By JuneBug <email@example.com>
Please see Page One for disclaimers.
Seventeen - Six degrees, give or take
"I trust you enjoyed your meal, Dr. Jamieson?"
Piersen's head shot up as pale blue eyes darted towards the smiling restauranteur, the tall woman's hand poised just before the door.
"Dr. Jamieson?" She blurted out in surprise. Startled, she found the dark-haired woman and her steady cobalt gaze that held her for a seeming-eternity before they flickered away to another focus. What is she looking at... Looking past the doctor, Piersen saw herself in the dark window's reflection and suddenly remembered where she was. Oh god... Muscles jumping reflexively in an inexplicable panic, she stepped away from James hastily, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear.
The doctor's lips were touched with a smile as she spoke, her smooth, resonant voice remaining casual. "Small world, Ms. Evans."
"Yes -" Further words ground to a halt, her thoughts still a little flustered at the doctor's sudden appearance. Golly, Piers. Get a hold of yourself - surely you can do better than that.
Taking a breath to steady her tongue, Piersen tried again, laughing a little. "All things considered, I really shouldn't be this surprised to run into you here, should I?" That's better. She mentally chided herself - You never lose your nerve like this - she was probably just looking at him because he was a stranger, right? She glanced over at James, who was now retrieving his coat from the Maitre' D , accompanied by two figures she could not readily identify.
"It's a very good restaurant." Kai nodded thoughtfully a moment, her eyes following Piersen's to the tall man at the cloak room before returning her attention to the museum director, her voice betraying a hint of concern. "You have been well since we last met?"
"Yes, thank you." Piersen relaxed a little before realising the context of the question. Oh - she's asking about the other night in the corridor... I had forgotten -
An interruption stopped her thoughts in their tracks. "Piersen, aren't you going to introduce me to your friend?" James quipped with a grin, face alight with curiosity as sauntered over towards them, his folded trenchcoat hanging from his arm.
"Oh - I'm sorry. I forgot myself..." She stepped back a little, smiling a little at the doctor. "Dr. Jamieson, this is James McAllister, a colleague of mine."
Unreadable blue eyes held his as they shook hands. "Kai Jamieson. Pleased to meet you."
"Likewise." A puzzled expression crossed his features, and he touched his fingertip to his chin in thought. I swear that face looks familiar... "Have we met before?"
"I don't think so, Mr. McAllister." She smiled faintly, then looked over her shoulder as she raised her voice a little for David's. "Ms. Evans, I believe you've met David Foster."
Piersen's eyes shot to the now-familiar figure of the older man, who was helping a waif-like redhead into her jacket. He looked up and smiled with recognition. "Of course. I transferred your husband, right?"
The curator could feel James' look of mild surprise shoot through her back, and she covered her discomfort with a slight cough. "Yes. Lovely to see you again, Dr. Foster."
"James McAllister -?" The woman accompanying David smiled tentatively, searching his face with some intent causing the tall man to react with some surprise.
"The lovely Ms. Henschke! Talk about small world -!" James laughed and extended his hand, clasping hers warmly as if old friends. "Now Giselle - what in god's name were you doing here, and why wasn't I invited...?"
Hearing the laughter begin, Piersen felt herself release a breath she did not know she was holding. Golly. That was close. What escaped her momentarily was what exactly it was that she was close to.
Well, that she'd get the wrong idea, of course. Heck - my supposed husband's lying half-dead in a hospital, and here I am in a swish restaurant half wrapping myself around a man... What else would she think?
She paused in reflection. Not that you should care what she thinks. Not that it's her business to care about what you do. Mentally sighing, her line of sight strayed over to the tall doctor - her mind's eye instinctively taking in the planes of the angular face, trying to read the expression in her features.
Expression. She quietly snorted at the irony of it. That in itself assumes some sort of revelation - this face seems to hide more than it will ever give away.
Her inner voice taunted her. Is that what you're after, Piers? A Revelation? Outwardly, Piersen continued to respond at the appropriate moments in the conversation as she surrepticiously watched the silent woman, who stood looking on with polite interest, her long fingers loosely gripping her attache case. Despite her close presence, there was a distance surrounding the doctor - something in her manner of stance, perhaps, or the way her face seemed to bear an invisible mask. There won't be any epiphanies here - not when she's wearing that face. All calm, aloof and terribly professional. Doctor-types, you know.
A memory of a previous conversation took her train of thought elsewhere, her attention now focused on the grey-bearded man standing beside Kai. Are they really - She shook herself from a resurfaced mental image - Together? Piersen couldn't explain why the idea of Kai Jamieson being attached seemed so difficult to digest. I guess I've just always pictured her as being the solitary type. A single tree in the forest, that kind of thing. She was faintly aware of the metaphor being out of context, but felt it was strangely appropriate somehow.
