"I’m sorry, I must have heard you wrong." I knew I hadn’t but I wasn’t sure what other words to say after my husband of 12 years told me he’d fallen in love with someone else.
"I never meant to hurt you and I wasn’t out looking for something it just, you know, happened."
That conversation happened a year and a half ago and I’m still finding it hard to believe that my college sweetheart and the love of my life left me for someone half his age. I also couldn’t believe they’d had a baby and were pregnant again; giving him the kids I thought we both agreed we didn’t want.
"Why don’t you come out with us after work?" my colleague asked as she leaned around my cubicle wall, snapping me out of my unpleasant memories. "It’s Friday and you don’t have to get up early tomorrow."
"Thanks, Bev, but I’m pretty tired."
"One of these days I’m going to get you out, Cathy Barker," she smiled.
"Maybe," I smiled back. "But it’s not tonight."
"All right," she gave in. "Have a good weekend."
"Thanks. You too."
Being tired was always my excuse…or having a migraine…or being too busy. I had a whole basket full of reasons why I didn’t want to go out. I honestly couldn’t fathom meeting someone new and dating. It had been years since I’d done that and I wasn’t very good at it the first time around. If Jeff hadn’t been in my freshman English class and I hadn’t seen him three times a week, I’m not sure I would have said yes when he asked me out toward the end of our first semester. I hadn’t really dated in high school and he turned out to be the only guy I ever dated in college so the thought of being out in the dating scene or any other sort of scene where someone might ask to buy me a drink or spin me around the dance floor absolutely terrified me.
I heard the group leave, grown women giggling and talking about some young bartender, and I just rolled my eyes and got back to the report I’d told someone I’d put together three days earlier. Two hours later I was still working on it having found it much more complex than I’d anticipated. I got up to raid the snack closet in our training room and nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard someone call my name as I walked down the hall.
Of course it was Jacob. Jacob Maddon, my counterpart on the finance side of the house and my favorite office crush despite his affinity for men. We were quite often the only ones left in the office each night and had become pretty good friends.
"Hey, gorgeous. What in the world are you still doing here at this hour on a Friday night?" he asked as I leaned into the room.
"I could ask you the same question," I smiled.
Jacob was international male model gorgeous and a big flirt, even though he had zero intention of following through on anything since he had been happily matched up with Patrick for longer than I’d been married to Jeff.
"I’m trying to get a little ahead before we go on the cruise."
"Oh that’s right…the anniversary trip."
"What’s your excuse?" he asked, raising an eyebrow toward me. "Wait, let me guess…didn’t want to go out with the girls, too tired, too busy, headache…"
"Yes, yes," I sighed as I slid down into one of the chairs in his cube. "I’m a horrible person but I just can’t bear the thought of happy hour or whatever. I never did that when I was single the first time and nothing about it appeals."
"Catherine," he started, putting his serious face on. "How will you ever meet someone if you don’t go out?"
"Who says I want to meet someone? I had 17 years of someone and it didn’t work. I’m not sure I’m willing to take the risk."
"No," I interrupted. "I don’t want you to fix me up either."
"You’re making me sad," he frowned.
"Well that certainly wasn’t my intention," I grinned. "If there’s someone out there for me it will have to happen organically. I’m not about to go looking."
"Fine," he sighed. "I give. Now, why is it that you’re here again?"
We talked for a few more minutes and promised we’d only stay another hour. By the time we actually left it was nearly 9:30 and after he walked me to my car I gave him a hug, wished him a happy vacation and headed home.
I was almost asleep when my phone rang, somewhere close to midnight, and I was sure it was a wrong number since no one I actually knew would dare call me at that hour.
"Hello?" I answered. I always answered for fear it was my mother calling from some random number to tell me something horrible had happened to someone in our family.
"Oh thank god!" the caller exclaimed.
"Yes, it’s me. I’m so so sorry to call this late but I have a huge, beyond huge really, favor to ask."
"Okay," I yawned.
"Patrick’s brother was supposed to be giving us a ride to the airport and watching our house while we’re gone but he’s got that flu that’s been going around and there’s no way he can do it. I know you have your own stuff going on but is there any possible way you could help us out? Even if just to take us to the airport?"
