"We could get coffee sometime. We can go dutch."
"I ain't turning down a coffee date," was his reply. "But a gentleman never lets a lady pay."
She absent-mindedly taps her fingers on the top of the table, making drumming sounds on the surface. For the countless time that day, her coincidental meetings with a tall, not-so-dark and handsome stranger runs through her mind.
She was drained of energy before it was even one o'clock, thanks to a difficult first-time mother who obstinately refused to listen to her, and not one, but two, colicky babies under her care. Dropping by the visitors' waiting room to get a strong cup of coffee in order to survive the rest of the day, she bumped into a blond man leaning on the side of the vending machine.
The second she lifted her eyes to his, there was a certainty within her that led her to believe they had met before. For one long and, not to mention, incredibly embarrassing moment, she stood glued to the spot, staring at the seemingly amused stranger with rugged good looks and hair too long for her liking. He spoke before she did, sticking out his hand and very charmingly, introduced himself as James Ford.
James Ford. Is the name familiar or what?
She shook his hand, smiling shyly when he insisted on paying for her beverage. Later in the day, she ran into him again in the cafeteria. Now thinking about it, she must have been quite flustered by their second chance meeting.
"It's you," she blurts upon recognizing the person next to her.
He holds a Styrofoam cup in one hand and a packet of cheese crackers in the other. At her unusual response, he chuckles. "I've been hangin' around here for a while. I figure they ain't gonna take much longer before I get to go home though."
As she stands there, hands in the pockets of her coat, she feels a growing urge to ask if they have met before. When she does, he shrugs. No, he doesn't recall any time they've been together.
Seeing no further reason to pursue the matter, she attempts to brush away the odd feeling.
"You have a bit of time?" He tilts his head towards the nearest available table, his intentions clear.
She tries to glance discreetly at the huge clock mounted on the wall at the other side of the cafeteria. She hasn't time to sit and chat. In another few minutes she will have to make her rounds.
"It's okay if you have to go," he says. "I know duty calls. No obligations."
She takes two steps away, then, pauses and turns back. "We could get coffee sometime." Remembering their earlier encounter where he bought her a drink, and not wanting him to get the wrong impression, she adds with a smile. "We can go dutch."
He laughs. "I ain't turnin' down a coffee date, blondie, but a gentleman never lets a lady pay."
She asked on an impulse if he wanted to go out sometime, and much to her surprise and deep relief, he did not turn her down.
She exhales noisily as she leans back, resting her head on the top of her blue cushioned office chair. Forehead crinkled in a frown, she wonders why she's voluntarily spending so much time mulling over a perfect stranger. And whatever possessed her to ask him out for coffee? She is never one to act on impulses, and cute guys most definitely do not make her swoon.
Until now, it seems.
Despite the strong sense of déjà vu, she still can't recall ever having met him before. She has racked her brains the entire afternoon with no results to show for it.
Coffee. Right. I'm probably never going to see him again after today.
Her eyes flickers to the view outside her window, where the sky is turning dark and the beginnings of a storm appears to be in process. Straightening with a start, she focuses her gaze on the clock at the bottom right-hand corner of her computer screen.
Damn. She's late.
Rachel is expecting her to be home soon to help prepare invitation cards for Julian's birthday party.
"Way to go, Juliet," she mumbles irritably to herself as she clicks the red button for shutting off the computer. "You've barely met the man and you're already letting him ruin your life."
Hurriedly shrugging off her white coat, she hangs it up on the metal rack by the table. Then she slings her leather handbag over her shoulder, flipping the switch for the florescent light, plunging the room into near darkness. There are a couple of things she needs to settle before leaving the hospital.
Turning the corner in the corridor, she heads for the door on the left with long strides. The name on the metal plating stuck on the front reads, 'Dr Jack Shephard'. She raps on the smooth grey door twice and twisting the slender handle, she pokes her head in. "Jack," she calls to the dark-haired man sitting at the desk, reviewing some papers. "Could you help me tell Sandra I've gone off? Tell her I'm sorry I can't stay. Got my nephew's party to attend to." She flashes a smile. "He's turning two."
"Thanks." She begins to shut the door when a fleeting thought enters her mind. "Uh, Jack?"
"Yeah?" He looks up again, eyebrows raised.
