Chapter 32: Follow the Wind
Author's Notes: I've said all along that I do intend to finish this, though as you can tell, it may take awhile. I have an unusually significant life event (good one) coming up, so it's taking all of my attentions right now (will be able to say more soon). But in the meantime, a new comment and some new alerts/favorites for this very old story have given me the incentive I needed to get this next chapter out at least. Hope you enjoy it. Definitely more to come. Thanks for reading! -LL
After he finally stopped trying to write his obituary without mentioning Reid, Luke found that his assignment progressed quickly and he finished mid-afternoon. But even still, he was reluctant to subject himself to a repeat of Bradley's inquisition and stayed in his room, hoping to survive on hot cocoa and marshmallows long enough to catch a late dinner after his classmates would likely have finished.
As he sat on his bed reviewing Grimaldi and Foundation emails, a soft knock sounded at the door.
"Who is it?" Luke called.
"Me," returned a familiar voice.
"Hang on a sec," Luke replied, and set his laptop to the side. He opened the door to find Tessa shivering in the dimming evening light, her breath lit by the amber streetlights. Luke was barely aware that he took a quick look around to confirm that she was alone, though his subtle motion did not go unnoticed.
"Oreo for your thoughts?" she asked, pulling a convenience-store sized pack of the sandwich cookies out of her bag, and waggling it invitingly.
Luke smiled and, convinced that she was indeed alone, tilted his head to invite her in.
"It's not like you to miss lunch and dinner," she said. "If I didn't know better, I'd accuse you of avoiding us." Tessa made her way into the room and dropped her bag by the door. Luke nodded towards his cocoa mug and Tessa smiled her silent assent. She settled herself down facing the back of the desk chair, watching Luke as he put on the kettle to make her favorite – hot cocoa with an extra packet of sugar, and five marshmallows.
"Oh, I guess I just caught up on emails and lost track of the time," he said unconvincingly.
"So, um," Tessa began. "What's the skinny? Scuttlebutt says you got a package from a fancy schmancy Boston jeweler..."
"So you heard?" Luke asked.
"It would be faster to tell you who hasn't heard," Tessa replied. "Bradley's been telling everyone who'll listen."
"Oh great," Luke rolled his eyes.
"Don't worry," Tessa smiled reassuringly. "Everyone thinks he's full of it, so I bet no one will remember by tomorrow morning."
"I guess," Luke said. Luke had mixed up her cocoa and added a bit of milk to cool it down, and walked over to hand it to her before sitting down opposite her on the bed with his own cooling mug.
Tessa put her mug down on the desk, the desk light reflecting in her smiling eyes. "So….," she started, no longer able to contain herself, "was it something small and shiny?"
"So much for no one listening to Bradley," Luke joked.
It was Tessa's turn to roll her eyes, and she shrugged helplessly, "Well was it?"
"Well, more like something big and shiny," Luke replied, trying to sound cheerful.
"Isn't that better?" Tessa asked. She smiled mischievously and playfully leaned across to hold up his left hand. Surprised to find it unadorned, she managed an awkward, "Oh! Um…"
Luke pulled his left hand back and self-consciously stuffed it into his jeans pocket.
Tessa remained silent waiting for him to make the next move . She watched as Luke studiously finished the last of his marshmallows, running his index finger along the sugary inside rim and then licking off the remaining marshmallow guts.
"You know, it's funny, though," he said pensively.
"Well, when I finally got to talk to him this afternoon, he mentioned that Katie thought I might be disappointed…you know, because I'd get excited about something from a jeweler, and that it's not…you know..."
"…A ring?" Tessa asked.
"Well, were you?" Tessa prompted.
"No. Please. Lie to me, Luke," Tessa joked. "No, seriously. You don't answer that unless you want to."
"I guess, a little," Luke replied, shrugging.
"Wasn't it just last week that you were telling me that if things didn't work out, they just weren't meant to be?" Tessa challenged.
Luke shrugged again, searching his empty mug intently for more marshmallows to distract himself with, though none could be found.
"You know, Luke Snyder," she continued, "You're getting awfully close to crossing the border between contemplating happily ever after with your hunky doc and really counting on it," Tessa cautioned. "You didn't happen to let Reid in on this little change of heart, did you?"
"What?" Luke asked. "Hell no! Of course not."
"So…? What's so strange?"
"Well, I almost got the feeling he was disappointed I wasn't disappointed," Luke said.
"You know, that actually made sense," Tessa replied.
"It's all these writing classes – I have a way with words," Luke smiled.
"And of course, you didn't ask him about that, either, did you?"
Luke shook his head helplessly and gave her a look that clearly said, "Are you nuts?"
"So now what?" Tessa asked.
"I dunno. I guess I wait," Luke replied.
"Okay," she nodded back.
When Luke showed no signs of volunteering more information, Tessa warily queried, "So, can I ask? What was in the box?"
Luke looked at her uncertainly for beat, not sure if he wanted to share either his gift or the story behind it with anyone else.