Laughter erupted at a joke that she didn't hear and she joined in dutifully, watching the doctor's face ease itself into a smile. I've seen you smile before, and it didn't look like that... She watched the faint light cast the tanned face in high relief, and saw the weariness that lay just beneath the skin. Even in this light I can see that your smile doesn't touch your eyes, and the tired lines in your face. It's like the weight of the world is on your shoulders...
Almost as if she had spoken aloud, the object of Piersen's perusal turned at that moment to focus on her. Caught unawares, the curator found herself frozen in place, unable to turn away from the deep blue stare even though her mind pushed at her to look elsewhere. Or at least put up some denial that she had been watching this enigmatic woman - who now watched her with an unwavering, calm gaze.
The eye contact broke abruptly as both heads whipped up to look at James, who stood just to her side touching her elbow briefly. "Yes?"
"We should probably get going. The buses are going to stop running soon." He reached for the door, ushering David and Giselle out then holding it open, waiting.
She shot a glance at the doctor, and then
back at James. "Alright. You go ahead - I'll be with you in a minute." The
dusty-blond man nodded and stepped out into the night, leaving her and the tall woman
standing expectantly in the foyer.
Okay. It's just you, and me. What are you going to do now, Piers? "It was good seeing you again, Dr. Jamieson."
"Indeed." The doctor nodded even as she internally fumbled. She knew that Piersen had been looking at her as their friends spoke, could feel the raking eyes under her skin. It was unsettling and strangely amusing at first, but she had allowed it out of some innate curiosity, just to see where the subtle perusal would lead.
Kai had not intended for her own glance to linger. It was only meant to be a quick, silent reprimand, a visual slap on the wrist when it became too difficult for her to remain passive under the scrutiny. But it was herself that was caught, along with her eyes, her breath, her pulse.
The pounding of which reminded her that they were still standing in the foyer of a restaurant. She tightened her grip on her bag, feeling blunt nails dig into her palm. "So... have you - have you been well?" Oh good one, Kai. Repeat yourself, why don't you. She clamped down on her tongue, trying to regain some of her disrupted equilibrium.
Piersen smiled slightly, knowing she had answered the same question before. "Yes, I've been alright - thank you for asking." She stopped a little, not knowing why she was hesitating before such a simple question. "And yourself?"
"Fine. Thank you." Kai motioned ahead of her, and they slowly strode towards the door.
Wanting to somehow fill the silence between them, Piersen couldn't help but blurt out the first words that were waiting on her tongue. "I've been hoping to run into you -- to, to talk about Richard, I mean."
The tall woman tugged at her sleeve buttons a little before she answered, a slight frown touching her fine eyebrows. "Yes - I'm sorry we haven't been able to meet. I've been keeping irregular hours lately." She was lost in a moment of thought before she answered. "He's been doing fine - his wounds are healing very nicely, and all his signs are stable. With regards to his conscious state - his coma hasn't worsened, but it hasn't improved either, which has its own good and bad implications."
Kai searched the pale face, now almost translucent in the reflected light of the moon. "Maybe you can give me a call at the office, I'd be happy to speak with you in greater detail." She tapped her watch, then glanced at the height of the moon above the horizon. "I don't suppose this is the best time to discuss this, unless..." She looked hastily at Piersen's face, and stopped her tongue before it went any further.
"Uh - " Piersen's first impulse was to say yes - a distinct impetus to abandon this stiff politeness and be... Real. Like it was two weeks before.
No, Piers. It's late, and she's had a long day. So have you. "No - you're absolutely right. I'm sure you have given me your number - I'll call you." This is about Richard, not you. Let's keep things in perspective, alright?
"Great." The doctor looked at her watch again, then noted James' tall form hover expectantly a few paces away. She took a step back, her right hand absently tugging the diamond in her earlobe. "I won't keep your friend waiting. I'll see you soon, Piersen." She turned, still smiling over her shoulder before she paced away to join her dinner companions.
"Goodnight." Piersen called
after her, not quite knowing what it was that she was feeling.
Eighteen - Laughing and Forgetting
The bus rumbled along the rise and fall of undulating asphalt, following the labyrinthine roads that twisted and ducked between colonial warehouses and darkened alleyways.
Piersen sat opposite her friend, her eyes looking out the window even though the night swallowed up everything outside, leaving the harsh reflections of her own face illuminated by unforgiving cabin lights. The rattling of loose window panes made it difficult to for her to hear herself think, even though a part of her only wished to lose itself in that strange feeling of euphoric confusion and something else that stirred inside her gut.
"You alright there?" Hazel eyes, a little lined from weariness, ducked a little to look at her drawn face.
"Yeah, I'm fine." Oh god - you see it too? Does the whole world know what I'm feeling except for me? She turned her eyes to him, keeping her voice level when she spoke. "What makes you ask?"
