Camille Shutt looked up from her chart towards the voice. "Yes, may I help you?"
"I was wondering, could you point me in the direction to Dr. Jeffrey Geiger's office?" The owner of the voice smiled shyly at the strawberry-blonde petite nurse.
Camille took in the woman in front of her. How did Jeffrey Geiger run into these types? This one was of this world but definitely not in it. Older than she looked, her open lightweight caped coat revealed a cream colored sweater; black gloves covered her hands and a green felt beret only partially contained a mop of wild curly brown hair. Clear grey eyes gazed steadily from behind dark-rimmed glasses, in a pale Celtic face that boasted no makeup, and the telltale straps of a knapsack cut over her shoulders. She exuded wistful patience. "Are you a patient?" Camille asked, amused at this strange persona.
"No, I'm a friend of his from Canada. Just finished a conference here in Chicago, I have a few days before I fly back, and thought I'd drop by."
Oh, that was a good one. Jeffrey Geiger and 'friend' just didn't belong in the same sentence. Camille attempted to conceal a smirk. This woman was so serious..."Well, if you take that elevator-"
"Camille, do you have the Craig and Sorsby charts? Geiger and I have to go over them." Another woman, tall and angular in her doctor's white coat, had strode to the nurses' desk and stood beside the visitor.
"Oh, yes, I just finished adding notes to them. Kate, this woman wants to see Jeffrey..." Camille stifled a chuckle.
"Oh. Okay, I'm heading that way, I'll take you there." Kate Austin half-smiled, somewhat puzzled, down at the woman beside her. "This way."
The two walked toward the elevators, the shorter woman easily quickening her pace to match.
"So. Are you one of Dr. Geiger's patients?" Austin asked.
The woman shook her head again. "No. As I told the nurse back there, I'm a friend. I'm in Chicago a few days, so I thought I'd drop by to visit."
Austin did a double-take. Geiger's friend? He *had* some, besides Aaron Shutt? "Oh? Really? I'm sorry, but I don't believe we met."
"Cheryl Lucas." She nodded pleasantly, then peered at Austin's ID tag. "Dr. Austin. Do you work with Jeffrey?"
"We're colleagues." Austin hoped she sounded neutral. She wondered, as had Camille, how Jeffrey Geiger had encountered this particular woman. Standing at the elevator, Cheryl cut an even more ethereal figure than at the desk, with her brown hiking boots, green tights, and cream-colored dress with pink and purple flowers visible from beneath the coat. That eggplant knapsack on her back was stuffed to bursting; Austin wondered how she didn't bend over at the weight. Cheryl Lucas, a friendly earth-mother figure, did not seem like Geiger's type. There must be a good story behind these two, Austin thought while they descended in the elevator and strode to Geiger's office.
Dr. Jeffrey Geiger sat, feet on his desk, talking into a dictaphone. "No complications during surgery besides a slight ventricular arrhythmia which resolved upon injection of..." he looked up at the shadows of the two women standing at the door.
"Jeffrey, this woman is here to see you. I've brought the Craig and Sorsby charts to review before--" Austin began, then stopped, dumbfounded at the wide smile of pleasure on the surgeon's face.
"Hey! Cheryl!" Geiger rose from the desk, dictaphone forgotten, and much to Austin's surprise, met Cheryl and enveloped her in a warm and genuine embrace.
"Hey Jeffrey. It's so good to see you!" She closed her eyes for a moment, standing on tiptoe to rest her cheek against his. Her felt beret fell off in the gesture, unleashing the hair beneath it in its untamed glory.
Geiger drew back, still holding her at the elbows. "What are you doing here? I didn't expect you..."
"There was a conference on cancer treatments at Northwestern that I attended. It ended today, and I thought well, I'm here anyway so I'll look you up. I have a couple days left before my flight back to Calgary, I've never been in Chicago before so I wanted to do some sightseeing..."
"That's great." He shook his head in wonder, looking her up and down. Still not conventionally pretty, but with a look about her that spoke volumes about her inner beauty. "That is truly great. You know, today is pretty busy but tomorrow--"
"Ahh, Jeffrey? I'll come back and we can discuss the Craig and Sorsby cases later, OK?" Austin felt more than a little left out of the conversation.
"There's no rush on them?"
"No. As long as we go over them before tomorrow's surgeries..."
"OK, sure. This afternoon all right? After the Watson bypass?"
Austin nodded, then, having nothing else to say, left. Geiger didn't notice. He continued, "Tomorrow morning I have an ablation scheduled, nine am but it only takes a couple hours and the rest of my day is free, I'll take you around to some of the more scenic sights--"
"Are the squirrels friendly here?"
"Probably not, you know, popular shooting targets but nothing saying you can't try, maybe they'll like a friendly hand without poisoned bread, oh yeah forgot that's for the pigeons..."
Aaron Shutt entered the office. "Jeffrey when you met Mrs. Munro did you--" he stopped on seeing Cheryl. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt..."
"Pigeons? Who'd poison pigeons? That's cruel!" But she said it smiling.
"Jeffrey would. I don't mean to intrude...Aaron Shutt," Shutt offered, extending his hand. Cheryl took it, pleased.
"Dr. Shutt, hi! Jeffrey's said so much about you...I'm Cheryl Lucas."
Shutt glanced at Geiger, who remained impassive. He hadn't heard of this woman before... something struck him as unusual about her. But he said nothing. He continued his original question. "Jeffrey, when you met Mrs. Munro did you notice any signs of paraneoplastic syndrome from her metastatic SCLC?"
"Mild venous occlusion, ordered heparin to resolve but I really think she needs more intensive therapy than what she's getting. Not surgical unless she throws a clot to her lung, brain or coronary arteries."
"I agree, she's scheduled for a MRI to assess the extent of brain mets. Hopefully there's only one or two that can be removed surgically...ready for lunch?"
"Yeah sure." Geiger looked to Cheryl. "We're going to lunch, just the cafeteria downstairs but it's half-decent. For a cafeteria. Want to join us?"
"Sure, if Dr. Shutt will have me..." She met Shutt's eyes. He had to grin.
"Please, call me Aaron. It would be my pleasure."
"Great. I'm starved." She removed her coat. "All right if I leave my stuff here in your office? The knapsack's a little heavy..." She threw her belongings on the couch. The three strode to the cafeteria, Cheryl perfectly content to listen to Geiger and Shutt discuss various cases on the way down.
She did frown a little at the two doctors' lunch choices in the cafeteria line. "You're kidding, right? You know how many grams of fat live in that linguine Alfredo?" She glanced down at her own healthy food tray, yogurt and salad, a chicken sandwich on whole wheat and two glasses of water. "You two plan to reciprocate on surgical skills? Aaron has a heart attack and you operate, you have a stroke and he flushes out the blocked artery? Now that's a convenient friendship."
