Please see Page One for disclaimers.
Chapter fifteen was brought to you by a warm, toe-curlingly delicious blend of Glögg. It is absolutely sinful and believe me, I could almost sell my soul for this stuff.
Fourteen - Seven days
This was the seventh nightmare in as many days. The ones of her father always left her shaken, empty, crying. But Charles Evans was not the only one who plagued her dreams.
Tonight it was Richard. Compared to her father, he was a different matter entirely - his presence in her dreams elicited a whole spectrum of responses that inevitably ended in the uncontrollable urge to vomit. Happily, Piersen usually had an empty stomach when she was called so violently from sleep, but the reeking taste of bile was always on her lips when she huddled over the toilet bowl, legs crumpled under her as abdominal muscles ached from the retching.
Piersen spat out the remaining mouthwash, her mouth stinging from the potent liquid. It was strange how she always felt dirty after her nightmares of Richard, like a layer of heavy oily film coating her skin. In the darkness, she peeled herself unceremoniously from her sweat-drenched pyjamas as she headed for the shower, but found her eyes turning to the bathtub. A tiny smile warmed her tired face. This is what I need. A good, long soak. She proceeded to run herself a bath.
The sun had not yet risen, the dark skies giving the illusion of evening even as the stars were fading out. Piersen was always amused that the best view in her Victorian terrace house was from the bathroom. Hers was one of a hedgerow of compact houses that crested a hill in the historical Rocks area. Her living room had a crow's nest vista over the abandoned wharves and the western estuaries, while the humble bathroom held the prize view over the colonial warehouses and the harbour.
A view which Piersen ignored tonight, absorbed instead in wrapping her hair high up off her neck as she puttered about, searching the drawers intently.
"Ah ha." Her fingers unscrewed the cap of the cypress oil and placed a few drops into the steaming bathwater and behind her ears. The strong aroma invaded her nose as the steam swirled around the room, and she felt cleaner already. "Mmm." Hedonism will get you through anything in life.
She turned off the taps and eased herself slowly into the tub, sighing as the water reached around her in a warm embrace. She lay back, giving herself this indulgence without the usual guilt. Tonight's dream had hit Piersen particularly hard, though the prominent practical streak in her character would never allow herself to admit to it. Piersen was never one to wallow in her sorrows - Maybe that's why I can't sleep; it's all Freudian, repressed memories coming out to haunt me. She couldn't help the derisive laugh at her attempts at bathtub psychology, and she sank into the water a little more.
But no matter how comfortable she was, she would not, must not close her eyes. The dream was still too fresh in her mind - flashes of sweaty heat, soaked bedsheets, reeking of sex. Her husband's familiar body curling into a woman she did not know; countless images of Richard in a veritable Kama Sutra, all with faceless women, all contorted figures in various stages on the road to blind ecstasy, every damning picture a frame in the film reel of his infidelity, her grief...
Piersen's eyes snapped open, a wave of nausea having rolled over her. Okay, you knew you shouldn't do that. Not very clever, Piers. She blew out a quick breath and scanned the dark for something, anything to distract her.
Yes, that's it... Her eyes brightened when they made out the phone mounted on the wall. Golly, it's been a while - I should call home. Piersen had been so immersed in her work for the past few weeks, she had forgotten just how long it had been since she had spoken with her family. Nearly two weeks, I think. Chris will be frantic. She imagined the way her fiercely protective brother might react when she called. Oh heck, Piers. Why imagine - just call him, and see how he is. Reaching over her shoulder, she picked up the handset, dialed the number, and waited.
"Afternoon, this is Chris." A deep, lively voice spoke with a sing-song lilt.
"Guess who?." Piersen couldn't help but smile at the familiar sound.
The phone nearly burst with his exclamation. "Piersen! God, it's so good to hear from you! How are you?"
Her voice was still a little cracked from sleep. "I'm doing alright. How are things?"
"Fine, fine -" He broke off, and for a while there were sounds of deep breathing and muttering. "Sorry. Charles and Cam say hello."
Piersen smiled in memory of her brother's basset hounds. "I was wondering what you were up to." Chris could hear her smirk over the phone. "Give them a kiss for me. My house still standing?"
"I'm treating it just fine, sis. Trust me." Piersen could hear the grin on his face. "You sound tired - what time is it over there?."
"It's 3:15 in the morning. Yeah... I am tired, a bit. " She rubbed her eyes a little. "Didn't sleep too well, so I thought I'd kill some time."
Chris knew the euphemism well. She's always like that. Thinking that if she pretends it's not there, it will go away. "Still having trouble sleeping, huh? Not every night again, I hope."
"It comes and goes. I'll be alright." She hastily changed the subject. "Fill me in on some news, Crispy. It's been a while."
He smiled at his nickname, a name only his sister ever used for him. It was strange, even after all these years - he could still see her, imperiously bestowing it upon him in some childish game. It has been a while, Piers. "How did I get stuck with that anyway?"
