Syd Hansen leaned back and rubbed her eyes. She had worked in the clinic all day and then had sat at her desk late into the night working on a grant application. She still wasnít finished, and the deadline for having it in the mail was the next day, but she knew that unless she got some coffee and a bite to eat sheíd never make it. Robbie was working that evening, she remembered, so she reached for her phone and dialed the number for OíNeillís.
"Rob Hansen, please," she said and then listened to the background din of talking and laughter as she waited for Robbie to come on the line.
"This is Rob." Robbie sounded busy and distracted, and she regretted calling him. She should have just settled for fast food, she thought.
"Robbie, itís me. Listen, Iím still at the clinic working on that grant application and I havenít eaten since breakfast. Would you order me something and have it waiting when I get there? Iíll have to grab it and get back here if Iím going to meet tomorrowís deadline."
"Geez, Syd! You must be wiped." Robbie looked at the clock and saw that it was almost 10 p.m. "What do you want to eat?"
"I donít even care," she admitted. "Just something reasonably healthy to keep me going for another couple of hours. Oh, and a cup of coffee. Iíll see you in a few minutes, OK?"
"OK Syd. Listen, I gotta go." Robbie hung up suddenly, but Syd didnít blame him. She knew how busy OíNeillís was on a Friday night.
Friday night. People were out having fun, laughing Ė sheíd heard them in the background as she talked to Robbie. And instead of being one of them, she was pulling what was shaping up to be an all-nighter so that St. Clareís could continue to keep itís head above water Ė barely. It was one of those nights when she had to forcibly remind herself of the good they were doing at the clinic. As she slid behind the wheel of her Volvo, she flipped through her mental Rolodex of patients who might not have received care had St. Clareís not been an option for them. It was worth it, she knew, but sometimes it was hard not to yearn for the life that she would be leading if she had stayed with plastic surgery. There wouldnít have been many Friday night grant-writing sessions, that was for sure.
"And I suppose youíre going to blame the clinic for the fact that you havenít had a date in months."
Syd looked over into the passenger seat. "Mother, how many times do I have to tell you to put your seatbelt on if youíre going to ride with me?"
"How many times do I have to point out that Iím already dead? Thereís no sense in crushing my dress with a seat belt that serves no purpose, now is there dear?" The elegant woman in the gray silk dress blew out a puff of smoke from her cigarette, and Syd gave an exaggerated cough.
"Could you at least crack the window please Mother?"
"Youíre changing the subject dear," Lynda said, but she reached for the button and lowered the window slightly.
"No, Iím not," Syd insisted. "The subject was death, and just because youíre already dead doesnít mean that I want to die of lung cancer from a lifetime of second-hand smoke."
"The subject was your lack of a social life, and the fact that youíre letting this little clinic consume you."
"Little clinic? Little clinic! Mom, if you could see how many people we help each week, each day, in that little clinic, you would know how important what Iím doing really is. Who cares if I have a date on Friday night? If we get this grant . . ."
"I think you care." Lynda eyed her daughter knowingly.
"I do not."
"I think you do. I think thereís a part of you that wishes youíd never heard of St. Clareís. Thereís probably even a part of you that wishes youíd never come home to Providence."
"Thatís not the point, Mom. The point is that I did come home and I am in charge of St. Clareís."
"And your father and Robbie and Joanie, and even little Hannah. Youíre in charge of all of them dear. Itís no wonder you donít have a social life." Lynda crushed out her cigarette in the carís pristine ashtray, and her daughter shot her a look of irritation.
"Mom, would it make you happy if I marched into OíNeillís and threw myself at the first single man who presented himself? Or maybe I could stand on a street corner like a hooker. Would that satisfy you? Then I could get married and start cranking out babies so that when I died I could be as happy as you were."
Syd regretted the words the minute they left her mouth, but there was no taking them back. Her mother calmly reached for another cigarette and when it was comfortably between her fingers she spoke again. "I didnít have your opportunities, Syd. I didnít have your brains, for one thing, and I lived in a time when it was pretty much expected that I would stay home with my children. Your father expected it, even if no one else did. But you, Syd - you could have it all. You could have love, and family, and your work Ė everything Ė if you would just try to find some balance. Balance, SydÖBalance."
"Syd!" She looked up, startled, when she heard her name and saw Robbie knocking on the door of her parked car.
She shook her head to clear it, and rolled down the window. "Sorry Robbie, I must be more tired than I thought. I was in another world there for a minute."
"No problem," he said. "I was due a break anyway, so I came out here to wait on you. Feels good to get some fresh air." He passed a Styrofoam container through the window and followed it with a steaming Styrofoam cup. "Hereís your dinner. Grilled chicken salad with the dressing on the side."
"Thanks Robbie. Youíre a lifesaver. How much do I owe you?"
"Not a thing. The cook owed me a favor." He grinned at her. "I better get back in there Sis. Iíll see you at home." Robbie slapped the car door and then gave her a jaunty wave.
Syd eased the lid off the hot coffee and took a sip. Not normally a fan of black coffee, she grimaced as the bitter liquid hit her taste buds, but she took it like medicine Ė the medicine she would need to stay awake and finish her grant. She settled the coffee safely into the cup holder in the carís center console and merged back into the traffic. She decided on a shortcut to St. Clareís and reached for her coffee again as she turned down a quiet street.
When she glanced back up again, she saw a vague form in front of her car and a low flash of white. She slammed on the brakes, but as the car squealed to a halt she heard the sickening thud of metal meeting flesh. She was only dimly aware of the hot coffee soaking through her suit and burning her skin. Somehow she made it out of the car and knelt beside the middle-aged woman lying unconscious on the ground. A small Maltese, whose red leather leash was still looped around the woman's arm, joined her. The dog licked her mistressís face and whimpered, and this added to Sydís horror. She felt for, and found, a pulse and ran to her car for her cell phone, which she used to dial 911.
"This is Dr. Sydney Hansen. Iíve had an accident. I need an ambulance. Iíve Ė Iíve hit a pedestrian. Iím on Calhoun Street just off of Bentley." Despite her panic, her training took over and she began to speak more calmly. "The patient is female, 45 to 50 years old. Sheís unconscious, but I was able to find a pulse. I can see some contusions but no other obvious injuries. There could be more but I donít want to move her without a backboard."
It was only moments before she heard the sirens getting closer, and soon she was surrounded by EMTís and police officers. She told her story to the police but was distracted as she watched the woman sheíd hit being loaded into the ambulance. "Thereís really not much more to tell you," she said. "I assume theyíll take her to Memorial since itís closest. Can I follow her there?"
"I guess so, Dr. Hansen. We will probably have some more questions for you later, but we have all your contact information, so weíll be in touch."
Just then, Syd noticed one of the police officers putting the little dog in the back seat of the cruiser. "Listen, my dad is a veterinarian with a clinic not far from here. Would it be ok if I took the dog to him? I feel like sheís my responsibility until her owner can care for her again."
The police looked at one another and shrugged. This lady ran a medical clinic for heavenís sake Ė surely she could be trusted with a little dog. "Sure Dr. Hansen. Just give me the number for your fatherís clinic."
Syd gave him all the information, and took the shaking bit of white fluff in her arms. The dog was clearly panicked by the separation from itís owner and all the sirens and lights.
"Iím sorry little girl," Syd said as she settled behind the wheel of her car. "Iím so sorry about all this. Iím sure your Mommy is going to be all better soon, and in the meantime, Iím going to take you to the nicest man in the world. Heíll take good care of you, I promise." Syd said the words soothingly, realizing as she did that she was trying to comfort herself as much as the frightened dog. She was trying not to think about what might happen to the woman who was now on her way to the hospital because she, Syd, had been tired and not paying enough attention. She was a doctor, she was supposed to heal people, not hurt them. How had she let this happen?
The grant was forgotten as she pulled into her driveway and entered the darkened house with the dog still shaking in the crook of her arm. It was after 11 now, and she knew her Dad would have been asleep for hours, but as much as she hated to awaken him, she couldnít stand the thought of just tossing the dog in one of the kennels at the clinic Ė and she knew her father wouldnít want that either.
She knocked lightly on his door and then opened it and moved quietly to the side of his bed. He still slept on one side of the mattress, she had noticed, the same side he had always slept on when her mom was still alive. She shook his shoulder gently. "Dad? Wake up Dad. I need your help."
More than thirty years as a parent had conditioned him to respond quickly to his childrenís calls for help, no matter the hour, and his eyes opened instantly though he was understandably disoriented as he saw his oldest child standing by his bed with a small dog in her arms. "Syd? What is it, honey?" He sat up, his white hair standing on end.
"I had an accident Dad." Sydís voice shook as she said the words. "I hit a woman who was walking across the street. Iím going to go to the hospital to find out how she is, but I convinced the police to let me bring her dog to you. Sheís terrified, and I couldnít stand the thoughtÖ" She broke down here and started to cry, clutching the dog harder, and Jim Hansen encircled them both in his arms.