"I don't know - you seem to be a bit out of it. Did I bore you silly when I went scouting for caterers or something?" He raised an eyebrow at her, an uncertain grin waiting on his lips.
"No - I think I'm just tired. It's been a long day." A wan smile, and she shifted a little to better face her friend.
"Well, it was a lovely dinner, wasn't it? I hope it was worth your while."
Sensing the slight downcast tone in his voice, she hastened to reassure him. "Oh James, it really was lovely. Thank you."
James brighten noticeably, causing a similar reaction in Piersen whose somewhat reflective mindset dissolved in his broad smile. "And meeting your friends was an added bonus. You know, that tall one... I swear I know her from somewhere. Her name seems to set bells ringing in my head." He tapped the side of his head for emphasis.
"Really? I don't think the two of you would mix in the same circles." Clever, Piers. How would you know? "She's much too... serious."
"You got that right. I think I was lucky to get a grin out of her, and I was in good form tonight." He looked at her speculatively. You must've been tired. You usually work the room so well, and tonight it's like... you were off somewhere.
She laughed in agreement as she leaned forward to press the bell. "You were indeed, James. I noticed that you got on very well with that auburn haired... what's her name?."
"Giselle? Oh yes. She's an absolute angel. She's a regular at Adam's club." He smiled, a thoughtful look on his face. "Doesn't she look great with that man?"
"David?" She mumbled offhand as her mind jerked into activity. "Are they together?" Wait - if he's with Giselle...
He snaps his fingers. "That's his name. And it was pretty damn obvious to me they they were together. He's usually with her when she drop by at the bar for drinks after work, but the penny didn't really drop till tonight." He rubbed his bristly chin. "I didn't know you had so many medico friends, Piersen." Then again, I didn't know you were married either... you never talked about your husband, and... His eyes searched her hands. No ring, I see.
"I don't, not really." Ah. A faint memory of an overheard conversation replayed itself, and somewhere in the vaults of her brain, a very clear 'click' resonated. I guess she isn't attached then... at least, not to him. For some inexplicable reason, she felt... lighter? Heck, I don't know what it is I'm feeling right now.
"So... are there any other of your friends that might pop up over dinner from time to time?"
"Nope - I don't know that many people here, James. I'm afraid you're stuck with me until I have time to make some other friends." Piersen smiled, then turned her eyes back out towards the darkened streets.
"Oh, I don't know. I think I can put up with you." He laughed. "Maybe you can bring your husband along to dinner sometime, Piers. I'm surprised you've never mentioned him before."
"No - " A slight breath, quickly followed by a smile. "But then again, you've never mentioned you had a flatmate either. When will I get to meet some of your friends?"
Well... I guess that was 'back off', in not so many words. Feeling abashed, James couldn't help but smile at his friend's politely subtle evasion. "Hey - Kai Jamieson... she was the one that you went to 'The Fez' with, wasn't she?" He laughed a little when Piersen nodded silently. "Well, you were telling it like you were having a ball, so she mustn't be as serious as you say."
Maybe. She felt the bus round a familiar corner, and she gathered up her bag. "My stop coming up." She hauled her tired body up from the vinyl-covered seat, gripping the metal pole tightly as she smiled down at her friend. "Thanks, James. I had a wonderful time tonight... I really appreciate you persuading me out of the office."
"Hey, anything for you." He gave her a boyish grin. "Take care, alright?"
"Yeah. See you Monday."
The bus ground to a halt as Piersen moved to the front of the bus, and past the unresponsive bus driver. "Thanks, Goodnight." She threw a final glance and smile at James before stepping into the dimly-lit street.
The roar of the bus engine as it pulled away still rang in her ears long after it disappeared from sight, and it was a while before the quiet had resettled enough for her to hear the jumble of thoughts clamouring for her attention. Oh no - no way. I'm not going to think until I'm out of these clothes, and curled up with a mug of hot chocolate.
Her footfalls became louder as she
continued down the cracked footpath, and as the silence settled she could very distantly
hear the wail of speeding tyres tearing down a faraway street. That's better. She
opened the small gate in front of her terrace house and stepped up to her door, savouring
the smell of the frangipanis that grew in the tiny patch of garden while she fumbled for
She gratefully shrugged off her jacket as she stepped inside, and her shoes followed suit soon after. The interior of her home was cool, and still smelled of the refurbishment that took place just before she moved in a little more than a month ago. Boxes filled with books and other items were stacked by the corridor, waiting for the day when she could be bothered to unload them. The excuse was always the same - I don't have time to read anyway. Flicking on the lights, she winced a little at the brightness and dimmed them to a more comfortable level.
She laid her bag and jacket on an arm of the overstuffed couch and headed for her bedroom, punching the 'Playback' button on her answering machine, switching on the kettle and half-unzipping her powder-blue dress with familiar efficiency as she went. The monotone digital voice wafted through the doorway as she opened her wardrobe, eyes searching amongst the rows of clothing..