"I just passed Claire a few hours ago. She'll be here for Aaron tomorrow," she says hesitantly, knowing a bit about their background. "I thought you'd like to know. In case you want to meet them for a while before they leave or something."
He nods, saying nothing, and returns to his work as though he has never been disturbed.
She leaves him with his stack of papers and proceeds to the car park. Thunder rumbles faintly in the distance and as she waits for the elevator, she notices the marks of rain on the glass windows. The weather forecast in the newspapers hasn't predicted rain today. Reaching the basement, with quick, hasty steps, she approaches her car when her cell phone rings. As she digs into her bag for both the phone and her car keys, she nearly trips. Over nothing, apparently.
"Damn it." She curses, the words slipping out unintentionally. Why doesn't she pay more attention to little things like walking? She hits the answer button on the phone, hoping it to be anyone but her sister.
No such luck. Rachel is on the line and she doesn't sound happy. This isn't a good day for her.
She pulls open the car door and slides in, setting her bag in the passenger seat. "I'm on my way. I'm sorry. I lost track of time," she says and listens to a slightly annoyed voice on the other end. "I'll be home in twenty minutes or so. I promise." She waits for her sister to hang up and then starts the engine, praying there won't be a traffic jam because of the rain.
It must be a prayer unanswered, because minutes later, she finds herself sitting behind the wheel with water streaming down her windscreen, seething as the blares of horns fill the air.
Isn't it just the most wonderful day.
She screeches to a stop in the driveway, nearly trips again getting out of the car, and tries to dodge through the pouring rain into the house. As the front door slams shut behind her, she hears her older sister yelling from the bedroom.
"Juliet, I'm about to be driven nuts with a mini tornado in the house!"
A little boy with tousled blond hair races out from one of the rooms and crashes into her, wrapping himself around her leg. She feels his quivering body as he presses his face into her jeans, giggling as only a young child can. She reaches down, trying to hide a smile, and heaves him up in her arms.
"You've been a bad boy today?" She says in mock sternness, looking into blue eyes, a mirror image of hers. The difference is that his eyes sparkle with boyish mischief and endless energy. Hers never do.
Julian shakes his head wildly. Peering up at her, he inquires in the most adorable manner, "Did you buy anything for me?"
"Not today, sweetheart," she answers, planting a quick kiss on his forehead before letting him down. "Come on. Let's go see if Mommy needs our help."
"Thank God you're here," is what greets her when she walks into her sister's bedroom. Rachel is seated on the floor with more than a dozen cards surrounding her.
"Goodness, Rachel. How many people are you planning to invite?" She asks in astonishment. Julian, who has been bouncing impatiently beside her, pulls his hand from her grasp and runs to the corner where a toy car, fire engine and dark green truck in the midst of an accident scene await him.
Her sister, in baggy shorts and an oversized T-shirt, ignores her question. "Where have you been, Jules? You're half-an-hour late."
"Sorry." She lowers herself to the ground, careful not to mess up any of the invitations. "I totally spaced out in the office and there was a massive jam on the highway. Bad weather."
"Spacing out, huh," Rachel remarks distractedly as she searches in the container for a colored pen. "What happened? Met a hot guy on your shift?"
"Hm. Something like that."
Rachel stops nosily pawing through the pens and turns a disbelieving gaze towards her.
"Something wrong, Rach?"
"No," she replies unconvincingly then pauses. "Well, maybe yes. After that useless jerk of an ex-husband, you haven't gone out on a single date. You haven't even shown the slightest interest in men and now all of a sudden you—"
"I've been busy," she interjects during her sibling's rambling.
"Excuses. You know they are and you cannot blame me for being skeptical, can you, Juliet?" Her sister finally comes to a stop and draws in a breath.
For a moment, they hear only Julian's 'vroom, vroom' as he plays with his toy vehicles.
"So," her sister starts again. "What's his name?"
"James." She feels her heart give a little jump. "James Ford."
"Thames…" Julian echoes as he rams his truck repeatedly into the wall.
She shoots a partially exasperated look at her sister. "We playing twenty questions, Rach?"
"Hey, it's my duty to protect you, being the older one in this house," she jokes. "So give."
"I don't know," she admits. "It doesn't really matter anyway. I'm probably never going to see him again." As she reaches for a card, she wonders why her heart seems to sink at the very thought of not getting another chance to meet the attractive stranger, the man whom she feels she knows from somewhere in her past.
