I say goodbye to mother, arranging to meet her back at home after I finish my errands; the rest of my day goes by smoothly, with Greg nowhere to be seen, but I did receive a few hateful texts from him.
<> Humm…really? When, on your child’s eighteenth birthday?, I think.
I scroll through to another message, <<I’m so infuriated by you right now-I won’t be in the office. I’m going away for the weekend, don’t bother calling.>> Wasn’t planning on it.
And onto another text.
<< You’re a dick.>> Right back at you.
Exasperated and fed up- I turn my phone off, pick up the office phone, while packing up my things.
“June, did you get the address for Mrs. Nandez?”
“Yes, she called, while you were on lunch. I’ve got the address written down for you to grab on your way out”.
“Thank you. By the way- have Dr. Wingham’s clients been passed on to Dr. Strange or if not, they’ll need to be rescheduled. Is that alright?”
“Well, some have been rescheduled- he’s seen a few patients today- so all’s in order. Also, Sam left early seen as Dr. Wingham wouldn’t be in- I hope that was alright.”
“Yea…sure, we can’t make it a regular occurrence, but listen, go home early today- treat yourself. Maybe even go see that boyfriend you’re always talking about.”
“Umm…yea…him and I are so yesterday. You need to keep up with these things, Dr. Pierce- you’re falling behind,” she scolds.
I laugh, “I’m sure you’ll find the time to bring me up to date on Monday,” I hang up and sigh. How was the love life of an over zealous, forty-five year old more colourful than mine?, I thought. And women are supposed to love doctors…yea right.
I punch the address into my GPS and set off,- as I make my way towards the outskirts of town-it suddenly dawns on me that I’m heading to Mereside, one of the most underprivileged parts, on the outskirts of Brampford.
I turn right on Rydell Street, my GPS notifying me that I’m nearing my destination-looking out; my anxiety level rises as the houses roll past. Dilapidated house after dilapidated house stretch on for what seems like miles, some I hope so badly are not lived in. Fences hanging on hinges,broken windows, clothes laying on the lawns, garbage and old bicycles-this was beyond the poverty line. I pull up to Mrs. Nandez’s house, take a deep breath and step out of the car with the utmost trepidation. I lock my car door twice for good measure; as I step over some disused car part and a twisted up tire to get to the front door. I knock and wait, I can hear voices inside. I close my eyes and pray that it’s the correct address, because I couldn’t say that I would try another house in this neighbourhood. Footsteps approach the door; I clear my throat and swallow hard. Should I have told someone I was here?, I think; it’s too late as the lock turns. The door swings open and Taryn Franklin-Dorough’s face greets mine as my jaw hits the floor.
“What are YOU doing here?,” she asks clearly as surprised as I was, but her brain working much faster than mine
I recover, “I could ask you the same thing…,” I clear my throat one too many times.
“Yeah, except you’re clearly the one not in the right neighbourhood,” she says pointing at my car and my suit.
“Maybe not, but this is the address Mrs. Nandez gave me,” I pull out the note from June, “and I brought my kit,” I lift my bag to show her.
“Oh, Paola asked YOU to come? Urgh, I guess I won’t keep you then…,” she looks disappointed.
“Thanks I’d like to get home in one piece,” I mumble.
She shoots me a look as she steps aside from the open door, “What, it’s your first time on this side of the poverty line? Is it hurting your eyes so badly? It’s not THAT bad Dr. Pierce or should I say rich boy?,” she says as she takes my coat.
I flinch, but ignore her comment, “Jon is fine,” as I step into the well-lit bungalow- I look around the living room and kitchen area to find an immaculately clean house, despite its appearance on the outside. In every possible space on the wall, there are pictures of saints, I look back at Taryn- she was dressed more casually than the last time I saw her, but no less striking. Her hair was pulled up into a ponytail, with a few loose strands around her cheeks. Wearing a white t-shirt and the best fitting blue jeans I had ever seen, I admire and try not to blush.
“So, on a Friday night-instead of going out for drinks you’re making house calls in the wrong part of town?,” she asks.
I shrug, “I don’t have anyone to have drinks with, besides I met Mrs. Nandez at The Cambridge- she asked-I obliged. If you need to know, I don’t do much on- Fridays or any day,” I catch her eye, was that too forward?
