Romance story for Sensual Infusion Round 2
|HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS
“There’s Carol Brennan again, John. You just can’t take your eyes off her, can you?”
John grinned foolishly. “Yeah, she’s for me, and we seem to be getting on well together. Still, I’ve got a lot of competition.”
“John, my friend, when are you going to recognise how far out of your league she is?”
“Never, Jim. She’s the only one for me, no argument.”
Jim shook his head and ambled off, leaving his friend to his dreams.
Carol was one of the popular girls at their school. She was a year behind John, which made no difference to him. She had a soft, warm, cultured voice and the kind of looks that could “make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window”, to paraphrase Raymond Chandler. John was convinced she was perfect, although he saw her “through rose coloured glasses”.
John took every opportunity to strengthen their relationship, and Carol responded. She found him friendly, caring and nowhere near as “pushy” as the jocks and popular boys who surrounded her. John wasn’t part of that group; he had a reputation not only as a “geek”, but also as a “brainiac”, and sports left him cold.
John and Carol lived quite close to each other, and often walked to and from school together. One afternoon as they walked home together, John stopped and kissed Carol, gently, a soft warm kiss, which Carol responded to in kind. She smiled at him, saying, “I really like your kisses, John. I’m so glad you don’t try to stick your tongue down my throat. It makes such a change from guys who think they own you.”
“I could never think of you like that, Carol. I’m your friend, I respect you and I want our friendship to continue.”
Carol smiled again. “Have I shown you how I feel about you, John?” then took his head in her hands and kissed him, again, warm and sweet.
He slipped his arm round her waist and she leaned into him as they slowly completed their journey home. John was aware Carol’s parents didn’t really approve of him, but he couldn’t have cared less.
The time for the graduating class formal was approaching, and John knew he was going to invite Carol to be his partner. But he reckoned without the scheming bitchery of some of the other girls. Lorena Lomax, sister of Wayne Lomax, the top jock in the school, put out a rumour about John having boasted about sleeping with Carol. And she knew Wayne was desperate to date Carol.
Carol was incandescent with rage and tore into John, demanding a public apology and telling him to forget about the formal. John had no idea what this was all about. He tried to tell Carol it was all a lie, but, “Lorena is my friend. She wouldn’t lie about something like that. You can go to hell.”
John went into a downward spiral. Unusually for him, his studies started to suffer and he was mortified when he heard Carol was going to the formal with Wayne Lomax. It was only with the understanding, love and support of his family John was able to struggle back to the surface.
Then, a month after the formal, the rumour mill went into overdrive. Carol Brennan was pregnant and speculation was rife about the father. John ran into Carol one day on the way home from school. Her eyes were red with tears and suffused with misery. She looked at John and sobbed, “Wayne is denying the baby is his, and there’s no way I can make him admit it. I know I can have a DNA test at ten weeks, but it’s risky. And anyway, it will be no use if Wayne refuses to have one.”
John took Carol in his arms and stroked her hair, making soothing noises. Looking at him with surprise, Carol asked, “Why, John? After the way I’ve treated you, why should you care about me?”
John had no doubts, no hesitations. “Because I love you, Carol, and I always have. Remember, I’m your friend, and I’ll help you in any way I can.” Her tears fell again, but this time misery was tinged with just a little hope.
The following day, John told his friend Jim he was the father of Carol’s baby, and he hoped they could be together to give the baby a home. The story spread like wildfire throughout the school, fuelled by Lorena Lomax, only too happy for the heat to be taken off her brother.
But the story didn’t last very long. A couple of days later, Carol stood on a table in the canteen and made another shattering announcement. “John Smith is not the father of my baby. Wayne Lomax seduced me after the formal when I’d had too much to drink. I know John is saying it’s his to help and support me, and I’m so grateful to him. I challenge Wayne to have a DNA test to prove paternity when the time comes. But if he’s too gutless to do so, he can just slink away into a corner, and I’ll bring up the baby by myself. In any case, I wouldn’t want anyone like him to be my baby’s father.”
This announcement was greeted with stunned silence. “And one more thing. I’m leaving this school at the end of the term and moving interstate with my family.” With that, Carol stalked out leaving a string of dropped jaws in her wake.
John raced to catch up with Carol. “What do you mean, ‘moving interstate’? Why didn’t you tell me? We won’t be able to see each other again—it’ll break my heart.”
“I’m so sorry, John, I really am. But my pregnancy alters everything. My family will help me to care for the baby, and, no, I can’t and won’t let you take on the responsibility.”
