On Monday morning, Divya's black SUV turned out of the manor's enormous circular drive on to Rosegarden Way. Beside her in the passenger's seat, Hank was scribbling some notes on a pad as he commented under his breath, "Well. That could've gone better."
Divya somehow managed to smile and wince at the same time, sparing him a glance. "They aren't all going to treat you like the super-hero you are, Hank. The rich and famous are like a bunch of apples: go through them and you'll eventually find a spoiled and rotten one amongst the rest."
Hank sighed and finished up his notes, underlining the last word with two hard strokes of his pen. Divya eyed the pad and the underlined word. She smiled. "Jerk? Is that your professional diagnosis, Doctor?"
Hank smirked. "Think we need a second opinion?"
Still smiling, Divya shook her head. "No. I think we're good. I'm just curious as to what treatment you'll prescribe."
Hank slammed his fist into his open palm. "Pow!"
Divya laughed. "While I can't in good conscience condone it, I would love to see you administer that particular treatment. What a thoroughly unpleasant man."
Hank chuckled as well. "Unpleasant. Man. I can think of a few four-letter words to better describe him."
"Now, now. Let's not be vulgar. You're better than that."
Hank grunted noncommittally then sighed again. "Let's talk about something else. Anything else."
Divya shrugged. "Sure. Have anything in mind?"
It was Hank's turn to shrug. "I don't know. How about...dinner? Last Friday night?" He paused briefly, unable to keep the smile from his face. "How'd you two...make out?"
Divya tightened her grip on the wheel, closed her eyes briefly and exhaled slowly. "He told you? I cannot believe he told you. I am going to administer that very same treatment to that blabbermouth brother of yours."
"Of course he told me. He's my brother. He tells me everything. And believe me, Divya, sometimes I really wish he didn't."
Divya groaned. "I can imagine. What exactly did he tell you?"
Hank grinned. "I swear I stopped him before he could go into too much detail. Not that he didn't try..."
Divya re-groaned. "Seriously. What is wrong with him? How can he be so...so..."
Hank, still smiling, nodded along with her. "I know. I know."
"Immature. Infuriating. Irksome."
"Yes, yes and yes. And several more I'm sure. But. " He paused. "You kinda like him, don't you?"
Divya swallowed and kept her eyes on the road. She opened her mouth to speak, but shut it again. She was blushing, but she was pretty sure that was from the anger. Pretty sure.
"Well, I can tell you this: Friday night. Eleven o'clock. I walk downstairs to find my brother stuffing his blabbermouth with ice cream, a flavor of which he has proclaimed to hate for thirty-plus years I might add, and wearing the biggest, dumbest smile on his face. I've never seen him smile like that. I've seen other people smile that way, so I know what it means, but never Evan."
Divya shrugged and offered in a weak voice, "Maybe it was the ice cream."
Hank stated flatly, "It wasn't the ice cream."
Divya squirmed a little in her seat. "Hank...I-"
"Divya, I'm not telling you this to make you uncomfortable. In fact, I wouldn't be telling you this at all if it weren't for the fact that it's my brother we're talking about. He's smitten, and that might be putting it mildly. I don't...I don't want to see him get hurt. I know what it feels like to put your heart out there only to have it stomped on. I don't think Evan does. If I can help it, I don't ever want him to find out."
Divya nodded slowly and wordlessly, staring straight forward.
Hank continued, "Now, understand: I don't want to see you get hurt either. I don't want to see anybody get hurt. But...I can't believe I'm about to ask this: Divya, what exactly are your intentions with Evan?"
Divya sighed, turned the steering wheel, and pulled off on to the side of the road, coming to a stop. She closed her eyes and re-opened them to meet Hank's compassionate and concerned gaze. "I just...Hank, I don't know. I only even agreed to have dinner with Evan to prove once and for all that there was nothing...between us."
"That...doesn't make any sense."
Divya winced. "I know. I don't know why I ever thought it did."
"Let me guess: that was Evan's selling point on the date, right?"
Divya nodded with the same pained expression on her face.
"Thought so. Sounds...Evanish."
"Hank. Believe me, I don't want to hurt anyone either. You, Evan, my parents, Raj..." She couldn't help it. Pesky tears started to well up in her eyes as the weight of the wall she'd been building around herself for years all came crashing down around her. She exhaled slowly, willing them away. But then Hank added another brick to that wall.
"What about you?"
One tear escaped and rolled down her cheek. She almost whispered, "I have to do what's right for my family and my friends. There's...simply no room for what I want."
She didn't know if it was her saying the words out loud or Hank's earnest and caring demeanor, but there was no stopping the tears now.
Hank reached over and put one hand on her shoulder and just stared at her for several long seconds before taking in a deep breath. "Dammit. Evan was right. I wanted to stay out of it. I thought it was the right thing to do. I thought he was meddling, but I don't think that's the right word anymore."
Divya swallowed and wiped the tears from her face. "Hank. I don't even know why you put up with me. This is so unprofessional. Promise me you won't put up with this sort of nonsense with your next-" She couldn't say it. It was only two syllables, but she couldn't get it out: P.A.
Hank frowned a bit. "Divya, do you really think that's all you are to us? A physician's assistant? While you happen to be a damn good one, that's not what we...not what I value most about you."
Divya blinked away tears, her eyes locked on Hank's.
"We're not just colleagues. We're friends. If and when you go, that's what I'm going to miss the most. I can replace a P.A. I can't replace a friend."
Dammit, Hank. Divya was incredibly touched by Hank's sincere words, so much so it brought on fresh tears.
