Chapter 1: The Peculiar Patient
“Sorry, I’m not into medical romance,” she said aloud in a lighter tone than she had used in her thoughts. In her mind she had just snapped at him.
Dr Murray blinked and opened his mouth to say something as she hopped down from the examination table gracefully. His pager rang out at the same time so she smiled gaily, belying her annoyance and flounced out, with a toss of her blue black hair, her dark eyes glittering with emotion.
Pearl unlocked her car and read the messages that had come through on her cell while she was in the doctor’s office.
“Hope you didn’t catch swine flu...” she read incredulously.
Honestly, her best friend Sam was a riot. The text continued, “...and that you are free tomorrow night for the pot luck.”
She groaned. She had forgotten that the third Thursday of every month was reserved for Sam’s pot luck dinners. Pearl suspected part of her forgetfulness was due to the fact that she was always there on other days of the week, but she knew the pot luck was particularly special.
Typing as fast as she could on her Blackberry, “I’ll be there late but yes, I’m free. Love.”
Sending it, she started her Dodge Charger and drove out of the parking lot. She reflected on her doctor’s appointment.
It had been impromptu, of course, and consequently her ordinary GP had been too busy to see her. She always visited Connie Douglas after her international excursions but since this trip had been cut short, Douglas had not been expecting her.
And that was how she had met Dr Murray.
Very handsome, she had initially thought, as far as doctors went. Nice head of blond hair, golden skin, angular jaw and straight nose that extended from a chiselled face housing extraordinary hazel green eyes.
The examination had been professional but she had not expected him to lean against a cupboard and smile over at her when they were through.
Maybe, she had then thought, that her appraisal had been too open and he had assumed she was interested because he smiled at her charmingly and said, “Would you believe me if I said I have been waiting almost half my life to meet you?”
At first she had given a startled laugh. But he had looked serious enough. So her smile had faded and she had shaken her head, telling him nothing of what ran through her head about stalkers and psychopaths. Instead, she had simply said the line about medical romance.
Now getting out of her car, outside Sam’s lovely house, she shook her head again. Her friend would enjoy that story. Locking her car, she ran lightly up the steps and rang the doorbell.
“I bet you that’s him now,” she heard Sam say. “No, it could be Pearl.”
The door opened and Pearl called out, “ He was right the second time!”
“Pearl! So you didn’t catch swine flu, I gather?”
She rolled her eyes and hugged her friend. “No, I did and the Brazilians asked me to pass it on.”
“How sweet of them,” came the dry reply.
“How are you?” she asked him as she let him take the wine bag and her jacket.
“I’m great. My two favourite women are now in the same state again, and my brother is in town!”
“Really? Oh my gosh, that must be exciting for you, Sam. I finally get to meet him.”
“Yeah, aren’t you excited, you little minx. More men to enrapture and devastate.”
Pearl laughed as they moved into the living room.
She spotted more of her friends and all she said was, “Remind me to tell you a story about my doctor’s visit yesterday.”
Sam shook his head and turned to his wife, “She’s snagged a physician now, Dana.”
Dana smiled and kissed Pearl’s cheek. “Hey you. Glad to have you back, there’s a drink being fixed for you so come and sit over here. There’s someone I want you to meet.”
Pearl murmured, “Oh no, not again, Dana.”
“Don’t worry, he’s just evening out numbers,” Dana said in an equally low voice. Then more clearly, she said, “Hal, meet Pearl, Sam’s best friend.”
Hal, Pearl guessed correctly, was yet another lawyer who worked for Sam’s growing firm. He was in town for a case and knew no one, so he was only too happy to accept his boss’s invitation for a home cooked meal and fresh company.
“And,” he told her good naturedly, “if the lady I am unexpectedly paired up with is a gorgeous one, I will not object.”
Stifling a sigh she told herself she was only enduring him for Dana and Sam and their blooming numbers. Granted, she was the only one of their friends who nearly never had a date. It was usually because she didn’t find guys worth a second date or worth the teasing she’d get if she introduced them to her very witty and jet set friends.