"Sure," I sighed. "I’m happy to help." I didn’t even know Patrick had a brother and couldn’t help but wonder if he was as cute as Patrick and whether or not he played for their team or mine and whether or not he was single. I shook the thoughts out of my head quickly.
"You’re the absolute best!" he cheered.
"You’re a goddess!" Patrick yelled from somewhere else in the room.
I got all the particulars about the plane flight then set my alarm so I could wake up five hours later. Getting rides to the airport was always something I struggled with and had lately been parking my car or taking a taxi to avoid even having the conversation but I absolutely loved being able to help others out and didn’t even mind the early hour. It felt good to be needed and I was actually quite chipper when I showed up at their house the next morning with coffee and scones.
"Seriously," Patrick said after he kissed my cheek. "You are a goddess."
"Well, I do what I can," I smiled. "You guys all ready?"
After getting a wealth of instructions about the house we all piled into their SUV and made our way to the airport. I’d only met Patrick a handful of times but absolutely adored him and watching him with Jacob made me long for the early days of my relationship with Jeff, something I hadn’t thought about it a long time. After getting them safely to the airport I drove back home and put my apartment in order before packing a bag for the week. They’d told me I didn’t have to stay over if I didn’t want to but I knew they knew I would because their super-chic house was far more appealing than my cozy apartment.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my apartment, but the idea of spending a week away was nice too, especially when they said the fridge was fully stocked and told me to have my way with their kitchen. The thing I missed most after getting divorced was the kitchen in the house Jeff and his new wife now lived in. Yes, he’d cheated, and I could have fought for the house but I just wanted to be free of all of it and moved out without so much as a goodbye.
After indulging in a delicious breakfast that I spent over an hour preparing I sunk into the world’s most comfortable couch and dug into the latest romance I’d been reading. It was a sweet story really, about a woman not much different from myself, divorced and starting over and unsure about love. Naturally she found it where she was least expecting it and I was almost to the part where something was about to go wrong making her question every decision she’d ever made. It was formulaic but I did still believe in love and was definitely a romantic at heart so even though I was fairly certain it wouldn’t happen to me again, I still loved the moment where two people found each other.
The weekend spent cooking, reading and lounging was far too short and I had half a mind to call in sick when Monday rolled around but I was good and went to work where the day dragged on and on even though I was extremely busy. I was exhausted by the time I got back to the house and didn’t even have the energy to cook the salmon Jacob had left for me. I ordered a pizza and took myself to bed somewhere around 8:15. When I woke up two hours later because I had to throw up I was less than pleased. When I lay on the cold bathroom floor an hour later with a washcloth on my head I knew I was sick and longed for someone to come take care of me but my mom was many states away and it was too late to call anyone else. It was really the first time I’d been sick since the divorce and I realized how much I’d relied on Jeff to take care of me, which naturally made me started to sob.
I somehow managed to get myself back in bed after changing into a fresh t-shirt but I knew there was no way I was making it to work the next day. I left a message on my boss’s voicemail and made sure the phone was completely off so I could sleep. I felt the fever creeping in and wondered how long it would be before I’d be forced to call 9-1-1 to rescue me. Jeff would have had something in his medical bag to give me or would have been able to call something in right away. Having a doctor for a husband certainly had its perks and I missed him terribly as the fever forced me to sleep.
I don’t know what time it was when I woke up but it appeared to be light outside and it appeared that Patrick was sitting on the bed next to me, making sure the washcloth stayed on my forehead. I was most definitely delusional.
"Patrick?" I asked through my fog.
"Carson," he smiled. "You must be Catherine."
"But you look just like…"
"Yes," he smiled again. "Twins."
"Uh huh," I mumbled then closed my eyes when it became too hard to keep them open.
I woke up again later and assumed I’d dreamed Carson up when I didn’t see him anywhere. I felt awful and was sure the fever had gotten worse but I got up anyway and moved slowly to the bathroom. I thought about screaming when I looked at myself in the mirror but was too weak to actually do so. I ran my fingers through my hair but it really didn’t do any good so I just dampened the washcloth again and started back toward the bed. I didn’t actually make it though because I turned too quickly, felt dizzy and nearly fell all the way to the ground but managed to grab the shower door on my way down. When I reached the floor I knew my cause was hopeless and just laid down and closed my eyes.
