A Road Trip Fantasy Pt. 04

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Babes

1

“You’re doing what?” Jennifer sat up straight on her futon with the phone pressed tight to the side of her face.

Aaron’s exasperated sigh echoed in her ear, and his tone changed again, like he was explaining something to a simpleton for the umpteenth time even though this was the first time he was repeating himself. “I’m driving up to check on Cathy and help out while her mom’s in the hospital.”

“You’re going up for just the day?”

“No, I’ll be there through Sunday afternoon at least. It depends on how she’s doing.”

How who’s doing? Jen wondered to herself. The ex-mother-in-law or the ex-wife? Out loud she said, “And why are you going up?”

He paused again, but so much annoyance radiated through the phone her cheek burned. The great Dr. Stevens was not accustomed to having his decisions questioned. I knew you’d act this way that pause said. “Because she’s my ex-wife, and her mom’s sick.”

“Yes, your ex-wife. Ex being the operative word here.”

There was that sigh again and the I-can’t-believe-I’m-explaining-this-again tone. “Her mom’s sick, she needs some support, and I’m a doctor. I can help translate what’s going on and make sure they’re taking good care of her.”

“You’re a pediatrician, not an internist, and I’m sure she has other friends.”

“I resent that, and I’m more of a doctor than you. I think I can be helpful.” There it was, unsaid in all this time, but he was pulling rank on her, the lowly medical assistant struggling through school to better herself while there he was the high and mighty successful doctor. “You’re just acting jealous and unreasonable.”

“I may be jealous, but I am not being unreasonable. What would you say if I wanted to go hang out with an ex-boyfriend all weekend?”

“An ex-boyfriend is not the same as an ex-spouse, and I am not just hanging out with her.”

Jen snorted. “And where will you be staying while you’re helping out.” He could not see the air quotes she made around the last two words, but she hoped the sarcasm dripping from her tone got the point across.

“I’ll be staying at her house, in the spare room.” No sarcasm in his tone, just anger.

Her own simmering temper boiled over as well. “And you expect me to be okay with you sleeping in your ex-wife’s house all weekend? That’s supposed to just be peachy with me? I cannot believe you are even thinking about doing this, let alone telling me it’s what you’re doing.”

“You know what? It’s not your decision. I could have just gone, and you’d never’ve known the difference, but I’m having the courtesy to let you know. I really don’t care what you think, I’m going.”

“Fine. Go, but don’t plan on calling me.”

“I won’t.”

“Fine.”

“Fine.”

Jen hit the end call button and tossed her phone onto the futon where it bounced, ricocheted off the edge of the coffee table, and clattered out across the rug. She could not decide if she had heard dead air before she hung up on him or not. She hoped he had gotten the dead air first.

She stared at the upside down phone. She wanted to pick it back up and throw it again, but that would only succeed in breaking it, and she had resisted the sales pitch to buy the extended warranty. Truth be told, she could barely afford the payments anyway what with school bills, rent, food, and no actual paying job while she was in nursing school. Maybe she should have tried harder to stay in San Diego where she could have lived at home and at least saved on rent and food.

Instead, she let out a growl of frustration, grabbed up a pen and tossed that across the room, and swiped her text books off the table and across the floor. Then she buried her head in her hands.

How could he be doing this to her now?

Jen needed to get out. She retrieved her phone, the screen was still intact thank goodness, snatched her keys off the counter, and slammed the front door behind her on the way out into the hot muggy morning air.

It was too hot and sticky to walk or go for a run, and so she climbed into her car and drove to the mall of all places. She was too broke to do any real shopping, but at least there was air conditioning, and she could move and use up that pent up, antsy energy. As she walked, she tried calling her sister, Rebecca, but it went to voicemail. She thought about trying one of her classmates, but she knew Marissa and Sam were on the wards today, and Stacy never got out of bed before noon if she could avoid it.

In the end, Jen bought herself a frozen yogurt and plopped down on one of the bright red plastic chairs to enjoy it. Well, enjoying it was a stretch. She was still too upset to enjoy much of anything at the moment. The eating was just mechanical, something to do.

Maybe he had changed his mind.

