Dislocated

by TeeJay

--...----...----...--

Summary:
Adam receives a phone call that will prompt him to visit Arcadia again, and meeting Joan there doesn't turn out quite like he expected. Second tie in to my future stories Old Wounds and Time's A Great Healer. ONE SHOT.

Author's Note:
I was really waiting for someone to post a JoA Christmas story, but I think I'm waiting in vain. That's why GermanJoan and I started to write one. And I had been hoping to finish and post it before Christmas, but since GermanJoan has come down with a nasty cold and I have moved to a new apartment yesterday and have things to do that are (sadly) more important than fan fiction (you don't wanna know how many boxes I still have to unpack!), we're not quite going to make it before x-mas. But we'll post it when it's done, promise! So, instead I'm going to give you the next little (this one's not so "little", actually) interlude story in my future Joaniverse trilogy-to-be:

This is the second tie-in to my stories "Old Wounds" and "Time's A Great Healer", both future fics that play nine years after Joan and Adam graduated high school. I am planning to write a sequel to those two stories, it'll probably become a trilogy at some point. And this is the second of the interludes that will set up part three.

Why did I write these interludes and didn't integrate them into the stories themselves? First of all, two are Adam's POV, one is Joan's POV (the latter will follow later). Also, I see them as separate stories in themselves, playing at different times of year. They should really be posted on their own. And what happens in them relates to what is to follow in part three of the trilogy, so pay close attention. ;o)

A short note on the timeline. "Old Wounds" plays in January. "Time's A Great Healer" plays in March. The first interlude "Lightning And Thunder" plays in June. This is August. The year is 2014, eight years after Joan, Adam and Grace's high school graduation.

Disclaimer:
These characters and settings are not mine. Nor am I claiming they are. They are property of CBS, Barbara Hall Productions, Sony or whoever else they might belong to. I'm not making any money out of this, although I wish I was.

--...----...----...--

"1984?" I ask as I stand in front of the bookshelf in my father's living room. My eyes roam the book spines, most of them worn with bends in them.

Kate approaches to stand next to me, studying the book titles with me to look for that old George Orwell novel in among the hundreds of books. "Can you make out the ones at the top?" she asks me. My gaze moves upwards to the top shelf.

"No," I say. "I'll get a chair, hang on."

I walk into the kitchen and get one of the wooden chairs. I place it in front of the bookshelf and stand on it to check the books at the top.

"Gotta go look after the potatoes, they should be done in a minute or two. You got this covered?" she asks me.

"Yeah, sure," I reassure her and she walks back into the kitchen from where I can already detect the pleasant scent of a cooked meal wafting in.

What on earth could suddenly prompt my father to want to read that old science fiction thriller? I remember that we had to read it in English class. Maybe sometimes you tend to regard books they forced on your in class as something that no one would read voluntarily. I mull the thought over. Maybe you'd start seeing all those books in a different light if you read them again now.

As my eyes keep scanning the rows of books, I remember the phone call I received three days ago.

"Adam Rove?" the unfamiliar voice asked as Adam answered his phone with a simple "Hello?"

"Yes, speaking," Adam said.

"This is Nurse Hancock from Arcadia General. I'm calling about your father."

Adam almost dropped the phone. Had something happened to his father? Please, God, no!

The female voice continued speaking, "He was admitted today with back pains, we think it might be a slipped disc. He requested that we call you."

Adam sank down on one of the chairs in the kitchen of his Chicago apartment. "Is he okay? I mean, apart from the slipped disc?"

"Yes," the nurse said reassuringly. "He's been given pain medication and he's currently getting an MRI. We'll be able to say more after that."

"Right." Adam breathed out a sigh of relief. "When can I talk to him?"

"I will give you the extension to the phone at his bed, maybe you can try calling him in about an hour."

Adam quickly got up and walked to his desk in the living room. He hurriedly jotted down the number the nurse dictated to him on a notepad. "Okay, I'll call in an hour," Adam finished the call. "Thank you."

He hit the 'disconnect' button on his cordless phone and sat down on his desk chair. Just at that moment, Kate came into the living room from the bedroom. "Okay, I've got the light bulb fixed." She triumphantly held up the broken one.

Then she realized Adam's dazed look. She walked over to him. "What's wrong? You look like you've seen a ghost."

Adam looked up at her. "My dad's in the hospital," he said without elaborating.