Not that they were snobs, Pearl thought, looking around the living room fondly. They were all professionals, seasoned and successful. Hard workers, social butterflies, industry icons in the making. Most of the men she met on a day to day basis were either too young for her or were dumb jocks, a fact when mentioned sent Sam on a roasting spree. Not that she was about to tell Happy Hal here. The guy who was not very good at hiding his relief that his partner would be a gorgeous brunette with chocolate brown eyes and the most even complexioned, peach-tinged skin.
She was in jeans and a sweater but Hal could tell from what he saw she probably had a banging bod. Not, he admitted to himself that he’d make moves on his employers best friend, but at least she wasn’t Ugly Betty. He’d been picturing some chubby eye-sore who couldn’t get her own date. Pleasant surprise she turned out to be Angelina Jolie’s little sister.
“I know you don’t want to talk shop but what kind of lawyer are you?” she asked him now.
Even her voice was perfect.
“Corporate law. The boring, tedious kind.”
“I’ll bet.” Then she changed the subject politely, including him in the exchange she made with her friends.
It went on for about twenty minutes before Dana announced they’d only wait ten more minutes for Jesse before starting dinner.
“I’m starting to feel faint,” one of their friends, Dwight, complained. “Remind me why we are waiting?”
Sam smiled proudly, “Because my big brother’s in town, man!”
“My brother lives down the road from here,” Dwight responded lightly, “if he’s late, he’s late.”
Everyone laughed because they knew it was a different case entirely with Sam and Jesse.
Just before the ten minute period was up, the doorbell rang. Dana offered to get it. Sam grinned but couldn’t sit still. He followed close behind his wife and could be heard saying, “Hey, you made it!” a moment later.
“Yeah. Sorry, a couple clients came in late…” a voice said apologetically. A mellow baritone.
Pearl chuckled. “It’s like we’re the parents waiting to meet the boyfriend.”
Her friends laughed as they realised all conversation had stopped after the doorbell.
None of them had ever actually met Jesse. Neither had they seen anything other than some baby and childhood photos and pictures he had taken. He never seemed to be in a frame. Caila had done a Google search on Jesse but Pearl said she’d simply believe her friend when she said he was to die for.
Whenever Sam saw him, he travelled out or they met away from the city where he, Pearl and most of their friends lived. Sam’s excuse always was he had more than taking pictures on his mind when he met his brother. He’d even been mysteriously missing from Sam’s wedding or else they would have all met him years ago. So when the three of them came back into the room, everyone was expectant, curious and interested. Only Pearl was dumbfounded.
Dwight Townbury look intrigued. The interim country club president stood up to be introduced. Caila, the art collector seemed happy to see the internet hadn’t lied to her- he represented Sam’s family well- he was hot. Mandy and John were the other two lawyers in the group that evening and the former looked ready to pounce. Bridget and her husband had politely curious expressions ready and Hal didn’t look much interested in Jesse but when his date rounded the corner, his eyes lit up. He wouldn’t have to fight for Pearl’s attention after all.
Or maybe he would.
She was staring at him, her mouth slightly ajar, eyes wide.
Hal nudged her and she shut her mouth.
“Thanks,” she murmured.
“Everyone,” Sam began, still obviously pleased with Jesse, “this is Jesse, my big brother. Jesse this is Dwight.”
“The financier,” Jesse said, as if putting what he had been told together with the face he was finally seeing.
“The art collector?”
“Right! Bridget and Otto.”
“Professor and star photographer.”
“Mandy and John?”
“This is Hal, my employee and Pearl.”
“The peculiar patient.” Jesse smiled as their eyes met. “Great to finally meet you all.”
Sam looked at Pearl then at his brother. “You’ve met?”
“Yesterday, it seems,” Pearl admitted. “I just didn’t know he was Jesse!”
The handsome doctor smiled and reached a hand out for his companion. “Everyone, this is Christina by the way.”
“Hi, Christina,” they greeted her.
Then Dwight said, “Can we please eat now?”
Dana took him by the arm, saying, “Yes, sweetheart, we can eat now.”
Jesse looked surprised, “You were waiting for us? Gosh, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it!” Sam said. “Dwight’s just a big baby.”
“Where can I put this?” Christina asked, holding what looked like a blueberry pie.
“I’ll take it,” Pearl offered, needing no directions to the kitchen. Heading off alone, she put it on the counter and turned back toward the dining room.