"One. 7:37pm - Mrs. Stamford, this is Peter Goldsmith of Holbrooke, Evans and Stamford calling regarding your holdings. Please contact our London office at 0171 280 5000 at your earliest convenience."
Oh golly. I didn't need to hear that. She chuckled as she stepped out of the dress puddled around her feet and reached for her teal green pyjamas. Well, 'convenience' seems to be the keyword here... She pulled on the loose pants and slipped the shirt over her arms, loving the feel of satin against her skin.
"Two. 10.41pm - Piers, 007 here..."
Her hands on her shirt froze mid-button on hearing her brother's familiar voice, and she padded back into the living room, ears on alert.
"It turns out that Mum had a charity function in town today, so I was a bit surprised when she called me this morning to meet up at her apartment for tea. So I was sitting there, and I thought "hell, there's no time like the present", so you will be pleased to know that I have fulfilled your mission admirably."
Her brother's voice paused briefly. "Although I'm... surprised, to say the least. I've never seen such a non-response before - she just sat there for about a minute, and then told me to wait while she stepped out of the room for a while. I'd suspect that she called his business partners and your in-laws."
Oh blast... Even now Piersen could not get herself to swear if she tried.
"Look - I don't think I could get very much out of her, but I'm going to keep trying, alright? She still doesn't know we're talking - I managed to put together a half-decent fib about the hospital calling your house here, so she might think you don't know about this yet. Be prepared for anything... she could be hopping on the first plane to Sydney, for all I know. Call me, and I'll fill you in, okay? Take care."
"No more messages." Beep.
Slowly, she slid into the couch, the stuffing sighing a little as her weight settled and the material moulded itself around her slim frame. The heavy silence hung almost stiflingly over the darkened room, like thick humid air.
"Oh no." She thought, out loud this time. Having them hop on the first plane out here would be very bad indeed. But it wasn't unexpected. She blew out a quick breath, sending blonde wisps flying and resettling around her face, which was now wearing a tight frown of displeasure. Non-response, huh? Mulling over the information, Piersen had to admit she herself was surprised by the seemingly-passive reaction. Her mother had never been a demonstrative woman - she was always the perfectly poised matriarch, with a magnificent bearing that demanded respect with the flicker of an eye.
She sank further into the couch, now threatening to swallow her whole. But she loved Richard so much - maybe even more than Chris, who knows. Blonde eyebrows knitted further, the pieces clattering messily in her mind. No, it doesn't fit at all. What's going on?
The blasting whistle from the kettle broke her from her reverie, causing her body, which was coiled tight with tension, to jump.
Flustered, she smoothed out her hair, not knowing whether to obey her muscles to remain in the couch or to listen to her stomach. Nope. It's end of the week, and I deserve some hot chocolate. She rose with a groan, and walked to the kitchen, her flat feet squeaking a little against the newly-polished wooden floor.
She opened the pantry door, her hand instinctively reaching for the jar of cocoa without having to look, and made a stop at the fridge for the milk before dropping her bundle on the bench. She heaped more powder than she should have in her oversized mug before pouring the hot water, relishing the rich, dark swirling chocolate mist that rose to her beatifically smiling face. Mmmm... With that, the thoughts at hand evaporated to background noise, and she made a conscious decision then and there to leave the urgent matters to rest. At least until tomorrow... yeah. She chuckled as she recovered sufficiently to remember to pour in the milk. No time like now to procrastinate, right?
Pulling her sleeves over her hands a little, Piersen carried the bowl-like mug back to the couch and resettled into it cross-legged, meditating over her xocoatl before taking a long sip. The warm rush spread down to her stomach like a spear, and radiated to her periphery.
Hmpf. It was like that when I got caught looking at her.
Startled at the memory, she rolled her eyes as her face broke into an embarrassed grin, which reddened a little even now in remembrance of deep blue eyes that watched her steadily. She would never deny that she had a tendency to watch people in social situations. After all, the artful facades some people put on are studies in themselves...
Portraits had always been Piersen's speciality... in a time when making a living as an artist was still a real destination and not a forgotten dream, she would fill books and books with sketches; within page margins of novels, corners of newspapers, leaflets found on a neighbouring seat in the Tube... In every coat there would be a wrapped piece of charcoal, or an black ink pen, ready for the time when she would strike inspiration on a bus, or the monthly train journeys between London and her parents' home in Derbyshire. The habit of watching people around her persisted even after reality asserted itself, when she began reading Economics at Cambridge - her mind's eye would form the bold dark strokes on an inner canvas, the image lingering even when she had forgotten where exactly she had gained her inspiration.
But in all her years of bus rides, social functions, gallery openings, business meetings... I've never been caught by anyone. She bit her lip, her grin widening a little more. Until now.
