“What are you doing right now?”
“Hiding in the bathroom.” Harriet told him, her voice cutting out a bit over her new mobile phone. She said it was heavy and hard to use and the connection was horrible, but at least she was even able to call him as she hid out in the bathroom.
“You’re becoming sneaky.” He teased and smiled.
“I’m having to.” She sounded irritated, though not with him. “Chris is a bit insane.”
“I thought he was off duty.
“He is. That’s the worst part.” Harriet groaned. “He’s got spies all around me, waiting for me to screw up.”
“Now you’re sounding like Quinn.” He put his cordless phone between his ear and shoulder as he took measurements of a girl’s waist with a long orange measuring tape. She had only smiled and shook her head when Andrew would ask if she minded if he talked as he measured. Thank god. Harriet probably wouldn’t have a chance to talk for a while.
“I think I’m empathizing with him a lot now a days. I don’t know why I ever thought doctor was a good idea. I haven’t slept in nineteen hours. And I’m only an intern!”
“I’m sorry Harrie,” He told her. “That sounds really cr—bad.”
He looked up at his client, but she barely even seemed to notice the almost slip. She was a small thing with ebony skin and bright eyes. She was looking at all the fabrics and half-made dresses in the room, lost in thought. He mispronounced her name every single time he attempted it, but she just laughed it off and told him that she misspelled her own name more times than she’d like to admit. This was her first time in the shop, but she’d called a couple times to set up her appointment and her uncle had called once as well, to be sure that she got everything she wanted. The man had said he didn’t care what it cost, but he wanted his niece to have the best wedding gown possible. He said they’d gone to another place, but they had butchered it and he had refused to even pick it up from the store. They didn’t like premade dresses, so they came here. Talking to the man had scared the life out of Andrew, but the woman who was around his age, was very nice.
“Oh, I’m just whining.” There were several sounds behind Harriet’s voice and Andrew couldn’t help but try to picture her. Sitting on the toilet lid in a stall at a hospital three thousand miles away. The problem, of course, was that he had never been further than San Diego and that one time he flew to San Francisco and had no idea what Long Island or anyplace over there was like. “It’s not that bad. The other residents are all really nice and equally scared of Chris.”
Andrew laughed softly. In the three months she’d been there, she had reported that each of her cousin had become more extreme versions of themselves. Chris, who was the oldest of their generation, was bossy and controlling, but in a way that Harriet insisted would make her a better doctor. Martin, was still a jokester, but a dark one now. Apparently he got written up a couple years ago for hiding in the morgue and jumping out at who he thought was Chris, but was actually the coroner. Jacob, who apparently used to go by Jako, was always very kind and loving, but probably the most stressed of them all. Where his cousins were resident surgeons, Jacob was training to be a family doctor. That meant that it wasn’t a one-time thing with people like it was with Harriet and the others. Once he met a patient, he would continue meeting with them for a long time. And those who were truly sick…
The jingle of the little bells above the door jingled and Andrew turned to see Em walking in. He jerked his head at him in greeting and moved to take the girl’s bust measurements. There was once a time where he would have been embarrassed over measuring someone’s b00bs, but now he was so used to it, it was the same as measuring an arm length. He missed measuring Harriet’s b00bs. The longer he was away, the more he thought about her, and the more… well, biblical those thoughts got.
There was another voice now on Harriet’s end, muffled, but unmistakably female, thank God. There was another series of cracks and fuzzies before Harriet’s voice came back over. “I got to go. Someone just came in and I need to check them out. Love you Andrew. Say hi to Quinn.”
“Love you too,” He said and took the phone in his hand again. “Go on. Go save some people doctor.”
Once she’d hung up, he tossed the phone onto a plush waiting chair nearby. He missed her. Hearing her voice but not seeing her face was so painful Andrew often wondered if he should just start writing her letters instead. But like any addiction, he couldn’t stop himself from calling every night.
“The woman, huh?” Em asked and Andrew nodded. His friend looked over the girl Andrew was still measuring. “Forgive the intrusion, lovely lady.”
The girl snorted and Andrew said, “I’m taking measurements. For a WEDDING dress.”
“A pity.” Em said and gave the woman a little bow. “Made even more so by my droll tidings.”
“And what would those be?” Andrew asked. Em was absolutely shameless in all things.
“I am officially a single man.”
