Authors: Marilyn Brant
Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women
“What? No final e-mail check for the night?”
She shook her head.
He looked at her as though he wanted to believe her but didn’t. He’d been doing that more often lately, and she wasn’t sure what accounted for it. What signals he was receiving. “Well, okay, then. Sweet dreams,” he said.
She dumped out her remaining coffee, meandered upstairs and then changed into her nightgown. Finally, when she couldn’t stand the suspense an instant longer, she locked herself in the master bathroom and flipped open her phone.
Cant W8 2 CU. Keep tkg abt it. R U?
Was she thinking about seeing David again? Oh, God, when had she ever stopped? Did lonely, geeky girls ever get over missing the hero who’d ridden into their lives and changed it forever? Who’d rescued them…and then run away?
U know the answer. G-nite.
Tuesday, September 14
month?” Bridget exclaimed when Candy told her the news that morning. “Dr. Nina’s going to be gone that long?” She glanced around the dental office. Though the waiting area bustled with patients, she all but hugged herself. Wow, would this place ever be peaceful without The Crab Lady snapping at everyone.
“She needs time to get her head together,” the hygienist explained. “At least that’s what she told Dr. Jim on the phone. And I wish her well but, boy, I’m not gonna miss the drama of last week. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone that pissed off. I thought for sure she’d crack Mrs. Kinney’s crown the way she kept jabbing her Remington Scaler at it. And poor Mr. Ashburg. She practically attacked him with a foot and a half of dental floss.”
Bridget remembered. There’d been a stream of traumatized patients at the gagging end of Dr. Nina’s magnified mouth mirror last week, and you didn’t want to be anywhere near her number 14 metal probe. “Did you ever meet her husband? Has he come in before?” she asked.
Candy nodded. “A couple of times. Seemed like a nice enough guy, but you never really know about people.”
“True,” Bridget murmured.
Dr. Luke rounded the corner, his eyes crinkling at the corners when he spotted Bridget. “Hey, ladies. Who’s up next?”
“Mr. Ingersole at ten-fifteen,” Candy said.
Dr. Luke shook his head. “We’re racing today, aren’t we?”
Being one dentist short, it was going to be a busy week—heck, a busy
—for all of them but, still, Bridget preferred an absent Dr. Nina to a verbally abusive one. She pulled a sealed Tupper-ware container out of a plastic bag. “I know you won’t have any long breaks, but I brought something for you guys to try whenever you have a free moment.” She peeled the lid off the still-warm container. “It’s chestnut ravioli.” She glanced at their faces and both her friend and her favorite dentist looked bewildered and more than a little reticent. Her heart dropped to her knees. She’d worked for hours on this recipe. “I know it sounds like an…an odd dish, but I saw it in an Italian cookbook ages ago and always wanted to try it. It—It’s okay if you don’t like it or you think it’ll be—”
Dr. Luke clasped his hands together like a priest, reminding Bridget that she wasn’t the only Catholic in the office. “Bless you, Bridget,” he said, sounding very much like the monsignor at her mom’s old church. “You have no idea how much brighter you just made my day, do you?”
“Um,” she said, lost in the kindness of his deep brown eyes.
“I’ve never heard of chestnut ravioli,” Candy murmured, “but you’re putting my boring old ham-n-cheese sandwich to shame. I can’t wait to try it at lunch.”
“The hell with waiting for lunch,” Dr. Luke said, rummaging through one of the drawers for a box of toothpicks. He slid one out of the box and speared a plump ravioli with it.
Bridget watched him as he popped the whole thing into his mouth. She caught every one of his facial expressions as he savored and analyzed the taste—surprise, puzzlement, delight. She remained glued to his reaction as the flavor sensation washed over him and held her breath until he groaned.
this?” he whispered, eyeing the rest of the ravioli in the container. “The filling—it’s smooth, rich, earthy and spiced.” He locked gazes with her. “And I wasn’t expecting the sweetness. It tastes like autumn.”
She grinned at him. “It’s supposed to.”
He grinned back and thrust the box of toothpicks at Candy. “Try one.”
As Candy taste-tested the “tender pasta pillows,” as Dr. Luke called them, he forced Bridget to detail every single succulent ingredient in the recipe and the exact amounts she used, from the chestnut puree to the amaretto liqueur to the hint of grated chocolate. She wasn’t left wondering if her efforts had been appreciated. Dr. Luke took
on what she said. He listened to her. And when he bit into his second and then his third ravioli, he gazed at her with heavy-lidded, bedroom eyes.