It is definite. Fate has no intention of them meeting again. He must have disappeared into thin air or moved to another state or something. She has not seen him for the past week. It has come to her that she booked him for a coffee date the other day without even giving him a way to contact her.
For someone regarded as a near genius, she sure does incredibly silly things.
Her footsteps pound on the gravel track in an even rhythm. The sky is getting lighter now. It was dark when she started out half an hour ago. Seeing the end of the route, she pushes away the tiredness, ignores her complaining muscles, and pours on the speed. She just needs to endure the pain for a minute or so. When she stumbles to a stop at last, her legs give way and she drops to the ground, gasping for air.
Perhaps she will aim for a shorter distance the next time.
She presses her small beige towel to her dripping head, willing her heart to stop racing. The world is spinning like an out-of-control carousel. She closes her eyes, forcing herself to take slow, deep breaths. When her heart rate has somewhat returned to normal, she cautiously pushes herself up off the ground, thankful when the surroundings stay in their rightful positions. With careful steps, she descends the sloped pavement that will lead to her car, running the schedule for the day through her mind.
She will head home for a bath and get breakfast ready before Rachel leaves for her trip to the hospital. Her sister refuses to allow her to tag along, asking that she bring Julian out to the mall instead. Personally, she isn't particularly happy about the decision, but it isn't her call. Taking her nephew out is the least she can do. She will make sure they return home before Rachel does.
Her sister needs her.
The cutest, most adorable boy presses his nose to the glass, peering at the tiny, wriggling fur-covered bodies in the enclosure. "Hammies," he says in a hushed voice with wonder. His eyes, bright blue like round marbles, meet hers. "Liet, look! Hammies!"
"Yes, honey. Hammies." She tugs him away before the idea of pestering her for a furry creature gets into his head. Everyone knows, of course, when a two-year-old wants something, you'll be hard-pressed to say no without the risk of facing the temper tantrum of the century. She doesn't want a screaming toddler testing her patience, lest of all when they're in the shopping mall where she knows they will attract disapproving eyes.
They take the escalator up to the second floor, where the department store is situated. Julian squeezes her hand then.
"I need go pee-pee," he informs her solemnly.
That means she has officially five minutes, or less, before Julian wets his pants. When did they start his potty training? About a month or so, she guessed. Not good. Scanning the entire level, she searches for the universal restroom symbol that would indicate the way to the toilets and spots it at the far end.
Well aware of the urgency of the situation, she holds on tight to her nephew's hand and weaves their way through the crowd. As they pass the movie rental store, she makes a sharp right at the corner.
And slams right into a walking rock wall.
Her hands fly to her face, where all of a sudden her nose feels like it has been smashed against a brick.
"Son of a bitch. Sorry 'bout that. You okay?"
What's that? She can't hear properly over the pain of her throbbing nose.
"Well, I'll be damned! If it ain't Doctor Blondie," the voice says again, this time with a tinge of surprise.
She startles at the accent that seems more pronounced now. Hands still covering her nose, she lifts her head gingerly.
James Ford, looking every bit just as cool and collected, not to mention gorgeous, as he did the other day. Only this time he sports a bruise on the side of his jaw. She doesn't know which emotion she feels the strongest. Astonishment, delight from seeing him again, or just…pain.
"Hi," she manages to choke out.
Julian squirms beside her. She reaches down for his hand and grasps it firmly in hers. "Yeah, just…" She shakes her head, a suitable choice of word evading her. "Never mind. I should've looked where I was walking."
"Me too." He flashes a smile and she swears the temperature of the mall climbs up a few degrees. Then he glances at Julian and asks casually, "Your kid?"
"Oh. No, he's my nephew. I have the day off so I thought I'd bring him out. You know, give my sister a break." She pauses. "You, uh…shopping?"
Eloquent, Juliet. He's going to be so impressed.
"Not exactly," he replies. "Just here to grab lunch with some friends."
Oh. They were about to get lunch too, weren't they? She looks at Julian, who is positively turning red in the face, reminding her that time is running out.
"Which reminds me," he says in a rather flirtatious way. That's what she thinks, of course. "Coffee date's long overdue. Real smart move. Askin' me out for coffee and not leavin' your number. I'll remember that whenever I wanna make a quick and polite getaway."