The moment still lay close to the surface - embarrassment swirling with a mess of feelings that ended with those eyes, that face. There's something about her that is so uniquely strange, and yet familiar at the same time... So much so that if she just closed her eyes, the doctor's features would return to her with startling clarity, as if it was the memory of a friend's face that would appear easily when summoned.
But I've barely seen her ately... three times, at most. She blinked, half-surprised at the low number, and took another long taste of her hot chocolate. Well, you have to admit, she has some pretty striking features. That bone structure in her face is almost oriental, and Michelangelo wouldn't even come close to mixing a blue like that for the Sistine Chapel... There must be a heck of a history in her genes.
She closed her eyes as she swallowed, again surprising herself when the image of clear eyes, defined cheekbones and dark hair came with an almost-frightening ease. Her eyes fluttered open almost immediately.
"Whoo, Piers. Time for bed soon, I think." Looking over the rim of her mug, she caught sight of the stack of papers she had been reviewing the night before lying on the coffee table, and an earthenware jar filled with pens, pencils and brushes. I guess I could get some work done before I get to bed. After all, I've still got half the mug to go. She took another sip before placing it on the floor in front of her, and reached out for the papers and a pencil. Yeah. Get some work done.
She scanned the lines of writing, reading earnestly at first, then skipping words here and there.
It was when she found herself skipping whole paragraphs that she realised productivity was at a low point. Oh, come on. You've stayed up later than this. Closing her eyes, she grabbed her mug and took another drink. Get working.
She twirled the pencil in her hand, and tackled the page again even as her mind taunted her with a long-suffering voice. Piersen, Piersen. You're not really getting any work done. So why don't you just ...? Her fingers began to move, drawing light cross-hatches in the margin, loving the smooth graphite on paper.
Cross hatches slowly became the fine ridge of a nose, philtrum, full lips.
I guess these are just the draft copies anyway - I can type out the final draft tomorrow... Slashes of strong eyebrows and cheekbones, veiled eyes with dark lashes hiding a theatre of expressions.
There were no nightmares that night.
Nineteen - Reflections, recollections, resolutions
Kai stepped out of her Land Rover and into the cold, grey morning, jogging on the gravel as soon her her feet hit the ground. "Brrr." She rubbed her bare arms which were tingling a little from the cold, half-chiding herself for not buying a new wetsuit. Damn, you'd think Winter's come early with mornings like this. She squinted up at the twilight skies and shook the sluggishness from her arms, reassured by the slumbering colours that by 8 o'clock the sun will have risen high overhead, and it would be a glorious early Autumn day.
Quietly, she surveyed the span of Parramatta River before her, noting with passing interest that her surroundings were cast in dichrome in the half-light. Everything looks so grey. And if it's not grey, it's green parkland. It's like a filter has descended over your eyes, showing you and you alone the magical moment when the world rouses itself from sleep...
She blinked at little in surprise, startled at the words that came out of the blue. Hey, that was mightily out of character for you there, Kai. Considering you haven't touched a poetry book since -
"Cambridge." A smile touched her lips as she whispered the word to which a whole host of memories were tethered. If she closed her eyes and imagined, it could almost be a foggy pre-dawn hour on the shores of the winding river. Well, the Parramatta is a world away from the River Cam - she thought amusedly as she cast her eyes over the huge span of water before her.
She hadn't rowed as regularly as she used to since her return to her home town, but being on the water like that had always thrilled her to the bone - it was a purely elemental experience, feeling her muscles push against the water, and the current propel her along the stretch of river. Her heart already pumping in anticipation, she grabbed her water bottle and sunglasses, pulled the cap tightly over her hair and locked the door even as she jogged away, keys jingling in a steady rhythm from the cord around her neck.
She ran easily down a short stretch through the manicured parkland to the riverbank, loving the rush of oxygen into her lungs and the pounding of her feet, the perfect mechanics of bunching thigh muscles as she picked up the pace, then veered to the right along the path to the boathouse. Approaching the tin shack tucked away behind a wattle grove, she slowed her bounding steps and eased into her stretches, pulling flexible limbs up and across her body, feeling their protests melt away. Argh. I think you're slowing down there, Kai. Too much time sitting around pushing pens.
She chuckled to herself. Who would've known you'd be spending half your life on paperwork, hey? I thought I got out of Trauma and into Surgery just to get out of all that. Unlocking the shed, she located her fibreglass boat and, after securing the oars, hoisted it over her shoulder and out into the hazy morning. She paced to the makeshift landing that floated on the river and slid the boat into the water, loving the steady hiss as the fibreglass kissed the shifting surface. Warming up her shoulders a little more, she hefted the oars and set them up before standing back a little, taking in the boat bobbing on he water silently for her. A smile worked its way to her lips and, absently tugging at the zipper that held her black wetsuit together, she tucked away her sunglasses and eased herself into the seat.
