It had been a few days since Jason and Aracely talked. Every morning at oh-six-hundred, Jason would go for his run, but Aracely hadn’t met up with him. He’d even missed his chance to see her when Lisa took Tommy to the practice as he had bumped into some old school friends on his way in and ended up spending the time talking with them.
He’d hoped that she was at least giving their talk some thought. He had thought of little else. The upside was that he hadn’t seen Saunders either. He’d gone shopping in town, buying some new clothes and he expected to see him on his rounds or on a lunch break or something, but it was as if the guy never left the practice.
True to his word, he’d helped his Dad with some of the larger furniture orders and with the general upkeep of their land. He’d given Lisa the money to buy the materials that could complete her house and he’d even spent some time working on it, building them a porch which wasn’t on the original plans, because they couldn’t afford to have such a luxury. That’s where he was now, working on his sisters first home with her husband and son. He wanted this for her just as much as she wanted it and he would move heaven and earth to make it happen if he could.
As he slid another plank of wood into place and locked it down with the nail gun, he sighed. It was hot… sweltering hot for a town like Mullens Creek. Had he known it would get so hot, he would have brought some water from home. The plumbing at Lisa’s place had yet to be connected up, so he couldn’t get some there. He thought about jumping in the truck and heading home for a break too, but he wanted to finish the walkway outside the front of the house first.
Everything since that day had changed. Working with Eric had become even more cold than before. They only really spoke when they needed to converse about a patient and the practice. That was at least until the last scheduled patient left and he came in telling their receptionist, Miranda, to go home early.
“What do you want Eric?” Aracely asked as she continued writing in a chart and updating the file.
“I want to know just what the hell is going on with you Aracely!” he snapped. “Ever since soldier boy came back to town, you’ve been so quiet. What is it? Are you sleeping with him?”
“What?! No!” she exclaimed as she stared at him. “I haven’t seen him since that first day. Oh my god Eric! You know I been home with you every night!”
“Every night… but you go on rounds!” Eric snapped, “And even if you’re not sleeping with him, he’s getting to you. So just tell me already!”
Her eyes narrowed on him. “I come back the same time, each time. He’s getting to me? Who was the one that threw out the cake and coffee his mother sent here for me and then lie that no one visited? You need to stop being so paranoid because I can’t deal with this anymore if you keep on!”
“Paranoid? If I’m so paranoid, tell me that you don’t have feelings for the guy!” Eric was about ready to hit something.
“Yes paranoid. You were the one that asked me if I was sleeping around,” she replied evenly. “He’s my ex! You – he – I can’t believe this!” she eventually let out, nearly laughing as she shook her head in disbelief.
“That doesn’t answer my question Ace! Do you have feelings for the guy?” he growled.
Aracely glared at him. “He is only a friend, and barely that because you don’t let me talk to anyone. Not even my own parents. Whether I had feelings or not, doesn’t matter. You weren’t like this in California. What happened to you Eric?”
“What happened to me? I’ll tell you what happened to me! This fucking town happened to me. Everywhere I go, it’s Aracely and Jason this, Jason and Aracely that… like everyone expected you two to get married, settle down and live the fucking American dream, white picket fence and all!” He snapped, after years of putting up with his patients and nosey sons of bitches who wanted to know his business all the time, it finally got to him. It wasn’t a coincidence that it finally started to grate on him because Jason fucking Quinn was home.
“Eric I warned you what they were like here when you said you wanted to come with me. Even through all this, everyone trying to talk me into leaving you…where have I been the entire time?” she asked.
Sighing, the Doctor hung his head, whether it was in shame or in anger, he wasn’t sure. The fact that he felt both made it difficult for him to think straight. “Well if you’re with me… then marry me. Marry me and we can join Doctors without Borders like you’ve always talked about.”
