There was a woman standing at the door. She could have been one of Nicki’s sisters except for the lack of prairie outfits. In fact, Margene wasn’t sure that the woman wasn’t one of Nicki’s sisters. It wasn’t like she knew the eight billion Grants by name or by sight.
“Hi. Are you looking for Nicki?” Margene decided to ask.
“I think so,” the woman said in a husky kind of voice. “Is this the right house for Nicolette Grant? I thought maybe I got the damn number wrong.”
“Yeah, um. This is the place. I’m Margene, Nicki’s neighbor,” said Margie, fumbling to open the screen.
“And you’re about eight and a half months pregnant,” said the woman, opening the screen door. “So I’ll get the door for myself, if that’s okay.”
“Okay,” Margie said. “I don’t think we’ve met. You’re Nicki’s older sister, right?”
The woman’s eyes went huge. “Who told you that?” she asked suspiciously.
“Nobody,” Margie said, taken aback by the intense Grant-style response. “It’s just that you look like one of the Grants. They all have that blonde, blue-eyed look. You don’t dress like you’re out of the compound, though.”
Before the woman could answer, Nicki stomped into the house from the back. “These people and their expectations! I am a mother of two and if they can’t understand the pressures of family li…Margene, who’s this?”
Margie was pretty sure that the blonde woman wasn’t Nicki’s sister now. Even though they looked alike. And acted alike. And the blonde was giving Nicki a stare nearly as hateful as the one Nicki was giving her.
“You’re Nicolette Grant, I assume,” the woman said, biting off each word bitterly. “My name is Erica Hahn. I wanted to talk to you.”
“Why?” Nicki asked.
“Because according to my mother, she had an affair with Roman Grant when they were both young and stupid, and I was the stupid product of that stupid affair,” the woman said, still biting off her words. “And you’re the only Grant I could find who isn’t on that creepy compound that just got raided by the FBI — or in jail.”
Margie choked. Wow, Nicki’s maybe-sister was blunt.
“Are you claiming that you’re my half-sister?” Nicki demanded of the blonde woman — Erica, Margie guessed her name was. “How dare you claim my father would have an affair?”
Man, Margene was pretty sure that she’d dare to claim it, because Erica gave Nicki the Grant look back with all the disdain of a Chosen One and then some.
“I don’t want to claim it, but…look. I’m a doctor,” Erica said, visibly calming herself down. “I wanted some DNA from a Grant to do the tests. And you’re the only one who was available. So. My apologies, Ms. Grant.”
She turned to leave. And of course, Nicki was going to let her, even though Nicki was dying of curiosity just like Margie was, so Margie had to get in the way.
“Please stay,” Margie said, smiling hopefully.
“Excuse me?” Erica asked, giving Margie the stink-eye now.
“Nicki!” Margie said, turning to glare at Nicki and her sour pout. “She’s clearly your sister. You look the same and you even have the same snotty attitude I thought came from the compound but is clearly in the Grant DNA…so invite her to dinner already.”
Nicki glowered at Margie. “Invite a stranger to dinner who claims my father had an affair?” she asked. “Margene, have you lost your mind?”
“Yeah, why not?” Margie asked. “It’ll be fun.”
Erica was giving Margie and Nicki very strange looks. “You two are very close neighbors,” she said with an odd catch in her voice.
Nicki faked a smile. “Utah is a very friendly place,” she said. “Where do you live?”
“I used to live in Seattle,” Erica said. “But my life recently came unglued, so I decided to do one of those stupid finding myself things — and then my mother dropped this bombshell on me.”
“Wow,” said Margie. “Did you even guess before?”
Erica looked at Margie uneasily. “We should probably sit down before getting into the trivia of my personal life. I’m not a neo-natal expert or anything, but it’s gotta be rough, carrying that much extra weight around while Ms. Grant and I eye each other and wonder if there’s REALLY a resemblance.”
“Trust me,” Margie said, gratefully heading for the couch as Wayne came bouncing down the stairs. “You two look a lot alike.”
“Mother,” Wayne said, looking at Erica very curiously but politely. “Is she from Juniper Creek? I thought we weren’t supposed to have any contact with Juniper Creek.”
Erica looked at Nicki, who looked back and sighed. “This is Dr. Hahn,” she said. “She’s looking for her missing family. She is NOT from the compound.”