She feels the heat creep up to her face. "It was unintentional."
"I went back thinkin' I'd ask them in there where to find you. But you didn't give me your name either. My description 'blond and beautiful' didn't quite work at the front desk."
She can't help breaking into a laugh. "Juliet," she tells him. "You can call me Juliet."
"Lieeet," Julian whimpers, knees bending, legs crossing and uncrossing.
"Looks like Bud here needs the loo." He drawls with a chuckle. "Not a good time. How about I call you so we can do that coffee date, Doctor Blondie?"
"Liet?" A high-pitched voice ends in a squeak.
She shifts her attention to her nephew, who stares up at her in guiltily remorse. A rapidly growing stain darkens his pants and at the bottom edge, something drips onto the glossy shine of the floor.
Bad. This is bad.
"Need some help?"
She's tempted to say yes just so he can hang around a little while longer, but knowing she's capable of cleaning up the mess alone, she declines and thanks him with a smile for the offer. As she hurriedly ushers her nephew into the ladies, she is struck by a feeling that she has forgotten to do something, but at that moment, she is unable to pinpoint what it is that bothers her. It isn't until she's picking out a pair of kid-styled jeans in the Giordano store that she remembers.
She has forgotten to give him her contact number. Again.
"You make people think you're tough and all, Ford, and you act cool, but in reality, you're just an old softie and this just proves it." An Asian man who appears to be in his late twenties quickens his steps to catch up to the blond man striding ahead of him. "Tell me. Are you seriously serious about this woman? I mean, you've only met her for like, what, twice? Are you listening to me, Ford? Do you realize what you're going to do?"
"I should think I do," he finally replies as he stops in front of a brightly decorated shop. Squinting from the intense glare of the sun, he places his hands on his hips and gazes up at the signboard. La Fleur Florist, it says. "I think this is it. This is the place."
"And I think this is way out of your league. You have no idea what you're getting yourself into, man."
"So that's why we're gonna find out. Come on, partner. We ain't got no time to waste."
Miles shakes his head. "You will regret this, cowboy."
Ignoring the negativity and certain that he faces an easy task, he pushes the glass door of the shop open and steps in. A draught of cool air greets him as he enters a foreign world.
Flowers of unimaginable color, type and scent surround him. For an instant, he is taken aback by the unexpected wide variety that is provided. When was the last time he bought flowers? He doesn't remember. In fact, he doesn't think he has even gotten flowers for anyone before. A plump saleswoman, with hair streaked with grey and donned in a checkered apron, straightens and looks at them. She raises her eyebrows and he is reminded of why he's here.
Miles nudges him.
"I'd like to get…flowers," he states rather awkwardly.
Beside him, Miles whispers, "You can't get any more specific than that, Ford."
"Hey, shut up, will you?" He shoots back under his breath.
"For a lady?" the woman asks. She has a slight French accent, he notices. As he nods, she probes further with a knowing smile. "Girlfriend?"
"Not exactly," he admits, shifting his feet in discomfort.
"But he's hoping."
"Ah," she exclaims and starts waddling down the narrow aisle, rattling information off the top of her head. "We have many kinds of flowers for men in your situation, but I suggest a hand bouquet if you want to give it to your lady. What kind of flowers does she like? Whatever it is, I'm sure we have it. We've got roses in assorted colors, sunflowers, geraniums, lilies, daisies, tulips. We've even got a discount on the Spring Sweetness Bouquet, if you're short on cash…"
Geraniums? Daisies? Spring Sweetness Bouquet?
His head swimming, he throws Miles a helpless look.
"I hate to say this, bro, but I told you so," was his companion's only response, coated thick with false pity.
Baby's fishing for a dream, fishing near and far.
His line a silver moonbeam is, his bait a silver star.
Sail, baby, sail out upon that sea;
Only don't forget to sail back again to me.
She softens her voice as the patient's breathing evens out. The grasp on her hand relaxes and as she watches the 4-year-old drift off to sleep, she smiles.
"You must be good with kids," a petite, dark-haired woman begins quietly from her position by the wall, where she has been doing a silent observation. "Thank you. I know you must be busy and you have so many things to do, but…she loves your company. Very few people are capable of luring her to sleep. Thank you."
