A Road Trip Fantasy Pt. 06

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Close Up

October sun glinted off the dining room table and reflected into the kitchen. Pop music played over the speakers and drowned out the sizzling of the omelet in the frying pan. Jen watched the eggs with one eye and flipped through her magazine with the other. She had already laid out cut fruit on the table for Aaron’s breakfast and her dinner.

As one of the junior members of the nursing staff, Jen had pulled a string of night shifts recently including last night. Last evening, Aaron rolled through the door just after six, in time to give her a kiss before she hopped in her car to head to the hospital. This morning, she had arrived home in time to wake Aaron before he headed off for Saturday clinic. Sometimes in these past six months, despite their engagement and living together, they felt like the proverbial ships passing each other in the night, coming close but missing even the sight of each other. They almost might have seen more of each other during their year of long distance and brief weekend trysts than the past year. Thankfully, next week, Jen would move back to day shift, and they would at least share the same day and night.

While Aaron showered, Jen prepared the meal. Once he headed out the door, she would probably shower off the grime of the night herself and then crash for a few hours before he came home.

The second omelet was done, and Jen had just gone to scoop it out onto the plate when Aaron’s phone went off next to her. It was early for anyone to be in at the office yet, but it might be the answering service or whoever was working the morning shift with him. She flopped the omelet on the plate, grabbed his phone with her free hand, and dropped the spatula on the plate too so she could reach over to turn down the radio. In all of that, she was so busy that she barely registered Catherine Deschamps name and picture before she tapped the Accept button on his phone. Too late to eject now that she had answered, Jen put the phone to her ear. “Hello?”

The female voice took Catherine off guard. “Oh, hi, this is Catherine.” She paused unsure. “Is Aaron there?”

“Hi, Catherine, this is Jen. Sorry, Aaron’s in the shower. I thought maybe it was the office calling.”

The woman on the other end laughed a little. “Wow, Jennifer. Well, this is good too. It’s nice to get a chance to talk with you. I don’t think we’ve ever talked before.”

In fact, they both knew that they had never spoken before and never seen each other except in pictures. Catherine and Aaron’s divorce finalized over three years ago, about six months before Jennifer had appeared in Aaron’s life. Even then, it had taken a year for Aaron and Jen to start dating and another year for their engagement. Now six months later, the two women finally met, so to speak, with no Aaron to run interference or muddy the waters.

Catherine’s call was out of the blue. She had ghosted from Aaron’s life more than a year ago now. Aaron seemed content with that, and the absence of his ex-wife had not bothered Jen in the least. Hearing from her felt surreal, but maybe that was just lack of sleep and a confused circadian clock muddling Jen’s brain.

“No, I guess we haven’t. It’s nice to talk to you.”

Catherine laughed again. “I’m sure that’s what all the women say when they meet their fiancé’s ex-wife.”

Taken aback by this strange conversation, Jen shook her head in an attempt to clear the cobwebs of fatigue. “Well, it seems like the polite thing to say. I’ve been curious about meeting you.”

“Look, Jen, I’m sorry. I am not coming across well here at all. I just had planned in my head what I was going to say to Aaron, and now I’m just thrown off. I’m still not working on much sleep here.”

“It’s okay. I haven’t slept much either. I guess I’m a little thrown off too. Do you want me to have him call you back?”

“No, no, I can tell you.” Catherine sighed. “We’re not rivals here.”

Jen wondered about that, but said nothing.

Catherine filled in the brief blank space in the conversation as if it had not happened. “I heard through the grapevine, that you and Aaron will be coming up this way for the alumni weekend at UCI.”

The University of California, Irvine was Aaron’s med school alma mater, and the event had become a mini reunion for some of his classmates. “Yeah, next weekend.”

“Well, I’ve got someone new in my life, and I’ve been trying to come up with an excuse for us to all meet in person. This seems like that opportunity. I was hoping we could arrange a time to get together while you’re in the area.”

Jen pursed her lips at that thought. Next weekend was supposed to be a fun time to get away and meet some of Aaron’s old friends from medical school. She was looking forward to that but was also a little nervous because these would be the people who had known Aaron and Catherine as a young couple. How would they rate Jen in comparison? Would they think Aaron had made a mistake? Given Catherine’s disappearance from Aaron’s life, Jen had not contemplated that she would come face to face with casino oyna that bride from the portrait now stuffed under the bed in the guest room. “That sounds like a good idea,” Jen heard herself say. “Aaron knows the itinerary. I’ll have him give you a call and see what we can work out.” At least Catherine had someone new in her life. Jen hoped that would take off some of the pressure of their first rendezvous.

