Authors: Emily Duvall
Jessie couldn't make eye contact with any of them. She didn't want any of them, particularly Brent, to be let in on the secret of having dropped out of medical school. She didn't know why, she just didn't want him to be privy to her failures.
Carl reached into his pocket, pulled out his wallet, and looked at the dollar bills. “On a different note, I'm starving. Jessie, let's go to the cafeteria and get something to eat.”
“I'm not hungry.”
He placated her with a smile. “Very well. I'll get a bite and be back soon.” He leaned down and pressed a kiss to her cheek.
The semi-circle dissipated. Carl left them. Luke returned to Melanie's room. An empty, dreadful feeling moved through her. She watched Luke take a seat at Melanie's bedside and her heart felt tight in her chest. Her mouth froze. Her feet just wouldn't take her the thirty steps to put her on the other side of those doors. She had her reasons and she didn't expect anyone else to understand.
A movement to the side caught her attention and she moved her head. “Luke should have let Carl in there,” she said to Brent.
“I'm on Luke's side with this one,” he answered.
“Of course you are, he's your brother.”
“No, not because he's my brother. Luke's a man. That's his wife. He doesn't want anyone unnecessary around her. He wants to protect her and keep her safe. He feels helpless. All the time in the world isn't enough for him with her. He needs more time with her. Carl would steal that away from him. I get it. I would do the same.”
The deep conviction in his voice got to Jessie. Tears burned the back of her eyes. She couldn't explain the sadness she felt for him. There was something in the way he spoke, like he'd let down his guard for a tiny second and she saw there was more to him or more to that statement. There wasn't anything overly emotional about his words. She supposed the hospital and seeing Carl was getting to her.
The scene continued to play out in front of her. She watched Luke talk to Melanie. She wondered what he said to her. What do you say to someone who has your heart and you're on the verge of losing it. She didn't want to be standing here, watching them. Out of nowhere her face grew hot and her heart annoyed. The way Luke looked at Melanie made Jessie wonder if she ever looked at Carl that way.
Brent's arm brushed hers, and she quickly pushed the irritating thought aside as their kiss crept back into her thoughts. The way she tried to not think about it all day, here she was, thinking about it again. “You're such an asshole,” she said for no reason.
Brent grabbed her hand. He tugged her to him and forced her body to his. His hands locked around her waist and he didn't let go. “Stop trying to pick a fight.”
“What do you think you're doing?”
“I might be an asshole, but you left your engagement ring at
house.” Brent relaxed his arm. His breath was warm on her neck as he said, “What do you think about that?”
“I think you'll ruin my engagement if you continue to hold me like this.”
A grin pulled up the corner of his mouth. “I want to hold you like this.”
Tingles ran through her middle and grazed her thighs. The sincerity of his brown eyes stole her heart. “I need my ring back,” she said.
“Then you'll have to come and get it.”
He was serious. She didn't know what else to do except put her face on his chest and take in a deep breath. The smell of his soap rushed through her senses. He told her his house number and street name, and then abruptly let her go.
“Jessie?” said a voice she knew anywhere.
Jessica stumbled back out of Brent's arms at the sight of her mother standing a few feet away. Her lips bowed in stern, motherly concern.
She beamed at the sight of her mom. The engagement ring fiasco she would figure out later. Her mother was here. Everything would be okay. “Mom!” Jessie called out and rushed over to her.
“I'm so happy to see you,” her mother said, hugging her daughter with fierceness. Leslie Cahill began to cry. She ignored the fact of having walked in on Jessie in the arms of a stranger and got right to the point. “Where's your sister?”
Jessie nodded to the room. “In there.”
Leslie walked over to the windows and looked inside. She didn't waste a second and entered the room, without Jessie. She dropped the oversized purse on one of the spare chairs. The heavy winter coat she removed and then she spoke to Luke. He walked over to her and they faced each other without smiles or warm greetings. Luke talked. Leslie nodded quite a bit and pursed her lips. Together they approached Melanie and took their places on opposite sides of her bed.
The sight of her mother running a hand down the side of Melanie's arm overwhelmed Jessie. Brent must have noticed, he put his arm under her elbow. This time when he touched her, she didn't fight him. She didn't ask questions. A dose of strength was what she needed. He guided her over to the couches. She took a seat and put her head in her hands.
“Your doctor's back,” Brent said, and moved away from her.
Jessie whipped up her face to greet Carl. He sat down next to her and unwrapped a breakfast sandwich. The scent of egg made her stomach nauseous, although she probably would feel better if she ate something.
Carl sat down next to her and he held up the sandwich. “Want some?” he said.
“No,” she said.
“How did the bachelorette party go?”
“It went well up until I learned about Melanie.” Last night wasn't a topic she wanted to cover with him at this point in time. Soon they would all go home and Melanie would be well. There would be time to figure out how to tell him she'd kissed another man. The very same man who happened to be standing a few feet away and whose touch stayed with her, even though he'd let her go.
Unaffected, Carl bit into his sandwich. “Are the ladies still in town?”
“They all went home. Clara and Louise might drive up mid-week.”
Leslie poked her head out of Melanie's room and crooked her finger.
Jessie got to her feet and walked straight over. “Is everything okay?” she said.
“There's a chapel on the first floor. I want to go and say a prayer. Would you like to join me?”
“I'd rather wait here.”
“I'll come with you,” Carl said, suddenly behind her.
Leslie looked down at Jessie and said, “After the chapel, I'm going to get us checked-in at the hotel.”
The concept of accommodations took Jessie by surprise. She hadn't even thought about what to do about tonight. “What hotel?”
“We're booked at the Crowne Hotel. It's not far from here. Luke made the arrangements.”
This didn't still well with Jessie. Handouts. From Luke.