Perhaps it was like a Pavlovian reaction, but once Kai settled in that boat, the next thing she knew was the feeling of gliding smoothly along the river, her body arching forward and pulling back with an effortless grace, the blurring distinction between man and mechanics. She truly rejoiced in these moments, when the tumult in the past, present and future ceased to exist - and she was just Kai Jamieson, the bookish, slightly gawky medical student no one would look twice at.
Oh boy - that was half an age away. To think I gave that up for this. She mentally chuckled, ignoring the pinprick of regret that was embedded deep within the memories. If I had my life over...
A laugh escaped between breaths. Damn, I sound like my grandmother. 'If I had my life over...' Her mind echoed with the generic age-cracked voice all grandmothers seemed to have, one she knew she had heard again and again when she was young, the vestigial remnants of a memory. She had died too long ago for Kai to remember anything beyond a vague sense of things past, cast into the faded russet-browns of the dying Indian summers from her childhood.
They say she died of regret. Snatches of conversation overheard by the sharp ears of a child, told in dismembered voices that belonged to her parents - the vacuum that had eaten away at her from the inside out, until there was nothing left; a wrinkled husk too small for the bed in the hospice, brain ravaged by dementia to say nothing more than "If I had my life over...".
Kai knew now, even from the paltry shreds of memories, that it was no vacuum that ate away at her, but a metastatic colon tumour that had spread to her liver and lungs. But those are only the facts. They're both the same, effectively.
The hazy light became a little clearer, and she noted with a passing glance the colourless skies slowly warming to a grey-pink where it met the water. Regret is a dangerous thing, more virulent than any malignancy. There is no chemotherapy you can give to purge it from your organs, no amount of isotonic saline you can feed to replace the volume of soul lost. Her thoughts turned to the events of last night, the unyielding face of her friend who could not hide the sadness in the dark brown eyes that he kept trying to turn away.
That's the core of it, isn't it? You regret your age, the way you met, your position. And you think marrying her will take all that away.
Her mind sighed, knowing that in the stark honesty of her thoughts stripped bare there was nowhere to hide the sorrow she felt for her mentor. Of all the people that deserve happiness, he was one for whom she wished it the most. In her years as his protégée, then close friend, she could not remember a day when the quietly-spoken man would not sacrifice a part of himself for his patients, for his work. He had everything... he was an amazing doctor, but it was like he was withering away inside, and it was scaring the hell out of me.... She spoke that fear to him as a brash young intern on the tail end of a graveyard shift, tiredness emboldening her to turn the tables in their relationship and speak of things beyond the profession, tiredness preventing his pride from turning a deaf ear to her words.
"We all have to distance ourselves to get through the day. We can't be in control all the time, not even you, David Foster."
It was the first time she had called him by his name, advising the one who would normally be giving the advice. And now Kai saw a reprise of this slow withering, but this time there were no clever comments, no joking reprimands she could give that would alter its course.
She turned to watch the first ferry service for the day rumbled quietly upriver, the twin engines of the catamaran forming complex waveforms that intertwined and broke across the glass-like surface.
David and Giselle. The way the sound of their names together still gave Kai a feeling of soft wonder, fitting together like the ripples on the water. Despite her concern for him, a part of her inside was inherently pleased for her friend - they shared such an easy intimacy, subtly hinted at with casual touches and smiles - yet it was so powerful it was almost palpable from where she was sitting. What a marvellous thing it must be. If such a thing were mine I would not trade it for all the perfumes in Arabia.
"Yeah, Othello. And you would know, wouldn't you?" She muttered between strokes, attacking the resistance in the oars while she taunted herself.
She rowed in determined silence; not knowing, not wanting to answer. Instead, she built up speed - a gradual acceleration that multiplied on itself until her arms screamed, her legs ached, her body unable to do anything but follow and build on the driving momentum, relentlessly pushing the pace until all thought was purged from her mind, until she became bone, sinew, muscles powering against the river, not slowing until the skies flared alight, stoked from their embers by the insistent morning.
Then she stopped, jamming the oars into the water with a rush of foam to leave the boat rocking silently, her body sagging forward to catch her breath and savour the sweet cramping in her muscles, the blood pulsing through her vessels, reminding her that she was breathing, alive.
Propping her arms against her knees, she finally relaxed as she looked into the muted skyfire - seething, growing, warming - her wonder growing with the distant star and its shifting colours.
Brrring. Brrring. Brrring. Brrring
Piersen paced in her living room, finger absently tapping in agitated morse on the cordless. She looked up at the clock. 10 o'clock. It's not that early, is it? And she did say to call tomorrow... or did she? The previous evening had been surreal in remembrance, real events blending into a night that had been without nightmares.
Brrring. Brrring. Brrring.
