you think they're going to make it?" Rachel whispered. She was watching
the bridal couple sip champagne from each other's glasses. Rachel had a glass
of very good champagne of her own which she raised to the couple, but her gaze
had shifted to Jerry Stoner, who stood beside her.
"Hey, I'm a psychiatrist,
not a fortune teller," he protested, laughing. "But, yes, I think
they will, given any luck."
"So luck is a part of it,
huh?" Rachel mused. "I hadn't really thought of that. Hard work,
persistence, love certainly, but luck, well, who would have thought?"
Jerry lifted his shoulders
negligently and took a sip of his champagne. "Hey, I'm just trying to
disclaim any inside knowledge here. They're both good people. Like you and Dan.
Like me and Barbara. But Dan died and Barbara divorced me. Let's call that bad
"I see." Rachel
linked arms with him, giving a little arm-hug in the process. "I like the
concept, Jerry. You take blame out of the equation. We lawyers have a hard time
with that, though."
"The newest concept is
personal responsibility," Jerry said. "Lawyers are going to have an
even harder time with that."
"Thank heaven I don't do
personal injury," she sighed. "Working for the medical center is
tough enough. One of these days everyone's going to go to arbitration."
"And you'll be a great
"Probably. Who's the
beauty with Ralph Benninger?"
Jerry shook his head, then
cocked it to one side. "Actually, I did hear someone say. A pediatric
intern, I think."
considered the statuesque young woman whose blond hair hung down to the middle
of her back. From across the room it was evident that she felt a little
uncomfortable in the gathering, probably because she didn't know anyone there.
"Maybe we should talk with her. Ralph isn't paying much attention, though
heaven knows why."
"That's what I like about
you, Rachel. Always ready to jump in and rescue someone, even if she's a
gorgeous someone who probably doesn't need rescuing."
Rachel grimaced. "Just
because she's beautiful doesn't mean she can't feel uncomfortable at a wedding
where she doesn't know very many people. She doesn't even know Cliff and Angel,
"I doubt it. And they're
way too preoccupied to worry about one wedding guest at the moment. We'll pick
up the slack, shall we?"
"To the rescue."
Rachel gave a toss of her head, whose curly brown hair was slightly graying.
"We'll have her shaped up in no time. And you might even warn her about
"Me? You must be kidding.
Besides, I don't know what you're talking about."
They strolled companionably
across the living room toward the windows overlooking downtown San Francisco.
The views from Twin Peaks were spectacular; Clifford Lenzini's house made a
perfect location for a small, intimate wedding. Jerry hadn't been at all
surprised to hear they were holding it there. He'd been astonished, however,
that Cliff and Angel had managed to invite just enough people not to overwhelm
the spacious room. The bride's family, the groom's family, and no more than two
dozen other people were reasonably accommodated for the brief ceremony.
Jerry loved watching the
videotaper wander through the group catching people in conversation with the
backdrop of the Mediterranean-looking city. Cliff and Angel, well, they made
you almost believe in love and marriage again. Not that Jerry was totally
cynical about marriage. He'd been divorced for five years, was on perfectly
reasonable terms with his former wife, and had two terrific sons from the
union. It would be unreasonable to ask for more than that, and a rewarding
career, at forty-seven, wouldn't it?
Rachel was already introducing
herself to the young woman, who informed them that her name was Erika Amundsen.
Jerry was surprised that at close range she was even more attractive than she'd
appeared from across the room. She wore very little makeup, and her face had
the fetching look of openness that one associated somehow with shepherdesses in
the Alps. Heidi, he thought irrelevantly. She should have braids and be wearing
a dirndl or something. Erika was, in fact, wearing a deep blue dress that
shimmered in the light. She looked wholesome and athletic, yet elegant and
approachable. Quite a combination, Jerry thought.
"You're training at
Fielding?" he asked.
"Yes, in pediatrics. I've
seen you there," she admitted with a self-conscious smile. "You're a
psychiatrist, aren't you?"
"Right. Have you heard bad
things about psychiatrists?"
"Oh, no." She
frowned. "Though people don't seem to know quite how to act around them,
do they? As if they were going to be able to tell something awful about you just
by looking at you."
Very astute, too, Jerry
decided. "That's about right, but we're no more mind readers than anyone
"Still, if we say certain
things, we can give ourselves away," Erika pursued.