"Shhhh. Itís ok sweetie," he crooned. "Itís going to be ok." He didnít know that, of course. He couldnít know, but just the sound of his voice, the loving voice that had calmed her nightmares as a child, made her feel better. She stopped crying with effort, but kept her head on her fatherís chest.
"I didnít see her Dad. I was tired and she was wearing dark clothes. I had gone to OíNeillís to pick up some food and coffee, and when I looked up from reaching for my coffee it was too late to stop. I hit the brakes, but it was too late."
"It sounds like you did everything you could honey. And you did the right thing by bringing this little girl to me. Iíll take good care of her, you know that. Now, I know you want to get to the hospital to check on this woman, but are you OK to drive? I could take you there, or we could wake Joanie up and she could drive you while I stay here with the dog and Hannah."
"No, Dad, I think Iíll be ok." Syd stepped away from her father, feeling strong enough to stand on her own again. He always had that effect on her. "Iím going to run to the guesthouse to change my clothes, and Iíll be fine after that. Thanks Dad."
He reached for her again and kissed her forehead. "No problem, honey. Call me from the hospital if you need me, ok?"
"I will Dad. Iíll talk to you later."
In the guesthouse Syd shed the suit, which was stained with coffee and covered with dog hair. She threw on a pair of slacks and a shirt, barely noticing what she chose in her anxiety to get to the hospital. She drove straight to the ER and made a beeline for the admit desk.
"Iím Dr. Hansen," she said. "I was involved in an accident about an hour ago Ė I hit a pedestrian. I donít know her name but I know they were bringing her here. Can you give me any information?"
"Let me see, Dr. Hansen." The nurse glanced through various charts at the desk. "That would probably be this one." She reached for a folder. "Sheís in Exam four, but I donít have any other information yet. If youíll have a seat, Iíll ask Dr. Stevens to speak with you once heís through examining the patient."
"Please Ė Iím on staff here. Could I go back there while Dr. Stevens is examining her?"
The nurse looked at Syd with compassion. "As soon as I can get away from the desk Iíll ask Dr. Stevens if itís ok. In the meantime, why donít you sit down? Would you like a cup of coffee?"
"Uh, no Ė thank you though." Her last cup of coffee had been a disaster. She might never drink coffee again, she thought.
She had only waited a few minutes when she heard her name being called and looked up to find the young resident, Dr. Stevens, smiling at her and offering her his hand. "Dr. Hansen? Jack Stevens. I have some good news for you. Mrs. Miller is going to be fine. You must have hit the brakes in the very nick of time. Sheís banged up and bruised here and there, but sheís regained consciousness and seems to be ok. Weíre going to send her up for a head CT just to be sure, but I think itís probably just a mild concussion."
Syd stood to shake the proffered hand and then wanted to sink back into her seat with relief at the news. "Thank God," she said reverently, and then, "Can I see her?"
"Sheíd like that," Dr. Stevens assured her. "Come on back."
Syd felt somewhat awkward as she entered the exam room, unsure of what to say to a woman sheíd nearly killed. "Mrs. Miller? Iím Syd Hansen. I donít even know how to tell you how sorry I am."
The woman shook her head. "It was my fault, Dr. Hansen," she said in a reassuringly strong voice. "Iím visiting my brother, so I'm not familiar with the area, and I didnít realize how dark that street would be at night. I had no business out there in such dark clothes. I went out to walk the dog and had some things on my mind, and I just wasnít paying attention when I stepped off the sidewalk. Iím amazed that you saw me at all. Dr. Stevens assures me that if you hadnít hit the brakes when you did, I probably wouldnít be here. I should be the one apologizing to you."
Again, Syd felt the relief surge through her at the womanís gracious words. "You definitely donít owe me an apology, Mrs. Miller. I looked down to pick up my coffee. If I hadnít done that, I probably would have seen you sooner."
"Please, call me Erin," the woman said with a smile. "And letís just stop with the apologies. Iíll probably be stiff and sore for a few days, but there was no real harm done."
"Thank you Erin," Syd squeezed the womanís hand. "And Iím Syd. Listen, could I call your brother for you or have you done that already?"
"Thatís not necessary. Heís a physician at Providence General and was on call tonight. I didnít expect to see him until tomorrow anyway, so he wonít have missed me. Iíll leave a message for him at the hospital if it looks like Iím going to be here much longer."
"I think they want to do one more test to make sure youíre ok, but if thatís clear, theyíll probably go ahead and discharge you tonight." Syd looked to Dr. Stevens for confirmation, and he nodded his agreement. "Iíll be glad to stay and drive you home."
"Thatís kind of you," Erin said. "Listen, do you know what happened to Molly Ė the little dog I had with me?"
"Yes. I wanted to be sure she was well cared for, so I took her home to my Dad. Heís a veterinarian and runs a clinic out of our home. I promise, sheís in the best possible hands."
"Thatís wonderful," Erin said, with obvious relief. "I was afraid she might have run away. Molly belonged to my mother, and then when Mom was unable to care for her anymore, my brother agreed to take her. I flew out here to bring her to him. Sheís like a member of the family to all of us though. I couldnít stand it if something happened to her."
"Why donít you leave her with Dad for tonight and go home and get some sleep? You can stop by the house and get her tomorrow, or I could bring her to you."
"Iím sure I can come get her," Erin said. "Thank you."
"I canít believe youíre thanking me after I nearly ran over you," Syd said, shaking her head.
Syd was practically sleepwalking by the time Erin Miller was discharged from the hospital at 2 a.m., and she could tell the other woman was exhausted as well. She drove carefully to Erinís brotherís apartment building and offered to walk with her up the stairs, but Erin refused, saying that she was fine. Syd had given her directions to her home, and Erin promised to come by the next day to pick up Molly and thanked her again for seeing to it that the little dog was well cared for.
Syd drove the route home by rote memorization, giving no thought to the aborted grant application, and she fell into bed with her clothes still on. When she awakened the next morning, the sun was high in the sky. She rolled over and squinted at the clock by the bed: 10:30 a.m. She pulled her tangled mass of curls out of her eyes and into a ponytail and went to the house for a cup of coffee, having already forgiven it for the role it had played the evening before.
"Morning Joanie," she said to her sister, who was sitting at the table reading the paper. "Whereís Hannah?"
"Watching cartoons," Joanie said, gesturing towards the den. "Hey, Dad told me what happened last night. Iím guessing the woman must have been ok since you seem pretty calm this morning."
Syd fixed her coffee and sat down next to her sister. "Yeah, sheís OK. I stayed at the hospital with her until she was discharged, and then I took her home. I hit the brakes just in time, and the car was almost stopped when I hit her. It still makes me sick to think what could have happened though if Iíd seen her just a split second later." Syd shuddered at the thought.
"Donít do that to yourself," Joanie admonished her. "Just be thankful things turned out like they did."
"Well, we both apologized all over the place to one another. I couldnít believe she was apologizing to me, but she said she had some things on her mind and wasnít paying attention either."
"Sounds like a nice lady."
"She is. Sheís visiting her brother here. Heís a doctor at Providence General. I didnít think to ask her his name, but since Iím not on staff there I doubt Iíd know him anyway." Syd looked up as her father entered the room with Molly under one arm. She gave him a smile. "Morning Dad. Howís your patient?"
"Well, sheís not too hungry this morning, but sheís drinking fine so I think itís just that being in a strange place has her off her feed a little. Howís her owner?"
"Sheís fine. I took her home last night after they discharged her. But actually, Mrs. Miller isnít the dogís owner. She said that little Molly there had belonged to her mother, but that her mother was no longer able to care for her, so her brother was taking the dog in. Mrs. Miller is here in Providence to deliver the dog and visit her brother, took Molly out for a walk, and the rest is history, I guess."
Jim reached into a crock full of dog treats from The Barkery and tried to tempt Molly into taking a bite. "Sounds like Molly has a lot of people who love her."
"She does," Syd agreed. "It was one of the first things Mrs. Miller asked me about. She appreciated you taking care of her and is planning to stop by sometime today to pick her up."
"Sounds good," Jim said. "In the meantime, Iíll just keep her with me. Fearless isnít too crazy about her, but I hate to put her in a kennel when Mrs. Miller will be here to pick her up in just a few hours."
Syd and Joanie exchanged a smile. Their Dad would have every animal at the clinic sleeping in bed with him if he could find a way.
"Youíre a softie Dad," Joanie said, shaking her head. "Why donít you take her in and show Hannah? She might enjoy playing with a dog that isnít twice her size."
"Hey, good idea!" Jim left for the den, calling, "Hannah, come look at the little doggie, honey."
The sisters laughed, and Syd scraped back her chair. "Iím going to go grab a shower. Will you let me know if Erin Miller shows up?"
"Sure thing." Joanie turned back to her paper.
