Disclaimer: The following story has been written with no intention of claiming ownership or solicitation, nor does the author claim the movie character(s) as his/her own. The movie character(s) have been borrowed solely out of a love of the particular movie and is not intended for any other purpose but amusement and entertainment.
We’ll at least stay with you until Anthony comes…”
“No, no…” with a motion of her hand, the young woman on the couch waved her well intentioned companion, and the dark-haired man hovering just behind her, toward the door.
“You’re certain….” Norma Jean asked again, hesitating. “I could go and find Tina or…”
“No!” The woman said quickly. “Really, I’ll be fine. The doctor will be here any minute…and I’ve monopolized enough of your afternoon already.” She forced a smile to her features. “Really, run along.”
“C’mon Angel.” The man murmured softly. Reluctantly, the woman complied, looking back over her shoulder as she exited the clinic’s doors.
The pair had all but disappeared before the tears began to flow. Stephanie was grateful that she had been able to hold them in for so long.
She never should have come here. It had seemed like a good idea at first. Some time away from all the things that they had shared, some time to think. But it hadn’t worked out as planned.
She should have thought about the situation more carefully. Moving halfway across the country to help your friend plan her wedding was hardly the textbook prescription for someone recently separated. No, she corrected herself, recently divorced.
It was final today. Closing her eyes, she could almost picture him, smiling as he collected the documents from his attorney. Starting over, moving forward, leaving her behind.
God, I’m pathetic. She thought, dragging her mind away from the thought for the hundredth time that day. No wonder Tina won’t let them leave me alone….no wonder NJ and Mannie spent the entire afternoon staring at me like I was a bomb getting ready to explode. She should have left days ago. As soon as it became apparent that Tina’s pleas for help were yet another well-intentioned ploy to drag her out of the house and back among the living. But now that she had come, something at the Point was telling her to stay.
“Does it hurt that badly?”
“Wh…what?” Startled by the sudden interruption, Stephanie straightened in her chair. Having been lost in her thoughts, she hadn’t heard anyone enter the clinic. She turned her head curiously toward the new voice as a man crossed the room toward her seat. She blinked in confusion at his appearance, instantly aware of how dissimilar he was from the other men at the Point. He was smaller and more compact than the rest, his eyes and features darker, and his face smooth and concerned. He held something toward her; a handkerchief, and she looked at it with confusion.
“You’re crying.” He explained, nodding toward the moisture that trailed down her cheeks. “Is it your ankle? I’m Anthony Giraudeau, the Point’s doctor…Maybe I can help?”
Stephanie smiled bitterly. “How are you with broken hearts?” The reaction was not what the woman expected. The doctor’s thoughts seemed to turn inward, distracting him for a moment, before he answered with a forced cheerfulness. “I’m better with ankles.”He pressed his lips into a thin line and then bent forward to help her to her feet. “Let’s get you on the table and check it out, shall we?”
Nodding, and using the handkerchief to dab away the remnant of her tears, Stephanie complied, leaning heavily on his arm as they walked to the examination table in the center of the room. Moving awkwardly, she pulled her leg beneath the lights for his inspection.
“How did it happen?” the doctor asked as he began to probe the puffy skin with his fingertips. “East said something about the horses..?”
“I fell.” Stephanie answered with embarrassment. It had been so long since anyone had touched her, even casually, that even the firm, professional explorations of his fingers left tingles in their wake.
“Showing off?” The introspection from a moment before was gone from his features now, replaced with a gentle, friendly smile. “Another Kentucky girl bent on teaching East and Mannie a thing or two about horses.”
For a second time, the woman felt a smile tug at the corners of her lips. “Hardly.” She blushed as she admitted the truth. “I fell while I was trying to get on.”
“I couldn’t mount the horse. I got one foot in the stirrup and..” She let her voice trail off, grateful that the physician managed to keep his laughter inside.
“Well…it is hard sometimes.” He consoled her, settling her heel onto the thick pad and walking across the room for an ACE bandage. “At any rate, I don’t think there is any permanent damage. I could do an X-Ray if you like, but..”
“No. That won’t be necessary. I can have it checked out when I return home.”
“Home?” Anthony frowned. “You are leaving then? I thought I had heard you would be staying for Tina’s wedding.”
Stephanie shrugged. “I don’t think that she needs me after all and I…” The man’s look urged her to continue, but she did not. Looking away, she lifted her leg slightly so that he could begin winding the bandage around her foot.
“You will need to stay off this for a while. I don’t know what your plans are, but I wouldn’t drive on it for at least a week.”
Stephanie nodded, bending her knee to her chest as he fastened the bandage into place.
“That does it..” The doctor stared downwards at his handiwork. “Now, about that heart…”
Stephanie blinked, surprised that he remembered – and wondering if he was serious. “It was nothing.”
“Nothing?” The man met her eyes levelly. “I’m a very good listener.”
“Everyone around here wants to listen.” Her voice was tinged with annoyance at well-intentioned meddlers and their `don’t keep it bottled up inside’ platitudes.
“But you don’t want to talk.”
“Not to someone who doesn’t care.”
“You don’t think that anyone at the Point cares?”
“I think that Tina.and the rest. don’t understand.” Stephanie said, biting her lip. “They’re all happy. Tina is happy. I’m…” she took a breath. “I’m a reminder that the world isn’t perfect.” She twisted her ankle as she spoke, almost enjoying the spark of pain that the movement caused. “That all good things come to an end.”
“You had a good thing?”
“I thought I did. I thought that he would-” Stephanie’s features scrunched in displeasure. “I told you that I didn’t want to talk about it.”
“I won’t make you.” Anthony answered calmly.
Stephanie bit her lip, sorry that she had accused him. “You’re good.” She said after a moment of silence.
“I should be.” The doctor turned away again, once more rummaging in his supplies, even though the actions were a blatant pretense to busy his hands.
“I’ve had practice. I was a priest before I came to the Point.”
“You listened to people confess?”
“I listened to them talk.”
Stephanie turned her ankle again, bending forward to adjust the elastic binding. “I’m not Catholic. I never really understood the confession thing…it seemed like bartering for sin.” She watched his expression closely to gauge whether she was offending him-and wondering why she cared. “Five hail Mary’s for saying a curse word, three Our Fathers for…”
“That isn’t the point.” Anthony interjected. “Penance isn’t about retribution and confession isn’t about being accountable to God. God knows the things we do..” His voice was passionate, and the distant look had returned to his face, clouding the handsome features with a veil of regret. “People want to talk. People want to pay for what they’ve done. People want to feel like someone listens.” He looked at her pointedly, “like someone cares.” Anthony’s face grew animated as he spoke, his earnestness assuaging Stephanie’s desire to be cynical.
“I suppose.” She said simply.
For a moment, they stared at each other in silence. Then Stephanie threw her legs over the side of the table.
“I wouldn’t walk on that for a few days.” Anthony said quietly. “I’ll try to find you some crutches. In the meantime, let me call one of the boys to help you to your room.”
“I can make it.” Stephanie replied, already dreading the prospect of being foisted upon another hapless victim.
“I insist.” Anthony raised his hand before she could protest. “Doctor’s orders.”
With a sigh, Stephanie shrugged her shoulders in surrender and watched as he disappeared once again through the clinic door.
“This is Terry Thorne.” The physician said, when he returned a few moments later with a muscular, jeans-clad man in tow.
Stephanie recognized him instantly. He was one of the “brothers” who lived in the Inn with Tina’s John. “I think we’ve met.” She said, her neutral tone at odds with the spark of attraction in her eyes.”At dinner the other night.”
“Of course.” Terry answered. “You’re Tina’s friend from Kentucky.” He tilted his chin toward her leg. “What’s the trouble, luv? One of Mannie’s beasts give you the heave-ho?”
“Something like that.” Stephanie flushed under his scrutiny, remarking to herself that, of all the `twins’ she had met so far, this one was surely the most ruggedly handsome.
“Ah.” Terry offered her a reassuring grin, guessing instantly that she didn’t wish to elaborate. “No worries, luv. There are worse things than being waited on hand and foot for a week, right?”
“Right.” The smile that had bloomed on her lips turned to one of shock as the man threaded his arms around her waist and scooped her into his arms.
“Let’s get you back to your room, shall we?”
Stephanie nodded numbly, the tingling sensation she had felt from Anthony’s hands magnified a thousand times by the firm pressure of the Australian’s grip on her back. “Th…thank you Doctor.” She said, almost as an afterthought as she was swept away.
“My pleasure.” He answered amused by the flustered smile on her lips. “And I’m here…if you change your mind about talking.”
Stephanie nodded. “I know.”
Anthony watched Terry and the newcomer from the clinic doorway until they disappeared down the path to the Inn.
Stephanie was hurting. He could feel it in the anger of her voice as they had spoken and he wished, desperately, that he could help her more than mend her twisted joint. Her friends were right. She needed to talk about what was going on. Today of all days he sensed that she needed someone who would understand.
