The fingers of Sharon McCoy's right hand tapped in a blur on the ten-key block of numbers on her computer keyboard as she typed in the final cost and profit figures for a large construction Company. She finished, leaned back in her chair, and reached up to rub the back of her neck. She sensed someone watching her and scanned around the large office area. Her boss, Mrs. Kendall, walked toward her. She was accompanied by the tall, middle-aged psychiatrist Sharon had seen several times in the accounting firm. Gina, who worked at the desk next to her, told her she knew him. He always stopped for a minute or two and chatted with Gina when he came to the office. On several occasions, Sharon glanced their way to find him looking at her instead of Gina. He always averted his eyes. This time, his eyes were completely focused on Sharon.
Mrs. Kendall approached. "Sharon, this is Doctor J.P. Knight. He has a special request. It's confidential, so you'll have to discuss it in the meeting room."
With a pleasant smile, the doctor reached out his hand. "I'm pleased to meet you."
After the introduction, Sharon led the way to the meeting room. She gestured to a chair and sat across the table from him. Her curiosity was piqued at the secrecy of the whole thing.
He lifted his briefcase up to the table and pushed it to the side. He folded his hands together and met her gaze before speaking. He issued his statement in a deep-timbered voice. "I have a patient who needs help with his finances. I'm not at liberty to say why they are in such disarray, except to say it's causing him a great deal of stress. I want you to know that I asked for you personally to set things in order for him. I've set up an account for you to draw on in order to pay any outstanding debts he has. This job won't fall under this firm. You'll have to work on it on your own time, and I'll pay you. The only request I have is that you never mention his name or anything about his finances to anyone other than me."
Puzzled, Sharon asked, "Why did you ask for me?"
"I've watched you work." He smiled, his large brown eyes conveying genuine friendliness. "I also asked Mrs. Kendall if she trusted you to do the job and keep it confidential. If you agree, I'll pay you a flat fee of sixteen hundred dollars. I'll give you half today and half when it's completed. Do you agree?"
Her eyes widened. "That's way too much. I'll do it for half that, and I'll still be getting the best of the bargain."
"No, this is a big job. You'll be doing this on your own time. It's asking a lot, and I'll feel better about it if you agree to the sixteen hundred."
Her green eyes sparkled as she thrust her hand across the table. "Deal!"
He shook her hand and reached into his lapel pocket for his checkbook. After writing a check, he ripped it out and handed it to her along with his card. "The combination to the briefcase lock is written on the back of my card. If you have any questions, call me." He was about to stand when he added, "Oh yes, the account you can draw on is shown on the top page. I'll call the bank tomorrow and let them know you can access it." Abruptly, he stood and walked around the table. With a gentlemanly gesture, he reached for the back of her chair. She rose and faced him. He offered his hand and said, "Thank you." He wheeled and strolled out.
A wide grin spread across her face. She whispered, "Mac, you and I are going out for lobster tonight."
In the weeks that followed, Sharon met with the doctor on several occasions. She began to understand Gina saying he was one of the nicest men she ever met. The job entailed a lot. Sharon discovered that his patient neglected to file his state and federal taxes for the past three years. He lost all of the tax documents provided by seven different employers during that time, and Sharon had to contact them and request all of the duplicates. When everything was finally in order, she called Doctor Knight and set up a meeting at the firm after four o'clock closing on Friday. Mrs. Kendall had instructed Sharon to lock up before leaving. She waited until he arrived before she left.
Sharon directed the doctor into the meeting room. She had the papers laid out on the table and meticulously went over every detail with him. At one point, she looked up to find him looking at her instead of the papers. A slow flush engulfed her, turning her face a deep crimson.
"I apologize if I've made you uncomfortable. I have the habit of studying people. It goes along with my work. I was just thinking that you are very efficient at what you do. That is an admirable trait. I can't help but admire you for the job you've done."
Embarrassed, she muttered, "Thank you."
When she locked up, he insisted on escorting her to her car. He opened the door and thanked her once again before walking off with the briefcase in his hand. She reached into her purse and took out the check he gave her. Her face betrayed her shock when she unfolded it. It was made out for twelve, instead of eight hundred dollars. Written at the bottom were only two words. Well done.
The next time she ran into the doctor, it was quite by accident. She walked into a woman's boutique in downtown Denver. The saleslady was handing several gift-wrapped packages to him. He sensed someone watching him and turned. With a warm smile, he said, "What a pleasant surprise. How have you been?"
"Fine, thank you." She glanced at his packages.
"These are for Kathy's birthday. She's my wife. Have you had lunch?"
"Let me take you to lunch. I'll wait."
She smiled at him. "Okay, let's go. I was just browsing anyway."
