Authors: Sylvia McDaniel
Tags: #contemporary romance novel
“My back,” he gasped between gritted teeth. “I’m trying very hard not to run to the nearest wall and rub against the plaster like a bear. I’m frustrated at not being able to scratch.”
She grabbed the bottle of Calamine Lotion and started to shake the bottle. “Take off your shirt and let me apply this to where it itches.”
“Ah…you’re going to sooth my itch,” he said, through gritted teeth while he stood and pulled his shirt off quickly. He leaned over the kitchen counter to give her easier access to his back. “There are other areas of my body you could apply that lotion to as well.”
“Don’t push it, Brent.”
“Believe me, you have nothing to fear.” He groaned. “When a guy is itchy and bored, you can’t blame him for trying to make the best of the situation.”
She poured the cold liquid on his back and he jerked.
“Where did you learn your nursing technique?”
“Sue me if you don’t like it,” she quipped, knowing that he was doing his best to be in good cheer even when he felt bad. She spread the lotion with a cotton pad she’d found in the supplies his office had sent over.
“Never. I’m already feeling some relief,” he sighed, his body sagged against the kitchen counter. “As soon as I eat, I’m taking a Benadryl and going to sleep.”
“Good idea, Doctor. Lots of bed rest and drink plenty of fluids.”
He grimaced. “God, those words come back to haunt me.”
“And now you get to follow your own advice.”
Jennifer threw the gauze away and then went to the sink to wash her hands.
“Look at the card the staff sent you,” she said, drying her hands on a towel.
Brent stood and pulled his shirt back on, covering his spot-riddled chest. He picked up the get-well card and opened it. A big chicken that someone had dotted with red spots popped out. He couldn’t help but smile and shake his head.
“Cute!” he said sarcasm dripping from his voice. “I’m glad I gave everyone a laugh this week.”
“They were trying to make you smile.”
He glanced at her as she lifted the lid on the Crock-Pot where soup bubbled. The aroma drifted through the kitchen, and Jennifer’s traitorous stomach growled.
“It seems so strange for you to be here in my kitchen,” he said, his green eyes intent upon her.
So they both felt awkward, especially after their last meeting. She stopped and stared at him. “Are you afraid that you’re going to be beholding to me?” A wooden spoon dangled from her hand and she pointed it at him. “Don’t worry. I won’t be chasing you down the halls of the hospital asking for favors. You owe me nothing.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. I think the fever has damaged my brain.”
“No, that happened before the fever,” she teased then softened her words. “Sorry, but you left yourself wide open.”
“Yeah, I did,” he admitted. “So are you going to stay and help me eat this soup that smells so delicious?”
She wanted to. Regardless that they were both feeling their ways about each other again, it felt good to be here with him. She enjoyed his company even when he was sick, and he appeared to take pleasure in the companionship.
“To offer to dine with the enemy, you really are feeling lonely.”
“Well, the last time I checked, the walls haven’t started answering me yet, so any conversation has been rather one-sided.” He sighed. “For an extrovert, being stuck in the house for a week can be a lonely experience.”
She laughed. “Yes, I’ll stay and eat with you.”
His eyes darkened, and he paused, giving her a lingering look that made her breath catch in her throat. “Thanks for doing this. I’m glad you’re here.”
“You’re welcome,” she said, his comments touching her. A rush of warmth came over her, and she was happy that she had brought him his care package.
A week later, Jennifer sat at the kitchen table, sipping on her first cup of coffee that morning and trying to clear the sleep from her befuddled brain enough to attend her Tai Chi class. She'd put off her workout all week, but she could no longer procrastinate. It wasn't that she disliked working out, just sweating had never been a top priority.
Still in her pajamas, Julia stumbled into the kitchen and headed straight for the coffee pot. "It's seven o'clock on a Saturday morning. What are you doing up?"
"My Tai Chi class meets at eight. Afterwards I intend to spend some time in the park practicing since I haven't worked out all week."
"Ugh," her sister moaned. "Try birthday parties for little kids. You'll get plenty of exercise."