Of course, he knew her story. There weren’t many secrets in a place as small as the Point. Anthony’s reputation as a listener had kept him privy to the few details that did manage to stay hidden. It was another woman that had eventually drawn Stephanie’s husband away, though Tina asserted that the marriage had been flawed from the start. The match had been strained from the beginning. The sort of union that began in thoughts of `Everyone at the firm expects me to have a wife’ and `Three times a bridesmaid….’, and ended in a courtroom, fighting over Tupperware and wondering how in the world things had ever gone so wrong. The marriage had been form over substance from the start, and there was no real connection to bind them when time, and circumstances began to wear their resolve away. He had fallen for his secretary-an unforgivable cliché and, perhaps worst of all, he seemed to really, truly love her. Making Stephanie, herself feel that much more inadequate and alone.
Tina had confided in Anthony her plan to invite her friend for a visit. Even before her had met her, the doctor had encouraged the idea. Now that he knew the woman, and had seen for himself the hollowness in her eyes, he was certain that he had made the right choice.
If only he could do more. It was hard to miss the way she had looked at Terry. Anthony turned the thought over in his head as he unpacked the supplies that he had purchased in town. The smile that she had offered to the hunky Australian clearly betrayed her physical attraction. Terry had seemed interested as well, thought his interest had not been so overt. At least, the doctor hadn’t had to ask himtwice for help carrying the woman off to her room and sweeping her off her feet, literally, had been purely the hostage negotiator’s decision.
Was it possible that Stephanie had a connection here after all?
Anthony dredged up some of the conversations that had occurred when news of the attorney’s pending arrival had been first announced. They’d never had a female guest before that wasn’t called there for a reason. All of the women who found their way to this sometimes magical place wandered here to find the missing pieces of their heart with one of the Point’s permanent male inhabitants. There had been much speculation as to whether Stephanie would even be able to find her way without `the pull’ to guide her way. But she had arrived.
Maybe Terry was the reason that she was here? It wasn’t like the man wasn’t lonely himself. Since he had lost Alice in `his’ movie, Terry hadn’t even been willing to talk about love. Giving him more in common with their new visitor than one would think. Perhaps the Point inhabitants were so used to lightning-strike beginnings that they had missed a subtle spark of attraction that merely promised to grow into something more.
Anthony was almost convinced. Maybe all that the pair needed was a little `push’ and he had the perfect idea.
“Terry, have you got a minute?”
The muscular Australian looked up from his newspaper, setting his beer on the table with a puzzled look, until he recognized the lanky figure of the Point’s Doctor.
“Sure Doc.” Terry said, patting the stool beside him. He glanced toward the chess board where he, Cort, and Anthony sometimes played. “Looking for a game?”
Antony shook his head. “Not today, I’ve got some more supplies to unpack at the clinic.I just wanted to see if Stephanie got back to her room okay.”
“She was fine. I’ve got her propped up in front of the TV until she gets her crutches. She said that she was just going to watch TV for a while until Tina and John got back..” He narrowed his eyes. “Is that okay?”
“It’s.fine.” Anthony answered again, chewing his lower lip. “I just thought.maybe the two of you would have hung out for a little while.”
“Hung out?” Terry let his newspaper slide to the table and looked at the doctor more intently.
Antony seemed to falter under the scrutiny, lowering his eyes to the tabletop and picking at a peanut-hull to busy his hands. “It seemed like..she liked you.”
“Liked me?” The hostage negotiator’s confusion only deepened.
“Yes, like..” Anthony sighed, wondering why it was so hard to find the words that he wanted to say.
“Like..well, when you helped her.I just.it just..I thought maybe there was something between you.”
“Something?” Terry frowned, swallowing hard as he considered the words. “Something like..”
Terry bit his lip as the word hovered unsaid between the men.
“She could use a friend.” The doctor said, sliding out of his chair to stand. “And you..”
“I know.” Terry swallowed again, looking into his drink. He didn’t need to be harangued again about admitting to himself that Alice was gone. He seemed to consider the doctor’s idea. “Do really think its possible? I somehow thought it would be..”
“Like thunder?” Anthony arched his eyebrows, the emphasis on the words underscoring the whimsy of the idea. When Terry didn’t answer he continued to speak. “You’ve been in love before.you tell me.”
“Not like thunder.” Terry said quietly. “More like…rain.”
Anthony nodded, lacking personal experience in the matter, but not needing an explanation nevertheless. Even though he had decided not to watch the “movies” belonging to the Point inhabitants, he had heard Terry’s story more than once. The other residents whispered about it whenever a new guest checked in and Terry looked right through her. In one of his discussions with Cort, the doctor had learned the reason behind his friend’s reticence to look for love: He thought that he had found his soul-mate- a woman that he could care about and protect- Alice, his American employer who had hired him to bring her husband home. But in the end, she had gone away, leaving Terry with an empty ache in his heart that he wasn’t yet ready to fill.
Or maybe not.
When the Australian looked up from his beer, his eyes were softer than Anthony had hoped for.
“You really think so?”
The doctor nodded. “There’s only one way to find out.”
*knock* *knock* *knock*
Stephanie sighed and piled a pillow over her head, hoping that whomever was at the door would take the hint and go away.
It was 8 o’clock. Four blasted hours until the hateful day was through. She hadn’t killed herself yet. Why couldn’t they trust her and leave her alone.
It was one of the boys. Their voices were so similar- and still so new- that she couldn’t tell which one.
“Stephanie, are you in there?”
Go away.. She called mentally again, pulling the pillow tighter around her ears, and then she gasped as the door burst open.
“Stephanie!” Terry’s voice began to shout again, but died on his lips as he found her glaring at him indignantly from the bed. He blinked in surprise, and then stammered, “I..I- you didn’t answer and.”
“I was trying to sleep.” Her voice was terser than intended, but she was too tired to hold her tone in check.
“I can..see that.”
Feeling his gaze resting on her skin, Stephanie remembered what she was wearing: panties and a heather-grey T-shirt. Blushing, she quickly pulled the blankets across her legs.
“I was afraid that you’d fallen..” Terry stammered, trying to look away, but failing.
“No…Thank you, but I’m fine.”
Terry nodded slowly.
“Did you want something?” She asked quickly, unsettled to notice that the intruder was still staring at her chest.
“I…I…” His lightly stubbled cheeks pinked, and then looked at his hands, finally remembering the reason for his visit. “I brought your crutches. Doc wanted me to bring them up and make sure that you were okay.”
“Thanks.” Stephanie softened her voice. “Could you lay them by the bed?”
The muscular Australian carried his bundle across the room and deposited them at her feet. He turned to go, but stopped. “You know how to use those things?” He questioned.
Stephanie shrugged. “They’re crutches.” She murmured. “How hard can they be?”
Terry flashed a smile. “You’d be surprised….here, let me show you.”
He walked to the bed again, adjusting the devices to his height before showing her how to tuck them under each arm, using the handle in the center for support. “It’s really important that you don’t go too fast, and that you take small steps, especially at first.” He demonstrated a quick lap around the room.
The woman smiled as the man hopped in a one-legged circle.
“You look like an expert.”
Her companion offered another grin. “I’m in sort of an accident prone line of work….” the smile faltered as a memory seemed to cross his mind. “was in it…” he corrected. Forcing himself to look cheerful again, he offered the props to her. “Here, you try.”
“No, no…” she protested, but when he wouldn’t relent, declared “All right, but at least give me some clothes first. She directed him to the dresser, and accepted a pair of shorts that were tossed onto the edge of the bed. After struggling to put them on beneath the blankets, she finally staggered to her feet, and tried to put his lesson to use.
It was harder than she anticipated. Her placement was off, and one crutch always seemed to slip when she applied her weight and tried to move forward. She would have fallen, if Terry’s strong arms hadn’t captured her from behind.
“I give up!” She said breathlessly, after a time consuming lap around the bed. “I’d better find a way to break both of my arms too so that I’ll have an excuse just to lie in bed.”
“Oh, it’s not as bad as that!” Terry protested. “You’re getting better. Like I said, it’s hard at first, but we’ll get you mobile soon enough…hey…” the confidence in his light eyes seemed to dim for a minute. “You wanna go get dinner or something?”
“Yeah..” Blinking, he managed to gather his composure but still averted his eyes. “I hadn’t eaten yet, and I thought that we might get a chance to.know each other better. We could take some sandwiches out on the beach if you like.”
“You’ve seen how I did on carpet- you want me to try to walk on these things-” she waved one of the crutches in the air. “On sand???”
“No worries, luv. I could carry you if you like…” The look in his eyes made her resistance melt…it was a tempting offer.
Stephanie eyed the man carefully-suspicious that he had been sent on another mission of mercy by Tina and John, but there was no denying the look of interest that he was trying so desperately to hide. In spite of herself, the woman felt a smile creasing her features.