She pulled out her phone and swiped the screen until she came to an app she rarely used. It connected to Aaron’s car, and told her where he was driving. He had given her the code months ago, and she had used the poker oyna app a handful of times to see if he was done at the office before she called him in the evening.

The little gear spun on the screen for almost thirty seconds before the app made the connection. The status screen said, “Driving.” Jen tapped, and the screen switched to a map with a red arrow in the center. The arrow was pointing roughly north along Interstate 5 near Oceanside. He had gone. Next to the arrow, his speed was listed at 11 miles an hour. She closed the app. “I hope you sit in traffic all day.”

Jen slumped back down in her chair and took another sullen bite of her yogurt.

2

Aaron was still fuming when he pulled up in front of a beige two-story house which was indistinguishable from all the other beige two-story homes up and down the street save for the back metal numbers next to the garage door. He had all the windows rolled down and the sunroof open. While they closed, he picked up his phone.

He knew Jennifer had not called while he was driving because the phone was connected to the car’s Bluetooth, and it would have interrupted the music if someone had called. A text might have escaped his notice. Well, given how bad the traffic had been with not one but two accidents, the more than two hour trek from San Diego to Irvine had provided him ample opportunity to check for messages, but maybe one had come through in the last few blocks. None had.

Jen could be stubborn, and Aaron could see her digging in her heels over this and refusing to apologize.

Fine. He could be just as stubborn if need be. In any case, he had more important jobs to do today.

He was about to push the doorbell for a second time, when he heard footsteps from inside, and Catherine’s familiar voice. “Coming.”

The door swung open bringing the former spouses face to face for the first time in more than two years. In fact, the last time Aaron had seen her in person was the day he hopped a plane to San Francisco and left her to pack up her belongings and disappear from San Diego. After that, the divorce had proceeded with telephone calls and stacks of paperwork to sign from the lawyers, and they had only spoken on the phone.

Catherine Deschamps, Esquire was just like Aaron remembered her, beautiful. She had changed her hairstyle again but that went with the territory. Even while they had been dating, she sported a new do every few months, and heaven forbid Aaron to ever comment he might have just slightly preferred one of the older ones to her latest.

Standing on the stoop, he had to look up slightly to meet her dark brown, almost black eyes. Her smile was a dentist’s pride with gleaming white, perfectly straight teeth. Her skin was a smooth and clear as when he had first met her despite the years that had rolled away behind them. Underneath all of that, Aaron recognized the lingering tension in the tightening of the skin around her eyes, the set of her shoulders where they extended out of her tank top, and the slight twist of her head to the left.

Both rather unsure how to greet one another after all this time or perhaps just sizing each other up, the pair stood and stared for a handful of seconds. Cathy’s smile became a little wistful. “Thanks for coming, Aaron.” She opened her arms, and Aaron stepped up and into them.

Now he was two inches taller than her again, and their bodies came together in a familiar embrace, like two puzzle pieces snapping into place with the side of his chin resting against her ear, her arms tucked under his to squeeze around his mid back, the firm pressure of her breasts against his chest, and the feeling of her breath on his neck. That hug was coming home and all those old emotions swam to the surface.

3

Rebecca called her back thirty minutes or so later and let Jennifer vent her spleen. Getting it out made her feel better, and she was pleased her sister just agreed with her. Jen knewAaron had made a good impression on her sister, but Rebecca’s loyalties lay with her family. In fact, her only concession on Aaron’s behalf was to assure Jen, “Once he gets there, he’ll have calmed down and’ll call to apologize.” At least Rebecca remembered what it had been like when Roger cheated on Jen, and she defended him no further.

When Jen got home, she pulled up the car app again. Aaron’s car was parked in front of a house in Irvine. Now she knew where Catherine lived, more information she did not want. Contrary to Rebecca’s prediction, Aaron did not call.

That afternoon, when Marissa and Sam finished their morning shifts, Stacy and Jen met them at Sam’s apartment for a study session. They studied together and talked about the ward work. Stacy and Jen had drawn Sunday morning shifts, and they pumped Sam and Marissa for any pointers. Having offloaded most of her feelings on Rebecca, Jen kept mum about the fight with Aaron. She did peek at the app again later to find his car was now parked at the UC Irvine canlı poker oyna Medical Center. At least that part of his story checked out. Still he did not call.

