“What are You Gonna Do…?”
It wouldn’t have mattered really. Jumping on the man’s chest would have made no difference. Dr. Kelly Brackett thought as he held his sore knuckles from rubbing against the patient’s sternum in an attempt to stimulate any reflexive response. The physician went through the criteria. The next step was to discontinue the ventilator for and extended period in order that the presence of a rudimentary breathing instinct indicating primitive brainstem function could evidence itself. One minute and thirty seconds…”Two minutes.”
‘Okay give me a reading.” He ordered quietly.
“Seventy five.” The diagnostician reported the blood carbon dioxide level soberly.
Kel grimaced and sighed. No inspiratory effort. No response. No surprise. Even with the most sophisticated resuscitative equipment applied correctly and as swiftly as humanly possible, there had been too little pressure generated to adequately supply cerebral oxygen demand. The patient’s brain was dead. Mr. Duncan would not survive.
With a glance to the ventilator, the physician reviewed the settings then re-attached the tubing to the machine to sustain the body until he could prepare the family for the grim sequelae. The phone calls could be made and the ties could be severed and the body could be dismissed to join the already deceased cerebrum. Separation and grief could begin for the loss of Mr. Duncan.
Shake it off, Kel. On to the operating theatre, you’ve got surgery to perform.
Dr. Kelly Brackett never took the loss of patients lightly even though death had become as much a part of medicine as a vial of Morphine. Accepting defeat angered and frustrated him, sometimes beyond his own ability to control his temper. Although this circumstance provided no less disdain, his exhaustion dampened any threat of flaring rage. Yet this case held an added sting. Almost a week ago, this physician offered testimony before a congressional committee to encourage the existence of a program that was supposed to save such lives. The committee voted in favor of the bill but it had lost its momentum and on the floor gotten attached and buried in an emission standards and safety piece of legislation that wouldn’t see daylight for at least another month; leaving the paramedic program stranded and Dr. Kelly Brackett’s professional practice flapping in the breeze with little more than a lab coat to protect him from legal fallout.
If he had it to do over again he would do exactly as he had done. That was always the standard on which Kelly Brackett hung more than his lab coat. He would still testify for the program that saved the very woman that touched his heart so deeply. He would still buck against other’s advice and order available medical treatment that would afford the patient the same chance at life.
‘You’re a fool.’
“A most wonderful fool.”
To her frustration and amusement, Dr. Brackett answered. She placed the prophetic question in front of him….
‘What are you going to do if that man dies and the bill doesn’t pass?”
Hmmm… ‘a dentist’. He smirked at his own smugness, grimacing in retrospect.
Exhaustion from a long night and jubilance from an immediate victory allowed him to be somewhat playful and at the moment, he had hoped even charming to the nurse that stood before him. The emergency room was all about achieving temporary victories, no matter what the size. They were celebrated ever so briefly then onto the next task.
She was much more than a mere distraction. At work she was always the calm, competent professional, anticipating the needs of both patient and physician. Off Rampart’s campus, she was his closest confidant, his best friend and lover. Does she know how much you really love her? Does she know she’s different than anyone you’ve ever had a relationship with in the past?
His breath deepened upon remembering his longing to dive into the gaze of her tearing beautiful blue eyes that early morning at work. No one had been around, perhaps he could have stolen a quick kiss….instead, he had removed her into his office for an inoculation of TLC…a Band-Aid™ to hold them over until circumstances provided a more relaxed and private setting A smile crossed his face as he remembered the love they made that following afternoon…
The goose bumps present on his arms even now, were evidence that she had definitely become more than a mere distraction. Does she realize…have you told her how important she’s become to you? How special she is? Back to the present Doctor! The physician ordered as he shook his head.
Shake it off Kel. You have patients to treat.
“Can I see you for a minute Kel?” Dr. Andrew Ming wrapped on the Dr. Brackett’s office door, interrupting a discussion regarding a staffing issue. The administrator gave a disappointed look to Kel when he noticed he was not alone.
“I think this would be better discussed in private.”
Dixie raised an eyebrow and sighed, taking her cues from the administrator.