Was he asking her on a date? If so, It wasn’t like he was hard to look at … and her ego could certainly use the boost.
“Okay.” She consented at last. “But I’ll need a chance to change..”
“Of course.” Terry stammered, backing up until his shoulder blades collided with the still open door.
“I’ll wait outside the door, and you let me know when you are ready, okay?”
Terry leaned against the door, listening to the sound of drawers being opened and shut, wondering what the hell had just happened. He hadn’t given Stephanie a second glance when he had carried her to her room, but that was this morning!
Terry suppressed a grin at the memory of the bolt of longing that had coursed down his spine when he had stormed in on their half-clad houseguest. Maybe Doctor A was onto something after all.
Hearing Stephanie’s voice, Terry pushed the door open and stepped back inside. A smile returned to his lips again as he drank in her appearance. She was tallish- 5’8″ more or less, and with a curvy figure that flirted with plumpness in her breasts and hips, but tapered into long, shapely legs, a narrow waist, and graceful arms. The jeans she was wearing hugged her curves. They were paired with the T-shirt she had been wearing before- though he noticed with disappointment that she had added a bra- and her wheaten hair- shot through with artful streaks of gold too artfully arranged to attribute to nature- was pulled into a loose ponytail at the nape of her neck.
Her eyes are green. Terry thought as he met them with his own.
“You tell me.what are you hungry for tonight?”
The woman shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Anything?” She arched an eyebrow. “Boiled shrimp.”
“What?” Terry laughed, not expecting such a precise answer. “Boiled shrimp?”
“No.” Stephanie’s lips turned up on the edges, drawn into his playful mood. “We’ll eat the shrimp on the graham crackers of course, and save the chocolate and marshmallows for later.”
Terry laughed. “Ah, Of course..Well, luv- sounds like we’d better get to the kitchen.” He extended his arm, inviting her to loop it with her own.
“Tina!” Stephanie blinked in surprise when to find her friend sitting on the edge of her bed. Terry had broken the closure on the door when he had burst inside- not that there was much point locking anything around here anyways- Tina must have let herself inside. “What are you doing here?”
“What am I doing here?” Tina’s voice took on the tone of an irate mother. “I’ve been worried sick.”
“Yes!” Tina jerked her head at the broken door, and then to the piles of clothes strewn across the floor from Stephanie’s frantic “have to hot but not like I’m trying to look hot” quest to figure out what to wear to dinner. “Where have you been?”
Stephanie bit her lower lip, trying to avoid an answer, but she couldn’t hide the guilty smile that erupted on her tiny mouth.
“On the beach.” She said cryptically.
Tina wrinkled her brow. “Alone?” she asked pointedly.
Her friend’s expression transformed rapidly. “Not exactly with who?”
Stephanie shrugged, enjoying the way that Tina hung on her every word.
“You have to tell me!”
“Alright.” Stephanie sat beside her friend on the bed. “I’ll give you a hint.he’s the most gorgeous man here-”
“Nice try, but John was with me.”
Stephanie rolled her eyes. “Terry!” She said quickly, too excited to extend the game any further.
Tina’s eyes widened to the size of quarters. “Terry? But he’s never been with..Terry?!?” She repeated in disbelief. “You’re kidding!”
“Is it that unbelievable?”
“No, but I..I mean, he’s never been.interested before, and we thought that you didn’t..” Tina frowned, her face a mixture of confusion and concern as she tried to articulate the idea that her friend hadn’t experienced any of the tell-tale signs of connection. “Did you feel something?”
“Something?” it was Stephanie’s turn to be puzzled.
“Like..a pull, or a.touch.” her friend struggled with a description. “When I was first with John, we-”
“Not yet!!!” Stephanie gasped, flushing instantly.
When Tina caught the misunderstanding, her features reddened as well. “No, not THAT kind of a touch.” She laughed. “I mean a..connection. Most of the women who come here on there own are drawn in by something, and we didn’t think that you..” She let her voice trail off, seeing that her friend was lost. “Well, what happened?” She asked, changing subjects abruptly. “Tell me everything!”
Quickly, Stephanie recounted the day’s events, beginning with her ride in the woods with NJ and Mannie, her trip to the clinic, being carried to her room, and finally to her date on the beach. “.he was intent on getting the marshmallows to roast perfectly, but they kept catching on fire and when I laughed at him, he said he was going to take my crutches and..”
Stephanie stopped, finally self-conscious that she was gushing. She punctuated her tale with an enraptured sigh. “At any rate, it was wonderful.”
“I’m happy for you.”Tina said with a smile. “John and I should have thought of getting the two of you together ourselves..I don’t know why we didn’t notice it before..are you going to see him again?”
Stephanie made another happy sound. “Tomorrow morning at ten o’clock.”
Stephanie smiled as she walked down the sun-dappled lane away from the boathouse feeling, for the first time in months, happy simply to be alive. Terry was right- she was already getting used to the crutches, and she barely thought about them as she wandered down the brick-paved path. The bright sky and chirping birds seemed to echo her mood, and she smiled up at them, basking in the warmth that caressed her face.
It was amazing what a difference a week could make. Seven days ago she had been moping alone in her room looking backwards in life, certain that things would never get better-and now she had just come from another meeting with the most devastatingly handsome man she had ever met.and had plans to see him again that night!
Distracted by the thoughts, she nearly tripped over an easel blocking the path.
“Oh!” She yelped, lunging forward to catch the canvas it had held just before it crashed to the ground. “I’m sorry I didn’t-”
“It’s okay.” A soft voice reassured her. “I was in the way.”
“Doctor Anthony?” She blinked in remembrance.
“Yes.” The man that stepped from behind the easel smiled, bending down to collect some brushes that had fallen in the dirt. “It’s nice to see you, Stephanie..it looks like you’re managing to stay mobile.”
“Yes, thank you.”
“And.the other injuries?”
The woman was puzzled for a moment, and then her face broke into a smile: The broken heart. “Much better.” She assured him.
“I’m glad to hear it.” He replied. “Terry, isn’t it? I think I heard something about it at the Tavern.” he said, diplomatically omitting that gossip regarding the unforeseen connection was all that the Point had been buzzing about for past few days.
Stephanie nodded. “Yes- thanks to you.”
“Me?” An oddly guilty look danced on his face. “You don’t think that I-”
“If you hadn’t asked him to carry me to my room.and you sent the crutches.”
“Oh.” The doctor’s face relaxed. “Yes, well..I’m happy for whatever small role I may have played.”
Stephanie nodded her head, and then she stepped forward, setting the painting back on its frame.
“It’s good!” She remarked, almost surprised as she observed the watercolor rendition of the path she had just been walking through. The style was almost impressionistic, the deep green of the old trees dominating the top of the painting, while the sunlight that filtered through their branches dappled the bottom. She bent forward to look more closely;. Oh, no!” She exclaimed, gesturing to a smudge left when her fingers had grasped the surface when she rescued it from the ground. “I ruined it!”
“It isn’t ruined.” Anthony said. Plucking a brush from his tray, he blotted the moisture from the smear, and then applied a fresh coating of paint. His movements were very precise, Stephanie thought to herself as she watched the staccato strokes. She was paying more attention to his technique than his output, and so she blinked in surprise when he finally stopped.
It was better than it had been before- he had transformed the haze of color left by her fingerprint into the little sparkles of dust that danced within the light-so tiny that they were sensed rather than seen- adding to the magical mood that the picture conveyed. Entranced, she reached forward, barely stopping herself before she touched it again.
“God doesn’t make mistakes.” Anthony said in gentle tones that reminded her he had recently been a priest. “He makes opportunities..sometimes things must be broken before they can be fashioned into what they are supposed to be.”
“There’s a sermon in there.” Stephanie teased, breaking the seriousness of the mood.
A smile flirted with the edges of the man’s lips, finally breaking free. “I suppose there is.” He dabbed another fleck of pain onto the surface. “A good one, I think.”
Stephanie nodded, her attention captured by the painting once more. “There should be fairies.” She said, pointing to a little clutch of flowers he had painted near the base of one of the trees.
“Fairies.” She smiled nostalgically. “This is precisely the sort of place that I expected to find them when I was a girl.” She grinned as she recalled a memory from the past. “I thought they were real until I was eight….I just assumed that they all lived in Europe.”
Anthony couldn’t help but laugh. “I hear that they have one or two.” He teased, and then pretended to be offended by his own joke.
“Would you paint something for me sometime?”
Anthony tilted his chin. “What?”
“A painting. Do you ever sell them? I have sort of a collection.small things- not really high art- not that yours aren’t art!” She said quickly, glad to see that he wasn’t offended. “I just like to keep them as memories of the places that I have been..and I might want to remember this place sometime.”
“You may have this one.” Anthony said, removing it from the frame.