Piersen laughed, caught unawares by the change in conversation. "Remember? I knighted you Sir Crispy the Brave, in reward for defending..."
"... the mighty Queen Piersen from the blistering tongue of her mother." Chris joined in, chuckling as the memory returned. "You, my dear, were a walking disaster area. How you managed to trip the guy over and break his nose, I swear I'll never know."
"Hey, you were the one that dared me to go up and kiss him." She smiled, the events so clear in her mind she could almost see it play before her eyes. "Richard was so gallant about it; he kept trying to hide the limp so Mum wouldn't get angry, but when she made him take his hand away from his nose -"
"What you'd give to break his nose now hey, Piers?" Her brother teased with a wicked chuckle. "I could do it for you, if you like. It's be my pleasure - and he's only twenty minutes away."
There was a slight pause. "You know, it's funny you mention that..."
"What, you really want me to belt him one?" There was an unbelieving laugh.
"Actually, I think I'm in a better position to do it." She muttered, not knowing if she was about to make a mistake - but nonetheless took a deep breath and plunged in. "Richard's here. In Sydney."
A shocked silence. Piersen could hear his mind tick - One. Two. Three.
When Chris spoke again his words were soft at first, gradually increasing in volume. "You're fucking joking. You have got to be fu-"
"Before you get stuck into your ranting, let me tell you the story first, alright?" Hearing the sullen pause, Piersen quickly related the events that occurred, and his current situation.
"You think he's up to something - what? Does he want you back?"
"I don't know. We won't be able to tell until he wakes up, and goodness knows when that will be."
"Do you want me to come out? I swear, Piers, you need someone you know to be around. I'm alright with him being half a world away from you, but he's practically in your backyard..." Piersen tried to interrupt, but he kept on. "The wanker needs to back off - there's no way he's going to get a finger on you, I swear."
Piersen tried to interject once more, her patience wearing thin. Her brother's escalating temper was there for all the right reasons, but it made her angry, and it made her too aware of the ache that was making itself known again.
"No, Piersen. Listen to me - "
She cut him short, her sharp voice echoing against the bathroom tiles as her head pounded from the memories of nightmares, of resurfaced hurt. "No - no - Just stop it, okay?" She sounded weary as she continued. "Don't try and play the superhero for me. Please..." She cleared her throat, feeling her voice about to break. "Just talk to me." Her voice was defeated, exhausted.
There was a long silence, punctuated by soft breathing. Piersen found herself marvelling the wonders of fibre optics.
His deep voice was hesitant. "You know, Mum actually talked about you the other day."
Piersen laughed scornfully, rolling her eyes. "Really? Was she invoking a hex on someone?"
"Something like that. But it's the first time I've heard her say your name since... I don't know. Forever."
"How is she anyway?"
Chris shrugged. "Mum's been - well, you know - the usual. Asking me when I'll quit running the restaurant get a real job."
Piersen smiled sympathetically. "Ah. I see she's turned to you now that I'm gone."
He growled. "Yep - I liked it much better when you were around. I'm just short of burning my citation just to prove to her I'm NEVER going to be a lawyer. She's been putting her head together with your in-laws and the Mathersons at least once every week over dinner - and I'm always invited. Probably just in case I ever develop a sudden interest in working for the company."
She teased lightly. "Better you than me."
"Hey, it's not like you're off scot free, Piers. I swear Mum and the Stamfords have been trying to push you and Richard back together ever since you walked out on him."
"They can keep on trying for all I care, Chris. It's not going to happen." She idly ran her fingers through the water, watching the ripples shudder over the surface. "I wonder, sometimes - why they just won't leave it alone. Why they're so desperate for me to go back to him."
"Mum adores Richard. He's the lawyer son she never had." He laughed derisively. "I'll never be able to understand the fixation."
"Heck, I was hoping you'd figure it out and explain it to me." Piersen commented wryly, before quickly becoming serious. "What's important is that they know what's happened to him - he'll be missed by his family, and the company. Just let them know that he's being looked after."
Beat. An incredulous outburst. "What, you want ME to tell them?"
"Do you think it's wise for me to talk to Mum?"
"Don't answer questions with questions, Piers. You're always doing that." He forced his breath through his nostrils. "The bastard never deserved you - what amazes me is that you still go and visit him, that you bother looking after him at all. Hasn't he done enough to fuck up your life already?"
There was a pause, and Piersen spoke, almost too-softly. "It's not that, Chris... I - "
His voice was tight with coiled rage. "You're always trying to defend everyone - for this there's no defence, Piers. You can't make excuses for him anymore." He tried to calm himself down. "Know what, Piers? You should leave him in the hospital to rot. You should just - "
"Chris - stop it! Please!" She covered her suddenly-pounding forehead with her hand, the awful pressure almost unbearable. She heard her own voice fade into the darkness, then waited to the slow drip of the taps echoing painfully in the dim bathroom.