"Funny lady." Geiger's voice was appropriately droll. They paid, and sat down.
"So, Cheryl, what was this conference that brought you here?"
"Cancer metastasis and angiogenesis. You know, how tumors spread and how they develop their own little blood supplies. There were some really amazing ideas there. My lab presented a poster about potentially blocking tumor cell invasion and angiogenesis with tetracyclines, working at the level of the enzymes involved..."
"Really? How?" Both men couldn't help but be interested, as Cheryl grew more animated with each word.
"Well..." she then explained the theory. She cut an endearing figure, hands flying as she talked and almost bouncing with each sentence. Shutt was reminded of Geiger's intensity while watching her, but Cheryl's intensity was tempered by awareness of not to overwhelm her audience, as Geiger was so often wont to do. Geiger was entranced by her ability to live in the moment and to communicate that keen understanding, an ability that he had first witnessed in Calgary...both men remained focused on the young woman as she talked.
"It's so warm in here," Cheryl presently remarked to no one in particular, then peeled off her cream cotton sweater. The dress she wore underneath was short-sleeved and scoop-necked; plain but for two side ties, it nevertheless accentuated her modest bust. Shutt smiled appreciatively; Geiger was more than a little disconcerted. Sexuality was not something he had attributed to Cheryl Lucas before. That awareness only heightened when she reached across the table to grab the pepper shaker and he caught a glimpse of her cleavage. Cheryl did not notice Geiger's discomfort, but continued talking brightly.
"You know, anti-angiogenic agents might be interesting for you two because angiogenesis is such a key concept to both cardiology and neurology..."
Billy Kronk and Danny Nyland sat over a few tables away, observing the interchange.
"Who is she?" Nyland asked. "Is she with Shutt?" The young surgical resident found himself admiring Cheryl's slight figure, which sat in profile from Nyland's vantage point.
"Nope. Geiger." Kronk answered lazily. He sat sprawled, amused at Nyland's reaction. New blood never failed to arouse Nyland.
"No! Really? *Geiger*? Poor woman!"
"Yeah. You notice she's got even Geiger's attention?" Indeed, despite his awareness of her, Geiger was completely focused on Cheryl, as was Shutt.
"She'd have mine too if I were at her table."
"As if you need to be at her table." Kronk glanced over, then back to his companion. "Eyes front, Danny. If Geiger catches you ogling his ladyfriend you'll be scrubbing out bedpans for the rest of your term as Chief of Trauma."
"How did he meet her?"
"Does it matter? You hoping she's got a twin sister or somethin'? C'mon, we'll be late for scrubs." Kronk rose with his cafeteria tray; Nyland still was entranced by the animated woman at Geiger's and Shutt's table. "This century, Danny?" He pulled Nyland's arm. Nyland reluctantly accompanied Kronk, allowing himself one last lingering look at Cheryl before Kronk yanked him out the cafeteria altogether.
Kronk, Hancock, Nyland and Sutton stood around Camille's nursing station, discussing what was on everyone's minds: Geiger and Cheryl's relationship.
"I tell you," Nyland said, shaking his head in wonder, "Geiger was absolutely bubbling with kindness today during the bypass. It was almost a pleasure to work with him."
"Because of this Cheryl Lucas woman?" Sutton interjected.
"Has to be. I've never seen him so...civil."
"Who or what could she be to him?" Dennis Hancock asked.
"Obviously a good influence," Nyland interjected.
"What I don't understand is that she is so not his type," Camille said.
"Wasn't he married before?" Sutton queried.
"Yeah. Divorced now. Ex-wife went mental, she's in some institution for killing their son." Kronk still sounded rather lazy.
"Does she remind you of his ex then?" Sutton continued.
"Don't know, never met her," Kronk said.
"Now you mention it...yes she does," Camille answered, "a saner version of Laurie."
"Not so sane if she's going with Geiger," Nyland remarked, and they all laughed.
"How long do you think it'll last?" Sutton commented.
"However long his relationships with females usually last," Camille said wryly. "Not very."
"Oh come on, Camille. They obviously do care for each other. You should've seen them first meet today, I've never seen Geiger look so pleased at anything. And Billy, didn't you say he was totally focused on her in the caf at lunch?" Austin had joined in, overhearing from the other end of the desk. She didn't like Geiger any more than the rest of them, but she was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, knowing a little now of how he saw things.
"Yeah. So was Shutt and Nyland and every other living male once she removed that sweater. Have to admit, she is a looker." Billy then looked at his watch. "I got surgery. See ya." He sauntered off.
Sutton snickered. "All right then. A friendly wager. To see how long Geiger can keep his 'friendship' with this woman before she comes to her senses and leaves him, or he loses it and dumps her. Either one counts. Starts from today. Bets are ten dollars. We'll probably know by his mood when it happens. I'll say three days."
"John, she's only here for a couple of days," Austin remonstrated.
"So? So it's a long distance relationship."
"He did go to Banff last October," Hancock added. "Might have met her there. Count me in on five days."
"See? There ya go. Anyone else? C'mon, totally friendly. Danny? Camille?"
"Seven days." Nyland pulled out his wallet.
"I'll put six days. I'll give you the money later when I'm done my shift."
"Kate? You in?"
"Ohh...all right. Four days."
"So what's the bet?"
Nyland nearly gagged at Geiger's voice. Geiger, carrying Cheryl's knapsack, and Cheryl now in beret, coat and gloves as befitting leaving, stopped at the desk. Only Sutton had the gall to face them, the others suddenly looking away uneasily. Cheryl was unnerved by Sutton. Something was not quite right about this otherwise benign-looking ob-gyn specialist. She stood uncomfortably under his pointed gaze.
"Ah, just a sports thing," Sutton demurred, "nothing you'd be interested in."
"OK. Uhh...we were just betting on how long Jordan's gonna stay out with his knee sprain." Smooth as glass.
"You're wasting ten bucks on that prediction? Easy money." Geiger pulled out a ten dollar bill from his wallet and handed it to Sutton. "Two days, tops. I'll be collecting then. See ya." He put an arm around Cheryl's shoulders and they headed towards the elevators.
Once they were out of earshot, Nyland shook his head and grinned. "Can you believe that? Sutton, you're an evil bastard! I love it!" Hancock chuckled with him.
"Yeah, but what if he wins?" Camille pointed out.
"It'd be some form of justice, wouldn't it?" Sutton answered. He shrugged. "Worth losing ten bucks. You know how he loves to be right."