"What?" she asked, as if she had to make sure she had heard right.

"They think it's a slipped disc," he explained when he saw the shocked expression on Kate's face. "It didn't sound like an emergency. But I have to go there to see him."

"Of course," Kate said, understanding perfectly. "You want me to come with you?" she offered readily. "I'll ask Missie to take care of the gallery and I'm sure they can do without me for a few days at the café."

Almost having reached the far end of the row of books, I finally find the one my dad asked me to bring him to the hospital. "Got it," I exclaim loud enough for Kate to hear it.

I edge my hand over because I can't quite reach it from where I stand. I grab the edge of the shelf to steady myself with my right hand and reach for the book to my left with the other. My fingers graze the spine as my right hand suddenly slips from its grip on the side of the shelf and before I know it, my body spirals down towards the ground along with the chair I'm standing on.

My shoulder collides with the carpeted floor with a thud, and I hear something inside it pop. At the same time, a mind-blowing, blinding pain erupts in my shoulder and I can't help but scream out in agony.

Kate comes rushing in from the kitchen and kneels down next to me, but my vision is blinded by stars dancing in front of my eyes, the pain lessening just a tiny bit as the seconds pass by. I still lie on my side, not able to move, and Kate gingerly touches my other shoulder. I scream out in pain again, because every movement fucking hurts.

"Adam," I hear Kate's voice filtering through the rushing in my ears. "Adam, what is it?" Her voice is panicky.

"It's my shoulder," I manage to say through clenched teeth.

"Can you get up?" she asks.

I try to stir, but the red-hot, searing pain that erupts in my shoulder every time I try to make a movement prevents me from anything even remotely resembling getting up from the floor.

"I don't think so," I tell her.

"Okay," Kate says, sounding a little less panicky, but still agitated. "I'll call 911. Just stay put."

"Yeah, like I have a choice," I manage to force out a sarcastic reply.

An agonizing 15 minutes later, I hear sirens wail outside and hear commotion in the hallway. I feel slightly embarrassed and twice as wimpy as two paramedics first examine me and then place me on a stretcher. I try to bite my tongue and not scream out in pain again as they do, but don't quite succeed. Hovering close-by, I see Kate flinching with every moan I emit and I try to squeeze my eyes shut to try and separate myself from the pain.

Finally, one of the paramedics injects something into my vein and the pain blissfully lessens a notch. The paramedic with blond hair explains more to Kate than to me, "Looks like a dislocated shoulder, but we'll have to see what they say at the hospital. Might be that something's broken."

"Okay," Kate nods and follows us into the ambulance, getting in back as they load the stretcher inside. I try not to notice the curious neighbors having stepped outside to see what all the hubbub is about. It briefly occurs to me that it must be a kind of déjà vu for some of them.

The ride to the hospital is too long, too painful. I feel Kate's worried eyes on me, asking, "How're you feeling?"

I want to yell at her, "How do you think I'm feeling, it hurts like hell!" But I bite down on the harsh words and put on as brave a face as I can muster. "I'm doing okay. Whatever they injected me with, it helped."

Kate's face relaxes somewhat and I'm glad about it. I sense that she would want to touch me to comfort me but she's afraid to, for fear it would hurt even more. Thank Heavens for small blessings.

Finally arriving at the hospital, they unload me and wheel me into the emergency room where I'm left lying in the hallway. Kate hovers nearby, and I'm glad that she is. I don't want to be alone right now, and having my best friend here by my side offers more comfort to me than I can put into words.

"Hey," I finally say, trying to sound positive. Kate appears by my side and I tell her, "I'm glad you were there."

"Adam," she almost sobs and gingerly touches my forehead ever so slightly. "They'll take care of you. You'll feel better in no time."

"Yeah," I sigh, my forehead scrunching together in pain as I make a small movement. "It'll better be sooner than later. I'm not sure how much longer I can take this."

Just at that moment, a doctor dressed in light blue scrubs approaches my stretcher and starts wheeling me off into an examining room. "Let's get you looked at."

--...----...----...--

"I see you can move again," Kate greets me as she enters the examining room where I'm sitting on the edge of the bed.

I look up, replying, "Yeah, kind of." I'm still holding my left arm with my right, because there's still that dull ache in my shoulder, but the blinding pain has gone, now that they popped my joint back into its socket.

"So, they fixed the shoulder?" Kate asks and I explain to her that they reset the joint.

