The county medical center was an hour’s drive from the house. The silence in which we made the drive was tense and uncomfortable. Bobby didn’t say anything until we were pulling into the parking garage. Then he just wanted to know where his gun was.
I looked at him quizzically. “You planning on shooting somebody?”
“Maybe.” He shifted in the seat. “It’s just weird—I’ve had it on me for years, you know?”
I nodded. “It’s in the glove compartment. With your badge.”
He didn’t reach for it like I expected, just looked over at me and nodded.
It wasn’t necessary for me to go with Bobby to the doctor’s office; I knew that like I knew that he was considering telling me so. Nevertheless I stood beside his chair in the lobby, staring up at the directory.
“Richardson…” his eyes scanned the board. “Fourth floor, suite twelve. Oh, how nice, a suite.” He looked up at me. “What’s this one?”
“Uh, I think he’s the GP. Tomorrow’s the other one, the physical therapist.”
“It gets better and better.”
I ran a hand through his dark hair, pulled at one of the curls till it straightened and then let it pop back into place. “There is apparently a coffee shop somewhere down here. I’m going to have an espresso. You can find me when you’re done, okay?”
He was surprised by my graceful bowing out, and pleased. He smiled and said he’d see me later. I watched him wheel himself over to the elevator, my stomach clenched until I saw that he could reach the buttons; then I turned and walked away before the desire to run after him and hover over-protectively.
I sat at a corner table on the patio of the coffee shop. It was directly to the left of a No Smoking sign that was being disregarded by a pair of doctors, which I figured gave me leeway. I lit up, brought my knees up to my chest and stared into space. I thought about what Bobby was doing upstairs; he could be undergoing a simple exam, or having the indwelling catheter removed and the other one, whose name I couldn’t think of, put on. That would take awhile, since he’d have to learn how to use it. I wondered if it would hurt; if he would feel anything at all. Then I thought about the last time I heard from him before the shooting—it had been six whole days before it, during which time I’d thought he would never call me again. He’d said, “Alice, I need to talk to you, please. I’m really busy with a case right now, but I’ll call you as soon as I get a day off, okay?” I thought about my angry sighing into the phone as I said, “Fine, Bobby; whatever you want”; and about how seethingly angry I was for the rest of the week.
I felt a hand on my red converse and snapped out of my reverie. A woman with short black hair was sitting beside me at my table, head cocked and wearing a concerned expression.
“You need to ash that thing,” she said in a sweet voice. I judged her to be only a few years older than me, but she was very maternal in her bearing—something about her made me want to curl up in her lap to be consoled.
I flicked the neglected cigarette and then took a drag. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” She smiled; I noticed that her teeth were astonishingly white, considering the full-flavored Basic between her fingers. She offered a thin hand, saying her name was Sheila.
“I’m Alice Burke.”
“Well, Alice,” she reached out and tapped the ring finger of my left hand. “I don’t see a ring there, so it must be your boyfriend. Where is he?”
I smiled a little and told her he was upstairs seeing a doctor named Richards.
“The urologist? My husband sees him sometimes. Not today, but sometimes.”
“Urologist; I thought it was general practitioner day.” I was scolding myself internally for not getting it right.
“So,” she said, exhaling a small cloud of smoke out of the side of her lip-sticked mouth. “He’s sick, or he got hurt?”
“He got, um, he got shot, actually. He’s a cop, a detective. He got shot by a rapist he was questioning.” Injustice wrapped itself around me and my eyes welled up, my lips started to tremble. I squeezed my eyes shut, shook my head to dispel my thoughts.
Sheila held on to one of my wrists. “I think I read about that. About a month ago, huh?”
I took a deep breath before speaking. “Yeah, I’m sure you did. Those fucking reporters…” I laughed shortly. “God, I hate reporters. I can’t do that again; I need a new job. Blood suckers.”
She smiled at me. “We live out in the county. When Sam got his legs caught under that car that was big news. We had ‘em, too, for awhile. Bastards, the lot of them.”
“What happened to him?”
“He was under our neighbor’s car, lookin’ at the brakes. Something happened with the jacks, knocked the car off and it crushed his legs. Doctors had to take ‘em both off.”