"No thanks," Jennifer replied, thinking of the last time she'd helped her sister. "What are you doing up so early on a Saturday morning?"
"Birthday party at ten."
"Oh dear," Jennifer replied. "How was your date last night?"
Julia moaned. "Dinner and dancing were great. We talked, laughed, and seemed to have so much in common. I thought that maybe he'd ask me out again. But no, he wanted to do the horizontal mambo the moment we left the club."
Jennifer started laughing. "The horizontal mambo?"
"Yeah, we got to his car and this guy sprouted more hands than an octopus. But what really clenched my take-me-home line was when he said, 'You know you want me.'" She grimaced. "Ugh, talk about taking me from interested to repulsed in 2.5 seconds. I quickly decided he had nothing I wanted."
Jennifer sat back in the chair, laughing at her twin. "That's bad."
Julia sighed and ran her hand through her rumpled hair. "So much for my latest dating fiasco. How about you? How's Dr. Dangerous?"
Jennifer stood and walked around the table. Brent Moulton was a hazardous subject in many ways. "He’s had the chicken pox. But he’s due back to the hospital on Monday."
“He hasn’t called?”
"I thought you said you had a great time the night you went out."
How did she sum up his retreat, his eagerness upon learning of the pediatrics wing project, their fight over the bachelor auction, and then her Florence Nightingale act without appearing totally whacked?
Yet it was hard to remain distant from him after the night she’d taken him homemade soup and nursed his illness. Seeing him miserable and alone had touched her, and she’d spent the evening taking care of him. An unusual bonding experience…but there it was.
That night she’d seen a side of Brent that left her questioning every negative thought she’d had about the man. He’d seemed genuine, and she’d enjoyed being with him.
And now she didn’t know how to respond to her sister’s question.
"We work together. Dating him could become awkward. Maybe you should date him."
"Me?" Julia said with surprise. She cocked her head, studying Jennifer. "Two weeks ago you were practically foaming at the mouth for him, and now you're telling me to date him?" Julia's eyes were focused, studying her sister. "When are you going to tell me the real reason you're avoiding Brent?"
Jennifer swallowed the lump in her throat and tried not to act surprised at her sister's keen perceptiveness.
"How come you never wanted Brent?"
"It’s been fifteen years, Jennifer! At the time, I had a crush on Robert Cabot. Dating Brent was something to pass the time until Robert called."
"So instead, I went in your place."
"Hey, you suggested the switch and I thought why not? I wanted to go with Robert, and you seemed eager to go with Brent." Julia frowned at Jennifer.
“I thought that maybe you would want to go out with him now,” Jennifer said, watching her sister carefully.
Julia made a face. “Are you crazy? He was not my type in high school. Why has Brent Moulton suddenly become so important?”
Jennifer sighed and sat down. There was so much to confess about that night. "Did you realize that I considered myself in love with him in high school?"
Now her sister looked shocked.
"You thought you were in love with Brent?" her sister asked, her blue eyes wide. "In high school? Why didn't you tell me?"
"I was too afraid you cared for him. And what did I know about love? I wasn't certain."
Julia stared at her in surprise. "I had no idea. I thought you were just taking my place. I had no idea that you
him. Well, that was years ago and you're over it now." She gazed at Jennifer, a frown creasing her brow. "You
over it, right?"
The time had come to confess everything to her sister. "There's a bigger complication. There's something I've never told you."
Julia's eyes darkened, adding depth to her frown. "Should I brew another pot of coffee?"
"No, we don't have time, and you might be tempted to dump the hot water on me." Jennifer took a deep breath, trying to give herself a quick shot of courage.
Motormouth Julia sat quietly waiting, which was not a good sign. How could she admit to her sister that she'd been jealous of her all those years ago? That her jealousy and infatuation with Brent possessed her to act stupidly?
"For so long, I believed I was in love with Brent. And then he asked you out and the jealousy monster held me in its grip. I was so envious, and you didn't seem to care that the best-looking guy in school had asked you for a date."
Julia seemed stunned and then she spoke. "We've never kept secrets before. So why didn't you tell me you cared about him?"