Well, maybe she forgot today was a Saturday. She padded to the coffee table and picked up a torn slip of paper, twirling it thoughtfully in her fingers. Cell phone. I could try that...
Nah, she's probably not an early riser. Not on a weekend, right?
"Okay. Ten rings, that's it." She hung up before she could change her mind.
Kai pushed open the door, juggling passcard, keys, sportsbag and her briefcase. If there is one time when the Clinic is at its most attractive, it's when it's empty. Her bare feet scuffed a little on the carpet as she made her way across Adrian's office, dumping her armful on the couch by the window.
This morning's rowing had been extremely satisfying; the return trip upriver after the sunrise was against a lively current and her shoulders ached as a result of the extra exertion. But they always ache anyway... Kai muttered in her mind as long arms reached around and attempted to knead out the tight muscles. I need one of those deep massage chairs.
Or better yet, a personal therapist. That got a smile from the doctor, who now gave up on the futile massage. Maybe if I claimed a disability it might be tax deductable. She grinned, but guilt and better judgement wiped it quickly from her face.
Propping her hands on her hips, she let out a breath while she gathered her thoughts into her internal organiser. Shower, check messages, confirm replacements, leave last minute instructions, pick up papers and tickets.
"Good. Let's get going." She grabbed her bag and headed for the bathrooms, tossing her keys as she went. The jingling was loud in the almost-serene quiet, in rhythm with the noisy wet-suit material that shifted over her skin as her tanned, bare legs made their way down the corridor. Good thing no one's usually here - I think this might be too much for some of them to take.
She chuckled softly at the thought. Although... turning up to work like this might not be the cleverest thing to do, Kai. I think the Sisters of Charity would throw you into a confessional for a year. She knew most of the Hospital board very well - her position as Chairman of neurology meant that much of her time was spent with the board members, comprised of equal numbers of financial analysts, health professionals and nuns from the catholic order.
The first few months in her new position were a rocky start for Kai, whose presence at the board meetings was almost taken for granted as she presented her numerous proposals for consideration. Trying to justify something to a nun is like trying to find swear words in the bible. They may look holy and patient, but boy do they have fangs...
"Care to explain this, Professor Jamieson?"
"Is that necessary, Sr. Monica? I believe that this was well within my jurisdiction."
"As Chairman of your department, your authority ends with Dr. Rickson. It is highly unorthodox for a person in your position to take such an... active participation of the department's day to day operations."
"Unorthodox, perhaps. But not unheard of."
"Your position accomodates for some liberties, Prof. Jamieson, but to directly overturn a directive of the Head of Administration is beyond your power."
"I'm afraid I'd have to challenge that, Sr. Benedict. In fact, the department protocol states that all proposals from the operatives must be referred to the Chairman for evaluation."
"I've been familiar with our protocols for years, Doctor. And I remember no such thing."
"Perhaps that is the reason why, Sister. That was a part of a series of revised clauses that was submitted on the 2nd, 16th and 30th of the previous month, which had just been approved by the board, yourself included."
An acidic look. "I have no recollection of this." She grabbed the minutes archives, and leafed thorugh the bound volume while the board members craned to look.
Kai waited expectantly, watching the prim expression slowly dissolve to stupefaction.
There was hellfire in the nun's eyes. "You are correct, Professor Jamieson. Underhanded, but quite correct."
Kai didn't know whether to be pleased or abashed. She knew that in those few months she had acted with a degree of ruthlessness that she seldom exhibited in her efforts to empower her position, but she knew it was something she had to do. The department was going under, and I wasn't going to watch it sink. They may hate me for it, but like it or not, I'm doing my job.
Thankfully, her gamble had paid off - most of the Board members performed a dramatic about-face in the subsequent months as the transformations Kai instituted came to fruition. However, the doctor was starkly aware of the things she could have done in a different fashion. Like transferring Graham Rickson from Admin to the clinical school - especially so soon after that incident. But there's never been a way to tell someone nicely that they weren't up to standard...
Kai rounded the corner, and was somewhat dismayed to hear footsteps heading in her direction. Oh boy. Jinxed myself... hope they don't expect an explanation. She coughed away her smirk in a subtle warning to the unseen person, then forced facial muscles to compose themselves.
The figure appeared from behind the frosted glass partition, who nodded absently in greeting before looking up in a sudden double-take, weary eyes widened with surprise.
Kai looked calmly into the startled gaze. "Morning, Geoff."
"Kai." The vice-chairman's voice was quiet as he nodded again, having recovered somewhat. His eyes flickered over her form, along the sleek lines and light-bronzed skin that was usually covered with a conservative suit. "New attire, I see." His face was resolutely expressionless.
"Yes. I'm trying it for fit before the conference." She nodded with deliberate seriousness, feeling his veiled perusal in her skin.