They walked to a nearby restaurant, and John led her to a corner table. Once settled, she said, "There was no need to pay me more than what we agreed on. I did appreciate it. I'm glad I ran into you because I wanted to tell you that."
He didn't respond right away because the waiter walked up to take their order. After he left, John gave her a penetrating look. "You did a fantastic job, and you earned every penny of it."
Their conversation led to his gifts for Kathy and about his twenty-nine-year marriage. John left no room for doubt that he loved Kathy when he said, "It's more than love; I honor her. I think with all of the divorces going on that a couple should be instructed before they take the vows as to the real meaning of love, honor and cherish."
That piqued her curiosity. "What do those vows mean to you?"
"They're like the Trinity. You can't have one without the others. To honor someone is to give her the ultimate form of respect, to value her, to learn from her. To cherish someone is to be loyal, to be forgiving, to be trusting. If you have those two things firmly implanted in any relationship, love will flourish. It can include parent and child, brothers and sisters, and friendships."
Sharon, thoroughly fascinated commented, "I've been trying to figure out what your ethnic background is." She apologized instantly and blushing furiously added, "I shouldn't have said that. It isn't any of my business."
He grinned. "I don't have the look of a typical Irishman because I'm what is referred to as black Irish. We're the ones with the dark hair and eyes. My parents came from Ireland."
"What are they like?"
"They both passed away a few years ago." He took on a thoughtful look. "They were wonderful parents. They raised me with a firm hand and an abundance of love. They were very physical in expressing love. That's typical of the Irish and some other ethnic groups. They believe in hugging, touching, and holding to show their affection. It's a shame that people are now afraid to do this because it can be misconstrued as sexual harassment. When done with a pure heart, I see nothing wrong with it."
She thought that he would be a good father himself. She asked, "Do you and Kathy have any children?"
"We were blessed with two beautiful children, a son and a daughter. Raising them from little infants, through childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood was the most rewarding experience of my life."
After eating, they continued to talk and get better acquainted with each other. There was something Sharon wanted to ask him. She wanted to word it in a way so he wouldn't think she was prying. He was studying her when she looked up at him. "You asked me not to discuss your patient and his finances with anyone but you and I haven't. I do have a question."
"As long as it isn't a personal question about him, I'll do my best to answer it."
"The account I accessed to pay off his debts was in your name. I'm not sure how to word this. I don't want you to think I'm digging for information. Let me just say it surprised me that a psychiatrist would go so far as to pay off a patient's debts. Isn't that going beyond the call of duty?"
His mouth twitched with a hint of a smile. He took his time answering. "There are very few people that I would explain myself to. In your case, I'll make an exception. The way I look at it, I'm more than a therapist. Sometimes counseling alone isn't enough. His immediate problems were of a financial nature. By eliminating that problem, he was better able to absorb the counseling needed to make the necessary changes in his life. Granted, this isn't something I had to do from a professional perspective, but it is something I wanted to do for him. It's a loan. I suppose I'm considered a bit of a rebel in psychiatric circles. My methods for helping my patients don't always stem from textbook teaching. Don't misunderstand me. I'm tougher on my patients than most of my colleagues, and I don't believe in coddling either. People are individuals. They're the ones who are ultimately responsible for working out their problems. My job is to help them through the critical times so they can achieve that level on their own. I do everything in my power to help my patients." He grinned and added, "It's unusual for me to be on the receiving end of questions. Are you usually this quizzical?"
She favored him with a warm smile. "I'm fascinated. I've never talked to a psychiatrist, or any doctor for that matter, in such a personal and casual setting. I thank you for inviting me to lunch and for answering my questions. I enjoyed it."
He reached his hand across the table. "Friends?"
John escorted her to her car. Before he opened her door, he asked, "Would you mind if I give you a hug?"
She smiled, "Not at all!" Sharon was surprised that she was able to connect so well with someone nearly twice her age . . . and so highly educated. Doctor Knight gave the impression of speaking to an equal. He wasn't condescending. She thought about it on her drive home to Englewood.
Sharon had supper on the table when Mac strolled in the door. He carried a large, white box. She asked, "What is that?"
He set it on the counter and gave her a kiss before answering. "These are jelly jars for Mom. I thought we could deliver them this weekend and maybe spend the night. Mom say's she misses her Scrabble partner. What do you think?"
Sharon chuckled. "Only if you promise to tell Edna that I have to be in bed by 11:00 p.m. I can't handle staying up until dawn playing Scrabble."
"I don't think you have to worry about that happening again. Dad wasn't pleased about it either. He told me it took mom several days to recover. What did you do with your extra day off?"