“Fine, Andy.” Kel straightened in his seat preparing for a debate. “Close the door.”
“I don’t think you understand.’ The administrator gave a quick side-glance to Kel’s company.
“I think I do.” Dixie rose up from her chair to leave.
‘Hold on Dix.” Kel raised his hand motioning for Dixie to remain where she was. “Andy, whatever you have to say to me you can say in front of Dixie. “
‘This is a sensitive issue, Kel. I was hoping to avoid any rumors.”
“Now just a minute!” Kel rose from his seat. “Nurse McCall’s standards are impeccable, professionally and personally! She is not a gossip.”
‘No!” The eyes of both men were upon her. “I appreciate your kind endorsement, Dr. Brackett. But I don’t need you to defend me. My presence obviously presents a problem for Dr. Ming . I wouldn’t want to interfere with the conduct of hospital business. I’m certain it is for the betterment of the department and the hospital that I leave. So, if you’ll excuse me…’ She headed toward the door.
‘Nurse McCall I didn’t mean to insinuate anything--”
Dixie gave a nod of understanding. ‘I’m sure a person of your caliber in your position, who takes it upon himself to know the character of his staff…wouldn’t. Good-day, Gentlemen.’
Kel proudly smiled and discreetly winked at her as she exited. Apparently another issue needs to be resolved as well. But we can talk about that later.
“They want you to what?!’ Dixie asked in disbelief, sitting forward in the red leather booth facing him.
Joe shared her cushioned bench, with his hand full of nuts, was equally indignant but not completely surprised.
‘As of five o’clock today…I’m on probation awaiting a hearing of the board deciding further consequences.”
“They want you to step down?’
‘But they can’t do that!” Dixie defied across the table.
‘Oh…yes they can.” Kel sipped his beer. “…and they did.” He flicked his crumpled up napkin onto the table.
“What if the bill passes in the mean time?”
“That would be to my benefit, but right now my behavior is considered ‘reckless with complete disregard for the hospital and the authoritative powers.”
“That’s absurd!’ Dixie defended.
“What about the patient?” Joe inquired.
“The former Mr. Duncan?”
Dixie’s eyes looked to her hands in frustration. ‘Kel, you spared his life—“
‘Are you sure you want to go down that path, Dix? Mr. Duncan is no longer with us. He’s not around to comment…and I can’t guarantee his family would be that supportive either. To tell you the truth I can’t even –“
“Don’t tell me you wouldn’t do the same thing all over again. I know better.”
“Okay, I won’t.’ He drank another swig from his glass. “But…I jeopardized a vital program’s success, a hospital’s reputation, and possibly…that bill is going to have a whole lot of negative press, now.”
“That man’s death is not your fault, nor the hospital’s, nor the paramedic program—‘
‘Doesn’t matter Dix.”
Joe interrupted. ‘Kel’s right. The public only knows that a man has died and the two paramedics that rescued him can’t testify on behalf of the physician…who intentionally mis-informed them in order that they might carry out procedures the state hadn’t qualified them to perform. “
“You were there too.” Kel smiled wryly. “In a couple of days Ming and his band of merry henchmen are going to be knocking on your door for your ‘statement’ as well.”
“I hope they do!” Dixie’s blue eyes narrowed.
‘You better watch it , Dix.” Joe cautioned. “They can drag you through the mud too…anything to save the reputation and possible funding of the greater good.”
‘Greater good. You mean Rampart’s Administration.”
“—And subsequent funding.” He shrugged.
“How could they turn their back on you like that? You mean….they’d assassinate the reputation of the most dedicated physician they’ve ever had on staff—“
‘Save it, Dix.”
“Where are you going?” Joe asked.
“I don’t know yet!”
In sympathetic frustration, Kel let out a chuckle.
‘How can you just …sit there and laugh?” The anger began to choke through her words as tears welled in her eyes.
“I’m sorry Dix. I didn’t mean to be insensitive.’ He sighed. “I feel the same way. I have to do something. But right now, just sitting here is all I’m allowed to do.”
‘And you’re letting that stop you?!” Dixie scowled. ‘I thought you were more of a man than that.”