Aracely looked up at him, considering it. It took a full minute before she shook her head. “I can’t. If everything hadn’t happened, the distance that you had me put between my family already, I would have. But I can’t now. I want my parents. I want my friends. You took that from me and to run away like that now…I’m sorry Eric,” she said softly as she looked at him with large sincere eyes. “I need to try to mend things with my parents. I need them too much now.”
“Oh that’s great, Aracely’s white knight comes riding on through in that red compensation-mobile of his and suddenly you wanna forget your dream of being one of the best Doctors in the state,” he said, “Figures he’d change your mind about leaving.”
“No. I just wanted to be a doctor,” she said standing. Pulling his ring off her finger, she set it on the desk. “I’m going by Hayley’s. I expect you to out of my house tonight. I’m sure you’ll be comfortable at the inn until you choose whether to go back to California or not.” With that she grabbed her purse and coat, throwing them over her arm and walked out into the afternoon sun.
Growling, Eric slammed his fist into what he thought was dry wall, only to punch a wooden support beam. He didn’t know what was louder, the sound of his fingers breaking, or the sound of his scream afterward.
Jason finally caved and decided to go to Steve’s place for lunch and a tall glass of coke. It wasn’t a beer, but Joe’s wouldn’t open for another few hours.
Stepping into the diner, he found Hayley sat at the counter, flipping through a baby book while her husband worked the grills.
“Hey guys,” he grinned, kissing Hayley on the cheek and waving to his best friend.
“Hey buddy, you keep coming by like this I might have to offer you a job,” Steve grinned, “Take a seat and I’ll get you your usual.”
“Thanks man,” Jason said with a grateful smile. “And I already have a job… of sorts. I’ve been making headway with Lisa’s place.”
“Oh yeah, how’s it looking?” Hayley asked. “Your mom said something about building her a porch?”
“Yeah, nothing fancy, but you can’t design a gorgeous house like that and not have a porch. I should be done in a couple of days. Then the builders can come in and finish upstairs and the roof,” Jason explained. “But I need a break… this heat is unbelievable.”
“Says the guy who just got back from the middle east,” Hayley quipped, smirking as she found the article she was looking for.
The bell to the door rang again, only to reveal Aracely stepping in and looking around.
“Aracely? Well this is a surprise,” Hayley said as she struggled to her feet and waddled over to her friend. “The warden let you out for some yard time?”
“I broke out,” she shrugged as she looked at her warily. “I um, could go for a chocolate shake though…” she smiled.
“Steve, a chocolate shake for Ace here… on me,” Jason said,slamming a hand down on the counter. “Do you want something to eat too?”
Taking a deep breath, she looked at him. “I can pay for my own dinner, thank you.” She turned and looked at Steve and eyed the display of their sweets and raised an eyebrow silently.
“Fair enough,” Jason replied. “Steve, I’ll be in the usual booth.” With that, he got up and left them to it.
“What the hell Aracely? he was just trying to be nice, girl,” Hayley whispered so that Jason wouldn’t hear.
“I need to get on my own feet now. I don’t think I ever was truly on my own. If I don’t start now while I had the courage to walk out on Eric, I’ll never be able to again,” she explained. “And you shouldn’t be on your feet.”
“Sorry mom…” Hayley smiled. “The guy wasn’t looking to buy you a house, hon… he was just offering to buy you a shake and a meal, cos it’s obvious you need it… I used to be that thin, you know.” She gave her 7-month pregnant belly an affectionate rub before the penny finally dropped.
“Wait… you walked out on Doctor Dick!?! Oh My god. HONEY, WE’LL BE UPSTAIRS!”
With that, the pregnant girl snatched her friends hand and practically dragged her through to the stairway leading to their apartment.
“Pfft… women,” Steve sighed, shaking his head.
Hayley eased herself onto the couch carefully. If she didn’t know better, she felt as if she were having twins, or even triplets. “So spill… I want details!”