Margie could have laughed, because Erica looked moderately gobsmacked by Wayne. Wayne, for his part, looked a little pleased that Erica was a doctor.
“What kind of doctor are you?” he asked in his stuffy little voice.
“I’m a cardiothoracic surgeon. Most people just say heart surgeon, even though that’s less accurate,” Erica said. “What does your mother do?”
“Mother’s a mechanic,” Wayne said. “She’s very good with tools.”
Nicki was now looking at Erica with a great deal more interest, which Margie thought was sad. Maybe it was just because Nicki had a bunch of sisters from being in a really big polygamous family, but if Margie had a secret half-sister, she’d care about the secret half-sister part, not the heart surgeon part.
“Would you like to stay for dinner?” Nicki asked. “It’s usually a family affair, so it can be pretty hectic…”
Erica looked up from Wayne, mouth twisted slightly. “Sure,” she said. “No problem. But how about I take you and your family out for dinner instead?”
Oh, boy. Margie could tell this would be something.
She hadn’t wanted it to be true. When the pretty girl with dark hair and eyes came bouncing up to the door, Erica had almost cried with relief. Her father was not the icky old religious fraud whose youngest wife was something like seventeen. She wasn’t going to have to walk through Juniper Creek to understand the mob of family — thirty-one half-brothers and sisters — whose DNA she shared.
Then the brunette asked if she was Nicki’s sister and Erica’s heart sank.
Then Nicolette Grant’s son had taken one look at her and asked if she was from Juniper Creek. Erica could have stabbed herself in the eye with a scalpel at that moment, and not felt the pain.
Three months ago — only three! — she’d been one of the top cardiothoracic surgeons in the world whose biggest problem was that Cristina Yang was really freaking annoying and despite her personal rules, she’d been making friends with Callie Torres.
Now? Erica was on an extended leave of absence from her life, gay, and apparently the daughter of an infamous polygamist, complete with a really bitchy younger half-sister who looked at her like she was about to grow horns and teach her babies science.
Never mind that her “neighbor” Margie and her two kids had come along for dinner with Nicki, Erica, and Nicki’s two kids. That was pretty weird, even for Utah. First of all, that two single mothers were living next door with no man in sight, second, that they were all BFF, and third, the way Nicki and Margie acted was…interesting.
“So you’re a mechanic,” Erica said, trying to make small talk with Nicki. They’d already arranged to meet in Salt Lake tomorrow to get the cheek swab. Erica had a former colleague who was going to bump up the results as a favor, what with Erica saving his son’s life and all one time. “I guess you never had a chance to go to college, which is too bad.”
“I’m happy with the life I have,” Nicki said icily. Jesus, this one was weird. She’d gotten out of Juniper Creek, presumably because she’d wanted to escape polygamy, but still acted like any indirect criticism of the place was the most horrible thing Erica could do.
“Still,” Erica said. “I imagine a mechanical engineering degree would make it easier to support the boys.”
Wayne tilted his head. “But, Dr. Erica, my mother is supported by…” he began as Margie, of all people, smoothly interrupted.
“Wayne honey, it’s not nice to talk about money at the table,” she said with one of those Utah-nice smiles that Erica hated. “Mechanics make great money around here. People like it when they’re native English speakers, so there’s a premium.”
Erica almost bristled at the naive racism in that statement, but this was a tense enough dinner. Besides, the way Wayne was looking at Margie, she thought there might be something more to the story, too.
“Why didn’t you go see my father directly?” Nicki inquired coolly.
“It would have been rather time consuming to request a DNA sample from a man who is in state custody,” Erica said, bringing the temperature down to icy. “As you can imagine, something of that nature would bring the press down like vultures. I’m a private person, Ms. Grant. I don’t need it broadcast that I might be Roman Grant’s daughter from a premarital liaison.”
Nicki folded her arms. “If you even are,” she pointed out. Margie chuckled. “What, Margene?”
“Dr. Hahn, can you do what Nicki just did?” Margie asked.
Erica folded her arms. “If you even are,” she said crisply. “What, Margene?”
Margie cracked up, and her oldest boy pointed in toddler-style wonderment. Wayne’s eyes had gone huge.
“She sounds just like Mother,” he said. “Dr. Erica, you even look like my mother when you give sharp looks.”
“Wonders never cease,” Nicki said acidly.