When she spoke again, it was with an unwaveringly strong voice, even though every word felt like a tiny death. "I'm not defending him. I can't forgive what he did. But I can't hate him, Chris. I can't... " She closed her eyes, not because of tears, but because of the excruciating pain of her own truth.
God - she wants to hate him so much... and she can't. "Piersen... Oh Piers... I'm so sorry..." His deep voice cracked, unable to say more.
"Chris - it's okay... really." She hoped for eloquence, but could only find simple words. "No one here cares like you do - I'm grateful for you."
His voice had lost the fire, and became gentle. "What do you want me to do? You want me to tell Mum?"
"I'd feel better if you did... and she's more likely to tell you what she might know. He had my number in his wallet, so someone must have given it to him." Her brows knitted slightly. "Leave me out of the equation for the moment, alright? I have a feeling it might be better that way."
"What makes you so confident she'd tell me anything?"
"I'm not. But you're the only one for the job, 007." She smiled a rueful grin. "Sorry."
There was a drawn out sigh, not born of reluctance, but of concern. "Yeah. I'll try - no guarantees, though."
"Thanks, Crispy the Brave." She tried on a grin, and their conversation turned to happier matters.
Fifteen - Collision course
Adrian looked up calmly when the door to his office flew open quite dramatically, ushering in a grim-faced Professor Jamieson who rushed through with determined steps, her light grey suit and skirt clinging to to her body as she strode. Her dark hair was wound precariously around a rather savage looking pair of hairpins, and as she walked past her secretary's desk she reached back and pulled them out with a flourish, her inky tresses falling in a liquid cascade down her back and across her shoulders. She did not break her pace as she growled her orders to the politely-silent Adrian, who rubbernecked at the human cannonball hurtling through his office.
"Don't bother me, Adrian. I'll page you in a minute." With that, she yanked open the heavy doors to her office and disappeared inside.
Adrian knew that the doctor always returned from her Grand Rounds session in a heated mood. But even after all these months, he had to consciously remember to close his mouth before returning to work.
Kai dumped her leather bag and wooden hairpins on her desk, before walking around it and dumping her own lean body on her black leather chair, kicking off her shoes and lifting tired feet up to her desk in one fluid motion.
"Ooh boy." She sighed, and closed her azure eyes, which were missing their usual sparkle. "I hate medical students." Half of the ones that are here to learn are doing it for the money. The rest think that memorising my papers verbatim will make them good doctors. She sighed again. The ones that aren't here to learn... they're there to 'check out Prof Jamieson'. While it dismayed her somewhat, she couldn't help but smile in some perverse pleasure, remembering how she threw out the three engineering students who had snuck into the clinical school and began disrupting the lecture. But to have them staying back to ask for my phone number was downright embarrassing.
She reclined further in her seat till the back of it touched the huge window behind her, and put her hand over her eyes. She took a deep breath, and blew out it again. Noticing something, she sniffed again, not quite curious enough to open her eyes.
The subtle aroma made her peek from her fingers, and she laughed out loud. Sitting up, she reached for the phone with one hand, and the steaming cup of tea with the other.
Kai's rich voice almost caressed the handset. "Adrian, you are so wonderful I could kiss you. Thank you."
"Well, I'm just outside..." He smirked.
She chuckled, and joked back. "I'm much too comfortable to move now - how about I bring you something back from Boston instead?" She sipped from her mug, not bothering to hold back the groan of satisfaction. "Mmmm. Let's see - Chai, with cardamon..." Another sip. "Ginger, cinnamon..." And yet another. "And something else - orange peel. I thought they had run out of this blend."
"I've got a stash hidden away for when you have Grand Rounds." She could hear the wry smile behind the dry voice.
"Ah - is that your strategy for melting down the Iron Lady?." She smiled into her tea.
"Oh, so you've heard that one?"
She lowered her voice several registers. "I know everything that goes on in this hospital, Adrian. Except where you hide these tea leaves..." She took another sip. "In the filing cabinet, I'd suspect." She chuckled, growing into a throaty laugh when she received a stunned silence. "You better move it before I raid your office." She leaned back in her chair. "So, now that I'm in a good mood, do you have anything for me?"
"Your tickets for the conference have arrived - they should be on your desk, and you have fresh data reports from your research folks at the Garvan Institute. One of your registrars wanted to speak with you about Kelland in Bed 12 - he's going to page you within the next hour." She heard shuffling papers. "The Lancet have requested your services as guest editor for an upcoming issue, and Julian from PR asked if you would do an interview with Sydney Morning Herald about the art exhibition."
She frowned. "Tell Lancet no, and tell Julian no... I don't want to do it unless he really needs me. See if I can release a statement instead."
"Will do. Oh, and Dr. Foster called to confirm dinner at the Wockpool at 7.30 tonight."
Ah. Almost forgot about that. Hence the reminder, I presume. "Thank you, Adrian. Did I get any other calls?"
