It was later that evening that he decided to take another drive through town. And true to her word, the lights to the practice were still on as he drove by. He questioned whether or not he should see if Aracely was there and on her own but thought better of it. He didn’t want to see Doctor Dick again, so opted to pull into the parking lot across the street. “Time for a drink at Joe’s,” he muttered.
Getting out of the car, he headed into the tavern. As some country rock played on the jukebox, he walked right up to the bar and sat down on one of the stools.
“As I live and breathe… Jason Quinn… welcome home Marine,” Joe, the owner and bartender said. “What can I get ya son? On the house.”
“Thanks Joe,” Jason nodded as he looked around, “I’ll have a beer, thanks.” He recognised most of the patrons, some nodded in his direction, others patted him on the back as they walked by. That was when he noticed Aracely sat in one of the cubicles. It looked as if she were having a very intense conversation with Doctor Dick.
“Eric, I don’t care what you seem to think, but I am not going to change how I run my practice,” Aracely hissed across the table. “Since you are uncomfortable with me treating the Quinns as a family, I have purposely sent them to you, but you don’t deal with neonates at all. Who else is there within 100 miles that could effectively treat that baby? The answer is no.”
“Ace, just listen to me and please reconsider…” Eric started to say before he realized he made a grave error with her. No one ever calls her Ace other than Jason. Even after they agreed that they were over, she wouldn’t have it.
She sat up in her seat and glared at him. “I want you to leave. Go home. I’ll be there later, but I do not want to be around you right now. Please Eric,” she said closing her eyes to keep herself together.
The man frowned and nodded slowly before getting up. He looked at her again before he walked away finally, leaving her there with her head in her hands. She wasn’t crying or anything but she did look very lost and indecisive.
Jason wondered whether he should go over. But interfering in his ex’s love life wasn’t the best way to start a friendship. But even as he sat there, he wanted to go over if only to start building bridges.
Setting the mug of beer in front of his friend. “Give her time. This is a regular thing between those two. Except it is usually the girl walking out even though she coaxed that fool into just taking her out. I think he just wants to have that pretty wife on his arm. She’s a smart cookie to drag it out as long as she had.”
“What does she drink these days?” Jason asked as he snatched up his beer and drank down a couple of mouthfuls.
“Water. He won’t let her drink anything else,” he answered raising an eyebrow. “I know she is all about health but I remember when you couldn’t get her to touch anything but iced tea and lemonade for weeks!”
“Send her a beer, on me,” he said as he dug a ten dollar bill from his jeans.
Joe raised an eyebrow. “You sure about that? You just may end up starting a feud if that boy comes back to drag her off.”
“Just let him try dragging her anywhere,” he explained with an almost sinister frown. “Look at her Joe… she needs a drink.”
“Okay buddy,” the old man sighed before calling Kelly over. “Bring this over to Acie Girl. Boy just keep that in your pocket. It’s on the house tonight.”
“I’ll remember that the next time you need some stools and tables,” Jason nodded, knowing that his father had practically furnished the bar for Joe.
Joe laughed. “You bet your head I’ll come to you because I have the feeling that if you and that Doctor Idiot come to blows, it’ll be in the bar here so you will owe me then.”
Nodding, Jason took his drink and made his way over to the table where Aracely sat. “Mind if I join you?” he asked softly.
She looked up from fingering the cold glass of the mug that she hadn’t drunk from yet, almost as if debating if it was worth it or not. Smiling softly she shrugged. “It’s a free country,” she said. “I didn’t see you come in.”
“By the looks of things, you were too busy to notice,” Jason replied as he sat down. “Are you okay?”
Aracely made a face of twisted disgust and embarrassment. “You saw that?” she asked, looking at him but the expression on his face answered it for her. Sighing, she nodded. “Yeah I’m fine. Just – tired.”
“Forgive me for saying so Ace… but you look exhausted,” he replied with a soft smile. “And I’m pretty sure I know the cause.”
She raised an eyebrow to even try to say what everyone else town has been saying. “I’m not stupid Jason. I know what people are thinking so just come out and say it already. You were never one to mince words.”
“Alright… I spent two minutes with your boyfriend earlier today… just two minutes and you know the impression I got?” he asked, placing his beer down and looking her straight in the eye.
“You met him?” she asked interrupting. “Where was this?”
“In the office, earlier. You know… I brought the cake and the coffee…?” he looked puzzled.
Aracely stared at him confused and shook her head slowly. “There wasn’t any cake or coffee when I got back…”
“So as well as being a complete prick, the guy’s either a greedy bastard or a selfish ass,” Jason replied. “I knew I should’ve insisted on waiting for you.”
Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes. When she opened them again, she shook her head and started to drink the beer even though it was starting to warm up to the room. “Why did I even come back,” she said, mostly to herself.
“Because you love this town, your mom and dad are here, your friends are here,” he replied truthfully. “I came back for the same reasons. I spent my childhood dreaming about being a Marine yet I could never shake this place or the people off.”
“You know, he isn’t always like that,” she commented. “He does have a big heart.”
“Yeah, I’ve been hearing all about the big hearted Doctor that treats you like an item, a thing to be coveted. And how you rarely see your friends and family. When was the last time you saw your parents by the way?” he asked. He didn’t want to hurt her, but she needed to open her eyes. She wasn’t a trophy wife, she was a warm, intelligent, friendly, beautiful young woman and one hell of a Doctor. Doctor Dick never deserved her time of day, let alone her heart and the kind words she had to say about him..
She shook her head and felt herself grow angry. “I just spoke to them yesterday and you have no right to say anything to me about my relationships. Not anymore Jason. You were the one that broke it off ten years ago, remember? You lost any right to an opinion then,” she snapped before getting up to walk out, barely resisting to dump the rest of her beer on him.
“I broke it off with good reasons. You were prepping to go to med school. I was going away for god knows how long. I didn’t want you to feel like you had to wait for me,” he explained calmly. “But if I knew breaking things off would lead you into the arms of that asshole… the man that has destroyed my friend and first love and turned her into the shell of who she once was, I would have reconsidered… I did reconsider. So many times…” With that, he stood up. “If you want to talk, you know where I’ll be.”
Aracely stared at him as he walked back to the bar. Shaking her head, she walked out after leaving some cash on the table. She didn’t want to go home to the cold house where Eric waited, but she also did not want to go deal with her parents – more so now that Jason was back. A lot of what he said was true, she knew that but none of them knew the man she had met in school who had a much different set of ideals those years ago.
Instead, she somehow found herself walking along the rocky road that led up to the lake where she used to sneak out to go swimming at night. She hadn’t quite let go of the past, but she couldn’t exactly go back to it either. Too much time had passed without any attempt by either one of them to keep in touch. She did try to write him so many times that she lost track, but she could never find the words to say and the ones she did want – he made it clear before he left that it would not likely be a possibility in their future. The reasons he gave were clearly no longer valid, as he was here, alive and breathing.
The roar of a familiar engine echoed through the night air. Jason hadn’t planned for things to get out of hand. He wanted to be her friend, to show her the girl she used to be and give her a piece of herself a piece at a time. “Well fucking done marine,” he grunted as he pulled up to the lake. Switching off the engine, he left the lights and the radio on and turned the latter up so that he could hear it outside. Getting out of the car, he still hadn’t noticed Aracely standing on the bank further down from the picnic area.
She looked up the shore to see the man she just ran from (or to?). Unsure of what to do, but quickly realizing that it was something that she would have to come to deal with was certain. Her only question was How?
Picking up a handful of stones, Jason began skipping them across the lake, something that Ace had taught him to do when they were kids. He got pretty damn good at it too, but Ace was lethal. She’d even knocked some of his stones out of the water.
He began remembering more from there childhood. How they would play Doctor. Just thinking of that made him grin from ear to ear as Ace would get her box of bandages, wrap him in them from head to toe and then read from a pretty graphic medical textbook, all the things that she had diagnosed him with. Everything from testicular cancer to the common cold.
She watched him pace the area from where she was and sighed. All she needed was something, something that she could see or feel inside that would give her some sense as to whether if her putting everything off with Eric was right or not. Aracely wouldn’t deny having feelings still, but she also would not say it if she knew they weren’t shared. Slowly, she braved up the courage to make her way over to him.
Had it been any other time, when he wasn’t so distracted, he would have heard her coming, maybe even smelt her coming. But it wasn’t until she reached his car that he heard her.
“I take it that you want to talk? Or do you need a ride back to town?” he asked as he tossed the last stone and walked over to her slowly.
“I am perfectly capable of walking. It is how I got here,” she said as she kept her distance from him.
“I know… you forget that I used to walk with you, remember,” he sighed. He didn’t want to argue anymore, nor did he want to risk pissing her off even more so he decided to leave their conversation at that. “Do you want a ride? We don’t have to talk… we can drive in silence if that’s what you want.”
Aracely looked over at his ride and smiled. “We did a lot more in that car without talking,” she pointed out.
