“Hey Jo Jo. How goes it?”
“What are you doing here Peter? I mean, really, I haven’t heard from you in almost ten years.”
“Oh, your mom sent me over to pick you up. I’ve been spending a lot of time at the hospital with Walt and Alice. She didn’t want to leave his side, and thought you’d like a ride home from the airport, that’s all. Besides, your mom’s in no condition to drive out here. She’s pretty upset.”
Joanie hesitated. She wasn’t sure about getting in the Jeep with Peter. It had been so long since she’d seen him. She felt uncomfortable seeing him here – uncomfortable and unexpected. And now he was spending time in the hospital with her father. There was so much she didn’t understand.
“How’s Mom?” Joanie asked, while climbing into the passenger seat after tossing her luggage into the backseat. She noticed that Peter didn’t get out of the jeep to help her. Jake would have been all over that.
“Oh, she’s okay. Shaken up, tired, and scared. But she puts on a good front. You know Alice.”
“Yes, I know my Mom, thank you.”
“Sorry Jo Jo, I didn’t mean…”
“Yeah, well, I’ll take care of things now that I’m home again.”
They drove without speaking most of the way to the hospital. Joanie fidgeted with her purse and nervously checked her iPhone for texts, hoping to find some message from Jake. Finally she spoke.
“So, is Kev around?”
“Yeah, Kevin lives down the street from us. He’s a firefighter now. Don’t you talk to him?”
“No. I rarely hear from him anymore, and Mom doesn’t give away a whole lot.”
“Well, he works, like the best hours in the world, and there are hardly any fires around here so he’s got it made in the shade. Those guys just wash the trucks, sit around in the fire hall, cook great meals, and play cards all night, when they’re on duty that is.”
“Is he married?”
“Oh, well, I guess he’s still holding out for the right one.”
“So, do you two still hang out? I mean, you were best friends – we all were, weren’t we?” She paused. “Wow. That was such a long time ago.”
“It wasn’t that long ago,” Peter chimed in enthusiastically. “I mean, it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long. Time sort of disappears, then you just pick-up where you left off.”
Joanie was leaning her head out the window, letting the wind catch her hair. It blew away from her face as she breathed in the fresh air. She wasn’t sure how to feel. Peter was right, in a way. Time did sort of disappear, but whether she could pick-up where she left off was another matter, and one she didn’t know yet. She hadn’t spoken to either Peter or her brother, Kevin, in a very long time. There was a lot to catch up on, a lot to learn. What kind of man had Peter become, and why had her brother, who she had been so close to when they were growing up, become so elusive? It wasn’t clear yet what the upshot was from all these empty years, but she felt she wanted to take things slowly. Besides, right now her Dad came first, and she hoped Peter and Kevin felt the same way.
They arrived at the hospital and took the elevator up to the fourth floor, where Walt’s room was. He was sleeping, but Joanie’s mom was there to greet them.
“Oh darling Joanie, how good it is to see you. You look the same as always. Oh, I’ve missed you so. And your hair, it’s gotten so long. Are you growing it?”
Alice Scott squeezed her daughter’s cheeks before taking her into her arms in a full embrace.
“I’m so glad you’ve come. Your Dad will be so pleased to see you.”
“How long has he been asleep Mom?”
“Oh, he drifts in and out, but he’ll waken soon sweetheart, don’t worry.”
Joanie walked over to the bed where her father lay hooked up to tubes and monitors. She picked up his hand, limp and frail, and held it gently in her own. Tears were unleashed again, but she didn’t care. She let them roll down her cheeks and neck until she had to wipe them away to keep them from falling onto the floor. Peter came up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders, as if to say Don’t worry, I’m here, but Joanie squirmed under the pressure. It felt uncomfortable to have Peter touch her, to be offering such intimate attention at a time like this. She set her Dad’s hand gently back on top of the covers and walked away. Then a nurse appeared in the doorway and walked over to the bed with a new IV bag.
“Listen, why don’t you two young people go into the family waiting room for a little while. There’s nothing you can do in here right now,” Alice suggested. “Your brother is on his way Joanie, but he won’t be here for an hour or so.”