Syd showered, dressed, and came back to the kitchen in search of food. She fixed herself a sandwich and was in the process of cleaning up when the doorbell rang. She opened the door to Erin Miller and a man only a few years older than herself. She greeted them with a smile and ushered them into the house. "Erin, hi. How are you feeling today?"
"A little stiff and sore, but to tell you the truth itís not too much worse than I feel after my aerobics classes." Erin winked at her and they all laughed. "Syd, this is my brother, Brian Hunnicutt."
"Brian, itís nice to meet you." Syd offered her hand.
"You too, Syd." He smiled as he shook her hand and she couldnít help but notice how attractive he was. "I wanted to thank you for not running over my sister. Ever since she quit locking me in the closet whenever I got into her things, Iíve gotten kind of attached to her."
"Oooh. You have to promise never to talk to my younger brother Robbie. Iím pretty sure he has some stories like that too."
"I think itís universal," Erin said. "My kids are nearly grown now, and theyíre still at each othersí throats sometimes."
"My sister, brother and I are grown, but now that weíre all back in the same house again, it can get interesting from time to time. We havenít locked each other in the closet yet, but I wouldnít put it outside the realm of possibility." Syd laughed and then remembered why they had come. "Listen, Iím sure you want your dog back. Why donít you have a seat in the living room and Iíll see if I can find Dad."
She saw that her guests were comfortably situated and then went upstairs calling for her father. When she didnít get an answer, she stuck her head back in the living room and said, "Iím sorry. He must be downstairs at the clinic. Be right back." She found her Dad in the clinic, seated at his desk going over paperwork with Molly in his lap.
"Hey Dad. Erin Miller and her brother are here to pick up Molly."
Jim held the little dog up and spoke to her. "Well, sweetie, I guess itís time to go home. Itís been nice having your company today though," and then to Syd he said, "Iím just about finished down here. Iíll walk up with you."
They entered the living room together, and as they did, Syd said, "Erin, Brian, this is my father Jim Hansen," or rather she started to say it, but at about the time the word "father" crossed her lips she noticed the two people on the couch staring at her Dad in what could only be described as horror.
Erinís hand went to her mouth, and they heard her choke out the word "Daddy" before she lost consciousness and slumped against her brother on the couch.
Mayhem immediately followed, with two physicians and a veterinarian all talking at once and attempting to revive the insensible woman.
"Erin? Erin!" Brian repeated his sisterís name in an effort to revive her, but he kept glancing back and forth from her to Jim Hansen.
Syd frantically jumped to the first medical conclusion that presented itself to her confused brain. "Maybe they shouldnít have discharged her last night. Maybe they missed something." Nothing about the appearance of her benign father or the sweet little dog could have possibly caused such a reaction, she thought.
"No," Brian said firmly. "Thatís not it. Frankly, I feel a little like fainting myself. Erin! Wake up Sis."
"Iíll go get her a glass of water," Jim said, heading to the kitchen. He was troubled by the feeling that he had somehow caused the problem, but he had no idea what he had done. Molly was in roughly the same condition she had been in when he had received her, so that couldnít be it.
Erinís eyes fluttered open at the sound of her brotherís voice. "Brian? What happened?" And then she remembered. "Dad." She grabbed her brotherís arm. "Brian, I saw Daddy!"
"Itís not Dad, Sis." Brian spoke what he knew to be the truth despite the seemingly contradictory evidence of the man who was at that moment returning from the kitchen with a glass of water. Brian and Erin both stared at Jim Hansen, and Erin looked as if she might lose consciousness again.
"I donít understand," Syd said, perplexed. "Are you saying that my Dad looks like your father?"
"My fatherís been dead for years Syd," Brian answered. "But yes, your Dad looks enough like him to be his identical twin. Itís Ė itís absolutely amazing."
Jim was somewhat relieved to hear the explanation. A coincidental Ė and surely exaggerated - resemblance was certainly no fault of his. He and Syd exchanged glances that said that the woman, recently traumatized by the accident, had probably just overreacted. "Iím so sorry I upset you," he said, handing her the glass of ice water.
"You even sound just like him," Erin said, accepting the glass and continuing to stare. "Iím sorry, but you just have no idea how strange it is to see someone you know is dead just walk into a room."
"I can imagine," Syd said with an understanding smile.
Brian had recovered sufficiently to remember his manners, and he stood up and shook Jimís hand. "Iím Brian Hunnicutt, Dr. Hansen. I appreciate you looking after Molly last night." Jim had put Molly down when he had gone to the kitchen, and she was curled comfortably on the couch next to Erin. "As we told you, our father died some years ago, and Molly became my motherís closest companion after his death. Mom is now in a San Francisco nursing home suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, and since my sister has taken most of the responsibility for her care, I offered to take responsibility for Molly. I admit that sheís not necessarily the breed Iíd have chosen had I been looking for a dog," he glanced at the little ball of fluff with the bow in her hair and grinned at Syd and Jim, "but sheís a sweet little thing, and since I live alone Iím looking forward to having her company."
"Well, when you need a vet, Iíll be glad to see her again," Jim offered.
"Thanks, Dr. Hansen." Jim glanced at his sister with a smile. "But Sis, next time you want to help me find a vet, just use the yellow pages." They all laughed, and Erin rolled her eyes.
"Listen Brian," she said. "Would you run out to the car and get my purse? Iím still a little afraid that I might fall down if I try to stand up, and frankly, Iíve embarrassed myself enough in front of these nice people."
"Sure thing," Brian answered, knowing exactly what his sister wanted. He returned a minute later with the purse in hand, and sure enough, Erin pulled out her wallet and extracted a picture of their father that had been taken several years before he died.
She handed it to Jim Hansen. "Do you see what we mean?"
He was startled as he looked at the picture and saw the profound resemblance, but all he said was, "He was a handsome guy, wasnít he?" before handing the picture to Syd.
Sydís reaction was more dramatic. "Oh my goodness! Dad, theyíre not kidding! You two really could be twins."
"That picture was taken when Dad was Ė oh, sixty-one or two I guess. Heíd be seventy-eight now if he had lived."
"Dad was sixty-two last month," Syd said. "This is really amazing. Dad, do you think you could be related?"
An extensive comparison of relatives followed, but no genetic link could be found between the Hunnicutts of California and the Hansens of Rhode Island. Finally, they were forced to chalk the remarkable resemblance up to a mysterious coincidence, and Erin and Brian stood to take their leave.
"Well, they say everyone has a twin somewhere," Jim said. "I guess Iíve just found mine. Anyway, Iíve enjoyed meeting you, and Iím sorry I startled you at first. I can see now why you found me a bit unsettling. I donít usually make such a dramatic first impression."
"I owe you the apology, Jim," Erin insisted. "Iím not usually so dramatic either."
"Well, itís perfectly understandable," Syd reassured her. "And you did have a pretty rough night last night. You should go home and get some rest this afternoon. Doctorís orders."
"Thatís advice I think Iím going to take," Erin agreed.
"Thanks again for looking out for Molly," Brian said. "It was nice to meet you both."
As they shut the door behind the brother and sister, Syd and her Dad exchanged looks of amazement. "That was really weird," Syd said.
"I admit I found it a bit eerie too." Jim looked thoughtful. "I can see why the sight of me startled them both."
"Well yeah. If that picture is anything to go by you two are like clones." Syd shook her head as if to clear it and then changed the subject. "Dad, I think Iím going to go get some rest too and then Iíll probably head down to the clinic to see if I can wrap up that grant. Itís too late to get it in the mail today, but maybe if I include a note about the accident theyíll at least consider it. St. Clareís could sure use the funding."
"All right honey. Do get a nap first though. You had a rough night last night."
"Yeah." Syd was about to head to the guesthouse when the doorbell rang. "They must have forgotten something."
She opened the door and found Brian on the doorstep. "Thereís something I forgot to tell you," he said seriously.
"Something about your Dad?" Syd was confused.
"No, something about me. About a policy I have."
"I have a strict policy of buying dinner for everyone who runs over my sister. Itís a thing with me, really."
Sydís confusion gave way to a smile. "Is that so?"
"Definitely. I know itís short notice, but are you free tonight? I would have asked you earlier, but Ė well Ė I didnít know you earlier."
"I can see how that would be a problem."
"So, what do you say?" Brianís teasing gave way to a tone of uncertainty, and she could tell that he was actually a little nervous.
"What about your sister? Shouldnít you spend time with her while sheís here?"
"I should and I am, but tonight Iíd like to spend some time with you. You can take my word for it that she wonít mind." He didnít see any point in mentioning his sisterís years of nagging about finding a nice girl and settling down.
"I think that would be nice," Syd said, smiling.
"Good. Iíll pick you up around six."
"Iíll see you then." Syd closed the door and met her father's amused gaze. "Dad, are you sure you and Dr. Hunnicutt werenít related?"
"Iím pretty sure." Jim laughed.
"Good. Iím going to take that nap now. It turns out I need my beauty sleep." She winked and left for the guesthouse.