He sat up a bit defensive. ‘Like it or not…that’s the way it is…”
“Kelly Brackett! I can’t believe I’m hearing those words come from your lips!” She picked up her purse and threw the strap over her shoulder.
Kel looked at her curiously. ‘What are you gonna to do?’
‘I’m going to make a phone call to Con. Mike Wolski!”
“They’re in recess.” Kel informed. “Don’t worry. His secretary…’Josie’…has my name and number. She promised he’ll call the minute they re-convene.”
“There has to be a way to get through to him.”
‘They’re not going to call a special session of congress just to save my hide.”
Kel looked uneasily at Joe as their beautiful Irish belle tossed her tab on the table and determinably headed toward the door of The Green Parrot.
Bare feet and Boxers.
Kelly Brackett stirred. He rolled from his stomach onto his back awakening to the weight of an eighty-five pound furry lump squirming onto his chest.
“Where did you come from ?”
Dumb question Kel. You felt sorry for her and let her sleep on your bed…. “Holly,…just because you’re staying with me for the time being doesn’t mean we don’t live by the rules….you know you’re not supposed to be up here...and you’d better not squeal. If Dad finds out I let you on my bed we’ll both be in the doghouse.”
The only answer was an eager large pink tongue panting in his face. “Ugh!!” He lovingly grabbed the furry blonde snout of the golden retriever and focused on the big brown eyes. ‘I know. I know.” He answered her expression. ‘My breath doesn’t smell like a rose either.’
“Yes. I know what you want.” Kel swung his powerful legs over the edge of the bed. “ Who needs an alarm clock?” The barefooted boxer clad Brackett followed the fuzzy leader over to the door mumbling comments about ‘Pain in my a—and no, I wouldn’t trade you for something with short hair…” He pulled back the curtain. Are you sure you want to go out? It looks pretty wet out there.”
He was greeted with an affectionate and enthusiastic bark of encouragement.
“Okay…just remember…you asked.”
Kel opened the sliding glass doors that lead to the patio. It was an abbreviated trip. Just the essentials were quickly attended to followed by a quick jaunt around to the front entrance and a return trip to the doorway where she presented the morning paper to her adorable master. Unrolling the damp newspaper, he was greeted by his own picture, the same one that had been printed in the issue two weeks prior accompanying the article reporting his testimony and endorsement of the paramedic bill.?????.
How quickly things change….
“When were you gonna tell me?”
“Don’t play dumb with me…’ She waved the damp paper in his face walking toward him with her coffee still steaming in the other hand.
‘Saw my article in the personals again? Remind me next time to change my alias…” He teased continuing in her direction.
She stopped and held up the fold that displayed his picture and companion headline, firmly pointing to his name and likeness.
“Well…” He collected her in his arms. “I figured you’d find out soon enough.”
‘Really?” Dixie sat her coffee on the coaster. Her hand reached around his neck then opened the paper to accommodate the irritating folds. She read aloud over his shoulder and above his kisses. “…Dr. Kelly Brackett…noted physician testifies—noted physician?!—“
‘In some circles…” He intensified his pursuit of distraction.
‘So...’ She persisted above his chest pressing against her. “Do you think the bill will pass?’
“Probably, Mike said he thought the vote from the ‘notable’ committee members would give it enough momentum to carry it through the floor.”
‘Political lingo.” He smooched and smiled.
“Kel, how… am I…supposed to….read…this if ….you keep…kissing--?”
‘Finally. You’re getting the idea.”
Dixie’s fingers chose Kel’s plush dark waves over newsprint as the paper dropped to the floor, only to have been outdated before the article was ever read in completion.
A gust of wind pounded the rain against the glass door as he continued on with the article now in his hands.
“Named in civil suit?!!!” When was anybody going to tell me? ‘I haven’t received so much as a subpoena…’ He said aloud looking at his watch. No use calling the paper at this hour…
The phone rang.
That’s got to be Joe. He’s the only one crazy enough to be awake-- “Hello?’
‘You saw?” Dixie asked.
Or Dix. ‘Yeah. I haven’t quite read the entire article yet, but it looks like they’re implicating Johnny and Roy, the fire department, and the hospital. “
“What are you gonna do?’