"It's okay," she says modestly. "She's an angel and really no trouble at all."
"Will she be all right?"
"A day or two and she'll be ready for discharge. It's just a case of very mild food poisoning. She'll be home before you know it."
Pain flashes across the mother's face. "Sometimes I think she'd rather stay here than at home." But she gives the doctor no chance to ask what she means by the odd comment, because she turns away and takes the seat that is just vacated by her daughter's bed.
Well. Now that is one abrupt end to a conversation.
She steps away from the ward, aware that there are other duties to be done. As she grabs a clipboard from the front counter, she notices a hand bouquet of lilies and gerberas wrapped in soft pink crepe paper. It's breath-taking, she thinks, and feels a pang of envy at the woman who will receive it. "Pretty flowers," she comments.
"Oh." The nurse, distracted momentarily from her reflection, looks up from her compact mirror. "I think they're yours."
She pauses in her writing as the words, 'they're yours', register in her head. "Pardon?"
She has got to be kidding. Nobody sends her flowers.
"I think they're yours," the redhead repeats in a slow deliberate tone, as though she is speaking to a minion. "There's a name on the front of the card. And I didn't see the contents, if that's what you're wondering."
Meanwhile, the flowers lie on the counter, waiting for her. She approaches it with hesitate steps. A tiny square card sits snug in the midst of the arrangement. Still reluctant to believe that the pretty gift is meant for her, she asks, "Have you any idea who placed this here?"
The woman shrugs with a baffled expression. "It was here when I came back."
She breathes a soundless 'oh'.
"You know, perhaps you should actually open the card to find out."
Her fingers curl around the bouquet. The paper makes a rustling sound as she lifts it up. She looks around, but sees no character lurking about that qualifies as a suspect.
This isn't some kind of joke her colleagues are playing on her, is it?
With her heart tripping over itself, she parts the card and reads the handwritten words silently.
Hey, Doctor Blondie. You forgot something real important the other day. Left me wondering if you really wasn't interested. But if you are, I'd like to know. I'll be waiting by the entrance of the cafeteria when you're done with the doctoring.
She flushes at the name signed off at the bottom of the card. How does he know which department she works at? But she is in no mood to figure out a logical explanation. Her eyes fall on the beautiful flowers in her arm and she thinks she is melting.
Guess she'll be knocking off early today.
The attraction is there. That she can't deny even if she wants to, which she doesn't, just to make things clear. Even now she feels a strange strong pull towards him.
It's amazing what a single smile can do to her. She tries to still her pounding heart and thinks how ridiculous her emotions are making her feel.
He calls her Doctor Blondie only once and she corrects him almost playfully. She doesn't know why she insists, really. It's not that she doesn't like her nickname or that it bugs her incessantly. But he takes it good-naturedly and attempts to adhere to calling her Juliet.
During the short ride in her car to one of the nearby restaurants, she finds out that he works as a cop, which takes her a little by surprise at first because that is much rather the last occupation she expects him to have. Also, he's pretty much alone in the city because he just moved here a few months ago. That's as far as their conversation goes before they reach their destination. And now, they sit at the table meant for two beside one of the large window panels that overlook the streets and its traffic.
She starts to put her arms on the table but remembers just in time that it is rude to do so. She places her hands back on her lap and wonders if they have finally run out of topics to discuss.
Music plays in the background. She has a feeling she knows the song that's on but the title lies just beyond her grasp. She turns her gaze to him and returns his smile, one that holds a touch of nervousness. This is getting really awkward, she thinks. If it gets really bad, maybe she'll excuse herself to make a trip to the restroom.
But their food arrives then and she looks up at the waitress gratefully. He ordered pasta. She ordered a baked fish with rice. Both entries come with soup. Cream of mushroom. She takes a spoonful.
Hm. Tastes just like Campbell. I wonder…
"The pasta's good," he begins after watching her pause. It relieves the bit of uncomfortable tension that hangs in the air and she breaks into a chuckle.
"It does look good, but now anything that isn't macaroni and cheese or kids' meals looks good to me." Then she adds, as if in defense, "We do try to have balanced meals at home. Just that microwaving or having take-out is a lot faster and convenient."
"Hey, I'm guilty of doin' it the easy way too. Don't be so hard on yourself."