“Oh…,” she shakes her head, there is a lingering silence for what seems like forever. She clears her throat and then rushes out, “I’ll take you to Danny- he’s in a bad way. Paola won’t let me touch him until a “doctor” got here”, she gestures with her hands, “didn’t expect it to be you, but yea…she still doesn’t believe I’m actually a qualified doctor…,” Taryn says bitterly.
“Oh…are you related to Mrs. Nandez? I mean how do you know her?,” I change my question when I catch the look Taryn shoots me.
Taryn let out a huge sigh and begins walking down the cramped hallway, “I grew up in this neighbourhood, her daughter was my best friend, Valerie got pregnant-I went to college, but kept in touch with Paola, especially after Valerie died.”
She opens the bedroom door before I could ask anything else. A pool of light comes flooding out of the room-Danny; Paola’s grandson was lying on a bed in the middle of the room. He was covered to his waist with a flannel blanket, his button down top was open, displaying his blood and sweat soaked chest. His face was pale and lifeless-there was a bloody shirt on the floor next to the bed and Paola was holding a towel to his lower abdomen.
I rush into the room, “What happened?”, I ask.
“Somebody stab him Dr. Please! You help him!,” pleads Mrs. Nandez.
“I’ll do my best, but why haven’t you taken him to a hospital?,” I reply as I rush over to the side of the bed, opening my bag and pulling on gloves. “He looks like he’s lost a lot of blood, how long has he been this way?,” I look up at Taryn this time for an answer.
She simply stares back, her eyes filled with sadness; she breaks eye contact and usher’s Mrs. Nandez out of the room to get more clean towels.
As I lift the make shift bandage, a gaping wound of approximately five inches greets me, fresh blood starts to ooze out from the gash.
“Dr. Fran-Taryn can you please take out the morphine from my bag and get an IV set up. I’m going to try and numb the pain as much as I can and I can disinfect the wound and suppress the bleeding, but you and I both know he needs a hospital. I won’t be able to tell if he has any internal injuries. He needs a surgeon, this wound appears to be very deep. Are you going to answer my question of how long he’s been like this? He NEEDS more medical attention!,” the frustration and stress of the situation was reaching its boiling point.
“NO!!! He must not! Hospital means policia, no policia!!!,” begs Paolo.
“Paola! He may die! He needs a hospital! Do you want him to die like Valerie?!?!,” Taryn was now shouting at the distraught grandmother.
“Dios mio!,” wails Paola as she runs out of the room, Taryn and I both exchange wide eyed looks- her lips set in a stubborn line.
For ten minutes, we try to rouse Danny, with no success- he was slipping in and out of consciousness, we clean the wound and place new bandages, but he was still losing blood, risking infection and worst of all bleed to death. There was no convincing Paola, so I chose to honour her decision and keep Danny as comfortable as possible, given his current state, but Taryn had other ideas.
“We have to call an ambulance-this isn’t right,” pressed Taryn.
“I understand that- but I have to respect Paola’s wishes. My hands are tied, Taryn.”
“Well not mine! I’ve known him since he was a baby; he’s a sixteen year old on his deathbed! Look at him!,” tears were welling up in her eyes.
I look over at the motionless body of Danny Nandez- he was a slight boy with his grandmother’s small frame, still had a baby face and barely any facial hair; my brows wrinkle with worry.
“I’m going to make the call Jon, it will be on my head…,” concern fills her eyes- she had a streak of blood across her cheek. I nod, conceding defeat- it was the right thing to do.
As Taryn calls for an ambulance, I go in search of Mrs. Nandez; I find her kneeling in the living room- her eyes closed.
“Paola?,” I whisper, her eyes flutters open, searching my face for good news, before she asks, I state, “Danny is slipping away…I’m worried that his kidney might be punctured. There isn’t much I can do for him here-he needs a hospital, very desperately. Taryn and I have made the decision to call an ambulance.” Paola stands up abruptly, I continue my dialogue, this time faster, “Don’t worry, we will explain everything to the officers. If it’s a matter of cost, I’ll cover it,” I reach down, remove my gloves and squeeze her clenched hands.
