you want..."
I dismissed what was going to be reiterated. "No, everything is fine. Did you see who collected him?" I was surprised at the odd question that tumbled out unexpectedly out of my mouth. A big part of me wanted to know at least what Paige looked like now.
"I'm afraid I wasn't on shift then. I can..."
Then another voice entered the conversation. "It's okay, Callie, go back to your work. I'll speak with Doctor Ricardo."
My body tensed at the frigid words of the nurse who had spoken. She was becoming almost a fixture in my life turning up at each spin of this particular tale. "Nurse Crawford, I'm surprised you're still here." A controlled smile greeted me, which was not the nurse's usual bright and animated way in my presence.
Hazel eyes caught mine in what I could only infer as annoyance. "I'm surprised to see you myself," she looked away for a moment before fixing me with her gaze, "is there anything I can do for you?"
Lifting my chin a fraction to cut the connection of our gazes, I said, "I wondered if Mr. March was still in the hospital but found that, he isn't."
"His daughter came shortly after you left. You must have passed each other on the elevator," Nurse Crawford answered factually.
Something about her stance had me puzzled since it was in total contrast to her caring attitude earlier. She was acting as if I'd done something wrong to offend her. "Ok then, I guess, it's time I went home." The words spilled out of my lips, although my legs felt like lead and refused to move.
Suddenly the caring voice of Nurse Crawford appeared again as she quietly said, "If you'll give me a couple of minutes to collect my things, we could go for a coffee. I think you need to talk."
That was exactly what I needed; however there hadn't been anyone to call to do just that. This woman, almost a stranger, offered me that outlet. Dare I bare my soul to a stranger especially one who worked with me in the same hospital? Gossip was ripe in this environment and I didn't want to become a topic of conversation or speculation. About to say no, my words seemed to come out of my mouth on their own volition. "Thank you. I'll meet you in the lobby in five minutes. I need to lock my office."
Nurse Crawford smiled and I caught my breath at its radiance. "Don't stand me up, Doctor."
Almost chuckling at the comment, I controlled my emotions and remained deadpan. "I wouldn't dream of it, Nurse."
Once the girl had left, Nurse Crawford looked at me with a smile and said, "Hey I'm sorry about that, Samantha has been taking care of her grandfather and hasn't been in work for nearly a month. Thankfully-she's coming back on Monday. She's a good nurse." She drank the remains of her coffee and I could feel her eyes on me over the rim of the cup.
I nodded at her words and looked down at my empty cup. "I've noticed something about you, Nurse Crawford."
I looked up and saw Nurse Crawford's eyes crinkled at the corner as she smiled. "You have, Doctor? What would that be?"
"You're a very compassionate person. Your concern for that young woman that was just here and well...me is remarkable. Is that why you became a nurse?" For the first time in a long time I was interested in someone else's life other than my own. It was refreshing.
There was a chuckle from my colleague and the sound pealed out around the café making a few of the other customers closest to them smile. "Hmm. Not as easy as that. Call it indoctrination. My mom was a pediatric nurse and my dad was an orderly so it's in the blood." She smiled wryly. "I think hospitals have had my name associated with it from the moment I was conceived."
Digesting the information for a few seconds, I replied, "I was going to be the next best thing in women sports when I was growing up. Would you believe that? Becoming a doctor was an afterthought."
Nurse Crawford grinned. "Oh, I can imagine. I've seen you play volleyball. You hardly break out in a sweat, when everyone else is exhausted. It's a rush to watch."
It was an innocent enough comment but had me perplexed. "I've never seen you play volleyball or be in the gym at the hospital."
"Busted," she said with a wide grin. "I'm purely a spectator. A girlfriend of mine got me hooked a few years ago?what can I say?now I'm a groupie. You are good and I suspect the opposition in the hospital league is wondering how they can stop you next season."
The explanation was interesting in lots of ways. Was Nurse Crawford interested in women? The mention of a girlfriend implied that. Then again, it could be a purely innocent use of the word as in a friend-a platonic friend. Finally I shrugged and I said, "I might not be playing next year. My tenure is up and I've been offered work abroad."
Watching as the information sunk, I noticed a cold mask drop over Nurse Crawford's face. It reminded me of earlier in the hospital when I was looking for Mr. March.
"Oh I didn't know that. Abroad, is it somewhere glamorous or a charitable stint?"
The cold mask Nurse Crawford wore now spread to her eyes. There was the distinct feeling frost was in the air. "That explains it then," Nurse Crawford replied before fishing around in her pocket and withdrew a piece of paper. "You might want to take this," she said sliding the paper across the small table.