“Does this mean she’s part of our family?” Wayne asked hopefully.
“Maybe,” Nicki and Erica said in unison, and that time, Erica could hear the similar tones. Nicki caught her eye, and the emotions reflected on the woman’s face were genuine for the first time.
Erica suddenly thought it might not be horrible to have a sister. Even one who wore french braids all the time.
If dratted Margene hadn’t been so positive about Dr. Hahn, Nicki was fairly sure that Barb and Bill would have been against getting DNA tested. Maybe not Barb, who probably thought it would be nice to have a secular liberal connected to their family, but most certainly Bill would have been. After all, it would look bad for Papa, having relations with a woman out of wedlock. Though Nicki could believe that her father had gotten special permission for such a thing, or that it was far more complicated than this Dr. Hahn thought it was.
Still. The last thing Papa needed, the last thing their family needed, was this liberal surgeon woman casting doubt on his character. It wasn’t even as though Dr. Hahn understood what a blessing it was to be the Prophet’s daughter. She thought Papa was a pervert. She didn’t want to be Nicki’s sister any more than Nicki wanted Dr. Hahn to be her sister.
So it would have been better if Nicki had said no. But dratted Margene had sang the praises of Dr. Hahn, and everyone thought it would be rude not to get a cheek swab, especially if Dr. Hahn was her sister.
It had been a lot of driving for very little work, too. The cheek swab had taken all of three minutes, and then Dr. Hahn had hustled them out of the medical center, looking as ashamed as Nicki felt.
“This is all so damned ridiculous,” she said, glaring at the Wasatch Range. Nicki felt an odd twinge in her chest, the way she had last night when Margene had been so adamant that Nicki and Dr. Hahn even spoke alike. “I wish my mother hadn’t said anything, but I guess I pushed her hard enough to get a different answer this time.”
“You don’t want it to be true,” Nicki said. “Well, why did you find me if you wanted to pretend Roman Grant wasn’t your father?”
The shock in Dr. Hahn’s gaze suggested that they both agreed, on some level, that she was Papa’s daughter. Nicki didn’t like Dr. Hahn, but she wasn’t a fool. The woman was a Grant to her fingertips. It was spooky.
“My life is a chaotic mess,” Dr. Hahn said slowly. “I need to know some things definitively so I can regroup and move forward.”
Nicki nodded. “Life can be complicated sometimes,” she said. Thinking that it would be something to watch Dr. Hahn and Alby go toe-to-toe, because this one would have no time for Alby’s blasphemous power-seeking.
“I imagine yours is particularly complicated,” Dr. Hahn said, chancing a sidelong glance at Nicki. “Were you close to Roman before you left the compound?”
“I was as close to Papa as anyone could be, I suppose,” Nicki said. “He isn’t as bad as everyone says.”
“Oh,” Dr. Hahn said neutrally. “Why did you leave?”
Nicki pondered the right thing to say to an outsider who didn’t know the first thing about the principle. “Because I thought it was the right thing to do,” she said. That was true enough for now. “Why’d you leave Seattle?”
“I worked in a pit of backstabbing vipers, and I ended a really intense relationship,” Dr. Hahn said. “It seemed to be a good time to get the hell out of Dodge and think about who I am.”
“Do you miss surgery?” Nicki asked.
“Every day,” Dr. Hahn said. “It’s not so bad though, being out here. I grew up in Idaho, fairly close to some of the compounds up there. And the man I thought was my father was a real son of a bitch.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Nicki said.
“He dropped dead one day when I was twelve,” Dr. Hahn said. “I didn’t cry at his funeral. I thought I was a horrible person for being glad. And then I found out he wasn’t my father at all and I felt like…”
Her face lifted back up toward the mountains, but there was a tiny smile on it now.
“I’m glad,” Nicki said. “Even if you hate my father.”
“Probably our father,” Dr. Hahn said. “And I don’t hate him. I don’t know him. But I don’t approve of what he’s done.”
Nicki sighed. “So you’re condemning someone you’ve never met,” she said.
“You really love him, don’t you?” Dr. Hahn asked. “Even though he’s messed you up in a thousand ways.”
“You see it as being messed up,” Nicki said. “I don’t.”
Dr. Hahn looked at her strangely. The entire situation was bizarre. Nicki wanted to tell this stranger everything, about her relationship with Bill and her sister-wives, about how much it hurt that it was her fault, completely and totally, that Papa was in jail in his condition because of her, and Alby, that snake, was ruining everything because he could.