"Give yourself away
"Well, for instance, if I
were to say, oh, I don't know, to say that I hated hurting little children, you
might easily assume that I actually did hurt little children."
you?" Rachel wanted to know.
Erika sighed. "Yes,
actually I do. Not out of cruelty, of course, but because medical treatment
often hurts the patient. Spinal taps, blood drawings, all sorts of things. They
say I'll get used to it."
Rachel looked at Jerry
questioningly. When he nodded imperceptibly, she said, "Yes, that must be
very difficult," and excused herself to visit the bathroom. Jerry
unobtrusively guided Erika away from the others toward a corner of the room.
"We have a program of intern and resident support," he said. "Do
you know about it?"
She nodded but looked down at
the glass of champagne which had hardly been touched. "No one else seems
to find it so disturbing. I think I have to learn to steel myself."
"Some of us have fewer
defenses than others. There's no shame in asking for help. I'm sure you realize
Erika met his eyes, but
briefly. "There's very little time."
"There has to be enough
time to take care of yourself. Otherwise everything else is ultimately
unsuccessful." Jerry had recently had his graying hair cut short enough
that he couldn't wear it in a pony tail any longer. His hand went absently to
tighten the band which wasn't there. He wondered if he'd done a presentation to
Erika's residency group. "Come by my office next week and we'll
"You're always busy."
His brows rose. "Have you
come by when the door's been shut?"
She shrugged. "Once or twice I've
noticed it. I hadn't decided whether to talk with you."
Jerry bent toward her, earnest
in his empathy. "If you've thought about it, then you should come. If you
like, we can make an appointment."
"No, no, I'll just drop by
some day." She shook off her seriousness with a twist of her head, a warm,
open smile appearing to light her face. "This is no time to trouble you
with my problems. It's such a lovely place for a wedding, isn't it? Dr.
Lenzini's sister showed me around a little."
"It's a great place,"
he agreed, and added, "I'll count on seeing you next week."
Erika's date for the occasion,
Ralph Benninger, a pediatric neurosurgeon, appeared at her side, nodded to
Jerry and said, "There's someone I want you to meet, Erika."
Jerry watched them walk away, a
thoughtful look in his eyes. Rachel appeared beside him and said, "I trust
I was the height of discretion there, Jerry. Surely you can help her adjust to
the down side of pediatrics. She looked for a minute like she'd been set on a
high wire without a safety net. Poor kid."
"I'm sure we can help.
It's just a little disconcerting that her residency adviser hasn't sent her
before this. Maybe she's keeping quiet about it."
"And just couldn't resist
unburdening herself to you. You have a real touch, Jerry. They're lucky to have
"You'd hardly know
it," he grumbled. "Associate professor after twenty
years.""If you won't play the game, you can't expect to win."
Jerry had known Rachel for most
of those twenty years, not because she'd worked at the medical center all that
time, but because they were neighbors. The two couples, Rachel and Dan, Barbara
and Jerry, had exchanged dinners a few times a year. Not enough to be close
friends, but to know each other's children, each other's concerns about work
and leisure. Nowadays, when he felt he needed a companion to take to some
hospital function, he often asked Rachel, who would know the participants and
who knew him well enough to make it unnecessary for him to try to impress her.
Sometimes, though, he was almost sorry she knew as much as she did about him.
He couldn't, for instance, get away with bemoaning his fate at Fielding Medical
Center as far as promotion went. He'd not bothered to watch out for whose toes
he stepped on over the years, so long as he felt certain there was a cause to
be championed, a patient to be protected.
His brown eyes crinkled at the
corners now. "There are people who believe I should have been recognized
for my intrinsic merit, in spite of any chaos I might have caused over the
Rachel snorted. "Who are
these people? I've never met any of them."
"Such an unbecoming lack
of faith." Before he could taunt her further, they were accosted by the
newly married couple. Jerry kissed the bride, Angel Crawford, and shook hands
vigorously with the groom, Clifford Lenzini. "I knew you could do it if
you put your minds to it," he said.
Cliff, a giant of a man,
general surgeon and all-around male chauvinist, said, "We couldn't have
done it without your help, could we, Angel?"
"Probably not." Angel
squeezed Jerry's hand. "Actually," she confided, perfectly loud
enough for Cliff to hear, "he hasn't the slightest idea how true that
Angel was in the last year of a
family practice residency and had had her moments of doubt about her
prospective husband's sexist attitudes. Jerry knew that his confidence in the
relationship had helped her overcome her concerns. He winked playfully.