“We did,” Jason replied with a smirk. His eyebrow raised slightly at the sheer thought of what they got up to. “I was the one that replaced the suspension, remember.”
“Sorry,” she said but was still amused. “I told you to slow down, that it was rocking too much. You wouldn’t listen.”
“That’s not how I remember it,” he grinned, “Or was there another person in the car, begging me to go faster and harder… to give her more…”
“Semantics,” Aracely shrugged as she made her way over to sit on the table and looked out across the water. “We both changed a lot, Jason.”
“I’m not denying that Ace. I mean… I’ve seen things… done things that you wouldn’t believe…” he sighed, “Of course it changed me. But I’m still the man you fell in love with, deep down.”
She raised an eyebrow and looked at him, not touching on the end part of his statement. “I wouldn’t believe? Who do you think you’re talking to?”
“It was war Ace… and there are some things I can’t talk about… even with you. I’m not even sure you’d want to hear it,” he explained. “So yeah, I’ve changed. I’ve probably seen more death than a small town doctor like yourself could see.”
“You’re just as much of an arrogant asshole like Eric for saying that,” she snapped. “LA isn’t all much different from the sandbox, it’s just a different kind of war being fought. Don’t give me no sugar coated bullshit Jason.”
“Alright… my mom said that you were around my place every single day when I was injured during my first tour. So I guess you should know what happened,” he conceded. “I was on a patrol with some buddies of mine. We were making our way through a village on the outskirts of our base when we were ambushed by insurgents. A dozen of em… armed with AK’s and M-90’s. Before we knew what hit us, I caught a bullet in the shoulder and two of my buddies took hits too.
“By the time I’d pulled myself together, enough to find cover and lay down some cover fire, my squad leader had killed two of the insurgents. One of them was a ten year old boy… ten years old and trained to kill…” he said, shaking his head as horrific memories filled his mind. “When back up arrived and we forced them to retreat, I realised that he wasn’t even the youngest kid there.”
She was silent through his story, just listening. Sure she had her own stories to tell about her interning in California but in the end it just left her feeling more empty. “And yet, here we are just as alone and empty as each other. It never had to come to this you know. I didn’t care that you were afraid to leave me alone if you died, but I wanted to be here waiting for you when you came home. You took that from me and that was all I could think about when you talk about how much of a selfish asshole Eric is before. I don’t know…”
“I get it… I hurt you Ace… I hurt you by setting you free. Free to live a life with a man that could be there for you… support you and appreciate you. But instead you chose to be with a man that wants to wrap you up in cotton wool and only bring you out when he needs to look good.”
“Jason…” she started to say before shaking her head. “Just don’t. Don’t do that…”
“Why the fuck not… look at you Ace… you don’t smile, I haven’t heard you laugh once since I got back. My parents can’t remember the last time you just dropped by to say hi. Even before we were together there wasn’t a day that went by without you showing up at the house to hang out. You even got your own keys for Christs sake!” He was angry now, angry that she couldn’t see the woman she was now, how unhappy she looked.
“Because there is nothing there for me. When I said yes to his proposal I had to let everything else go. I had to let you go,” Aracely said slowly as she stood. “It just time to move forward with everything and just forget everything. It really was good to see you though. To know that you are alive and well Jason.”
“Nothing there for you? Good god woman, what about your parents? You know, the lovely people that adopted you as a baby and has given you a happy life that anyone would wish for. What about Hayley… your pregnant best friend who still loves you and misses you like crazy!” he snapped.
All she could do was shake her head as she walked away, trying to not cry. The way he was sounding was almost as bad as Eric on some days and she just didn’t need that from two of the most important men in her life.
“I knew you’d become a lot of things Ace, after all these years of course you were gonna change… Doctor Dick or no… but you’re acting like a coward. And the Ace I know is no coward. She wouldn’t walk away from the people that care about her for anyone… you even came back after I had hurt you.” He didn’t know who he was more angrier with now. The man that had influenced her so negatively or the girl herself for allowing it to happen.
She spun around and glared at him. “I came back before I met him because I had hoped that you were here that maybe you would have changed your mind, but no. You decided to re-up for another four years even after they nearly killed you once.”
“You don’t get it do you! I just told you how I watched a boy die. I signed up because I wanted to make a difference out there. Just like you wanted to make a difference by being a doctor,” he growled.
“I’ve watched kids die every day too! Being shot at because they looked at a gang member the wrong way, or because they walked on the wrong side of the street. Don’t give me that bullshit! I loved you but it wasn’t enough for you…”
“Then why was I going to ask you to marry me!” he snapped. “Why was I going to defy our parents wishes and turn my back on my dream of becoming a marine for you right up until you said that I should go!”