But Austin felt unsure. Cheryl was a sweet sort of soul, and despite her own pitched battles with the egocentric CT surgeon she never meant to be outright malicious to him. She watched the two at the elevator, Geiger facing her and Cheryl in profile; her regret worsened as she saw Cheryl speak, something obviously hilarious because Geiger laughed unreservedly. Then he pulled her close to him and leaned his cheek on the top of her beret. Austin wished she could for once be that happy here...the elevator doors opened and the two disappeared, but she still stared down at the spot where they had stood in the hall long after they left.
"I didn't know you could cook!" Cheryl commented, watching Geiger stir-fry the chicken and vegetables. She sipped her water, leaning against the sink in Geiger's new house on the north side of Chicago.
"Yeah, once in a while. Only for guests though. Once you're not a guest forget it. Which'll probably be tomorrow." He threw in a handful of green bell peppers.
Alicia tugged at the hem of Cheryl's dress. "Hey Alicia! How's it goin', little sunshine? She's grown so much since last time I saw her!" Cheryl cooed, kneeling to the little girl's height. Alicia pulled her arm, wanting her to leave the kitchen and play with her.
"She's excited, I think she remembers you. She's got a new playmate tonight besides daddy so she's happy." A splash of soya sauce sizzled in the wok.
"Yes, we had fun, didn't we Alicia, in the garden and the kids' section of the museum way back when you came to Calgary, yes we did..." Cheryl sat cross-legged on the dining-room floor where Alicia had set up her Tyco block set. Alicia put a bright red block in Cheryl's hand. "What shall we build, hmm?" Together the two women, adult and toddler, sat on the floor and built a tower.
Geiger glanced over at the two. Alicia burbled, and Cheryl answered in easy childish prattle. Cheryl who had led an unhappy life, Alicia who had been born an ill unwanted orphan, he who had been cast adrift when his own family broke up from death and madness...and here they were together, survivors after all, giggling over an impossibly high Tyco tower in the comfortable time before dinner in a suburban home in Chicago and bonding like any real family. He smiled at the two bent heads, brown and auburn, laboring over the next tower layer.
"Hey! Dad! Come see the leaning tower of Alicia before it topples!" Cheryl called.
He caught sight of the tower just before it tipped and fell. Alicia laughed and clapped her hands after it crashed in little pieces to the floor.
"Want to build it again, honey? OK, but we gotta collect all the little pieces first," Cheryl said, already starting to sweep up for the next tower.
"Uh, ladies, dinner is being served."
"Well, Alicia, you heard daddy. After dinner we can build it again, OK?"
And after dinner they rebuilt the tower twice, this time with Geiger helping too, and each time Alicia delighted in tipping it over and watching it fall. Geiger called a halt after the second toppling to put Alicia to bed. Cheryl couldn't help but admire him sitting in the rocker. The tenderness and vulnerability that crossed his face as he rocked his small daughter to sleep touched a chord deep within her. Curled contentedly in an armchair across from them, she thought idly what if they could become more than friends...then she thought of her husband, alone in Alberta, and tried to banish the wayward thought. She loved her husband. Jeffrey Geiger was just a man who had suffered a deep deep wound when he appeared in Calgary with Alicia, a person who had needed her, whom she had helped, and whom had become a friend in the process. That was all. No use in thinking beyond that.
He put the little girl to bed, and Cheryl got ready to leave.
"You're not leaving?"
"Yeah, I should, you know, find a cheap motel or something." She pulled on her beret. "Is there one nearby?"
"Not in this section of town." He looked at her, imploring. "Stay here. You can have the couch, it's comfortable enough."
"It's not appropriate, Jeffrey. But I appreciate the offer." She went to the hall closet to retrieve her coat. "Where's your phone book? I should call a taxi..."
"Why not? I know you're married, but it's not as if I'm inviting you into my bed..." he tried another tack. "Hey. I'm sorry. I'd like your company. But if you're uncomfortable with that, you being married and me being around--" Cheryl covered her mouth to hide her smile. "--that's OK, I don't blame you, but..." His voice altered strangely, almost catching. "It's up to you. But please, stay?" Brown eyes met grey. She was shaken by the loneliness that lurked within them.
Cheryl bowed her head, considering. She hated empty motel rooms in unknown cities with just a television for company, and she couldn't abide...oh what the hell. "Sure." She removed her coat and hung it and her beret back in the closet.
Cheryl was a light sleeper at the best of times; although the couch was comfortable it still wasn't her own double bed with its support board in Calgary. So she quickly shot awake on hearing soft approaching footfalls in the hall. Her tousled head perked up from the sofa to see Jeffrey Geiger standing in the half-light of the window.
Her breath caught at the sight of him. He was wearing only boxer shorts; his sweat-dampened skin glowed against the darkness. His hand reached out to touch the glassed pane; in semi-profile, he couldn't see her watching from the shadows. Cheryl held her breath, not wanting to acknowledge just how beautiful and sad the surgeon looked in the near-dawn light, not wanting to think how easy it would be to walk up to him and touch his warm bare shoulder...her fingers flew to the rings she wore, twisting them to remind herself of her commitment to another. She did not move, but just watched his form in silhouette and waited until he padded off back to his bedroom. She just about laid back down when she heard him moving again, and she just caught sight of him, now wrapped in a comforter, entering Alicia's bedroom. She waited but he did not come back out; curious, she slipped off the sofa and wisped to Alicia's door. It was not quite closed; she peeked through the open crack of the door, saw the crib illuminated in the soft glow of a clown night-light, a tiny form fast asleep in the crib, and a larger form curled up on the floor. Cheryl retreated, thoughtful, back to the sofa and to sleep.
Geiger awoke to an unaccustomed yet familiar smell: fresh roasted coffee, and was that other mingling aroma blueberry muffins? He raised his head from the cushion of comforter on Alicia's floor. Alicia was bouncing and cooing at him. He rose a little groggily. The sun streamed in from behind the night blind.
"Good morning sleepyhead," he said warmly to the little girl. He picked her up and hugged her tight, then walked out to the kitchen, Alicia in his arms.
Cheryl sat at the table, reading a newspaper. A plate of fresh blueberry muffins indeed waited on the table, and a cup of steaming coffee had been poured and set out. He grinned widely. Cheryl looked up to meet his smile. She hoped she didn't stare too long at him, still clad in only those boxer shorts that clung a little too well to his body.
"Hey, morning, Jeffrey! Good day, sunshine! Here, let me take her," Cheryl offered. Geiger passed Alicia into Cheryl's arms, and she sat in Cheryl's lap. "Do you like blueberry muffins? I bet you do and they're fresh, eh? Mmm mmm, fresh baked blueberry muffins and coffee for your daddy and milk and orange juice for you and me, we're gonna have such a feast..."