John started to protest, but Carol stopped him. “No, John, this is for the best. You’ll soon forget me and move on with your own life, and I’ll be able to provide a home for my child. I’m so sorry if I’m hurting you, John; my mind’s made up, but thank you so much for all your help.”
“Can we at least write to each other, Carol?”
“Why, John? It’s better and cleaner this way rather than cling to impossibilities through the mail.”
“So much for love,” John muttered as he walked away, not seeing the tears flooding down Carol’s face.
The next few weeks were purgatory for John. He farewelled Carol in a rather rigid, formal way designed to hide his real feelings, but gave her a necklace, “as a token of our friendship.” Once again, he failed to notice Carol’s tears as he walked away.
Days stretched into weeks, weeks into months and months into years. John devoted himself to his studies, initially to alleviate the pain of losing the girl he loved, but increasingly because he could see a challenging and potentially rewarding future for himself.
John had always wanted to be a doctor, a surgeon, but his parents had told him they couldn’t support the costs. John’s determination to succeed was helped when his parents won money in the state lottery. Not a huge sum, but enough to help ease John’s journey through medical school.
Thirteen years of intensive training eventually equipped John as a general surgeon with the privilege of being called Mister rather than Doctor, an inverted snobbery lost in the mists of time.
It’s not necessary to dwell on most of John’s experiences during his extended and challenging training. Most importantly, he was always close to the top of his class and devoted almost all of his time to study and practice. After six years of undergraduate training and a year as an intern, John had established himself as a potential general surgeon.
The really challenging part was then to come. He was accepted for a residency with the toughest, most demanding specialist general surgeon in the system. She drove him hard, even harder when she recognised his talents. John responded well to the challenges she posed to him and by the time his residency was complete, she told him, “You’ve handled yourself with skill and dedication, Mr Smith. It is my considered opinion you’ll make a bloody good surgeon. Don’t let me down.”
Two incidents marked John’s residency years quite specially. The first occurred near the end while he was on call for emergency surgery. A man in his thirties presented with acute pain in his lower right side together with nausea. This looked like a straightforward inflamed appendix, but when he studied the notes, the name shook him; Wayne Lomax.
‘Well, well,’ John thought. ‘Seems like karma is actively at work here. ‘
He was even more surprised when he saw Wayne’s sister, Lorena. “Look, doctor, you’ve got to help Wayne. He’s in so much pain and I don’t want him to die. He’s the only family I have left.”
“Don’t worry, Lorena, he’s not going to die, but you’d better both be okay with me treating him.”
Lyn looked again and her hand went to her mouth in shock. “Ohmygod, John Smith. I never thought … We never knew …”
John looked over at Wayne who hardly recognised him through a haze of pain. “I don’t care who you are, just fix this pain. Please.”
The operation was successful, and John called in on his patient the following day, with Lorena present. “Thank you so much, John—I can call you John, can’t I?”
“I’d be offended if you didn’t.”
“Do you ever hear anything of Carol Brennan?” John asked ingenuously.
“No, she’s disappeared off the radar. I know she lost the baby; her mother died of cancer not long after, and her father drank himself into an early grave. But I’ve lost touch with her.”
“Hmm, thanks,” was all John could manage.
The next incident happened a few months later. John had been in a relationship with Alison, a nurse at the hospital and it had developed slowly. Juggling their shift rosters was never easy, but they’d managed to find some time together for a leisurely meal. John could see Alison was uneasy and asked her about the problem.
Alison looked at John with a clear gaze and came straight to the point. “John, we’ve been together now for a long time, but, I can’t help thinking you’re not really with me. Deep down, there seems to be someone else in the room with us. Someone’s in your head and it isn’t me.”
“What on earth makes you think that, Ali? I thought we’d been going really well.”
“John, you’re a really sweet guy, kind, respectful and generous. But there’s a barrier there I can’t seem to get over, around or through. I don’t think it’s fair to either of us to continue a relationship where there’s something missing. Put it another way, where there’s a third person hiding in the shadows.”
John was silent for several minutes before looking into Alison’s eyes in sorrow and sadness. “I’m so sorry, Alison, I haven’t been fair to you. Yes, there is someone else, but I thought I had dealt with it and put it all behind me. Then something happened a couple of months ago and it all came back.” He told her about the meeting with Wayne and Lorena and explained about what had happened with Carol.
Alison gave him a small smile and rested her hand on his. “John, you idiot, don’t sit around moping, go out there and find her. I don’t blame you for the way things are, I just think it would be best for both of us if we separated and went our own ways. I’ll see you around, John, and I hope we can still be friends.”
"Me too—and thank you for being so understanding.”