“Are you okay?” Dr. Hahn asked. “You’re crying.”
“Am not,” Nicki said. “It’s not your business anyway. Just because you may be my sister doesn’t mean you understand.”
“I think I might get some of it,” Dr. Hahn said, with that weird smile on her face again.
Someone at the clinic was a snitch. Erica was going to believe that version of events, and that the snitch was going to be prosecuted for violating her HIPAA rights the way half of her former coworkers deserved to be. Because if Erica let herself believe that Oliver Wilson had sold her out to the Utah press as Roman Grant’s secret daughter, it would just be another cherry in the crap sundae that was her life since transferring to Seattle Grace.
Did anyone in this state have ANYTHING better to do than stare at the polygamist’s daughter? Seriously, Utah itself was gorgeous. Erica had even gone to sunrise yoga and realized that Callie or not, she liked it. The sun coming over the mountains, the clean dry air that was nothing like rainy Seattle — it had been intense. Almost enlightening.
Not quite as intense as coming back to her hotel and seeing two news vans and the guy from Deseret News waiting for her to tell her the news about the DNA test, though.
Erica paced back and forth, looking at the damn Salt Lake temple and that hideous building she’d heard two Goth kids on Temple Square call “the Meganacle” and checking her watch. The first call she’d made after sending a blistering message to Oliver Wilson was to Nicki, who had declared she was coming up to Salt Lake to get her. Immediately.
At least Erica hadn’t gotten any calls from Seattle yet. It was unlikely but possible — she’d had to leave a forwarding contact number with Richard’s people, and those damn residents could get private information like nobody else. She could imagine someone picking up the news as a Seattle-related oddity involved with the Juniper Creek scandal and someone calling, maybe not Callie, but Yang had no sense of…
Erica almost jumped in the air when her phone went off. Caller ID said it was Nicki, and so Erica answered the phone with a crisp, “are you here?” because damned if Erica was giving Nicki the satisfaction of knowing that Erica was relieved to hear her voice.
“I’m out back. There’s no way I’m going past that news van,” Nicki said. “You come down here right now. We’re going back to my house and you’re going to tell me how this sort of news gets out.”
“How am I supposed to get past the news vans?” Erica inquired dryly.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Erica,” said Nicki in that superior little voice that drove Erica crazy, in part because she could hear her own cadences in it. “Fine. I’ll come up and we will sneak out of your expensive hotel together. I thought you might not want us to be seen together, but I’ll risk it for family.”
Erica almost suggested that Nicki take her help and shove it, but instead she said, “Thank you, Nicki. It’s the ninth floor, room 927.”
It took her five minutes after that, but Nicki knocked on her door, looking exasperated at the condition of Erica’s room and the entire situation.
“Pack a bag, Erica,” Nicki said. “If you’re going to hide out at my house in Sandy, you might want a bag.”
Erica hadn’t thought about that idea. She’d been too busy staring at her phone wondering if she wanted to call Seattle. “Thank you, Nicki,” she said gratefully, throwing clothes into her suitcase. “I’m sorry. This is all really ridiculous.”
“You don’t know the first thing about being a Grant,” Nicki said, sitting down on Erica’s bed and fingering the high-count sheets. “That could be dangerous in Utah.”
“I’m not a Grant,” Erica pointed out, making sure her…personal items…were covered. She had the feeling Nicki wouldn’t approve, even though Nicki was a single mother who was super-close with her next-door neighbor. “I’m the biological child of Roman Grant, which is different. And I’m shocked that someone would leak this to the press.”
“It’ll be some Mormon woman who doesn’t approve of the lifestyle,” Nicki said, and it took Erica a moment to remember Nicki meant polygamy, not gayness. “What?”
“You’re right, I don’t know the first thing about any of this,” Erica said. “I used to be a surgeon. That’s all I wanted to do. Save lives, do research, and not get involved with all this personal…goo.”
Expecting another disdainful look, Erica was fairly surprised to see Nicki look at her with complete sympathy before rushing over, throwing the last of Erica’s clothes into the suitcase, and zipping it up hastily.
“Let’s get out of here,” she said grimly. “Hopefully the reporters haven’t spotted my car. It could be very bad if they did.”
