Isabel and I blasted east from Seattle on I-90, sunshine half-blinding us in the early morning. Next stop: Boston, Massachusetts. Well, not really. But it was our ultimate destination.
Isabel had never been east of Boise and could scarcely contain her excitement. I’d traveled all over the country, but nearly always by plane. So this trip would be an adventure for me as well, and there was no one, other than my fiancé, that I’d rather share it with.
We’d come up with a theme for our road trip – anti-Thelma and Louise. We vowed not to go into any dive bars, hook up with men, kill anyone, or commit any robberies. Just two chicks, friends since high school, in a sports car with loud music. In the days preceding our departure Isabel helped me pack up my life into a moving van. What little would fit into my Acura NSX had been crammed into every available space. Mostly our clothes, but I’d also wanted a few important personal items with me, like my 36 ounce travel coffee mug. Now, that was important.
Our route would take us across the country on I-90, the most direct route between Seattle and Boston. Taking no chances, I’d bought a road atlas and GPS, though we had our phones and iPads for supplemental help. Jesus, if we got lost on the freeway, we were pretty pathetic. Derek, my fiancé, had admonished us not to get distracted on side trips to interesting tourist locales. He didn’t like the idea of two women alone on the road in the first place, but he’d been unable to leave his work to drive with me. After all, he owned and directed an acclaimed medical clinic, Boston Nephrology, where I would be coming on as a physician and part owner. He couldn’t just gallivant off for weeks with little notice.
He’d made me promise to text him at every stop, which I agreed to but had no intention of doing. I loved the man, but every once in a while our age difference got my back up – like when he treated me like a naïve little girl. He didn’t like it when I reminded him that I’d lived alone in Seattle for years, during medical school and beyond, that I could take care of myself. He wanted to protect me, I supposed. Perhaps a woman near his age, fifty-two, would find that flattering and endearing. I did not.
I shook myself out of dark thoughts. It was because of Derek that I was leaving the Northwest and my life. I couldn’t imagine not being with him; the overprotection notwithstanding. We had our work in common, great sex, communication, and, perhaps most importantly, friendship. I could talk to him about anything. Except, perhaps, how I disliked being treated like an irresponsible teenager. I supposed he couldn’t help it, really, since his own daughter was an irresponsible teenager.
“Hey, you want one of these doughnuts?” Isabel interrupted my thoughts. She was peering into a white paper bag. We’d ordered an assortment of pastries when we got coffee on our way out of town.
“Sure,” I said.
She wrapped one of the glazed old-fashioneds (because she knew I liked those) in a napkin and gingerly handed it to me. “I bet Derek wouldn’t do that,” she teased me.
She’d been coming up with digs like this, to justify why road-tripping with her was better than with him. Even though she’d never met him.
“You’re right,” I smiled, taking a bite. “You know guys. He’d probably have me wipe my hands on the road map when I was done.”
We giggled at our little joke on him. What I didn’t say was that he probably would have put the doughnut in a napkin, but not wrapped as neatly. He was a doctor, after all. We tended to be a fastidious lot, for the most part.
I glanced at her as she took a powdered doughnut for herself. God, I loved this woman. We’d supported each other through bad relationships, jobs, poverty, fears, and joys. Her daughter called me Aunt Shiloh. I loved Isabel far more than my own half-sisters.
She smiled at me, her beautiful teeth gleaming. I’d often envied her Hispanic good looks and coloring and glorious dark hair with its reddish highlights. Her skin was so smooth and perfect that she rarely needed foundation. I was that blonde with the blotchy sensitive skin that broke out to everything, especially stress. I’d managed to get it into better condition the last few years but it required constant maintenance.
“Tila was still begging me to come last night,” she said, shaking her head. “But she’s fine with my Mom. She wants us to have a good time.”
Her five year old would have been fun, but my tiny car would not accommodate the three of us comfortably on a long trip like this.
“I know you miss her,” I said. “But you deserve an adventure.”
“That’s what my Mom said. She loves you, she wants us to enjoy ourselves. She just doesn’t want you to introduce me to anyone in Boston. You know, men. She doesn’t want me moving away.”
I laughed. “You could always have her move, too.”
“Oh hell no. She’d never leave Wenatchee.”