Geiger felt dazzled. It had been so long since breakfast of any kind had been laid out like this. He stared at the top of Cheryl's head. She had attempted to tame her wild curls beneath a black hairband. She indeed was sheathed in black from top to toe, tights, blouse and socks, save for a pair of denim short overalls. Her overall impression was fresh and bright and her tights and blouse clearly defined her small but shapely body...oh God, did she not realize the effect she had on him? He suddenly felt embarrassed by his lack of decorum. He hurriedly excused himself and retreated to his bedroom to grab his robe.
He returned to the kitchen and slid into the chair opposite from Cheryl. Alicia was devouring her muffin, still sitting on Cheryl's lap; muffin smeared the little girl's face and crumbs had sprinkled liberally around the tabletop. He cupped the mug in his hands, grateful for its fragrant distraction.
Cheryl spoke brightly. "You know, cereal must get awful boring day in day out, eh? Thought muffins would be a nice treat, I made sure they're low fat--", with a grimace towards Geiger, "--they're from this really nice little bakery on the corner just a couple blocks up. Have you been there? You should, they've got all sorts of muffins and scones and bagels...had to get a newspaper anyway, can't start my day without reading Ann Landers and the comics and a laugh at the horoscopes, eh?" She looked away from him, suddenly embarrassed by her keen awareness of his presence. She couldn't erase his moonlit image from her mind, the sudden aching want or the heat that rose with the thought. She bounced the toddler on her knee and twirled her rings around her finger, wondering perhaps if this was indeed a mistake to stay here, given this obvious potent undercurrent of attraction between them.
Geiger stared down into his coffee mug, unable to meet her, either. The awkwardness was palpable. She was happily married for godsakes, and despite his own narcissism he refused to knowingly bed a married woman. And she was a friend. Sex was the last thing to think of with Cheryl. He drove the notion from his mind.
They arrived at the hospital. Eight-thirty in the morning and rushing, they flew into an empty elevator, Cheryl's lightweight coat billowing behind her. She pushed the button for the surgical floor, spun around; Geiger was just a half-step behind, Alicia in his arms, and the combined momentum of man and child sent the three of them spiraling into the corner, Cheryl pressed tight between Geiger and the wall.
"Uh, Jeffrey? You're crushing me?" Cheryl wheezed, laughing at the utter absurdity of the situation.
Geiger chuckled and shifted slightly to allow her to breathe, and looked down into her bright smiling face. Their eyes met, she stopped smiling, and her lips parted slightly. He stared transfixed at those parted lips, and before either realized it he leaned down and their lips met in a gentle tentative kiss.
The kiss ended, and Cheryl drew back as if burned. "Jeffrey...I..." She looked away, biting her lower lip.
"Cheryl, I'm sorry, I didn't mean..." he began awkwardly. "I'm sorry." He edged away from her to the other side of the elevator, shaking his head. Alicia stared contentedly on.
Cheryl touched her lips and stared at him, wide-eyed. He was just as scared of the kiss as she was, and just as terrified of the yearning in it. He turned away from her; all she could see was the downward slope of his shoulders, head bent in thought. She leaned against the wall, studying the floor tiles.
"So what do we do?" she asked finally.
"We forget it ever happened."
"It was just a kiss. Sure we can. Forgotten it already." Geiger forced a laugh.
"Yeah...sure." She inhaled shakily, exhaled. "Never happened." She attempted brightness. The elevator door slid open. "Your floor, Jeffrey. Here, you'll be late and have to rush your scrubs. Give me Alicia."
He whirled around, staring at her intensely. His gaze spoke of great, great longing. It was all she could do not to run to him, or run away. "Thanks," he murmured, handing the little girl over to Cheryl. He tore out of the elevator. "See you in a bit," he yelled over his shoulder.
Camille came by to collect Alicia, to spend some time with her and give Geiger and Cheryl a break for the afternoon.
"Thanks, Camille. You're Alicia's godmother?"
Camille nodded. "Hello, Alicia! Come here, sweetie, I've got your brain for you to play with and we'll go over to the daycare for a while to meet other children, give your daddy and his friend here some time together..."
"And Jeffrey is technically Alicia's godfather."
"Yes," Camille answered non-commitally.
"It bothers you." A statement.
Camille stared at the petite woman in front of her.
"I'm sorry. I know you two don't get along all too well."
"You seem to know a lot."
"A little bit," Cheryl admitted.
Camille jiggled Alicia at her hip. "This was the best thing for Jeffrey. He's become, I don't know, more human I guess. He and Alan were very good friends. I may be jealous, but it's really for the best. I work shifts, Jeffrey's made the time for her..."
"It's OK." Cheryl shrugged. "Don't mean to pry."
"What relationship are you to Jeffrey?" Camille asked, her curiosity finally showing through. "It's just that I know most of the people he's involved with, but you..."
"We're friends. We met in Calgary, in November. He gave a lecture on cardiovascular physiology at the university, where I'm a graduate student." She left out the details.
"Oh. Well." She turned to leave. "I'll bring Alicia back here before my shift starts. Nice to meet you." She left.
"You? Performing surgery? Come on!"
Geiger and Cheryl sat cross-legged on his office patio, sharing Chinese food for lunch.
"Yes! We did an intestinal anastomosis on a rabbit."
"And did the bunny survive?"
"We euthanized it before it recovered."
"Probably a good thing." Geiger shook his head. "God, the day they let graduate students loose in here performing surgery..."
"Animal surgery's just as important to biomedical research as human experimental surgery is. Maybe even more so."
"Look, you got a point, but c'mon Cheryl, what do graduate students know about anatomy and surgical principles--"
"We learned enough to get by in the course. We knew not to breathe on the poor thing. Hey, our rabbit survived the initial exploratory so we didn't do all that badly--"
"Yeah, well, with enough antibiotics, it would."
"You're telling me that you didn't start out practising techniques on some poor rabbit or cat or sheep but that you went right to the living breathing human."
"We started on cadavers. You know an animal's and a human's anatomy don't compare that well. Galen kept medicine in the dark for a thousand years by insisting that a pig's and a human's circulatory system was the same!"
"We're not talking about a human heart, just a rabbit's gut."
"Cheryl. You're a bright woman. Stick to your lab bench. Or your books or whatever alchemy you do."
They continued eating in silence. Then Cheryl looked up thoughtfully. "You've been a surgeon for years, right?"
"Hmmph." A nod, a mouth full of food.