“Really, Kevin’s coming? How is he Mom?”
“You’ll see for yourself honey. Soon enough. Now go. I’ll stay here with your father.”
Joanie and Peter walked down the hall to the sunny day-room provided to the family members of fourth floor patients. They settled down on the sofa, Peter at one end, Joanie at the other.
“Listen Joanie, I know we have a lot of years to catch up on, a lot of misunderstandings to patch-up, but we have such history together. Good years, right?”
Joanie shifted in her seat and turned her head away toward the scene outside the waiting room window. She tried to ignore Peter’s confessions. The lawn outside was lime green and neatly mown. Weeping willows provided shade for several patients in wheelchairs and others who wandered the grounds holding the arm of a family member or friend. Although the garden was inviting with lush shrubbery and tidy rows of flowers lined-up in freshly hoed beds along the pathways, Joanie found the sight depressing. She was still in a state of shock. One minute she was having a decadent luncheon in New York City, enjoying the attentions of a fabulous man, Jake, and the next minute she was sitting in a hospital waiting room with the lost love of her life, Peter, preparing to see her father who had just suffered a stroke.
“You know,” Peter said. “After Walt’s stroke, I knew you would come home, and I almost felt like it was serendipity that he would be the one to bring us together again. Walt was the one who always wanted us to be together, you know.”
Putting her hands in her jacket pockets, Joanie took a deep breath. She wanted to cry and scream and punch Peter in the face all at the same time, but she just sat there, numb. What was he thinking, telling her these things at a time like this? It wasn’t about him or them. It was about her poor Dad. And why was he going on about them being together again? Peter was married, and had been for almost ten years.
Suddenly Peter slid up closely beside her and put an arm around her shoulder. She turned to him, about to ask him what he was doing, when he leaned in and placed his full lips on hers. She tried to pull away but he held her face in his hands and kissed her more intensely, his mouth melting into hers. Without realizing it, Joanie gave in. She found herself leaning into his palms, then into his body, hungry for this feeling that for so many years she had wondered about. Now she knew, and it felt wonderful. Their kisses became more passionate, wet and welcoming. But the more she relaxed and returned Peter’s advances, the more aggressive he became. Harshly, he moved her toward him, thrusting his tongue into her mouth with unnecessary force. At first his forwardness was a turn-on, but it wasn’t long before she became aware of an intensity she was uncomfortable with. His large hands slipped down to her shoulders and began to yank at the yoke of her blouse. When she tried to pull away he became more insistent, holding on with a strength that frightened her. She wanted him to stop – now – but he wouldn’t let her go. His tongue reached deeper into her throat, even as she turned her head from side to side trying to release from his grip. What was he doing? How had this happened, and why? Just because she had always held a place in her heart for Peter, had thought she wanted him still, it didn’t make it right, and certainly not like this. And now there was Jake. She had just left him back in New York. Although they had just met, she knew Jake was someone special. So why had she allowed Peter to kiss her? She knew it was because she had always wanted to know the feeling of what it would be like for them. Sadly, now she knew.
Suddenly, the waiting room door opened and the same nurse who had administered her father’s IV poked her head in the room. Peter stopped. Joanie instantly extricated herself from his vice-grip. She stood up and stepped as far away from him as possible, trying not to let on to the nurse how disgusted she was.
“Your Dad’s awake now,” the young nurse said. “He’s asking after you if you want to go see him.”
Still shaken, Joanie attempted a smile.
“Thanks very much. I’ll be right in.”
The nurse looked at Peter then back at Joanie, and closed the door. Joanie felt ill. Her heart was racing and her face was flushed with anger. She glared at Peter with revulsion. Peter, on the other hand, sat smugly on the sofa, a look of triumph on his face. After what seemed an eternity of uncomfortable silence, Joanie said the only thing she could think of.
“So Peter, how’s your wife?”
Then she walked out of the room and slammed the door.
...Stay tuned. Chapter 6 will be posted next Tuesday, April 19th...