He ruffled through the message book, just to be sure. "Nope, that was all."
Kai sighed a little, and sipped from her tea again. "That's all, then. Thanks." She hung up softly, and huddled over her mug, eyes far away. I wonder how she is. I haven't seen her since that night in the ward... Shaking herself free from that train of thought, she picked up the ticket propped neatly against her monitor and checked the details. Window seat, hotel reservations - good. She neatly replaced the ticket, and scanned her desk, before reluctantly letting her eyes fall on the data reports.
Running out of legitimate excuses, she melted into her chair for a few sinful moments longer before getting back to work.
Piersen threw her pen down on her desk and blew the blonde wisps out of her face, her compact frame almost drowning in cratefuls of files, ledgers and papers.
"God, I don't believe this!"
She pushed herself away from the table and leaned her head back, closing weary green eyes for a much-needed rest. She had been in the company of her papers for the most of the afternoon, and now, while the sun bled itself to death into the water, the weariness of an afternoon of deadlock and stagnation had set into her bones, causing a dull ache to throb all over her body.
The ruddy light touched her pale face and hair, setting her features in a fiery relief as she tried to let the thoughts drain from her mind for a while. Her skin was grateful for the sunlight, the phenomenon which was still a pleasant novelty for someone who had only known the lukewarm offerings of Northern Europe. What's lovely is that it's almost 7.30 in the evening, and people are still out on the harbour, sailing... She swivelled around in her chair and turned to fully face the violent colours through her window, bright green eyes now open and lost in the shifting spectrum playing itself out in the waters.
The past week has upset her more than she would care to admit, but from a purely objective point of view it was a sucessful beginning, the first steps in exerting her influence as the new director of the museum. She ordered a detailed evaluation of all the museum's activities in what was admittedly an almost-impossible time-frame, but had their situation not been quite so desperate - Piersen laughed at herself. Desperate. Try suicidal - the museum's been operating well into the red for the past three years, and the debts have been stagnating worse than a Yorkshire peat bog all this time...
A polite knock on the door interrupted her thoughts, and she didn't bother turning around in response. "Come in."
"Howdy, stranger." The familiar smooth voice drawled across the room as James' head peeked into the room. "Busy?"
She turned around, genuinely pleased to see a face that had been conspicuously absent for the past week. "No, James. Come on in - it's good to see you."
"I didn't see you leave, I thought you might still be here." He pushed the door open, starting a little at the wall of crates almost engulfing her. "Whoa. What's all this?" He peered into one of the boxes closest to him before walked across the office to sit on the edge of her desk. "And what are you doing here so late?"
Piersen gave him a lingering, flat look, before realisation flickered across her face. "That's right - you weren't at the meeting on Monday, were you?"
"No - sorry. I was over at the hospital inspecting their offerings, and just trying to get some background on the artists."
Piersen rolled her eyes, her words tumbling out with a sigh. "Oh golly - boy did you missed out. It was a shambles."
"Really? Surely it couldn't have been so bad."
"Notice how half of the staff aren't talking to me at the moment?" She smiled sadly. "I've slapped them with an overall evaluation report due in a month, and it probably wasn't done in the nicest possible way." God knows I hated having to do it... but there wasn't any other way.
"Ooh - yeouch. Didn't think it was in your repetoire, boss." James winced, then rushed to reassure the blonde woman when he noted her expression. "I'm sorry - that's not what I meant. Quite frankly, when the board said they'd hire a taskmaster to turn the museum around, some of us didn't expect... well, you." He smiled as he traced her silhouette in the air with elegant hands. "I think a lot of your staff just underestimated you, that's all. I mean, for one, you're so damn nice, which just wasn't the way our last director got things done around here."
He threw her a lop-sided grin, and held playful eye contact until her serious face slowly broke into a reluctant smile. "Don't take it personally, Piersen. You know we're all behind you - you're just doing your job. I mean, there must've been a reason for it, right? Or did you just want to see your people squirm?" He quirked an eyebrow at her.
Piersen shook her head and gestured expansively around her. "Golly, James - these are the reasons. I had these archives delivered up all last week and the week before... I got the shock of my life when I saw how the museum had been running for the last couple of years. We've been running at about 15% over and above our capabilities, and some of the records were so vague and badly kept; the only thing I could do was to take an audit of everything, and fast."
"15%? I've been keeping track of the memos over the years, Piersen. I don't remember the figures being that bad."
"That's because they haven't adjusted the figures, and they've been leaving things out. Take a look at this -" She rummaged through her recycling bin, and found the notes that she made prior to the meeting. "These were the quoted figures, versus the real operating costs over the last 3 years. Notice any differences?" She raised her eyebrow at her friend, her eyes almost acidic.
James blew a low whistle. "Wowsers, Piersen. You must've spent ages rooting through these archives."