"The one thing that amazed me, you know, standing in surgery with that rabbit, its guts exposed and all...how wonderful it is, how all the chemical processes and pathways add up to living breathing tissue, what a miracle it is, you know? Do you still feel that? When you hold a heart in your hands, the wonder of it?"
He swallowed, and his gaze softened. "Yeah. Not all the time, but still, it's incredible to know that you can restore life by just unclogging a vessel or transplanting a heart. I mean, we fix what's wrong, but it's fundamentally different from being a mechanic or a plumber, 'cause we work on living flesh and blood."
"What about surgeons healing themselves?"
Geiger looked away. His voice caught. "That's a little different."
"I'm sorry. Just my way of asking how you're doing. We haven't really mentioned that since I arrived."
"OK. I'm doing...OK." He nodded. "I'm back, things are in control, life's good." He still held something back, but Cheryl didn't pry. She could guess.
They finished lunch and stepped inside. They felt more than a little awkward around each other now; they had spent their respective mornings, babysitting or cauterizing muscle groups of a heart, trying not to dwell on the kiss in the elevator. Trying and failing. Cheryl stood by the open patio door, hand on the doorknob, heart in her throat.
"Jeffrey, this morning..."
"Forgotten. Never happened." Avoiding her gaze, he tensed.
"Has to be. For both of us." He stood so close, his whispering voice so tight with barely repressed want that her throat ached. "I mean, c'mon, you leave in a couple days. Even if you weren't married it couldn't work--"
"I can't. Forget it. I..." She licked her lips, stood on tiptoe, gripped his shoulders and kissed him deeply.
Jeffrey Geiger stood in utter astonishment at the kiss, not knowing whether to pull her closer or turn away. She then parted his lips with hers and began to explore his mouth with her tongue. His shock dissipated, and, excitement quickly rising, he pulled her against him, meeting her probing tongue with his. His hands roamed up and down her back and shoulders, reveling in her closeness, while her fingers slipped up into his hair. A moan escaped.
Still kissing passionately they wormed out of the doorway and back into the office. Jeffrey kicked the door shut. They shuffled over to the couch where Jeffrey drew Cheryl down to lie with him. He pulled her overall straps off her shoulders, and his hands slid up to find the zipper to her blouse. He unzipped her blouse and caressed the warm skin of her back underneath. Cheryl gasped at the touch. Not to be outdone she worked his shirt from the waistband of his pants and slid her own hands up over his chest, both breathing raggedly.
She lay on top so it was easy to slide the black blouse down her arms and to her waist, to unhook her bra and gently tug it off to expose her small peaked breasts. He cupped one, then the other with the utmost reverence. Cheryl bent forward so his face could nestle in between; she had a clean and simple and terribly arousing smell of Ivory soap and female perfume. His mouth found one erect nipple and latched on, kissing and suckling hungrily. She stretched and straddled to feel him pulsate against her. Her own being throbbed in response, and as Jeffrey removed his mouth and caressed her sides, up and down ever so gently, she pulled off his tie and unfastened the buttons of his shirt and spread it open.
Then it was her turn to lean down, tease him as he did her, working her tongue and lips gently against one nipple then the other and over his chest and shoulders and neck, face nuzzling against his hair and chest, inhaling his electrifying fragrance of cologne and musk. His fingers tore off her headband and caught in her curls while his hips began to drive against hers, straining against their combined layers of clothing.
Both were hopelessly caught in the moment. Cheryl sat back, flinging her blouse off over her head, then rolled off him and quickly shucked the rest of her clothes. She just as hurriedly unbuckled and unzipped Jeffrey's trousers, pulling pants and boxers down about his feet in one clean swoop to liberate him. He needed no further urging to kick them the rest of the way off as she re-straddled and rocked against him. Skin against skin, not yet penetrating, they embraced and caressed and kissed with increasing heat. Then, unable to bear his aching need much longer, Jeffrey lifted her body and lowered her down slowly, thrusting into the hot wet core of her being.
Cheryl quivered and clutched at him with a wordless moan, and matched precisely the pulsing rhythm of his hips. Her hair fell over his face as she leaned to kiss him again. Their caressing tongues reflected their joining, stabbing more urgently as each drove the other further. Drawing nearer to orgasm, she stopped kissing him to bury her head in the hollow between his neck and shoulder and inhale deeply of his warm and heady scent. Jeffrey assisted her along, slowing to a more deliberate stroke and gently squeezing her buttocks to pull in deeper. She simply concentrated on how wonderful his hands felt caressing her skin, how her body sang in her desire for him and how he pumped into her to fulfill it...she climaxed with a silent cry against his neck, her entire being shuddering intensely with delight. Jeffrey followed not long after; more vocal in his explosive release, his groans were only partially muffled against Cheryl's breasts.
It was over then. No words had passed between them. She lay still on top, he trembled as their breathing slowed to normal. The air was cool; Cheryl closed her eyes, her head pillowed on his chest, each aware only of the other's heartbeat slowing back to normal. They thus rested together entwined in the afterglow. Jeffrey traced tiny circles about the small of her back. Cheryl then shivered, so he groped with one hand about the floor, grabbed a piece of discarded clothing (her coat, tossed in a heap when they had lowered onto the couch together), and covered her. They fell asleep like that, relaxed for the moment.
Both jolted awake at the pager beeping. "Wha...wha..." Cheryl began groggily.
"That's my pager, Cheryl. I gotta get up." He nudged her off him, reached for his pants and pager, glanced at the number then scrambled for the telephone. Cheryl stood, wrapping herself in her coat in the lengthening shadows of the afternoon.
"Geiger here...when?...all right, we'll have to go back in, is he being prepped...good, I'll be there stat." He hung up, rapidly dressed. Cheryl stared at him, dazed.
Geiger stopped dead at the expression on her wan face. He touched her cheek gently. "Cheryl, we'll...we'll talk about this later, OK? I have to do an emergency thrombectomy. I promise, we'll talk soon as I'm done, a couple hours. Are you OK?" He was concerned at her wide-eyed stare. She nodded mutely. He tenderly kissed her forehead and ran out of the office, slamming the door behind him.
She sank back to the couch, not wanting to acknowledge what they'd done. She curled up in a ball and rocked, head bowed. The minutes crept closer and closer to dusk. We didn't mean it, she tried to tell herself, unsuccessfully. It was just the heat of the moment. Tears squeezed out of her tightly shut eyelids. She eventually did gather enough strength to dress, but then promptly collapsed back on the couch to wait in approaching darkness.
The door opened, and Jeffrey called out softly. "Cheryl?" A corner lamp illuminated the office. He had been unnerved by the intensity of his own desire. It had almost interfered with the thrombectomy; it had taken great control to keep his hands from shaking. Now he knelt in front of her, taking her hands. "I am so sorry. We..we...I should have realized..." His eyes implored her forgiveness.