Tessa tried to put on her best puppy-dog eyes, but seeing his hesitation, she withdrew her request. "Never mind!" she said. "It's okay. You know, if it's like, a platinum chain mail g-string or something, I don't really need that much information…"
Although Tessa was far off-base, Luke turned bright crimson in spite of himself, searched for a suitable projectile, and settled on a pillow, which he lobbed at her head.
"Hey, watch the cocoa!" she shouted.
"That would be a justifiable cocoa spilling," Luke retorted.
"Aw, c'mon, give a girl a hint, will ya?" Tessa chided. "Was it something writer-ly? You know, like a nice fountain pen or something?"
"No," Luke laughed. "Although that's a nice idea! It was much more…" Luke struggled to find an appropriate adjective before settling on "eccentric…. than that. I guess I can tell you it was kind of an anniversary gift," he finally conceded.
"That sounds promising," Tessa beamed back, "Whatever it was."
"I guess so," Luke said. "I guess I'm just surprised he remembered."
"He's not the type to remember birthdays and anniversaries. He even told me himself once," Luke added.
"But I thought you guys only hooked up a bunch of months ago. Is it like a six month anniversary or something," Tessa asked.
"No, it's a year," said Luke.
"A year? Since what?" asked Tessa.
"Since we met," Luke replied.
"Oh, wow!" Tessa squeaked. "He remembered the day you met? How romantic is that! I thought you said the guy didn't have a romantic bone in his body!"
"Well," Luke admitted, "Maybe I exaggerated."
"So what did you get him?" Tessa asked.
"Way to make me feel like a jerk, why don't you?"
"Wait, Mr-I-Forget-Birthdays-and-Anniversaries got you something and you didn't get him anything?" she teased. "Are you sure you're the romantic one?"
"I know. No one's more surprised than me," said Luke.
"Sounds like somebody thought that January 19th, 2010 was pretty special," Tessa teased.
"Nah," said Luke modestly. "Reid just happened to notice the date, got an idea and bought it. It was an impulse buy," Luke rationalized.
"Yeah, right," Tessa groaned. "I'm sure that your super-high-powered workaholic neurosurgeon boyfriend routinely gets so distracted while surfing the 'net that this happens all the time. In fact, this is probably the second or third time this week, right? You know, free lollipop from the dry cleaner's, Soap Opera Digest in the supermarket checkout aisle, and something big and shiny from an internet jeweler — make that an upscale Boston jeweler."
"Well, when you put it that way…" Luke admitted. "I guess it does sound a little out of character."
"A little?" Tessa asked incredulously. "You really don't get it, do you, Luke?"
"That you've got that doctor of yours wrapped around your little finger."
"Yeah, right," Luke said. "No one wraps Reid Oliver around their finger – little or otherwise."
"Luke, my dear boy," Tessa counseled, "Your doc is in WAY deeper than you think. And maybe he doesn't even know it yet," she said, channeling Katie, "But I betcha anything that he's thought more about rings than you give him credit for."
"Reid?" asked Luke incredulously. "No way. He'd drop dead before considering marriage."
"So you think he'd imagine his obituary as reading, 'Dr. Reid Oliver, world-renowned neurosurgeon, died alone in his sleep, and was found in his home a week later by his cleaning lady, partially decomposed…."
"Well, no, I can't imagine he'd want that, but that's not the same as — " Luke protested.
"— living happily ever after with Luciano Eduardo Snyder?"
Tessa sensed the time was right to move onto lighter topics. "Speaking of obituaries," she said, sensing her opening. "How's tonight's assignment going? I don't even have to ask what yours says." Tessa rolled her eyes.
"Guilty as charged," Luke smiled back. "Guess I'm getting predictable in my old age, eh?"
"Wanna share?" she asked.
Luke smiled, getting up from the bed to wake up his laptop. "I'll show you mine if you show me yours…"
After hanging up with Luke, Reid had raced to his staff meeting. Despite his best efforts, he got stuck behind a glacially slow elderly couple on the elevator – who mistakenly pushed the buttons for three wrong floors – and ended up arriving five minutes late. Unable to find an obscure seat in the back, Reid found himself under Chris's proximate scrutiny for the duration of the marathon session.
A new case had just been referred to him a few days back, and the more he learned about it the more he wanted to get back to his research. He felt like he'd only had a chance to touch on the surface of the situation. His assistant had handed him the patient's latest test results as he left for the staff meeting, and the patient's former records were expected by fax any moment. After Chris reprimanded him for trying to sneak a peek inside the folder of results, it took all of Reid's self-discipline to sit through the meeting when all he wanted to do was to lock himself into his office to continue reviewing his new patient's records.
"Ahem, Dr. Oliver!" Chris barked, spying Reid checking his watch for the eighth time in the last 15 minutes. "Do you have someplace more important you need to be?"
"Well yeah," Reid retorted. "I have brains to fix."
A few of the younger doctors snickered silently while some of the more seasoned counterparts nodded empathetically.
"We all have patient responsibilities," Chris admonished, "But the rest of us are grown-up enough to accept the fact that, as the leadership team of Memorial Hospital, we have additional responsibilities."