"I ran into that doctor I did the confidential report for. He invited me to lunch." Mac shot her a look. She shook her head. "It was completely innocent. He spent most of the time talking about his wife and how much he loves her. He's old enough to be my father. I like him a lot. I've found a special friend. He's very easy to talk to."
"Did you ask him what his initials stand for?"
"I didn't even think about it. That's something I'm curious about too. He said he'll invite me to lunch again. I'll ask him then."
They arrived in Fort Collins at nine in the morning on Saturday. Mac and his dad headed for the golf course while Sharon and Edna went to the mall. They were eating lunch in one of the mall restaurants when Edna very boldly asked Sharon, "Have you and Mac ever discussed having children?"It didn't shock or surprise Sharon. Edna always spoke her mind. "Yes, as a matter of fact we have. It's a definite desire on our part. Hopefully it will happen in the not to distant future."
"Good! I'm happy to hear that. Many moons have passed since I've held a baby." She smiled at Sharon. "Please, don't keep it a secret if you get pregnant. I want to share in the joy."
Sharon nodded. She thought that it must have been difficult for Edna when she discovered she couldn't have children. She and Jim adopted Mac when he was an infant. When they returned home, Sharon helped Edna make crab-apple and grape jelly. That evening, Jim fired up the barbeque in the backyard. They feasted on hamburgers and hotdogs.
As usual, the visit was a pleasant respite from Sharon and Mac's normal weekend routine. They said their goodbyes the next day. Edna handed Sharon a photo album and a large manila envelope. "The album has pictures of Mac from babyhood on up. The envelope has copies of all his personal papers such as diplomas, awards, and such. I've been meaning to give them to him for the past year, but you know how forgetful I am."
When they arrived home, Sharon put the album and envelope on the upper shelf of their bedroom closet. Then, she unpacked their suitcases, gathered the dirty clothes and headed for the laundry room. She watched Mac out the window. He was pulling the hose around to water the aspen saplings. Doctor Knight's words flashed through her mind. She thought, I honor you, Mac, with all of my heart. She couldn't recall the last time they had a major disagreement about anything. She whispered, "You truly are my best friend."
She felt a little guilty that she hadn't told Edna how they'd been looking through catalogues to design a nursery. She felt it was their choice, and she didn't want any advice or interference from anyone, not that Edna ever gave that impression. Sharon just didn't want to take that chance. Even though it was bold, she understood Edna's question about them considering children. After all they recently celebrated their sixth wedding anniversary.
She started the washer and wandered into the living room to check the phone messages. She flipped through the mail tossing the advertisements, sweepstakes, and credit-card requests into the wastebasket. She came across a card with no return address. The postmark showed it came from Cheyenne, Wyoming. She scrunched and tossed it unread into the wastebasket as well. She muttered to herself, "Don't you ever give up, Uncle Johnny?"
Mac strolled in. "Anything important?"
"Just a bunch of junk mail. There were no messages. I guess we aren't important enough for anyone to miss us."
With furrowed brow, he gave her a serious look. "You're the most important person in the world. Don't ever forget it."
"Knock it off, Mac. You and I both know that the most important person in the world is the man who controls interest rates. I'm willing to take second fiddle to him."
"Because I'm second fiddle. I always have been." With an impish grin he added, "I guess that drops you to third."
Very deliberately, she shoved the magazines off her lap. Then, she jumped up and lunged for him. He ducked, laughed, and ran out the front door. She sneaked out the back door and picked up the hose. Quietly, she made her way around the south side of the house. He was crouching behind one of the lilac bushes in the front yard. His back was turned when she twisted the nozzle and blasted him with a stream of cold water. He turned to approach her, holding his arms defensively in front of his face as she continued to soak him. He gained and she dropped the hose and ran around into the house.
She made it to the living room when he caught her. He folded his arms around her in a bear-hug making sure she felt the full force of his wet clothes against her body. Then, he wrestled her to the carpet and cupped her head. His kiss was deep and passionate. The intensity of their lovemaking left them spent and gasping for breath when they finished. He rolled over and stared at her. "I love you so much." He stroked her auburn hair. "You're so beautiful."
The front doorbell rang. He jumped up, snatched up his wet clothes, and tore off for the bedroom. His little toe slammed into the leg of a chair causing him to yelp from the pain. Sharon tried to dress and suppress her laughter all at the same time as he is hopped off cursing under his breath .
The doorbell rang again.
Sharon brushed her fingers through her hair and checked to make sure all of the buttons were fastened on her semi-wet jeans and blouse before opening the door.
Standing there were two impeccably dressed missionaries carrying bibles. Sharon struggled to contain her laughter. She failed. It exploded out of her just as one of the young men opened his mouth to speak. She doubled over holding her stomach, tears streaming down her face. Between laughs, she managed to mumble an apology and tell them she wasn't interested. The embarrassed looks on their faces only renewed her laughter as they scurried away without so much as a backward glance.