She grinned shakily. "I know. Me too."
"Ready to go?"
"Yeah. Camille'll be back in a few minutes with Alicia."
"OK. I'll take you to a hotel on the way home. If you want."
She shrugged. "Does it matter now? I'd rather stay with you and Alicia, if you'll have me." They both chuckled at her weak joke.
Camille knocked on the open door and entered the office, Alicia toddling beside her. "There's daddy and Cheryl, sweetie! She's been such a good girl...I'm just going on my shift now, I'm in a hurry so I'm just dropping her off." She dissembled her surprise at seeing Jeffrey Geiger kneeling at Cheryl's feet.
Alicia stumbled into his arms; he picked her up, holding her at arms' length before pulling her close. Cheryl looked up at Camille with an enigmatic smile. "Thanks, Camille." Camille nodded and left bemusedly for her nurses' station. She just caught a glimpse of Cheryl leaning her chin against Geiger's shoulder to talk to the baby as she closed the door on the way out.
The terror came as usual, and Geiger shot awake at the image of his little girl drowned in the bathtub, reaching out and gasping for air. The nightmare that had come to life when Joey died, was now a fixture of his dreams since he took care of Alicia. And, just a part of the same ritual, the aimless roaming of the house that was calmed only from ensuring she was all right, which was why he awakened almost every morning in Alicia's bedroom, huddled on the floor in the comforter from his bed. The wandering tonight was no exception.
It was raining in Chicago, a steady drenching downpour that would last a couple of days without rest, flood the sewers and stormdrains and wreak havoc with the suburban streets before subsiding. The skies were pitch-black, the only lights hazing eerily from the streetlamps. And it was a cold rain that chilled the unprepared beyond the bone as the icy drops burst open upon whatever they landed. This was what greeted Jeffrey Geiger when he stopped at the living-room window on his nighttime haunt.
He stared out the window, his eyes unfocused. The rain sluicing against the glass was far from soothing; a similar sight had greeted him when he stared out from another window, another nighttime, over seven years ago.
"Jeffrey, I am so sorry..."
Then as now, his hand reached out to touch the pane.
"You know we did everything we could, everything."
The man of past and present nodded, unhearing. The most vital part of him had locked itself away then, not to resurface until Alicia's arrival. He had feared it had died with Joey, or had been torn away when they took his son's tiny bloated body from him that last time. But Alicia had given it back to him. The nightmares reminded him of the price inherent in that special, special gift.
The rain let up slightly, enough to allow him to see beyond the glass. Geiger saw a pale vision in white standing in the yard...then he woke up fully and realized it was no ghost, but a woman; then not only a woman, but Cheryl, wearing only a white cotton nightshirt, drenched in the downpour at twelve-thirty in the morning.
Geiger hastily pulled on his robe, grabbed his coat and ran out into the yard beside her. She stood, eyes closed, face raised to the rain and arms outstretched at her sides; water dripped off her soggy hair and the nightshirt was plastered to her body, hiding nothing. She was barefoot.
"How long have you been out here?"
"Not long enough. Leave me alone." She did not move.
"Why? Are you nuts?" he yelled over the downpour.
"Go away, Jeffrey," she yelled back.
"It's near-freezing, come on, you're cold!"
"Please, go away."
She inhaled with a sharp sob; only then did he realize she was also weeping in the rain. In one gesture he wrapped her in his coat and pulled her into his arms. She felt small and childlike and very cold; she shivered as she clung to him.
It was perhaps forty-five degrees and her soaked nightshirt provided no warmth. He led her back into the house, coaxed her to dry off and put on an old flannel shirt he had, then laid her on the sofa. He donned a track suit and sat on the armrest by her head, not knowing what else to do. She lay on her side, turned away from him. She still shivered and he went to his bedroom to pull the comforter from his bed, then came back to cover her. He smoothed her damp hair back from her forehead. Every woman he cared about did the same thing, soaked and cried in the rain or in the shower, he was always fishing them out and could never figure why they always wanted to hide their pain like that.
Cheryl's eyes were closed, but she was not asleep. She concentrated on her shivering, the soft warm hand caressing her hair, its hypnotic calming lull to focus on. The rain pelted at the glass outside, each drop driving into her heart. She curled up tighter, rocked back and forth on her side. The weight at the top of the sofa shifted, the hand moved down to her shoulders, rubbing in circles back and forth between her shoulder blades, a gesture of comfort.
"Talk to me, Cheryl. What's going on?" The kindness in Jeffrey's voice was mixed with a deep confusion.
Her voice was flat. "What do I do?"
"Do about what?"
"I don't understand."
"I lost control of myself this afternoon. I lost control, do you know how much it scares me? I'm married, Jeffrey! I'm married to a sweet caring man, who's never asked anything of me, who stuck with me and gave me the world back when I lost it. He is the one I love, I have to love because of that. And because of that I've never wanted to hurt him, Jeffrey. Never. But I have. He doesn't know it yet but I have. Dammit! Yet I don't want to hurt you, either. So what do I do?" She turned on her side to face him.
"I don't know." He answered her honestly.
"I've always lived in the moment. Let each moment happen as it may. The only way to survive at times. But it was the wrong thing to do this time." She reached out to touch his cheek. He leaned it against her small slender hand. She then leaned off the sofa to kiss his forehead. "My dear dear Jeffrey. Wasn't meant to happen this way, was it?"
"Remember when you sang 'Frankfurter Sandwiches' to me at the hot dog vendor on the Stephen Avenue Mall in Calgary, the vendor said he'd let one go for a song because I didn't have enough money to pay for both?" Geiger grinned at the memory. "Stuffed my face with the bloody thing too, wonder I didn't choke."
He shook his head at her, wondering where she was leading.
"I didn't know you from Adam when we first met. Didn't stop me. We got a friendship out of it. What do we get out of this afternoon? I don't know. All I know, is that I wanted you last night, and well, I had you this afternoon. Why was I standing in the downpour? I was confused. Because I needed to. Because I shouldn't have."
"What...what are you saying? You're talking in circles, I don't understand."
"Last night when I saw you at the window, you looked so breathtakingly beautiful I couldn't stop thinking about seeing you there, your body, your skin...I was attracted to you then and I wanted you, all of you. And then this afternoon, I knew you wanted me too. And...and...oh God. I still want you, Jeffrey. As much, if not more."
He nodded finally, throat tight.
"What do you have to say?"
"I don't know..."
"OK." His turn to speak barely above a whisper. "I told you about Laurie, back in Calgary, Laurie, my ex-wife?"