“No!” Stephanie widened her eyes in surprise. “I couldn’t- I just need a little one.maybe you could.”
Her voice trailed off as she watched him dip a tiny brush into a drop of red ochre, and then swirl it into the white to make a cotton-candy pink. His motions were almost two quick to follow, but when he drew his hand away from his canvas again, her features burst into a grin.
“Fairies!” She said with delight as she spied the three, barely noticeable figures that he had added at the bottom of the trees.
“Yes.” He smiled, tipping their wings with gold. “You have to take it now.” He blew on the wet paint and then offered it to her once more. “To remember.”
Stephanie smiled. “Do you ever paint people?” She murmured as she continued to examine the canvas.
“Sometimes,” he answered. “It’s very different from `this'” He gestured at the scenery that surrounded them. “It’s more like…” He tilted his head, framing his thoughts carefully before he spoke. “Like writing a book. There are stories in a person’s face.”
Stephanie nodded her head, wondering for a moment, just whose stories he had painted. “Well.” She said at last, flicking her eye back on the path. “…I should go. I need to get this home and get myself cleaned up to meet Tina and John…it takes longer than it used to with this.” She raised her ankle slightly. “Thank you for the gift….” her voice trailed off uneasily, betraying her uncertainty of how to convey her gratitude for it. She didn’t know him well enough for a kiss on the cheek, and a handshake seemed too formal. Finally she settled for an awkward pat on the forearm and a bright smile.”It’s really lovely, doctor. I owe you… for a lot of things.”
“My pleasure.” The doctor said with a smile.
With a final nod, Stephanie continued on her way.
“Terry, where are we going?” Stephanie twisted her head, trying to peek out of the blindfold that covered her eyes.
“A few minutes more, luv; patience.”
Stephanie sighed and tried to settle back into the car. The first thing that she had wondered about when she saw Terry’s BMW convertible was how he could afford such a magnificent machine. After a few minutes with him on the road, the question foremost on her mind was how he managed to keep it in one piece. She could tell from the way that her body strained against the seatbelt that the road they were on was winding and steep. As fast as he was driving, it was probably better that she didn’t have to watch. Finally, the road seemed to level off and a little bit later, she felt the car rolling to a stop.
“We’re here,” Terry said, but stopped Stephanie as she reached for the handkerchief. “Not yet, let me put the top down.”
Shifting in her seat, Stephanie craned her ears toward the sound of the ragtop slowly lifting away, and the power windows rolling down. She could feel the wind on her face now. It was tart and salty and in the distance, she could hear the waves lapping against the beach.
“Now,” Terry whispered. Stephanie reached again for the blindfold, but Terry’s own hands were faster. She felt his fingertips graze against her temples, then struggle with the knot before the fabric was finally swept away. “There.”
“Ohh…” Stephanie’s small mouth formed a circle as she gaze at the scene in front of her. They were parked on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Far beneath them flickered the lights of the Inn and Tavern, and farther to the left the clinic, the boathouse, and the village beyond.
“Oh, Terry…it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen…” She whispered, flashing her eyes upwards to take in the glittering stars that filled the purple black sky.
“Don’t you have a mirror in your room?” Terry mumbled, just quietly enough to take the edge off the cheesiness of the line.
Stephanie’s lips tugged upwards, and she kissed him on the cheek. “Sweet.” She declared warmly, and then leaned her head back against the headrest to stare heavenward once more. “What is this place?”
“Crowe’s Point, of course.” He said ,flashing his teeth. “As in, the actual Point that gives the place it’s name. They were originally going to put a cabin up here, but….”
Terry’s grin broadened. “They decided it was better to keep things a bit more private.”
“Oh?” Stephanie asked, twisting sideways to lay her head on his shoulder as they looked at the stars. “Mmmmmhmmmm.”
She felt a shiver of excitement as his fingertips traced along her jaw, finally hooking under her chin and drawing her to his lips for a gentle kiss. Sensing her reaction, he eased his seat back, and then pulled her over the armrest into his lap, the limited space forcing her body tightly against his own.
“Terry,” she sighed, in between kisses. “What are you trying to do.?”
Terry traced the strap of her dress from her back, over her shoulder to where it met the bodice, and kept going south, finally cupping her breast in his hand and squeezing it gently. “Need another hint?” He breathed against her neck.
“No..” Her voice was sultry as she began to reciprocate his advances. “I think I figured it out.” She leaned forward to kiss him again but stopped, laughing before she met his lips.
Terry arched an eyebrow in question.
“I’m sorry,” she said, bringing herself under control. “It’s been almost ten years since I made out in the backseat of a car.”
The Australian paused just long enough to give her a predatory smile, and then pressed his palm against her bottom, pushing her against the evidence of his wakening desire. “You’re in the front seat, luv.” He purred. “But if you think that you need help getting back in practice…”
He buried the words in another kiss, his tongue announcing itself with a teasing flicker across her lower lip, and then pressing boldly into her mouth, tasting her with deep, rhythmic strokes. His hands continued to explore her body, one hand still molding her hips to his own, while the other roamed her breasts, diving beneath the fabric of her bra to seize a nipple and tease it into a rubied point. “Terry..” The word was ripped from the back of her throat as her body reacted to his advances.
“Stephanie..” He responded roughly, increasing the pressure of his caresses. She could feel his passion building in the growing bulge against her thighs. “God, you’re delicious.” She released a little cry as both hands grabbed at her back, seizing the zipper of her dress and easing it open. “I want to see you.” He murmured, arching his lower body forward, forcing her bottom against the steering wheel as he rubbed against her. “You’re driving me crazy..”
“Terry..” Stephanie choked his name again as her own hands loosened his tie.
“I want you.” His voice was almost like a growl as he abandoned the zipper, and began to peel up her skirt, his hands detouring beneath her silky panties. In spite of everything that had gone before, the feel of his skin against her body was jarring. It had been so long since she had been touched. Had it been long enough? Unbidden, memories of the past flooded to the surface, and she felt herself stiffen in response, instinctively drawing away.
She wasn’t ready for this, not yet.
“Mmmmm..does that feel good?” Terry murmured, oblivious to her reaction, and she fought a bolt of panic as he began a second foray, probing deeper. With a yelp, Stephanie twisted away. In her haste, her foot, crowded between his in the narrow space beneath the dashboard became caught on the brake. It stayed in place as she turned her leg away, and tears of pain sprang instantly to her eyes as the movement exacerbated her lingering sprain.
“Stephanie?” Terry abruptly did as he was told, staring at her with surprised, passion glazed eyes. “What’s wrong?”
“I…” Her mouth hung open dumbly, suddenly unsure of what to say. Should she tell him the truth? “I…” The explanation died for a second time on her lips, and so she murmured miserably. “My foot..?”
“Your foot?” Terry’s brow furrowed.
“I…caught it on the pedal.” She continued awkwardly.”It hurts..”
Terry blinked a few more times, as he slowed his breath and tried to make sense of her words. “Your..? Oh, sweetheart!” He said, shifting positions quickly as the realization finally dawned. “I’m sorry! I should have been more careful.” Tenderly, he helped her back into her seat, and lifted her foot into his lap, removing her sandal to inspect her ankle.
“Oww!” She gasped as he touched a sensitive spot.
Terry frowned in concern. “You may have broken it, luv. We should get doc to take a look.”
“I’m sorry.” Stephanie blubbered, as tears of embarrassment pricked at her eyes.
“Sorry?” Terry laughed at her. “It was my fault, luv.” He reached over to squeeze her hand reassuringly. “Maybe you were right about the car being a little close for comfort. Next time..” He noticed the lingering look of discomfort on her features and let his voice fade away. “Lets get you checked out, okay?”
The drive to the clinic was a silent one. Stephanie could tell that Terry was moping. He was probably brooding about her sudden change of mood, and wondering if her ‘accident’ had been completely accidental.
“There’s no reason to wait on me.” She said as the low building that housed the Point’s medical facilities came into view. “You should go back and tell Tina where I am. I’ll probably have to wait on an X-ray and maybe even a cast. I wouldn’t want her to worry.”
“No, luv, I don’t mind to the wait.” Terry argued feebly. She could tell that he was tired and confused and wouldn’t be hard to convince to go away. Still confused by her reaction in the car, Stephanie felt that she needed some time alone.
“Really.” She insisted, “Go on back. I’ll call you in the morning and let you know how I am.” Wanting to reassure him, she took his hand and held it to her lips. “Thank you for tonight.” She said earnestly. “It would have been wonderful…We’ll do it again sometime, right?”
Terry’s expression remained serious as he pulled the car to a stop. “Yeah.” He mumbled, staring forward for a moment before opening his door and coming around to help her out. “Breakfast tomorrow?” He asked, a spark of hope briefly lightening his gray green eyes.