Mac limped into the living room wearing jeans and a T-shirt. "Who was it?" He gave her a concerned look. "What's wrong? You're crying."
"It was just a couple of missionaries." She glanced at his swollen little toe and bit the insides of her cheeks. "Is it broken?"
He scowled and peered at her with suspicion. "You were laughing at me, weren't you?"
She giggled. "Not at you, precisely. The whole situation was funny. Come on, I'll fill a basin with cold water and ice. That should take down the swelling in your toe. Then, I'll fix us something to eat."
The following day, Sharon folded and put clean clothes away. Mac was in town picking up some items from the mall. She brought his shirts from the laundry room and hung them in the closet. The album and manila envelope that Edna handed her caught her eye. She took them out and sat on the bed to look at them. Mac's pictures as a baby and little boy made her smile. You were always handsome, Mac, a blond Mel Gibson in the making. She finished looking through the album and set it aside. She reached for the envelope and dumped the contents onto the bed. She flipped through his athletic awards and picked up his adoption papers. It surprised her that he was adopted in Salt Lake City, Utah. She shoved some of the papers aside and reached for his birth certificate.
A shockwave of heat traveled through her like thousands of hot little needles penetrating her core. Her left hand grasped her chin, and her eyes blurred from the gathering moisture. Her hands shook so bad it was difficult to stuff the papers back in the envelope. A pounding headache ensued as her happy world crashed with the swiftness of a Rocky Mountain avalanche. With nothing more than instinct directing her movements, she put the album and envelope back in the closet. She cried out, the sound expressing anguish so deep, it rattled the walls of her soul. She rushed into the bathroom. For ten minutes, she splashed cold water on her face to rid herself of the headache and get a grip on her emotions, a firm decision embedded in her mind. Mac must never know the truth. Out of nowhere, visions popped into her head. They were soothing pictures of ocean surf, white beaches, and changing cloud formations. When they went away, she stood puzzling and decided it was a dose of medicine for her mind.
Mac noticed the change in Sharon when he came home. She convinced him that she was coming down with something and didn't feel well. He leaned forward to give her a kiss, and she jerked her head away. "I don't want you catching what I have."
After supper, Sharon told him she would take a long hot soak and go to bed early. A little later, Mac went to check on her. He frowned, surprised to find the bathroom door locked. "Sharon, are you all right?"
"I'm just resting. The water is very soothing." She heard his footfalls fade as he walked out of the bedroom. Tears trickled down her cheeks. It was the first time she had ever locked him out. The visions returned. This time, they were fields of flowers with children playing in them. When they faded, Sharon whispered, "It's a mental iv." Before emerging from the bathroom, she splashed cold water on her eyes.
Mac sat on the bed. She said, "You really should stay away from me. Some bug took a bite out of me. I feel awful."
He smiled and offered, "Maybe you're pregnant."
"Mac, women get morning sickness not night sickness." She moved around him and climbed into bed. He crawled in next to her and reached for her. Abruptly, she turned her back. When he tried to kiss her good night, she snapped, "No, not tonight. I don't want you to catch this."
Mac lay back on his pillow and stared at the ceiling. A sense of dread washed over him. Sharon always let him kiss her goodnight, and she never locked the bathroom. He turned over in his mind everything that was said before he went to the mall. She seemed fine when he left. It puzzled him that she changed so quickly. He looked toward her and asked, "Do you want me to take you to the emergency room?"
"No," she murmured softly, pretending that she was nearly asleep. Long after Mac's breathing announced he was sleeping, Sharon wept silently, the tears dampening her pillow. The temptation to drive to some remote area of the mountains and swallow a whole bottle of pills played in her mind. Her reasons for living were stripped away like the life-giving water on a desert. She pretended to sleep when Mac awakened in the morning. She heard him call Mrs. Kendall and tell her that she was sick and wouldn't be coming in to work.
She waited until she heard his car drive away before getting up. With mechanical movements she packed a suitcase. Her instincts told her she must go away. She reached into a drawer for her lingerie when she notices Doctor Knight's card sitting on top of the bureau. She took it in her hand, stared at it a moment, and with obvious bitterness rasped, "There's nothing you can do about this situation." She tossed it on the floor. Visions popped into her head. She pictured bouncing balls that transformed into colorful balloons floating against a deep blue sky. One-by-one, the balloons popped, releasing streamers of silver and gold. For some unexplained reason, she felt just a little bettera little controlled. After staring at the card she'd tossed on the floor, she stooped and picked it up. She walked into the living room to call her newfound friend, Doctor J.P. Knight.