Six pairs of eyes warily shifted from the Chief of Staff to the Chief of Surgical Administration and then back.
"You have my attention, Doog — " Reid corrected himself mid-sentence. "DOC-tor Hughes. If these last two agenda items are critical enough to jeopardize the life of a patient, then let's cover them and get the hell out of here before we all get sued for malpractice."
Reid folded his arms and then gave Chris a death glare of his own.
"Okay, folks, then," Chris continued, "Now that Dr. Oliver has managed to find to squeeze the rest of us into his busy calendar, let's continue…."
"So, Iva Lucy?" Tessa asked.
"My two maternal grandmothers," Luke replied.
"Don't you just mean two grandmothers?" Tessa asked. "You do know that 'maternal grandmother' means your mom's mom, right."
"I know," Luke smiled ironically. "It's complicated."
"What part of your life isn't?" Tessa asked.
"Good question," Luke replied.
"I assume this is one piece you aren't sharing with the class?" she asked.
"It's a little personal, don't you think?"
"Yeah, well who would want to share these?" she asked rhetorically.
Both paused for a beat and then came to the same conclusion. "Bradley!"
"Bradley Parkinson died…" Tessa began.
"Millionaire Bradley Parkinson …" Luke did his best Bradley imitation.
"Congressman Bradley Parkinson…" Tessa tried to one-up him in both tone and content.
"Senator Bradley Parkinson passed away peacefully in his sleep last night…"
"…leaving behind his wife…"
Luke thought for awhile and added, "…Bertha…"
"…his wife the supermodel, Bertha…." Tessa giggled.
"…and his sixteen Pulitzer prizes," added Luke. "And though cause of death had not been confirmed, coroners felt it was likely connected to…"
"…the enormous stick buried in his ass!" Tessa concluded. Both she and Luke were now laughing uncontrollably and were soon gasping for air as they continued to add onto "Bradley's" obituary.
Mid-laugh, an insistent knock came at the door. Tessa glanced at Luke as if to ask, "Are you expecting anyone at this hour?" Luke shook his head in reply.
Luke managed to contain his laughter long enough to reply, "Yeah?"
"It's me," came another familiar voice.
Luke opened the door to find a confused Trevor standing in the doorway. Hearing Tessa's laughter and spying the rumpled bed where Luke had fallen over laughing – and still not quite convinced at what he most wanted to believe was true – he nervously asked, "Um, am I interrupting anything?"
"No, not at all," Luke gasped breathlessly. "C'mon in."
Trevor glanced at Tessa, who was leaning on the chair, holding her side. "So, what am I missing?"
"Not much," Luke replied. "Just imaging what Senator Bradley Parkinson would be including in his obituary."
"Don't you mean Lord Bradley Parkinson?" asked Trevor, catching on and sending Tessa into another fit of giggles. He tossed his jacket on the bed, started to sit down next to Luke, and then decided it was just a bit too cozy for them both on the bed, and moved himself over to the reading chair.
"Aw, c'mon," said Luke. "Why don't we just make it Grand Poobah Bradley?"
The three of them continued until finally Tessa shouted, "Okay! Uncle! My side is killing me! Truce!"
"No argument from me," Trevor agreed, having laughed himself into a stupor.
As the three of them tried to calm down and return their heart rates to normal, Luke looked at Tessa and Trevor, one on each side of the room, and tried to find a way to break the ice. "The Pacers are playing the Bulls tonight. You guys wanna stay and watch the game? I have some microwave popcorn I can throw in?"
Trevor and Tessa glanced uncertainly at each other..
"Um, sure," Tessa said.
"I guess so," Trevor added. "Why not?"
"One order of JiffyPop butter-flavored popcorn coming right up," Luke smiled and set to work.
Two hours later, after Trevor volunteered to walk Tessa back to her cottage, Luke sat down to check email before bed.
Among another series of expense approvals for Grimaldi, he found one from Ellen, updating him on the court case the Foundation's Legal Defense Fund was supporting; they were funding a suit by a woman whose company health insurance would did not cover treatments for her life partner's cervical cancer.
As Luke read the email, his feathers became increasingly ruffled – the ailing partner was currently undergoing a third round of intensive chemo treatments. Her cancer had been caught in a fairly early stage, but the couple had spent four years in the court system, trying to get coverage for localized treatments.
But by the time the Snyder Foundation had stepped in, the cancer had metastasized and become inoperable. Damn bureaucratic, hypocritical, prejudiced morons, Luke thought to himself as he settled himself down with another cup of cocoa. Soon, righteous indignation turned into avid curiosity and then concerted research on cancer treatments, specialty centers, and medical benefits for same-sex partners.
The next morning Alex gave advance notice of the final weekend assignment: each retreat participant was to write something out of character. So aspiring journalists could try poetry, the playwright could write a food column, etc. And unlike the previous one night, one shot assignments, he wanted to see an outline, a draft, and revisions.
Even as the assignment was being described, Tessa caught Luke's eye across the table, wondering what he would write about…and how he would manage to twist the assignment into once again writing about Reid, or his "complicated" family.