"Tell me about it. I think I've been falling asleep to numbers tumbling in my eyeballs..." She touched her fingertips to her brow. "Not to mention the Warhol exhibition - MoMA's sprung new freighting costs on us, and it's blown a huge hole in the budget." She sighed, raking her fingers through her hair and closing her eyes again. "I've been trying to compile the different quotes and figure out the best way to get around it."
"How's it been going?"
"Nowhere. I'm down to flipping coins trying to decide what to cut, and what to keep." Opening her eyes, she tried on a smile. "Enough about me, what's been happening with you? I've missed having you around." A pair of green eyes glared accusingly at him as a finger jabbed him in the arm.
"Well, as a result of a certain person giving me a month to organise an exhibition and an opening, I've been simply up to here with work this whole past week." He cut the air above his head with a wave of his hand. "In fact, I'm about to call it a day. How about you?"
"Yeah. I don't think I'm getting very much done now - I might come in tomorrow to look over it again... with a clear mind." She stood, wavering a little on unsteady feet as she propped herself up on James' shoulder. "Whoo. Too much sitting around, I think." She brought her hand up to her forehead to quell the transient dizziness.
He reached out to steady her, studying the pale, tired face. "Hey, do you want dinner? Give yourself some time to unwind, and I can enjoy the pleasure of your company - which I've been sadly without." Grinning, he raised his eyebrows in a friendly invitation. "Besides, we did establish that we had to get you out more often."
She glanced at her watch. "Oh, James - I don't know..."
"Oh come on, Piersen. It's a Friday night, the working week finished two and a half hours ago. Just a quick dinner; it's not like I'm dragging you off to a club or anything -" He gave her a sly look. "Although that's certainly an option if you're up for it."
She looked at the earnestness in his face, and her resolve crumbled. "You know, you can awfully persuasive when you want to be..." She glared at him as he beamed a delighted smile. "I'll sign up for dinner. Just let me get my stuff together, and I'll meet you at the lifts, alright?"
"Sure. Hey, do you like Chinese food?"
"Yeah, I quite like it. Why, is that what we're having?"
of." He see-sawed his hand, thinking for a moment with a speculative twist to his
lips. "Asian cuisine turned on its head, if you like. It's simply divine -
you'll love it." He jumped to his feet, and dusted his palms. "So - I'll see you
outside?" He bowed neatly, and strode out of the office with a spring in his step,
leaving Piersen shaking her head in quiet amusement in his wake.
Sixteen - Blind transit
The restaurant was filled with dinner patrons by the time Kai stepped through the entrance. She had tried so hard not to be late, but a quick check-up visit to the Garvan turned into a hour-long briefing session with her research staff.
I can't bloody believe it. I simply can't believe I'm bloody late.
On the one hand, Kai was pleased that they managed to iron out most of their problems before the weekend. Her internal diary, however, would not excuse her appearing half an hour late to a dinner with friends. Now I'm as bad as the rest of them. Bloody consultants who see it as a right to turn up late to everything.
She let out an explosive breath of frustration. Okay, now's not the time to be pissed off. You're having dinner with a friend, you're going to behave. She kept her pace as she walked, eyes scanning the scattered tables for David and his partner. Kai laughed under her breath as she remembered their extra guest. The long-suffering Psychiatrist. David's been with her for so damn long and this is the first time I get to meet her. I don't even remember him telling me her name...
His relationship with the woman had been off-and-on for almost 6 years, surviving a half-dozen marriage ultimatums and 80 hour working weeks with surprisingly little wear around the edges. David barely spoke of this aspect of his personal life, having only dropped small facts here and there over the span of his close friendship with Kai. And in this way, she felt almost privileged to meet this person tonight - it was his reticence that made Kai aware of just how attached David really was.
Oh yes - Kai's inner voice drawled knowingly - he's fallen hard alright.
In the rare occasions when he did speak of their relationship he was always terribly reserved, divulging his thoughts like a deep, cherished secret. The slightest reference to "The Psychiatrist" would elicit a bashful grin on the man's normally taciturn features, despite his best attempts to turn his face away. Yep - surefire way to make a 60 year old man look like a little boy. Kai grinned in spite of herself before recomposing her stoic expression.
Walking through the foyer, she smiled at the Maître-D' and wordlessly declined his attentions as she spotted the familiar figure outside on the dimly lit terrace. Her crisp footsteps took her past the columns of lazy gauze that hung from the high ceiling and through the glass doors.
"I'm so sorry I'm late, both of you. I was held up at the Garvan..." Kai spoke as she strode to the table, her eyes flickering between the two people as she smiled. The auburn haired woman stood, her delicate frame extending her hand as the doctor approached.
"Kai - I'm Giselle. I'm so pleased to meet you, finally." Kai took the offered hand, and was surprised to find smooth skin. As the woman moved from the shadows into the candle light, blue eyes jumped to the woman's face and was startled to find a face that was much younger than she had expected, and somehow familiar. I thought... God, he never told me - She grabbed her stammering thoughts by the reins and pulled them to a stop. Well, this is a surprise.