“Well, I’m not sure. But I know what I’m not gonna do and that’s sit around and wait for someone to serve me with my request to appear before the grand jury….????
‘I’ll be right over.”
‘And do what?—hold my hand?”
‘I’m a big boy, Dix.”
“Precisely.” She hung up the phone before he had a chance to respond.
Almost the entire rest of the morning was spent on the phone with secretaries, assistants and pages, tracking down attorneys, administrators, and congressman; and to Kel’s frustration, reporters. Mike Wolski would be uncharacteristically unreachable for the next couple of days. Attempts at communicating with the Duncan family were decided against. They had been through enough in the last week. Kel hoped they hadn’t been hounded as badly as he.
Dixie’s coffee and fresh ideas provided an answer to an otherwise exasperating dismal morning. Around noon the clouds began to clear and following her suggestion, they took Holly for a long walk along a vacant beach. Reliably providing change with a sense of composure, the ocean had been the backdrop for many discussions and deliberations between these two particular individuals. With Dixie by his side, the ocean’s rhythm and consistency soothed and invigorated him.
The afternoon was cool with the promise of the approaching fall chill but still warm when the breezes tamed, enough for cut-offs and even bare feet. Holly and the Frisbee helped keep conversation on the lighter side as she playfully chased the foaming surf. Kel’s right hand reached for Dixie’s left as their pace slowed to a pause. Wondering what provoked the lull, her curious blue eyes searched into his gray. His answer was simply an imploring grin. She felt him draw her in toward him more closely; his hand dropping hers to reach around her waist. While her fingers reached for the thick waves of his hair, their mouths pulled toward one another.
As the wind coaxed Dixie’s loose wisps of hair to tickle Kel’s face, her hands followed to caress it and extend the interlude.
“Wow.’ With his face still cupped in her hands, Dixie licked her lips brushing her cheeks against his. ‘What brought that on?”
‘I’m not sure. ” He surprised himself, giving a slight shrug and shook his head. “I’m sorry if I alarmed you. I’m usually in better control of my urges.”
‘Oh…. no need to apologize.” She smiled as Kel pushed her hair back against the blustery ocean air. “…And I am well aware of your self discipline.”
“I guess I just needed to kiss you, Dix” Perhaps the power of the rushing waves encouraged him to reveal to her the condition that existed deep within him. “…To hold you…and …to be kissed and held by you--” And to make love to you, Dixie. “I don’t know how, but…somehow that makes everything better--.”
“Everything? That’s a pretty tall order, Doctor.” Still captivated by his spontaneous confession, she leaned back into his embrace and looked up into his gray eyes. Is he just playing?
‘Everything. And…yes that’s a very ambitious task…one I’m certain you’re capable of handling.” No, he isn’t kidding. “I love you, Dixie.”
As if to taste the truth of his words both spoken and unspoken, her lips returned to his for another lingering moment from which both were reluctant to depart while tongues of soft warm surf licked at their feet.
He could touch her…and touch her there without ever having lifted a finger. Often just the thought of him was enough to conjure a sweet satisfaction within her body and soul. She knew somehow at that very moment she was doing the same for him. “I love you, Kel.”
As their embrace tightened, Dixie pressed her face to his chest. A gust of wind blew.
‘I knew I should have brought the blanket from the trunk.”
Kel smiled sheepishly. ‘Just the opposite.”
A playful grin contagiously crossed Dixie’s face as well and she nodded in agreement and suggestion.
“You mean …you wanna…”
“Uh-huh.” Dixie simplified.
“ Don’t tell me you’re afraid of a little sand in your shorts.”
Kel looked up and down the deserted beach with a hopeful expression that was unmistakable.
‘No body’s here.” She bit her lip with the suggestion. “In fact, we passed a little secluded patch of sand that’s kinda grassy… nice and warm…”
Kel chuckled naughtily. He knew the exact spot to which she was referring for the same thought had briefly entered his mind upon passing it the first time. Dixie dropped from Kel’s embrace but firmly tugged at his hand. She appealed. ‘Take me, Kel.’
