A Relationship Beckons: The Meetings Continue (#11)
To read this serialized blog of A Relationship Beckons from the beginning, click here: Crisis Averted #1. Then navigate to subsequent posts using the links in the upper corners.
Jake and Caroline
“Shit,” Caroline blurted in frustration after tugging on the locked glass door of Schooner’s, the popular eatery on Warwick Boulevard a short drive north of Christopher Newport. The establishment was currently closed. She glanced at the signage on the glass then her Longines watch. “I forgot. They don’t open for another forty-five minutes. Damn!”
She peered over at the pharmacist named Jake as she felt her features dissolve. She pushed out a tense sigh as nervous emotion blossomed in her middle. The sensation slithered up her spine and settled in her brain. The last twenty-four hours had been chock full of mind-numbing stress and debilitating anxiety. Peter’s breathing crisis; nearly colliding with the speeding Beamer as she sped to the pharmacy; the desperate plea to the man standing before her now to save her son; the flooding relief when the color returned to her son’s lips; encountering Luca in the emergency room and their aggravated confrontation; losing her phone; realizing the lithe, well-dressed woman in the Beamer who had been following her and seeing her car parked across the street from her home; delivering the legal papers to her lawyer pleading for sole custody of Peter and all that simple act signified.
Though she knew some of these matters were not closed and would rear their hideous heads again, she was glad they were behind her for the moment. Other than her solitary ten minute breakdown after she climbed into bed last night, Caroline had taken pride in the fact that she’d handled much of the day with aplomb and composure. In the pharmacy, she had pleaded for this pharmacist to save her son. She was certain that the extreme fear had coated her words, but she’d acted with the fierceness of a lioness protecting her cub. In the emergency room, she had dealt with Luca in a calm, stoic manner though insides seem to congeal. She’d managed her rolling emotions. Only in the dark of night when Peter was asleep and she was alone, did she allow a crack in the façade to bubble to the surface. The solitary release had been cathartic. For the vast majority of the span, she’d assimilated and tamped down any visible signs of distress…until now. This minor, unanticipated setback–one of her favorite haunts being closed–hit her like an unexpected but devastating Pacific tsunami. It washed away of the crucial pebble holding together the crumbling dam of her resolve together. The tears would not be quelled.
Caroline rapidly blinked, trying ineffectually to stave off the welling moisture in her eyes. She looked away toward the humming traffic of the bustling Warwick Boulevard and gaped into middle distance. A tear escaped down her cheek. “I’m sorry,” she whispered huskily.
Jake was about to suggest an alternate location. He opened his mouth to speak but was stopped before any sound escaped. He noticed this woman’s face filling with crimson emotion. “I’m sorry,” she croaked weakly as she brushed a wayward tear from her cheek with two fingers.
“Is everything alright?”
She raised her hand toward him as if warding off the question. Her face continued to flush with a rosy hue.
“I’m sorry,” she repeated with more emphasis.
Jake fished out his key fob and unlocked the Tundra and motioned for her to move to the vehicle. He opened the passenger side door, reached into the center console and retrieved a brown fast food napkin. He held it up. “Here.” She accepted it and dabbed her eyes.
“Is there anything I can do?”
Caroline shook her head. “I’m sorry. I’m fine. It’s been a helluva last twenty-four hours.”
Jake nodded solemnly then said, “Let’s get that coffee. I know just the place. I’ll drive. I love Schooner’s too. We’ll have to try it another time.” He stepped aside and allowed her to climb in. Then he closed the door.
Ten minutes later, they were seated in a well-worn leather booth inside the Warwick restaurant. An affable, matronly waitress with a round torso and white hair materialized. She asked if they wanted coffee. When Caroline and Jake both agreed, she left and returned with two brimming mugs of steaming java. A pair of laminated breakfast menus which had been squeezed between her arm and her torso were placed on the table before them.
Jake had slipped out of the Schooner’s empty parking lot and retraced the path they had taken. He drove past the Starbucks where they had just met, the Exxon station and hung a left into the Warwick’s parking area. This diner had been a staple in Newport News for as long as Jake could remember. The aging but well-maintained one-story flat roofed affair served three meals a day with heaping portions of meals that felt home cooked..
Caroline perused the menu. Her earlier tempest had subsided but not her embarrassment. She decided to not belabor the issue and trudged ahead. “Have you eaten? At least, let me buy you breakfast,” she asked. She was famished.
With the hectic morning that began with her knocking on Joe Beck’s door and asking the older man to do her bidding with Luca’s bitch and watch dog; getting Peter ready for school and then dropping off the legal equivalent of a ticking nuclear bomb at her lawyer’s office, she had not eaten breakfast and only managed a few sips of cold coffee.
Jake scanned the two-sided menu, flipping it over. “I only had two pieces of toast this morning after my run. I could eat.”
“Great,” Caroline beamed. “I’ve never been here before. How’s the food?”
“Excellent. Almost as good as my mom’s. I come here once a week with my daughter. She loves the pancakes.”
Caroline smiled. “Come on,” she chided him. “Let’s see some photos.” She truly was curious about his daughter, but she also wanted to put her emotional lapse farther in the rearview mirror.
Jake removed his phone from his coat pocket, tapped and swiped then turned the device toward her. Caroline accepted it and studied several shots of a beaming girl with crimson cheeks, dirty blonde hair and sky blue eyes. “Gorgeous,” she sighed.
The waitress returned and took their orders. When she departed, Caroline continued, “She has your mouth. Must have your wife’s eyes.”
A cloud seemed to pass over the man’s features.
“She does,” Jake replied as his voice dipped a few octaves.