"He's a lot to take on. Just remember we're here if you need us."
Cliff had turned his charm on
Rachel. "I'm glad Jerry had the good sense to bring you, Rachel. He's just
moldering around in that condo of his, not going out enough to wear his good
shoes down at the heels. When we get back from our honeymoon (which is going to
last about two days because of Angel's residency) we'll have you both over to
dinner. I cook a wicked Cornish game hen."
them," Angel explained. "I've seen him do it with my own two
Jerry felt a brief exhilaration
in their presence. Their youth, their good looks, their energy, their love --
it all invigorated him. Though he realized forty-seven wasn't all that old
these days, knew that he had twenty years minimum left even to his career life,
he had begun recently to question just what he'd accomplished in his life.
Whether it was enough to be where he was. Had he sat back and let things happen
to him? Had he drifted along doing the work he liked and ignoring the things
that would have gotten him more power and prestige and money? Hell, he had a
lot to show for his age, he reminded himself. The important things.
Cliff put an arm around Jerry's
shoulders. "Thanks for offering the cottage during your month, Jer. But
Angel deserves to be waited on hand and foot on her break, and I'm just not the
type to do that. Some hotel in Hawaii seemed far more appropriate."
"Then they can wait hand
and foot on him, too," Angel explained.
"I did think of
that," Cliff admitted. "But it was for my one and only bride that I
chose this particular place, Angel being far too busy to look into hotels on
Maui. It's not like the old days," he sighed, "when no matter how
busy a woman was she did it for her husband. Looked into the travel
arrangements, I mean."
"Obviously we haven't
shaken it out of him yet," Angel said, poking her newly wedded mate in the
side with an elbow. "Rachel is not interested in hearing your observations
on how women used to behave. She'd probably have a few things to tell you."
"I might at that,"
Rachel agreed. "But I won't."
Jerry looked curious.
"Will you tell me?"
"I don't think so."
"Too bad. We psychiatrists
can always learn something new. It might be just the thing I need to help some
poor woman who's struggling with the same issues."
Angel lifted her brows. "I
suppose all psychiatrists are voyeurs to some extent, don't you, Rachel?"
"Probably. All in a good
cause, of course."
"Of course," Jerry
said. "We don't call ourselves voyeurs. We call ourselves good
"Right. Like a surgeon is
a magic healer." Cliff grinned down at his wife. "And a family
practice doctor is a medicine man . . . um . . . or woman."
"Very good." Angel
beamed at him. "He's such a quick learner."
"It's a good thing he's
not an older dog like me," Jerry said. "Teaching us new tricks is so
"What's got you down?" Cliff demanded. His shaggy
brows descended low over his eyes and he cocked his head with amusement.
"Feeling sorry for yourself just because it's a wedding?"
"Not at all. I'm delighted
for the two of you and it's a very festive occasion."
"He looks very festive,
doesn't he?" Cliff asked, of no one in particular. "You probably need
a break, too, Jerry. You've been working too hard."
Jerry shrugged. "Maybe
I'll go to the cabin myself for a few days. They can get along without me at
"Not until you've seen the
pediatric intern," Rachel reminded him.
someone," Jerry grumbled, but he looked more cheerful. "When are you
going to start the dancing?" he asked Cliff.
Cliff gave the trio a
prearranged signal and swung Angel into his arms. Their guests backed up along
the walls of the room and allowed the newlyweds to claim the floor to
themselves for a few minutes before they began joining the dancing. Jerry
offered a hand to Rachel who accepted it with a reminiscent smile. It was not a
reminiscence of dancing with him, Jerry knew, because he had never danced with
her before. There weren't, after all, so many occasions he attended where
dancing was offered as part of the entertainment. And he wasn't a particularly
good dancer, come to that, though he rather liked the activity. Rachel didn't
seem to mind. She followed his lead with ease and merely shrugged when he
stepped on her foot.
"It takes a minute to
catch on," she said.
Not that he'd danced much with
Barbara. There had seemed plenty of other things to do--raising the kids, his
work, her work, camping and hiking and swimming and tennis. He couldn't
actually remember if Barbara had liked dancing. If she had, she'd certainly
never pushed him to do it more often. Or maybe he just didn't remember that,
"What are you thinking about?"
Rachel asked. "You look puzzled."