Remaining within Kel’s strong embrace, she looked away from the magenta horizon to Holly’s happy expression. The dog then chewed at the cheek of Kel’s shorts. “Don’t blame you one bit Holly.” Dixie laughed, gently and mischievously nuzzling and gnawing on Kel’s face. ‘ Seems everybody wants a piece of you.”
Although her comment returned their attention to the circumstance outside the perfect world of their embrace, something had been re-discovered and re-claimed on the beach that made the problem seem surmountable.
At home Kelly Brackett answered the doorbell. Opening the door to his surprise he welcomed two paramedics he had trained and worked with over the past few months, innocently standing with a couple of paper sacks….and what looked like a six pack of beer.
“Somebody order cheese steak in the garden?’ The dark haired lanky one in plaid shirt and jeans greeted him with his sleeves rolled up to his biceps. Kel could remember when he did the same.
‘Now…how did you two know I was hungry for a cheese steak hoagie….” He extended his arm in invitation. Come on in.
‘Let’s just say….we have our sources.” Johnny Gage followed his slightly older counterpart in to the entrance way as Kel closed the door behind them.
‘Kitchen’s this way fellas.” He led the way through a handsome but barely decorated great room through the swinging doors of the kitchen. ‘Don’t you two hose jockeys have a fire to put our somewhere?’ He kidded.
‘Well, you might say that’s why we came here.” Johnny sat down on a bar stool and pulled out a sandwich.
‘Oh?” Kel opened the refrigerator door and grabbed the hot sauce.
‘We just wanted to say thanks…” Roy looked at his hands.
‘Your persuasion and testimony before the grand jury probably saved our professional hides.”
“What you did was pretty noble.”
‘Hardly. You two were no more responsible for that man’s death than the defibrillator.” Kel opened three bottles of the cold brew.
“Some don’t see it that way.” Roy contended.
‘I know.” He chuckled wryly.
“Yeah. I guess you do.” Johnny smiled appreciatively.
Roy continued his thought. “…and you wouldn’t need to.”
‘I’m the one who prescribed the treatment and issued the orders…ultimately it’s my responsibility. You were just following instructions.”
‘Doc, if there’s anything we can do…’
‘You already did ...” Not intending to reveal just how deep his sentiment ran. “More than you know.” Kel surmised and was yet again impressed by the courage and bravery the two men standing in front of him displayed. Their courage to do what needed to be done in spite of prevailing circumstances including his own instructions, afforded him the privilege of speaking in person rather than in prayer to the one he loved most in this world. He predicted they would eventually become his friends even in disagreements. A sense of mutual respect was developing. ‘More than you know.” He repeated allowing them the hint he would entrust to so few.
Roy and John exchanged a look of quiet admiration They caught it and kept going.
The younger paramedic raised his beer quickly leaping to a new topic. ‘So…nice place you have here.” .
The phone rang just as the three were swigging down the last of their beers.
Awkwardly the timid voice on the other end of the receiver delivered an obviously rehearsed line. “Dr. Brackett. The last thing we want to do is cause trouble for you or for anyone.”
“Mrs. Duncan.” Kel recognized the voice. Roy and Johnny rose to leave but Kel invited them to stay put.
“I’m sorry to call you at home….but I felt I needed to speak to you directly without any attorneys …”
“Sure…What’s on your mind?”
A long pause followed. “It’s just that Daniel….well we don’t have much and…the bills are just …just so exorbitant…some friends gave me the name of this lawyer …” She stammered.
‘But...I…I …realize now that Daniel’s death wasn’t your fault. I was just angry before…because you couldn’t save him. ”
“I understand , Mrs. Duncan.” Kel comforted and instructed. “You do what you have to do.”
“Well…that’s why I called.”
Still on Probation.
‘How come?’ Dixie asked. “The Duncan’s dropped the civil suit...”
“Well there’s still that little matter of ‘wreck less’ endangerment.’
‘You’re not serious.”
Kel sighed deeply with resignation. ‘I’ll be a good boy for the next six months.”
‘You can guarantee that?
”No. I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing for the last three years. Its’ served me well.”