“Oh, Terry.” The tone of her voice hinted at her answer, and once again his expression fell. “I’m sorry. I have to go into town to pick up the supplies for Tina’s shower, remember? Want to come with me?”
As she expected, his answer was “No.”
Tina had mentioned that the guys rarely wandered into town, and Terry seemed to be no exception. “Will I see you all tomorrow, then?” She asked in exasperation.
“Dinner.” Terry said at last. “I going to golf with Jeff in the afternoon, but I can meet you in the lobby when we finish.”
“Alright.” The sincere smile in Stephanie’s eyes seemed to melt his insecurity. “Terry, I really am sorry about what happened.” Her eyes glittered playfully. “I was having a lot of fun.”
“Of course.” She gave his hand another squeeze as she struggled out of the car. Terry came around to help her to the clinic door.
“You’re sure you don’t want me to stay?”
“No, I’ll be fine. If you would just give Tina a ring to let her know what happened, I’ll call you in the morning.”
Terry nodded and turned to go but Stephanie’s hands stilled him, turning him to face her once more.”Forgetting something?” She asked, the hint of a pout gracing her lower lip.
The muscular Australian flashed his teeth. “Ah, yes..” Sliding his arm around her waist to keep the weight off her foot, he bowed over the woman, placing an eager kiss on her lips. “Tomorrow.” He promised as he drew away.
Stephanie watched from the doorway as Terry climbed back into the car and drove away. Turning her attention back to the clinic, she noticed for the first time that it was deserted.
“Doctor?” She called tentatively down the hall. Receiving no reply she hopped forward, raising her voice slightly as she called again. “Doctor Anthony?”
Maybe he wasn’t there. Stephanie frowned at the thought. She automatically assumed that a former priest would be sitting at home alone on a Saturday night. What if he was gone to the Tavern? She stopped abruptly as another thought crossed her mind. He wasn’t a priest anymore. What if he was here with a girl?
Sighing, Stephanie paused to consider her options. Terry was already gone, and she didn’t have her cell phone in her purse. To make matters worse, she didn’t have her crutches, and she doubted that she could hop all the way back to the Inn. She would simply have to take the risk of staying here and looking for a phone.
A few lights were still on in the clinic area, so she looked there first. She found the phone on the wall. Unfortunately, it was a cordless and the receiver was off its base. Scanning the treatment room quickly, she determined that it wasn’t there. Anthony must have carried it into one of his private rooms.
After a moment of hesitation, she gathered her courage and pressed on the door leading to the doctor’s apartment.
All of the lights were out, but the moonbeams that filtered in through the blinds, and from behind her in the clinic provided enough illumination to make out the floor plan. There appeared to be only four rooms; the kitchen at the far end of the hall, a closet-sized bathroom immediately to her left, and two other areas that she assumed were a bedroom and living area.
The flickering light of a television drifted toward her from one of the half-opened doors, and she edged toward it. “Doc?” She called again.
Finally gathering her courage, Stephanie pushed the door open and stepped inside. The room was nearly empty. A TV was sitting on top of an empty medical supply crate along the far wall. Its screen was covered in static that hissed eerily through the darkened room. In front of that, facing away from her, was a well-worn sofa. Finally, beside the sofa were a crooked lamp and the phone!
With relief, Stephanie stepped forward, smiling as she bent to grasp the receiver, but nearly tumbling over in surprise as she spotted a man lying on the couch.
Not a man, she noted with relief when the shock of the unexpected sight had worn away. It was Dr. Anthony. He was asleep, with one arm thrown over his head, while the other clutched a lumpy pillow. He was wearing a navy blue sweatshirt and boxer shorts. In the relaxed state of sleep, his boyish features appeared even younger and more innocent.
Stephanie stared at him for a minute before gathering the courage to reach again for the phone. Moving as silently as possible, she edged backwards toward the door…
This is how she learned that Anthony had a cat.
The next few moments passed in a blur of motion and sound. A step, a pained meow, and then falling, finally fading into blackness as her head connected sharply with the edge of the table.
When she awoke again, she found herself once more in the treatment room. She was lying on her back, staring into concerned green eyes.
The woman blinked, trying to reorient herself to her surroundings. “Anthony?” She murmured, trying to sit up until she was forced back by gentle, but insistent hands. “What happened?”
“I was hoping that you could tell me.”
Finally remembering, Stephanie felt her cheeks grow flush. “I was looking for the phone. I was calling for you, and you didn’t answer and….” She spoke rapidly, avoiding his eyes. “I was going to call him to come and get me again.”
The doctor’s brow furrowed as his patient babbled incoherently. He selected a penlight from the nearby counter and used it to check her pupils for dilation, searching for any hint of a concussion.
“Him?” The tilt of Anthony’s head urged her to continue.
“I…Terry. He left me here to see you….” Stephanie’s hurried explanation seemed only to confuse Anthony more. “I’m…For my foot.” She said, raising it slightly so that he noticed, for the first time her swollen ankle.
“Ahh..” The doctor’s concerned expression eased as the woman’s words began to coalesce into sense. “Accident prone, I see..”
Finally seeing the humor in her situation, Stephanie joined his amusement. “I’m afraid so.”
“Well, at least you make me feel useful.” He said finally permitting her to rise to a seated position.
“I’m really sorry, Anthony. If I had known you were home, I never would have invaded your privacy. I was just trying to find the phone so that…”
He waved her apology away. “Don’t worry about it, please. I’m glad that you were able to find me.”
“At least I didn’t barge into your bedroom.”
The horrified expression on the woman’s face quickly convinced Anthony to tone down his teasing. “It’s not your fault! How were you to know that I hadn’t gotten around to buying a proper bed.”
“You don’t have a bed?” Stephanie’s features shifted from embarrassment to disbelief.
Anthony nodded as he lifted her ankle onto the table and once again began inspecting her bones. “Outside of the clinic here…” He made a sweeping gesture toward the patient area that NormaJean had furnished. “The table, the sofa, my desk and the lamp are about it.”
Stephanie continued to shake her head as Anthony completed his examination. He inspected her limb thoroughly, rising at last with a frown on his face.
“I’m afraid you may have broken it this time.” He announced, somber-faced. “I’ll need an X-ray to be sure. We have a machine here, but it isn’t calibrated yet.”
“I was going into town tomorrow anyway.” Stephanie said. “I have to pick up some things for Tina’s shower. I could stop by the hospital on my way.”
“Is Terry going with you? With your ankle like this, you won’t be able to drive.”
“No.” Stephanie said with a frown. “I just remembered that he told me he was golfing tomorrow afternoon.” Her eyes narrowed as she pondered the problem.
“I can take you.” The doctor offered, after a moment’s hesitation.
“Really?” Stephanie’s jaw lowered in surprise at the unexpected offer.
“I’ll need your treatment records anyway. And with you in town, things should be quiet around here.” His jade-green eyes glimmered mischievously as he teased his unlucky patient. “I’ll pick you up in the morning…Now let’s get you patched up, okay?”
“So, I see you were able to pry yourself free from Paradise this morning,” Jeffrey teased as Terry, his golf bag slung over his shoulder, stepped into view.
“Funny, J,” He answered mirthlessly.
The older man’s smile faltered. “Is something wrong?” He asked, helping his brother load his equipment onto their cart.
“I don’t know.” Terry answered truthfully. “Logically there shouldn’t be, but…” He ran his fingers nervously over the vehicle’s dash board. “Just a feeling that I have.”
“About Stephanie?” Tying the clubs in place, Jeffrey boarded the cart and turned on the key.
“Yeah.” The Australian nodded, bracing himself against one of the metal poles that held the canopy as they started toward the first tee. “Something just feels wrong. We aren’t….we aren’t like everyone else.” He confessed at last. “I’ve heard everyone talk about the connection…and I think that I feel it…but I’m just not sure.” He stared at his hands, twisting the skin where his wedding ring had been so many years before. “What was it like when you met Wendy?”
“Love at first sight.” The doctor answered automatically, but he bit his tongue as he realized that it was not the answer that his friend was hoping for. “But that still didn’t help us get together right away, Terry. I was convinced that Wendy was really interested in Bud….but it all worked out in the end. Stephanie isn’t like the other girls. She didn’t come here looking for anything.”
“But does that maybe mean that there isn’t anything to be found?”
Jeffrey sighed, pulling the cart to a stop and getting out to select a club. “Perhaps it just means that, for the two of you, things are taking time…or that it doesn’t always have to start in magic to end in love. Terry, do you want things to work out between the two of you?”
“I do. It’s taken me so long to get over Alice…but I finally feel like I’m ready. I thought that she was going to be the one to make me forget, but last night….” Joining Jeffrey at the tee, he recounted the events of the evening before, ending with the information he had recieved by telephone that morning that Stephanie was getting an X-ray in town.
“Terry!” Jeffrey couldn’t help but laugh at his friend. “She may have broken foot! Would you be in the mood for hanky-panky if your bone was hanging out of your skin?”