"Well, this just won’t do," a voice said and I looked up to see Patrick’s look-alike again.
"I must be dying," I sighed. "I can’t have imagined you twice."
"Come on," he smiled and bent down and actually scooped me up from the floor then carried me back to the bed and tucked me in.
"You’re really Patrick’s brother?" I asked and he nodded. "And you’re not an illusion?"
"I assure you that I’m not."
"I thought you were sick."
"I was," he smiled. "Not quite as sick as you appear to be right now but it was the flu nonetheless. I’ve always recovered quickly."
"Uh huh," I said as I closed my eyes again.
"Just rest," he whispered then adjusted the washcloth on my forehead and ran his hand along the back of my head. "I’ll be here if you need anything."
"Okay," I muttered as I drifted off.
I was still fairly certain I was dreaming though it was definitely the most real dream I’d ever had. I just couldn’t understand why he was there and why I didn’t know Patrick had a twin. And I found myself wondering again if he was gay or straight.
It wasn’t long before I woke up again and this time I had to practically crawl to the bathroom. I was getting worse and throwing up nothing since I’d eaten nothing. After washing my face and pulling one of the robes on the back of the door around me I made my way to the living room where Carson was reading a book on the couch.
"I think I need the hospital," I said as I leaned against the wall and hoped I wouldn’t fall.
He jumped up and was by my side in a moment. “The fever seems to be getting worse,” he said. “We need to get some fluids into you and I need you to take some ibuprofen. Can you try to drink something for me?” I nodded and he guided me back to bed and got me tucked back in. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
He came back with a tray of water and something like a sports drink as well as a bottle of Advil. “Two of these,” he said and handed me the medicine and the cup of water. I did my best to swallow them but it definitely wasn’t easy. “Drink the rest,” he said when I tried to give the cup back. “And this too.”
I shook my head. “I’ll throw up again.”
"That’s okay," he assured me and brushed my hair from my face. "You’ve got to try." I made a face and shook my head again.
"I think you should take me to the hospital."
"Just give this a try," he urged. "And if you’re worse in a few hours I’ll take you in. In the meantime though I have a neighbor that’s a doctor and I’ll call him for advice, okay?" I nodded and downed the rest of the water then took a deep breath before trying to drink the other. Amazingly I didn’t feel the need to throw up after it was gone but I still felt lousy and fell back to sleep shortly after finishing it.
I woke up a couple of times over the next few hours and felt absolutely horrible. Carson tried to get me to drink more but after a few sips I threw up again and he finally gave in and called his doctor neighbor. When I woke up in the emergency room I was especially confused to see both Carson and Jeff standing over me. Jeff wasn’t an e.r. doctor and I wasn’t sure if I was hallucinating or if he was really there.
"Hey," he smiled. "Carson called me."
I looked to Carson for confirmation and he nodded and shrugged. “I didn’t realize he was your…well, you know…”
"I must be imagining this," I sighed and closed my eyes but Jeff’s voice was still there.
"You’ve got a pretty high fever, Cat. I’m going to have them admit you."
Just hearing him say my name, the name he’d called me since we met, made me long for our marriage and I started to weep.
"You shouldn’t be here," I sniffed. "You should go home. There are other doctors." My tears grew stronger and I felt like I might hyperventilate. "Please just go," I sobbed and opened my eyes long enough to see him nod.
"For what it’s worth," he said before stepping out of the curtained-off area. "I am sorry, Cat. I never meant to hurt you."
I turned away as I continued to cry and hoped that would be the last I saw of him for a while, or maybe ever.
"I’m so sorry, Catherine," Carson said after Jeff had gone. "I had no idea."
I nodded through my tears and sobs, as he ran his hand along the curve of my face and wiped a few tears with his fingers.
"You don’t have to stay," I sniffed after most of the tears had gone. "I’m sure you don’t need this disaster in your life." I waved my hand around, gesturing to myself, but he just smiled.
"Very funny. Patrick and Jason would kill me if I left you and I’m not about to face their wrath."
I couldn’t help but smile. “Fine.”
A few minutes later some aides came to move me to a room and I instinctively reached for Carson’s hand and he held on without a word. After they got me settled he sat down in the chair near the bed and wrapped both hands around mine.