“Oh Dios! You are angel! Thank you so much! So much! You have no idea. Thank you! Danny hanging with wrong crowd-he no listen to me…first arrest, now this! They will take him from me, like his mother!!! Oh Dios!,” she drops to her knees and begins reciting what sounds like a prayer. I slip out of the room and back down the hall to check on Danny-nothing has changed. Taryn catches my eye as I shut the door,
“Thank you for this,” she flashes me a slight smile. Picking up, a clean towel, I stride across the room and wipe the streak of blood off her cheek. She leans her face in to allow easier access, closing her eyes. For a second, I am distracted by the curvature of her lips, the beautiful caramel colour of her skin and the sight of her eyelashes touching the area just under her eyes. Suddenly her eyes flash open, startling me and my face begins to redden, my hand quickly drops away from her face.
“Uh, sorry. All done,” I place the towel onto the floor; I think I notice a slight smile on her lips, she straightens up her back.
“The paramedics should be here soon…you can go if you like-never have to have your name mentioned- I’ll take care of it,” she offers.
“That’s alright, I’ll stay. Besides a brand new Audi Q5 in this neighbourhood would hardly go unnoticed,” I respond sarcastically, rolling my eyes.
“I guess you’re right,” she sighs, “So have you always been a rich boy?”
I blink at the abruptness of the question, “Umm…I’m not sure what you mean by that…”
“I don’t mean to be rude, I’m just curious. I can tell you come from a rich family, but you carry yourself like you’re trying to look the very opposite,” she observes matter-of-factly.
Her voice contains no malice, but my eyes widen anyway, “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing, it was just an observation. Look…I’m sorry, I didn’t mean-”
Before she could continue her apology, two paramedics burst into the room, rushing to Danny’s side, not missing a beat, Taryn quickly begins filling them in with the vitals, I step back into a corner of the room. I watch her every movement, from her frantic, yet controlled gestures, the rush of words from her mouth-it was all appearing in slow motion to me. Maybe she was right, maybe I shouldn’t be here-I was out of my depth- I’m not a trauma specialist, I’m a general practitioner – it’s been a while since I’d seen an injury so severe. Twenty minutes later, after Danny is rushed to Brampford County Hospital and I finish up my statement with the officers, I say my goodbye to Mrs. Nandez, purposely ignoring Taryn and step out into the fresh air.
Standing out onto the dilapidated porch, I’m surprised to find the sun beginning to dip beyond the horizon- I hadn’t realised that I had been here for so long; it was now 5:20pm. As I finish leaving a message for mother, the officers leave the house and notify me that they may be in contact later in case they require more information. After which, Mrs. Nandez, comes rushing down the balcony stairs murmuring a stream of prayers, I interrupt her before she begins,
“Mrs. Nandez- Paola, would you like me to drive you to the hospital?”
She looks up at me briefly, her eyes outer worldly, but she bows her head ever so slightly.
“I’ll wait for you in the car,” I said as I start making my way towards where I’d parked my vehicle. As I step off the porch Taryn appears from behind the front door and catches up with me.
Laying her hand on my arm to halt my progress, she says,
“Dr. Pierce! Please . I’m sorry…I don’t know what got over me…I…”
My face expresses no emotion, her words had stung me like a slap in the face; I shrug; Taryn’s shoulders slump, but she continues talking,
“The filter from my brain to my mouth is broken-it has been diagnosed as verbal diarrhea.”
Despite my anger, I couldn’t help but laugh; Taryn looks slightly confused, but then allows herself to laugh along.
“I hope I didn’t chase you away with my comment-I realise it was very presumptuous of me to assume anything about you. I don’t know you…I’d very much LIKE to get to know you, but…”
I didn’t hear the rest of what she had said as my mind kept replaying the words she had just uttered…she would like to get to know me…she would like to get to know me, I couldn’t make this up! I look back at her and I am met with a puzzled look, which quickly snaps me out of my mind fog.
“What?” I try to play it cool.
“You weren’t listening…,” she looks disappointed.
“I was…I mean I kinda got caught up on what you said…sorry…you kind of short circuit my brain. You could call it verbal constipation,” we both laugh.