“But what if…”
‘If worse comes to worse….” He placed his wine glass on the coffee table and took her hand in his. “I have my CV (curriculum vitae) distributed to a few places. ‘In fact, the more I think about it, the more I like the idea…” His gaze drifted away from her eyes.
‘…of leaving?” She absorbed the shock more gracefully than he could have imagined. But her disappointment was evident.
Kel felt her hand go limp within his. ‘It’s time I shake the dust off my shoes and move on…”
‘Back to my old stompin’ grounds…John’s Hopkins?…Mayo maybe?… I met a few people at a conference in San Antonio they have a consulting firm--”
‘Consulting? That’s not you. None of this is…I can’t believe what I’m hearing, Kel.”
“What about your vision? You’re gonna just give up on it because the road’s gotten a little rough?”
‘The road is fast becoming non-existent…I won’t stay where I’m not wanted…where I’m not trusted. ” His fingers laced hers tightly
‘Andrew Ming and the crew want you whether they realize it or not! They know you and trust you….and if you want to know the truth…?”
His eyes looked up to her as she continued. “I think …they’re even a little afraid of you….afraid of the direction you want o take Rampart…Emergency Medicine—Trauma medicine…afraid of progressing a little too fast…of bucking the status quo…”
“You’d better watch it Dix. About a month ago you were saying the same thing to me. Don’t you see, you’re the one with a vision.”
“But you weren’t afraid. You accepted the challenge…. saw the potential and followed your instincts.”
“After the program proved itself.” “You have it partially right Dix. They may be afraid of too much too fast, but I’m just a middleman who’s supposed to see that things get done. I may hold the title of Department Head and have a pretty office…. but when you strip that away, my function is to load the trucks—you deserve better than that.”
‘Don’t put this on me…. That’s not the Kelly Brackett who I know …” and love. She tested him. He countered.
“’Maybe I’m not the man you thought I was, Dix.”
‘Oh. Here it comes.”“
‘Here what comes?”
‘What this is really all about….your ticket out of this relationship. Things are falling in place a little too nicely… and you’re scared.”
‘You’re damn right I’m scared. Relationships have never been my strong suit. I’ve been down right lousy at them…truth is …I’ve never wanted a relationship as badly as I want this one…” He took a sip of wine and sighed. “And now for the first time…I find myself in love with this most wonderful woman…completely captivated …head over heals…your right… I’m scared.”
“Of messing up.”
“Kel, we’re both ….going to mess up. Don’t let that paralyze you.” Her intensity was piercing his soul. “ But, I am afraid of you throwing away the best thing to happen in my life…and I think yours too.”
Kel nodded in agreement finding her level of determination unequalled by any previous issue.
“Kel…let’s put our cards up front… on the table…. right now.” She leaned into him. “What do you want?”
‘Alright…everything on the table?”
“Right.” She challenged.
“Okay….” He submitted, emptied his wine glass and sat it…on the table. Taking her hands, he leaned closer and closer into her gaze and looked directly into her eyes. ‘Right now, Miss McCall…more than anything… I want to marry you…. and drag you with me…wherever I go…make you the happiest woman in the world….and make wild passionate love with you until you’ve had enough. …Anything else is a distant second.”
Surprise! Her expression was priceless.
‘So… Tough Girl...” He followed through with a sequence of soft, succulent kisses. “Who’s scared now…?”
“As far as administrations goes…I’ve told you before…don’t enter into a pissin’ contest if you’ve already got your ass in a sling! The Duncan’s dropped the civil suit…all you have to do is wait out the legislative stuff and you’re back in business… or in your case… practice.” Joe Early instructed as he turned the volume down on the car radio another notch. “And…more importantly…what are you gonna do about your relationship with Dixie? Running isn’t the answer…” He flipped on the turn signal.
‘I’m not running--!”
‘That’s not how it appears…’
‘I’m not running?!” Kel debated. “I’m the one that proposed marriage remember?”
“‘A’… that was no proposal--.”
I wasn’t prepared to throw out a proposal …but she asked me what I wanted…I
told her and…. out it came.” Kel’s
hands went up in the air.