"I’m here for whatever you need, okay?"
I closed my eyes and nodded then turned back toward him and looked into his eyes, which were big beautiful pools of brown.
"Hey, so why did you come by the other day anyway?" I muttered as I was drifting off. "You clearly knew I was watching the house."
"I just figured I’d check in and see if you wanted to bail. I felt so bad that I had to cancel at the last minute and didn’t want you to feel obligated to stay if you had better things to do. It looks like I was right to come over."
I smiled and our eyes locked for a moment and I felt like one of the characters in the books I loved to read.
"So Patrick didn’t tell me you were twins." I didn’t know what else to say and that seemed as good a place as any to start a conversation.
"Actually, we’re triplets," he smiled. "Our sister lives in Hawaii with her family."
"Wow," I yawned, the drugs in my IV clearly starting to take effect. "Your mom is a saint."
"We also have two older brothers, twins."
"Oh my gosh," I sighed then yawned again.
"You should get some rest, Catherine. Or do you prefer Cat?"
"Catherine," I breathed then let the drugs do their thing.
I felt a lot better the next day and they released me with the understanding that Carson would be there making sure I rested, drank a lot of fluids and took the medicine they prescribed. He’d stayed all night, curling up into the small chair and jumping to my side every time I woke up in the night.
After he got me loaded in the car and we were on our way I decided to just ask him what I’d been thinking about since I learned Patrick had a brother.
"So I want to ask you something but I’m sure it’s going to come out all wrong."
"What exactly do you want to know?" he asked and his eyes twinkled ever so slightly. "If I’m gay too?" Clearly he’d been asked this sort of thing before.
"Maybe," I blushed and looked down at my feet and wished I’d never said anything.
"What do you think?" he asked, throwing it right back to me with a cute smile.
"I think it’s really none of my business and I’m starting to feel light-headed so I think I’ll just lean against this window and pretend this never happened."
We arrived at the house just a few minutes later and he put his arm around my shoulders after helping me out then walked me to the bedroom and got me tucked in after I changed into my pajamas.
"Thanks," I whispered while avoiding eye contact. "And sorry about before."
"There’s nothing to be sorry about. And for the record, Patrick and I are complete opposites, in every way." He leaned down and kissed my forehead and I felt a tingle shoot all the way to my pinky toe. "Get some rest."
I slept off and on throughout the day and finally got up around nine in the evening. I heard some music coming from the living room and smelled something that was extremely appealing. I wasn’t sure I should eat much but I took the fact that I wanted to as a good sign.
"Hi," I said when I walked into the kitchen and found Carson cooking some sort of chicken and pasta dish. I sat down at the bar and tried not to be embarrassed about what had happened earlier.
"Hi," he smiled.
"Think you want to eat some?"
It felt awkward.
"Listen, about before…I wasn’t asking…I mean I wasn’t implying…I was just…"
"Stop," he smiled. "You apologized earlier and I told you there was nothing to be sorry for."
"Still, I feel like I should explain or something."
"Explain what? That you wondered if I was gay?"
"Catherine," he said and took the pan from the stove and started to slide the food into bowls. "You’re not the first to wonder; hell, I even wondered about it for a long time myself, especially when I was jealous of his relationship of Jacob and not finding a woman that I could have that same thing with. I wondered if maybe I’d been barking up the wrong tree but when I expressed this thought to Patrick he practically slapped me across my face and told me I was being ridiculous. And I was. I love women, and I hope to find the right one some day. And I’ve just completely over-shared, haven’t I?" His face started to turn red and I was glad I wasn’t the only one getting embarrassed in the middle of our conversations.
"I love Patrick, and I’ve had a crush on Jacob as long as I’ve known him, but I’m very glad you’re straight."
"Me too." He paused as he picked up the two bowls he’d prepared while telling his tale. "Should we eat?"
I nodded and turned toward the table but before I got up he sat one of the bowls in front of me and put the other one in front of the empty stool next to me. He then went back for silverware and water and was back at my side a couple of minutes later.
"Let’s just start from scratch," he said and put his hand out to me. "Hi, I’m Carson Wiley."
"Catherine Barker," I smiled and took his hand. "Nice to meet you."
© Carrie M. Medders