No one would ever believe her if she said it, but their exchange was almost better than making love. Oh, God. She wanted her life to feel like this moment. The intoxicating sensuality overwhelmed her. She craved this kind of intimacy and appreciation…and she couldn’t stop the powerful tsunami of gratitude, leveled at Dr. Luke, for giving her both.
“I can’t tell you how glad I am that you both like it,” she murmured, feeling her face flush as Candy, too, expressed her raptures over the pasta. For a few seconds, she’d forgotten Candy was even there.
Of course, much as she enjoyed her friendship with the good-natured hygienist, Bridget hadn’t completely deluded herself. She knew very well that it was
pleasure she sought. She couldn’t have been more invested in Dr. Luke’s good opinion if they’d been in bed together or, possibly, if he’d been on the Culinary Institute of America’s board of admissions.
Her CIA man was smarter than a secret agent, though, at least when it came to flambé techniques. Faster than anyone with a spatula and grill scraper. Able to roll pastry dough singlehandedly—
“Uh, Bridget?” Dr. Luke said, waving his palm in front of her.
She blinked. “Yeah?”
“Thank you. I’m in your debt.” His eyes twinkled as he licked, then smacked his lips. “I’ll be thinking of a way to repay you. I promise.” And with a final wink, he swiveled back toward the exam rooms and told Candy to bring Mr. Ingersole to number three whenever she was done “savoring Bridget’s magnificent indulgence.” Bridget’s four-hour shift had never flown by so fast.
At home, she sat at the kitchen table and sifted through the three-hundred-plus cards in her recipe box. She flipped through her fourteen favorite cookbooks. She paged through the “Coordinated Culinary Feasts” she’d marked with Post-it Notes in her back issues of
magazine. The possibilities were endless!
She considered what to make for Thursday: the rice-and-meat-stuffed grape leaves or the vegetarian penne in vodka sauce? Oooh, or maybe lamb stew—everyone always loved that. But what would Dr. Luke love? Of course there was the potent allure of spice. A biryani curry, perhaps? Or chili-chicken and bell-pepper fajitas?
The front door flew open, and Keaton flew through it.
“Hey, Mom,” he called. She could hear him panting at the foot of the stairs, so he’d obviously raced home. He stampeded up to her. “Can I play at Josh’s? He’s got this new game for his Xbox 360 and I—”
“May I,” she corrected automatically. “And what about your homework?”
“I just got a math worksheet and one chapter to read for stupid English—”
“Keaton,” she said in warning.
Mom. I’ll be done with both in twenty minutes. A half hour tops. And I’ll do them tonight, I promise.”
“Lots of promises today,” she murmured.
He stood behind her, still panting, and peered at the shrimp jambalaya recipe card she was holding. “Aw, gross. You’re not making that for
“No,” she said regretfully, “I’m not.”
“Oh, okay.” He studied her profile for a second—she could see him peripherally as he scanned her, making judgments. Then, to her surprise, he said, “Sorry. You know I hate shrimp.”
“Yes, Keaton. I know. You’ve made that perfectly clear since preschool.”
“Yeah, I know you know. But sometimes you want us to ‘be adventurous eaters’ anyway and try stuff we hate.” He wrinkled his nose and shrugged. “I’m
gonna like shrimp.”
“Never say never. People’s tastes can change. Even yours.” She half smiled at him, but he only sighed and bounced from one foot to the other, clearly having had enough Mom ’n’ Son Chat Time for one day. Who were those idiots who always prattled on about “quality family time” and such? They must not have had kids so anxious to be away from them that their offspring actually kept jogging in place so as to be better able to zip away once permission to leave was granted.
What Keaton had asked to do wasn’t something bad, it just happened to squeeze at her heart and bring to light the parental-child divide. It painfully underscored yet again how little she was needed anymore beyond the mandatory household chores. Mindless and impersonal duties, which, in performing them, made her time at home feel more like
than her time at the dental office. There, at least, she was seen as a person. Spoken
. Appreciated for her efforts.
The front door banged twice in quick succession. Cassandra. Evan. Her daughter bounded up the stairs issuing demands in the form of questions with every step. “Can I take the phone into my room? I need to call Emily to talk about our science project, okay? And can I just grab a granola bar for a snack? I wanna eat it while I talk to her. And I won’t get any crumbs on the carpet, all right?”