Andrew lowered his hands from the girl’s shoulders. “Lauren broke up with you?”
Em tried to shrug, but Andrew could see the pain. “I don’t want to bore this lovely creature with my trivialities.”
The girl laughed out loud at that. “Oh, do tell.”
“I show you mine, you show me yours.”
The girl smiled. “Deal.”
That broke Em’s barely contained dam. He launched into a lengthy story of how he’d caught his betrothed cheating on him. The whole thing was told with wide hand gestures and fancy words and even included a motorcycle race, which Andrew would normally not believe, but with Em anything was possible.
“So who was this old boy friend she was cheating with?” The girl, who told them to just call her Patty asked.
“It was a girl!” Em cried and Andrew and Patty burst into laughter. “Oh laugh all you want. Nothing is more hurting to a man’s pride than knowing that the girl they loved found them so lacking, they’d rather be with another woman.”
“I’m sorry buddy.” Andrew said, snuffing his laughter as best he could. He held out a hand to Patty and helped her off the little round platform and over to his drawing desk. “So we can start with the designs if Em would deign to allow us.”
Em gave them a pouty face before heading off into the corner where there was a block table to keep the children Andrew’s clients brought occupied. It was fitting for Em who was half a child himself. Andrew loved his friend dearly, but he couldn’t keep himself from wondering when Em was going to grow up.
“Well, you talked to my uncle.” Patty said as they sat down and Andrew got out his sketch pad and colored pencils.”
“I did.” Andrew confirmed. It had been a little terrifying actually. The uncle that had raised Patty sounded like a very large black man with a thick accent that wasn’t used to being told “no”. The man had explained that Patty’s wedding was in only a couple months and the wedding gown they’d ordered from another seamstress (he actually called Andrew a seamstress) wasn’t right and he hadn’t even sent “his man” to go pick it up. Patty apparently had a thing with buying locally and refused to go to any big-box wedding dress company. So here she was in his little shop instead. The uncle had said he didn’t care what he had to use or how much it cost, only that Andrew had to do exactly as Patty wanted.
He was slightly sacred of this little princess figure sitting before him. Actually he was scared of her uncle’s “man”. But Patty herself was very nice and funny didn’t seem very demanding.
“He almost had an aneurysm when I told him I was marrying a school teacher.” Patty said and Andrew smiled.
“What’s his name?”
“Randle Darnel.” She said and picked at a perfectly manicured nail. “He teaches at a school a few hours away and volunteers at a psychiatric ward when he can. We met a couple years ago at a party. I live a town away from him, but my uncle wants me here while the wedding preparations are in motion so I can ‘supervise’.”
“Is it that big a wedding?” Andrew tried not to be intimidated. He had never made a dress for anyone but local girls who didn’t have enough to go to a big-time store, but didn’t want a tacky dress.
“Five hundred people.” Patty’s grin widened and she looked at Em. “You want to know mine?”
“My uncle won’t see me in anything but virgin white.” She continued. “Some men are content with the wool over their eyes. I wonder how he’ll feel when I tell him this great circus is going to have to be moved up.”
Andrew looked at her and she just smiled and rubbed her dark hands over her belly.
“You might have to plus size those measurements.” Patty’s smile widened even more. “Particularly in the middle.”
Harriet had never been comfortable in particularly large crowds, especially when she wasn’t sure how to fit in. Apart from her mother reading gossip magazines to Harriet when they were both just lying around, Harriet didn’t know much about…society. She was used to old men in wine jackets and ladies in wraps. The people dancing around her with their sweating, over-revealed bodies did little to help her into a slow adjustment.
Debra Dringard who worked with Harriet had decided that she’d had enough of Harriet “mopping around and pining for a lover three thousand miles away” and had dragged her off as soon as their shift was over. Martin, whose shift was just starting, had watched her with raised brows as Debbie Drinkhard (doctors they might be, but her cousins could be mean as a flock of teenage girls) had hauled her away.
The music was so loud, even outside, that Harriet hadn’t caught the name of the club when she’d asked Debbie. Her heavy Jersey accent was hard to understand sometimes anyway. Debbie must have been close with the bouncer because he had let them in with just a nod. It brought Harriet back to all the Octet concerts they’d gone to, the way Vincent had always let them through without stopping them as he did everyone else. She missed Em too and often wondered how he was doing what with the Octet’s impending split-up. She had meant to make a mental note to call him later, but the blasting music had immediately knocked it from her mind before it was even made.