“What’s there to tell? He accused me of sleeping with Jason since he came back then threw around a few other complaints before asking me to go work with DWOB with him. It was bad enough he barely approved of me seeing my own family here and to want me to leave them completely after spending nearly eight years away in school…That was it.”
“That rat bastard!” Hayley snapped, “I have a mind to go show the bump how mommy can still kick ass! How dare he? Especially after everything he’s put you through since you came back to town.”
“Well, I told him to be out of the house tonight but I really don’t want to go back there. I’m going to see if my parents will let me stay with them if they aren’t very pissed at me,” she sighed.
“Aww honey, your parents love you. They where in here just the other day saying how much they wanted to go over there and sort things out with you,” Hayley explained. “But even if you’re not ready to sort things out with them, you can always stay here, or the Quinn’s would gladly take you in.” The latter half of her suggestion was emphasised, her knowing smile played on her lips well.
She looked hard at Hayley. “No. I’m more than willing to go talk to my parents. It’s been a long time coming and I have a lot of people that I need to apologize to. So please, I’m not ready to deal with anything with Jason so please please do not go there again.”
“Alright girl… I’m sorry, okay,” she said, squeezing her best friends hand for the first time in too long. “But you said that you needed to start apologising to people. Why not start with him? It’s not his fault that Doctor Dick can be such an ass.”
“He’s later. Not now. Too much there. Too much that I’m not ready to deal with on top of everything else. If Eric doesn’t stay, I’m by myself in the office with the only other doctor in town being a vet.”
“Oh I don’t know about that, Hanson still lives on the outskirts of town, he could help out, or point you in the direction of someone that does,” she replied. “But let me just ask you this first. Even if Jason hadn’t come along… do you honestly think you and Eric could have worked? I mean truthfully?”
Aracely sighed as she leaned back in her chair. “I don’t know. He really wasn’t like that before. I really do believe that a part of him just couldn’t hold up to everyone’s expectation and comparing him to Jason that he freaked. In the end though, he just didn’t trust me enough to stick by him and that was what caused us to fail. I just hope that he realizes that.”
“Honey, the only reason people started comparing him to Jason was that he started making changes to Hanson’s practice before the guy barely got a foot out of the office. He may have been all smiles with the old man when you were around. But you go ask Hanson what he was like when you weren’t around. Then you’ll understand why we all still feel that Jason’s the better man.”
“I know enough and I tried to fix as much as I could. Regardless, I am hoping he just goes back so that I can do things my way now. I tried to appease him but even that wasn’t enough. Don’t worry, it’s over now,” she smiled.
“And with enough time to spare before I drop this kid and spend most of my free time either feeding, burping or changing her,” she grinned. “I’ve missed ya, you know.”
“And I’ve missed you,” Aracely sighed as she looked at her. “So – tell me what other gossip have I missed!”
“Well, Sheriff Rickman might be stepping down by the end of the year. Seems his wife is looking to move to New York to join their family,” she smiled, “I guess that means they’ll be looking for someone to take over.”
“They mentioned as much to me as well. She was in last week to get copies of their records to take with them to whoever their new physician will be. That was one of the small things with Eric that pissed me off too. He tried to charge them per page. That’s over 50 years of records!”
Hayley rolled her eyes, “He’d charge for every word if he could. That’s why we’ve been going to the OBGYN clinic you suggested. I am sorry about that you know… I just didn’t want him looking at my cooch.”
She shook her head. “It’s alright. I understand completely,” she laughed. “After everything now, I wouldn’t let him near mine either.”
“Do you think Doctor Goodman would mind very much if I started seeing you for my check-ups?” Hayley asked hopefully. The drive out to the clinic was long, it felt longer still because of the pregnancy.
“I don’t think she’d mind but really as a regular OB, I would recommend sticking with her. In a pinch I can help you out as I hate that drive myself. Please don’t be upset with me…It just isn’t my specialty. I’m just an internist that took extra neonate and pediatric rotations because I knew I wanted to work here.”