"Yes. She drowned your son and was put in an institution. You were in Calgary on the seventh anniversary of Joey's death. You said."
"Yeah." He took both her hands, caressed the backs of them gently, not looking at her. "Every woman I meet that I could remotely care about, I compare to Laurie. Even with everything that Laurie caused...she's my gold standard. Not that there were many, only two really, Nadine and Geri..."
Cheryl didn't recognize the names, but she nodded.
"Every woman I care about, I kill the relationship before..." he faltered.
"You get too close." Cheryl finished.
"I'm terrified of it. Laurie, Nadine, Geri...I have a lousy track record."
"You'll jettison our relationship too if you decide you care about me." A statement.
"I don't want to. God, Cheryl, I don't want to." He shook his head.
"You don't want to care about me, or you don't want to jettison this?" Cheryl whispered.
He wordlessly gathered her in his arms, pressing her body tight against his, kissing her forehead, temples, cheeks, eyelids. Their lips met, opened, tongues caressed, hesitant at first but rapidly swelling with passion. A moan slipped out, a sigh. Cheryl slid her hand beneath the waist of his track pants.
Jeffrey drew back, gripping her wrist. "Cheryl, we...we shouldn't do this," he gasped.
"We've already been here once," Cheryl whispered.
"Do we have any right to do it again?" Jeffrey murmured.
She froze, then slowly shook her head. "No. But I've already broken my vow. Does it much matter now if I break it again?" She edged her hand lower under his track pants. Despite himself he groaned at her touch.
"Dear Jeffrey." She kissed the side of his mouth. "Don't. Please. Just relax." Her hand grasped him, moved up and down. She was rewarded as he stiffened. "Yes, that's it..." Cheryl kissed him again, then reached for his own hand and slid it beneath her panties. She quivered as his fingers found her and stroked gently.
"Yes, oh yes..." she murmured against his chest. She inhaled sharply as his finger found her entrance and penetrated it, dipping into the warm wet softness to lubricate her. She felt disappointed when he withdrew his finger...then watched him eagerly as he brought it up to his mouth to taste it. Her own fist stroked him more vigorously.
He looked down into her eyes then with a wordless question. She nodded silently. He gently pushed her down until she was lying on the couch. She lifted her hips as he pulled her panties down and off her body. Her excitement leapt when he pressed them against his nose, inhaling their mossy fragrance deeply. Then he leaned down, flexed and spread her legs, raised her shirt over her breasts, kissed down her body, breasts and belly, then up along the insides of her thighs, purposely light and maddeningly slow. She squirmed with anticipation at that dark head working its way towards her.
"Hey," he murmured huskily, looking up from between her legs. "Patience. Good things come to those who wait." His deep brown eyes were liquid. He bent back down. Then Cheryl moaned as his tongue flicked out and found her. He licked her, kissed her, gently sucked until she was nearly overwhelmed with desire. She grabbed his head, pulling him in tight against her thighs. One hand reached up to fondle her breast, then traveled up near her mouth. She suckled on one of his fingers as he tongued her, each hot caress and exhaled breath sending jolts throughout her lower body. Then his tongue penetrated her as his finger had, thrusting in and out and back, his whole mouth expertly making love to her. She gasped as she came uncontrollably against his face, seizing with pleasure for what seemed an eternity.
When she finished, he lapped her clean before coming back up to kiss her. Cheryl tasted herself on Jeffrey's lips, humid and salty.
"Shall I return the favor?" Cheryl whispered breathlessly in his ear.
"Only if you want to..." but his voice was ragged with expectation.
Cheryl needed no further urging. She sat him up against the back of the couch and pulled off his jersey. Her hand slipped beneath his pants again and resumed its stroking to bring him back. His breathing quickened. She kissed him, her tongue flicking over his teeth. She kissed his cheeks, his eyelids, his temples, his earlobes, down his neck, all the while continuing her fondling. She worked her way down, planting a trail of feather-light kisses from neck to stomach. Past the waistband of his pants, she pulled them down and off, revealing his nakedness underneath. She spread his knees and knelt between them, continuing her kisses until they hit her mark. One hand cupped him, the other stroked him as her lips closed about him.
It was his turn to gasp while her tongue languidly rolled about him, flicking and teasing as she took him into her mouth. He grabbed her head and his hips involuntarily thrusted upward; she responded by increasing the pressure from her lips, moving them up and down, occasionally taking him all into her mouth, her head bobbing with the effort. She quickened her pace, driving him insane with the heat flooding through his pelvis, her hand and mouth working faster and harder, her brows furrowed in concentration...then he couldn't hold back any more, bucking with the strength of his climax. He tried to withdraw but she closed her mouth firmly around him, drinking him in.
She didn't release him until his thrusts subsided. She looked up from his lap; he stared down, reached out to caress her cheek. She raised herself up to kiss him as he had her. He hugged her fiercely, then led her to his bed.
They lay together, both now completely naked, limbs intertwined and wrapped in the comforter. Holding each other, they drifted off to sleep. Spooned against her back, face buried in her hair, Jeffrey suffered no nightmares that night but for once slept soundly.
Cheryl awakened first with the sun, around six o'clock. The smell of love permeated the air around them; she felt his light breathing against her neck, his arms and legs clasped around her, and she felt peaceful.
There was a difference between making love and having sex: one implied giving while the other only taking pleasure, and what they'd shared was making love. She reveled in how warm and soft his body was curled around her own. Then he turned over in his sleep with a small sigh and she spooned against his back, needing to be as close as possible, to feel his solidity. She dropped light kisses on the back of his shoulders, tasting his tangy sweat, trailed her hand down his side, affectionately noting the small ridge of fat at his waist under her palm, the thin spot at the back of his dark curly head. Traits that made him human and beautiful and she loved him for that. So what if he weren't perfect? She was nowhere near perfect either, not with a pear-shaped body that needed two clothing sizes to compensate, not with her slight tendency to varicose veins...
She shot out of her half-dream state. And she loved him for that--she did love him. Oh God. I love Jeffrey Geiger. Cheryl's eyes filled at her self-admission. She loved this man sleeping so soundly beside her, who heard his pants and sang 'Frankfurter Sandwiches' at hot-dog stands and cared for Alicia, who lived nightmares and wandered houses so Alicia could sleep happily and without fear.
She bit her lip. Oh dear Jeffrey. She loved him...she thought of her husband. Oh God. She knew exactly what she'd done. Her heart sank at the thought of her betrayal. And now, loving Jeffrey, she knew that on his knowing, he would back off too, in utter terror of being hurt as he had before. You only hurt the ones you love. Her tears fell silently and she turned away. But despite her anguished thoughts, she dropped back asleep.