"Oh, nothing much,"
he admitted, looking down at her head of curls only slightly touched with gray.
Barbara had been totally gray even before she left him five years ago.
"About dancing and Barbara and things totally unrelated to being
"It's the wedding, don't
you think? I've been thinking about Dan, too, off and on all day. And about the
day we were married. God, we were young. I look back at pictures of our wedding
and I can hardly remember looking like that." She grinned up at him.
"We were married on a beach. Did you know that?"
He shook his head. "I had
no idea. Hippies, were you?"
that." She sighed. "Free spirits, we said. Unencumbered by
conventions and societal restrictions. His parents were horrified when they
found out, and we had to go through a formal family party with them, with about
a hundred people. My folks didn't mind so much. They paid for a honeymoon to
Mexico for us."
He and Barbara had had a
traditional Jewish wedding, followed by a honeymoon in Europe. There was money
on both sides. That had been right out of college for the two of them, before
he started medical school. Hardly a ceremony on the beach.
Jerry thought he was dancing
better now. Maybe it was just that Rachel had caught on to his oddities. And
then the trio switched from slow to fast music and he glanced around
apprehensively. What kind of fast dancing did people do now? He'd never kept up
with that sort of thing. "Maybe we should wait until they play something
slow again," he suggested.
laughed and followed him to the sidelines, where they watched the energetic
younger people, and Ralph Benninger, dance every which way, their arms and legs
and torsos thrashing about like palsy victims.
"A neurologist would have
a field day," Jerry muttered.
hungry," Rachel suggested sympathetically. "There's a terrific spread
in the dining room. I noticed it on my way back from the bathroom."
"What if we're not
supposed to eat it yet?" he said, but followed behind with interest.
"Oh, I don't think they'll
There were already a number of
guests filling plates with mouthwatering delicacies. Jerry was indeed hungry,
only remembering then that he'd skipped lunch to check on a patient before
picking Rachel up.
"I love all this little stuff," he said, helping
himself to the bite-size treats. "I could live on it. What I should do is
make an arrangement with a caterer to drop off a barrel a month and I'd never
have to try to cook again."
"I thought you only heated
TV dinners," Rachel said.
Jerry wrinkled his nose and
sighed. "I did, for the first couple of years. But they're as boring as
the cafeteria food. It would be a lot simpler if people didn't have to
"Wouldn't it?" Rachel
hesitated before the miniature cheesecakes but eventually put one on her plate.
"You could go to the Price Club and stock up."
"Don't think I haven't
considered it." Jerry finished heaping his plate and motioned toward the
small balcony off the side of the room. "I imagine we can fit out there if
you don't mind fuchsias in our faces."
Cliff Lenzini had fuchsias of
every variety around his house, in pots, in baskets, climbing up trellises,
growing as bushes. The view from most windows included pink and white and
purple and red hanging blooms, large and small, making the house feel festive,
as though in a confetti snowstorm of its own. Jerry, who wasn't as fond of
fuchsias as Cliff, climbed with reasonable care over one pot and pushed another
basket out of the way so that Rachel could slip past. There was only a slit of
view available to them of the city, but the spot was private and quiet.
Rachel leaned back against the
house, balancing her plate on the corner of the railing. "I've been
meaning to tell you that my career has taken a twist."
Surprised, Jerry looked up from
the pasta salad he was inspecting. "Oh? What kind of twist?"
She seemed to hesitate.
"I'm a little tired of the law. Sometimes it seems so irrelevant."
"Maybe you liked it better
when you worked for the civil liberties groups."
She shrugged. "Better than
helping the medical center save its butt, certainly. But that's not it. That
doesn't seem to be where the important things are happening. Hell, I'm at a
medical center where every day there are life and death decisions being made,
and being made sometimes without considering all the aspects of the case. I
don't mean just medical but social and moral and ethical. For some time now
I've been taking medical ethics courses. They intrigue me."
Should he have known that?
Jerry helped himself to a bite of egg roll before saying anything. "So how
does it work? Do you quit your job at Fielding and set up a practice, or
"Fielding doesn't want to pay legal rates for such nebulous
services, but I've politicked and educated and they've agreed to hire me,
part-time, at a reduced rate. I'll have a private consulting service as well.
Fielding isn't the only place in the area that needs medical ethics services.
I've never been able to forget some of the decisions that were made when Dan
"Hmmm. I remember. But,
Rachel, it's a big step to make."