Wenatchee, where we’d both grown up, was a beautiful town in the Cascade Mountains not far from Seattle. It was the center of the lucrative tree fruit industry, on the banks of the beautiful Columbia River. A good place to grow up. Isabel’s family had come there two generations ago as migrants from Mexico, to work in the orchards. Isabel’s parents had run a small business, and she’d become a successful real estate agent.
“I want you to come and see us as much as you want,” I told her. “The house is huge. Everything about it. Bedrooms, kitchen, living rooms. I’d love for us to sit at the bar in the kitchen and drink coffee together.”
“We will!” she said, downing her last bite. “In just a few days.”
“I can’t wait for you to see it, and to meet Derek.”
Derek’s home, a large colonial style manse, had intimidated me at first with its size and modern appliances and security systems. In the few days I’d been there I’d grown to love it and look forward to living there.
“What about your wedding? When and where? Have you decided?”
I sighed, handing her the now-empty napkin after I wiped my mouth. “Not for sure. I kind of wanted to do it in Leavenworth, but I’m going to be in Boston so it’ll be hard to plan long distance.”
Leavenworth was a small town near Wenatchee, known for its Bavarian themed architecture and setting in the mountains.
“You can do it all online,” she pointed out.
“I suppose I could.”
“You just don’t want your family there,” she said with a nod.
“Well, you know how they are,” I grudgingly admitted.
“It’s just one day. It wouldn’t kill you to let them have a celebration.”
“No, but it’d just be for my Dad to brag to his friends about his daughter the doctor marrying a doctor, and my Mom to act like she’s important because she disgorged me from her uterus.”
Isabel broke into peals of laughter.
“It’s true!” I asserted. “And I’m getting sick of saying no to my junkie half-siblings asking me to write them prescriptions for opiates.” I gripped the steering wheel with both hands and made a face.
“One day? Come on. It wouldn’t be so bad.”
“Yeah, it’s supposed to be the happiest day of my life. And they would all fuck it up.”
“What does Derek want?”
“He wants to honeymoon in the Caribbean or Hawaii.”
“But he doesn’t care about the wedding?”
I shrugged. “He wants me to have whatever I want. I’m thinking we should just elope.”
“Oh no you don’t,” she scolded me. “Tila has her heart set on being your flower girl. You can’t disappoint her.”
I smiled over at her. “Oh, I forgot. Of course. She’ll be beautiful.”
“So what family does Derek have? Would they all come to Leavenworth?”
“Probably. There’s his mother and his kids. I think he has a brother somewhere. I don’t know about anyone else.”
“Ooh, what’s his Mom like?” she wanted to know.
“She’s great. She was an actress in bit parts when she was younger. Derek’s Dad worked in Hollywood, he was a set designer.”
“Wow, so he grew up down there?”
I nodded. “Yeah, I was thinking of trying to talk him into moving back to California. I think she’d like to go. The winters in Boston are a bitch.”
“So she lives there?”
“Yes, he moved her there to be close to him. But he’d have either sell the clinic or turn it over to someone else to run, and I don’t know if he’d want to do that. At least maybe not yet.”
She sipped coffee and readjusted herself in the leather seat. “He’s too young to retire, I suppose.”
“He could retire anytime he wanted to,” I assured her. “But I don’t think he’s ready. Though he did promise me he’d cut back on work when we have a baby.”
“So he agreed to that?”
“Yes, I was reluctant to marry him, you know. He kept telling me he was okay with us having a baby but I thought he was just saying it to make me happy. I didn’t want a baby unless he did, too. You know? It would be like being a single parent if all he did was just work all the time and never be there with us.”
“He says he wants to make up for how hands-off he was with his older kids. He wants to be more involved with ours. He was building his clinic when he was younger, beginning to get into research and academic writing.”
“That wife of his, she sounds like a real trainwreck,” Isabel rolled her eyes.
“Yeah,” I had to agree. But thankfully, the divorce would be final in a month or so, formalizing the separation between her and Derek that had begun several years earlier. Brenda had tried to snag a part ownership in the clinic, but when we learned she had a drug conviction in New York state, the judge held that she should not be allowed any part of a medical facility. This was a real victory for Derek; Boston Nephrology represented his life’s work.