Debbie had offered her a drink, but Harriet had declined quickly and had to tell Debbie she was currently conducting an experiment on the effects of alcohol on skin clarity and had put herself in the control group in order to get more into her project. Harriet concerned herself with how easily the lie came out and was even more concerned by how easily Debbie bought it. She had even asked if she could be in the “heavy drinker” category. With that, she left Harriet at the bar with the promise that she’d be back after one dance.
This was over an hour ago. Harriet just sat up at the bar drinking a third lemonade. The bartender struck up a conversation with her and told her that, despite the fact he was a bartender, he was totally sober. He said he’d hit rock bottom and somehow ended up in a Mexican jail with absolutely no knowledge as to how he’d gotten there. He’d laughed at said it was sort of embarrassing that hard alcohol was the only thing in his system. It took him two months to get home—taking into account that he didn’t have a passport and they’d had to interrogate him—and he hadn’t had a drink since.
When the bartender was off serving someone else on the other side of the large circular bar, a man came up to Harriet and started to talk to her.
“What are you drinking?” He asked.
His sweaty brow wrinkled. “Just lemonade?”
“Yes.” Harriet said and gave him a smile. “I don’t really drink.”
“That’s a shame.” The man took up a seat on the stool beside her. “Because I was going to offer you one.”
“Oh, that’s alright thank you.” Harriet didn’t really know what to do. She was never around drunk people that weren’t in the ER for a detox. Usually those people were a lot less… awake.
“Wha’s your name lovely?”
“Harriet.” She said and turned her half-full glass. It was cold from the ice within and the condensation was making a little wet circle on the black countertop.
“Thank you.” Harriet gave him another smile and tried to look subtly around for Debbie. She was off near the restrooms grinding up against a man with a bottle raised in the air.
“So wha’ you’do Harriet?” He asked.
“I’m a doctor.” She said simply, not wanting to get into the specifics of her residency or rotations.
“What kinda doctor?” He grinned and leaned in closer. “You’re too young to be a doctor.”
“I am.” She said and looked at the condensation beading up and dripping down her glass.
“You know,” He inched closer, but Harriet didn’t notice, she was so focused on her glass. “My breathin’s a little short. Maybe you cou’give me some CPR—”
The man leaned in and tried to kiss her. Harriet reacted entirely on instinct. She didn’t even know her hand had left the glass until it was slamming into the man’s nose. He cried out in pain and fell backward off the stool into a large man with a surly face.
“Hey, watch it!” The man shouted and shoved the man who was holding his nose into another group of people.
Harriet watched it all unfold in horror. From her original punch, more began to fly, like rose blooming across the room. Harriet looked at the bartender in horror who was throwing down his towel and hurrying off to interfere.
Someone grabbed her arm from behind and Harriet turned around, ready to throw out another blow. Debbie’s fake-tanned face came into her vision, however, not an assailant caught up in the energy and heat of the moment. “Come on, we gotta go.”
Debbie, so drunk only moments ago, dragged her through the swarming crowd and through a set of black curtains to an exit. Debbie threw it open to reveal a frost covered back alleyway. She didn’t stop there. She let go of Harriet and took off, headed eastward. “Hurry up, before the cops show up.”
“Cops?” Harriet cried as she ran off after Debbie. She hadn’t thought the heels were terribly high at work, but running through the streets in the middle of the night in below forty weather did not prove easy.
“I’ve seen the cops come for a fight that started with less than a punch to the face.” Debbie huffed. “Nice one by the way. I’ve seen that guy around. Crack head probably.”
Harriet had to laugh, even as the air in her lungs turned to an icy sort of fire. It had been a long time since she’d had cause to run. She used to go do ballet, but that was about all the exercise she ever amounted to in her twenty-three years. Her legs burned and her lungs were crying out and her feet felt like they were being squeezed off, but something inside Harriet seemed to break off and fall free.
She began to laugh. Debbie glanced back at her and let out her own laugh at Harriet’s expression. Harriet laughed until she couldn’t even feel her lungs anymore and she was running with a strange side gate toward her red car two blocks away.
She laughed and laughed and, for a while, the pain of what had happened in the hallway all those weeks ago was forgotten.