"Well, well, well. It looks like youíre going to take my advice after all."
"Mother, Iím trying to take a nap. Could we save the "I told you soís" until later? Besides, I barely know this guy, and we only met in the first place because I nearly killed his sister. As omens go, that one doesnít seem too great."
"As usual, youíre choosing to see the glass as half-empty dear. I would say that, as omens go, youíve gotten a doozy today." Lynda breezed around the guesthouse, rearranging things to suit her and stopping to examine a picture of her husband.
"What do you mean? Because our dads look alike? That just seems weird to me. Itís hardly a good omen."
Her mother gave her a mysterious smile. "Well, maybe that part will become a bit clearer as you get to know one another better. At the very least it means that you have something in common, now doesnít it?"
Syd sat up in bed. "Mom, did you know about this already?"
"Really, Syd, how blind do you think I am? Thereís a man walking around here who looks exactly like your father, and you donít think Iíve noticed?"
"You mean youíve met Dr. Hunnicutt? Whatís he like?"
"I think thatís a question you should ask his son on your date tonight. Ask Brian to tell you about his Dad. Maybe then youíll see what kind of an omen this really is."
Syd rolled her eyes. "You love to act omniscient, donít you Mom?"
"Well, dear, being dead does have its advantages." Sylvia said, smug. "Just remember, Ďthere are more things in heaven and earthÖthan are dreamt of in your philosophy.í"
"Mom! Since when do you quote Hamlet?"
"I donít dear. This is your dream, remember? Anyway, I really should go and let you start getting ready for your date. Looks like that grant will have to wait another day."
The grant! Syd sat up in bed with a start. Sheíd slept longer than she meant to, and sheíd have to forego the work on the grant until tomorrow. She took another shower and tamed her hair before dressing in a black pantsuit. She wasnít sure where they were going, but figured the suit would cover a wide range of possibilities. She thought about the man she was going out with as she got dressed, and she realized that she really didnít know much about him. He was attractive; she knew that. She liked the fact that he was tall Ė around 6í4íí she guessed. He had thick auburn hair and hazel eyes and an openness about him that she found appealing. Still, they hadnít talked about any of the normal things people usually talked about when they first met. She knew he was a doctor, but had no idea what his specialty was. She had no idea if heíd been married before or if he liked any of the same things she did. Basically, all she knew was that their fathers shared the same face. Which was weird.
She settled on a pair of earrings and examined her reflection in the mirror. Well, here goes nothing, she thought.
He was right on time Ė a point in his favor Ė and managed to greet her father without staring this time though she suspected that still took effort. He complimented her appearance Ė another point Ė and asked her if she had a favorite restaurant.
"Why donít you decide?" Syd suggested. "I picked a restaurant last night and wound up nearly killing your sister."
"Youíre right," Brian said. "I think we should revoke your restaurant-choosing privileges for at least the weekend." He opened the car door for her Ė the points were adding up quickly here Ė and said, "How about the Sunset Grille?"
"Ummm. I love it," Syd said, her eyes lighting up. So far, this guy was too good to be true. The Sunset Grille was on the water with a romantic atmosphere and food that was out of this world. It was a perfect choice.
"You know, I realized as I was on my way to pick you up that we really donít know too much about each other," Brian said as they pulled away from the house. "To be honest, I donít normally date women Iíve just met."
"I had the same thoughts. What made you make an exception for me?"
"Iím not completely sure," he told her honestly. "I mean, obviously youíre beautiful and smart, but I also like the way you acted with my sister last night and the way you made sure Molly was taken care of when it would have been just as easy to let the police take her."
"Anyone would have done those things."
"I donít think so. Itís sad, but I really donít think so." Brian glanced at her and gave her a smile. "So what made you agree to go out with me?"
It sounded entirely too lame to tell him that he was the first attractive man sheíd had an offer from in several months. Her love life wasnít exactly on fire these days. "Honestly, Iím not sure," she answered. "I donít know much about you, but what I do know interests me. Iíd just like to get to know you a little better, I guess."
"The feeling is mutual."
They chatted easily throughout the rest of the drive, and by the time they reached the restaurant Syd knew that he was forty and a general surgeon as his father had been before him. He had never been married, and he had been in Providence for the last five years. As he parked the car, she was beginning to explain her decision to leave California and plastic surgery behind to relocate to Providence, but at the last minute she decided to postpone her narrative until they were seated.
"It involves my family, and anytime I get started on my family it winds up taking a while," she told him.
"I canít wait."
He asked for and received a table outside overlooking the water, and Syd took a deep contented breath of the fresh ocean air. "This is perfect," she said with a smile.
"Not quite," he answered, handing her the wine list.
They ordered wine and then perused the menu. After they had made their selections, Brian returned to the subject she had abandoned in the parking lot. "So, you said your specialty was plastics?"
"Was plastics," she answered, "with Ďwasí being the operative word. A couple of years back, my mom died of a massive heart attack Ė on my sisterís wedding day, actually, only she didnít wind up getting married Ė anyway, I can tell you that part later. The point is that Mom had always been the one who held the family together, and once she was gone, I just felt like I was needed at home. I hadnít been particularly satisfied with my career or the way my life was going out there, so it wasnít quite as noble as it sounds. I needed a change, and Dad and Joanie and Robbie seemed to need me, so I came home. There have been lots of times when Iíve thought that it would have been better for everyone if Iíd stayed away, but itís definitely been interesting."
"It sounds like you have the older sister complex," Brian said knowingly. "Erin has it too. Sheís ten years older than I am and acts more like my mother than my sister. My Dad died suddenly of a heart attack too, and my Mom just fell apart. I did too, to tell you the truth. I was worthless then, but Erin handled everything. She took care of the funeral and called all of Dadís friends. She held us all together and managed to still take care of her own family at the same time. Now, sheís doing the same thing with Mom, and in a lot of ways itís even harder. Dadís death was shocking to all of us, but Momís is slow and agonizing. With Alzheimer's you lose the person one tiny piece at a time. Her body may still be here five years from now, but my Mom will be gone completely."
Syd nodded, understanding the reality as a physician but knowing that until you experienced it personally there was no way to really comprehend the grief of watching a loved one disappear before your eyes. "Erin sounds like an amazing woman."
"She is," Brian agreed. "All the burden of Momís care has fallen on her, and sheís never complained. She and Mom have always been exceptionally close, and now there are days when Mom doesnít recognize her. It has to be killing her, but she never says a word. Thatís one reason I offered to take Molly. I feel like Iíve done so little by comparison."
"Iím sure youíre there when she needs you."
Brian shrugged. "I try to be. Mom quit recognizing me a year or so ago, and itís hard for me to see her now. Plus, my work pretty much keeps me here, but I do try to get back home when I can. If things get too bad I might have to think about doing what you did and going back to the Bay area to work for a while. At the moment, Erin seems happy with the nursing home Mom is in and says thereís nothing I could do if I was there."
"Iím sorry your family is going through this," Syd said, giving his hand a compassionate squeeze. "I can see how painful it is for you." He continued to hold her hand, and she smiled with pleasure. She really, really liked this man.
Their food arrived then, and they spent a few minutes comparing entrees and tasting off of one anotherís plates. Once that topic had pretty much been exhausted, Brian turned the conversation back to her. "So, you never finished telling me what you were doing now. I got started talking about Mom and got you off track."
"Itís nothing very exciting, Iím afraid, but mostly I enjoy it. I run a family practice clinic Ė St. Clareís Ė you probably havenít heard of it. We handle mostly indigent cases."
"Big change from plastic surgery."
"Huge," Syd agreed. "Itís a lot more rewarding because I feel like the work Iím doing is so much more meaningful. At the same time, it can be frustrating because I never feel like Iíve done enough. And just keeping the doors open takes up a fair amount of my time."
"I would imagine itís an administrative nightmare."
"It can be. As a matter of fact, the reason I was out last night was that Iíd been at the Clinic all night working on a grant application. My brother works at OíNeillís, and Iíd run by there to grab a bite to eat and was on my way back to the office when I ran into Erin Ė literally. Weíve been fortunate to get the funding we have, but the search for more is never-ending. Every day I treat patients who might not receive care if St. Clareís wasnít there for them. I owe it to them to find a way to keep the place afloat."
"Youíre amazing," Brian said, impressed. "And on top of that you still manage to be there for your family? How do you do it?"
Syd laughed. "Well, my sister would tell you that I have a hero complex and thrive on being the one to rush in and save the day. Sheís probably right." Syd saw the thoughtful hazel eyes studying her and grew more serious. "Brian, my parents may have had a great marriage at one time, but by the time Mom died they had really grown apart, I think. Dad had retreated into his practice, and often it seems like he understands animals better than he does people. I know he enjoys them better. Mom was Ė well, assertive would be a nice way of putting it Ė and Dad just sort of faded into the background. Heís come out a little since her death, but he still sometimes lives in his own world. Joanie is a single mother trying to get a new business off the ground, and Robbie Ė I donít even know where to begin with Robbie. He just seems to move from crisis to crisis, and no matter how good his intentions are, things always seem to blow up in his face. Iíve always been the stable one. The one everyone could depend on. But Iím not a hero, and sometimes I just donít have the answers."