If Nicki had a bit of sense, she would drop this woman off by the side of the 15 for bringing attention to her. It wasn’t as if Grants hadn’t done it to their own before, and Erica was at least as dangerous as Alby or that rotten Rhonda.
Besides, Nicki had done her research on the internet. Okay, she’d had Marge do it, which was about the same thing, and they’d been impressed by the results. Dr. Erica Hahn was the best cardiothoracic surgeon west of the Rockies, and that was saying something. And if Nicki knew anything, it was that surgeons made a lot of money. You didn’t drop sisters who were surgeons on the side of the road.
“How long did you live in Seattle?” Nicki asked a somewhat numb Erica.
“Since I finished my residency at Johns Hopkins,” Erica replied. “Eleven years. How many brothers and sisters do we have?”
“Thirty-two,” said Nicki. “Papa had one since that article in the LA Times came out. What’s your mother’s name?”
“Joanne,” Erica said. “Joanne Williamson before she married my stepfather. What’s your mother’s name?”
“Adaleen,” Nicki said. “Why did you really leave Seattle?”
“Someone broke my heart and if I had to see them every day, I would scream,” Erica replied diffidently. “What about you? What happened to the boys’ father?”
Nicki bit her lip. “It’s complicated,” she said. “Margene helps out a lot, though, and we get along. There’s enough money to send Wayne to a prestigious private school. It’s Catholic, but there’s no better education in the Salt Lake area.”
She parked the car in the driveway and turned the engine off. Erica looked surprised that they were already back at Nicki’s house and blinked rapidly. Nicki didn’t know why Erica was so upset. In two or three days, this would blow over if Erica wanted it to and she could go off to her liberal life and never have to worry about any Grant ever again. It was Nicki who would have to deal with it, the real Grants who loved Papa, not this cuckoo in the nest.
“I was just thinking that this is so weird,” Erica said as they pulled her bag from the back of the car. “I’m not used to having a family. I don’t like people. I’m bad at small talk. So having to think of nice things to say when I’m processing that my biological father is a polygamist and the only person who’s helping me out is my half-sister who clearly still loves him is hard.”
Margene came flying out of the house, followed by the boys. “Nicki, where have you been? Barb is freaking out,” she said. “Oh hi, Dr. Hahn. How are you?”
“Freaked out,” Erica said. “The test results came back this morning.”
“Are you part of the family?” Margie asked, looking hopeful.
“Of course Papa is her biological father, Margene,” Nicki said. “And Erica is very traumatized, so don’t pester her for details. There was a news crew after her in Salt Lake, so we’re laying low here for a day or two.”
Margie nodded, eyes huge. Erica looked a little suspicious, probably because she was wondering who Barb was and why Margene spent so much time in Nicki’s house.
Whatever. Boss Lady would probably have her head for supper if Nicki didn’t get back to her immediately, no matter what Nicki’s other troubles. At least Erica looked as though she would just sink into a couch for the day and stop causing trouble. It was all under control for now.
“Dr. Erica, are you really my aunt?” Wayne asked. He’d been following her around for an hour. Usually Erica would have scared the kid into the next state for not leaving her alone, but usually Erica wasn’t hiding from the press in her sister’s house in Sandy, Utah. Also, the kid was her nephew and he seemed lonely. His little brother was playing with Margie’s oldest and Jesus, there were a lot of kids running around this place.
“I am really your aunt,” Erica said.
“But you’re not from Juniper Creek,” Wayne said.
“No, I am not,” Erica said. “Have you ever been there?”
“No. I’m not allowed,” Wayne said. “Mother wants to bring me, but Dad says it’s not allowed.”
Erica didn’t want to know. Something was weird about this whole situation, from Margene and Nicki being a little too close, to the mysterious Barb who Nicki had run off to placate, to the shared backyard she’d glimpsed through the kitchen window. Nicki was weird just by virtue of being a compound graduate, Erica was pretty sure, but it was more than that.
So Erica decided to focus on what she could handle, which was the stuffy sound in Wayne’s voice. “Wayne, do you have allergies?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Wayne said. “Sometimes it’s hard to breathe but Mother says that I’ll grow out of it.”
Of course Nicki would say that. Probably she believed in faith healing or something equally ridiculous. Erica caught herself in a half-scowl and tried to smile instead.