“Thank you, Jen. I really am looking forward to this meeting. Talk to you later.”

“Me too. Bye, Catherine.”

“Bye.”

Jen tapped the end call button and set the phone back down on the counter. Next time, she would make sure she checked who was calling before picking up.

When Aaron came downstairs ten minutes later, Jen had moved to the dining room table. She was stabbing pieces of fruit while finishing her magazine. Aaron’s phone sat next to his plate.

“Smells delicious, honey.” Aaron leaned down and kissed her. “Wow, omelets. You must be feeling good to be off night duty.”

“Tell me about it. We had five deliveries last night. I was just running room to room.” She ran a hand through her hair. “We called the ALS nurses twice. Both babies did fine though.”

Aaron sat down next to her. “Glad to hear that. I’m surprised you had the energy to cook with a night like that.”

“Hunger is a great motivator.”

“Mmm, very good.” Aaron had to cover his mouth when he chewed his omelet. “I’m going to let you do breakfast more often.”

“I’m glad you like it.” Jen let the silence hang for a moment while Aaron chewed another bite. “Catherine called while you were in the shower.”

Aaron scrunched his eyes in surprise. “Catherine? What did she want?”

Jen chased her fruit around her plate. “She heard we were going to be up in Irvine next week. She wants to get together, something about someone new in her life and wanting us all to meet.”

“What did you tell her?”

Jen shrugged. “I said that sounded good. You know the itinerary though. You’re supposed to give her a call back.”

“So what do you think? Do you want to get together with her?”

“Well, I’m going to have to meet her eventually. We might as well do it now. There’s no sense in putting it off.”

“If you don’t want to, there’s no reason we have to. I divorced her. She’s not a part of my life anymore. You are.”

Jen rolled her eyes. “If you think that’s true, you are seriously deluded.”

“Okay,” Aaron sighed. “You’re right, but we don’t have to until you’re ready.”

“No, I’m ready.” Jen smiled at him. “There was something about the way she talked.” She trailed off and her eyes defocused for a minute. “Maybe it was just a little awkward, but I think she had speech all ready to give you and then she got me and couldn’t deliver it. I think she really wants this to happen. It’s important to her all of a sudden.”

“Tell you what, you sleep on it. I’ve got to go to work. We’ll talk this afternoon. If you’re still game, I’ll call her and see if I can feel out what’s up.”

She nodded at that. “Sounds good.”

*****

The next day, Aaron hung up the phone and shook his head. “Yeah, something is up with her.”

Jen was on the computer making hotel reservations for the weekend and had only been half listening to Aaron’s end of the conversation. “How so?” She reached for her wallet to enter the credit card number.

“She was just cagey. Whoever this mystery guy is, she’s keeping mum. Maybe he’s someone I know.” Aaron knelt down next to her at the desk. “I think she’s more anxious about us getting together than you or me.”

Jen poked him with an elbow. “Who says I’m nervous?”

Aaron snaked an arm around her waist. “I stand corrected. Excited.”

“Oh no, I’m excited for sitting through a bunch of speeches for your alumni weekend.” Jen rolled her eyes.

“It won’t be that bad.”

“Have you read the itinerary?”

“There’ll be good food.”

“It better be.”

“And it will be fun to see my friends from med school.”

“Okay, that will be fun.”

Aaron leaned in to look at the reservation. “That looks nice. Good choice.”

She kissed his cheek. “Thank you.”

“No, thank you for agreeing to come along.”

“You’re welcome. I wouldn’t miss it.”

“Unless you could possibly think of something else to do, like the laundry.”

“Don’t tempt me.”

The next weekend, Aaron and Jen chose to spend Friday night in San Diego and forego the alumni weekend opening night happy hour and reception. Some of Aaron’s classmates would be there, but the majority were showing up the next day. Instead, the pair relaxed at home and woke early Saturday morning to drive up for the breakfast and mid morning colloquium, a panel of five faculty discussing their latest research in the form of mini TED talks. All were interesting enough though none focused on pediatrics or obstetrics, Aaron and Jen’s respective fields. A question and answer session followed and then tours of the new medical school canlı casino buildings.