Her body did not miss a beat as she responded with a calm nod. "Likewise, Giselle. David's been putting this off for too long." She arched an eyebrow at the silver-bearded man, who laughed a little even as he fidgeted with his cutlery.
Kai and Giselle both seated themselves, their eyes and smiles still lingering fleetingly on each other, politely taking in the other's features. Kai, having recovered from the surprise, noted the slight, fine-boned build of her face and the lively grey eyes and once again the strange feeling niggled at her. I never forget a face. I know her from somewhere. She broke the brief silence with a puzzled smile, giving in to her interest as she located a catalyst for conversation. "This must be terribly clichéd, but I'm sure I know you from somewhere."
Giselle laughed, her amused voice light and musical. "Actually, I'm surprised you would remember me at all. I was in fourth year when you were a neurosurgery registrar at St. Vincent's. I always saw you whenever I was there during my Neurology term."
David scoffed, his eyes downcast as he mumbled. "Kai was always hanging around the ward.. Everyone would've seen her at some point or another."
Kai's face persisted in puzzlement for a while longer, her fine brows creasing her tanned face as they knitted together, searching her memory. Cobalt eyes lit up with recognition as it finally clicked.
"Of course!" She smiled as she threw a glance at David, who was back to playing with his napkin. "That was... seven years ago. I was just starting up then..." Memories came back slowly as she spoke, "...and I took some of your tutorials when our consultant was away, right?" She looked at the psychiatrist with new interest as recollections came back with greater clarity. Funny, that was just after I met David as well - to think it was so long ago.
The waiter approached to pour some white wine in her glass, and Kai lifted it to her nose briefly before touching her lips to the glass.
"What do you think?" David asked, barely looking at her as his fingers found the edges of his napkin, twiddling slowly.
Kai opened her eyes, having sampled a taste to her liking. "Lovely, David. You've made a really great choice." She took another sip, and chanced a shielded study of the two people sitting opposite her. Giselle sat relaxed and smiling as she too lifted her glass, while David looked uncomfortable and somewhat gruff, subtly wringing the starched white cloth in his hands. What's going on with you, David? Were you afraid I was going to disapprove of you being with someone younger? "Where were we? Ah, yes. Dr. Ingersent was my consultant - you were very lucky to have him."
"Actually, I remembered most of us wanting you as a tutor instead - it was refreshing to have a female neurosurgeon, and one who was the same age was we were, not an old bag like the other consultants." She smiled pointedly at David as she spoke, her hand absently reaching over to extricate the mangled napkin from David's restless hands, and folded her fingers in his. "It's amazing to see how things have moved on since then, hasn't it?" While the woman's voice was calm and light, Kai knew her question had a double meaning, as if daring her to disapprove of what she saw.
Kai deliberately held her gaze as she spoke, a sincere smile on her face. "It's wonderful." You're content. And you make him so happy - how else can I feel? "And it's great to run into you again after so long." She laughed a little to dispel the hint of tension remaining in the air, and reached for the menu. "So, have you both ordered yet? Or would you like to hear some recommendations?" Her rich voice was down-to-business as she flashed a broad smile, which grew wider as she noted with satisfaction the relaxed features of a somewhat calmer David.
James and Piersen sat towards the back of the restaurant, diners and waiters surrounding them in a frenetic blur even at this advanced stage of the evening. Despite the large volume of people, the conversation was hushed against the constant staccato of knives and cleavers against meats and vegetables, and the occasional roar of sizzling fire.
"Mm, this is really, really good." Piersen dabbed at her mouth with her napkin, the taste of the Thai beef salad still on her lips. "I haven't eaten out like this in a while."
"Really? How have you been surviving then? You keep telling me you can't cook to save your life."
"I can't." She grinned bashfully. "Even if I could cook, I wouldn't want to cook just for me. I've been living on bread rolls and take-away."
James tsked softly. "You should come over sometime, we'll cook up a meal for ya."
We? Piersen's natural inquisitiveness latched onto the pronoun, realising that this was possibly the first time her friend made a reference about his life beyond his work. Her eyes took on an evil glint. "Yeah, watch yourself or I might just bring my appetite and take you up on that." She chuckled softly. "So you flat with someone?"
There was a moment's hesitation, followed by a flicker of decision crossing the rugged face - a lapse that was overlooked by Piersen whose attention at that moment was drawn to the sound of distant laughter. "Yeah. He's a really good friend of mine, we've known each other for quite a while now." Hazel eyes darted across Piersen's face, trying to read her reactions.
Casual interest lit up her green eyes. "Is he in the art business as well? Is that how you know him?"
"No, not really. He runs a bar and club out in Paddington - an art form in itself, I think." His face creased into a smile. "Which reminds me - I'll have to take you there someday."
"I'd love to go, when all this is over and done with." She rapped her knuckles over her soft leather case. "Until then, I don't think I'll be able to -"
Her concentration was broken again by muffled laughter from the other end of the restaurant, and she half-turned her head in response, absently trying to locate the source before apologising to her puzzled dinner companion, and resuming her disrupted train of thought.