“No need to apologize… I’m just so happy you’re here, even under the circumstances,” she explained.
Aracely grinned. “You know what I really would love right now?”
“I thought you said we weren’t gonna talk about Jason,” Haley joked.
She smacked Hayley’s leg as she shoved her way onto the couch next to her. “No! You have such a dirty mind…I want popcorn and a chocolate milkshake, with a tear jerker movie while I am under a snuggly blanket with my best friend.”
“That can be arranged,” Hayley grinned, “Would you mind just hitting that button on the intercom?” Aracely leaned over and hit the said button, holding it while she looked back at her.
“HUSBAND! GET YOUR JEAN COVERED ASS UP HERE WITH THOSE MILKSHAKES!!!”
She laughed hysterically before letting go of the button and moved back over to curl up with her friend as they did all through high school. “I missed this so much,” she sighed.
A few moments later, a breathless looking Steve burst into the apartment with a pair of chocolate milkshakes, “You’re gonna be the death of me woman. What if I had an order in my hands… or worse yet, a knife!”
“I’ll sew you back up,” Aracely said simply as she had her arm wrapped around Hayley and used her as a pillow.
“The two of you back together… I’m in hell… I really am,” he half joked as he made his way out of the apartment. “I wonder if Jase’ll want to start going bowling again.”
Steve froze on the spot. “Y-yes dear?”
“Would you make us some popcorn please?” Hayley asked with her sweet and innocent voice.
“I have a diner full of customers downstairs babe,” Steve sighed.
“And I’m carrying your baby daughter, and we all want popcorn!” Hayley countered with a pout.
Aracely whispered to her, “Let him use Jason for something. He can leave it at the door or something and not come in.”
“Oooh, you can send Jason up with it. Just tell him to leave it by the door,” Hayley smiled innocently.
“Yeah… cos he loves being an errand boy just as much as I do,” he muttered before making his way downstairs.
In the Diner, Jason had finished his meal and was settling up his bill.
Steve came back in with a sour puss on his face. “You’re not going anywhere. They are back together and up to no good and I am not going to deal with them alone. You’re staying put and suffering with me.”
“Oooh no, I’m going back to the house and finishing my sisters porch, you can deal with this fresh level of hell on your own,” Jason grinned, making his way to the door.
“Some friend you are! They asked for you to bring their popcorn specifically!” he shouted after him.
“They?” Jason asked, pausing. “Who asked specifically?”
“Well, Hayley but she doesn’t think like that. She already was putting on the sympathy card before suddenly asking for you. You should have seen them. Aside from a pregger belly, they looked like they did in high school all cuddly on the couch together.”
“Aww man… it sucks to be you,” Jason grinned. Truthfully, he was pleased that Aracely had gotten her best friend back in her life. He had a feeling that they would need each other now more than ever. “Get their popcorn ready… I’ll take it up,” he conceded. “But then I’m going. I’m not gonna be your wife’s substitute errand boy.”
“Just wait until you and Acie are hitched. You’ll be singing a different tune,” Steve said as he headed back into the kitchen.
“Like that’s gonna happen…” Jason muttered under his breath, unsure of where he stood with Aracely.
Shaking his head, the man only laughed. “It’s going to happen. Everyone and their mother knows it. We all bided our time with Dickhead, knowing that it was just a question of how long before he would leave after you got here. That’s happening now. She finally kicked his ass out. Just give her some time. You always said that about me and Hayles.”
“Good things come to those who wait… I told you that you’d bite me in the ass with that some day,” he grinned. “I don’t honestly know what the future holds buddy. But if I had a choice, I’d choose her every time.”
“Of course you would. It’s like that stupid movie that the kids are all talking about. You’re the Edward to her Bella…Don’t say it – I regret it already…” he winced and felt like throwing up.
“The kids huh?” he grinned, “How many times has she made you watch it…”
Steve only looked at him with the desire for death to come to him in the most swift manner possible. Didn’t have to be painless, just fast.