From Jen’s perspective, it all seemed an opportunity to encourage the alumni to donate money to pay for all the gleaming new buildings and doodads. To Aaron, it was mainly a chance to chat with old classmates and pretend to listen to the sales pitch. He spent the entire time either holding her hand or with an arm around her waist, which helped make up for the tedium.

In the afternoon, Aaron’s class president arranged a barbecue at a nearby park with some umbrellaed tables to keep off the warm October sun. A breeze ruffled the fringes and stirred the napkins, but short sleeves still felt comfortable in the Southern California fall.

The group at the picnic was a mixture of couples, new families and some singles. Aaron’s was not the only marriage to succumb to the stressful years of residency and starting practice, but he was in the minority. Although this was Jen’s first time meeting any of Aaron’s classmates or their spouses, she was the more gregarious of the two and fell into pleasant conversations. While many of the spouses were physicians, Jen met an engineer, a nurse, a nurse practitioner, two business men, and a lawyer. The families mostly had toddlers, but several families had both grade schoolers and toddlers.

If Catherine had not had a miscarriage, their child would have just turned four years old this year and been tearing about the park with the rest of the little ones, likely with daddy in tow close behind. Jen did not know how much Aaron dwelled on those thoughts, she was too afraid to ask, but she mentally checked off some of those milestones in her head. She did not know the exact anniversary dates, but in these past six months living together, she had been more attentive to Aaron during those weeks. She knew he had noticed the extra attention even if he could not decipher the reason.

A clown came to entertain the kids. There were some small trails and bike paths in the park and an open grassy area to toss a ball or frisbee. Someone even put up a volleyball net, but with small children careening all over the place the few games that started petered out.

Most people just wanted to catch up and talk shop: moan about the electronic medical records, complain how hectic their schedules were, and share funny or interesting cases. Jennifer enjoyed hearing some of the colorful stories about Aaron’s medical school years. One of the funniest was a talent show video of Aaron and two friends wearing wigs and bras over scrubs while gyrating to Like a Surgeon by ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic. The whoops and catcalls on the video drowned out most of the song lyrics, but the three soldiered on through their ill rehearsed dance moves.

“Didn’t you and Caleb sing that at the Cinco de Mayo party? Do I need to worry about you and all this cross dressing?” Jen was wiping mirthful tears from her eyes.

“That was Madonna’s original, and we were not dressed up.” He gave Jen a kiss on the forehead before giving a little eye roll. “But yes, that’s why I asked you to move in, so I have easy access to the clothes.”

“That better be sarcasm.”

“It was.”

By late afternoon, the barbecue wrapped up, and Jen and Aaron headed over to their hotel. They had a couple of hours in which to digest their lunch and get changed for the dinner banquet at seven. Jen changed into a black lace dress with a nude lower layer. Her habit was to wear her engagement ring as a necklace for work, but she remembered to move it to her finger for the evening and wore a heart pendant around her neck in its place. She did her make up and let down the ponytail she had worn since the morning. As usual, Aaron had an easier and quicker time having only to choose between the black suit or the navy blue one. He chose the black one with a black and red tie for a splash of color.

The school held the banquet in the decorated main campus gym; in fact, from the inside, none of the guests could even recognize the space as a gym. Heavy black curtains adorned the walls and broke the area into the main room and serving area. Carpeting covered the floors, lighted chandeliers hung from the ceiling, and video screens adorned three of the walls.

Aaron and Jennifer found a table with three of Aaron’s closest friends from medical school and their spouses. Kevin and Eleanor had become a couple in medical school; he was also a pediatrician, and she was a surgeon. Jason was a radiologist who had met Danielle, his wife who was also a radiologist, in training. Tom was a dermatologist and his wife Shauna worked in IT.

The salads and opening remarks had passed. The main courses were starting to filter out from the serving areas but had not reached theirs, and the Dean of the medical school had not gotten up yet to give the evening’s speech and the alumni recognition awards. In the break, Eleanor dragged Kevin off to another table to visit with some of her friends from the class.

Shauna took a long sip of her drink. “I always feel like a fish out of water kaçak casino at these things.” She and Jen were sitting next to each other. The rest of their table mates were back to talking medicine.