“Isn’t that what friends are for?”
In the short term, John did nothing about Carol. He had been accepted into the Royal College of Surgeons as a bona fide specialist and gained a position in a leading general surgery practice, rapidly becoming highly respected for his skills.
So much so he was invited to a prestigious US medical centre for workshops and experience with the leading surgeons at the centre. This took him out of circulation for two months, but he returned enthusiastic, informed and ready to introduce some valuable lessons into his practice.
John was contacted by the practice manager on his return from the USA. “We’ve managed to hire the additional admin assistant you’ve been arguing about for months, John. She started about a month ago and seems to be working out very well. I’ll introduce you when you’ve had time to settle back in.”
John sorted through screens of e-mails and a mountain of letters, magazines and other documents needing his attention. By mid afternoon, when he was almost buried in paperwork, the frustration was starting to show. He growled, “Come in if you must,” to a knock on the door, and the practice manager entered with a woman following him. A woman of whose identity John was in absolutely no doubt.
“John, I’d like you to meet your new admin assistant … “
“Carol. Carol Brennan.” John’s voice was barely a whisper, forced from a closing throat.
Carol stared at him and her hands flew to her mouth with a weak scream, tears flooding her eyes as she turned and ran for the lift.
The practice manager was speechless, but John called, “Tell you later,” as he, too, ran for the door and sprinted down the stairs. While Carol had disappeared, the woman at the enquiry counter on the Ground Floor said, “She turned left,” in answer to his panicky question.
John ran out and followed the street to an area of parkland, to discover Carol sitting on a bench with her head in her hands, sobbing.
“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”
“Casablanca,” Carol whispered with a watery smile.
“I wish I knew where to start, Carol, but I do know this. You’re not getting away again.”
“I … I can’t … stay in this job.”
“Give me one good reason why not.”
“Oh John—our history would keep getting in the way.”
“I don’t agree, but I’ll talk to the practice manager in the morning and see if we can swap with one of the other admin people. I’m sure we can work something out. Now, we’re going to find someplace quiet where we can sit and talk and work through whatever needs to be worked through. Tell you what, Carol, come back to my place and I’ll fix us something to eat. We can talk then I’ll drive you home. No funny business trying to take advantage of you, I promise.”
Slightly against her better judgement, Carol agreed to go with him to his smart, compact serviced unit, nicely furnished but rather cold. ‘Needs a woman’s touch’ she thought.
They both relaxed, and for John it seemed as if the years apart had not even happened. And they were back to being love-struck teenagers again, both starting to recapture something buried long ago. John found slipping into a friendly and intimate conversation with Carol remarkably easy, even after so much time had passed, and he was delighted when Carol told him the same thing.
“Carol, I’ve never stopped thinking about you, and you even featured in my dreams. Endless ‘what ifs’, ‘if onlys’, wondering what you were doing, who you were with. Then about a year ago I ran into Wayne and Lorena Lomax, and they told me you had lost the baby as well as the deaths of your mother and father. How have you managed to cope?”
“You cope because you have to. There isn’t really any alternative other than going crazy or hurting yourself, and neither of those options really appealed to me. And, John, I never stopped thinking about you either. What might have been if I hadn’t been so stupid, whether I should try and contact you, but I was too scared.”
“Are you still scared?”
“Oh no, John, not scared, but my head’s spinning and I can’t seem to understand what’s happened. This is all so sudden, but it does feel good.”
John told Carol about his last conversation with Alison and she smiled. “She must have cared about you a lot to be able to walk away like that?”
“I don’t know, but I think she understood how much I loved you.”
Carol gently touched his hand.
They ate, talked and laughed until the early hours of the morning when, as promised, John drove Carol home to her down-market bed sit.
“Thank you, Carol; I’ll see you at the practice tomorrow, and we’ll sort out where you work. But … will you have dinner with me on Saturday evening? Please?”
She answered him with a soft warm kiss and a beaming smile.
John felt a surge of excitement towards the end of the week, and Carol clearly dressed to impress him that Saturday evening.
“Oh wow, Carol, you still have the necklace I gave you as a parting gift.”
“I couldn’t lose it, John. It’s been my one link to you, and it became more precious as time went by.”
The meal was a great success, and John invited Carol back to his unit again, this time being clear; “No guarantees about keeping my hands off you this time.”
Carol giggled, and as they entered John’s unit, her smile lit up the room. He looked into her gleaming eyes and said, "I know it took too long for me to realize, but I'm finally home."
And this was confirmed by her soft, sweet, warm kiss, an open invitation to move their relationship towards being intimate, caring and loving.