Chapter One: It Ain't Over 'Till It's Over
It has always amazed me how we can never see those life-altering moments coming. How, in hindsight, we can see the signs, the way time seems to ripple as fate aligns itself to drop a bombshell or two. It can be anything, really: pregnancy scares that turn out to be more than just a scare, crossroads where you decide if to run for it when the light goes from green to amber, the boy you haven't seen in over ten years suddenly materializing in front of you as if he had always been there.
And then, the point that will mark the befores and afters forever more is just there, and you say you never saw it coming. I know I didn't. I had been going through the motions of my day, taking care of paperwork, checking on my little patients, overall happy – as I usually was - with my life: my apartment in downtown Baltimore, my small but prestigious practice, my sister happiness and the fact Tess was living just a half an hour's drive from me rather than all the way across the country in L.A. Everything was fine, more than fine even.
But then, fate was already at work, ready to shock me out of complacency.
That day in early March, just as the first hints of spring began to warm the air, Tess and Dean had come to Baltimore for the day and Dean took us to a ridiculously expensive restaurant for a long lunch as they told me everything about their honeymoon, from which they had just returned. So, I returned to my office for my 5 o'clock appointment, sleepy and a little distracted. I read the name on the chart -Kylie Cole -and I didn't even pause.
I just walked into the office. I saw the little girl first, Kylie, sitting on one of my chairs, swinging her legs, wearing a ruffled denim skirt, cute socks and pink my-little pony t-shirt, her glossy dark hair in two, slightly sloppy pigtails.
I said, "Sorry, I'm running a little late," as I closed the door and then I saw him: tall and broad, staring at the pictures on my wall. Not at the big one Tess had given me when I had moved here to set up practice, a little over a year ago, the one that portrayed me during my first day of residency in pediatrics. No, he was looking at the other one; the smaller one Tess had given me just before her wedding, the painting of two teenagers making out in a crowded movie theater.
Kylie was looking at the man, and was staring at the painting too, she raised a little chubby finger and pointed saying: "That looks like you, Tris!" her comment ending on a giggle.
That's when he turned and looked at me, and it hit me all at once that the teenage guy in the painting did look like him, because IT WAS him, at sixteen.
Tristan Cole, over ten years later, standing in the middle of my office. He looked at me quickly, then returned his gaze to her desk where a plaque reading "J. Mercer. MD" sat and then turned to me once more, shaking his head. "Hello, Jessie"
He was the only person who had ever called me that. I was Jess to my family and friends, Jessica to my Grandmother, but I had always been Jessie to him.
"Tristan," I said after swallowing hard.
He smirked and somehow frowned at the same time, nodding his head toward the painting, "Interesting artwork."
"Thanks," I said, determined to be unruffled. "Tess painted it."
The frown cleared and he smiled for real, "How is the Chipmunk doing?" he asked calling Tess by the nickname he had bestowed on her when they had first met, close to fifteen years ago.
"Fine, just came back from her honeymoon."
"So Dean finally wised up and married her?"
"Yeah, took him 22 years but…" I shrugged.
"Do you know her, Tris?" Kylie interrupted, looking from him to me and then back to him.
"We went to school together," He said, smiling down at her.
We went to school together, we spent all our free time for three years kissing and groping each other senseless…
Tristan shook himself after that and got down to business, he was looking for a new primary physician for Kylie, who didn't like her old doctor and whose office was across town making the drive too long for their grandfather to manage on his own. I looked at him when he said that and he explained in a tired but patient voice "Yes, she's my sister. You know my mother."
I did know his mother – his crunchy-granola-tree-hugger-whale-protector-save-the-children mother, the one who cared about world peace and the well-being of everyone but her own son and, apparently, daughter – so I just nodded and went on with a few basic questions about Kylie's health, any issues and offered to answer any and all questions he might have – from a medical standpoint.
Tristan asked a few questions, pretty standard stuff about insurance and office hours, and Kylie asked me what I thought about clowns and if she could have one of the lollipops from the jar full of them sitting on my desk.
There were a few awkward pauses and Tristan kept glancing at the painting of him – of us – on my wall, so I finally told him that, if he wanted, I could recommend another doctor.
"Why?" He asked, seemingly truly surprised, his fair eyebrows – just a shade or two darker than his blond hair - going up.
I looked at Kylie, who was working her way through her second grape lollipop and tried to phrase myself diplomatically, "We didn't end on the best of terms, all those years ago. Maybe seeing each other on a regular basis won't be… comfortable."
He scoffed, "We had a fight 13 years ago, let it go." He said nonchalant. "Besides, Gramps is the one who usually takes Kylie to these things, today he was busy, that's all. Plus, she's a very healthy girl; I don't expect you'll be seeing us much at all. And you do come highly recommended."
"Amy says you almost never pinch her with needles!" Kylie said around her lollipop.
"Amy?" I said, thinking of the names of my patients. "Amy Walsh?" I asked tentatively, quite sure she was the only Amy I had.
"Yup. She's my best friend in the whole world." Kylie said.
I smiled, "Well, we all need one of those, don't we?"
"Well, if that is all…" Tristan said, a little impatient.
"Oh, yes, we are pretty much done. If you want me to be her doctor, I'll just need copies of her medical records and depending on that I'll maybe a general checkup if she'd due for one soon."
"I have copies of all the papers; I'll have my secretary forward them to you."
"We'll be in contact, then."
"Say your goodbyes, Kylie." He said as he swept the girl up into his arms.
"By Doc Jessie." Kylie said with a grin and I waved at her.
I tried to remain calm as they both left but the second I heard him saying his goodbyes to the receptionist, I put my head on my hands and tried not to freak out.
Then I gave up and called Tess.
-End of Chapter One-