"You are joking!" Giselle laughed, her face an expression of open-mouthed disbelief.
"I kid you not." Kai's face was a study of restrained mirth, her eyes glittering like sapphires as she threw a look at a red-faced David, who could not help but laugh.
"Hey, hotshot, I wasn't the one who elicited more than a reflex when a certain doctor tested a male patient's perianal tone." His gruff voice attempted seriousness as he folded his arms and glared at the tall, dark-haired doctor sitting opposite him.
The psychiatrist turned interested eyes over to Kai, who was shaking her head and laughing helplessly. "Oh pray tell, Kai. This story is much too good to pass up on. This might take the cake for our disaster stories."
Kai smiled a crooked smile as she fidgeted momentarily with an earring, then sighed dramatically. "Alright - but just for you, and just this once." She raised her eyebrow at David, and growled menacingly. "And if this gets out in the hospital, I swear I will hunt you down, Foster." She laughed, then continued. "This happened years ago - I think I was still working with David at the time. It was a routine peripheral nerve examination on a patient who was wheeled in complaining of gradually losing feeling from his feet up over a few weeks or so. So I was testing his reflexes with the hammer - and worked from his ankles up to knees, and hips..." She trailed off, unable to continue as her face averted and broke into an embarrassed grin.
David took up smoothly from where she left off. "Being the thorough person Kai is, she proceeded to turn the man over and test the perianal reflex - you know, scratching the skin on your behind with a sharp object and seeing if the sphincter contracts, right? And he did just fine, very fine... in fact, he obviously liked it very much, because when she told him to turn back over on his back, there it was... " David hands gestured vaguely in air, laughing.
"So what did you do?" Giselle asked, an expression somewhere between horror and fascination on her face.
"I thanked him, and asked him to put his clothes back on." She chuckled, then took a sip of wine as her companions continued to laugh. "What else you you do at that point? At least I found out what was wrong with him - it turned out he had a benign lump growing in his lumbar spine, so it was a good thing I tested both reflexes, because the tumour continued to grow and compress his nerve roots, and - sure enough, both reflexes were gone a few weeks later." Kai shrugged, replacing her glass. "We had him transferred to Oncology to have the tumour removed - I'm sure he's functioning perfectly now. In every possible way."
The laughter gradually calmed to soft chuckles and an amiable silence followed, the three doctors turning their eyes across the glassy waters of Darling Harbour, watching the play of lights from the boats moored by the boardwalk. Giselle stood, taking advantage of the lull in conversation and excused herself for the bathroom.
Kai sat quietly, not turning her gaze from the view even as she watched David from the corner of her eye. "She's wonderful."
"Yeah." He ran his thumb along the edge of his plate, his deep brown eyes searching for patterns in the remains of his meal.
"Is she why you were so damn fidgety earlier tonight?" She smiled gently as her low voice teased him mildly.
Looking wounded, David glared at her briefly. "I did not fidget."
"Yeah, whatever you reckon." Kai laughed softly, watching his gruff expression break into a grin. "I can't believe we've left this so late, David. This should have happened years ago."
"Well, it wasn't me who pissed off to England for a couple of years. You would've been the first to know."
"Was that when you met? While she was on fourth year rotations?"
"Yeah. She ended up spending quite a while in A&E, when I was still tutoring. I remember wondering why she spent so much of her off-hours in Cas - I guess I know why now." He scratched his beard as he chuckled softly, lost in his own memories.
Kai smiled at the mental image of her friend being chased by a determined Giselle, but remained silent.
"That was the big scandal at first - the fact that I was her tutor, her examiner. We probably broke all sorts of rules simply by virtue of seeing each other after hours."
His words set the gears in the neurosurgeon's brain turning. "I don't think I'm one to talk about rules and ethics, David - " She laughed softly, but her eyes were touched by a shade of melancholy. "But surely, now that you're so far down the track, the rules shouldn't even apply to you now. She's not a student anymore."
"But that was the way it started. She was my student... and even though she isn't now -- damn it, she's still half my age!" He bit off his words in an attempt to stem the frustration he felt welling inside of him, and remained very still for a long moment. Kai watched him quietly, feeling the pieces fall into place. Is that where the desperation to marry her comes from?
When David finally spoke again, his gravelly voice was subdued and hesitant. "We're both well-known enough for people to talk about our lives. I don't want to open her up to any kind of speculation. Especially now that her career's taking off." He sighed softly while his fingers traced aimless designs on the dessert menu, eyes still far away.
"These relationships happen all the time. And many of them go without scandal."
"Oh believe me, that thought's crossed my mind hundreds of times. We've even been thinking of easing the relationship into the open sometime... hell, the rumours have been around long enough. But what I don't understand is why she won't have m--" He broke off a moment. "Why she won't go with the marriage idea."
