It wasn’t hard to find the Doctor’s office, it was in the same place as it had always been. Like the rest of the town, it was unchanged. It was as if time somehow forgot their little corner of America. Parking outside the office, he got out and with the coffee and cake in-hand, he walked up to the door to Aracely’s practice and knocked.
“Come in!” a male voice called out.
Opening the door, Jason stepped inside. “Uh hi… I’m looking for Doctor Blevins. She around?”
“No. She hasn’t gotten back from her house calls yet. Maybe I can help you?” the man said as he stood. “Dr. Eric Saunders.”
“Jason Quinn,” he nodded. “My mother asked me to bring by some of her coffee and carrot cake.” He placed the flask and the slices of cake on the reception counter. “Could you tell her that my sister will bring Tommy by tomorrow morning?”
Eric’s eyes narrowed as he nodded slowly. “I’ll pass the word on when she gets back,” he said as he sized his fiance’s ex-boyfriend up. He knew about their history but if he could just try to convince Aracely to marry him finally, and maybe move to another area – he wouldn’t have to compete with her past so much and convince her to not work anymore.
“Thanks,” Jason nodded as he looked around. “What happened to Doctor Hanson? I guess he retired, right?”
“About a year after Dr. Blevins and I moved into town,” Eric confirmed.
“A shame, he was a great Doctor. Always had a fresh bowl of candy, right here,” Jason nodded, tapping the reception desk. “And he never had comic books in the waiting room that were over a month old.”
The man didn’t say anything other than to turn back to the desk area as their receptionist was on her lunch break. “Is there anything else that I can help you with?” he asked.
“Nope, I guess that’s my cue,” Jason replied as he opened the door. “Nice talking to ya Doc.”
With that, the former Marine got back in his car. Something did feel off about Saunders. Maybe he was busy. But it was hard not to take note of the fact that the practice seemed to have lost something. When he was a kid, he looked forward to seeing old Doc Hanson, the man was warm and friendly toward anyone who stepped through his door. But Saunders…
Eric watch out the window as the man drove off before looking over at the cake and coffee he had left. With a glare, he took the food and dumped it in their bio-hazard trash and poured the coffee down the sink before returning to his work.
Driving around town was like travelling back into his own past. The stores were the same, the movie theatre where he had taken a summer job to help pay some bills around the house. It was all very nostalgic. Stopping at the corner, he noticed there had been one slight change. What used to be Bob’s Diner was now Steve’s Diner.
“I can’t believe the son of a bitch went and did it,” he muttered to himself before driving up to the eatery/coffeehouse. Steve Anders had been his best friend since he was a boy. He was a class clown all through high school and everyone loved him for it… except for the teachers. When Jason had told him about his intent to join the Marines, Steve revealed that he wanted to take over his uncle’s diner some day. After all, he’d been working for his uncle since his early teens.
Entering the diner, he found it just as it was when he left it. The place looked like it had sprung from the ‘50’s.
“Order 57, bacon cheeseburger, fries and a strawberry shake,” Steve announced from behind the counter. He’d almost dropped the tray of food when he laid eyes upon who had just entered the diner.
“Jase?” he frowned, “Holy crap… what the hell are you doing here!” Within a second he had closed the gap between them and caught his friend up in a bear hug. “Aww buddy, it’s good to see you!”
“You too man,” Jason grinned as they parted. “I figured I’d stop by, but I can come back if you’re busy.” He looked around at the patrons of the diner, and there was many of them, just as it always was.
“Like hell you will, sit down, I’ll bring you something to eat,” Steve said as he handed the cheeseburger over to his waitress to drop off at the right table. “So what brings you back to town? The Corps finally get sick of you?”
“Something like that,” Jason grinned. “I figured it was time to come home. The life of a sniper was fun for a while, but it doesn’t compare to this place.”
“See… I told ya… you never could stay away for too long,” Steve grinned. “Aww man, Aracely was in here just the other day. She told me how little Tommy was doing and we got to talking about the old times. How we used to pile in your Camaro and go to the lake, or drive up to the mountains.”
“Good times,” Jason grinned as yet another reminder of his time with Ace, flashed before his eyes.