"Sounds like you have a lot on your plate. Iím wondering," Brian said a bit hesitantly, "if thereís room for anyone else?"
Syd didnít know the answer to that and admitted as much. "Youíre not the first person to ask that question, Brian, but the truth is I just donít know. My family is important to me. The clinic is important to me. Anyone who wants to be a part of my life has to accept that I come with a lot of baggage right now. These days, women are led to believe that itís possible to have it all. If thatís true, then my life isnít a shining example."
"Iím not a woman Ė obviously Ė but my life isnít really a great example of having it all either," Brian admitted. "Iíve pretty much focused on my career to the exclusion of everything else. Erin is forever nagging me about marriage and kids, and I know itís because sheís found so much fulfillment in those things that she wants the same for me."
"And thatís not what you want?"
Brian grinned at her suddenly. "You know, itís just occurred to me that I donít usually have the Ďfear of commitmentí conversation until the fourth or fifth date at least."
Syd smiled at him over her wineglass. "Yeah, we seem to be covering a lot of territory I donít usually cover on the first date. I really wasnít asking as your date though. Consider it a question from a concerned friend."
"Iíll accept that for now," he said. "But I hope that doesnít mean the date part of the evening is over."
"Not at all," Syd assured him. "Weíre just on hiatus for a few minutes."
"In that case, why donít you let me postpone my story until after dinner? We can take a walk on the beach and Iíll spill my guts and tell you so much about myself and my family that youíll probably go home and change your phone number just so I canít possibly call you again."
"I doubt that," Syd said, laughing.
"Donít bet on it. In the meantime, tell me some more about St. Clareís. Iím interested in what youíre doing there."
They talked shop for the rest of the meal, and Syd found him to be genuinely interested in the work she was doing at the clinic. He asked specific questions about her funding and had some suggestions as to where she could look for more. Finally, she invited him to come by for a quick tour, and he eagerly accepted.
"Is there any way I could stop by there on Monday?" he asked, as he signed the credit card slip to pay for their meal. "Iíve taken the day off because my Dadís best friend is coming to town to see Erin while sheís here. He was a surgeon like Dad, but after he got back from his tour in Korea he turned in his scalpel and joined his father in family practice in a little town in Maine. Heís somewhat reluctantly retired now, but he would love to see your clinic and Iíd love for you to meet him. My Uncle Hawkeye has to be experienced to be believed, but I think youíd enjoy him."
"That would be great," Syd said. "Just call me at the clinic Monday morning and Iíll let you know what time looks best. Iíd like to be able to spend a few minutes showing you around, but lots of days I donít have a few minutes."
"Understood." Brian moved her chair back and she stood up. "Now, how about a walk on the beach and Iíll tell you all the Hunnicutt family secrets?"
They walked down to the beach and Brian insisted that she remove her shoes and walk barefoot with him at the waterís edge. She had left her hair down that evening, and the wind grabbed at her curls and made them dance around her head. She attempted to hold her hair still with her hand, but Brian stopped her. "I like it like that," he said, capturing her hand in his and continuing to hold it. "Your hair is beautiful." The evening was definitely feeling like a date again.
"So," he began. "I promised to tell you the story of my family as it relates to my clichťd fear of commitment. It may get long. You sure you want to hear this?"
"Well, it begins I guess with my Mom and Dad Ė Peg and BJ Hunnicutt. They met when Dad was in medical school, fell head over heels for one another, and got married within a year, at about the time Dad finished med school and started his residency. Erin was born a couple of years later, just as Dad was finishing his residency and about to embark on what he assumed would be a successful and lucrative career as a surgeon. It turned out that Uncle Sam had different plans for him, and he embarked on a tour of Korea instead. He was a surgeon at the 4077th MASH. Stayed there nearly two years.
"Two years doesnít seem like too much until you spend it away from your young wife and baby daughter doing a kind of surgery that you and I canít even imagine. He said the soldiers werenít just injured, they were massacred, and the surgery was what they called Ďmeatballí surgery. They patched Ďem up and hollered Ďnext,í Dad said, and when a major push was on theyíd spend literally days in the OR, with just the occasional break for food or a nap. Other times, they were bored out of their minds, and Dad would write to Mom two and three times a day. Being away from Mom and Erin nearly drove him crazy Ė and I mean that in the most literal sense of the word. Hawkeye has told me that Dad would get down in the dumps for days when he would get a letter from Mom talking about all the new things Erin was doing. When she would send the latest picture heíd show it to everyone in camp, and then heíd cry himself to sleep over it."
"Thatís so sad," Syd said compassionately, imagining the man who looked so much like her own father in such a terrible situation.
"It was awful," Brian agreed. "A lot of this I heard from my Uncle Hawkeye. It was just too painful for Dad to talk about, even years later. The good news is that he made it home alive. The bad news is that he came home to a little girl who didnít know him. Just imagine what it was like for him to have the child he had worshiped from a world away actually run from him and hide behind her motherís leg. Erin turned two just before the war ended, and she was just at Ďthat ageí Mom said, when she didnít like strangers. Dad was a stranger to her. He tried. I wasnít around then, but I know him well enough to know that he would have tried like crazy to get to know that little girl, to get her to be comfortable with him. And of course she did get used to him eventually, but they were never, ever really close. Mom was always the one Erin went to with a problem, the one that she confided in. Who knows? It might have been that way anyway, but I know thatís not what Dad believed. He believed that the time he spent in Korea had stolen not just his little girlís infancy, but their future relationship as well. No one talked about Ďinfant bondingí back then, but I can tell you that Dad was a believer in it.
"Things were hard for Mom and Dad after he got back too, but I never had the nerve to ask either one of them about it, and since it happened when Erin was still pretty little she wasnít able to tell me much either. I do know that they separated for a while, and Dad stayed with Hawkeye for a month or so. They put things back together though, and by the time I came along they seemed to have the perfect marriage. I never saw any sign that anything was wrong, and I know that it would be hard to imagine a more grief-stricken widow than my mother was when Dad died. They were really in love."
"Theyíd made it through a lot," Syd said. "It sounds like it made them stronger."
"I think it did," Brian agreed. "I came as a huge surprise to them. Mom found out she was pregnant when Erin was almost ten years old, and they had long since given up any hope of having more children. I think she was a little bit overwhelmed at the thought of starting over with a baby at that point, but my Dad was ecstatic. To say that he was devoted to me would be an understatement. As I got older, I realized that he was showering all the attention on me that he hadnít been able to give Erin, but at the time, I just knew that my dad was the greatest dad in the world. He got up with me at night when I was a baby and stayed home with me when I was sick, and this was long time before dadís did stuff like that."
"My dad was like that too," Syd said.
Brian smiled at her. "Somehow Iím not surprised. In addition to looking just like my Dad, your father reminded me of him in lots of other ways as well. Anyway, Dad was the perfect father to me. He played with me every night, helped me with my homework, coached my little league teams Ė everything a dad could do, he did. Itís no coincidence that I became a surgeon. He used to take me to the hospital with him when I was just a kid. He explained all the equipment to me, and when I took an interest, he even allowed me to watch simple procedures. He never pushed me into medicine, but he did everything he could to foster it as an interest we could share. Maybe some people would call that pushing, but it never seemed that way to me.
"By the time I was a teenager, Erin had started a family of her own. It was then that I first started to realize Ė and question Ė how different her relationship with Dad was from mine. When she came home for visits, she and Mom would go shopping and do things together, but she and Dad barely had a conversation. He adored the grandchildren, my niece and nephew, but it was almost as if Erin had quit existing for him. I asked Erin about it, and she told me that she felt like Dad had just given up on her when I was born. She and Mom had talked about it, and she knew that Dad had felt rejected by her after he came home from the war, but it was as if the damage had been done during those two years, and there was just no way for either of them to bridge the gap. They both tried, but they just never connected. Erin was so busy with her own family then that she really didnít seem too concerned about it, but I know that it was something she would have liked to change and something that she hoped would change eventually. That hope was lost, obviously, when Dad died. I know Erin thought there would always be time, and sheís always regretted that she never told Dad how sorry she was that things were the way they were between them."
"She wasnít responsible for her behavior as a two-year-old," Syd protested.
"No, she wasnít, and I think she knows that. I donít think Dad was at fault either for preferring the child who was more willing to accept his love and attention," Brian said. "Itís really not a case of anyone being at fault. Itís just one of those sad things that happens in families sometimes, and everyone has to live with the consequences. Dad never got over being angry about his time in Korea, and I think if things had been different between him and Erin, he just might have. He used to tell me that his friendships with Hawkeye and a few other people that he met and worked with in Korea were the only good things that came out of the war."