Jennifer shrugged. She'd kept her feelings for Brent a secret for many years, her fear of hurting Julia silencing her. "Because I loved you and worried you loved him too."
"Oh Jennifer, we were friends, that's all. He's handsome, but he's not my type," Julia insisted. "So what happened that night?"
Her twin gazed at her expectantly. "I was so naïve. I thought just one date with Brent and he would fall in love with me.”
Julia shook her head. "You were a kid."
"I made the suggestion that we trade places that night so that I could get my dream date with Brent. I had this elaborate teenage fantasy that he would realize that I was Jennifer—not the quiet little mouse everyone perceived me to be, but someone he would instantly fall in love with."
Julia shook her head. "You were never a quiet little mouse."
"Whatever. That night we had the best time. We laughed and joked. We played games, and though he called me Julia, he treated me special. And later when we went out to Lookout Point on Lake Palestine, I foolishly believed he was falling in love with me. Not you, but
Jennifer shook her head. "I should have been honest with him. I should have told you years ago." She couldn't look at her sister, so she stared at the clock on the kitchen wall, wishing she could turn back the hands of time and do things differently. "I…I let things go too far that night."
Julia groaned. "What do you mean you let things go too far?"
A flush as big as Texas spread across her cheeks as Julia stared at her.
Jennifer nodded, wishing Julia would yell at her or do something to ease this pain. "Yes, I did. I had sex with Brent Moulton in the backseat of his car. And he thought I was you."
Regret wracked Jennifer as she watched Julia cover her face with her hands.
"Oh my God."
"I'm sorry, Julia. I should have told him before I got out of the car, but I felt so stupid. He kept saying your name and I felt like such a fool for thinking he'd know the difference between us. I let my teenage infatuation guide me, and I behaved so naïvely. You have every right to hate me."
"I don’t hate you,” Julia replied, removing her hands, an incredulous look on her face. “You’re my twin and I’ll always love you. But did he ever learn the truth?"
Jennifer cringed. "No, he still thinks
were in his backseat that night."
Julia started laughing.
"This isn't funny," Jennifer said, watching her sister skeptically. "You should be yelling at me, not laughing."
"Would you rather I be angry?" she asked, her voice rising.
“No,” Jennifer replied, baffled at her sister’s reaction.
"Thank God so many years have passed, or I would be tempted to strangle you." She giggled. "But now it’s funny. All these years he's thought that he had sex with me. What if I'd run into him at the grocery store?"
Jennifer shrugged, ashamed at how her actions could have hurt her sister.
"Now years later, he's gone to dinner with you, and the whole time he must be thinking, 'Oh my God, I slept with her sister.' The debonair doctor has to be feeling very uncomfortable, especially if he's attracted to you."
Jennifer frowned at the sudden realization. "He's hardly attracted to me. Besides, he's a man. Would he feel embarrassed?"
"Maybe not embarrassed, but uncomfortable. After all he'd be afraid I would tell you. He'd be frightened of us comparing notes."
"To be honest, part of me wants to confess to him that it was me that night. Just to get it off my conscience."
"Oh no, you can't do that just yet.”
“Why?” Jennifer had seen that look on Julia’s face before. It was one that had gotten her sister in trouble often.
“Because we could have a lot of fun with this information and Brent Moulton. He is attracted to you, isn’t he?" she queried.
"I'm not certain. One moment I think he's interested and the next he's done a complete three-sixty. Two weeks ago he was upset with me because I vetoed his bachelor auction. Now all I know is that he likes my homemade chicken soup.”
“Never mind, that’s a different story,” Jennifer said, glancing at the clock and knowing that she had to leave very soon.
Julia took a sip of coffee, gazing intently at her twin. "You still haven’t told me how you feel about him. Are you still in love with him?"
She'd so wanted to avoid this question, but knew instinctively that Julia would not let her back away from the truth. "Of course not. I was a kid then. It’s been too many years, and we’re different people now. Besides, he’s completely commitment phobic."
"Yeah, as in, he's never marrying because his father's been married five times and is about to go through yet another divorce."