“I feel that way too sometimes,” Jen confided.

“But at least you’re in the medical field.”

“True, but I didn’t go through medical school with them.”

Shauna glanced and Jen’s ring when she lifted her glass to sip her drink. “So have you set a wedding date?”

Jen shook her head. “Not yet.” She set down her glass. “It’s kind of silly, but I have this picture of my niece as the flower girl. Aaron’s got a good friend with a little boy, and I think it would be so cute for him to be the ring bearer.”

“That’s not silly. My little cousins were the flower girl and ring bearer for our wedding.”

“Well, my niece is only nine months old, and Alejandro…” Jen’s voice trailed off, and she turned to Aaron. “How old is Alejandro now?”

Looking to the ceiling in thought, Aaron turned from whatever Jason was saying. “Sixteen or seventeen months.”

Jen turned back to Shauna. “So nine and seventeen months. It’ll be at least another year before they’re old enough to even think about it.”

“How long have you been engaged?”

“Just since May.”

Shauna scoffed. “You’ve got forever then. Tom and I were engaged for almost four years before we actually got married.”

Tom had caught that his wife was talking about him. “Hey, I wanted to be done with residency first.”

Shauna was still looking to Jen and rolled her eyes. “That was the first year we were engaged.”

“And then I needed to get established,” Tom continued. “I needed to pay down those loans, and we needed to save up money for a house.”

This was an old argument between the two. “And you still have loans, and I could have made the down payment on the house.”

“Yes, but we’re supposed to be a team.”

Shauna leaned in to Jen. “We’d still just be engaged if I hadn’t told him that if we didn’t make it to the altar by December of last year, I was out.”

“Not true. I was all ready to set the date in June.”

Shauna turned back to Tom to continue the squabble, but it lacked the heat of a major disagreement.

Aaron’s arm slipped about Jen’s waist. “So, should we just stop by the courthouse this weekend or wait until next Wednesday?”

“I think the courthouse is closed on the weekend, and I’m working next Wednesday. How about the week after?” Jen batted her long dark lashes at him.

“Sounds perfect to me.” Aaron leaned in to kiss her sweet lips.

When they broke the kiss, the arrival of the main course interrupted Jen’s return banter. Kevin and Eleanor had vegetarian dishes while everyone else had steak and salmon over a risotto with a side of roasted vegetables. The food was good, and despite eating their way through the day, the meal was too good to pass up. Jen was glad she had gone easy on the appetizers early in the evening.

The break in their conversation afforded the Dean the opportunity to give her speech and launch into the recognition awards. The video screens played a five minute blurb for each recipient who then gave a brief speech, some briefer than others. No one from Aaron’s class received an award that night, and although the recipients were all former alums, all but one were current faculty and researchers at the university. The exception was a surgeon who had established a non-profit breast care program for underserved populations, for second opinions, and education. Aaron knew of her in passing as she had been a junior faculty member when Aaron was in school, and Eleanor new her well as an attending physician before the woman left to work on her non-profit full time, five or six years previous. She received the most applause.

Coffee and dessert followed the closing remarks which consisted of a last admonishment to give back to their alma mater in service or tithes. Everyone at the table agreed that the administrations preference would be tithing.

Aaron and Jen shared the two dessert options: berry apple cobbler and chocolate cake. Jen took a decaf coffee with cream and sugar, and Aaron sipped tea.

Jason and Danielle were the first to depart. They were local and needed to relieve their babysitter for the evening. Before they left, the group gathered around the table for final photos, and pulled in friends from an adjoining table.

Jason clasped Aaron’s. “Great seeing you again, bud. See you at the brunch tomorrow?”

“No, we’re meeting up with someone for lunch tomorrow.”

“Who?”

Aaron wore a sheepish look with an embarrassed half grimace. “Catherine.”

“Oh.” Jason’s eyes darted over to Jen who was hugging Danielle goodbye. The four women from the table stood in a circle together while the men clustered in their own. “Is that a good idea?”

“She wants to meet Jen and has someone she wants me to meet.”

“Yeah, but does your fiancée want to meet her?”

“She says she does.”

Tom patted Aaron on the back. “So while all of us are enjoying a pleasant brunch and conversation, you will be having awkward conversation with you ex and her new man. Sounds like another solid choice, Dr. Stevens.”

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