Her voice was quietly gentle. "Why, you think she'll leave you otherwise?"
Starting defensively, David was about to retort sharply when he saw understanding in those eyes. And with that, everything tumbled out with a sigh. "I'm just too old for her, Kai..."
Feeling the pieces suddenly fit together with his words, Kai nonetheless cut in abruptly as she saw the red-haired woman approaching from the back of the restaurant. "Marriage won't chain her to you, and it won't stop people talking, David. It may legitimise things in your eyes, but from my point of view - spending just this single evening with you both makes it perfectly obvious to me how happy the two of you really are." She leaned forward over the table, her words carefully articulated and almost fiercely serious as the dancing washes of firelight set her tanned skin aglow. "That's what keeps her to you. And that's all that should matter. You have absolutely no reason to be afraid of what I think, what others might think. Despite your best efforts in picking them out for me, David, I simply can't see the crime in your being together." She watched David for a long moment, wanting to tell him more than she could say.
The brown eyes wavered for a moment, then broke away as he shifted uneasily in his seat. He grabbed the menu and opened a random page, rubbing his bristly chin as he sensed his partner's presence coming closer.
Kai softened her glance, then laughed a short, unbelieving moment. "I can't believe I just gave you relationship advice - me, of all people." She lifted her wine glass and swirled the liquid against the candlelight, throwing a tight smirk in his direction. "What the hell did you put in my drink?"
Giselle returned to her seat even as David laughed loudly and lost himself in the menu. Kai watched him for a moment longer before turning smiling eyes to the woman. "We were talking dessert. Which one are you interested in?"
Piersen sat contented, resting her chin on her hand as she slowly mulled over her dessert. That was lovely. I'd never have thought persimmons, ice cream and sticky rice could work like that, but this was simply... di-vine. She smiled as her own internal voice echoed James' inflections.
It had been a few hours put to good use, enjoying the company of something other than her work for the first time in days. The night had worn on to its quieter hours now, and the restaurant was distinctly emptier that it was when they arrived. A handful of people still remained within the restaurant, and even less were out on the balcony. She took a cursory glance out the darkened windows, past the shadowy outlines of lingering guests and took in the bright neon colours surrounding the harbour, lighting up the buildings and the shifting water like a gaudy techno-bacchanale.
At that moment, her view was partially obscured as the silhouettes rose to leave. They must've been the ones laughing. She smiled, remembering the quiet sounds drifting across the sea of people and intertwining with the bustly din within the restaurant. Who ever they were, they were having an awfully good time. She look at at her watch, noting the lateness of the hour. Come on, James. It's time for us to go too, I think.
She looked over her shoulder at her friend talking animatedly with the manager, who at that moment laughed generously and clapped him on the shoulder. Even from her distance she could sense the charisma the man exuded, and she could only smile. He's like a school boy sometimes - all exuberance and brilliance. Never one to lose an opportunity, James had taken it upon himself to discuss catering possibilities for the hospital art exhibition opening. I guess he's succeeded, judging by the looks of things.
Sensing that their conversation had passed the realm of catering arrangements, she rose, fishing out a few notes from her purse and leaving them on the table. She knelt to collect their bags, and sauntered over to the foyer where the two suited men continued to parley.
James saw the approaching figure from the corner of his eye, taking steady steps towards them with a raised eyebrow and a patient smile. He smiled, and waved her over. "Piersen! Come here, we were just talking about you. Michael, this is Ms. Piersen Evans, the aforementioned lady that runs the museum."
The manager took her hand and expressed his greetings, which Piersen graciously reciprocated. "So, Michael, I believe we are about to be doing business?"
"Oh yes. Mr. McAllister drives a hard bargain, but we would be pleased to provide you with our services." He grinned at her.
Piersen's eyes leapt from the beaming manager, to the beaming James standing beside her. Golly. Talk about school boys - these two are grinning like children in a toy shop. Do you just attract excruciatingly energetic and bright people to you, James? She artfully donned an enigmatic smile and patted James on the back, her voice crisp and confident as she spoke. "Oh yes, he drives a hard bargain, but that's because he has to answer to me." She shot a sly look up at her friend, who at that moment guffawed and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, squeezing her to him.
"Oh no, don't let her fool you. She's a real softy at heart, our director. Just wave one of those deep-fried lobster dumplings in front of her." He tightened his embrace, and Piersen was helpless to do anything but laugh, and wrap an arm around his trim waist.
Had Piersen not been laughing into James' shirt, she would have seen three shadows in friendly conversation walk from the terrace into the foyer. She never saw the widening of blue eyes, or red lips part in surprise before the expression was gone as fast as it came, the tall figure's easy steps faltering a little before making for the entrance.
The manager looked up from his chuckles and excused himself, indicating the cloakroom. He raised his voice a little as he bade the tall form goodnight. "I trust you enjoyed your meal, Dr. Jamieson?"
To Be Continued...
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