After packing her bookbag, she waited for him at the doorway and nudged him with an elbow as he walked past.
"So whatcha gonna write about?" she asked as they left the building and made their way from the retreat center. "A Shakespearean sonnet? A Victorian romance novel?"
"I dunno," Luke said noncommittally." I was thinking of taking Alex's advice."
Tessa looked at him as if he had grown two heads. "What're you thinking of?" she asked, suspiciously.
"I'm not sure yet," Luke tried to shrug it off.
"So, you gonna join us for lunch?" Trevor asked, catching up with them at the main crosswalk at the edge of campus.
Luke watched as the pedestrian light turned to green. He looked to the right in the direction of the student center, straight ahead towards their cottages, and then left then decided, "I think I need a change of scenery. I'm gonna go to the library."
Tessa and Trevor raised their eyebrows in surprise.
"Really?" Tessa asked.
"Yeah, really," Luke replied.
"You're not just trying to blow us off again, are you?" Trevor asked.
"Hey, I spent three hours with you two in my room watching the game go into double overtime last night. Believe me, if I were avoiding you, you two would have been tossed into the streets," Luke laughed.
The crossing light began flashing its pedestrian countdown and Luke turned to dashing across the street. "Catch ya' later!"
Tessa and Luke exchanged confused glances at each other, watched Luke quickly disappearing down the street, then realized the light was turning on them as well, and quickly joined the lunchtime rush headed in the direction of the the student center.
Reid had finished rounds and spent two hours reviewing his new case files before returning home to find that Luke was right.
Luke was right about the wet towel on his side of bed, the shirts lining the couch, the pile of laundry in the bedroom, and the complete lack of vegetables (aside from the bottle of ketchup and an emaciated beefsteak tomato) in the fridge.
But even worse, the telltale stack of pizza boxes, the trash can overflowing with paper plates and plastic utensils, the non-vegetable contents (which consisted solely of the last few bottles from two six-packs of beer) of said fridge, the yoga mat in the middle of the office floor, and the medical journals covering every available flat surface in the living room, kitchen, office, and bedroom were condemning testimony as to how sorely Luke's presence was missed.
To be fair, Reid had done pretty well the first week or so. At least he'd kept up with the pizza boxes and the laundry. But without Luke's not-so-subtle nudges, Reid soon reverted to his surgeon-24/7 routine, with the deterioration accelerating rapidly in the last day or so since he'd been introduced to his new patient.
As he walked in now, he dropped his keys on the front entry table, left his briefcase by the front door, and plopped an additional pizza box on the teetering stack already on the coffee table. Making his way to the kitchen for a beer, he surveyed the landscape and thought, Shit. Luke is gonna kill me.
He pulled his cell phone out of his pocked, selected the speed dial, grabbed a slice of pizza, and plopped on the couch to take a gulp of beer.
"What is it now?" came the familiar voice on the other end of the line. "It's nearly eleven o'clock, Reid. Somebody better be dying for real this time."
Reid, who could hear Jacob grunting in the background, looked down at his watch in surprise. "Oh, shit. Is it really? I didn't mean to call so late. I was working late at the hospital tonight and I just got home."
"Sorry, Reid," Katie replied. "Didn't mean to take your head off. I think Jacob really is coming down with something, so it's been a rough few nights. Tough case?"
"Yeah," Reid said, his voice cracking somewhat with exhaustion. "One of the most difficult I've seen in years. But that's not why I'm calling."
"Good," replied Katie, "Because as much as I'd love to give a second opinion on your patient, I'm all booked up tomorrow."
"I need your help again, Katie," Reid said, repeating his familiar refrain.
"Haven't we been through this already, Reid?" asked Katie. "You own a needle and thread, I have no interest in seeing Spider-Man 4, and I'm sure Luke still loves you."
"No, it's not that," Reid said, pausing for a moment to reflect guiltily on the fact that the shirt, and the bag of needles, buttons, and thread still sat on the arm of the chair where he'd left them after movie night with Katie. "I want to make dinner," he blurted out.
"Dinner?" asked Katie, confused. "It's 11 pm! Why don't you just pop in one of those awful TV dinners you like."
"Not for me," Reid replied, exasperated. "For Luke."
"For Luke? Tonight? Hasn't he eaten already?" asked Katie, stifling a yawn, then realizing that Luke should still be in Iowa, added, "Wait, is he back already? I thought he wasn't back until next Saturday."
"Okay, Reid, now I'm totally confused. What on earth are you talking about?" Katie asked.
"I want to make a real dinner for Luke. For when he gets back on Saturday?"
Reid swallowed before replying. "When he comes back. I want to make him dinner."
"You can't just get takeout from Al's?" Katie asked, groggily, still not quite understanding the ramifications of Reid's question.
"No, I don't want him to think that I've been eating takeout and sushi for the four weeks he was away," Reid answered.
"But you will have spent four weeks eating takeout and sushi, won't you?"