Picking it up, I scanned the contents-an address. I felt my face crinkle in question. "What's this?"
Nurse Crawford collected her coat from behind the chair as she stood up. I automatically did the same but was unsure as to why or understanding what was going on.
"I'd go there? preferably tonight. I think it will answer all the questions you've been unable to find an answer for, Doctor Ricardo, she nodded at the piece of paper in my hand, "and maybe some you haven't pondered. Good luck." Turning away, she headed toward the cashier to pay for the coffees.
Stunned at the end of the conversation and the piece of paper that the nurse obviously thought was important to me, I quickly made up the space between us. "I don't understand?"
With a half smile, Nurse Crawford replied, "You will when you get there. If you need to talk again you know where to find me. I've paid the bill. Take care, Doctor."
As I watched the door slowly closing behind the nurse, I stood rooted until another customer asked if I didn't mind moving on.
Taking a taxi to the address on the paper-12 Flowers Avenue-I saw a pleasant enough looking house when the taxi slowed to a stop. . Climbing out of her taxi, I stood on the sidewalk contemplating what to do next-I hadn't a clue. Then, drawing in a breath and using my not inconsiderable common sense, I finally realized this address might be Peter March's home. If it was, would Paige be there? I was positively giddy at the thought. A few minutes later, I was knocking at the dark stained wooden door and waited. I didn't have to wait long as the door opened almost immediately and a woman, almost as tall as me, gazed enquiringly at me. She had bleached blonde hair and swarthy features.
"Hallo. Can I help you?"
The accent was foreign and I was pretty sure it was European possibly even French.
Swallowing hard, I stared at the woman who raised her hands in a typical Gallic expression of impatience before asking me again, "Can I help you?"
About to turn and run, I found my voice and asked, "I'm not sure. Is this Peter March's home?" There was a distinctive nod of agreement.
"I'm Dr. Ricardo and I wondered if I could see Mr. March for a few minutes." To avoid any further puzzlement on the woman's face I added, "I was his doctor at the hospital."
"Ah, Le doctor. You should have said immediately. Come in?come in. Is there a problem?" the woman swung the door wide and allowed me entrance. Then she spoke rapidly in French toward a partially open door. Languages hadn't been my strong point but I had a smattering of high school French and heard my name and then Paige. My heart began to thump like a bass drum as I waited hesitantly in the hallway.
Paige March seemed to run into the hall and then stopped dead as she simply stared at me. She had that same golden halo for hair and her blue eyes shone as brightly as I remembered. Then she smiled and I was twelve again and recalled vividly the tears in her eyes when I fell from my bike and the simple innocent kiss she gave me.
"Susan?" The voice was almost the same as I remembered but then right at that moment I was lost in time-in the past to be precise.
Tentatively I smiled and saw her pupil's contract and her breathing slow. "Hello, Paige, it's been a long time." A lame retort but completely factual and right then I needed something solid to hold onto.
Then she rushed into my arms and began kissing my cheek and mumbling something that I couldn't hear. She then drew away and simply looked at me. For a long time I'd dreamed of this moment. Having Paige in my arms now wasn't as satisfying as I imagined. Time had a lot to answer for weaving fantasies that reality couldn't quite match.
"Is there a problem with Dad?"
It wasn't how have you been or anything personal just how was her father. I could understand that since she'd traveled from France to be with him and that made me smile internally. At least one of us had been lucky enough to know their father after that eventful episode years ago in our lives. "He's fine."
Paige's blue eyes blinked at me like an old camera shutter then she asked, "Why are you here then, Susan?"
I think in that one question my whole life finally came into perspective. I'd left the whole issue of my dad and her dad's relationship unresolved. Never seeking them out earlier, unable to counter my mom's lies about them-I knew they were lies. Deep down my life could have been a mirror image if I'd allowed it. I never felt wrong loving a woman. In fact, it became clear I'd never personally respected my own choices or myself. I allowed others to dictate what they wanted ignoring what I wanted or needed.
"You're dad told me my dad died a year ago?I guess I just wanted to touch base and ...forget it." I turned to leave and a hand quickly stopped me. The surprise was it wasn't Paige but the mystery woman.
She shrugged as I looked at her sharply.
"Rafe was a wonderful man. He was very proud of you."
Her accented English seemed odd but at the same time soothed some of the hurt of that day. I croaked out, "He was?"
The woman grinned. "He talked of his doctor daughter like you were a god. I don't know about a god but you have a great body." She winked and continued, "He wrote you often."
For a moment I was taken aback and wondered if this stranger was coming on to me. Surely not! "I never received any communication from my father?"
There was an exaggerated rolling of the eyes as the woman lifted her hands in the air. "See, I told you Cherie."