“How is he?”
“He’s alright. He’s over in the PT wing learning about prosthetics.”
I nodded and took a drag. I was still considering plopping down with my head in her lap. She was smiling at me.
“What happened after, to the guy?” she asked.
“Bobby’s partner shot him,” I said levelly. For a moment the man’s face flickered in my mind—fleshy and white, blank as he stared up from the coroner’s table. “He died. And I was glad.”
Sheila nodded, tightened her grip on my wrist. “You feel bad about that?”
“Only when I say it out loud.”
“What brings you two way down this way?”
“I wanted to take him away from the city—from work and reporters and… everything.”
“I think that’s a good idea. Good for you. How is he now?”
I considered it silently for a minute. “He’s quiet. I think he’s angry. He’s afraid.” Tears started falling down my cheeks and she brushed them off with her fingertips.
We talked for over an hour, sitting in the courtyard of a hospital sharing our innermost feelings like we’d known each other forever. I’d paid shrinks thousands of dollars for much less. In the late afternoon as I was crushing out a cigarette with the toe of my shoe I saw Bobby through one of the glass doors across from us, sitting in the chair with his head on one fist, looking impatient. I inclined my head at him. Sheila turned and waved.
“He’s cute,” she said. As I stood up to go to him she held out her hand, in it was a scrap of the silver lining of her cigarette package. “You call me if you need to talk some more, okay? Maybe come by for dinner some time.”
I smiled and shook her hand. “Thank you.”
Bobby’s head was cocked as I walked up to him. “Who was that?”
I shrugged. “A lady I met. She’s nice.”
He began wheeling himself toward the front doors and I walked beside him. He asked me what we’d been talking about.
“Her husband. The weather. My sexy boyfriend.”
He snorted. “Yeah, speaking of that,” he reached into his shirt pocket and took out a piece of paper. “Here. You might like this.”
It was a prescription for Viagra. I looked down at him, grinning.
“So, he changed the… thing? So, we can…”
“We can talk about this in the car.” There was a faint color on his cheeks that was unfamiliar. I never imagined I’d be able to make Bobby blush.
I laughed. “Fine. But hurry up.”
While we waited in the parking lot of Wal-Green’s it started to rain. Bobby sighed, reclined his seat and closed his eyes. I slid my seat back and turned sideways so I could watch him. I ran my fingers through his curls, down his jaw line and across his cheekbones. He opened his eyes and looked at me.
“You know this might not work,” he said softly. “The doctor said not to…”
“Not to get myself all slimy in a fit of anticipation?” I ran my fingers down his chest, traced circles around his nipples.
“Yeah; those were his exact words, actually. Were you listening?”
“Mm hmm, with a glass against the door.”
“Your surveillance technique was never very good, was it?”
I laughed. “That was a long time ago, too—you should have taught me better by now. You’re a slacker.”
“It was a long time ago.” He went silent, closed his eyes again and held my hand in one of his.
For a few moments I watched his eyes flicker behind his lids, the movements of his facial muscles. Whatever was on his mind, he was giving it all the focus he had in him. I was, as always, fascinated.
“What are you thinking about?” I prodded gently.
He sighed deeply, opened his eyes to me again. “When you were writing your article, that day that I came to your house, do you remember?”
“That was the last time I had a date with Rena; we were supposed to have lunch at her club. I stood her up—I meant to call her, but I totally forgot.”
“Bobby, I was…”
“Alice, I haven’t been with anybody else since I met you.” He shook his head. “I haven’t thought about it. I was just… I don’t know what was wrong with me. You made me nervous?”
“Hell yes. Are you kidding? I was completely unprepared for you. You caught me off guard—I don’t let that happen. Ever.”
“I’m not.” He raised my knuckles to his lips and kissed them. “I needed that; needed you. It just took me too long to realize that. And I’m sorry.”
For one of a very few moments in my life I was unable to respond; I was nearly breathless and had no idea what to say to him. Luckily he was feeling charitable and let me off the hook.
“Why don’t you go grab that stuff and we’ll go home?”
Before I got out of the car he hooked a thumb under my chin and brought my face down for a kiss that made my knees shake.