"Well, yeah," admitted Reid. "But that's besides the point. Luke usually does most of the cooking and I don't want him to feel like he has to cook for me his first night back, and…"
"And, I don't really want to go out because I don't really want to share him on his first night back."
"Luke's a good cook?"
"Yeah – a really good one, too! You had his soufflé – that's just a sampler. I'm a lucky man!" Reid briefly remembered many an evening spent with his arms wrapped around Luke's waist as he stood at the stove, while Luke turned, holding a wooden spoon over his shoulder for Reid to taste.
"Who woulda thought Lily Walsh's son would be a good cook?" Katie asked in wonderment.
"Forget Lily. It's Emma Snyder's grandson who's the good cook."
"Ahh, that makes more sense," Katie acknowledged.
"So are you gonna help me, or not?" Reid asked impatiently.
"You're serious, aren't you," Katie said, sitting up in bed. Jacob gave a cough then cooed contentedly as the shift in body position helped drain the fluid from his sinuses.
"Yeah, I think I am," Reid said.
"What do you have in mind?" she asked.
"Well," Reid replied tentatively, "I was thinking maybe lamb shanks, roasted veggies, citrus salad and…"
Katie, recognizing Chef Charlie's menu, concluded, "and bananas Foster?"
"Yeah," Reid replied. "Do you think he'd like it?"
"You, Reid Oliver, "said Katie accusatorially, "were paying attention at the taping!"
"Well, yeah, it's not like I really had a choice," mumbled Reid. "Didn't you say something about being able to download the recipes from the WOAK website?"
"Awww," Katie smiled. She mentally started making checklists in her head. "We'll make a good boyfriend out of you yet! Don't worry about a thing. I know exactly what you should do. Leave everything to me and I'll call you tomorrow morning. I have so much to do before then! Good night!"
And before Reid could get a word in edgewise, Katie had hung up.
Reid felt like he should feel comforted. He'd asked for Katie's help and she'd said to "leave everything to her." So, he thought to himself, Why does that scare the shit out of me?
The battery pack on his laptop was starting to wear low when the library lights flickered to signal the end of the day. Surprised, Luke looked down at his watch. 11:45 p.m. That would explain the rumbling in his stomach that the two granola bars in his bag failed to keep at bay.
He'd free-written nearly 10,000 words and written an introduction, so, though starting to feel sleepy, he was satisfied with his progress. He grabbed a microwave hamburger at the student center on the way home, ate as he walked, and fell asleep quickly as soon as he entered his cottage.
The next morning, Luke was running late, and barely had time to shrug at his classmates before taking his seat. Alex broke them into pairs and had them spread out around the reception area, and critique each other's work before calling them in individually for conferences.
Luke fidgeted uncertainly as he gave Melissa feedback on her well-intentioned, but ill-formed attempt at literary criticism.
When Alex called him back into the classroom, Luke looked uncertainly out the window at the ice falling over the damn into the river.
"So, Luke, this is….um, a different piece of work for you," he began.
"I know," Luke replied nervously.
"So, given a choice of any topic in the world to write about, this is what you'd choose?"
"I guess so."
"Okay," said Alex, without pressing. "It's a good start. What do you think?"
"Well, it's an interesting subject," Luke began.
"And?" Alex prompted.
"Well, it's almost like I couldn't help myself, it practically wrote itself," Luke continued.
"That's good," said Alex. "So, what next?"
Luke felt himself starting to open up and relax. "I'm just concerned that I won't do it justice."
"Why am I not surprised?" Alex smiled. "What do you think your classmates would say?"
Luke was expecting another question about his own feelings and was surprised by the question. "Gee," he said. "I'm not sure."
"Well, take a minute and think about it," Alex suggested. Alex sat back and made a good show of going through his notes, without a care in the world.
Luke heard Tessa's voice in his head: "Have you been paying any attention during the group discussions?"
He'd made a concerted effort to pay more attention since Tessa had kicked him under the table. Though his shin had stopped throbbing, the scar her boots left still occasionally itched as it healed, providing an intermittent reminder.
As he sat back and thought, fragments of discussions passed through his memories….
"Good start, but you didn't push it far enough…."
"Great visual description, but you're not giving me a sense of who you are. You're a great observer, but I don't get your point of view…."
"I feel like you're keeping me away at arm's length and you're not letting me in…"
Alex made an inconspicuous, but distinctly audible shuffling noise that interrupted Luke's reverie.
"I think they would say that it's well-structured and articulate," Luke started, "but they'd probably say it's…."
Alex nodded, barely perceptibly, waiting for Luke to continue.
Alex nodded again.
"And I should take it to the next level and really push myself beyond my comfort zone…."
"…So I guess that means I need to really have to get off the sideline and jump in…. Right?"
"Well," Alex finally said, thoughtfully. "Aside from the mixed metaphors, I think you're on the right track."
Luke shrugged sheepishly.
"So, Luke," Alex added.
Luke looked up anxiously.
"Have you gotten what you expected out of this retreat?" Alex asked.
"Well, I'm not sure what I expected," Luke replied.