Paige chose that moment to quietly ask, "You never contacted our fathers even later. Your dad never said but we could tell he was hurt. He thought you might at least listen to his side of the story? I thought you might, after you left for college."
I was lost for words.
"I called you almost every week for six months but you never called back?well you did that first week. Were you ashamed of your dad, Susan? Were you ashamed of our friendship? I've often wondered," Paige asked me in an accusingly tone.
I didn't know how to answer and then I pulled myself together and felt reality smack me firmly in the face as questions churned in my mind. Why hadn't my mom told me Paige called me? It was clear that she must have taken the calls and not said anything. She had used her bitterness and hate of Peter March to color her opinion of Paige. It made me cry out silently for the lost years and what might have been.
Finally I answered. "I wasn't ashamed of my dad, your dad or you and what we were to each other. I was afraid of who I was and didn't have the guts to face it...well face my mom. It was hard enough losing one parent. I wasn't ready to lose them both."
Paige gave me a disparaging look and snorted, "You're over forty. When were you ready to lose your mom's respect? She's dead?has been for several years. Why not look up your dad then?"
The words were filled with rage rather than hurt and I accepted that for what it was. She was right. I was a coward unable to face my true feelings by hiding in my profession. I didn't deserve anything other than her scorn. "I tried when my mom died to find dad. I couldn't. It seemed that they traveled a lot." I knew my words sounded pathetic because they were.
"Not hard enough. Dad's asleep. If you need to speak with him come back in the morning," Paige bit out in anger.
"Maybe I'd better not..."
"There it is again. You're afraid of your own shadow, Susan. Did you ever work out what you wanted in life other than as a profession? Are you so insecure that life is leaving you behind and you're merely watching from the outside?" Paige shook her head and turned away.
"I...I'm sorry that I don't fit the pattern of what you expect I should be like. What is that exactly?" I demanded pathetically.
Paige turned her gaze back and gave me a desultory glance. "You're not a child, Susan. Work it out for yourself. It was...good to see you, Susan." She left the room and shut the door behind her.
It was just me and the French woman left in the hall. We were both silent for a few seconds then I glanced at her and she gave me a compassionate look.
"Cherie is upset that her papa is ill." She shifted her body slightly and then quietly said, "It was hard on us all when Rafe died, but especially Paige. He was special to her. He watched over her, made her see she was more than what her mama thought of her. I would never have met her if he hadn't convinced her that she had to live her own life and not what others expected of her."
I stared at this stranger who probably knew my father better than I. It hurt. I was his daughter his only daughter. Back then I needed his counsel but I'd made my decisions alone and that reflected my life generally. "When did you meet my dad?"
"Paige and I have been together twenty three years. I met Rafe six months after we met. Such a charming man."
I heard the genuine inflection in the accented English and the feeling of sorrow was almost overwhelming. Why hadn't my life worked out enabling me to have at least one hour with Dad? "I'm sure he was. Do you mind if I wait by the drive until my taxi arrives."
The woman's chocolate brown eyes seemed to bore into my skull. I watched as she shook her head slowly. "I'll wait with you on the porch. My name is Michelle. Michelle Leduc."
I almost crushed the hand she offered-it was like a lifesaver-a port in a very nasty storm that had been Paige's reaction to me. After I called my taxi we sat silently on a low bench on the front porch. I looked down at my hands and I must have been staring at them for some time. I heard Michelle speak.
"Rafe often talked of you and how wonderful a doctor his daughter was. I think Paige was upset from time to time, she doted on them both. It's why she was so mad I think. For a long time she, as much as your father, didn't understand why you hadn't made any contact. She once told me you were her first love."
Surprised, my eyes flicked up from my concentration of my hands and I gazed at Michelle. "I was? How does that make you feel?"
The French woman laughed. "Paige is the love of my life and we share everything. Besides, we French are good lovers, Cherie. You may have been her first love but I," she pointed to her ample breasts. "I am her true and lasting love."
I heard the sound of a door opening and with Michelle looked in that direction-Paige stood there.
"Can you give us a minute, Michelle?"
Michelle stood up and smiled encouragingly at me. "Good to meet you, Susan." As she walked toward the doorway, she kissed Paige on the cheek and I watched the tender interlude intently.
Paige walked over to me and gave me a shrug. "I'm sorry about my attitude earlier, Susan. It is good to see you."
I cleared my throat. "Likewise. I'm sorry I wasn't the person my dad expected. I guess deep down I was a disappointment to him for not being brave enough to face what he and your dad shared." I felt my shoulders lift. "Or my own feelings."