Jeffrey woke a little closer to seven. Alicia would be waking up soon, would need her diaper changed and her breakfast made; he first thought that he had to be in to surgery by nine, but then he realized it was Saturday, and he was further pleased to remember he wasn't on call this weekend, Austin was, so he and Alicia and Cheryl together could wander over to the lake front after the pigeons.
Something was different about this morning, about the way the light streamed in from behind the curtains: he hadn't had the nightmare. He wasn't on the floor of Alicia's room, as usual, but in his own bed. And a woman lay beside him, her back to him, asleep. He was naked underneath the comforter, as she was...Cheryl.
Memories of the night flooded back, flushing him with bemused contentment and pleasant arousal. Normally he would redden with self-loathing, repulsed at himself and whatever woman lay with him after the act. After Laurie's commital to Huron, sex had become just another itch that required occasional scratching, and that's how he considered all those one-night stands. No emotion, no investment. He and Geri Infante had never gone all the way, so that didn't count...and since Alicia arrived he had had no desire for sexual closeness, all of his energy being taken up by the little girl's need for love and attention.
But now...he turned on his side, propped on one elbow, to watch Cheryl asleep against the pillow, eyelashes fluttering slightly as she breathed through her open mouth. Her light brown hair cascaded over her neck and cheek. There were some strands of silver amongst those curls, she had the tiny crows-feet around her eyes that bespoke her age, but she was the most beautiful person he'd known for a long long time.
He turned her over and gathered her sleeping form into his arms, held her close, his heart overflowing. Most other women he'd kicked out of bed by now, or he'd left himself out of sheer disgust. Now, he kissed her tenderly on the forehead, her cheek and lips, lovingly running his surgeon's hands over her body. The swell of breast and hip, the hollow of her belly, the curve of shoulder and spine and buttock, the softness of her skin, he tried to memorize...she woke up, gray eyes misting behind her long dark lashes. He smiled openly in return, in love and wonder.
"Good morning," he whispered, leaning down to kiss her mouth.
They made love in the morning half-daze: not the slow sensuous kind of the night before where all senses melded to their cores, nor with the urgency and need of the first time, but for the last time, keenly aware of each other's rhythms and smells and tastes and touches, committing each caress and kiss and embrace to memory. On top, Jeffrey sank into her and the blissful oblivion she offered. Cheryl opened completely, meeting each thrust, letting him melt into her. She clutched Jeffrey, drawing him in as close as she could, relishing the rocking weight of his body against hers, encouraging him onward. She did not climax; nor did it matter.
In bed, with this woman who loved and understood him as no other since his wife, Jeffrey allowed himself to be one with Cheryl. He cried out as he let go, drowning in his ecstasy and clinging to her desperately in his release. Finally, drained at last, he collapsed on top of her and lay very still, dark head against her neck and face buried in the pillow.
Cheryl's tears slid down her temples into her hair. Oh God. She loved this man, loved him as she loved her husband. But already, in the warmth of the afterglow, there was the cold pain of goodbye. This was it. She felt victory, and defeat. Whatever happened now would only be closure. She would leave, she had to anyway, to return to Calgary and home and her life with Eric. Part of her cursed Jeffrey. Part of her cursed herself. Part of her hoped in vain it wouldn't end. But she knew it would, as it had to.
Jeffrey Geiger returned to his senses slowly, reluctantly. His skin was damp with sweat, his breathing uneven. He did not want to concede the truth that was there all along: he loved this woman. For the first time since Laurie, he loved, wholly, completely, without the accompanying guilt and sense of betraying her. Then he felt Cheryl's silent tears wetting her neck, against his face. He knew why. He understood. He'd felt the same thing each time he'd had a one-night stand.
He loved a married woman, one who's already taken. He wished he could turn back the clock, prevent it somehow, if he'd had more strength, more conviction...he loved Cheryl Lucas. Admitting that, was the beginning of the end. He was returning to himself now, to the tortured bundle of contradictions that comprised his being. This was it. He could never allow it to happen again. Forgive me, Cheryl, he mouthed against the pillow. His heart slowed, his breathing returned to normal. When he raised himself off her, his deep brown eyes were already shuttered.
Two hearts were broken that morning, but still beating. They rose, showered, dressed, made breakfast, played with Alicia, almost as if nothing had happened. But each couldn't help but steal glances at the other, Cheryl singing to Alicia on her knee, Geiger in silhouette in the morning sunlight streaming from the kitchen window. They made mental snapshots of each other, needing something of their time together to hold on to. They talked to each other kindly, but the distance had already crept into their conversation. They avoided any mention of their time together.
Cheryl packed her belongings into her knapsack, called O'Hare to confirm her flight from Chicago to Calgary. The plane was leaving in less than two hours; they would have no time to go to the lake front after all. Geiger brought Alicia with him and drove Cheryl to the airport. He pulled the car into a free spot in the departure ring. Cheryl knew she shouldn't, but she asked anyway.
"Do you want to wait with me until my flight leaves?"
Each word was a little stab. But he heard himself say gently, "No, I don't think so. Alicia'll get restless..." He half-smiled.
She nodded. "That's OK." She leaned back towards the car seat, planted a sound kiss on the baby's cheek. "Hey there, sunshine. Be seeing you next time one of us swings by. You take good care of your daddy now, eh?"
"Yah!" Alicia held out her plump little arms and Cheryl hugged her.
"Too bad I never met your Chicago squirrels..." she began as way of goodbye to him. She picked up her bulging knapsack from the floor of the car.
"Yeah." He watched her. She pushed her glasses up the ridge of her nose, her head bent. "Will you be OK? Your husband..."
"I don't know." Cheryl avoided his face. "I love Eric. I don't know how or if I'll tell him... But this was my desire too. We both wanted this, Jeffrey, me as much as you. But please, don't worry. I'll figure something out."
He reached out one last time, tilted her chin up to look at her pale peaked face. "I am so sorry..." he whispered. Their eyes met. Everything passed between them.
"I don't regret it. I'm glad it happened." She touched his cheek with her bare hand. He kissed it, tears rising suddenly. Her gray eyes were glistening pools of sadness that reflected his own. "Be happy, Jeffrey. Please. You deserve all the love and happiness that comes your way. You deserve it so much..."
He nodded. "You too," he choked.
She also nodded, flashed a wan smile. "You bet. Take care." She opened the door and quickly slid out of the car, not to look back to see his hand extend towards her retreating form, not to see the tears that finally streamed down his face, but to go forward into the shimmering airport for the journey back home, eventually to disappear into the surrounding crowd.