"Something prompted you to come."
"Oh, yeah, well, um," Luke said with a bit of embarrassment. "It wasn't actually my idea. It was a gift."
"Nice gift," Alex said, and added after a pause, "But you obviously could have chosen to stay home. But you didn't. How come?"
For the second time in the last 15 minutes, Luke found himself surprised by the unexpected question. His original instinct was to helplessly reply, "Well, Reid gave it to me. How could I say, 'no'?"
But on reflection, he realized that as soon as it sank in – that Reid was offering him the opportunity to write for four weeks, and had actually made it possible for him to leave behind his recently acquired, but not necessarily sought-after responsibilities to do so – that he quickly figured out that he really wanted to go.
But even with a few moments' thought, Luke couldn't pinpoint why he wanted to come. He'd enjoyed the writing – and using gray matter that had been lying dormant for the last few years. And he'd adored the friendships and unencumbered camaraderie – but he couldn't have known in advance that that is what he would find in Iowa. And the previous evening, spent deep in the stacks of the university central library, surrounded by the smell of decades' old tomes brought back remembrances of late night term papers that he'd long ago banished to the realm of the distant past.
But thinking back to the week following Christmas, watching the fragrant needles slowly drop from their decorated tree, he couldn't remember what had prompted him to come.
"I'm not sure," Luke finally replied, honestly.
"But you came anyways," Alex said, with just a hint of a question in his voice.
"Yeah," Luke agreed. "I came."
Alex waited quietly for Luke to continue.
Luke struggled with his thoughts, increasingly aware of the persistent silence.
"I guess I came to find myself," Luke finally said – as much to himself as in reply to Alex's gently cocked eyebrow.
"And did you?" Alex asked.
"I'm still looking, I think," Luke replied cryptically, "But I'm starting to narrow down where to search."
"You know, Luke," Alex added, "You're not going to find a roadmap to where you're going. Sometimes you just have to follow the wind and see where it carries you."
Luke tipped his head quizzically, but Alex just nodded and added, "I'll look forward to seeing the completed piece on Monday. Don't spend all weekend on it. Any questions?"
Luke shook his head, still thinking about Alex's prior comments.
"Okay, then," Alex replied. And with that, he returned to his files, lifting his head only to say, "Can you send Melissa in on your way out?"
"Sure," Luke said still thinking about maps and the wind."
He wandered on autopilot back to where Melissa was thinking.
"You're up," he said tonelessly to her.
"Did he ask you all about your piece?"
"Kind of," Luke replied.
"He didn't review all of your work here, did he?" she asked nervously.
"No, not that," Luke said.
"Well, then what did you talk about?" she asked.
"Well," Luke started, "I'm not quite sure."
Melissa frowned in confusion, picked up her backpack and left Luke with his thoughts.
Friday morning, just after 7:30 a.m., Katie indeed called as promised. She knew she would catch Reid finishing his coffee and scanning the morning headlines.
In the course of 10 minutes, she barked out a series of orders including a shopping list and strict instructions to make sure to leave work in time to pick up the house on Friday evening, and closed by announcing she would be arriving on Saturday just after lunchtime.
"I thought you said to plan for dinner at seven," Reid protested.
"You'll need me there earlier," Katie advised. "Trust me."
"Why is it that every time you say that, I worry?" Reid scowled at the perky blonde on the other end of the phone line.
Katie, sure that Reid was frowning at her from his side of town, hung up, smiling knowingly.
After the morning session, Luke joined his friends for lunch at the student center. He tried to listen as much as he could as they related their own tales about what Alex had talked about during their various debriefings.
All were surprised to hear about the vast range of topics covered. Some had gotten advice on how to find agents, or what magazines to query. A few had talked about the best places to write or how to overcome writer's block. One had spent their fifteen minutes discussing the movie Field of Dreams.
In the back of his mind, Luke was eager to get back to his nook in the library. Even in his days at Oakdale U he had spent relatively little time in the libraries. With the warmth of Emma's kitchen (not to mention a nightly offering of cookies, brownies, and other nibbles), he'd found the stale, dusty confines of the stacks to be anything but comforting and inspiring.
Yet, somehow, this weekend, he felt like this was where he was supposed to be. After a somewhat distracted lunch, he quickly entered, grabbed a set of references, and then made himself comfortable in the back aisle. He imagined Reid had probably spent countless years buried in similar surroundings, especially without a loving family to welcome him home.
Reid worked double-time all day. His patient rounds were even more efficient and devoid of idle chit-chat than usual, and he spent the rest of the day reviewing new research and techniques.
Finally, at 6:30 p.m., his assistant warily poked his nose in.
"What is it?" Reid barked.
"Dr. Oliver," he replied. "You asked me to let you know when I was headed out. I've got to get home – it's my turn to make dinner and my housemates will kill me if I welsh on them again. I'm sorry - I know how important this case is. I've left two more stacks of the articles you requested on your credenza, and I'll get to the last ones tomorrow morning."
Reid grunted in a manner most people would have taken as rude, but his assistant recognized it for what it was – gratitude, and softly said, "You're welcome," as he closed the door and let himself out.