“Well, I’m not an ENT…that’s ear, nose, and throat doctor, by the way,” Erica began, “But I know a few tricks. And if I’m right, we can tell your mother the things to tell a doctor so you get the right help.”
A blonde girl came in while Erica was examining Wayne. It didn’t seem to be asthma or anything involving the heart or lungs. Definitely either allergies or an ENT problem that five minutes with Mark Sloan could clear up. Wayne seemed delighted that someone was talking to him about his little problems, and was telling Erica all about how the other children thought he was “doofy” because he didn’t like to run.
Probably it was the stress, but Erica felt for the kid. A lot.
“But Dr. Erica, I do like to run and jump. I just get tired if I run too much,” Wayne said. “Do you think I’m going to die?”
“Absolutely not,” Erica said, looking up at the blonde girl. “Who the…who are you?”
“I’m Sarah Henrickson,” the girl said. “Who are you? What are you doing to Wayne?”
“I’m Nicki’s new secret half-sister Erica,” Erica said. “And Wayne, I think, either has allergies or possibly a minor nasal blockage.”
Wayne beamed. “Dr. Erica is a famous surgeon from Seattle, Sarah,” he said. “She’s a cardiothoracic surgeon. Some people say heart surgeon, but that’s not as accurate.”
Sarah blinked. Erica was slightly impressed at how smart the kid was; he listened. “I was here to watch the boys,” she said to Erica. “Hi. So you’re clearly not from Juniper Creek.”
“No, I’m from Seattle,” Erica said. “Okay, Wayne. I’ve finished my examination. We can tell your mother exactly what to tell a doctor to help your nasal problems.”
Wayne nodded and then, to Erica’s surprise, hugged her fiercely.
“I like you, Dr. Erica,” he said. “Thank you for helping me.”
“You’re welcome, Wayne,” Erica said, looking up at the gobsmacked Sarah. “Why is it that everyone around here just wanders into each other’s homes? I know Utah’s pretty idyllic, but it’s a bit much for me.”
Sarah swallowed and looked ready to lie. “I think you should ask your sister for the answer to that,” she finally said.
“Think she’ll tell me?” Erica asked, standing up and patting Wayne on the shoulder.
“No,” Sarah said. “But I’m not going to, because I don’t need Nicki jumping down my throat. Anyway, if you’ve got this under control, I’m out of here.”
Before Erica could contradict her, Sarah was gone and Wayne was waving after her.
Christ, these people were weird.
Nicki’s sister was pacing her floor when Nicki and Raymond finally got back from the meeting with Barb. Barb had declared in no uncertain terms that if Barb was out to Pam and Carl, then Nicki needed to tell Erica about living the principle.
When Nicki got closer, she noticed that Erica was on the phone and visibly distressed.
“I don’t care that you’re worried about me. You had O’Malley find my private information. You invaded my privacy!” Erica shouted.
Nicki closed the door behind her and told Raymond to go upstairs. He looked pouty about it, but did as she told him.
“Look, Callie,” said Erica in a weary voice, “I don’t have time for this. I’m fine. I’m not coming back to Seattle. And I’m not sorry I left you.”
It took a moment, but Nicki’s eyes widened. Callie was a girl’s name. Erica had talked about leaving someone who’d wrecked her. This Callie was probably that person and probably a girl.
Erica waved at Nicki, who hadn’t hidden well enough.
“Yes, I’m fine. Utah isn’t that bad,” Erica said. “It lacks the backstabbing resident bed-hopping of Seattle Grace.”
What was Nicki going to do? Erica was almost crying and Nicki couldn’t just throw the woman out, as much as it would be the correct thing to do.
“Thank you for your concern. Don’t call me again,” Erica said finally. “Good night, Callie.”
Nicki stared at Erica when she put her phone away.
“So you struggle with same-sex attraction,” Nicki said, looking at her sister with slight distaste. At least she was only a half-sister, though Alby’s… tendencies…had been a joke at Juniper Creek for as long as Nicki could remember. Not that Alby had ever acted on those tendencies, but his eyes could linger.
“Is that how you’d put it?” Erica inquired with a grim sort of humor. “If you call me a lesbian, my head won’t explode, you know. Yours won’t, either.”
“I think that sort of language enables the pathology,” Nicki said before grimacing. She wasn’t talking to Margie or even Barb here. Erica didn’t take to Nicki talking down to her, and the flash of anger in Erica’s eyes when Nicki looked up confirmed that. “Sorry. I’m sorry.”