As she laughs, I then am met by her full beauty; the way her body heaves ever so slightly backwards and how the corners of her eyes crinkle up like a folded accordion. Her laugh was like a musical instrument to my ear, a symphony of highs and lows. We look at each other and start laughing anew. Mrs. Nandez begins to make her way towards us and we quickly regain our composure, as she approaches us; she shakes her head and slides into the backseat of the car. Taryn and I look at each other, unsure whether this is an approving or disapproving shake of the head. I tip my head to the side, indicating to Taryn to take the front seat, she complies.
“Wow! This car is ridiculous!” I shoot her a look; she halts, clears her throat and says, “I like it.”
“Thank you,” I reply.
The drive to the hospital was pleasant, under the circumstances, Taryn and I talk about what made us choose medicine, attempting to take Paola’s mind off the current situation. As I pull us up to the hospital entrance, Paola reaches forward and places her hand on my shoulder,
“Gracias Dr. Pierce. I’ll go in hospital. You go home- take Taryn with you,” she turns to Taryn with pleading eyes, “You two have done enough for me for one day. Please.”
“Ok. I will, but can you promise to call me for anything, ok? Anything at all,” I ask softly but forcefully. She nods her acceptance, says her goodbyes and hobbles through the entrance, disappearing through the hospital’s sliding double doors. Taryn & I both sit in silence, unsure what to do or say until the honk of an impatient driver behind wakes me from my thoughts.
“So where am I off to now? Do you need me to drop you somewhere?,” I ask.
“Let’s have dinner,” she blurts out with a sly smile, my heart couldn’t have leapt any higher in my chest, I try to play it cool and look over to her, in case that wasn’t what she had said.
“I’ll just need to stop at my house for a few minutes to freshen up; jeans a t-shirt and dried blood can’t cut it next to you dressed like that,” she shoots me a playful glance.
I slant my head to the side, “Is that a point of contention with you? You seem to be obsessed with money and the idea that you think I have a lot of it.”
“Only because I never had it…” she looks down at her hands, “Look, I’m very grateful for what you’re doing for Paola and Danny, trust me I am, but you don’t have to be a knight in shining armour to swoop in and save the day-I would have helped her. I am fully capable.”
“A knight in shining armour? Really? I wasn’t trying to be chivalrous, like I said before- Paola approached me! I didn’t go looking for a 16 year old in distress. How many more insults and assumptions do you have left to throw at me for tonight? Paola asked for help and I complied- not because of some hero complex but because it’s the kind of person I am! It’s the reason I became a doctor! Don’t assume you know because I drive a nice car, make my own hours and on occasion dress well! You don’t have the slightest inclination about my life! Now where am I dropping you off?,” as I started by my tirade, my voice had gotten progressively louder and Taryn’s face lost its colour.
“…it’s ok…you can drop me off at the taxi rang over there,” she points, speaking very softly, “I’ll be fine.”
“Right, so you insult me and now you’re the victim. Brilliant,” I mumble, take a deep breath and try again, “I would feel more comfortable dropping you off at home. Please? I’m sorry for raising my voice.”
Without speaking, Taryn enters her address in my GPS system and I begin to follow its directions, it’s not long till I realise that we are heading towards my house, with neither of us talking I decide to break the silence,
“You’re practically my neighbour,” I start.
She turns away from looking out the window and offers me a small smile.
I sigh, “I’m sorry…really I am…I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately I have such a short temper…really, I’m sorry. I guess I just don’t like when people make assumptions about me, my image and how people perceive me is one of my biggest insecurities.” I sigh, “It’s a sore spot, can you forgive me?”
“Yes, I forgive you, but to be fair I did warn you about my verbal diarrhea.”
We both laugh, swallowing up any remaining tension between us.
“You still want to have dinner?,” she asks sheepishly.
“I’ll take a rain check on that. I’ll take you to an awesome Japanese restaurant in town sometime, you’ll love it!”, letting her down gently.
“Promise?,” her smile broadens.
“Are you flirting with me?,” I turn to look at her as we wait at a traffic light.
“Maybe…I am…,” her smile is electric.
“Then maybe I’ll let you.”