Just over an hour later, Reid's stomach refused to accept "later" as an acceptable answer any longer. He had finished reviewing the files on his desk and he turned grimly to the foot-deep stack on the credenza.
Sighing heavily, he picked up the stack and took himself to Toshi's for dinner.
As the light faded, Luke could hear the sound of the elevator doors opening and closing, signaling the arrivals of the undergrads who had completed their evening meals. He could hear the sounds of whispering, and occasionally the sound of hushed giggles emanating through the elevator shaft – it appeared that one particularly amorous couple happened to favor the back corner of the fifth floor chemistry stacks one level down.
Luke checked his messages and found none from Reid, but several from his classmates, urging him to join them for dinner. Recalling Alex's advice not to spend "all weekend" on his piece, he checked his watch and made his way to the student center to join them.
Reid awoke mid-morning on Saturday, and briefly panicked, thinking he was late for work. He had never been one to sleep in, and even after Luke had convinced him to take Saturday mornings off, he could hardly describe their diurnal bedroom activities as "sleep".
But without expectant patients, and without Luke's cheerful face to wake him, Reid woke up disoriented.
He had returned home late again, despite Katie's warnings. And after filling up on sushi and ice cream, Reid had returned home to find the same lifeless home that had greeted him nightly since Luke's departure.
He'd turned on CNN in the background, and slowly gone about making a dent in disguising his bachelor ways.
Along the way, he'd finished the last few beers – rationalizing that Katie would kill him if they were the lone residents of his fridge, so he thought an empty fridge would be better – and managed to clear out the pizza boxes, paper plates and takeout boxes cluttering the kitchen.
He'd also managed to consolidate all the medical journals in the office, though that meant his yoga mat was suitably buried two to three layers deep in places.
This morning, as he returned his mostly-dry towel from Luke's bed to the bathroom, he surveyed his surroundings. Aside from the shirts on the couch, and the stubbornly lingering smell of stale pizza and beer (not to mention the journal-covered office, which he had hidden behind a closed door), it didn't look too bad.
He stumbled into the kitchen and put on the hood to try to address the smell, and made himself a pot of coffee – extra strong – to prepare himself for the day. Katie would be there in just a few hours, to help him "practice" for Luke's homecoming.
The thought of a chipper Katie running around his kitchen, tidying up and telling him what to do, gave him a headache.
Tessa stopped by Luke's cottage late Saturday afternoon. Luke had set himself a goal of finishing so he could join his friends for their final Saturday together.
"So?" Tessa said expectantly as Luke opened the door.
"I think it's pretty good," Luke said, modestly.
"And?" she asked.
"And I think I can actually send it to Reid!"
"Well, it's about time!" Tessa declared.
"And before you ask," Luke said, "No. You can't read it."
"Roger, wilco," she said. "You ready to go?"
"Almost," Luke said. "Give me 15 minutes – you wanna help yourself to something to drink, or I can meet you at the shuttle stop. Your call."
"I'll wait," said Tessa. She sat in the reading chair and pulled out a book.
"I must be fucking out of my mind," Reid muttered. "I can't believe you let me talk you into this."
Reid was in the kitchen chopping carrots, or rather, he was stabbing at them awkwardly as they threatened to roll off the cutting board onto the floor.
Katie had arrived, as promised, just after lunchtime. Her first order of business was to present Reid with a novelty apron which she had insisted on putting on him (despite his vocal protests) and then secured with firmly tied square knots at the neck and waist.
"Katie, I feel ridiculous!" Reid had groaned. "I look like a moron. Or Chris!"
"Very funny," Katie said, ignoring the insult.
"Besides, it'll keep the oil splatters from ruining that lovely shirt we bought you at Penney's last year…..On the other hand, maybe I should let you take the apron off – it might force you to finally upgrade that shirt to something a little more stylish. You know, your boyfriend's loaded."
"I don't need his money,"f Reid snapped.
"Touchy, touchy," Katie chided.
"Besides," Reid protested, "What's wrong with my shirt? It's clean and it's comfortable."
"It screams 'I'm middle-aged and have no life.'"
"Hey, you shop at Penney's all the time."
"I rest my case."
"Have you been talking to Luke again?"
"I don't need to get advice from Luke to know you better than you know yourself," Katie said.
Reid started to retort but then his brain finished processing Katie's last sentence and he started to consider that she might actually be right.
Katie playfully tapped the front of Reid's apron, teasing, "You'll be happy to know that it was down to the one I bought or one that said, 'I don't have a fucking attitude, you stupid fuck.' "
Reid was about to bark back but stopped himself and scowled instead.
Katie laughed when she saw his response. "Oh yeah, the one that said, 'Despite the look on my face, you're still talking' was a close third choice."
Unwilling to give her the satisfaction of being right, Reid turned his back to her and scowled at the fridge instead.
With a smug smile, Katie couldn't resist adding: "And I also considered the one saying 'Note to self: It is illegal to stab people for being stupid!"