A pained shadow briefly crosses her face. "Yeah, I though they might have, I heard you screaming."

My eyebrows scrunch slightly as I remember but try not to. "If someone ever mentions excruciating pain, I now know what they're talking about. Not an experience I'd like to repeat. After that they took some x-rays to make sure that nothing's broken," I explain. I slide down the bed and wince slightly.

A small smile suddenly plays at Kate's lips as she says, "Nice gear, by the way," taking in the dotted hospital gown I'm wearing.

"Oh, that," I smile back, slightly embarrassed now. "They had to cut up my t-shirt."

"I know," she says with a sly look on her face. "They told me it might be a while before you're done and they gave me your shirt, so in the meantime I went to your dad's place and got you some backup."

She produces a short-sleeved button down she must have gotten from my suitcase at home and holds it up like it's a piece of clothing she wants to sell to me. "That suit you, Mr. Rove?" she laughs as she waves it around.

I can't help but laugh as well. "Looks perfect. Just tell me one thing. How am I supposed to get into it?"

"Okay, let me see. We should be able to manage that somehow." She comes walking over to me, opening the buttons of the shirt. Together, we manage to wriggle myself out of the hospital gown. Then, as if she wants to dress a toddler, she holds out the shirt for me to put my arms through the sleeves, and with some difficulties, I am finally dressed again in a proper shirt. I try not to look too embarrassed as Kate fastens the buttons of the shirt and I salute her quick wit for not getting a shirt that I would have had to slip over the head. Good thing it's August and the mild temperatures outside don't require people to wear more than a t-shirt.

"So, are you good to go?" Kate asks.

"They told me to wait outside for some kind of sling they were gonna get me," I tell her. "I think there's also some paperwork to complete. Then we should get a cab."

"Oh, no need for that. I came back in your dad's car."

I look at her, eternally grateful and praise her quick thinking once again. "Kate, you are a true marvel," I tell her.

"Yeah, I know," she says with a smile on her lips. "Now quit your groveling and get a move on. I'm not planning on staying here any longer than I need to."

"Yes, ma'am," I say in mock salute.

Outside, I sit down in the drab waiting area while Kate wanders off to the nurse's desk to take care of the paperwork for me, even though I told her I could do it myself. Bowing my head, I give in to wallowing in self-pity for a minute. It is then that I hear an all too familiar voice from opposite me, a voice I had not expected to hear in this place. "Adam? What are you doing here?"

I look up and meet Joan's gaze as she approaches me. She studies me suspiciously for a moment. "Did something happen?"

"You could say that," I tell her and have to suppress the urge to shrug. "I had a kind of... accident. I, uh, dislocated my shoulder."

"Oh," Joan says, her voice laden with pity. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay. I'll live."

"That must have hurt." She sits down next to me.

I raise my eyebrows. "You don't wanna know. Not something I can reco—"

I am interrupted by Kate coming back with her head buried in the papers she's holding, saying, "Okay, Adam, there's some—"

She stops, recognizing the person sitting next to me. "Oh, hi Joan," she greets her. "Didn't expect to meet you here."

Joan looks up at her. "Ditto," she retorts, getting up.

I look at Joan, and is it my imagination or am I reading something I can identify as suspicion in her expression? I quickly push the thought away. I'm probably imagining things. "So, what are you two doing in Arcadia?" Joan asks neutrally.

"Oh, uhm... my dad's in the hospital because of a slipped disc. He was admitted yesterday and I flew in right away."

Joan's face falls and her voice is lower, softer than normal. "I'm sorry to hear that. Is he gonna be okay?"

"I hope so," I say. "They're not sure if he needs surgery. He's been having back problems for years."

Joan nods. "Yeah, I remember. I hope he's gonna be fine."

I carefully nod when I see a blond guy, in his mid-twenties by my best estimation, dressed in darker blue scrubs and a white doctor's coat approaching. My eyes widen when he walks straight over to Joan, places his hands just above her hips, plants a kiss on her mouth and says, "Hey, Sweetie."

A smile spreads over Joan's lips as she returns the affectionate greeting and the kiss. "Hey, Baby."

I need to gather all my resolve to not look like a dumbstruck idiot. Joan turns back to me and Kate, who is still standing next to me. A huge grin has spread over Joan's face. She puts her arm around this guy's waist as she cheerfully says, "This is Brad. Brad—Adam," Joan points at me, then at Kate, "And Kate, Adam's friend."