“It wasn’t hanging out of her skin.” His companion grumbled.
“Terry.” Jeffrey quit talking for a moment as he made his first shot, shielding his eyes from the sun as he watched the ball arch elegantly through the air toward the green. “I just think that you are reading too much into this…looking for things to go wrong. It doesn’t have to follow a pattern. As long as it ends up in the same place? Who cares how you get there?”
“She told me to stop before she mentioned her foot.” Terry insisted.
“Then maybe you should have stopped sooner.” Sensing that he had begun to scold, Jeffrey softened his voice. “You’re thinking about your own needs Terry, but what about hers? It was hard for you to get over Alice, but you weren’t married to Alice.” He raised his hand, halting the protest that he knew would follow. “I know, I know that you loved her, whether it was legal or not. I’m just saying that you couldn’t honestly hold any expectations about what would happen between the two of you. She had never promised not to walk away….maybe Stephanie needs time too. Maybe you need to earn her trust and maybe she wants to be certain about how she feels before she commits to a physical relationship. That was the problem, wasn’t it? She didn’t try to draw away from you emotionally or tell you that she wanted to be alone?”
Terry nodded glumly. His eyes flat as he took his own place at the tee. His frustrated emotions made his swing send the ball sailing into a patch of rough to the left. “Did you talk to her about what happened?”
“Why not?” Jeffrey removed his glasses, wiping them with the edge of his shirt as the pair climbed into the car once more.
“We only talked on the phone for a few minutes. She was meeting Anthony to go into town.”
“Oh.” This time the older man’s voice was more serious. “I see. Is that the real problem, perhaps?”
“You don’t want her to be with him….with another man? It’s a little like Alice all over again.”
Terry refused to meet his brother’s eyes but he didn’t bother to contradict the assertion. “You were already nervous about last night, and finding out they were going somewhere together triggered this little bout of brooding.”
“I’m not brooding.” He insisted, adding glumly. “I’m away” he murmured, briefly commenting on the golf and nodding in the direction that Jeffrey should steer the cart. The former tobacco executive drove to the edge of the weed patch and remained in his seat as his friend stepped out to take his shot. “I just don’t understand why they’re suddenly so sociable.”
“Are they ‘suddenly sociable'”
“Well…” Terry admitted reluctantly. “He did give her a picture that he painted last week, and she’s been to the clinic now twice…”
Jeffrey rolled his eyes. “Did she ask you to go into town with her?”
Terry took a shot, cursing under his breath as he clipped his club on the grass in front of the ball, resulting in a drive that, though long, still didn’t carry him close enough to the green. “Yes.” he answered miserably. “and I told her ‘no’…but that was before I knew that she was going to start hanging out with Father Patty fingers.”
“Father Pa-?” Jeffrey was confused at first by the sarcastic appellation, but then he laughed. “Terry! For the love of God, Anthony’s a priest.” Jeff couldn’t control his laughter.
“He was a priest.” Terry corrected him. “And he’s still a man.”
“You’re blowing this completely out of proportion. It sounds like Anthony is doing Stephanie a favor, nothing more. It would be different if she was….” He waved his hands in the air as he searched for an example. “Mattress shopping with Sid…So what if they do become friends? What have you got to lose from the situation? He has to listen to all that blather about haircuts and fat clothes and ferry her around while you get to tuck her in at night.” Jeffrey’s tone was suggestive.
“Maybe I want to talk about fat clothes.” Terry’s expression remained dark, making the comment all the more humorous.
“Yeah, maybe.” Jeffrey said, taking the cart back onto the path. “What is this about, the bottom line? You are afraid that Anthony is after your girl? You’re afraid that she doesn’t like you? You’re afraid that it wasn’t meant to be?”
“I’m just afraid in general, J.” Terry’s shoulders slumped, clearly conveying how much it took out of the man to admit to the words. “This whole arrangement just doesn’t follow the rules. I like the rules. I depend on them. I always have. That’s what set me apart in K&R. I knew the rules. I always knew what the kidnapper was planning next…but now…”
“Terry, you can’t reduce any love down to black and white rules. Even Wendy and I have had our problems…Sid and Lady, Ilaria and Massimo, Aurore and Bud…”
“Tina and John?”
“Even Tina and John.” He pushed the bridge of his glasses further up his nose. “And look at them now! They’ll be married in a few more weeks…”
“But If you don’t know the rules, how can you control what happens in the end?”
“That’s the point Terry.” Jeffrey answered sadly, once more slowing the cart to a stop. “You can’t.”
The next morning, Stephanie met Anthony on the porch of the Inn. She was wearing a loose sundress that hid the temporary cast that the doctor had placed on her ankle, and her hair was swept into a casual up do held in place with a clip. A grin tugged at her face as the doctor pulled into view. He was driving an old Ford pickup that was nearly as well-worn as the couch on which he slept.
“Sorry.” he mumbled, stepping out of the cab to help her to her seat. I haven’t gotten around to buying a decent car either.
“I don’t mind.” Stephanie said honestly. “I like trucks and we’ll have plenty of room for the shopping.”
Four hours later, the doctor finally understood why space was such an important consideration. They had started off the day with a trip to the hospital, confirming Anthony’s suspicion that the ankle was broken, and applying a new, permanent cast. Then, after stopping at a bakery to order petit fours for the party and eat some muffins and coffee for breakfast, they had begun their shopping in earnest. Three stops later, with the bed of the truck almost half-way full, Stephanie was showing no sign of slowing down.
“What do you think of this one?” She asked, dangling a porcelain teacup at Anthony’s eye level. “Too girlie?”
“I think it’s fine.” The man answered with a laugh. “….and I didn’t know that girliness was a problem for teacups….tell me again why we need so many?”
“For decorations.” Stephanie answered with a sigh. “That’s the theme of the shower ‘A Romantic Afternoon Tea’. I’m going to scatter them on the tables between the hatboxes and fill them with roses so that…”
“Oh, no…” Anthony interrupted with a smile. “definitely not girlie…”
Stephanie sighed again, but coupled the exasperated sound with a smile. “Well, luckily you aren’t invited, so…” She placed the teacup into the box that she was carrying as she dropped the line of thought.
“It’s nice of you to put so much effort into it.”
“I want it to be perfect….you only get married once…” Her expression faltered somewhat as she rephrased. “At least, you’re supposed to. A wedding; a first wedding is…an important step. Tina’s dreamed about it since she was a little girl, and I want to do it right.”
Anthony’s green eyes regarded her softly. “You care a lot about her.”
“Of course. We’ve been friends for a long time.”
He nodded his head, following her deeper into the antiques shop where they were browsing. “Would it be too nosy for me to ask a question…?”
Stephanie’s teeth flashed. “It usually is when the question begins like that….” She shrugging her shoulders but she added. “Go ahead.”
“Since they two of you have been friends for so long, and you came so far for the wedding, why aren’t you….” He chewed his lip reluctantly.
“Why aren’t I in the wedding?” Stephanie finished for him and Anthony nodded.
“Well…” the woman replaced the dusty book she was examining back onto its shelf and turned to face him. “I suppose its because she didn’t know how I would take it, you know?” She looked at her feet. “With the divorce and all. Maybe she didn’t want me to be reminded of the past?” Forcing a quick she picked up another book, flipping nervously through the brittle pages. “She asked me to help with serving the cake, but I said ‘no’.”
“Because of the memories?”
This time Stephanie smiled for real. “No…because the whole position smacks of ‘second tier friendom.'”
The doctor’s handsome features scrunched in confusion. “Second-tier?”
Stephanie nodded. “You know…an invented post to foist off on the unlucky sorority sister that doesn’t look good in lavender taffeta but hangs out with you often enough to earn a corsage…” Seeing that the man didn’t understand her, she tried to interpret the concept into male language. “You know? Like you didn’t make the first string….a junior varsity friend.”
Anthony cupped his hand over his mouth to contain his laughter. “I had no idea that the arrangements were so political…” he remarked.
“Oh, yes!” Stephanie was dead serious. “It’s horrible, really….that’s one of the main reason women dread their friend getting married…it’s like a ranking system. The ‘best’ friend is maid of honor, and then decreasing levels of friendship are lined up in ‘cuteness of groomsmen’ order.” She chuckled. “The only escape is to have a lot of sisters which have automatic ‘bye’ into the final round of cuts…or limit yourself to so few attendants that the marginal people don’t get their hopes up.” Anthony shook his head in disbelief, to which Stephanie shrugged. “Maybe we just think about it too much.”
The pair shared a laugh, and then Stephanie looked past him, the sudden transformation of her expression alluding to a change of topic. “Oh, Anthony! Look!” Tucking the crutches under her arms, she limped toward the back of the shop, stopping beside a weathered, but beautifully carved sleigh-bed. It had been taken apart, the rails leaning behind the headboard and footboard against the wall, and the woman leaned forward to scratch at the flaking white paint. “I think that it’s mahogany underneath!” She said, her voice betraying her excitement.”Isn’t it perfect?”
