“Sis, you have to call Mom!” my brother yells into the phone. His agitated voice makes me shudder.
Okay, no, it’s not his voice, it’s what he’s saying.
“Ugh, Brad, don’t make me!” I groan.
“Come on, you missed your weekly pep talk, and now she keeps bugging me because she’s worried about you.”
“You call this a pep talk?” I snort. “Telling me that I didn’t turn out the way she expected is not a pep talk. Every week it’s the same – just a nurse – become a surgeon like your dad – or at least study medicine like your brother – blah blah blah,” I mimic my mother’s worried voice. “And she’s not worried about me. She’s worried that I won’t get a grip soon and finally get married and have lots of babies so she doesn’t look like a failure in front of her so-called friends who all have grown children with beautiful families of their own - because I’m the only one who can provide her with grandchildren.”
Brad snorts. “Hey, Stuart and I might adopt a baby one day.”
I let out an annoyed puff of air. "Even if you didn’t, you’ll always be her favorite. You being openly gay earned her so many points with her friends because you are so brave."
He laughs. “I can feel the air quotes through the phone, Em. And that’s bullshit. I’m not her favorite. I have to endure her pep talks too. But seriously... call her. Do you want her to board the next plane and show up on your doorstep? Because she will do that.”
“Oh no, anything but that. Fine. I will call her,” I sigh.
“You can do it, Em. And Mom does love you. She’s just not capable of showing it like normal people.”
“I appreciate the sentiment, but I’m pretty sure she would give me up for adoption if that were possible. Maybe you and Stuart could adopt me while we’re talking about that?”
Brad bursts out laughing. “Don’t be silly. Okay, sis, gotta run. Call Mom! Love you!”
“Yeah, okay. Love you too!”
After saying goodbye to my brother, I pace up and down my living room to gather all my patience and cool before I finally dial my mom’s number.
I take one last deep breath. Here goes nothing!
As usual, she picks up after the third ring. “Emma! At last!”
Precisely seventeen minutes later we end the call, and I grab my jacket and purse and leave my apartment to cool down. My mom really knows how to push my buttons.
Most days, we’re able to have a halfway civil conversation. Most days she can hide her irritation. Most days I can ignore her nagging.
Not today though. Today, the phone call was almost unbearable to endure because today, her tirade wasn’t about my job and my poor life choices. Today, she asked me if I really didn’t know what was wrong with me, why no man wanted to be with me and start a family. But not literally because my mom is very good at sugarcoating her hurtful words.
During our conversation, I had to take so many deep breaths that I was close to hyperventilating. And I was more than glad when she had to cut our little talk short because she was meeting the other desperate housewives from her neighborhood for their weekly exchange of gossip. Again, not what she literally said.
Ugh, that woman! It’s always been like this. She pushed and pressured me, claiming she wanted to get the best out of me. And now look what happened. I’m wasting my extraordinary talent.
Well, I’m happy with my life. Too bad if my mom can’t be happy for me.
I aimlessly walk through the streets of Manhattan for a while until I realize that I’m not far from the hospital. I check the time; it’s just after 3pm.
I know just the thing to cheer me up.
When I walk out of the elevator on the children’s ward where Paul is volunteering again today, I can already hear the laughing and giggling that always accompanies his songs. I go over to the big room where the children that are staying at the hospital right now are gathered around Paul and his guitar, singing along to a song about things that make you laugh.
I spot Tessa in a corner and walk over to her.
“Hey, Emma!” She beams at me. “How are you?”
“Hey, Tessa! I’m good, how about you guys? I haven’t seen you for a while.”
Tessa laughs. “That’s true. We’re good. Is it your day off?” She points to my clothes.
Usually, I’m only here when I’m working. I try to sneak off from the ER as often as possible when Paul is playing because I love how these kids’ faces gleam with joy when he’s here to sing with them. It makes me happy to see them like that, and that’s why I’m here now.
“Yes, it is. But as I said, I wanted to say hello to you guys. I haven’t heard Paul play for much too long. I love to see these kids so happy. And Paul’s music is amazing.”
Tessa looks over at Paul, and her whole face lights up with an enamored smile. “Yeah, true.” She turns to me. “How come I’ve never seen you at one of their gigs at the pub?”
I shrug. “They’re playing every Friday night, right?”
Tessa nods. “Yeah, at O’Reilly’s. You know that pub?”
“Yes, I do. Unfortunately, I work most Fridays.” I frown. “But now that I’ve met his two bandmates, I feel like I should come next time I’m not working on a Friday.”
“You definitely should; Paul, Henry, and Jack are awesome.”
Tessa grins at me, and inevitably, the guy I’ve been thinking about ever since I met him a little over a week ago is back on my mind.
Okay, Emma, no! Don’t start that conversation!
“So how’s Jack?”
Good job. I cringe internally at my apparent wish to torture myself. Why do I even go there?
“Jack? He’s good. Fully recovered I’d say. With no lasting damage. Meaning, he’s his usual introvert self with an aversion to human touch,” she chuckles.
“Yeah, I was wondering what that was all about. I thought he would faint when I had to clean his cut.”
Tessa shrugs. “According to Paul, something terrible happened in his past which he doesn’t talk about. And Paul won’t tell me either.”
Ah, damn! He’s a poor injured soul. Another reason to stay as far away from him as possible.