Syd squeezed the hand that had clasped hers throughout the telling of this sad and personal tale, but she didnít quite know what to say. Brian seemed to understand. "The reason I told you all of this is that Iíve realized in the last few years that one of the reasons Iíve buried myself in my work is that Iím afraid of what happened to Dad. Not of going to war specifically, but of having some circumstance beyond my control rob me of the things that mean the most to me. I couldnít stand that. If I had a family they would be just as important to me as my fatherís family was to him. The distance between my Dad and Erin was painful to watch. I canít imagine living it." He looked at Syd and smiled. "And maybe Iím just making excuses. Maybe I havenít gotten married because Iíve never met the right woman."
"Or maybe itís some combination of those things," Syd said.
"Possibly. Erin has always said that when I met the right woman Iíd be willing to take some risks."
"What do you think?"
Brian stopped walking and turned to face her, gently brushing one curl away from her eyes. "I think that Iíve never told this story to a woman before, so maybe Iím already taking some risks."
Sydís breath caught in her throat. "Maybe so," she said simply. She thought that Brian might kiss her then, but he didnít. He didnít even move closer to her; he just continued to hold her hand as he looked into her eyes.
"You know," he said finally, "for Erinís sake, I wish we had met at some boring doctorís luncheon or in the hospital cafeteria one day, but Iím awfully glad I met you Syd Hansen."
"Me too," Syd said with a smile.
They turned then and worked their way back toward the Sunset Grille and the car. It was only 9:30 or so when they got back, but Brian took her back to her house, saying that he wanted her to get some rest since he knew sheíd been out late the night before. "Iíll call you at the clinic Monday morning to set up a time for our visit," he said, as he walked her to the door of the guesthouse. "Of course, I canít promise Iíll be able to wait until then to talk to you again."
How cute is that? Syd thought, feeling like a teenager again. "Do you want to come in for a few minutes?" she offered.
"Iíd better not," he answered. "I really do want you to get some rest. You were up half the night last night taking care of my sister and my dog."
"It was the least I could do after nearly killing them both," Syd said seriously, still unwilling to joke about how close she had come to tragedy the night before.
"But you didnít," Brian said. "And that chance encounter is what brought us here. I have a feeling that it was meant to be - that we were meant to meet. Iíve felt that way since I first set eyes on you, and I felt it even more strongly once I met your Dad. Does that sound strange to you?"
"No, actually, I had something of the same thought. The thing with our dadís Ė well, itís just too weird not to mean something, donít you think?"
"I agree. I admit I donít know what it means yet, but I do think it means something."
"I had a nice time tonight," Syd said with a smile.
"I did too." Brian wrapped one dark curl around a finger and leaned in and brushed her lips gently with his own. It was chaste and sweet and left her wanting more, but he didnít press his advantage. "Iíll talk to you soon. Goodnight Syd."
She entered the guesthouse and leaned heavily on the door as she closed it behind her. He was perfect, she thought. A whole evening together, and she hadnít found out one single thing she didnít like. He was handsome, intelligent, cared deeply about his family, and even took an interest in her family and the clinic. He was perfect Ė or, he was too good to be true. Maybe that was it, she thought as she changed into sweats. Maybe he wasnít who he seemed to be at all. Maybe he wasnít even a doctor. Maybe this whole thing with their dads was some kind of elaborate hoax and Erin had actually jumped in front of her car on purposeÖ
Syd looked at her reflection in the mirror and said, "Youíre crazy you know that?" She headed off into the house in search of her sister who would give her an opinion, which was, if not necessarily rational, at least more objective since she wasnít the one whoíd just been kissed by the most perfect man in Providence.
Brian called Syd on Monday morning as promised, and she asked him to come by around 11 a.m. since she had a lull in her schedule at that time. She was with a patient when he arrived, but Izzy caught a glimpse of him and whispered, "Is that him?"
Syd glanced around the curtain and saw Brian chatting easily with an elderly man. "Yep. Thatís him."
"That is one good-looking man!"
"Hands off Izzy. Heís mine," Syd said teasingly.
"Are you kidding? Iíd have to use a stepladder to kiss him. What do I want with that?" Izzy laughed and added, "Listen, I can finish up in here. Why donít you go show him around?"
"Thanks Izzy." Syd made her way to the front door and greeted Brian and his friend with a smile. "Hi Brian, itís good to see you." She held her hand out and introduced herself to the man she had only heard called ĎUncle Hawkeye.í "Iím Syd Hansen."
"Hawkeye Pierce." The older man looked at her appreciatively. His white hair and deeply lined face told the truth about his advancing years, but the glint in his vivid blue eyes gave him an impish look that was delightfully youthful. Syd liked him immediately.
"Itís nice to meet you, Dr. Pierce. Brian speaks very highly of you."
"He had some nice things to say about you too, as a matter of fact," Hawkeye said with that twinkle in his eye. "And now I can see why. They didnít make doctors like you back in my day."
"Uncle Hawk." Brian shook his head in embarrassment.
"Donít worry kid. Iíve got my own girl back home you know."
"I know. I wish youíd brought her with you. Not only because it would have been great to see her but because youíre always better behaved when Aunt Carlyeís here. Syd, let me apologize in advance for this guy. If he wasnít my Dadís best friend and one of the best doctors Iíve ever met, there would be no reason to keep him around."
"No apologies necessary," Syd said with a smile. "Something tells me todayís going to be fun."
Syd looked in the direction of the person calling her name and saw a staff member who needed her assistance. "Guys, my office is right in there. Why donít you go sit down and Iíll be with you in just a second."
The two men went into Sydís office, sparse except for the expansive glow of the stained glass windows, and Hawkeye said, "Sheís gorgeous, and the very fact that sheís running a place like this says a lot about the kind of doctor she is. We could probably swap stories about being paid with lobsters and fresh corn. So are you gonna let this one get away?" He glanced at some of the pictures in Sydís office, picking up one of Hannah and smiling before putting it back into place.
"I donít know her all that well yet, but so far Iíve liked what Iíve seen," Brian answered vaguely, checking the doorway carefully to make sure that no one was listening. He suspected that before the day was out he might regret having brought Hawkeye to meet Syd.
"It beats me how any kid of BJís could have inherited my fear of commitment. When we met, your old man was the most devoted husband and father in all of Korea." Before Brian could comment, Hawkeye picked up another picture and said in an awed voice, "What the hell is this?"
He reached into his breast pocket for his bifocals to see the picture of Syd and her father more clearly, and then said, "Brian, who is this?" His voice sounded old suddenly, and he reached for the desk for balance.
"You didnít tell him." Sydís voice came from the doorway. "Iím sorry, I should have remembered that there were pictures of Dad in here."
"This is your father? I donít understand." Brian and Syd went to Hawkeye and each took an arm to help him to a chair. He shook them off in irritation. "I donít need to sit down. I just need someone to explain to me what BJ Hunnicutt is doing in this picture." In the photo, Syd looked much as she did at that moment, but BJ looked as he had in his late fifties or early sixties Ė and that would have been twenty years ago. It simply didnít make sense.
"Dr. Pierce, thatís not Dr. Hunnicutt," Syd explained in a soothing voice. "Thatís my father, Jim Hansen. I know that he resembles Dr. Hunnicutt, but thatís all it is Ė a resemblance."
"A resemblance? This is Ė this is unbelievable." Hawkeyeís voice shook with emotion. "Are they related somehow?"
"Not that we can figure out. If they are related, then it would be so distant that it wouldnít account for the resemblance anyway," Brian told him. "Sydís father is a veterinarian and took care of Molly after the accident the other night. When we went to pick Molly up, Erin fainted when she saw Dr. Hansen. I have to admit I came close to it myself."
"Why didnít you tell me about this?" Hawkeye was still staring at the picture.
"Honestly? It was a bit Ė unsettling Ė for Erin and me, and I didnít see any point in upsetting you. Plus, I was afraid you wouldnít believe me unless you saw Dr. Hansen for yourself, and heís not some circus sideshow."
Hawkeye nodded and put the picture down. He turned to Syd and the impish look was gone from his eyes. He looked every one of his eighty years, and he looked tired. "Syd, Brianís right. Not about upsetting me Ė thatís idiotic. But heís right about two other things Ė I wold like to meet your father, and heís not a circus sideshow. I know that, but Iíd still like to meet him. Do you think heíd agree to see me?"
Syd wasnít at all sure her Dad would be comfortable having BJ Hunnicuttís old friends making pilgrimages to see him, but she saw something in the old manís eyes that made her reluctant to say no. "Let me call him Dr. Pierce. Heíll be busy with his own practice today, but maybe you and Brian and Erin could come for dinner tonight."
"Syd, I donít want to put your family to any trouble," Brian protested.