”And ‘B’…did you actually think she’d accept at this point?”
“Wait a minute…you weren’t there…how did you find out--?”
“I have my sources.” He paused. “You know what I think?”
“Yes I know what you think but why don’t you tell me anyway.”
”I think …things are falling in place a little too nicely…you’ve met your match…someone as tough and hard headed as you are…someone who knows and loves you more than anything…just for what you are…understands you inside and out…. even accepts your miserable schedule. I can certainly understand Dixie’s point, Kel.”
“So can I …but I have a side too. And believe me, Joe I’m very serious…this is no school boy contest.”
“I realize that. You both have supportable arguments—that’s why you need to talk more before you decide to do anything drastic that’s permanent—hey watch it, Lady!” Joe laid on the horn and swerved Kel Brackett’s car. Holly, a little unsettled in the car, still joyfully barked her encouragement from the backseat.
“Pedestrians!” Joe fumed.-------
‘Joe, I could’ve wiped that woman’s nose if I’d have rolled down the window!”
‘I could’ve wiped that woman’s nose if you’d have rolled down the window! Besides, I had the light!” Dr. Early’s competitive nature had found an outlet behind the steering wheel, and was exponentially proportional to the speed at which his vehicle was traveling.
‘Fine. But the next nun that flips us the finger --- I’m driving. ” Kel scowled.
‘Stop being so defensive. You’re the one who suggested this. It’s your interview. It’s your flight. I’m doing you a favor….you know how I hate airports. If I’d have known that we needed to drop Holly off at the kennel…I might have come by a little earlier!” Holly barked her vote of support.
“I know. I know. I’m sorry. I really appreciate this.” Staring at the dashboard for moments, he pensively shrugged.
“What?” Joe inquired.
Another shrug and a nod. “Dix and I have talked and talked…. the ball’s in her court now. But I think she’s just going to take it and go home.”
Joe shook his head. ‘You’re the one who’s taking’ his toys and going home, my friend.”
“Try looking at it from my perspective, Joe. Can you honestly blame me?”
“Nobody blames you for researching your options. What I don’t understand is…why not someplace…nearby.”
“At my age, I don’t feel like completely starting over. I want go where I have a few ties-- ”
‘Connections.’ Joe reiterated. “Don’t give me that…you’ve got ‘em all over the place here. Just ask Mike Wolski.”
‘I would if I could locate him…and there are a few other things I’d like to ask him when I get the opportunity.”
“But…no place in California? No place closer?” Joe grilled his counter part as he flew through yet another yellow light changing to red. Kel ducked instinctively, catching gestures from other motorists and pedestrians following up with a wave and a cutting smile of his own.
‘Well, no wonder Dixie won’t go…you know how much she loves the California warmth and the sunshine.” Dr. Early continued his points.
‘Yeah, well…I was kinda hopin’….she loved me more.”
“Aha! So there is an unattractive side to Kel Brackett after all. I’ve never seen you being manipulative before. Refreshingly ugly. ”
‘Well…she could have at least come along with me to check the place out. Who knows? Maybe she would’ve liked the four seasons…”
‘Kel. You’re going to be there for one week. I doubt she would have been impressed by Baltimore in November nor by it’s cyclic contrast over a five day stretch.” Blowing his bangs in frustration, Joe darted and swerved into the turning lane. “Did you see that?!! That makes me mad! That guy pulled right out in front of me and ---bam! Twenty-five miles an hour!! Those white-haired drivers are a hazard---!”
The white haired physician glanced to his friend. ‘And another thing….Dixie has this little thing called ‘work’ to attend to this weekend. Kel, she’s the head nurse….if she says she can’t schedule around it…I believe her.”
With a pull of acceleration and another slight swerve, one more conquered intersection was reflected in the review mirror.
“I believe Dixie too. I’m just a little…disappointed--Damn it Joe!! This is a ‘71’Jag …it’s got a brake!” Kel grimaced before bracing himself against the dashboard as Joe trounced on the accelerator upon merging onto the freeway.
“Hi.” Dixie beamed upon catching his gaze. Upon finding her among the many, Kel’s eyes gained an extra gleam and his gorgeous grin widened upon seeing her and it warmed her. Was it possible that he’d gotten more handsome?
