Home > Just One Look (Escape to New Zealand, #14)(5)

Just One Look (Escape to New Zealand, #14)(5)
Author: Rosalind James

That had been a long time ago, though. No point thinking about it now. She said, “Merry Christmas, Dad. I’ll see you soon.”

“Yes,” he said. “I’ll be in Atlanta for that conference in mid-March. We’ll catch up over a meal.”

She hung up, and then she went across the street and ate turkey and cornbread dressing and Clement’s candied yams and collard greens with bacon at a table full of laughing, funny, kind men, every one of whom had hugged her when Jordan explained that she’d broken up the night before. She wore her Christmas-cracker crown with the rest of them, tried to take it easy on the wine and didn’t quite succeed, thought about how tomorrow, since she still had a day off, she could call the washing-machine repair people and gain back her laundry independence along with her absolutely-everything-else independence, and tried not to feel completely alone.

But when dinner was over and she was helping to clear the table, Jordan caught her hand as she walked by and said, “Listen. Don’t run off, OK? We’re doing charades and dessert. Chocolate pecan pie with bourbon in it, plus buttermilk pie, which sounded bizarre but turns out to be just gorgeous. Both Southern, you’ll notice. I’m broadening my culinary horizons more for Clement all the time. I must love the guy or something. Also—liqueurs. Indulgence.”

“In case I get called in tomorrow …” she tried.

Jordan said, “Am I or am I not married to a surgeon?”

“Uh … you are?”

“Yes. I am. And unless there’s some sort of mass casualty event—God forbid, obviously—you’re not getting called in tomorrow, because you’re not on call tomorrow. It’s the day after Christmas and a Friday, which means nothing will be happening out there.”

“No,” she said, “it means everything will be happening out there. People taking their new guns out for target practice. People taking their new dirt bikes out for a spin. And by ‘people,’ of course, I mean ‘men.’”

“Please,” Jordan said. “Make me happy. Stay. I can’t stand to think of you across the street alone on Christmas.”

“Is my house sterile?” she asked. She shouldn’t be asking it here and now, not in the midst of their celebration, but she did anyway.

“Well, yeah,” Jordan said. “I assumed you liked it that way.”

“It’s neat. So I like things neat. What’s wrong with that?”

“Hey,” Jordan said. “You get to have what you like. It’s your house.”

Later, though, when it was just the three of them, and she was sprawled on the couch with a glass of Grand Marnier, because it was Christmas, and Miles Davis was playing something jazzy in the background, she asked them, “Do I have no life?”

“Neither of us has ever had a life, remember?” Clement said. “A hundred hours plus a week for years on end tends to do that to you. It isn’t that much better now, except that our life is surgery, which we love because it matters.”

“Yes.” She might possibly be a little drunk. “But maybe I just don’t know any different, because, you know …”

“Because your father’s a surgeon,” Jordan said, “and he doesn’t have a life. And your mom died when you were four, so you’ve got no examples.”

Yeah, they weren’t going there. “And you do have a life,” she said, “because you have each other.”

“That’s a pretty scary yardstick,” Jordan said. “If you have to have a partner to have a life. Not sure that’s the way it’s supposed to work.”

“You have all this, though,” she said. “A Christmas tree. Decorative elements. Dinner. Fancy dinner. Homemade fancy dinner.”

“Because I married a teacher,” Clement said. “To be my reality check. And so far, he’s willing to pick up the slack.”

“Well,” she said, “I guess I need to figure out how to have a life, too. Or at least get my washing machine fixed. Hey, I have another day off tomorrow and nothing to do with it. I need a project. Maybe that can be it. Organizing my new, full, real-deal life.”

“Yeah?” Jordan asked. “In one day? How do you intend to start?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I’m not too good at risk.”

“Excuse me,” Jordan said. “Neurosurgery? You cut into brains.”

“That’s controlled risk,” she tried to explain. “Based on a realistic assessment of my knowledge and skill, and evaluation of the limits of what’s possible. Not risky risk. Like … I never roller-bladed, as a kid. Well, I did, but only at a rink. The idea of going downhill, or where there were streets to cross or bumps in the sidewalk? My dad would show me pictures of kids who’d made reckless choices. He had an excellent library to choose from.”

“Here’s the thing,” Jordan said. “You get to write your own story now. He’s not here. And there’s a big difference between a scraped knee and whatever it was he showed you. Seriously? What a tool, scaring a kid into rigid submission like that, and I won’t even mention having you start college at sixteen, because what’s the point in wasting your brainiac time on all that messy childhood? So we’re starting out a few steps behind here. Hmm, what kind of risk would feel more scraped-knee-like? Obviously, we’re still doing our same job, because passion and commitment and devotion and all that.”

“Not to mention eight years of school and seven more of training to get here,” Clement put in. “And two years as an attending. Making a total of seventeen years and half her life.”

“Not to mention that,” Jordan agreed. “So … what? Dating definitely has to come into it. Makeover. Inappropriate sexual encounters in inappropriate places.” He sighed. “Delicious.”

Clement said, “Hey.”

“We can still have inappropriate encounters,” Jordan said. “Even better, because I know you’ll be good at it. That’s the problem with getting your kicks that way. Usually, the other party’s not putting in the full effort. Grab and go. It’s even worse for women, because orgasm is harder to come by, especially with a selfish partner who’s only interested in getting their kicks. The female orgasm can be fickle, right, Elizabeth?”

“Uh … no,” she confessed, for some reason she could not fathom. “Not really. Not for me.”

“Oh,” Jordan said. “Then go ahead and be inappropriate, I guess.”

“That’s not changing my life,” she said. “It’s not getting my laundry done.”

“True,” Jordan said. “But if you’re getting all that delicious buzz, you probably won’t care.”

“How does that help?” Clement said. “She told you she can have an orgasm, so she’s good in that department.”

“Yeah,” Jordan said, “but does it make her legs shake? Or is it, ‘Thank you, Kristoff, that was very nice?’”

“You know what’s inappropriate?” Elizabeth said. “This conversation. No. I need more.”

“Which I just said,” Jordan told her.

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