I force a smile onto my face and I hope it doesn't look as fake as it feels. Kate acts quick on her feet, as usual, and shakes Brad's hand. "Nice to meet you."

Brad also offers me his hand, but I just stay put and shake my head, saying, "Sorry, I, uh, dislocated my shoulder."

"Oh," he replies sympathetically. "Man, that sucks."

I want to scream at him, 'What the hell do you care, you don't even know me!' but I hold my tongue. So I just nod and say, "Yeah, it kinda does."

There is an awkward pause before Joan pipes in a little too cheerfully, "We were, uhm, just on our way out to dinner. Wanna join us?"

"I'm not really done here yet," I reply, happy for the excuse that's not even a lie. If there one thing I'm not keen on doing, it's spending the evening with Joan and her boyfriend.

"Okay," Joan says, not sounding too disappointed. I don't think she was very keen either on having me and Kate join their little date night. "So, shall we go then?" she asks Brad.

"Yeah, sure," he replies. "Just let me change into proper clothes first, I'll be back in five." Brad vanishes again, the back of his white coat waving behind him like a cape. I can't help but despise him, even though he hasn't even done or said anything that I could take as a reason to not like him. But first impressions are first impressions, sometimes justified, sometimes not.

I look up at Joan with a questioning look. Making my voice not sound too bitter, I say, "So, Brad, huh?"

Joan looks self-conscious. "Yeah, uh... we started dating about a month ago. He's really sweet."

Oh, gee, thanks for the punch in the stomach, Jane. Unperturbed by my discomfort, she goes on, "He works as an intern here. Heart surgery."

Wow, heart surgeon! I think sarcastically. Sounds like the stuff heroes are made of. I bet he saves at least ten lives every day. I realize I'm not being fair, but how can I not be jealous when he's touching her, kissing her, doing things with her I don't even want to imagine. Things I imagined myself doing with her—with Jane. I realize she is looking at me expectantly, wanting for me to approve. "Nice," I say dryly.

"Nice?" she repeats, incredulous now. Then gives me a look and states matter-of-factly, "You're jealous."

Damn right I am. But of course I can't admit that to her. "What? No," I quickly try to negate—maybe a bit too quickly. "Why should I be jealous? It's just... Look, I'm kinda tired. I'm happy for you. I really am." I try to make my voice sound honest.

Then I look her in the eyes and say sincerely, "You deserve someone who makes you happy." Someone who doesn't do what I did to you. That's what I really mean. I don't know if she caught that, but if she did, she shows no indication.

Instead, she gives me that look that seems to comfort you by only just meeting her eyes. "Look, I'm really sorry about your dad. I hope he's gonna get well soon. And you too. How did it happen anyway?"

Now it's my turn to look embarrassed. "Oh, uh... It was kinda dumb, really. I tried to get a book from the top shelf at home and fell off the chair." I can't help but smile slightly now. "It sounds really stupid when I say it like that."

"Well, most accidents happen at home, isn't that what they say?" Kate chimes in.

"Great," I mutter. "I've become a part of the statistics."

"Okay, I'm ready," I hear Brad's slimy voice even before I see him. He's now dressed in a pair of blue jeans and a kind of shiny and tight-fitting t-shirt that underlines the muscularity of his chest and biceps. And all I can think is: 'Poser!'

"Well, we should go," Joan says to Brad. Giving Kate and me a little wave, her voice almost has a sing-song quality to it. "Bye, guys. Maybe I'll see you around if you're staying for a while."

"Sure," I mumble. Mentally I add, 'If you can take the time away from your boyfriend.'

Kate adds a for my taste much too cheerful, "It was nice meeting you two." I want to kick her in the shins for that.

I close my eyes when I watch Joan take Brad's hand as they walk off and lean my head against the wall behind me, sucking in a deep breath through my nose.

Kate sits down next to me. I open my eyes again and look at Kate. If my eyes could shoot laser beams, there would be burn marks in her face now. "Did you have to be so friendly?" I ask her, accuse her.

Kate gives me a look of complete pity. She knows what I'm thinking—and why. "He seems like a nice guy," she just says.

"Are you kidding? He was a total show-off. Did you see those muscles?" I ask her, my voice raised.

"Aw, come on, Adam, you're being an ass. Give him a break."

"Do I have to?" I look at Kate and she lifts her eyebrows.

"You could at least give him a chance."