The summer sun was still up in the sky, but it was past dinner time when Stacy dropped Jen off at her apartment. Marissa and Sam had wanted to go out for dinner, but Jen pleaded poverty and a need for sleep. For once, Stacy concurred. In reality, Jen really just wanted to be alone to stew over Aaron’s little trip.

Up in her apartment, Jen started warming some food in the microwave and pulled up the app one more time. Now Aaron’s car was parked near a restaurant. She googled it and found it was French and expensive.

Her microwave beeped.

Here she was sitting all alone eating a frozen dinner while he was out drinking wine and eating fine cuisine with his ex-wife.

Jen almost dumped the tray straight into the trash but thought better of it and forced herself to eat. She had an early morning and would need the energy.

When she was drying off after her shower, her phone started a familiar ring, but she let it go to voicemail. “I hope you enjoyed your dinner,” she told the phone when it finally stopped ringing. “I didn’t.” Before he could try calling again, Jen switched the phone to Do Not Disturb, toggled it to vibrate, dropped it on the futon in the family room and went to bed with the door closed.

She tossed and turned and seethed for what seemed like hours, but eventually sleep came.

4

After their embrace on her front doorstep, Catherine led Aaron inside. “Can I get you something to eat or drink?”

“Just some water. I’m not very hungry.” He was glad she did not ask why.

As Aaron expected, Catherine’s house was immaculate. The tile floor that covered most of the downstairs was gleaming white without a scuff mark in sight.

Well trained in his married life to Catherine, Aaron deposited his shoes on the shoe rack in the coat closet which stood just to the left of the front door next to a small half bath. Just beyond those two doors, beige carpeted stairs led to the second floor.

The downstairs was largely open with a study to the right of the entryway decked out in light grey carpeting and modern, minimalist furniture. The desk supported a sleek silver computer screen and a single stack of well aligned papers topped with a single pen.

The remaining back half of the house was one large room, subdivided by furniture and counters into a kitchen, dining room and living room. The coffee table was glass and silver metal, and her sectional couches were black leather sitting in front of a white brick, gas fireplace. The kitchen table seemed to be a larger, taller cousin of the coffee table with high backed, black chairs. A counter top set off the kitchen from the other two rooms. Again, the counter tops were white tile, and all the appliances were stainless steel. The back wall of the house was almost all glass allowing a view of a shaded patio, well trimmed lawn, pomegranate and orange trees, and a line of rose bushes along the stucco wall that marked the end of the yard.

Aaron set his small bag down on one of the dining room chairs and leaned against the kitchen counter. Cathy set a tall glass of ice water and coaster in front of him and went back for one of her own.

“You must have hit traffic on the way up,” she said over the noise of the ice dispenser.

“Eh, you know how it is. I got started later than I hoped. Sorry to keep you waiting.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it. Dad and Michael are already at the hospital. Still waiting on tests from this morning. We have some time.”

“How’s your mom doing?”

“Better this morning, Dad says. Less confused and more with it. The doctors say they think it’s an infection, not a stroke, which is good news.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” Aaron drained his glass and set it on the coaster.

“Seconds?”

“No, I’m good for now.” They regarded each other from opposites sides of the counter while she sipped her water.

“You’re looking good, Aaron. How long has it been now?”

“Pushing two years. You look just the same as the last time I saw you, except the hair of course.” He gestured to her latest do.

She patted her hair and smiled. “Just got this done a week ago.”

“It looks good on you.”

Cathy rolled her eyes, but the smile on her lips was genuine enough. “You always say that.”

“Well, it’s true.” He shrugged. “Of course, I did learn my lesson the first time I saw you with a new style.”

She snorted and her voice changed to an imitation of Aaron’s. “‘What did you do to your hair? It looked so much better before.'”

“Okay, that is not what I said, and even if I did think that, I never would have said it like that.”

“The look on your face said it every time. You just got better at hiding it.” They both laughed a little at the memories, before Cathy sighed. “I knew I should have dumped you then instead of wasting internet casino all those years.”

Aaron looked a little hurt at that. “Hey, we had some good times together, like that trip to Toronto and Michael’s wedding.”

“Yeah, Toronto was nice.” The mists of memory clouded Cathy’s eyes. “Or that little place we rented in OB before we bought the house.”