“What do you mean?”
“Listen, I know what you're thinking, and the reality is we don't know how long we might be in San Francisco. Melanie may not wake up for days or even weeks. I even took a leave of absence from my school.”
Sorrow filled Leslie's eyes as she looked over to Melanie. “Of course I did. I can't go home until I see her open her eyes. We need a place to stay and we can't let our family history get in the way. If Luke wants to help in any way, I'll take it. He found us a good hotel that's close to the hospital. We're here for Melanie, not to start pointing fingers. We can always settle the bill later. Let's focus on today, okay? I'm going to pray and then I'll go to the hotel.”
“I'm ready when you are,” Carl said, wadding the sandwich wrapper in his hand. He took Jessie's hand and gave it a squeeze. “I'll see you soon.”
Carl and her mother left Jessie in the waiting area. Except for a few other visitors to other patients, Jessie was alone. Brent had slipped out of the room. All for the better in her mind. As soon as Carl left for Fresno, she could get back her ring. The last thing she wanted to do was to go on with more lies.
The last lie she told had cost her Melanie. The memory of their last fight hung close to Jessie's thoughts now more than ever. Their brother Mark had attacked Luke and she had harbored the truth and the location of some rare gemstones for seven long years. The lie got easier to justify than to break her sister's heart with the truth. She'd meant well, but had failed in what she wanted to accomplish.
Jessie had accepted her sister's initial reaction of anger. What she couldn't accept was Melanie's total silence afterwards. Melanie hadn't ever tried to communicate with her. Not once. No text or emails or phone calls. She'd been willing to make things right between them and the fact that Melanie didn't think fixing their relationship had been important cut right through Jessie's heart. Fury and sadness climbed through her chest, knowing Melanie could have reached out to her and hadn't.
Now everyone expected Jessie to throw that big ball of hurt and pain away and go in there and say something meaningful to her sister. To pretend nothing had ever gone bad between them. She'd hurt Melanie, but Melanie had hurt her too. A tear leaked out of her eye. She couldn't do it. Not yet.
Thirty minutes later Carl and her mother reappeared.
“We're done,” Carl said upon getting back to her.
She frowned. “How long do we have?”
“Not long. I need to get back to the airport.”
Jessie took his hands. “Don't go.”
“I have patients depending on me.”
“What about me? I'm depending on you.”
“That's not fair.”
He nudged his head in the direction of the exit. “Let's go for a walk. I read there's a garden here. I think we should find it. Some fresh air will do you some good.”
They found their way to the seventh level. A garden did in fact exist. A pretty one with a cement walkway bordered by flowers. A series of benches faced the city. Potted plants bloomed with pink or red flowers, the only color hanging on through the last of the autumn. A restorative vibe flowed through the air up here.
Carl led her over to the guardrail. She peered out at the city. The landmarks looked smaller from this elevation than on the ground. The Golden Gate Bridge, the blue waters of the bay, and Coit Tower were all within sight.
“Do you remember I mentioned the possibility of getting a fellowship in Singapore?” Carl said, carefully.
“Vaguely,” Jessie answered. “They gave the position to someone else.”
“Initially they did. The original candidate opted not to take the position and the director reached out to me to ask if I still wanted the job.”
Jessie looked at him. Too many questions about this came to mind and she settled on asking, “Did you tell him you're getting married in a few weeks?”
He coughed nervously. “Not exactly. I'm at the start of my career, this offer won't come again. The possibilities are huge.” He expanded his arms to mimic the point. “The potential for the places this position will take meâtake usâis worth exploring. I'd be working at one of the largest hospitals in all of Asia.”
“What about us?”
“You'd come with me, of course. It would change our lives. They have an excellent medical program there. You can get back on track.”
“I don't want to be a doctor.”
“You say that. You always say that. But what are you doing with your life? You wait tables at an Italian restaurant.”
The judgmental tone wasn't lost on Jessie. “Does my being a waitress embarrass you?”
“I don't care if you're a waitress. It's more than that. You aren't focused. You're lost. You don't know what you want for your life. You're thirty-four and I'm holding myself back from shaking you and telling you to grow up.”
You think I need to grow up?
” Jessie's head spun. “I want to be married and start a family.”
“You're bored. You want something to do. You think you'll be happy at home while I'm gone all day? You won't be. I want you to have a career and a life outside of me. My job demands all of my time and will continue to add extra hours. I see you twice a week in the evenings and we won't have another weekend together for three weeks. You need something to do other than wait around for me.”
“I don't wait around for you.”
“You're not hearing me.”
She faced him with her whole body. “Break it down for me then, so I understand in stupid people terms.”
“I've already accepted the position.”
“This isn't how I planned to tell you. I was going to tell you after you got back from the bachelorette party. I didn't expect Melanie would change all that. There's a lot going on for me and for you. Given everything,” he said, pausing to swirl his hand, “I think it's in our best interest to postpone the wedding. We've been together eight years. A few more months won't make a difference.”
The lack of emotion on his face infuriated her. “You didn't come to see Melanie. You didn't take the early flight to be supportive. You came to break up with me.”
“I'm not breaking up with you. I want us to take some time. Be with your mom and Melanie. Give Singapore some thought. I'll go ahead with the plans to move.”
“We're getting married next month!”
“We can get married after we move.”
“When do you start the job?”
“January!” Numbness slid down Jessie's arms and coated her insides. She turned away from him.
“I want to get married to you.”
“Yeah right.” She stared out at the city with narrowed eyes and a bitter heart.
“I'm suggesting we postpone the wedding, not call off our engagement.”
She said nothing.
He looked at the watch on his wrist. “I have to get to the airport. I hate leaving you like this.”
“Then don't go.”
“Think about what I said. I do love you.”