I sigh. "Okay. I'll try. No guarantees, though."

"Now, that's the spirit," Kate tells me before we go through the paperwork she couldn't fill out together.

--...----...----...--

"Ughrr," I exhale in frustration as the knife slides off the plate I was carrying to the kitchen table with one hand and clatters down onto the floor with a loud noise. "This really sucks!" I spit out angrily. With my left arm in the sling, completely immobilized, it seems that I've become nothing more than a walking klutz.

Kate bends down to pick up the knife and puts it in the sink. "Mind your language," she scolds me mockingly. Then her features soften and she looks at me with both sympathy and a sagacity that reminds me of a mother's. "Adam, you have to be patient. It'll heal, give it time."

I sigh again, the frustration not quite having dissipated. "Yeah, thanks," I reply, my voice laden with sarcasm. "That really helps."

Kate looks at me pityingly. "Sit down and let me help."

"Kate, I'm not a baby," I spit at her while sitting down at the kitchen table all the same.

By any accounts, she should have been huffy after a sharp, undeserved comment like that, but she's not. Instead she sits down opposite me, puts her elbows on the tabletop and places her chin in her hands. Her gaze pierces me and I can't help but look into her intense green eyes.

"This isn't about the shoulder, this is about Joan," she boldly says.

I sigh. She has the uncanny ability to see right through me sometimes. But maybe this isn't so hard to see through after all. "Yeah, I guess it is," I finally admit.

"Well, what did you expect?" Kate challenges me. "You live a couple of hundred miles away. There was no indication you'd come back to Arcadia any time soon. Did you expect her to wait forever?"

I hate it when she's being a wiseass. A wiseass who is right. A wiseass who brings me back down onto solid ground—much too solid in this case. The truth is, I was. Well, maybe not expecting, but hoping all the same.

"No," I say, but it doesn't sound convincing.

"Come on, stop kidding yourself," Kate says to me.

"Okay," I finally say. "Maybe I was. God, what kind of a fool does that make me?"

Kate is silent for a few seconds. Then she states more that asks, "The in love kind?"

"So what am I gonna do?" I am at a complete loss.

"What is there you can do? Love can't be forced or switched off. Live with it or wait to see if Joan comes to her senses. I mean, who'd want to be with a brainless beef-cake when there's a perfectly loveable and sensitive artist to have?" she teases.

"Yeah, except he's not brainless. He's, like, Mr. I-Save-Lives Heart Surgeon. How could I ever compete?"

"Hey," she says, urging me to look at her again. "You have other qualities."

"What, like my ability to cheat on those I love and then hit them in the face?" Boy, it's despise-yourself pity time again, isn't it?

"Oh, come on, Adam, you're being unfair to yourself." Kate's voice is now firm and serious. "That's in the past, you know that. You're not that person anymore."

"Yeah, I guess," I say unconvincingly, looking down onto the tabletop. "But I can't even get a book off a bookshelf without doing damage to myself."

The urgency in Kate's voice surprises me when she demands, "Adam, look at me," and I do.

"Quit pitying yourself. Do you think I would have flown to Arcadia with you if you were the person you're painting the picture of right now? Do you think you would have made it that far in your job and in your life if you were such a loser?"

"No, probably not," I admit meekly.

"See?" she seconds. "Someone's going to come along and appreciate all of that. And if it's not Joan, it's gonna be someone else. Self-pity isn't all that attractive. Look up and face what's to come instead of dwelling on the past. A little more optimism here. You think you could give that a try?"

I manage a small smile. "You should have become a psychiatrist. You're really good with the pep talk, do you know that?"

"Gee, and you're telling me that now?" she jokes. "Five years of arts studies down the drain."

I can't help but laugh at that and suddenly the world doesn't look so drab anymore. There might be some merit to Kate's words, things are gonna go my way eventually.

--...----...----...--

"Rollerblading wheel makers Polk Inc., Grace Polk speaking," the familiar voice greets me at the other end of the phone line, sounding overly friendly in a fake kind of way.

I frown, confused for a moment. "Uhm... Grace?" I ask.

"Rove," Grace says, sounding slightly embarrassed. "Sorry, I thought you were Tom."

"Rollerblading wheel makers?" I inquire, amused.

"Oh, just an in-joke, forget I said it. So, what's up?"

"I just wanted to know if you wanna meet up some time, Kate and I are in Arcadia right now."