“Oh, by the way,” Tessa says. “Are you coming to Paul’s birthday party next Saturday?”
Knowing that, as Paul’s best friend, Jack will undoubtedly be there as well, I, of course, accept the invitation right away because I’m a little bit masochistic.
A few days later, I’m almost done with my twelve-hour-shift at the ER. Two more hours to go. Today was an exhausting day, but lately, most days have been exhausting, to be honest. I’m so tired most of the time. Stupid spring fever.
“Hey, Emma!” Abby turns up next to me while I clean up one of the exam rooms. “Could you take over one of my patients? I have to accompany this other guy to an MRI scan.”
I take the file from her. “Sure. What is it?”
“23-year-old woman. Probably dislocated shoulder. I called the orthopedist. He’ll be here shortly for reduction.” She grins. “Oh, and her husband is that hot friend of yours!” she says as she takes off.
“Wha–,” I start, but she’s already gone. I walk over to the exam room and think about Abby’s words. That hot friend of mine? Who the fuck is she talking ab–
As soon as I enter the room, my heartbeat accelerates and my breath hitches in my throat. Oh, that hot friend. Well, friend is a little overstated. That guy who I unsuccessfully tried to forget since I met him is more like it.
Jack sits on the exam table, arms crossed in front of his chest. Next to him sits a stunning young woman with shoulder length blonde hair and beautiful brown eyes. Wow.
Fuck, why is that such a disturbing thought? But what’s more important is, why the fuck am I such a mess right now? What does it matter if he’s married?
“Hey,” I say as I press the file close to my chest with crossed arms.
Jack looks up, and when he recognizes me, his eyes go wide for a moment before he says, “Oh, hi, Emma!”
Unsurprisingly, he still doesn’t smile at me. But hey, he remembered my name.
Which doesn’t matter at all, because he’s married, for goodness sake!
I look for the name on the file. Olivia Holmes. But wasn’t Jack’s last name Boyd?
Again, not important!
“Hi, Mrs. Holmes, I’m – well... I’m Emma,” I say and smile at her. And oh wonder, she smiles back! But then she hisses through her teeth when she accidentally moves her left arm, which she holds close to her body with her right.
“Sorry,” she grimaces. “Hurts like shit! Again, sorry!”
I shake my head and give her a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry. A dislocated shoulder hurts like shit. So what happened?”
She gives a scowling Jack a quick sideways look. “I fell off a ladder,” she explains. “We have this huge tree in our backyard, and the cat got stuck. I climbed up and somehow tripped. It was only the second or third step, but I fell on my arm and shoulder, and now it hurts but also feels kind of numb, and it looks weird.” She looks at Jack again. “Ugh! Dammit, Jack! Stop glaring at me! I’m sorry, okay?”
Jack grunts. “Damn, Liv. You could have waited for your husband, or called me.”
Now she glares at him. “Man, you’re the most annoying big brother on the face of this earth!”
I’ve been silently watching them until now, and I’d probably chuckle at their exchange if I weren’t so relieved. They are siblings?
The fact that I’m intensely happy right now worries me. Again, what does it change? I should not feel attracted to him.
But fuck, I do! The way I’m reacting to him now is a sure sign.
“So what happens next?” Olivia’s voice brings me back to reality.
I clear my throat. “Even though the diagnosis is pretty clear, the doctor will want to do an x-ray of your shoulder.”
Olivia frowns. “X-ray? Is that really necessary?”
I nod. “That’s the usual procedure. Why? What’s wrong?”
The frown on her forehead deepens, and she crooks her finger at me, asking me to come closer so she can whisper something in my ear. “I’m pregnant.”
“You’re what?” Jack yells and stares at her incredulously.
Olivia rolls her eyes and sighs. “Damn, I forgot your exceptional talent to hear things that are not intended for your ears.”
Jack gets up and paces back and forth. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“It’s still early on. Ethan and I weren’t gonna tell anyone yet. So, surprise!”
Jack runs his fingers through his hair. A gesture that doesn’t go unnoticed by me. “You have no fucking business climbing unstable ladders leaning against trees when you’re pregnant!” he grumbles.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake. Calm down, Jack!” Olivia rolls her eyes.
“She’s right,” I say and put my hand on Jack’s arm to stop him from pacing back and forth. Big mistake! He jumps at the contact and seems to be anything but willing to calm down.
“Sorry!” I quickly pull my hand away.
A frustrated groan escapes him, and he runs his hand over his face. “Fuck this. I’m waiting outside.”
And with that, he’s gone.
“Sorry about him,” Olivia sighs. “He needs a minute to cool down. He’s the most overprotective big brother. Along with Will, my other older brother, that is. Yeah, you guessed correctly, growing up was a blast with those two.”
I chuckle as she goes on, “So what happens now?”
“As x-ray is off the table, the doctor might do an ultrasound of your shoulder. And after it has been reduced, we’ll take you to the ob-gyn department to check on the baby.” I smile at her, and she beams back at me. “How far along are you?” I ask her.
“Only eight weeks, so we haven’t made it official yet. I’m glad my brother took the news so well.” She rolls her eyes. “Again, I’m sorry about Mr. Grumpy-Ass. But he’s not that bad once you get to know him better, right?”
I nod silently. Good to know.