“Oh yes, the one in smelling distance of that greasy breakfast place. I could feel my arteries hardening every time I breathed in.”

Cathy laughed. “You are such the doctor still.”

Aaron gave a what-do-you-expect shrug. “That and the yodeler next door.”

“Oh, my god, I forgot all about him.”

“How could you forget about one AM yodeling?”

“I guess I blocked it out. How come you never went and told him off for me?”

“Because he was like six-six, outweighed me by about three hundred pounds, and was covered in tats.”

“Really? Fergus was the yodeler? No wonder everyone put up with it. Still, it was our first place together.”

Aaron reached out and squeezed her hand. “Yeah, that’s true. I guess it was pretty special.” They gazed at each other, weighing the time between them, good and bad. “How did you know his name was Fergus?”

Cathy gave him a sly smile and a sideways look. “Back in the day, Fergus was a little sweet on me, what with you working all those long hours.”

“What?”

Cathy glanced at her iWatch. “Time to go see Mom. I’ll grab my purse. You’re driving.”

Aaron threw up his hands but followed dutifully along.

By the time they reached the hospital, the hospitalist had already done rounds and moved on to new admissions and the rest of the day’s work. Jeanine was dozing in bed while her IV beeped quietly when they arrived but roused herself to greet her ex-son-in-law. Although Lonny and his children both said Jeanine was doing better, Aaron was a little unsure if she knew Aaron was an ex. He talked with the family and then the nurse who promised to page the hospitalist and let her know the family was there and wanted to speak with her.

While he waited, Aaron pulled out his phone again. Still no texts or calls from Jen. He sighed and stowed the phone. He would call her later if she did not call by dinner time.

Five minutes later, he was reaching for his phone again like a smoker looking for that familiar fix. On a normal weekend, they would have traded messages half a dozen times or more already, unless one of them was working. What was her schedule this weekend? He knew she had some weekend clinical rotations in the hospital. Maybe that was today. He left the phone where it was.

When the hospitalist, Dr. Nguyen, arrived Cathy morphed into her cross-examination alter ego, trying to ferret out any inconsistencies in the diagnostic and treatment plans. Dr. Nguyen knew her job and had the right answers within the realm of the pending studies. Aaron had a few questions of his own, but the answers and test results were reassuring.

Jeanine’s confusion seemed a combination of an increased dose of a blood pressure medication, some anemia, and a urinary tract infection. The rest of her lab work was essentially normal, and the CT scan of her brain the night before did not reveal any signs of the stroke the Deschamps had feared. Given her decompensation the night before and not being quite back to her baseline yet, Dr. Nguyen planned on keeping Jeanine one more night until they had the culture and sensitivities from her urinary tract infection and gotten her on a new antihypertensive. Then the busy doctor’s phone went off, and she excused herself to other duties. Before she left the ward, she did ask the nurse to give Aaron and the family copies of the lab work and tests to review at their leisure.

By late afternoon, Jeanine was tired again and the rest of the family was hungry, including Aaron who had skipped lunch. In case Jeanine forgot where they had gone when she woke up, Lonny told the nurse that they were going for a bite to eat, and he would be back later in the evening. Then he put one of his big arms around Aaron’s shoulder. “Thanks for coming up to check on Jeanine. It’s a long drive, and I know you aren’t obligated to be here anymore.”

“It’s never a problem.” Aaron looked over at Catherine. “No matter what, you’ll still always be a part of my family.”

Lonny chuckled. “Then you best come to the family dinner to celebrate that my wife isn’t dying yet.”

That family dinner could be no where else but at Chateau Deschamps, the restaurant Lonny and Jeanine had founded more than forty years ago. It had been a struggle for a decade or more of Catherine’s and Michael’s childhood, but the restaurant had flourished in its second and third decades to leave Lonny and Jeanine a tidy nest egg for their retirement. In its fourth decade, the restaurant still filled the seats even midweek as Michael took on more of the daily responsibilities of running the restaurant. He was competing against wave after wave of new hot spots, large chains buying up the competition, and the new landscape of maintaining a social media presence to bring in the younger, monied crowd while not alienating the older regulars who came season in and season out.

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