"You're here? With Kate? How come you didn't tell me in advance?" she asks, but not sounding especially cross, merely curious.

"Well, Dad's in the hospital, so I flew in and Kate offered to come with me. Slipped disc, nothing too serious," I explain before she can ask.

"Oh," she replies. "That sucks." I have to smile, because it's a completely Grace-like response. She goes on, "Yeah, sure I wanna meet. How long will you be staying?"

"I'm not sure, but if all goes according to plan, we'll fly back on Saturday."

"Bummer," Grace says, a little disappointed. "This week's totally crammed. But, listen, you have time right now? I could squeeze you in in, say, half an hour."

"Yeah, in half an hour's time would work, I guess." I look at Kate, who nods to me in confirmation. "Mi casa o tu casa?" I inquire in probably accent-laden Spanish to ask whether to meet at my or her place. Then I add before she can reply, "Well, actually my place would be more convenient, I'm kinda physically challenged at the moment."

"What, did you break a leg or something?"

"No, dislocated my shoulder," I say.

"Ouch," Grace replies but doesn't inquire any further. "Okay, so I'll drop by your place in 30?"

"Sounds good. What about Tom?" Of course Grace's fiancé is also invited.

"I think he has badminton practice with the kids, but I'll ask him," Grace explains. Tom is an avid badminton player and has taken to training the local youth team, seeing them through the occasional local tournament.

"Okay," I acknowledge. "See ya then."

"Yeah, bye," Grace signs off.

--...----...----...--

"Hey, Grace. Tom," I greet Grace and her fiancé as they enter through the front door I just opened for them. Grace gives me a quick once-over, her eyes lingering on my left arm in the gray sling and says, "I better pass on giving you a hug today, right?"

I nod, smiling a little sheepishly. "Yeah, you better."

Tom holds out his hand, though, and I shake it. "Hi Adam," he offers his greeting.

"Come on in," invite them.

But Tom comments, "Actually, I gotta leave straight away, badminton training with the kids. The youth championship is next weekend."

The moment I am about to reply, Kate peeks her head in and greets Grace casually. "Hey, Grace, long time, no see."

I cut in, introducing Tom, "Kate, this is Tom, Grace's boyfriend. Well, fiancé, actually." To Tom I say, "Kate, a friend of mine."

They shake hands and when we're done with the pleasantries and Tom has left again, we go over into the living room to sit down. Kate keeps standing next to one of the armchair, kneading her hands in front of her expectantly. "So, tea, coffee, soda, water? What'll it be?" she asks the two of us in true waitress fashion.

I want to tell her she doesn't have to play our hostess, but truthfully, I'm glad that she does. "Coffee," I simply say.

Grace nods. "Coffee will be fine," she chimes in.

"Two coffees coming right up," Kate says happily.

"Wow, room service," Grace admires. "Some useful friends you have."

"Yeah, she comes in quite handy sometimes," I joke.

Grace first smiles, then her face turns more serious. "So, how's your dad?"

"Oh, he's doing okay. They're confident that he can be discharged next week. He might need surgery eventually, though. Guess we'll have to wait and see."

"So, what happened to you, then?" she inquires.

"Well, actually it's kind of embarrassing."

I tell her how I fell from the chair and she can't help but smile slightly and apologizes. "Sorry, Rove, but you gotta admit, it has an amusing edge to it."

"I guess it does, when you're not the one lying on the floor with a dislocated shoulder," I admit.

Kate comes into the living room with two mugs of coffee and places them on the couch table, adding sugar and milk after another quick trip into the kitchen. "Here you go," she says to us.

"You're not having any?" I ask her.

"Ah, no. Your refrigerator's kinda empty, so I thought I'd quickly nip to the store and do some serious grocery shopping," she explains, seemingly content.

Grace looks indifferent while I frown. Why do I have the feeling Kate feels uncomfortable around Grace? "You don't have to go," I tell Kate. "We can go shopping together later."

"Nah, it's fine," she says. "Besides, the two of you could probably use some alone time, right?"

Grace's eyes don't give away her opinion when I look at her questioningly. "Oh, come on, Adam," Kate adds, "You hate shopping. I don't. Sounds like a perfect arrangement to me." She places her hands on her hips defiantly. "Or do you wanna fist-fight?"

I laugh, "No, I think I'd be at a slight disadvantage here."

"See?" Kate says slyly. "Gotcha!"