"That's how doctors should be, James." She says in jest but honestly, she doesn't quite know. It isn't so bad if she only has herself to care for. A sister who is stricken with cancer and a toddler who needs proper nutrients make things a little more complicated. That's what she tells him anyway.
He studies her before remarking, "Life ain't a bed of roses for you. With all that's goin' on."
Her spoon stills in the porcelain bowl. She slowly puts it down. "No, we do fine, especially with Julian around. He's a joy to have. He does all the crazy antics that he doesn't even realize is so silly and it brings smiles to our faces when life just gets tough, you know?" Her lips curl at the corners. "Not an easy mission to accomplish when we're both beyond dead tired. My sister and I need the laughs in our lives." She bites her lip then, wondering what prompted all that to come out and why she feels so at ease revealing such personal thoughts. She barely knows the other party. Picking up her spoon again, she scoops up a clump of rice.
But the next time she looks at him, he is smiling, and it makes her feel a little better somehow. Most guys will be heading out the door by now but apparently, he isn't one of those guys.
He finishes his pasta before she does her rice and orders a slice of apple pie. Again another surprise, but it is all very interesting. To see her assumptions based on first impressions proven wrong. He offers to get her dessert but she declines. Rice is very filling, she says.
"The first time we met," he asks. "You said I look familiar. I'm curious. Do I resemble an ex-boyfriend?"
What a strange question. She throws him a bemused look. "Should you?"
"Maybe I remind you of one of your many exes. A pretty doctor like you should be attractin' many suitors. But if not, well," he shrugs and a grin splits his face. "That's good news for me."
A self-conscious laugh escapes. "Trust me. I'm hardly a man-magnet, but I have been married before. Not a pleasant memory, to be honest. And you bear no resemblance to him."
Thank God for that.
"If it's of any comfort, you also remind me of someone," he says earnestly. "And I don't remember who. And no, you don't look like an ex-girlfriend of mine either," he adds in humor.
When they're done, he picks up the bill, insisting that he pay for the meal. It is not often a man offers to pay for dinner – at least not in her case – and she thanks him. He asks if he can walk her to her car and of course, she lets him. Isn't that a sweet gesture?
"You liked the food?"
"It was nice," she tells him. It isn't a lie, is it?
Well, okay. Maybe it is a small white lie.
She asks him the same question in return and he says, "Not too bad, but I think the soup came outta a can. Reminds me of what I used to drink when I was a kid. Campbell."
She doesn't know whether she ought to laugh or demand to know if he's a mind reader of some sorts. Maybe he's telepathic. Or maybe it's just another mere coincidence.
Damn. If this keeps up, her 'mere coincidence' reasoning is no longer going to work. There are already too many to count.
"That bruise," she says instead, focusing on the shiner on his jaw. "Is that from work?"
He touches it in surprise, as if he has forgotten it is there. "Yeah. Some chap got a little too violent. I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's fine. I get them often."
"Used to it, I suppose."
"Yeah, well…small price to pay for having the job I always wanted. 'sides, you get to rid this place of crime. Best of both worlds, I say."
As they draw nearer, she sees her car parked between a black Mercedes Benz and a lime green VW with a Disney character hanging from the rear view mirror. Those must have come after she did, she concludes, because she remembers parking between two empty lots when they arrived.
"I'll give you a ride back to the hospital," she offers when they have stopped by her vehicle.
"Thanks, but I can make it from here. You should head home. It's gettin' late."
She glances inside the car where the bouquet lay in the compartment between the seats. She looks back at him, brushing her hair behind one ear. "Thanks for dinner…and the flowers. They're lovely."
"I'm glad you like them." He stuffs his hands in his pockets with a boyish smile. "I'll call you, Juliet, now that I finally have your number." He winks, then, steps back and waits for her to drive off.
She reaches home a little before ten. Her sister sits on the couch watching a talk show but the attention is immediately diverted onto her when she walks through the door with flowers in her arms. Rachel demands to know who sent her those and the story tumbles out with little prompting. At the end, she doesn't know who feels more pleased with the date. Herself or her sister.
Rachel pats her on the arm and says confidently, "I'm sure he'll call."
Yeah, well. Maybe.
But she falls asleep that night with a smile on her face and dreams of a blond cop and an island.