“Meanwhile,” Isabel said with a heavy sigh, “my life continues to pass me by, Tila gets older, and I go to bed alone every night.”
I reached over and squeezed her hand. “You’re young yet, Izzy. Don’t give up.”
“My Mom says that, too, but it sure doesn’t feel like I’m ever going to find love.”
Her ex-husband turned out to be abusive, but she did get her child from that experience. She’d turned motherhood into her passion but I knew she longed to be loved.
“What happened to that other guy?” she asked me.
“The surgeon. You went out with him and slept with him.”
“Oh,” I said, a shiver coursing through my body. “Trevor.”
“He got back with his wife, then,” she surmised.
“Well, yeah, he kind of had to. The whole thing with his Dad and her working for him.”
“That is so fucking unbelievable,” she shook her head.
She was right. Doctor Trevor Banks was the son of Kyle Banks, a former Governor of Idaho who was now running for President of the United States. Trevor’s wife was his campaign manager and had demanded that Trevor leave his residency at the University of Washington to work on the campaign and try to save their marriage. While Trevor ostensibly agreed to this, he continued to call me despite my having blocked him twice now. The last time he texted me he’d said he couldn’t let me marry Derek. How laughable. What was he going to do about it?
“So who’s better in bed?” she asked me in typical Isabel fashion – direct as all hell.
I was used to her bluntness. “They’re both good. But you know I’ve always liked older men because they take their time.”
“Mmm,” she closed her eyes for a moment. “God, it’s been a long time since I had someone.”
“You will,” I assured her.
“I’m getting worried there’s no one in Wenatchee, though,” she said with a sigh. “It’s not that big. I may have to widen my search area.”
I laughed. “Well, why not? There has to be someone within a reasonable distance. Have you tried those dating sites?”
She scowled, but nodded. “I have. I’m on a couple of them, but they keep sending me matches with guys I wouldn’t be caught dead with.”
“What’s so bad about them?”
“I think they all live at home in their mothers’ basements,” she shook her head. “I mean, when a thirty-five year old guy says he likes gaming and anime, it’s like, are you sixteen?”
“Oh god,” I smiled. “Seriously?”
“Yes. At least you’ve been around professionals. You have prospects with people who got off their asses and went to college, you know? I know I only have an AA and a real estate license, but come on. I’m sure not looking for someone I have to support.”
“Sadly, that’s what a lot of them are after. I met plenty, too,” I said with a sigh. “It wasn’t all doctors, you know.”
“You paid your dues,” she agreed. “I also have to be careful with Tila. I’m not going to let her be around just anybody. I’ll hire a fucking detective to vet anyone I get serious about. He’s going to have to be a boy scout to get my approval to meet her.”
“Don’t worry about that. Your Mom will put him through the wringer.”
We both laughed. Isabel’s mother, while she longed for her daughter to marry and have more babies, had a severely critical eye and pretty good judgment about the men she dated. How she’d missed the creep Isabel actually married was beyond me.
“Rest area!” she cried and pointed at the sign. “I have to pee after all that coffee.”
So did I. We took the exit and stretched our legs for a few minutes. The cool morning air reminded us that it was still only early spring. I tried not to shiver as I checked my phone. No messages yet from Derek. I’d texted him when we left town. I went ahead and let him know we’d stopped for a break, and sent him a photo of the picturesque rest area.
“Checking in with your master?” Isabel came up behind me.
“Don’t even say that,” I snapped.
“I’m teasing you. I wish I had someone who cared about me like that.”
I sighed, shoved the phone in my pocket and started for the car. We got in and strapped on our seatbelts. I looked over at her as I started up the car.
“I guess I should look at it that way, that he cares about me, and not that he’s trying to control me.”
“Has he ever done that?”
I shook my head. “No. Not really.” But a weird feeling entered my mind.
“I’ll be able to tell. That’s how Carlos was. Always making me call him so he knew where I was all the time, it was ridiculous. But I never took a road trip like this. He did it when I went to the goddamned grocery store.”
Those were dark days for her, I knew. I’d been struggling through medical school and hadn’t understood what she’d endured.
“I’m sorry you had to go through that,” I said as we merged back onto the freeway.
“Me too. But it taught me a hard lesson. It’ll never happen again.”