“Well look, now that Hayley’s got her best friend back, how’s about you help me christen my new flat-screen tonight?” he asked, hoping to spend some time with his friend and not get even more enamoured with his baby nephew. “We can watch some 80’s action films, get a pizza, have a couple of beers.”
“I’d love to but I have to ask the wife for permission. I don’t think she will want to be home alone knowing that Acie is supposed to go talk to her folks after so long,” he frowned. “She worries too much. Man – when the fuck did we become grown ups?”
“Around the time your chin flared up with that peach fuzz and you started saving to buy this place,” Jason grinned, remembering how determined his friend was. “Look, we can do it another night if you want… or Hayley could visit Lisa and spend some time with Tommy. I’m sure Lisa would love some company.”
He shrugged as he looked in on the popcorn which was still going.
“Well, run it by the Mrs,” he smiled, “But we are gonna hang out before the rest of your time is dedicated to the niblet.”
“How many bags should I make? I remember Acie being able to finish two off on her own. Remember getting the fake shit at the store in the huge bags? She would have one just for herself. Between the marshmallow crispies and the damn popcorn, I’m surprised she still has her teeth and never seemed to gain an ounce.”
“I know,” Jason sighed, remembering the late night runs to the snack stop just to feed her habit. “Better make it a triple bagger. If I know the girls, they’ll polish that off easily and want seconds.”
“At least you can go home with some good news for your family now,” Steve added. “I’m sure no one wanted that Dickweed out of here more than your mom.”
“She actually used her f-bomb when she told me about him,” Jason grinned. “I figured it was just her playing the loving mother part until I actually met the guy. Do you know he tossed some coffee and cake my mom sent for Ace? If that’s how petty and pathetic the guy is, she’s well shot of him.”
“I don’t put it past him,” Steve replied as he pulled the first bag out of the microwave. “I wonder what happened that made her tell him to fuck off finally.”
“I don’t much care… I’m just glad that she’s gonna move on and rebuild some bridges in her life,” Jason explained. “I mean if she’s already asking for popcorn and a movie with her best friend, she’s making progress.”
“I’m waiting for her to start throwing shit again at people. Only then will I know that our Acie is back.”
“At least this time around I’ve got access to body armor, because who else would be her primary target?” he grinned as Steve stacked the tray with bags of popcorn. “Wish me luck…”
He looked at his friend and shook his head. “You don’t need luck. You need a god.”
Heading up the stairs, Jason wasn’t sure whether he should just leave the tray outside and knock or go in and deliver the popcorn personally. After mulling it over, he decided to man up and just go in. He was a marine after all, he could handle it.
Opening the door, he found the girls snuggled under a blanket just as the DVD copyright notices flashed up on the screen. “Uh… someone ordered popcorn?”
Aracely yelled out at seeing him, “No boys allowed! Hayley! Your husband doesn’t listen for shit!”
“Girl, you wanna try telling him to pick up his dirty socks sometimes…” she sighed before giggling, “Just leave it on the coffee table Master Sergeant…”
Nodding, Jason placed the tray down on the coffee table. “Do you guys need anything else before I head off?”
“Drop and give us twenty!” the pregnant woman demanded between her giggles. “Oh my god, these hormones.”
“Some other time,” Jason grinned before eying Aracely in particular. “Have fun girls.”
“Awww, Master Sergeant Quinn’s no fun…” Hayley grinned as she toyed with her milkshakes straw.
Aracely didn’t say anything as she dug into her bag of popcorn voraciously and sighing at the buttery taste. “This isn’t going to be enough,” she eventually let out with a mouthful.
“Well, I guess you two are on your own,” Jason muttered before storming out. All he wanted to do was be her friend and kept on putting up the wall between them. as he headed down the stairs, he decided to keep his distance and let her make the next move.
“Jason!” she called out before sighing and looking over at Hayley helplessly.