“May I,” Bridget corrected faintly as her daughter, a whirlwind of need, riffled through the pantry for her snack, snatched the phone and bolted toward her room.
Keaton, still bouncing nervously behind her, gave another impatient sigh.
“Fine. Go,” she told him. “But be back by five-thirty. And I want you to get your homework done immediately after dinner.”
He was out the door before she could finish the sentence, not even a hasty “thanks” thrown over his shoulder at her as he passed his kid brother on the staircase.
Evan heaved himself up the flight of stairs liked he’d just run the Chicago Marathon. He glanced at her and waved wearily. “I’m gonna take a nap,” he informed her, dropping his backpack in a heap at the foot of the kitchen table before trudging off toward his bedroom. She heard the door click behind him and the distant sound of giggling coming from Cassandra’s room farther down the hall.
She grimaced to no one but herself, then chose a simple chicken, rice and sautéed-veggie casserole to make for dinner that night (very
), laying aside the more “adventurous” recipe cards for later.
As she reluctantly hid her stack of fun in a cabinet and gnawed on pretzel sticks to stave off her irritation, she couldn’t avoid a realization that’d been dogging her for the past several weeks: She looked forward to going to work on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But, more than that, she looked forward to it like most people looked forward to their weekends off. How sad and scary was that? And what did it say about her and the state of her life?
When Graham got home, she tried to draw him into a discussion. “How was your day? Anything new happen?”
He shrugged and pecked her with a top-of-the-head kiss. “Nah. Repaired some windows down at the bank on Main. Got a contract for a job at the professional building on State and Kennedy for next week. ’Bout it.” He sniffed. “Smells good in here. When’s dinner?”
She stifled a sigh and glanced at her watch. “Fifteen minutes, maybe twenty.”
He grinned. “Good. I got time to check the score on the—”
“Graham. Wait. Please. Can we just talk for a few minutes?”
“Why?” He stopped and squinted at her. “Something wrong? Kids doin’ okay?”
“Oh, no, nothing’s wrong. Cassandra’s talking to half the school on the phone, Keaton’s playing with Josh outside and Evan’s in his room, still napping, I think. I just thought that, maybe, with them occupied, we could have a real chat before dinner. Just the two of us.”
He stared longingly down the hall in the direction of the bedroom TV for a split second before plunking himself on the edge of a chair. Bridget felt a rush of guilt for keeping him in the living room, apparently against his will, but the sports scores wouldn’t be going anywhere and in just a few moments their window to talk privately would be gone.
“You good?” he asked. “You worked today, right?”
“Yes,” she said enthusiastically, and she told him about Dr. Nina taking a month-long leave of absence. Then she segued into how she’d made chestnut ravioli for her coworkers and that they’d loved it. But somewhere in the middle of her description of the dental staff’s reaction to the pasta, she caught him gazing down the hall again, and his inattention made her feel silly. She didn’t know how to engage him in conversation anymore. It was like she was wandering around in their marriage alone and had lost her sense of direction. “Um,” she began, floundering, “what games are on tonight? The Bears?”
Graham laughed lightly. At her. “No, hon. Today’s
. They played last night. I just wanna take a look at what’s been happening in the college leagues and get a recap of the NFL games I missed over the weekend. No big deal.” He batted the subject away with a sweep of his palm. “I know you’re not into it.”
She swallowed. No, she wasn’t—as he put it—
but she had tried to watch football games here and there
. Not that he would ever think to talk with her about it. He had decided she wasn’t a football fan in their first two months of dating, and his opinion never wavered in the years since.
Bridget stood up. It was useless to keep him prisoner here. “Well, I’m going to check on dinner then. Why don’t you go watch your sports show? I—I’ll call you when it’s ready.” She forced a smile.
He sprung up and beamed a joyous smile at her. “Great! Thanks.” And before she could blink, he was down the hall.
Two days later, Bridget was reminded of her love for her work environment yet again as she caught herself all but bubbling over with excitement at the prospect of going to the office. It was crazy. She was like one of her kids on the morning of a big school field trip. Every time.
She dressed for work carefully, knowing she’d be looked at. Knowing she’d be the object of some admiration once they tried her latest creation. She’d found the perfect recipe, and the joy of getting to share it was almost too thrilling to handle. Despite the juggling act that was her home life, she’d managed to shop for and assemble all the necessary ingredients and then carve out the hour it took to make it from scratch. She slipped on her cooking apron and giggled like a schoolgirl.