Taryn’s four bedroom, two storey house, was a mere two blocks away from mine. Sitting at her kitchen table with a glass of wine and a cheese platter set up, we discuss her family life.
“He was a great man and I loved him as if he was my real father,” she says as she reaches across and cuts herself another piece off of the Camembert. Though I had intended to drop her off, she had managed to convince me to come in and enjoy a cup of coffee, that was two hours ago. As I made the brew, she takes a quick shower and changes into a simple black, knee length halter dress, her hair now loose, hanging by the left side of her face, while the right side was clipped back by a gold flower. When she had walked back into her kitchen, it had floored me that she could look so breathtaking and effortless. It was then that I knew I was in love with her. The realization that I was having such a guttural reaction to her, made me feel lightheaded. I wanted to be near her, I wanted to know everything there was about her, I wanted to touch her.
While I waited for the coffee to brew and for Taryn to resurface, I took the opportunity to tour her living room, though she still had a few boxes stacked in the corner, my eyes were drawn to the set of photographs on the mantle. The family portrait was of a young Taryn, her mother and a male, when Taryn walked in, she found me frowning at this photograph.
“That’s my mother, my step dad and I.”
My eyebrows shot up, she chuckled at my reaction; she was used to this reaction.
“Yes, my mother is White. My biological father was African-American, from Kentucky or something like that,” she says as she shrugs her shoulders.
I replace the picture frame on the mantle, completely red faced by my reaction, “I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to pry or to be rude- it’s just that you’re so…much,” I clear my throat.
“Dark? Brown? Not their colour? It’s fine, I take no offense, trust me. I’m very used to it and it’s a natural reaction, I would probably have it too if I saw my family,” her eyes danced with a mixture of amusement and sadness, she suddenly shakes her head and says, “shall we make our way to the kitchen? I’m hungry. Do you want some wine? And how are you with a day old spaghetti bolognese?,” as she grins.
“Sure. I’m easy,” I reply. She stops suddenly and looks back at me, “I probably shouldn’t of said it.”
“Shame.” As she disappears around the corner to the kitchen.
As the pasta warms up, Taryn spreads out an arrays of cheeses and pours us two big glasses of wine.
I raise my glass and salute her, “To your new job at the practice and to-”
“I got the job?!?,” she shrieks.
“Eh…yea,” with my glass suspended in the air, “did June not call you?”
“No, I thought with the way I was crusaded by Dr. Wingham, that I had blown it. Which is kind of why I invited you over…I’m so so sorry, it was never my intention to blur professional lines…oh God!!!,” she covers her hands with her face.
I lower my glass to her counter, I had also completely forgotten and gotten wrapped up in my attraction to her that I had disregarded the fact that she would soon be my coworker. The buzzing of the microwave was the only noise in the room, neither of us spoke a word.
I was the first to break the tension, “Look, Taryn, if there’s anyone who should be apologising, it should be me. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, don’t be sorry, it’s my fault…being around you makes me feel more alive than I have ever felt and I guess I got carried away.”
“No, no, don’t be ridiculous,” she sounds like she was trying to convince herself, “we’ll just readjust. There’s no need for you to leave right now, the food is warming and Monday is a new day,” she attempts to smile at me, but she is unable to hide her uncertainty.
Though, I want to remain in her presence, I am also acutely aware of professional lines and I do not want to cross them. I take a step back and pass my hand through my hair, “I truly appreciate the offer, honestly, but I can’t stay- I don’t want to set a precedent and at the end of the day…I am your boss. It’s been lovely getting to know you,” I clear my throat and make my way to the front door, Taryn follows. “Let me know if Mrs. Nandez needs anything, I’d like to know about Danny’s progress.” I close the door behind me before she can answer, but mostly because I didn’t want to see the look of disappointment on her face as it matched the disappointment I feel..
The next morning, I awake to the smell of fresh brewing coffee and numerous messages from my mother. I groan, I had forgotten to tell her I would be home late, therefore I knew I’d be in for a lecture at breakfast. I take a quick shower, get dressed and head downstairs with my hair still wet. As I step into the kitchen, I am flabbergasted to see Taryn’s radiant smile staring back at me; my eyes bulge out of my head.