Paige nodded. "Trust me, he was never disappointed. I, on the other hand, was. I always figured that one day you'd just come by and in that characteristic way you have of quietly taking charge of things, making them right. You'd do that for your dad and me too. Back then I missed you very much."
"You seem to be happy now. Michelle seems like a nice woman." I didn't know what else to say-it was all in the past.
Paige's whole expression lightened as she smiled. "Michelle is wonderful. We've been together a long time and I love her more today than I did when we met." There was silence for a few moments and then Paige looked directly at me. "What about you, Susan, are you involved?"
I shook my head vigorously. "Not romantically. With my work mostly it consumes me most days."
"And on the days that it doesn't?" Paige's eyes never left my face.
"I'm lonely." I admitted the crux of my problems. At last it was out in the open.
Paige touched my hand but said nothing. I saw the yellow cab stop at the curb. "That's my ride." I smiled slightly noticing that the clasp of that smaller hand in mine once again transporting me back in time.
Paige nodded. "If you ever travel to Paris look us up and I mean that, Susan. Don't be afraid to do that. I'm hoping it isn't another thirty years until we meet again."
"I promise. Do you think you're dad would mind if in a few weeks if I came over and talked with him about dad?"
Paige smiled warmly. "He'd be delighted. He loves to talk about Rafe?he misses him a great deal. I think sometimes he wishes death would take him so that they could be together again."
"I guess he wasn't too happy that I fixed his pacemaker." I felt my head slowly move from side to side at the regret I felt. But, I didn't regret saving Peter March's life. Maybe this was my chance to get to know my dad-the only chance I had.
Paige smiled. "He doesn't want to end his life prematurely. He still lives in hope that I'll adopt him some grandchildren."
She kissed my cheek and I got up before heading down the drive with a breathy goodbye. I felt my legs wobble much like earlier that day.
Climbing into the taxi, I gave the driver my home address. As the image of Paige receded in my head I wondered what I'd do now. The job in Paris was quite tempting. I could change my life and at least I'd have a head start in the friendship stakes. As I climbed into the taxi, something else occurred to me that had puzzled me most of the day. I made a phone call as the taxi slowed in the congested evening traffic.
The third floor apartment I was standing outside was in a nice neighborhood and there was a courtyard overflowing with well tended vegetation. As I was about to knock on the door, it opened, and a smile, that I wasn't likely to forget, encompassed me.
"Doctor Ricardo, I still can't believe you came to see me. How did you know where I lived?" Nurse Crawford waved me inside as she spoke.
As I entered, the tiny hallway there was a thin table that virtually ran along the length of the hall with a vase of freshly cut flowers and the tiniest water fountain I'd ever seen. It featured a Buddha in the middle with water pouring through his hands onto rocks. "I guess the same methods you used to supply me with the address of Mr. March." I gave her a wry smile. I stood there looking at the nurse who today had virtually monopolized my day in a nice kind of way. It was strange because although we'd meet on many occasions through the working environment I couldn't recall ever socializing with her at any of the hospital community gatherings frequented by single members of staff. In truth, I didn't even know her first name and yet right now I felt like she was the only person in the word who actually knew me-the real me-the person I was today. Maybe I'd been wrong for years not allowing myself the luxury of making friends especially ones like this woman.
"That was very insightful of you but then I should have known that. Can I get you anything to drink? Have you eaten yet?"
The words didn't matter for it was her tone of concern. It was what I needed-someone who cared about me even if it was only peripherally. "I went to see Mr. March as you indicated. I've not been home yet. I guess this was silly of me. You must be busy. I also talked with Paige it was enlightening." Unwilling to capture the hazel eyes that I realized had haunted me all day I let my head drop. My being there was a really dumb move. I just knew that the woman was probably cursing that she ever let me open up to her. Who'd want a needy colleague in your downtime?
I saw Nurse Crawford's body go rigid. "Will you be going to Paris?"
In my life so far, I'd been living in a cloud or maybe under one I'm not really sure but at that moment the cloud lifted and sunshine appeared as clarity dawned on why Nurse Crawford was cold with me. The blinkers I'd kept close to my eyes for years fell away and I could see the hurt in her face. "I guess that all depends."
"She's very beautiful."
I wasn't so dense that I didn't know what she meant. "Yes, she is. She always was. I guess I was smitten at twelve and never really understood why. Now I do."
"I have a date tonight, Doctor, but maybe we can talk another night. Although, you will probably be too busy making arrangements to leave for Paris to spend time chatting with me."
I was unprepared for the dismissal-what else did I expect. It mattered! It mattered a great deal and I wasn't going to live my life in shadows anymore.
My hand snaked out and lightly held Nurse Crawford's arm. "Do you really have a date?"