Anthony furrowed his brows. “Perfect for….?” He solicited an explanation. ‘Do you need a new bed?”
Stephanie sighed in exasperation. “I don’t…but I know someone who does….” When his face showed no sign of understanding, she sighed. “You, Anthony…it would be fabulous.” She picked up the price tag. “They only want a hundred dollars for it…if we sanded away the paint and stained it…Of course, there’s no place to fasten the handcuffs.” She teased, her light eyes glittering with amusement at the former priest’s distinct embarassment. Her humor faded somewhat as she acknowledged his reluctance. “You don’t like it?”She asked.
Anthony’s lip turned downward at the note of disappointment in her voice. “I like it fine…but I don’t need it. The couch is perfectly serviceable for now, and when I do get a bed, I don’t really need anything fancy.”
“Oh, Anthony, don’t you want something nice? Don’t you think that you’ve earned it? That you deserve it?”
His expression said what his voice did not. It said; “no”. Looking at his feet, he mumbled.”I don’t really think that I know how to refinish it anyway…”
“I could help you.” she persisted.
“It would be too much work. I couldn’t ask you to do that.”
“But I wouldn’t mind, I…” She was prepared to continue the argument, but sensed that it would be an exercise in futility. She didn’t know if the man was really concerned about making her work, or if he still hadn’t surrendered his priestly notions of self-denial. Either way, she could tell that she was making him uncomfortable.
Shaking her head regretfully, Stephanie turned her attention away, spying some empty picture frames next to the bed on the floor. “One of these might work with the painting that you made for me….” She held the hollow rectangle upwards so that it framed her face. “What do you think?”
Stephanie arched her eyebrows at the strange reaction, waiting for a response, but the man held the look, and so she asked. “What is it? Is something wrong?”
“No!” As if being jolted from a dream, the former priest shook his head, flushing and speaking quickly as he looked down at his feet. “I’m sorry, I was just wondering…I was wondering if anyone had ever painted you…the way you were holding that, it…reminded me of a picture I saw once.”
Stephanie flushed. “No, no one has ever painted me.” She said quietly. She started to turn away, and her eyes rested once again on the curve of the bed. Her features lightened as she had an idea.
“Maybe….maybe you could paint me, Anthony.”
“I’ve always wanted my portrait made, even if it is rather embarrassing, and I’ve already seen how talented you are…Would you do that for me?”
“Of course.” He answered immediately. “I would love to.”
“But, it would be a lot of work.” Her eyes twinkled mischievously. “I would have to do something in return….” She pretended to mull over the problem. “I’ve got it! You can make the picture for me….and I can refinish your bed.”
Anthony looked between the piece of furniture and the woman. He could sense that he was defeated, and he smiled, amused at being outmaneuvered so completely. “Do we have a deal?”
The doctor nodded, shrugging his shoulders in surrender. “Deal.”
Stephanie struggled down the steps to wait for Terry in the Inn’s lobby. Her Percocet from the morning was wearing off, and the new one hadn’t had time to take effect. The strain, coupled with the challenge of maintaining balance on her crutches, was beginning to wear on her nerves. Where was Terry?
As if on cue, the Australian strode through the front door, the smooth lines of a well tailored suit hugging his muscular form. He didn’t have to look around the lobby, seeming to find her on intuition alone. Without losing a step, he continued across the carpet to the corner where she stood.
“Sorry I’m late.” He said gently, plucking her crutches away, balancing them against the wall, and then drawing her body against his for a slow kiss. “I was making arrangements,” he hinted cryptically, then he held her body away, inspecting her form. His eyes moved slowly over her form, sweeping over the trim line of her black shift, then stopping at the bulky cast that obscured her ankle. “Broken?”
“Hairline fracture.” She replied.
Terry nodded his head, drawing her against him again. “I’m so sorry, luv. If I hadn’t been so clumsy…”
“It wasn’t your fault…it was probably like that all along, I just didn’t notice.”
The man nodded his head, continuing his nuzzling. “Let me make it up to you anyway?”
Stephanie laughed. “Maybe…but not in the lobby, alright?”
With eyes still hinting at what was to come, Terry drew his head back, sliding one arm around her shoulders, and the other under her knees, and lifted her easily into his arms. Leaving the crutches by the wall, he headed for the restaurant, walking past the reception area, into the dining room, and then out onto the private terrace, where a table had been set for two. A chair was on one side, and a Roman-style reclining couch was on the other.
“I thought it would be better for your leg.” Terry explained, easing her onto it. “Massimo and Ilaria let me borrow it.”
“Thank you.” Stephanie said, trying to find a comfortable position. “It helps…but I do feel a little bit conspicuous.” She admitted with a flush. “Are you going to feed me grapes later?”
Terry grinned, pouring her a glass of wine. “If you want.”
Glancing at the table, Stephanie noticed that their food was already in place. She took a sip of her drink, sighing in relief at the alcohol and the painkillers. Anthony had warned her not to drink while she was taking her medication, but the tiny sip of wine she indulged in seemed to finally push away her pain, allowing her to focus more on the moment than the pain.
She watched expectantly as her date drew the covers off their steaming plates, and pushed hers forward to be in easy reach. “It looks delicious.” She remarked, experimenting with different places to spread her napkin, and finally draping it on the couch near her legs. “It was sweet of you to go to so much trouble.”
“No trouble.” Terry insisted, scooting his chair to her side of the table. “And like I said, I wanted to make it up to you…”
“But my foot…”
“Not your foot, luv.” he interrupted. “Last night in general…I got a little…anxious. I don’t want to scare you away…or to make you think that I just want you for….”
Stephanie blushed. “I know. I know you don’t, and I was anxious, too. It’s just…” She tried to think of how to phrase what she wanted to say, but Terry took care of it for her.
“He hurt you.”
She took a deep breath, grateful that he understood. “Yeah…I mean, it’s not like I want him back, or that I’m not happier now…or even that he broke my heart. He didn’t. But he did promise me forever and I believed him. I’m just not sure that I trust my own judgment anymore.”
Terry nodded, “I know, luv.” His eyes grew distant, but he smiled, lifting fork to take a bite of his dinner. For a few minutes, they ate in silence, and then he asked. “Did you ever see my movie?”
Stephanie lowered her fork, swallowing before she replied. “Proof of Life?”
“Yeah….” He looked at his hands. “Do you remember…..Alice?” He gauged her expression, and then continued. “After it was over…and I had time to think about it. It occurred to me that I never told her how I felt. I kept…holding it in, thinking that it would go away but it didn’t. I wasn’t there for my son either. I kept…waiting. I don’t really know for what. I don’t want to make that mistake again, and so…well, maybe I went a little too far the other direction and rushed things a bit last night, and I’m sorry. I don’t want to ruin things between us.”
“You haven’t ruined anything Terry.” She reassured him, reaching forward to stroke his cheek. “There seems to be….”She paused to choose the right words. “A lot of pressure to be in love around here.”
His lips tugged upwards at the observation. “I guess so…and we aren’t following any of the rules…”
“For connections, you mean?”
“Are there rules?” Seeing the look of surprise on his face, she added. “People keep talking about them as if I should already know…how does it work?”
Terry took a deep breath. “Well…usually the women are drawn here by one of us. It isn’t something that we do consciously just….a tug. Almost like telepathy, I guess. Some of the girls are invited, some hear about this place through word of mouth….a few just arrive without really knowing why. Everyone at the Point knows that they are coming; we can sense it. Michelle gets everything ready for their arrival and…”
“But I came for Tina’s wedding.” Stephanie interjected.
“Exactly.” Terry chewed his lip. “That’s part of why its so…different…There wasn’t a room for you at the Inn either…usually when someone comes…” He started to explain how the new accommodations were prepared, but stopped, as if sensing that he had strayed from his topic. “But, not everyone has a connection. Mannie and NJ didn’t seem to at first. At least, Mannie didn’t think so.”
“Mannie and NJ?” Green eyes widened as their owner thought back to the couple that had taken her on her ill fated horseback journey.
“Yeah…” he followed her thoughts. “And no one can say they weren’t meant for each other…so I guess there is hope for us yet.”
“And we don’t have to fall madly in love.” Stephanie pointed out, unaccustomed to men who were willing to discuss commitment after a half-dozen dates. “We could just have fun and enjoy each other’s company.”
The light in Terry’s eyes flickered imperceptibly, but he held his expression firm. “I guess so.” He admitted reluctantly.
There was a moment of awkward silence and then, very slowly, Terry bent toward her. Placing his hand on the back of her neck, he drew her toward his lips. The kiss was firm, but unhurried, and she felt herself relax beneath his touch.
