Home > Just One Look (Escape to New Zealand, #14)(3)

Just One Look (Escape to New Zealand, #14)(3)
Author: Rosalind James

Her hand was shaking. Her hands never shook, but it was happening now. Ringless, the fingers slim and strong, the nails cut short and unpolished, trembling against the wood of the table like she’d had too much caffeine—which she had—while his own fingers surrounded hers and held on. His touch was compassionate even now, because he was always compassionate.

She took her hand away. It felt like it belonged to somebody else. “Right,” she said. “I get it.” She considered saying that wood stoves contributed to asthma, but she didn’t. It wouldn’t exactly help. Mrs. Wong came over with the soup, and Elizabeth turned a head that felt like it weighed a hundred pounds and said, somehow managing to form the words, “Could you box it all up, please?”

“Going home for Christmas Eve, eh,” Mrs. Wong said, beaming. “Good idea. Too late to be in a restaurant.”

Elizabeth didn’t correct her. When she’d gone, Kristoff said, “I’ll walk you home.”

“No. Go. Go call your … nurse? And report.”

He said, “It doesn’t matter what she does for a living. This isn’t about her. It’s about us.”

How did she know it was a nurse? Because it was always a nurse, or another doctor. Hospitals sometimes felt like the most clichéd places in the world. “Go tell her,” she said, “that you did it. That you were kind about it. That Elizabeth will be all right, because Elizabeth is always all right. Nobody’s even sure she actually has blood in her veins.”

“I’ll pay for dinner,” he said. “You can take it with you. You’ll need to eat tomorrow, and I’ll bet there’s nothing in your fridge.”

“Stop caring,” she said. “You don’t have to care anymore. Just go.”

She’d go home. She’d eat. And then she’d call and check about that little girl. A hospital was always short-staffed on holidays, and she wasn’t going to let that baby fall through the cracks.

Priorities.

 

 

2

 

 

More Parts

 

 

“Elizabeth,” Jordan Abernathy said the next morning. “Why?” His voice sounded as sprightly as always.

Jordan taught middle-school English. That should have made him jaded and bitter. It would have made Elizabeth jaded and bitter, anyway. She remembered middle school. If there was a hell, it was being in middle school forever.

“It’s nine-thirty on Christmas morning,” he told her. “We’ve barely popped the cork for the mimosas. I hope this is just you wishing Clement and me a very merry holiday, because otherwise, I’m worrying, and I hate to worry on Christmas. It’s my very favorite holiday. How can anybody’s favorite holiday be anything else, really? Decorations, cooking, lights, presents, general overindulgence?”

She tried to joke back, but all that came out was, “Can I use your washing machine? I don’t need the dryer. An hour and a half, that’s all, because I’ve got two loads.”

A short silence on the other end, and Jordan said, “Putting you on speaker. Clement, Elizabeth is having a crisis. A Christmas crisis.”

“I am not having a crisis,” she said. “I just have a little problem with my washing machine, and I don’t have any more clean clothes.”

“You’ve had that problem for a month now.” That was Clement’s baritone. “Don’t tell me. You never called the repair guy.”

“I meant to. Haven’t had the time, that’s all.” She tried to make it cheerful. It was hard to be cheerful when you’d downed most of a bottle of wine the night before—the only one in the cupboard, bought for the Thanksgiving dinner you hadn’t had, which meant it was rosé, which Kristoff had loved and she just exactly didn’t—and you only hadn’t drunk the entire thing because you’d fallen asleep in the middle of the last glass while sitting on the floor, and had woken up with your head on the coffee table. Not even with the blinking lights of the Christmas tree washing over your face, the way they’d have done in a movie, because you didn’t have a Christmas tree. You didn’t even have a wreath. A fact that had made her cry last night, she was pretty sure.

It was ironic, actually. She’d been able to drink that much because she wasn’t on call today. She had two days off in a row, because Kristoff’s parents were here, so she’d arranged it. She’d planned to make appetizers, too. All right, she hadn’t made the appetizers, and had realized too late that the grocery stores would be closed on Christmas, but she’d planned it, at least.

She drew a shaky breath, thought, Less drinking, more thinking, and then immediately followed that up with, Except that I hate thinking. I just need to do my laundry. And watch a movie, maybe. I’m fine. Two days off to fold clothes and reorganize my cabinets or whatever. But I am not buying plants. Plants are stupid. There are plenty of plants outdoors, in public spaces for which I’m not responsible, and that’s where they can stay. She said, “Happy birthday—uh, I mean, Merry Christmas. Some holiday, anyway. I’m in your place five minutes, I promise. Got my own detergent and everything. I push a couple buttons, and I’m out of there. Well, I’ll have to come back for the next load, but that’s all.”

Clement said, in the no-nonsense tone she normally heard with his interns, the one he’d learned back when both of them were interns, “Why aren’t you doing your laundry at Ken’s? And why didn’t he call the repair guy?”

“Do not call him Ken,” Elizabeth said automatically. “He’s a wonderful, caring person, not a poseable doll. And I had to stop asking him to do me favors like that. It makes him feel emasculated.”

“Uh-huh. Except that he works half the hours you do, and you wouldn’t have been asking him to donate a kidney. And now even his washing machine is closed to you, apparently. Why?”

She sighed and laid her aching face against the cool stone of the kitchen island. The cool white stone. Yes, her entire enormous kitchen was white. And shiny. So what? Lots of people liked white. It was clean. Also, that was how the townhouse had come, and it was completely functional. It was fine. “He found a nurse.”

“Ouch,” Jordan said. “On Christmas?”

“Well, Christmas Eve. In Mandarin House. To be fair, his parents are here for a visit. If you’re planning to break up with somebody, you don’t want to have to pretend you still love them on Christmas, in front of your parents. Hey, does either of you guys want a toilet kit? And a bathrobe? They were on a list.”

“What list?” Clement asked. “He broke up in a restaurant, so you couldn’t make a scene? Ouch. Except that you wouldn’t make a scene.”

“Yeah, that’s me. The amazing bloodless woman. And you know. When you Google the best ones, and they give you a list, and you click on the expensive one, because it’s obviously the best. It’s a waffle robe. That’s a thing, apparently. The reviews are excellent. The only problem is that both items are monogrammed, because you guys told me to do that. Still, you don’t have to look at the monogram. Think of it as a design element.”

Jordan said, “First, it’s a breakup. You don’t have to be fair. Generally, you drink. Also, you torch the robe. Breakup clothes are bad juju, and nobody needs that.”

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