"At my age," she
added, since he hadn't.
"At any age," he
said, realizing that that indeed was what he had meant. Rachel, too, was in her
forties. Changing careers, going to part-time, starting up a consulting
service, taking reduced fees -- it all sounded pretty shaky to Jerry. He knew
Dan hadn't left Rachel a rich woman, what with the medical costs at the end.
"So tell me about it."
Her eyes snapped with
irritation. "You make me feel like a patient, Jerry. What I want you to
say is, That's great, Rachel. Congratulations. I hope you'll really enjoy
Obviously he'd blown it. It was
not like him to blow it, at least not with patients. He didn't seem to be able
to concentrate on anyone else this afternoon. His thoughts kept swirling around
himself and his life, instead of outward on the people he was with. "I'm
sorry, Rachel. Of course I'm delighted for you. You'll be very good at it. I
just didn't know your interest had become so extensive that you'd actually give
up your legal position."
She shook her head. "I
still hear a lack of enthusiasm, Jerry. But that's all right. I guess I didn't
convey my real excitement. This is something special for me. Something that
makes me resonate right down to my core. I burn to do it."
"Then I'm really happy for
you. Not everyone gets a chance to do what they want to do, and I know the last
few years haven't really satisfied your need to be part of the decision-making
process in medicine." God, even the language sounded stilted, he thought.
She was sharing something really special with him and he was wrapping it up in
stupid psychobabble. He leaned over and kissed her cheek, since his hands were
occupied and he couldn't hug her. "Really, Rachel, I think this is
"Thanks." She seemed
reasonably satisfied with his eventual response, motioning with her fork to
make a point. "Everything hinges on the patient's right to know, when you
get down to it. Though of course there will always be some patients who don't
really want to know, and you have to accommodate for that."
Though she continued to talk,
and Jerry, with half a mind, to listen, he wasn't really with her. Here was
Rachel, a woman of his own age, with no more security than he, willing to take
big risks with her life over something that interested her. She had found
something that animated her in a way he hadn't seen before--her eyes sparkling
and her face radiating earnest excitement.
Did anything still excite him
that way? Well, he loved his work, it was true. He felt challenged and rewarded
by it, as well as frustrated and disappointed at times. His modest position at
the medical center was something of an embarrassment, and, though it was where
he had landed himself through want of tact or kowtowing to the higher ups, he
wasn't perfectly sure he didn't want to have a better position. He should have
pushed for a full professorship years ago. Maybe even pressed others to the
point of giving an ultimatum--give me my just desserts or I'll leave.
But would he have? If you
threaten to leave, you have to be prepared to follow through. And he couldn't
really think of a place he'd prefer practicing psychiatry to Fielding. The
combination of truly devastating mental illness to treat, young physicians to
indoctrinate in the science of psychiatry as well as its art, how could he give
that up for a practice where he saw the same individuals each week, or examined
and evaluated workers' compensation cases?
There was something disturbing
about having been passed over, though. He really did believe, despite Rachel's
teasing, that he should have been recognized for his efforts, his expertise,
even if he had occasionally proved a thorn in someone's side. Where was the
fairness in passing him by? Jerry sighed inwardly. Didn't that sound naive?
Fairness. As if he thought he should expect fairness from the world. If his
boss ever heard him say something like that, he'd think Jerry needed to be
locked up with the other crazies on 4 West.
Rachel was regarding him
curiously. Blown it again! "I'm sorry," he apologized. "My mind
just seems to keep wandering today, Rachel. It's not you, and it's not the
wedding. I'm just," he shrugged, "out of it, I guess."
"It's too soon to leave,
so maybe we should go back in and dance. That might distract you."
Jerry couldn't tell if she was
hurt by his inattention. That was the nice thing about Rachel: she was so
practical and easygoing. He followed her back into the living room, where Ralph
Benninger was dancing a little too closely with the pediatric intern and Cliff
and Angel were surrounded by a small group, including Angel's former roommate
Nan LeBaron, who were determined to get them to cut the wedding cake and be off
on their honeymoon.
Just another social occasion.
Just another wedding. Just another day. There was nothing to get so distressed
about, was there? Jerry was grateful it was a slow dance. He pulled Rachel into
his arms and maneuvered her around the other couples. He was good enough at
slow dancing, probably because of his age.Truly heart-warming