“Hi!” Kel dropped his black carryon. His arms wrapped around her while his kiss completed the annihilation. God, she felt good in his arms again.
“Mmmm….I missed you.”
‘I missed you.” Kel’s deep voice murmured barely within the breath as he resumed his lengthy composition. After another slurp the happy man was ready to begin a conversation. “I’m glad you came. I wouldn’t want to have saved up all my saliva for Joe Early.’
She laughed and played along throwing him a shrug. ‘Well…Joe’s cute…but he isn’t much of a kisser….”
Kel raised his eyebrows.
‘---So I’ve heard.”
‘I wouldn’t know.” He nuzzled against her neck ravenously and shamelessly. “Mmmm…love your hair.’
‘Thanks.” She smiled graciously placing another kiss on his cheek. “How was Baltimore?’
‘Cold…just like I remembered...” . He replaced the bag over his shoulder as she took his other arm. ‘How was California?” He placed the bag over his shoulder as she took his arm.
‘Oh…things heated up a bit while you were gone…”
She handed him the newspaper folded beneath her arm, the article of interest up front ready for him to read.
He read on aloud. “California legislature passes emergency paramedic bill after a late night session….?!” His expression of surprise was priceless. “How?!”
“A lot of foot work by some dedicated ninety-day Kildares…got a petition signed for Assemblyman Wolski who tabled the bill …and somehow…got it to the forefront. Voila’!” She smiled proudly. “Joe’s still workin’ on Ming and the gremlins about lifting your probation but…’
Kel was in awe of the support he’d received and had a feeling he had his arm around the woman who inspired the activity. “That’s …that’s incredible! Do you know what this means?”
“Unfortunately…it means you’re still on probation.”
“I can handle the probation, Dix.” Not certain of how to start or even if this was the appropriate setting to begin…but. “What I can’t handle ….is being away from you.” Their pace slowed to a halt. ‘I’ve done a lot of thinking while I was away, Dix.”
‘Any distance is just …too far from you.” Kel looked into her eyes and informed her. “I turned them down.”
“Mm-hm. Have you given any more thought to what we talked about earlier? The offer’s still good…now more than ever.”
‘Yes…I have.” She smiled radiantly with an element of caution to her tone. Realizing she was still riveted by his admission, Dixie paused to collect some control. ‘Suppose I call your bluff and say ‘yes’ what would you do then—?”
“Bluff?! Why does everybody think I’m bluffing?”
“Everybody? How many people did you propose to?” She raised an eyebrow.
‘I was talking about Joe.” He toyed with her humor.
‘You know he always takes your side?’
‘Funny…when he and I talk…he sticks up for you. I thought it was a male thing.’
“Well…either we have a very capricious friend who likes to play devil’s advocate and start trouble….or a very special empathetic friend who loves us more than he’ll ever admit.”
‘Or…a little of both?’ She smiled looking into the distance then to his eyes.
Kel studied her expression but didn’t need to. Eyeing her speculatively, he knew the answer that he was about to receive to his proposal of marriage. ‘You still have reservations…. don’t you?”
She sighed and nodded her head. ‘Don’t you?” The tears welled.
‘No.” Kel’s assurance captivated and stirred her. “Oh…I’m still a little afraid of messing up…but I have the most understanding compassionate lover on the face of this earth…who I’m gonna try my damnedest to emulate.”
She smiled and looked down as the warm wet drops fell from her cheeks. He lifted her chin to look into her saturated blue eyes as his thumbs brushed her tears away. “So… it’s okay if you’re not ready yet...I’m willing to wait…for as long as it takes. I love you, Dixie McCall….more than anything.” He could touch her … there without ever having lifted a finger. “…and I think you love me too.”
“Oh…I do.” That sure sounds like a commitment. What more do you want from him, Dix? What is holding you back? She asked herself as the tears spilled. ‘I don’t know how long the wait’ll be …or even what I’m waiting for…but I do know I love you, Kelly Brackett…more than anything.”
Europa / Gato Barbieri
The look of Love / Dianna Krall