“Oh, Jonathan. Don’t gawk, it isn’t becoming. Taryn and I have been having a lovely conversation, it took you long enough to get out of bed, I thought you might of woken up when the doorbell rang. Look, Taryn even brought us homemade muffins! The banana walnut one is divine!! Sit, sit, I’ll get your coffee.”
My mother was so busy talking, that she was unaware of the fact that Taryn and I had locked eyes. She was so breathtaking to me, I thought a new day would put some distance between how she made me feel, but seeing her in my house, with the morning light, set the butterflies in my stomach churning anew.
“Are you going to say good morning or are you going to continue staring at her?,” my mother’s pointed question brings me back to the now.
“Morning Taryn, morning mother,” my cheeks begin burning red, I address Taryn, “how long have you been here? Had I known I would of come down sooner, my apologies.”
“That’s ok. Your mom and I were having a very pleasant conversation. I came to drop off the muffins I made, but your mom was kind enough to invite me for breakfast,” they exchanged smiles.
“So sweetheart. What would you like?,” my mom interjects, “the works?” I could tell she was relishing taking on her old role, I couldn’t remember the last time my mother had cooked me a meal, maybe it was before father died.
“Scrambled eggs, bacon and pancakes?,” I offer, looking over at Taryn, still disbelieving she was actually under my roof.
“Mmm. Sounds delicious already,” she replies.
“Then scrambled eggs, bacon and pancakes it is!” says my mother excitedly. “Now why don’t you two kids go in the other room and I’ll call you when breakfast is done,” as she winks at me.
Smooth mom…real smooth. I knew my mother knew I liked Taryn, I just didn’t think she would be so embarrassing about it. Before I could escort Taryn out of the room, she leads the way to my living room; mom had given her the tour I see. As I make my way over to the far side of the room, Taryn points towards a photograph of Isabelle & I and blurts,
“So, she’s the reason why you have so much emotional baggage,” she takes a sip of her coffee and looks at me with prodding eyes.
“Yes. That’s what your mom calls it and I tend to agree.”
“Just how long were you and my mom talking before I came down?”
“About an hour or so. But it didn’t take much for her to sum you up to me, the synopsis is that you have a lot of emotional baggage.”
“Well wouldn’t you like to know…,” I mutter. Attempting to change the subject, I enquire about Mrs. Nandez.
Taryn’s mood changes, “Danny is stable, but he’s lost a lot of blood. His kidney was punctured, it’s early to tell, but he should recover. They want to know who stabbed him, but he’s not talking. They could of killed him, I just can’t believe his recklessness- his mother died of a drug overdose and he’s heading down the same dangerous path. Makes me so angry.”
“You knew his mother, well?,” I ask.
“She was my best friend.”
“That’s ok…I figured you’d ask soon enough. Paola and Valerie used to be our neighbours, but when Valerie got pregnant in high school, Paola moved her to Brampford for a fresh start and to take her away from the crowd she was hanging with. Unfortunately it didn’t stop Valerie, she left Danny with Paola and went back to her addiction, which killed her in the end.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that…,” I didn’t know where to go next. I hadn’t intended to upset her, only to change the subject.
“C’est la vie, right? Look Jonathan, I hope you don’t mind me being here. I decided to try and find your house after I’d baked about 30 muffins, realising I couldn’t eat them all myself.”
“You baked 30 muffins?!?”
“What? When I’m stressed, I bake.”
“Wow, no wonder my mother likes you…”
Her deep laugh, straightens my nerves out; I felt like I was being unfaithful to Isabelle. Taryn was the first woman, other than my mother and Leelah, to set foot in this house and because of the way she was raising my blood pressure, I felt guilty. I had to leave the room, it was as if Isabelle’s hand was on my shoulder, pulling me back…into the darkness. I could hear her sobs, echoing in my ears, the tightening in my chest started and the urge to walk out became stronger.
“I’m going to check on my mother…and get more coffee,” I excuse myself.
Taryn bites her lip, but nods her head in acknowledgement. Three minutes later, when I step back into the living room to tell her breakfast is ready, she is no where to be found. The only trace of her previous presence is the unfinished cup of coffee left on the table.