"Just donít expect anything fancy," Syd told him. "As long as you can be satisfied with the usual Hansen family fare, Iím sure it will be fine. Now, why donít I show you around the clinic and then maybe I can sneak out and grab a bite to eat with you. Dr. Pierce, Iíd like to hear about your practice in Maine too."
"Former practice, Iím afraid, and it was never quite as busy as yours seems to be, but it kept me out of trouble."
"Nothing could do that," Brian insisted.
The glint was back in his eye, and Syd took his arm affectionately. "Come on guys. Come take a look at St. Clareís."
She showed the men around the clinic, and she quickly realized that Brian was right about Hawkeye Pierce. It was obvious that despite his advanced age his faculties were completely intact and he was still an exceptionally sharp physician. He was interested in the setup of the clinic, in the conversion of the old church, and in some of the newer equipment with which he was unfamiliar, but he was mostly interested in the patients. He asked questions about the types of ailments she treated most frequently and about protocols and follow-up procedures. He talked to the patients he encountered and diagnosed a mild skin rash while the patient was still waiting in chairs. Syd found herself wishing he could spend the afternoon there. It would lessen her load considerably to have a family doctor with his experience helping out for a few hours.
At lunch she asked the question that had formed in her mind during the tour. She was afraid it might be too personal or too impertinent, but given the number of questions he had asked her that morning, she decided to ask him anyway. "Dr. Pierce, itís obvious that youíre still perfectly capable of practicing medicine, and it seems like you still have an interest. Can I ask why you decided to retire?"
Hawkeye smiled at her. "Love," he said.
"Yep. Love. Simple as that. I fell in love with my wife when I was in residency, but I was so obsessed with medicine and all that I was learning that I put her in second place. And it was a pretty distant second back then. She decided that wasnít enough for her, and she left me. Married someone else. She was a nurse, and during the war she was assigned to my unit. It was right after I met Brianís Dad. We had a brief affair that ended with her leaving me again for basically the same reason. I wasnít ready to make a serious commitment, and she knew it. After the war, she divorced and I miraculously was given a third chance. This time I managed not to blow it. We married and have had a lot of good years together. No children, unfortunately, but thatís one of the things I sacrificed by waiting so damn long to get my priorities straight.
"Iíve been married forty years now, and I hope that Carlye has always known that she was the most important person in the world to me, but there were still a lot of times when my job took me away from things she wanted me to do and places she wanted me to be. I inherited my Dadís practice when he died, and like him, I always had a lot of trouble leaving my patients in anyoneís hands but my own. And then one day Ė one very bad day Ė Erin called to tell me that my best friend had died of a heart attack. Thatís when I realized that the Ďsomedayí Iíd been promising Carlye for so many years might never come. It never came for BJ. I know there were things that he and Peg wanted to do when he retired, but he kept putting retirement off Ďjust one more year.í It was too late for him, but it wasnít too late for me. As soon as I realistically could, I sold my practice and retired completely. For the last ten or so years, Iíve put Carlye first. Weíve traveled a lot during that time, and Iíve enjoyed it as much as she has. She knows Iíll always miss medicine, but she also knows that I was willing to give it up for her." Hawkeye took a sip of his drink after his long narrative, and then added, "Like I said Ė Love."
Syd had tears in her eyes. "Thank you so much for telling me that Dr. Pierce. It sounds like you and your wife have something pretty special."
"Finest kind," he answered with a smile.
That afternoon she called her father and received his somewhat reluctant permission to have Hawkeye Pierce and Brian and Erin to dinner. "Syd, I donít mind them coming here, but I donít know what theyíre expecting to find when they see me," he said. "Iím not BJ Hunnicutt. I didnít even know BJ Hunnicutt. I admit that thereís a strong resemblance, but Iím not comfortable with having people come over to gawk at me."
"I really donít think thatís why he wants to come Dad. Iím not sure exactly what heís looking to find when he meets you, but maybe weíll understand better after tonight. At any rate, heís a delightful old man. I think youíll really enjoy him.
"I trust you honey." Jim sighed and turned his thoughts to what to serve for dinner.
Having seen the pictures first and thus gotten over the initial shock of the resemblance, Hawkeye was able to greet Jim Hansen with a remarkable degree of normalcy. He didnít even mention his friend, in fact, but instead asked about Jimís veterinary practice as they settled in the living room and Robbie and Joanie were introduced. BJís name didnít come up at all until Hawkeye launched into a tale of his own foray into veterinary medicine when he and his friend were forced to deliver an injured cow of her calf during the war. He had them all laughing hysterically as he told of BJís relaying the graphic instructions from the real veterinarian over the PA system. He then threw in a sidebar story of their crazy company clerk starting a betting pool as to when the calf would be delivered and then being forced to leave camp before he had collected enough money to cover the bet.
"Sounds like something that would happen to you, Rob," Joanie said with a teasing look at her brother.
"Youíve never dressed in womenís clothes have you?" Hawkeye asked Robbie seriously.
"Huh?" Robbie was stunned by the question.
"Never mind," Brian said firmly. "If you get him started on Klinger heíll still be telling stories at midnight."
"Oh come on!" Joanie protested. "It sounds like a great story!"
"Another time maybe," Hawkeye promised. "Tonight I told Brian and Erin that Iíd be on my best behavior."
Dinner was a typical Hansen family affair, and everyone talked about what they had done that day. Hawkeye and Brian heaped praise on the clinic, and Syd accepted their compliments graciously. Joanie told them about The Barkery as she tried to get Hannah to eat something besides bread, and Robbie talked about the progress of his Pee Wee Hockey team. Jim was mostly silent, watching the lively interaction of the two families, for it was clear that Hawkeye considered himself a part of Brian and Erinís family. He wasnít generally given to flights of fancy, but he found himself wondering at the connection between his family and BJís and wondering what this bizarre resemblance might really mean.
After dinner, Joanie, Syd and Robbie cleared the table, and then Robbie said his good-bye's before heading to OíNeillís. Joanie went upstairs to put Hannah to bed, and the rest of the group gathered in the living room with cups of coffee.
Hawkeye spoke first. "Jim, I want to thank you for having us here tonight. I told Syd today that I realized that you werenít a circus sideshow act. I want you to know that I didnít come here just to stare. Iíve genuinely enjoyed getting to know you and to know your family. "
"The feeling is mutual," Jim said sincerely, having enjoyed the old man as much as Syd said he would.
"Thank you. But as much as Iíve enjoyed meeting you, I did actually come here to see you. I needed to see if the resemblance was as amazing as the picture I saw led me to believe. The truth is, itís even more so. You look just like BJ Hunnicutt. The accent is a little different, but you sound like him too. Many of your mannerisms are the same. Iíve known identical twins that werenít as much alike as you and BJ are. Or were."
"But Iím not him," Jim said gently.
"I know youíre not," Hawkeye nodded. "I also know that you lost your wife suddenly, so maybe this will make some sense to you and wonít just seem like an old manís rambling. Jim, we lost BJ with no warning at all. I hadnít seen him in more than a year, but we were planning to get together that summer, the four of us, for a vacation. I know just what it would have been like. Beej and I would have played some golf, drunk too many martinis, told some of the old stories Ė the ones that donít still hurt like hell to remember Ė played some cards. Nothing exciting, but weíd have been together, just like weíve been together almost every year since we left Korea in 1953.
"Iíve seen a lot of death in my life, Jim. In Korea, I saw more death than even a doctor should ever have to see. Iíve lost people I cared about. I lost my Mom when I was just a kid. In Korea, I watched one of my childhood friends die on my table. I said goodbye to my first commanding officer and learned the next day that his plane had been shot down while he was on his way home. Later, I watched my father die Ė slowly, painfully, but with a grace that astonishes me to this day. Iíve buried my patients, some before their time and some after long and productive lives. But Iíve never, ever, been affected by a death the way I was by BJís. When Erin called to tell me that Beej had died, I simply didnít believe it. I couldnít believe it. I didnít even tell Carlye about it. I just went to work because it wasnít real to me. Thereís only been one other time in my life when Iíve managed to be that completely in denial about anything, and then it took a couple of weeks with a good psychiatrist to straighten me out. This time, all it took was a funeral. I remember thinking at the funeral that I would give anything to have been able to see him one last time. To hear his voice. Not to talk about anything in particular Ė just to be in his presence one last time would have been a gift. In a strange way, youíve given me that tonight. I know youíre not him, but youíve brought me a lot of comfort this evening and helped me to close a wound I thought would always be open."
"Hawkeye, if Iíve been able to do that for you just by sitting down and eating dinner, then Iím very, very happy to have done it," Jim said, "but I feel guilty for taking credit for something I have no control over."
"Donít," Hawkeye said. "Youíve done me a huge favor tonight. Jim would you let me tell you a story?"