I make a shoo gesture with my good arm. "Leave already, woman. Go get us food, if that'll make you happy."

"It will," she laughs as she turns to leave.

I can only shake my head at my quirky friend while Grace raises her eyebrows with an amused expression on her face. I turn my attention back to my coffee and lift the mug to have it like I usually do—black and bitter. Grace pours two spoons of sugar into hers, stirs it and then takes a careful sip. We're both silent for a minute, sipping our hot beverages.

Quite out of the blue, I ask Grace, "Did you know Joan has a boyfriend?"

Grace looks at me from over the rim of her mug. "Brad Something-Or-Other. Buff guy, works as a doctor at Arcadia General. That's as far as my knowledge expands."

"And you didn't feel the need to tell me?"

"Rove," she says in that almost scolding tone. "You know I give people their privacy. If Joan felt you should know, she would have told you."

"Yeah, I guess," I say, disheartened. "You met him?"

Grace gives me another poignant look. "Once."

"And?"

"And what? We barely said hello. Can't say he struck me as the guy I'd want to spend my leisure time with, but he's not my boyfriend, is he? If Joan's happy with him, then that's what counts."

"So, you think she's happy with him?" I keep digging.

"Jeez, Rove, I don't know. But if that stupid grin she carries around whenever she talks about him is any indication, I'd say, yes, she's happy with him." When she sees my disappointed, long face, she asks me, "Why, you jealous or something?"

I sigh and admit, "I guess I would be lying if I said I wasn't." I look down at my lap because I know that Grace isn't exactly the authority on talks about romance-related issues. Grace is more of the do-it than the talk-about-it type. But sometimes what I need is her completely grounding down-to-earth approach.

"Then, sorry to break it to you, but you're a little too late," Grace tells me, dead-panning in that completely Grace-like way.

"Yeah, I know," I sigh again. "You know, I've been mulling over this idea for a while now, to move back to Arcadia. With Dad being sick, maybe needing surgery... it's a little hard to take care of things over the distance. It should be possible to find a job here somewhere."

I look at Grace, no sure what kind of reply or reaction to expect from her. She's so difficult to read sometimes. She looks at me, not saying anything. I urge her to. "Well, what do you say?"

"What do you want me to say?" she counters. "I'll be the last person to stop you, but that's your decision."

Great, just what I didn't need. I had been hoping for her to tell me it was either a really stupid or a really great idea. I guess the disappointment and uncertainty must have shown on my face because she says, "Look, if you decide to make that move, I promise you have my full support. If you want me to start scouring the papers for job adverts, just say the word."

I shrug slightly. "I'm not really sure yet," I tell her. "I haven't even talked it over with Dad yet. I mean, am I gonna move back in with him here? Am I gonna get my own apartment? There's so many things to consider. But thanks. I'll let you know if there's anything you can do."

A small smile plays at Grace's lips now as she says, "Well, for one, it would save me the hundred or so bucks to fly out to Chicago to visit. That'd definitely be an advantage."

"Yeah, for you," I smile back.

I briefly consider whether I should scold her for not coming to visit more often, but Grace beats me to finding a new topic of conversation, asking, "So, how come you brought Kate? Is there anything I should be aware of?"

"What?" I ask, at first not sure what she's getting at. Then I get the hint and say with a laugh (because Kate and me as a couple is just something I can't quite picture), "No, it's not like that. I mean, she's probably my best friend, but we're not... you know. She was with me when I received the call about Dad, and she offered to accompany me. Not such a bad idea in retrospect," I say, looking down at my arm in its sling.

"Okay. Just wanted to make sure." Grace takes another sip at her coffee, then sets the mug down and leans back on the couch, crossing her hands behind her head, looking relaxed. "So, any other groundbreaking news from your side?"

"Hm, let me see. Dad's in the hospital, I dislocated my shoulder, Joan's got a boyfriend, I might move back here. No, I think we pretty much covered everything. You?"

"As much as I hate to admit it, my life is pretty much governed by the completely stereotypical working day routine, so, let's see. Laundry, chores, a bit of a social life. Can't think of anything exciting happening lately. Except maybe, well, Tom and I have been thinking about getting married next spring," she tells me a little embarrassed, as if this is something she needs to be ashamed of.

My face lights up because I'm truly happy for her. Not that it completely surprises me. "That's great," I tell her honestly.