Her words filled the small void of the hallway. "Are you calling me a liar?"
"No, I would never do that." I felt my eyebrows contracted and I could feel the lines forming on my forehead considering what to say. I then realized that once again I'd probably missed the boat in another relationship. I didn't have the experience or skills to work out what to do next. "I'd better leave. I wouldn't want to interfere with your evening out."
"Yeah, that's a good idea," the nurse answered in a cold tone just before then the doorbell to her apartment peeled.
I watched as she opened the door. A woman, certainly young enough to be my daughter, and definitely at least ten years younger than Nurse Crawford, stood at the threshold.
"Are you ready, Angie? Shaz said you couldn't be late?she's found someone that you might be interested in at last. Her words not mine..." Her words trailed off as she stared at me. "Oh, maybe Shaz won't need to match make tonight after all." The young woman, who was stout and dressed in a mixture of western style jeans that definitely didn't flatter her body, also wore an Indian kaftan. Grinning, she stepped toward me held out her hand. "Hi, I'm, Josie."
What could I do? I took the hand and shook it, murmuring, Susan Ricardo politely. Then I looked at Nurse Crawford-she looked positively pale. "Are you ok?" I asked as I quickly walked the few short steps to her. I took her hand in my larger warm one-she was freezing cold.
Josie exclaimed, "There you go, Angie. The bedside manner you've been dreaming about for the last couple of years. You're not a doctor are you by any chance?"
My head cocked to the left as I gave this woman a long hard look. Before I could answer, Angie Crawford said, "Josie, I'll catch up with you ok."
Josie grinned and winked in my direction and seemed happy enough to leave. As the door shut behind her, I felt I should leave too.
"I guess I'd better go."
"I'm busted big time aren't I?"
I smiled and shrugged. "No, not really. You do have a date. Your friend Shaz appears to have found you one."
Angie Crawford closed her eyes and sighed heavily. "Shaz, Sharon to give her full name, is my kid sister. It's Valentine's night and she thinks I need help in that department. Maybe she's right."
Valentine's had totally been lost on me this year and I'd buried my head in the sand on previous years too, the most romantic night in the calendar and I'd never allowed myself to take up what it offered. The weird thing was this date had always had great meaning for me in a deep crevice of my heart. Now as I gazed into the sad expression of the woman opposite me, I wondered if I was brave enough to say what I wanted-my life might be better for it. "Your friend mentioned you had an interest in doctors?"
There was a depreciating shake of the head as she softly replied, "One doctor."
"Maybe I can help and introduce you to the doctor of your choice. I do have a little influence in that area and it's the least I can do after making you listen to my pathetic woes." I smiled as warmly as possible but felt like crap-I wanted to be that doctor.
Angie Crawford didn't speak. She just gazed at me. Stumped as to why she didn't speak, I hesitated until yet again, that block of wood hit my head and clarity dawned. As it did, my tentative smile changed several times until I felt as though my face was beaming. "Me?"
Those hazel eyes watered slightly and the she drew up her chin bravely. "I fell for you the first time you walked up to the nurses' station on the cardiac unit. I wasn't involved with anyone who liked volleyball it was the only place I could see you outside of medicine?I'm pathetic I know. Today was so very special for me when you allowed me to help you. If that's all there is, I'll be happy. Now, I think you should go since unrequited feelings are the pits."
Stunned was a good word for the emotions churning inside of me. The woman had just bared her feelings for me. Without saying it directly, she indicated that she loved me so why was she telling me to leave. I drew in a deep breath and spoke in decisively. "I'm a doctor, I play volleyball, I'm single and I want to take you out to dinner on Valentine's night. I can't say it will be a spectacular dinner because I suspect the vast majority of good restaurants will be booked. Taco Bell, MacDonald's, Burger King or something on those lines might be all we can expect. "
There was no reply and I frowned knowing that I was obviously ill equipped in this type of situation and had probably got it all wrong.
"I'll cook us a meal, Susan?"
My heart beat rapidly and I exhaled a huge breath I hadn't known I was holding. "I'm not going to Paris. I'm staying here because when I said it all depends it did."
"I don't understand?"
I laughed softly and moved to place my arms around Angie Crawford, Angie probably short for Angela and it suited her well because a thought filtered through my mind that she was my Angel and I think my heart knew it. "You wouldn't, but you are the one that it depended on and I'm here to stay if you want me too."
I was then totally lost as Angie, with tears in her eyes drew down my head and kissed me, this time not a kiss of conciliation but of something deeper much deeper. It was wonderful and right and I wanted it to last forever. If I was lucky, it would.
It started with a kiss!