“We’ll take this slow.” He whispered as he drew away. “No promises and no regrets.”
“I’m worth the wait.” Stephanie teased, her voice husky and soft from the mixture of medicine and wine.
Terry’s face lightened. “Oh, luv, I’ve no doubt,” and then he kissed her again.
Stephanie leaned back against the porch rail and held her glass of lemonade against her forehead, closing her eyes to concentrate on the delicious chill that the action brought to her skin. She was exhausted, overheated, and her ankle was beginning to throb. What was worse; she didn’t have much to show for her pain.
She and Anthony had spent most of the morning sanding paint off his new bed, and they weren’t even half way through. It would be gorgeous when they were finished, but in the short term, it was a lot more work than she had expected. She was grateful that they had called it quits for the day.
The distinctive sound of a cat meowing caused Stephanie to open her eyes.
“Hi, Maggie…,” The woman said, reaching forward to stroke the fur of the doctor’s cat. Stephanie had decided not to hold a grudge for the pair’s earlier run in. That morning, it had become apparent that the creature made a point of being constantly underfoot, and so there was no sense taking the accident personally. Besides, she had been won over by the affectionate nature of the extremely pregnant tabby.
“Are you miserable, girl?” She cooed, blowing softly on the coat of the mother to be.”Poor thing…”
“Maybe you’ll think about it the next time you want to wander off and look for trouble.”
Stephanie looked up sharply as Anthony’s comments, directed toward his pet, alerted her that he had returned to the porch. The former priest leaned forward to shake his finger at the cat before placing a dish of cream in front of her. Stephanie covered a grin with her hand. Anthony had already voiced his frustration with the cat’s never-ending pregnancies, and it was funny to see him scold her like an errant child.
“She doesn’t have much longer, does she?”
He smiled. “No…they should come sometime this week…Which means that we have about three months until the whole vicious cycle starts all over again.”
Stephanie laughed again. “Why don’t you get her spayed….is it…?” A Catholic thing? She almost asked, but stopped herself afraid that it would seem rude rather than curious.
“I want to!” he answered with a heavy sigh, “Trying to catch her between nursing and pregnancy is the problem.”
Stephanie grinned and reached forward to scratch behind the animal’s ears. Anthony sank to the ground beside them, copying her actions. They petted Maggie quietly for a few moments before she noticed the box that Anthony had carried out along with the water.
“What’s that?” She asked, tilting her head to see inside.
“Your…? Oh, Anthony! We aren’t going to start now!” The woman’s eyes flashed nervously. “I have to take a shower and change and….”
“You look perfect.” He insisted, beginning to unpack his supplies. “You look like….you.”
The subject looked unconvinced, but he persisted. “I think that you would like it better than something posed and stodgy…I told you my philosophy before; portraits should tell a story.”
“Yes.” Stephanie said with a sigh, “but they shouldn’t be a horror novel.” She lowered her voice as if reading aloud. “Chapter One: It was noon and the sun was high. Crumpled on the doctor’s porch like a shriveling flower, the bedraggled woman….”
“Stop!” Anthony said, laughing as he balanced a sketchpad on his knees.
Stephanie shrugged. “I was only being honest.”
“Oh? How would you describe it?” She challenged, gesturing at her paint-dusted jeans. Anthony’s features softened, and he tilted his head. “I would write…Chapter One: The…” Abruptly he stopped, a faint flush tinting his cheeks. “You’ll just have to wait and see….” Turning toward the paper, he began to sketch the outline of an oval in the center of the page, looking up in between strokes to study the contours of her face.
Stephanie rolled the lemonade glass between her hands. “Where did you learn to paint?” She asked, uncomfortable beneath his scrutiny.
“It’s something that I’ve always done. I took some classes at seminary.”
“Seminary?” Stephanie could not contain her surprise.
“Priests don’t pray all day.” He teased, his tone letting her know that he wasn’t offended by her curiosity. “We… they,” He corrected himself. “Do the same things as everyone else.”
“Well, except for…” Stephanie raised her hand to her mouth, embarrassed that she had spoken before thinking again.
Anthony merely looked amused. “That’s what everybody wonders about, isn’t it?” He didn’t say what ‘that’ was, but his tone and look implied his understanding.
Stephanie blushed. “I…,” she started to tell him to forget it, but he waved her embarrassment away.
“It’s alright.” He assured her. “I’m used to the curiosity. It’s only natural to wonder why people would want to fight…their natural urges.” His eyes drifted up from the paper again, and she felt her cheeks tinge as his icy-green eyes lingered on her skin and measured her features.
“But isn’t it lonely?”
“Priests vow to be celibate, not to give up love.”
The expression on his lips stayed firmly in place, but the show of nonchalance could not mask the note of sadness in his tone. Stephanie met his eyes, trying to search out the source of the change. She felt a shiver as green met green, finding that his artistic appraisal seemed to be reaching beyond the surface of her skin.
“Have you ever loved anyone, Anthony?” She asked quietly.
Anthony dropped his gaze quickly. “I’ve loved a lot of people.”
“Yes…but…” She tried to catch his gaze again, but his chin was tucked tightly to his chest. “Have you ever loved a woman?….As a man I mean.”
The doctor’s lips twisted slightly, “Are you talking about love, or are you talking about lust?”
“Are you sure?” He asked her.
Stephanie opened and then closed her mouth, surprised by the response and wondering what he meant. She turned it over in her head.
“Are you saying that you think ‘romantic love’ and lust are the same thing?” She frowned. “That’s a bit depressing, isn’t it.”
“No, that’s not what I’m saying at all…I’m just trying to clarify your question. Are you asking if I ever….desired a woman in a physical sense, or…?”
“Oh, Anthony. It sounds ridiculous when you say it like that!”
“Well, how do you say it? What does love mean to you?”
Stephanie took a deep breath. “I…I don’t suppose I know anymore.” She fell silent, and for several moments, the only sound was the scratch of the physician’s pencil against paper. “Do you know, Anthony?”
He looked up, questioning. “What love is, I mean. Do you know?”
His pencil hung in midair for a moment as though he were pondering a response. “I think so.” He said at last.
“You think so? Then what…?.”
“Well, that’s where it becomes difficult…Because I don’t think that it’s something that can be put in words…it’s something that you see and feel…and do….” He relaxed his hand, letting his pencil roll down the page and onto the porch. “The answer to your question is ‘no’.”
“If I’ve ever been in love…I haven’t, but I’ve seen what it can be like.” He swallowed. “I remember when I was in medical school, following Father McConnelly on rounds…there was a woman who was…” He stopped, shaking his head. “I don’t even remember her name, or even what was wrong with her, but I remember her husband…this…tiny, shriveled old man who was holding her hand and telling her that everything would be alright. You could see it in his face: how he would give anything take her place in the hospital bed…or even just to make her suffering a little less….and I remember being glad.”
“Glad that I was a priest.” Anthony said quietly, looking down at his hands. “Glad that I would never know what it felt like to hurt that much….” His cheeks tensed, but his lips stubbornly refused to smile. “Its safer really….simpler…not to take the risk.”
Silence fell as the words died away, and the pair sat motionlessly, retreating into their own memories as they considered the remarks.
Between them, Maggie slowly came awake. She stretched luxuriantly in the bright sun and then struggled to her feet. Her swollen belly nearly dragged the ground as she walked toward Anthony and rubbed her head against his chest in a gesture too insistent for mere affection.
The action snapped both observers from their trance.
Anthony wore a self-conscious grin as he rubbed the animal’s head. “Hungry again? You’re a piglet, not a cat…”
“Be fair, Anthony.” Stephanie interjected on the cat’s behalf, “She is eating for….seven.”
The pair shared a chuckle, and then the doctor moved to his feet. “It’s getting late.” He commented. “The light is starting to change. We’ll work again tomorrow?”
Stephanie nodded her head. “I’d like that, Anthony.” She reached forward, accepting his hand to haul her up from the floor. “I had fun today.”.
Anthony nodded. “Me too…”
“May I see the sketch?” the woman asked, craning her head toward the drawing. She blinked in surprise as the doctor snatched it out of sight.
“It’s not finished.” Anthony said firmly. “And besides, you’ll change it if I let you see.”
“Change it?” Stephanie’s nose wrinkled in confusion.
“Whether you mean to or not, you’ll try to influence the way I do the painting.” Anthony explained. “Maybe tilt your head a little different…open your eyes a little wider…smile differently…” He looked briefly at his work. “Subconsciously, you’ll try to make the picture a reflection of how you see yourself…but until I put my brush down, it’s an image of how you look to me.”
Stephanie studied him intently and was startled when the doctor’s light green eyes turned upwards unexpectedly. Their gazes met, sending a shiver along her spine. “How do you see me, Anthony?” She half-whispered.
The doctor folded the paper carefully. “For that you’ll have to wait and see.”