"And that should've come first. I know that now. I am now officially on-board Project: Divya staying in the Hamptons. And yes, we know we need to work on the project title." He smiled gently.
A quiet laugh burst out of Divya in between the sobs. "I didn't even know there was a project."
"I didn't either. Well, I didn't recognize it anyway. Not until about 60 seconds ago. But the only reason I'm joining the proj- the only reason I'm agreeing with Evan is because I think it's what you want too." He paused and smirked. "Well, it's not the only reason. I have to admit I have two selfish reasons as well. I want a good friend to stick around." Divya smiled and chuckled, tears a-flowin'. "And...I really don't want to have to train another P.A. to deal with HankMed's C.F.O. That would take time, patience and possibly several pay raises..."
Divya cried/laughed and put one hand over Hank's, still on her shoulder. "Don't forget the prescription-strength headache medicine."
Hank grinned. "Oh yes. How could I forget?" After a brief wordless pause, Hank continued, "Now understand: while I'm your friend, I still can't and won't tell you what to do, but I can and am obligated to, as your friend, share my opinion on what I think you should do for what's best for you." Hank raised an eyebrow. "Did that make any sense at all?"
Divya nodded and replied with a sniffle, "Yes."
"Ok. Good. Now, at anytime you don't want my opinion you have every right to tell me where to go stick it. Ok?"
Divya chuckled. "Got it."
"Ok. Here we go. Divya, I think you're happy here. I think you love what you do, and you're undeniably great at what you do. And I don't think you love Raj. Well, you may love him, but I don't think you' re in love with him. I may be way off base here. I don't know. I also think your parents are rushing you into this. I think this wedding date is bearing down on you like an oncoming freight train. And as your friend, if I see you're about to drive off a cliff, it's my responsibility to jerk the steering wheel."
Divya smiled wide. "You know, most of the time when I look at the two of you, I think: How in the world are these two related? But I just saw a little of your brother in you."
Hank smiled. "Thanks. Wait a minute. Was I just insulted?"
Divya laughed. "No. Not at all. It's just...Evan said the same thing to me a few weeks ago...about jerking the steering wheel. Is that a Lawson family saying?"
Hank frowned sourly. "No. It's a Hank Lawson saying. I swear he takes credit for everything."
Divya kept on laughing.
Hank smiled wide. "Pilfered adages aside, I mean it though. I'm worried about you."
Divya smiled. "And I appreciate that. You have no idea how much. Oh dammit, would you please stop crying, Divya?" Hank smiled, watching her wipe away yet even newer tears. She groaned and continued, "As I was saying: I can't lose my family. They're all I have, Hank."
"First of all, that's not true. You have a pair of dysfunctional brothers with Daddy issues who'll always be here for you no matter what." Divya laughed at that. "And second, you won't lose your family. I've only met your parents a couple of times, but I'd like to think they love you more than they love traditional Indian marriage practices."
Divya sighed and said in a small voice, "I'd like to think so as well."
"Again. I'm not telling you what to do. But I don't like seeing someone I care about feeling cornered." Hank couldn't help but chuckle. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to make light of your situation, but Divya: I don't know anyone who's more up against the ropes than you."
Divya smirked. "It's all right. Sometimes I have to laugh at the absurdity of it all. When I'm not crying over it, of course." She wiped her face in illustration...and to wipe away the tear tracks.
Hank smiled sympathetically. "So. I'm guessing Evan's inspired and...completely illogical plan to prove there was nothing between you two didn't exactly pan out?"
"It did not."
Divya smirked and swatted his arm. "Oh shut up."
Hank chuckled. "Shocking. I'm truly shocked."
"Okay, now I'm really seeing some of your brother in you. The annoying gene."
"Okay, okay. I'm sorry. I'll stop. Scout's honor."
Divya smiled at that. "Oh, that's right. You were a Major-General."
Hank's eyebrows scrunched together, and he cocked his head slightly in confusion. "Um, I was an eagle scout."
Divya smiled and wore a sagely expression. "Ah, but that's the layperson's term for it. Or so I've heard."
Hank's expression remained the same. "Ooooookay. I feel like I may have missed something."
Practically giggling, Divya replied, "You did. But that's okay. You weren't there."
Hank smirked. "I see. Well, not really, but anyhow...Look. Whatever you decide, we're here for you. Evan's probably here for you in a different way than I am, but still: I'm here."
Divya smiled genuinely. "I know. And thank you, Hank. That means more to me than you'll ever know."
"Just do me a favor. However this goes down, try not to crush my little brother in the process. Mopey Evan is not a fun Evan to be around. And then we have Unhappy Hank. And nobody likes Unhappy Hank. Especially Hank."
"I promise. As long as you stop referring to yourself in the third person."
"Yeah, that kind of got away from me there for a second. Sorry." Hank rubbed her shoulder before removing his hand. "Are you okay?"
"No. But I will be. Eventually. I hope." She smiled weakly. She stared forward out the windshield at nothing at all.
After nearly 30 seconds of silence, Hank piped up. "Divya?"
Divya blinked and came back to reality. "Hmm?"
"Can you do me a favor?"
"Of course. Anything."
"Can you drive me home now?"
Sorry about the stupidly and inexcusably long delay for this chapter. I'm still alive, and the next chapter will be up in a much, much, much more reasonable time frame. Also, there were a good many references to previous chapters (one all the way back to Chapter 2 and one back to Chapter 4). So if there were any head scratching moments, that's probably the reason. Again: sorry about being M.I.A. And thanks to everyone who reads, and especially thanks to those who leave reviews. I appreciate every single one.