Home > Just One Look (Escape to New Zealand, #14)(4)

Just One Look (Escape to New Zealand, #14)(4)
Author: Rosalind James

“There are people out there who have zero bathrobes, though,” she told him, “and it’s a really nice robe. I’ll donate them, I guess. I’ve got a bag somewhere for that. Of course, I have to take it to wherever and drop it off, but I’ll do that at some point. Also, you’d know this how? Seeing as you guys have been together since college?”

“Hello?” Jordan asked. “Tortured closeted adolescence?”

“Also,” she said, “I already drank.”

“Come over,” Clement said. “With the laundry. We have mimosas and breakfast.”

“I already ate potstickers, too,” she said. “Fortunately, Kristoff broke up with me before our food came, and I got custody.”

“Come over,” Clement said again. “Right now.”



She didn’t stay for breakfast. She didn’t want them to look at her that closely, was why, or smell her, either. She felt like she still had alcohol seeping out of her pores. She did promise to come back for dinner, though, because they insisted.

“Rules of gay Christmas,” Jordan said. “Welcome the orphan, and the virtual orphan, too. There are always those people who can’t go home, and in the South, there are more of them. Why did I let Clement talk me into Atlanta?”

“Because I’m a Southerner,” Clement said. “Because Emory’s an excellent hospital, and it’s even better now that I’ve recruited Elizabeth down here, since I was smart and did general, which meant I didn’t have to do those extra two years for neuro and could actually start earning money and sleeping. Sleeping’s good. And because it’s not Alabama. Want to be a sad orphan? Try being part of an interracial gay couple in Selma. And speaking of Southern cities,” he continued smoothly, “have you heard from your dad, Elizabeth?”

“Nope,” she said, trying for her surgeon-face, which was oddly difficult to come by today. “He’ll call later, I’m sure. You know he always takes a Christmas shift so somebody else doesn’t have to.”

“So he doesn’t have to think about why he’s alone at Christmas, you mean,” Clement said. “See?” he told Jordan. “Another place we could be and aren’t. Savannah.”

“Savannah’s beautiful,” Elizabeth said. “And changing. Slowly, but still.”

“And yet you’re here,” Clement said. Which was true.

Her dad did call. At three o’clock, right when she was supposed to be going across to the guys’ place.

“Merry Christmas,” he said. A little stiffly, possibly, but her dad tended to have to ease into family time. His house was even neater than hers, because he had a housekeeper. He’d have a Christmas tree, too, that would have magically appeared after Thanksgiving and would disappear after New Year’s in the same way.

She should think about doing that. She had a crew that came to clean once a week—not that there was much to do, but pathogens loved kitchen and bathroom surfaces—but she needed somebody who’d buy groceries and call the washing-machine repairman. And possibly make her food. And do her laundry.

Face it, she needed a wife. Though that hadn’t worked out so well for her dad, when he’d tried replacing her mom. Women didn’t necessarily want to be a guy’s unpaid and too-often-ignored housekeeper, just like Kristoff hadn’t wanted to be hers. Equal-opportunity refusal to be the wind beneath your wings, or something like that. Also, you had to hire a housekeeper, which probably meant advertising, and then interviewing, plus worrying about things like background checks. She needed a wife to hire her housekeeper, was what she needed.

Oh. Her dad. She said, “Merry Christmas. You still at the hospital?”

“Yes. I’ll be here another four or five hours. I only have a few minutes, but I thought I’d call and make sure you’re all right. Are you all good for money?”

“Yes. I’m fine. Well, I broke up with my boyfriend last night, but …”

“Finally,” he said. “That’s good news. You’ve realized that you need somebody who’s your intellectual equal, or who at least comes marginally closer. I’m glad I didn’t have to say it.”

“Except that you just did say it. Also, he broke up with me. I believe I gave insufficient time and attention to our relationship.”

Was that stilted? Yes, it was. Her dad tended to have that effect on her.

He said, “That’s ridiculous. A surgeon can’t compromise. A surgeon doesn’t compromise. It’s not a job, it’s a calling. Next time, find somebody who understands that. A pathologist, perhaps. He’ll understand the demands of your work, and have the time to support you in it.”

“Thanks,” she said. “If any hot pathologists crawl up from the bowels of the hospital looking to be my unpaid assistant, I’ll do my best to snag one. I’m not sure that’s my dream boy, though. Mr. Conscientious. Mr. Follow-the-Rules. Less arrogant than surgeons, though, and less demanding, so there’s that. Why doesn’t that sound sexier?”

“Don’t be crude,” he said. “No man wants a crude wife.”

Nobody’s breaking down the door wanting me for a wife, period, she thought. Also, I’m guessing plenty of men want a crude wife. Just like I might want somebody who’s not quite as … as careful and considerate as Kristoff. The kind of guy you hear about, maybe. If they actually exist.

That kind of guy didn’t tend to be attracted to women most charitably described as “severe,” though. More of a stretch goal, then.

Still. One day post-breakup, and she was already counting her blessings. That was good, right?

Then why didn’t it feel good? Maybe because she was thirty-four, and she was … tired. She was so tired.

Her father said, “Since you’re doing well, I do need to go. I have a bowel resection. Merry Christmas.” Seven words that should never be spoken together.

His diction was so careful. He’d ruthlessly eliminated every trace of a Southern drawl from his speech, because he said it sounded lazy. When Elizabeth’s maternal grandmother had visited, he’d looked physically pained every time Memaw had flung out her arms and hollered, “Come give me some sugar, baby girl,” sounding like pure Southern-fried, deep-bosomed South Carolina. When Memaw had died five years ago, which had also happened on Christmas Eve, actually, her father had said, “That’s what comes of all that fried food and sugar. You barely make it to seventy. Pecan pie, for a diabetic? What did she think would happen? She must have weighed well over two hundred fifty pounds, too. No wonder.”

Elizabeth had barely been able to answer at the time, her heart aching with the knowledge that she hadn’t seen Memaw for over a year. She was all the way up in Baltimore, she was a resident, and everybody knew that residents belonged to medicine. “Maybe,” she’d said, “she just wanted to live the way she always had. Especially since she’d lost her daughter and her husband. Maybe she just wanted something to hang on to, and that was Christmas Eve with her grandkids and her special pecan pie.”

“Or maybe,” her father had said, “she had no self-control about anything, and it killed her. You have to be tough in this world, and that’s just one more example.”

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