"Har har," Reid grumbled. "You're such a comedienne. If I wanted to be annoyed I could have just gone to work today."
"Aw, Reid," Katie admonished. "Don't be such a baby. If you didn't really love me, you wouldn't have called me and begged me for my help."
"I don't beg," Reid muttered.
"Yeah right," Katie smiled. "And I don't shop…speaking of which, I bought you a few extra things I thought you might find useful."
Reid was about to complain about how she'd obviously sent him on a wild goose chase when he'd gone to fill her grocery checklist, but instead, his mouth fell open in amazement as she pulled flowers and table settings out of her bag, like a Martha Stewart with a faux-Prada Mary Poppins bag.
As much as he refused to admit it, the dining room looked infinitely better after Hurricane Katie blew through. Though he had done a B-to-B+ job clearing up the public spaces, the modern black, white, and stainless still looked sterile until Katie carefully arranged her flowers, vase, placemats, table runner, and napkins (folded to look like candlesticks) – and Reid felt his scowl softening.
Slowly, throughout the afternoon, Reid relinquished control, accepting that Katie was indeed more proficient than he was in certain matters. He let her show him the proper way to wield a chef's knife (but only after she warned him that he would risk his illustrious surgical career if he lopped off a digit), pre-cooked the root vegetables in the microwave before tossing them in the baking dish, and then dutifully smacked each clove of garlic he was handed before gingerly peeling off the skins.
Then he watched in horror as she doused the vegetables with salt, pepper, olive oil, and nearly a head full of minced garlic. "What the hell are you doing?" he gasped.
"What?" she asked in surprise. "I'm putting the garlic on the veggies."
"But the recipe says four cloves!"
"Four cloves?" she asked in surprise. "That's nothing! You gotta use more than that."
"Are you crazy?" asked Reid.
"What?" replied Katie. "The Perettis are part Italian. We live on garlic."
"If I prescribed medications that way," Reid grumbled. "I'd put my patients in a coma."
"Ah, but Reid, my dear," That's where you have to learn. We are not doing brain surgery. We're cooking. 'Four cloves' is just a suggestion. You have to use all your senses. Let your smell, taste, sight, and even your feel guide your way. Here," she said. "Give me your hands."
"What?" Reid asked, holding his hands out warily.
Katie took his hands and pressed them down into the baking dish of greasy vegetables.
"Ew!" Reid grimaced.
"Now here," she added, stepping behind him. She put her arms around him and guided his hands as they thoroughly coated the vegetables in the garlic and olive oil mixture.
"If you start playing the Righteous Brothers and try to kiss me," Reid cautioned, "We're done."
"Aw, Reid," Katie stepped back in surprise. "You've seen Ghost!"
"Well," Reid admitted sheepishly. "I was dragged there by a boyfriend in med school."
"Will wonders never cease?" Katie asked rhetorically, smiling at Reid as he avoided her stare and concentrated on making sure every bit of sweet potato, Brussels sprout and beet root was thoroughly covered with the gooey mixture.
"Looks good," Katie said approvingly. "You can go wash up."
Relieved, Reid rushed to the sink and doused his hands in dish soap, thoroughly scrubbing off the pungent goo and then dutifully wiping his hands on the stainless steel knife blade as instructed, to reduce the smell.
He listened patiently as Katie gave lessons in food-styling the appetizers, emulsifying salad dressing, and choosing wine for cooking (nothing you wouldn't drink!), and played along as she explained staging - chop all the salad ingredients, but don't combine it until the last minute or else the citrus will make the lettuce soggy; grind the coffee and put it in the coffee pot and set the timer so you won't forget to turn it on after dinner; if you can't make dessert in advance, set aside all the components on a separate shelf of the fridge.
As Reid was putting the finishing touches on the appetizers on the coffee table, all that remained was to wait for the lamb and vegetables to finish baking. "Now what?" he asked.
"Glad you asked," Katie smiled. She pulled a bottle of champagne and a second, smaller one of crème de cassis from her bag along with two champagne glasses. "Now you'll want to find an alternative for Luke," she explained, "But there's no reason you and I can't enjoy a glass of bubbly."
She grabbed a dish towel from the kitchen and began untwisting the wire holding the cork on.
"Do you want a hand with that," Reid asked nervously.
Katie glared back at him and carefully popped the cork into the dish towel, then poured them each a glass before heading out to the living room.
"Great job, today, Reid," Katie said, holding up her glass for a toast. "I'm proud of you."
"Thanks, Katie," Reid smiled wearily back. He took a sip of the cool champagne and enjoyed the taste on his tongue and the bubbles as they tickled his tongue and throat. He was accustomed to standing for hours on end in surgery, but somehow the three hours spent chopping, stirring, cleaning, and decorating made him feel like he'd run a marathon. He took a second sip before sitting down and slumping back in the couch; he closed his eyes, letting Katie's kind words ring in his head.
At the sound of a doorbell, though, his enjoyment quickly dissipated. Reid frowned. He wasn't expecting anyone.
Katie glanced at her watch and smiled. "Right on time…"