“Oh, don’t give me that look hon, he done nothing but try to be nice, he even wanted to buy you lunch,” Hayley said before tossing a small handful of popcorn into her mouth.
“I know! But even when I’m trying to be like everyone wants me to be, my old self, I’m still ostracising people. You all want me to just run and jump into his waiting arms and I can’t!”
“I never said I wanted you to jump into his arms, girl. I want you two to pull yourselves together, get married and make babies,” she replied after swallowing down the warm, sweet popcorn.
Aracely looked at her. “You don’t have to say it to still want it.”
“Have you considered trying to be his friend. You were friends before the spring fling. You pulled each others hair, you fought constantly, but he was still your friend.”
“Steve was, is, my friend and I’d say the same thing to him and I doubt he would run off like that,” she pointed out.
“Yeah, because you’re not treating Steve like he’s public enemy number one,” Hayley replied. “I get that you want to keep him at arms length and that you don’t want to rush things. But if you keep treating him like this, he might just hop on the fastest bus out of town with no thought of coming back.”
“All I said downstairs was that I could pay for my own food.”
“It wasn’t what you said hon, it was the way you said it. You reacted like he had just offered to shoot your best friend in the head. No wonder he went running off to the cubicle. You had your hand on his balls and you were squeezing… hard!”
“Oh my god, I didn’t – I know I thanked him for his offer but its not like I had just you or just Steve to deal with after just telling Eric off. All three of you at the same time – I should probably just go and talk to my parents now before I piss off anyone else again…”
“Who was there for you when Spike Tyler pushed you into the mud in fourth grade?” She asked rhetorically. “The three of us. And who was there for you when you learned about your biological parents? We were… you know, your friends. You can’t blame the guy for wanting to be there for you when you’re hurting. He’s done it often enough.”
“It’s still a bit overwhelming and knowing that it all can’t be fixed overnight,” she said softly as she went to get up. “Maybe I should have waited a couple days before starting to talk to everyone, and started with my parents…”
“No… don’t go, please,” Hayley begged. “He’s my friend too y’know. I hate to see you both hurting like this.”
Aracely smiled and nodded. “I know. But of everyone I’m scared of him the most right now. I just can’t deal with him like this at all.”
“Well I doubt you’ll have to, for a while at least anyways. I think you made your feelings quite clear about that,” Hayley replied, taking her friends hand and pulling her back onto the couch.
“What do you mean? He knows that I care about him still, at least I hope he does. We did talk that night when he first came home but with Eric and everything I’ve just tried to keep things as calm as possible and avoided him.”
“Oh he knows you care. Why do you think he ran off the way he did. He knows you want space, so he’s going to give it to you. Now that we’re back in each others lives, I doubt we’ll be seeing much of him around the diner for a while,” she explained. “I know how his mind works.”
“I doubt that’s why he ran off,” she sighed. “I don’t know.”
“Look, if you don’t want to deal with him right now, the best thing you can do now is sort things out with your parents, spend some time with them and your other friends. Maybe even breathe some life back into the practice,” Hayley suggested. “And then, once you’ve both calmed down you can talk things out. I bet that once you start talking to him like a friend, the two of you will make some headway. Hell, you might be able to be friends without wrestling or playing practical jokes on each other. I doubt you’d want to get a wedgie from him while wearing one of those thongs of yours.”
“Meh. I have new tricks too,” Aracely shrugged. “Plus I have needles.”
“The guy got shot… how will needles scare him?” Hayley asked with a raised eyebrow.
She only smiled knowingly at her. “I have ways.”
“I just bet that you do,” Hayley grinned. She took it as a positive development that Aracely was planning practical jokes to pull on Jason. At least she was warming to the idea that they could be friends and hopefully something more. She just had to tell the dummy to hold out a little longer.
“Alright, after the movie, I’m going to go deal with my parents,” she said, trying to shake off the last few minutes.