Taking her place next to Hal, she reached for his hand, taking hold of it gently. He looked at her, surprised.
“We need to pray,” she explained softly. She held Otto’s hand on her other side.
Everyone else followed suit.
“Reverend Guthrie, would you do the honours?” Sam said, affecting a southern accent.
Pearl spoke, “Let us bow our heads and pray.”
In the reverent hush, she asked God to bless the food and every recipient, not forgetting those who went without.
“We ask this humbly, amen.”
“Amen!” they chorused.
“Any man,” Mandy muttered.
Christina was sitting across from Pearl so she got a good look at the lady Jesse had called ‘peculiar’. He must have meant her behaviour or illness because there was nothing obviously wrong with her face.
Her large almond eyes and pretty lips were perfect for her face. The forehead with evenly arched eyebrows and the high cheekbones completed a lovely face, housing a cute, straight little nose. She hadn’t looked overly tall when they’d stood for supper and yet she was no diminutive woman. Her skin glowed and she looked very vibrant. Very alive.
Her thoughts were interrupted by Dana asking her what she would like to drink with her salad.
“Wine would be great thanks.”
“Are you a doctor, too?” Otto asked Christina.
“Ah, that would explain the way you were looking at Pearl. Lovely skin, right?”
Christina laughed. “Yes.” She turned to Pearl. “ I hope I wasn’t making you uncomfortable. My husband always tells me I stare.”
“You’re married?” Mandy asked.
“Well, was married. Nasty divorce, actually.”
“Which,” Jesse interjected, “is why I brought her as my date, so let’s change the subject!”
“Hear, hear,” John said drily. “The word divorce gives me hiccups anyway.” He had also been through a bad one.
“So, let me tell you about my wonderful new mural!” Caila said jovially. She was a larger than life woman. Robust and with a thousand stories to tell.
Pearl listened with half an ear. She looked at her best friend Sam and she could tell why he loved these nights. To have everyone you care about in one room at once was a blessing. Tonight was doubly special because of Jesse Murray being there.
The two had been separated when Sam was five and Jesse had been ten. Their parents had split up and each taken a child. Growing up they lost touch, Jesse living in Europe and Asia with their dad, while Sam stayed with their mother in America. As they had grown, the letters gradually came less frequently from both sides and then stopped altogether, save the holiday and birthday cards.
Thirteen years later, when their father passed on, they saw each other at the funeral. They hardly spoke however, Sam being so devastated that he’d never really known his father. He’d only been to see him once over a summer where Jesse had been stuck in school. Their mother had reintroduced them but it had been rather awkward, she not knowing her older son the way she had once known him.
It would be another six years before they met face to face when Sam went to Bulgaria. Since then they had grown closer and Sam treasured every moment of it.
His brother had decided to return to America but he was currently based in San Francisco, to be near their paternal grandmother. Pearl knew that Sam wanted Jesse to migrate even further south to bring him closer to their mother and himself. Now, however, Sam was speaking to her.
“Pearl, babe, you told me to remind about your doctor’s visit.”
She groaned and glanced at Sam, then Jesse, who was looking at her with amusement. She smiled, “You do understand my perspective, right, Doc?”
He chuckled with a nod so she turned back to Sam. “Remember that doctor you thought I snagged?”
Sam nodded and she pointed to his brother.
“Jesse?” he cried incredulously. “Explain,” he insisted, shaking his head.
So she did, and everyone burst out laughing when she got to the part about medical romance.
“Yeah,” she said wryly, “I know.”
“I can’t believe you thought it was a pick up line,” Dana said.
“Well, I was tired and it’s not like I knew it was Jesse. Haven’t you ever heard that one before?” she asked, chuckling. “It’s one of the lamest pick-up lines, I swear!”
“Yes, it is!” Mandy chipped in.
“So the name Murray didn’t ring a bell?” Sam chipped in.
“No, it’s not exactly like Depardieu where you’d start asking about common relations.”
“True. But wait a minute, Jesse- you’re already working in town?”
Jesse put his fork down. “No. I was actually visiting a friend and she convinced me to hang around. I offered to take a few strays she hadn’t scheduled.”
“Ever the gentleman,” Christina murmured.
“You flatter me,” he chuckled. “The sooner she finished, the sooner we could have coffee!”