“Do you get off on being such a smug bitch, or can you just not help it?” Erica asked sharply. Thank God Margie hadn’t heard that; she would have giggled and agreed. Nicki wouldn’t take that from a third wife the way she would from an older sister who was a surgeon. “I was every day of forty before I realized, and it made my life better even though my first girlfriend was a real piece of work. So trust me, I’m not struggling with same-sex attraction. I’m embracing it. And with the way you act near Margie, I would have thought you’d get it.”
The way she acted with Margie? Nicki gaped. No wonder…oh, goodness.
“Margie’s my sister-wife!” Nicki said, flushing red. “She’s not my lover. She’s my sister-wife! We’re married to the same man. It is most certainly not what you think.”
It was Erica’s turn to change color. She went ice-pale. “Oh, Nicki,” she said in a little voice. “You’re still in it? Even after you’ve seen what men who practice it do to women? Are you out of your mind?”
“Don’t you dare judge me, you sodomite,” Nicki growled. “You may be my sister, but you have no right to…”
“Sodomite?” Erica said, looking at Nicki like she’d grown a second head. “Are you kidding me?”
She’d rescued this judgmental sodomite. And even knowing Nicki’s opinions on morality, Erica was the one acting as though she were offended and sad for Nicki. And thinking that she was Margene’s lover? It was true; those people thought everything was about their aberrant sexuality.
“I don’t think I can have you in my house. You might corrupt the children,” Nicki said.
“Or you, because you know the gays can’t resist the hot incest loving,” Erica sassed back.
“Don’t be vulgar,” Nicki snapped.
Erica sighed. She looked pained, and Nicki felt pained, too. It had been nice, having a family member — even one that came from such a scandalous beginning as Erica Hahn’s — who didn’t immediately judge her by the standards of Juniper Creek. But Nicki didn’t think tolerance should be taken too far…that was how civilizations fell apart.
“Nicki,” Erica said. “I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean for this whole visit to get so complicated. I wanted to get a cheek swab, find out that my mother was maybe losing her mind and Roman Grant wasn’t my father, get the real story, and then go get a job somewhere like Boston or New York, find a real girlfriend and move on from all the drama. Maybe I should pretend the middle part happened and move on.”
It was absolutely what Erica should do. Nicki shouldn’t want this liberal feminist gay in her house, and absolutely not as a family member.
Instead, Nicki swallowed. “Salt Lake is pretty liberal, you know,” she said. “It’s not even majority Mormon anymore.”
Erica raised an eyebrow. “That’s an interesting observation, Nicolette,” she said dryly. “Is there anything else you want to add?”
“No,” Nicki said, folding her arms. “But I think it’s a bit elitist, you just discounting anywhere that’s not a big city in a liberal coast state. And your fantasy is stupid, anyway, because Roman Grant is your father. Someday, someone’s going to find out, and do you think your big city liberal friends will know what to say when they find out you’re the daughter of a polygamist?”
“Jesus, Nicki,” Erica said. “That’s a lot of words to say that you want me to stay, even though it freaks you out.”
“I didn’t say that,” Nicki objected. Erica gave her one of the withering looks that she did so well; if that was really how Nicki looked when she was disapproving, it was a little discomfiting. “Fine. Even though you’re practicing an alternative lifestyle, and you’re proof of my father’s sinning, I like you. And I would like to get to know you. And I would like you to know my whole family. Including my husband and my sister-wives and our children.”
“Is that why you people have the one yard and wander in and out of each other’s houses?” Erica asked. She sounded as though a great mystery had been solved. “That blonde girl, Sarah, came in and almost gave me a heart attack. Then she asked me what I was doing with Wayne. It makes more sense now that I realize she’s his big sister.”
Nicki tilted her head. “What were you doing with Wayne?” she asked.
“He’s having problems with breathing and sinus drainage. I think it’s either allergies or problems with his nasal passageways,” Erica said earnestly. “Five minutes with an ENT guy and Wayne will have a better childhood.”
“I see,” Nicki said. “So will you come to dinner tonight and explain it to Bill?”
Erica looked dubious. “He’s your husband, right?”
“Yes, he’s our husband,” Nicki said.
“All right,” Erica said. “I’ll come.”