"It was July 1953. We had been to the beach at Inchon to celebrate the fourth of July, and on the bus trip back to camp, something happened. Something so horrible that it eclipsed nearly three years of horrible things, and I just snapped. I wonít go into the details because frankly I donít want to relive them. The end result was that I had a breakdown. For a long time I had a lot of funny names for it. I remember writing to Dad and telling him my cheese had slipped off my cracker. It wasnít funny though. It wasnít funny at all. They locked me up for a couple of weeks, and during that time BJ came to visit me. I realized later that he was coming to tell me goodbye, in his own way, because heíd received his discharge papers. He couldnít do it though, partly because he was never good at good-byes and partly because I was off my rocker and treated him pretty badly. He wouldnít have wanted to upset me any more.
"When I got back to camp he was gone. Heíd received those papers, and everyone from the Colonel on down knew that they had been sent by mistake, but he was desperate to get home in time for Erinís second birthday, so they let him go." Hawkeye looked at Erin, and she had tears in her eyes though sheíd heard the story before. "He hadnít even left me a note, and even though everyone said that heíd tried and just didnít know what to say, it still nearly killed me. We had been through so much together at that point, and he left without saying goodbye. A day or so later, BJ showed back up. His orders had been rescinded and theyíd sent him back. I gave him the cold shoulder for a bit, but with Beej and me stuff like that never lasted. It looked like the war was really about to end then, and I realized how hard it was for him to say the word Ďgoodbye.í He just couldnít bring himself to admit that we were going to be on opposite sides of the country. When a war ends and everyone goes home, you really donít know if youíll ever see each other again. You donít know if someone will actually plan a reunion or if youíll all just go back to your lives and try to forget the whole thing. You just donít know. And Beej and I had been so close through so much that it was impossible to imagine not waking up five feet away from one another, let alone on opposite coasts. He didnít know how to deal with that. Neither did I, really, but I wanted him to know how much heíd meant to me, just in case we never saw each other again. I forced him to let me say those things, and we did have the conversation I needed to have right before I got on the chopper that took me away from that nightmare. As the chopper lifted off, I realized that Beej had known what I needed all along. He had taken a bunch of rocks and spelled out the word "goodbye" so that I would see it as I left the pad."
Hawkeye was silent for a minute, and so was his audience. Syd and Joanie, who was now listening from the doorway, both wiped tears from their faces. Brian put his arm around his sister and gave her a squeeze, and then Hawkeye went on. "Jim, this may be an old manís imagination, and if it is youíll have to forgive me for it, but somehow, I think Beej has managed to do it again. He knows I hate like hell when he leaves me without saying goodbye. Last time, he spelled it out in rocks. I donít know how he did it, but this time, he sent me to you."
Jim acknowledged Hawkeyeís statement with a nod but honestly didnít know what to think. He didnít feel like anything special enough to be any kind of instrument of the supernatural. He was just Jim Hansen, veterinarian, a man who was most comfortable around animals but loved his family and tried to do his best for them. He felt a kinship with this old man, however, that couldnít quite be explained by the meal they had just shared or even the deeply personal revelations Hawkeye had just made. Even though Hawkeyeís face was unfamiliar to him, he felt that they had known each other for a long time, and that just didnít make sense.
"Dr. Pierce, thatís an incredible story," Syd said quietly.
"Beej was an incredible guy. I still miss him every day."
"Me too," Brian said, and Erin nodded. "Listen, we should probably be going. Jim, thank you for having us over this evening. Weíve enjoyed being here."
"It was our pleasure, Brian," Jim assured him, rising from the couch. "I hope youíll come again soon." He smiled in Sydís direction, and Brian laughed.
"Youíll be seeing more of me if I have anything to say about it," Brian assured him, and Syd blushed.
"Thanks again," Hawkeye said, offering Jim his hand. "Itís been a great evening."
"It was wonderful to meet you," Jim said. "Weíd love to have you back here any time youíre in Providence."
"And Iíd like to meet that wife of yours," Syd threw in. "You have to promise to bring her next time."
"Will do," Hawkeye said, putting a fatherly arm around Erin.
Erin had been quiet during the evening. She was happy that Hawkeye had found so much closure in Jimís company, but she knew that the issues between her father and herself would never be settled by proxy, and, thus, would never be settled at all. It made her sad, but it also made her more determined to make the time she had with her loved ones count as much as she possibly could. Her Daddy had taught her that lesson. She thanked the Hansenís warmly, and told them goodbye since she was heading back to San Francisco the next day.
Syd and her father stood in the doorway to see their guests off, and Hawkeye turned and thanked them once again.
Later, Jim would wonder at the words that sprang to his lips at that moment. He hadnít planned them and normally wouldnít have dreamed of speaking so familiarly to a man he just met Ė a man nearly old enough to be his father. When Hawkeye turned to go, however, he heard Jim say softly, "Goodbye Hawk," and the older man stopped in his tracks and blinked the tears from his eyes. "Goodbye Beej," he whispered without turning around, and then he headed for the car.
Syd leaned heavily into her fatherís embrace as they watched the car drive away. Their hearts were full of all they had heard that night, but neither one of them was ready to discuss it. Syd kissed her fatherís cheek and said, "I think Iím going to turn in, Dad. Goodnight."
"Goodnight, honey. Iíll see you in the morning."
"Wake up Syd."
"Mom, I just got to sleep. Canít it wait?"
"No, dear. Thereís someone here to see you."
Syd sat up in the bed and pushed her hair from her eyes. "Dad?" She looked at the man in sleepy confusion.
"No, Syd, Iím BJ Hunnicutt. Iíve been looking forward to meeting you."
"Dr. Hunnicutt! Wow, itís Ė Iím sorry, Iím in my nightgown." Syd pulled the sheet up a little higher.
"Itís ok," BJ said with a grin. "I promise to be a perfect gentleman."
"You have a moustache." Boy she was scintillating tonight, wasnít she? This man was going to think she was an idiot.
BJ stroked his upper lip proudly. "Yeah, itís a beauty isnít it? I grew it during the war and then when I got home, Peg hated it Ė made me shave it off. I thought as long as she wasnít here yet, I might as well enjoy it again for a little while. Itíll have to go soon though."
"Itís OK, Syd. Thereís nothing for her there anymore, and Peg and I are meant to be together. I wanted to ask you to be there for Brian and Erin when the time comes though. Will you do that for me?"
"Iíll try, Dr. Hunnicutt, but Brian and I just met. Iím not sure whatís going to happen between us yet."
"Iím sure," BJ said. "Youíre both just exactly what the other needs. You may not see it yet, but I think Brian does, and Iím pretty sure Hawk knew it too. Thatís why he told you about Carlye. He doesnít want to see you and Brian make the same mistakes he did."
"I enjoyed meeting him. Heís an amazing guy."
"He sure is. Donít tell him I said so though. His ego is big enough as it is."
"But donít you want him to know how you feel about him?"
"Hawk knows, Syd. Heís always known. Heís just hung up on good-bye's."
"So you gave him one." It was a statement, not a question, as the pieces all began to come together in her mind.
"I just helped it along. Hawkís a part of your life now, Syd, just like Brian and Erin are. It was always meant that our families should be joined together. Initially, Brian came to Providence to be near Hawkeye. Once I was gone, he needed Hawk to stand in for me, and Iím glad that he did. But Hawkeye wonít be around forever, and itís time for Brian to start his own family. The real reason Brian came to Providence was to meet you.Ē
"Gosh, Dr. Hunnicutt, like I said, Brian and I just met. Iím not sure Iím ready to-"
"Easy Syd. No oneís rushing you."
"I am," Lynda threw in.
"OK, no oneís rushing you but Lynda," BJ said with a smile. "But you know, it can be awfully nice to have someone to come home to at night, someone to lean on when times are tough."
"And you think that someone for me is Brian?"
"I know it," BJ said confidently. "Listen Syd, Iíve got to go now, and you need to get some sleep. Youíve got work tomorrow."
"You sound just like my Dad," Syd said affectionately.
"People keep telling me that," BJ told her with a wink and a grin beneath the cheesy moustache. "He must be some guy."
"He is, Dr. Hunnicutt. He is."
Two months later, Brian kissed Syd goodbye at the airport and then together he and her father boarded a plane bound for San Francisco. Peg Hunnicut no longer recognized her children, but that afternoon her bewildered cries for her beloved husband were finally silenced by the appearance at her bedside of the face she loved most. For two days, Jim Hansen gently held her withered hand and listened to her as she thumbed through the memories of the early days of her marriage Ė the only memories the terrible disease had left her ravaged mind. For two days, he stood in for a man who had died twelve years before as her adult children sat quietly by, waiting for the end. When the final moment came, Peggy let go of Jimís hand and looked not at him but at the opposite side of the bed. "Iíve missed you so much, darling," she said, and Jim, Erin, and Brian slipped away, out of the room. It had been another long and painful separation, and BJ and Peg needed their privacy.
© 2001 Kalina
DISCLAIMER: Characters mentioned in this story that have appeared in the NBC series "Providence" are the property of National Broadcasting Company. No copyright infringement is intended.