She looked at him and shook her head. “If you had asked me I would have said yes and told you to go as well. We could have tried to make it work. It would have been hard, yes, but that is what you do for the people you love, isn’t it? Please Jason – don’t say anything else,” she cried. “I just – I can’t do this anymore. I don’t want to hear it from everyone of how much they are disappointed in me and that I didn’t wait for you any more…”
Without another word he closed the distance between them and wrapped his arms around her. He was breaking her heart by trying to convince her that the path she was on was wrong, and she was breaking his just from shedding tears in front of him. There, he just held her, he didn’t care if she soaked his shirt with tears, he would hold her all night and say nothing if that’s what she wanted.
Aracely buried her face in his familiar warmth. Of course ten years in the military changed him, but his touch was as she always remembered. “I wanted to wait, I just couldn’t anymore,” she said after several minutes when she was calming down.
“I know… I don’t blame you for finding someone else,” he whispered. “I told you the day I left that I wished you’d find someone and live a full and happy life. But I couldn’t ask you to wait for me. I didn’t know if I was ever coming back or if I’d be coming home in a box or what…”
“Jason, you never had to ask. I thought it would have been obvious. But what hurt more than that day was when you wouldn’t talk to me on the phone,” she explained. “If you weren’t coming back, that was something different but as long as you were breathing, so was I.”
“Look… I’ve killed people, I’ve been a part of operations that have secured the future of this country and brought us one step closer to ending the war. I’ve pushed my mind and body above and beyond their tolerable limits and I’ve lost friends in combat, people who I grew to consider brothers and sisters… but to this day, the hardest thing I’ve ever done is turn my back on you. I didn’t want to. But my mother would tell me how unhappy you were in her letters. How much you’d missed me. So I figured that if I had hurt you… if I had cut myself out of your life… you’d move on, you’d find someone.” He looked into her teary eyes as he spoke, he never blinked, he just stared into her gorgeous dark eyes, just like he did as a boy. “It was a huge mistake. One that I am so sorry for. But if you want to hate me for it, then hate me… don’t blame your friends and family… don’t push them away because of me or him.”
She looked at him and took all the strength she had to ask, “And if he wasn’t here? What would you do then?”
“I’d still try to regain your trust, your friendship and your love,” he replied truthfully. “I don’t want to push you into doing something you don’t want to do. But its obvious that we still care deeply for one another. I don’t want to fight him for your affections because in the end I’d be no better than he is. So I will say this. If you can see us having a future together, as friends… or as something more, you’ve got to square away your life with him first.”
Aracely frowned and let out a disappointed sigh. Nodding she pulled back from him. “I should head back before he sends a search party out for me,” she said trying to smile. “I will see you around town, okay?”
“Look, let me drive you back at least. Or you can take the car and park it in Joe’s lot, leave the keys with him…” He didn’t mind walking, he had a lot to think about. He just didn’t want her out on her own as it was getting late.
She smiled and shook her head. “I will be fine. I’ve walked this road more than enough times in the last few years. You know you should get that shoulder looked at. I doubt that twinge you are fighting to ignore will go away without some muscle relaxants.”
“Damn… you are good aren’t ya Ace. You didn’t even get my shirt off and you’re already diagnosing,” he grinned. “Are you sure I can’t drive you at least part of the way?”
“I am fine. I like the quiet and being alone. Gives me time to think.”
“Alright, I guess I’ll see you later then,” he said as he reluctantly walked over to the drivers side. “You know… there was a time when you begged me to let you drive the camaro. I even remember the deal you made to get behind the wheel. And here I am offering you keys on a plate and you wanna walk!?! How times change…” he grinned before getting in and firing up the engine. Something told him that he’d be relinquishing the drivers seat to her again soon.
“I also go running regularly too,” she added. “And I gave up my rice crispy treats.”
“You still run eh? Well how about we go for a run sometime? I usually set off at oh-six-hundred… every morning except Sundays,” he replied with a grin. Aracely was a monster for rice crispy treats. Whenever his mother made some, she was over to share them every time.
“I’ll think about it. Good night Jason,” she smiled before setting off for the road.
Jason figured it’d be a good opportunity to open the camaro up properly and turn away from the road to town. While the scenic route wasn’t very scenic at night, it did offer a nice stretch of road to fulfill ones need for speed. He still kept checking his rear-view mirror though, as long as Ace was in sight, he had his eyes on her.