Involuntarily and without reason, Caroline’s heart dipped in her chest. An awkwardness hung in the air between them for several moments. She had expected this man to elaborate on his daughter or his wife. But he didn’t.
Remembering his exceptional act of heroism yesterday, Caroline broke the silence. “How long have you been a pharmacist?”
“About eight years.”
“Do you like it?”
“It pays the bills. But the industry is killing itself.”
“That’s not a ringing endorsement.”
Jake shook his head. “No, I guess not. It’s incredibly stressful.”
“When I came running down the center aisle, I noticed you had a lot of people in line.” She dipped her head. “I’m sorry.”
For the last few minutes, she had had a chance to really study him. He was at least six-one with a lean, muscular frame that could not be hidden by the navy blue, fleece-lined jacket, the white polo that clung to a well-toned torso over neatly pressed jean and tan leather walking shoes. His inquisitive eyes were caramel and flecked with black and hints of melancholy. Slight webs of crow’s feet had begun to take root just in front of temples which were shot with strands of gray. His hair was expertly groomed and trimmed like someone used to discipline. The jaw was strong and resolute. Caroline took no time coming to the conclusion this man was attractive.
Jake leaned closer then whispered. “You don’t have to keep apologizing.”
Caroline snuffled. “Sorry,” she sighed.
They laughed softly for a moment. Caroline crossed her heart and said, “I promise…no more.”
Jake picked up the dangling thread of conversation. “A couple of patients didn’t like it,” Jake responded. “The others understood once they saw the nature of the emergency.”
Caroline felt moisture welling again. “You were a real hero. Thanks again for saving my son.” Caroline lowered her head and blinked rapidly. Her face swam with heat. She dabbed at her eyes again with the napkin Jake had given her and which was still clutched in her hand.
A moment later, she composed herself for the third time and met his gaze again. “I need a new pharmacy and a new pharmacist. Would it be too much of an imposition to bring my son’s prescriptions to your store. Or are you too busy?”
Jake lifted one side of his mouth into a crooked grin. “That depends.”
“Whether or not you are going to be the kind of patient who will make my life miserable, or the kind who will be patient and appreciate that not every prescription needs to be done in five minutes.”
Caroline grinned in response. “Well, I guess the jury’s still out on that. I did cut in front of all your patients to interrupt you.”
Jake scratched his jaw with an index finger. “Well…I was quite busy and a technician down. But considering the circumstances, we’ll call that one a freebie.”
“So Peter and I can become your newest patients?”
He pursed his lips pretending to think. He paused a beat then: “Sure.” He produced his phone again and asked for her phone number. He punched in the number and hit talk. Caroline’s phone chimed in her purse. She ended the call without picking it up. “Now,” he said. “You have my number. When you’re ready, call me directly. Don’t use the store line. We’re so busy and short staffed, you’ll never get through.”
Caroline allowed herself a quick smile. “I don’t want to get you in trouble with your wife. She might get upset if she sees another woman’s phone number,” Caroline joked.
Jake had been evaluating this woman since the moment she’d jutted her hand toward him. His instinctive male response had been to size her up physically. Five-four or five-five. Distinctive, round, lambent green eyes set in a round face framed by a curtain of silky amber tresses. Her sensual but delicate lips were adorned with an understated gloss. A curvy physique with bends like a country road clad in a tight caramel chemise and hip-hugging jeans with high suede ankle boots.
Jake sipped his coffee and placed the mug back on the table. Keeping his eyes on the table, he said, “It will be fine.” He wondered what had this beautiful woman so rattled.
The waitress returned with their meals. Scrambled eggs, toast and three slice of bacon for her and a Western omelet with hash browns for him. While they ate, Jake turned the direction of the conversation toward her. He inquired about how Peter was doing and how the trip to the emergency room went. Caroline explained that Jake’s albuterol had really helped Peter’s breathing. She gave Jake a watered down version of her experience at the hospital, leaving out Luca; his drug-soaked confrontation with her and the tall mysterious vixen who–she had learned–following her.
A thought struck her. “You used that inhaler on Peter. I didn’t have a prescription and I didn’t pay you for it?”
Jake waved away the observation. “No worries. I’m sure the Board of Pharmacy would understand.”
They finished their meals. Caroline paid the check with several bills from her purse and left a generous tip for the waitress. They walked to his truck and Jake drover her back to her car in the Schooner’s parking lot. Several cars now dotted the pavement as the lunch hour had arrived.
“Thanks for breakfast,” Jake said.
“Thanks for returning my phone…and for…Peter,” Caroline replied thickly. She licked her lips and crooked her head toward Schooner’s. “Maybe we could actually have lunch sometime.”
Jake smiled. “Uh…maybe.”
Caroline nodded then quickly fished her keys from her purse before pushing open the door. She fumbled them and the dropped to the pavement. In the open triangle of the door, she bent over to pick them up. Jake was treated to a fine view of a curvaceous backside wrapped in tight jeans. As she stood up again, he quickly averted his eyes. Caroline gave a half-wave. Jake smiled and nodded. Caroline slipped into her Escalade.
One hundred yards south of Schooner’s, Debra Perry sat in the Beamer in front of a pizza joint, watching Caroline Clivio climb out of the unknown man’s Toyota pickup truck. Her eyelids felt like lead curtains. She needed sleep desperately. But she was coherent enough to realize that when Luca learned that his ex was seeing another man on top of the fact that she had seen her lawyer today Luca Clivio would lose his shit.
The thought that she might mislead or lie to Luca occurred to her. She quickly dismissed it. If–no when–he learned of his wife’s activities–and he would learn of them because he had eyes and ears everywhere. He would realize that she had lied to him. No, Debra told herself. She would have to level with him. But, it was a conversation to which she was not looking forward.
-To Be Continued-
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