"Oh, I'm not so sure," she says mockingly. "Do you have any idea how much a freaking wedding costs? The things you have to arrange and think of, it never ends."

I smile at her as I say, "At least there's one thing you don't have to worry about: the wedding invitations. There's this media designer in your circle of friends who might offer to take care of that for you, right?"

"Yeah, he lives kinda far away, but I think there's a good chance I might take him up on the offer, should he decide to make it."

"Then consider it made," I tell her.

"Consider it accepted," she replies, and that's that. "Say, whatever happened to that woman you saved from the explosion in the spring?" Grace suddenly asks. "Joan was pretty distressed over that for a while. Did you ever hear from her again?"

"Linda?" I ask, suddenly reminded of something that had completely slipped my mind. "Oh God, over everything that happened, I totally forgot. Yes, she called me the day before I came here. I had been meaning to tell Joan, but then Dad was admitted to the hospital, and, well, you know the rest.

"She said for a while they weren't sure if she was gonna be paralyzed or not, but in the end it was only temporary swelling from a fractured vertebra that caused the paralysis. She told me she's doing fine now. She lost the note with our phone numbers, but she found it again, that's why she didn't call earlier."

Grace looks even happier now, saying, "That's good news. There's something to be said for happy endings after all. And, hey, look at you. You're a life-saving superhero, now it's official."

"Yeah," I look down at my arm again, "Some superhero."

"Aw, come on, Rove, give yourself some credit. Or should I say you're a clumsy, unlucky, life-saving superhero?"

I have to laugh slightly. "Yeah, that sounds more like it."

We spend the next half hour with comfortable banter about old friends, catching up on all the friends and family that we both know, reminiscing about times past and present. Kate comes back from the shopping trip eventually, and cheerfully vanishes into the kitchen to get everything sorted out. Both Grace and I follow her, Grace starting to help Kate unpack groceries and other supplies as if it's the most natural thing in the world.

When I attempt to help, both Kate and Grace shoo me away. Kate gives me that punitive look of hers and says, "Adam, get out of the way and sit down. We've got this covered. I hate to say this, but you're no use right now."

I stick my tongue out at her and say, "Thanks, you really know how to make a guy feel needed."

She involuntarily has to laugh at that. "But, admit it, I'm right, aren't I?"

I sigh mockingly. "All right, I admit it."

"See?" she says to Grace with a twinkle in her eyes. "I managed to train him so well. What about Tom, is he as obedient as this?"

Grace laughs too now. "I wish," she tells Kate. "Took me months to teach him even to take his shoes off in the hallway after coming home. But I'm getting there. He should just wait until we get married, then it's gonna be carrot and stick for him."

I feel slightly uncomfortable, simply sitting there, watching and listening. This is gonna be woman talk, I feel like an intruder. I get up, saying, "Okay, you clearly don't need me for this. Mind if I sort some papers out upstairs? I think there were some medical bills and stuff I should take care of."

Both Grace and Kate tell me to go, so that's what I do. I'm glad I have such good friends I can count on. Nothing is worth more than having someone like that in your life.

While I walk upstairs, I think about the implications of possibly move back to Arcadia. It would mean both losing and gaining the close proximity to a good friend. I let a breath out through my nose. I can't imagine my life without either of them, and wish I could have both. But then my dad's words are still in my ears, words he told me before I moved to Chicago. You can't always have everything. Just consider your options and then base your decision on what you think is best under the circumstances.

I wish I knew. I had thought moving back here would bring me back, closer to Joan, both in the geographical and the metaphorical sense. But now that Joan was otherwise "occupied", I wasn't so sure anymore if this would be such a good move—no pun intended. I would talk this over with Dad first, see what he says, I decide.

Opening the door to my old room, I sit down at the desk and start going through the stack of bills and other bureaucratic correspondence that I have piled up there. Awkwardly trying to open envelopes with one hand, I put the one I'm holding down hesitantly and remember a promise I still have to deliver on. I get the cell phone out of my jeans pocket and dial Joan's number. Even if she's not exactly my favorite person to call right now, she at least deserves to hear about Linda.

As my stomach clenches in unpleasant anticipation with every dial tone ringing in my ear, I can't decide whether I would prefer Joan in person or the voice mail at the other end. I'm still trying to mentally collect myself for whomever would greet me at the other end when I hear a click and then a familiar voice greeting me, "Hello?"

"Um, it's me, Adam..."

--...----...----...--

THE END.