"Ah." He countered with equal aplomb as he forced his eyes back to her face. "When are you leaving again?"
"Tomorrow. Plane leaves in the morning. Which reminds me - are you still up for taking over for the next two weeks?"
"Of course. Adrian reconfirmed yesterday and sent over your notes." He tugged at his collar a little as he swallowed, then pressed his lips together in a half-smile. "Knock 'em dead."
"Thanks. I'll keep in touch." She nodded and turned to the bathroom, not seeing his eyes followed her away, his soundless chuckle matching an appreciative grin.
Kai bent over her desk, scrawling a few last minute notes to Adrian for processing. Her damp hair hung in heavy strands about her shoulders, which were now covered by a royal blue cotton shirt that hugged her skin. Her briefcase stood close on the table by a black-clad hip, the fitted pants cutting her legs into sharp silhouettes ending with the sturdy deep-brown leather of her well-worn RM Williams riding boots.
She paused abruptly in her writing, listening intently as she pressed the hands-free earpiece of her cell phone closer to her ear.
"Message Five, Saturday 10:23am: Good morning, Professor. Hope you've been keeping well in my absence." Kai snorted somewhat ungraciously, hearing the smirk in Julian's familiar voice. "I've been spending the majority of the past two weeks at the museum, working with the people arranging the exhibition.
"It appears that arrangements are going well. I've been briefing my counterpart with some of our concerns, and they seem most willing to accommodate most of our requests. I've faxed copies of their sponsorship arrangements over to your office, along with other papers that you may find interesting."
Kai glanced at the tray of the fax machine, nodding with satisfaction as she noted the neatly-waiting stack of notes.
"I hope you have also received the museum director's CV that I had sent over to you a few days ago. As you can tell, it's quite an impressive history."
Frowning, she looked about her inbox, not recalling having seen that before. Damn, where could I have put it? She began rummaging through her desk, half-listening to the voicemail message.
"I haven't had the chance to work with Ms. Evans as yet, but it seems that she is sharing the organisation of the exhibition with her PR, James McAllister. I also have his details in the fax - I find him very competent, and it's been good working with him. He also seems to have a good rapport with the director, so I have no concerns regarding their partnership."
James McAllister. With the name came an image unbidden to her mind - Piersen, laughing into the chest of a tall, attractive man, her arms wrapped with familiar ease tightly around his waist. She did introduce him as her colleague, I suppose.
She chewed the inside of her cheek, a lingering worry niggling at her thoughts. Well, at least they seem to be good friends. And as the two major players in this investment, that's a good thing. A very good thing.
Kai pressed her lips together. Unless they have a falling out. In which case their relationship would be a liability.
But I don't think that's something I have to worry myself about. Right? Setting her jaw, she sorted through her notes with a sudden injection of fervour, tuning back into the remainder of Julian's message.
"All other details should be included in the fax. Call me on my cell phone if you have any questions. Take care, Professor."
Ah ha. Kai extracted a stapled set of notes lost in her research data. I must've shoved all this together in a hurry. Noticing that the message had stopped, and Kai disconnected the call as she paced to the other side of the desk with papers in hand. Sinking into her chair, she leafed through the resume intently.
Piersen Holbrooke Evans. Born 20th February 1972, London, England. So, she's twenty-seven. I would have thought she was slightly younger...
She flipped to the back page of the CV. References... Okay Piersen, let's see what it is you've got that knocked Julian's socks off. Institute of Contemporary Arts, London. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Atelier Brancusi, Paris. Centre de Georges Pompidou, Paris. Guggenheim museum, Bilbao.
Well. Kai raised her eyebrows with some surprise. I see what he meant by impressive. How did you manage to get all that under your belt, Piersen? She flipped back a few pages, eyes scanning idly the script.
1989-1992 Painting, sculpture - Royal Academy of Arts.
1992-5 Economics, Modern Languages, Art History - Interesting combination - seems to be a late shift towards management... Trinity College, Cambridge University.
Kai leaned back in her chair, no longer reading the words as the stack of pages closed on themselves. She was in Cambridge when I was there, in the same college... She frowned slightly as an errant thought occured to her. Is that why she seemed so familiar when I first saw her?
'Familiar' - so that's what you call it, huh? She drawled internally. Is that why you were acting like you'd been slapped in the face with a fish when you saw her last night? She chuckled at herself, shaking her head in disbelief. You were the biggest fool, Kai - it's eighteen years too late to start acting like an adolescent now.
Then again, you never know - stranger things have happened. She shrugged, a crooked smile on her face as her thoughts drifted back to the wad of paper in her hand.
To think, we could have met all that time ago, under such different circumstances. She sighed, not knowing why she felt heartened and disappointed at the same time.
Small world, Ms. Evans. Small world indeed.
Rising to her feet, she placed the CV into her briefcase along with the fax message and left the room.
To Be Continued...
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