“Great times dude! I met Hayley on one of those trips!” Steve replied as he completed another late lunch order. “She and I got married y’know… we’re expecting a girl in June.”
“Aww man, that’s fantastic, congratulations,” he smiled, “I’m sorry I missed the wedding, my mom wrote and said you’d gotten hitched. If I could’ve gotten away…”
“I know dude, I know… you were off being the big hero,” Steve smiled, “It wasn’t the same without you. My bucks night sucked… but I still married the girl of my dreams.”
“Well I’m happy for you both,” Jason smiled, “We should all go out and do something, maybe go out to dinner or something… to celebrate.”
“I don’t think Doctor Dick would enjoy a night of us all reminiscing about some of the crazy stuff we got up to,” Steve nodded, “But I’ll ask Aracely next time I see her.”
“You do that,” Jason nodded, grinning slightly at Steve’s nickname for Saunders.
“So I take it that you know that she’s engaged then?” Steve asked as he placed a steak on the grill for his friend.
“Yeah, she stopped by the house to see Tommy a little while ago. Mom told me about Saunders and I just had the pleasure of meeting him,” Jason replied, shaking his head slightly.
“He’s a real peach, ain’t he,” Steve’s tone was honeyed with sarcasm. “Makes old Doc Hanson look like Scrooge.”
“Oh yeah… he and I could be best buds,” Jason scoffed.
“It’s good to have you home, man… and you’re not too late, which is a bonus,” Steve nodded as he poured Jason a glass of coke with ice..
“Too late for what?” Jason asked plainly.
“Don’t play coy with me man, it’s Steve you’re talking to. I bet that as soon as you saw her, all those feelings came rushing back,” the cook grinned as he placed the drink in front of Jason.
“I missed her of course-”
“I knew it!” Steve interjected, grinning like the Cheshire cat. “So what do we do? How you gonna get her back? You gonna use the old Quinn charm?”
“I’m just going to be her friend, Steve,” Jason replied, “If she wants to marry that prick, it’s up to her. I’m not gonna seduce her and ruin her chance to be happy.”
“But she’s not happy dude… ask anyone around town. She may think she loves the guy, yes, but he’s changed her somehow. It’s like she’s lost the fire in her,” Steve replied.
“You’re not the first person to tell me that today,” Jason nodded, conceding the point.
“Your Ma?” Steve asked, already knowing.
“My Ma…” Jason nodded. “Are things really that bad for her though? I mean, she’s a Doctor, she has her own practice, she’s living in her hometown.”
“And she’s disconnected from the people who care about her,” Steve explained. “Hayley and I barely see her, she only sees your family when she makes house calls or if they happened to bump into each other around town. I doubt even her parents see much of her. There’s always an excuse when one of us tries to draw her out.”
“That’s not the Ace I know…” Jason replied solemnly.
“Exactly dude… so what are you gonna do about it. Cos if anyone can help her, it’s you,” Steve said as the waitress placed another order with him.
“I’m not sure yet, but I guess I’ll have to do something,” Jason nodded.
It was early in the evening when Jason finally left the diner. He returned home and went straight to the loft which his parents had converted into something of a bachelor apartment, which was going to be his home for the foreseeable future. It was nicely decorated and furnished with some of his dad’s best work. It was fully connected, water, electricity, a TV antenna, the works. It even had a small kitchen area for simple meals. But the best part was, that he had his privacy, something which he hadn’t expected when he planned his return home.
As the evening sun began to dip behind the treeline beyond his family’s land, he unpacked his kitbag, as well as his uniforms and a few personal items, he had brought his medals and a 9mm pistol back with him. The rest of his belongings, including his rifles were being shipped over from the middle east.
He looked down at the dog-tags that hung from his neck and questioned whether or not he should continue wearing them, if only for sentimentality. In the end, he tucked them back under his shirt and placed his uniform, his medals and his gun in the large lockable chest at the foot of his bed. He began going through his personal belongings next. Among them were photos of his family, he and his fellow Marines, a picture of him, Steve, Hayley and Aracely, taken on their last trip out together before he was expected to report to boot. Although they were all saddened by the truth of that day, they still had the time of their lives. Finally, there was a picture of him and Aracely together, arm in arm. Her head resting gently on his shoulder as they sat on a large rock by the lake. Opening the drawer to his bedside cabinet, he placed them inside and shut it.