“So I left,” Erica said, concluding her story about the last days of her career at Seattle Grace Hospital.
Barb looked appalled. The kids had long since gone off to watch a video with Margie. And Nicki looked a little bored, like she’d heard it all before.
As for Nicki’s husband, Mr. Patriarch of these three perfect little suburban box houses, he kept watching Erica like he expected her to have a special bomb from Alby Grant or something. Bill Henrickson didn’t quite like Erica, and Erica was betting it had more to do with her lesbianism than anything else.
“So you left,” Barb echoed. “That took a lot of guts.”
She sounded wistful, as though leaving was something Barb had considered before; everyone here had a damn agenda, Erica realized. Even Margene seemed to have her own secret wishes. After all, Margie had been the one to manipulate this situation into being in the first place.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what else to do,” Erica said. “There are some situations where you can’t stay, no matter how much you want to.”
Barb nodded, and Nicki bit her lip. Erica was not used to having people who weren’t surgeons around her asking all these personal questions. And Erica wanted to ask as many as she was getting, especially to Bill and whatever she was seeing in his eyes.
“So what do you plan to do now, Dr. Hahn?” he asked her, interrupting the flow of conversation between Erica and Barb. She’d already noticed that Nicki got quiet and somehow resentful in Bill and Barb’s company.
“I’m going back to surgery, of course,” Erica said. “Salt Lake Regional needs a cardiothoracic specialist. I’m also considering Denver and Boulder, around that area.”
She hadn’t been, not before today, but now it seemed almost ideal. Erica, working in Denver, away from the Mormons and too much of the crazy, but close enough that she could fly or drive any weekend, or Nicki could come to visit.
Bill’s lip curled slightly. “Boulder, huh?” he asked. Of course he’d be against the pot-smoking Boulder hippie types. “Beautiful country out there.”
“Don’t you think you’ll want to have a family?” Barb broke in.
“Barb, Erica already has a family,” Nicki interrupted, giving her sister-wife a nasty glance. “She’s my sister and Wayne is quite fond of her already.”
“Really,” Bill said. “Well, it couldn’t hurt, having a surgeon for an aunt for him to look up to.”
Erica had never considered that before that moment. She was Wayne’s aunt. The way these people thought, she was now the gay aunt of seven, almost eight, niece and nephews. More than eight, even. Roman Grant had one hundred and eighty-five grandchildren and great-grandchildren, which meant Erica had a hundred and eighty-five nieces, nephews, and dear god, great-nieces and nephews.
She was someone’s gay great-aunt. That was so beyond what Erica Hahn was able to think that she simply rejected the concept. For now, she had her one half-sister, and her polygamist criminal biological father, and the two nephews, and the six other step-nieces-and-nephews.
Erica smiled at Bill, her own thoughts finally clearing up behind her eyes. Then she looked past him and winked at Nicki.
Nicki looked shocked for a moment, but then tilted her head and smiled back, almost despite herself.
“I think it’ll be good for all of us,” Erica said to Bill. “I’ve never been anyone’s aunt before. I think maybe this is something I can get used to.”
“Well, I’m glad,” Bill said, sounding a little surprised. “Most liberals don’t cotton to polygamy.”
Erica wondered what would happen in Bill’s head if he said lesbian instead of liberal. Maybe it would cause a stroke. Erica wasn’t sure if she’d be too torn up about that — or if Nicki would be that upset, come to that.
“I’m not sure I like the kind my — Juniper Creek — practices,” Erica admitted. Barb looked pleased about that, and Nicki resigned. “But it’s been a hell of a year. I’m not sure I can just turn down a family.”
She wasn’t sure she could just handle this family, either, which was why Erica had this vision of Colorado in her head. A big house with windows looking out over mountains and snow, someone waiting for Erica to come home from surgery, and a hundred messages from Nicki about how Papa wanted to meet her, and if she trusted that surgeon who wanted to work on Wayne, and that Barb said she should come next weekend.
Maybe a dog in the yard and a Subaru in the driveway. Just for good measure.
Someone touched her shoulder, and Erica came out of her reverie. “My goodness, Erica,” said Nicki, looking at her. “You’re a million miles away.”
“Just a couple of hundred,” Erica corrected, smiling at her sister and wondering if these kinds of dreams were what Nicki and her family thought of as revelations. “Ready to go back home now?”