Harriet had to tiptoe upstairs in hopes that Chris wouldn’t catch her. He usually kept track of her comings and going like a bloodhound and Harriet had no doubts he’d know of her exploits by morning. Harriet began to regret the idea of moving in with her cousins, especially when those cousins were your superiors.
When she got to her own room, she yanked off her pumps and almost cried at the relief in her toes. She collapsed backward onto her bed and stared up at the ceiling. She felt like a silly child for putting up posters on her ceiling, but right now, they just made her smile. There was ABBA and Rocky Horror and The Breakfast Club. All those things were stupid and uncool now, but Harriet couldn’t help but find joy in them. Growing up, she’d had to hide the things she’d liked, especially things like that. But now, as strict as Chris was, she felt as if she could decorate her room anyway she wanted without fear of judgement. It was her house after all.
She smiled as she dialed Andrew’s number into her new hotdog phone. He picked up on the fifth ring, voice groggy and confused. “Hello?”
“Hi Andrew.” She said happily.
“Harrie?” From the noises on the other end, Harriet knew Andrew was sitting up in bed. “Is something wrong?”
“Why does something have to be wrong to call you?” She asked. “I just really miss you is all.”
And she did. She really, really did. Harriet was still recovering emotionally from what had happened a couple months ago, what she had lost. She knew, logically, that it wasn’t her fault. But motherhood was not logical. That’s what it had been, what it would have been. She still hadn’t told anyone about it.
“I really miss you too Harrie.” He was silent for a moment. “Isn’t it like one in the morning over there? What are you doing up?”
“Actually, I just got in.” She said and twisted the red cord around her finger. She loved her new hotdog phone. Andrew had sent it to her for Christmas. Thatchers weren’t religious, but they did love a good Christmas. It wasn’t the same though. Jacob had gone out and gotten a huge tree and they decorated it with lights and ornaments and Martin had hung lots of mistletoe around in hopes that he would get lucky with his girlfriend who came for dinner.
The Thatchers always had a Christmas Eve party with friends and family, but Christmas day was just them. As a child, Harriet would always sleep in late and when she woke up, she’d climb into her parent’s bed and they’d talk about the history of Christmas. From the pagan winter celebrations and their gods who rode through the night sky to Charles Dicken’s Christmas they knew today. Then her parents would release her to the tree where she would give her parents and Susan their stockings before opening her own. They all took turns opening gift and marveling at each new position. Harriet’s favorite part had always been the new stuff as a kid. But as she got older, she had begun to enjoy giving things and the reactions her presents got. She liked to tear into the wrapping paper, regardless of what was inside, and crinkle it up into a ball to throw at her parents like the snow balls LA never had.
Now as she sat in the bed that still didn’t feel like hers, holding the hotdog phone to her ear, Harriet began to miss the little things. The popcorn they would string together the night before, the way they always had little ornaments representing the other religions. The little golden Menorah had always been her favorite. It was always the first one she hung on the tree before her scented Strawberry Shortcake one. She missed the way her parents would set up chairs in the hallway so they would hear if she tried to sneak out in the middle of the night. She missed the way Susan would always sing and sing until she wasn’t even singing Christmas carols anymore, but some Elvis song instead.
She had been caught in her thoughts for so long, she jumped when Andrew spoke. “What were you doing all night?”
“I was at a club with Debbie.”
“A club?” Andrew sounded confused. “Isn’t Debbie the one who got drunk at Martin’s birthday party and tried to do a strip tease?”
“Uh,” Harriet felt herself turn red. “Yes, but—”
“What were you going at a club? You don’t club.”
“I just wanted to get out for a bit, okay?”
“With Drunkhard?” Andrew scoffed. “Were you drinking?”
“What are you, my father?” Harriet demanded. Why was he being so inquisitive? He went clubbing all the time.
“Sorry, I just want to know why the hell you would be out partying with the woman you once said was a drunk in scrubs.” Andrew sounded angry now too.
Just as she had when she’d been fleeing the bar, Harriet lost herself, but this time it wasn’t in a good way. “Maybe I’ve been sitting on my @ss for four months waiting for my boyfriend to show up and maybe I’m sick of it.”
With that, Harriet slammed the cheap hotdog phone onto its stand. A piece of the bun went flying off into the corner.