Apart from his watches, a drinking canteen, his shades and some jewellery that his parents had bought him, all that remained was the one item he’d hoped he didn’t have to see. Perched in a red velvet box was an engagement ring. The diamond wasn’t particularly big, but it was a nice ring.
He remembered the decision he had to make and how hard it was to make it. Just as soon as he decided to ask Aracely to marry him, his courage wavered and he decided against asking her. When the thought of leaving her for the Corps got too much for him to bare, his courage returned. To say that he was torn over that decision was an understatement.
He always imagined how he would have asked her. Where he’d do it, when he’d do it, what he’d say and how she’d respond. And whenever he did think about it, it always angered him that it was something he would never know. Snapping the box shut, he opened the drawer once again and placed the box inside before closing it once more.
Sitting up, he went over to the hatched window to look out as the sun went down.
“Jason! Dinner’s ready!”
Rolling his eyes, the smile returned to his face. “Coming!” Making his way down the wooden stairs leading to his apartment, he took a slow walk over to his house. The scent of his mother’s cooking filling his senses once again.
As he entered the house, he was greeted by Becki, the middle sister. “Hey Bex… how are ya?”
The teen just grunted and went over to the fridge to retrieve the jug of apple juice that was now freshly chilled.
“That’s quite enough of that young lady, your mother and I raised you better than that. Now welcome your brother home properly,” Tom said from the head of the table.
“Hi…” she muttered as she sat down and poured herself some juice.
“Don’t worry about it Bro,” Lisa said as she finished burping Tommy and placed him back in the crib by the dinner table. “She’s just jealous that you don’t have to live in the house with a screaming baby. And because you took your car back.”
“Ahh, right,” Jason grinned. “Sorry if I scuppered your plans Bex.”
“Yeah yeah,” she said bitterly before looking at her brother and relenting. “Sorry Jase… welcome home.”
“Thanks, sis,” he replied with a warm smile before sitting at the table.
“So did you enjoy your afternoon with Steve?” Rita asked as she began serving up the food.
“Yeah, it was good to catch up. He told me about Hayley expecting a girl. How come you never told me in your letters?” Jason asked.
“We wanted to give you some nice surprises to come home to. Tommy, Steve becoming a Dad, the car… I mean you did get a pretty big bad surprise bro,” Lisa replied, grateful that she had a chance to eat something.
“You’re telling me,” Jason nodded knowingly. “I stopped by the practice like you suggested, mom. And you’re right… things had changed.”
“I know right,” Becki said, “No magazines, even the candy’s gone.”
“It’s more than that Bex… as a kid, I used to love seeing Doc Hanson, he was a nice, friendly guy who made you feel better simply by talking. 2 minutes with Doctor Saunders and I felt like all the fun had been sucked out of that place.
“How do you think Aracely must feel,” Lisa muttered before tucking into her roast beef dinner.
“Did you see Aracely while you were there son?” Tom asked as he poured some gravy onto his dinner.
“Nah, she was on house calls. I’ll see her tomorrow when I drop Lisa and Tommy off before I go to the bank,” he explained. “Then I figured I’d buy some new clothes to fill that wardrobe you made for me.”
“Yeah, your old stuff would strangle those guns you’re packin’,” Lisa grinned, nipping his bicep.
“I was also thinking about taking a drive up to the County pound. If it’s okay with you guys, I was thinking I might get a dog.”
“A puppy!?!” Hannah and Becki beamed.
“It’s your place son, and the girls have been nagging me about getting a dog,” Tom replied. “Just make sure you clean up and take care of it.”
Jason smiled, it was like his Dad still thought of him as a child. “Yes sir.”
“I’ll help!” Hannah announced, having always wanted a pet of her own.
“Great,” Jason smiled, “Thanks kiddo.”
The Quinns spent the rest of the dinner laughing and retelling stories that they’d heard a thousand times but always laughed. Jason had never felt so at peace since the day he stepped on the bus that would take him to boot, leaving his friends and family behind.