“Who’s keeping the twins?” Arianne asked as she and Lesley chopped vegetables in the Douglas kitchen.
“Well, you know Sylvia. Bless her heart. She demands that all our babysitters have advanced lifesaving skills to take care of our kids.” Lesley shook her head. “So we got Layton.”
Arianne smiled at the thought of Layton. If anyone could be a good influence over her eldest son, it would be Layton Beard. She and Nash had started dating a little over a year ago, and in that time she’d seen her son more often than in several years prior. Very seldom did she allow herself to dwell on her own bad relationship with Nash. The reality was she’d failed him as a mother, and he had turned to the one person who thrived on hearing his story of neglect. Her son’s friendship with Millie was the strongest bond in his life. Arianne despised her more than any other person, and cringed thinking of how her husband had concealed Nash’s involvement with the woman for years. By the time Arianne figured it out, Nash was old enough to do whatever the hell he wanted. Everything got slightly better after Graceanne was born, but he always managed to find fault with her and Andrew again. It wasn’t until he started a relationship with Layton that they began to see a marked change in their son. With long blonde hair and deep blue eyes, she was equally as beautiful as she was kind—an unlikely albeit lucky match for Nash.
“Can I just say again how much I love that girl?”
“For the nine millionth time? Sure,” Lesley joked. “She is great. Made a huge impact on Nash.”
“I was just thinking that,” she said, transferring the lettuce from the cutting board to the colander. “Did I tell you that when Andrew talked to Rachael today, she said something about going to the Caribbean?”
“Yeah. And I’m wondering what the hell she’s thinking? She knows I’m tied up with the benefit all next week. Don’t get me wrong, I love having Gracie. Nothing makes me happier. But Rachael knew I was going to be busy. I know she did.”
Lesley frowned as she retrieved glasses from the cabinet. “That’s odd.”
“Tell me about it. I’m having breakfast with her tomorrow morning. I mean, I hate to ask Rachael’s parents to take Gracie. I know they will, but they live so far away. I don’t know. We’ll figure it out.”
“Well, if that doesn’t work, you know she can stay with me and the girls.”
“Three little girls under three years old?” Arianne said. “That’s a lot for anyone.”
“Ha… yeah… but some days, when Liene has dumped spaghetti on the floor and Stowe is screaming her head off, I think, what’s one more?”
“Those girls are a mess,” Arianne said, walking into the dining room with a handful of plates.
“So are we going to talk about the text you sent me?” Lesley asked when she returned. “You’re telling Andrew about Greg?”
“She paused for a few seconds. “No. I’m pissed Gregory’s bringing her. But no. That won’t solve anything. I was just being dramatic.”
“No, it won’t. Especially since he finally seems halfway content in his life.” Lesley wasn’t surprised to see the hurt look on her best friend’s face. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“He really seems happy?”
Shrugging her shoulders, Lesley exhaled. She’d never understand why the two of them tortured themselves like they did. But as she wrapped her arms around Arianne, she knew it wasn’t her job to understand. It was her job to be a friend. That meant telling the truth even when it hurt. “You know he’s not truly happy unless he’s with you. But yeah, Sylvia says this girl is different. Greg’s kept her around a little longer than most.”
“Do you think he still loves me?” she asked, wiping away fresh tears.
“Oh Ari. Ari, you know he does. You know it. But honey, you’re married. To his best friend.”
Arianne sighed. The truth was never easy to hear but Lesley was right. It was unfair to Gregory for her to hold so tightly to something that ended years ago.
“He’s a good man. He’d never ask you to leave Andrew. Look, no one can take away what the two of you shared. Having said that, you have to let him go. He deserves happiness just as much as you, and if you can’t be together, well, y’all have to find it however you can. How are you and Andrew anyway?” she asked, trying to change the subject. The more Arianne thought about Gregory, the more depressed she seemed to get.
Opening the refrigerator, she pulled out dressings for the salad. “Busy. Too busy. I don’t remember the last time we made love or even spent quality time together. We argued today because he’s missed every single one of Pike’s games. I know he doesn’t mean to. I have to at least hope that.”
Lesley frowned. She wouldn’t bring it up to Arianne, but Andrew’s behavior now mirrored what happened fourteen years ago when his infidelities drove her into Gregory’s arms. Even though he’d come a long way, Lesley didn’t trust Andrew as far as she could pick up his six-foot-two ass and throw him. Before she could answer, the doorbell chime interrupted; Gregory and his girlfriend had arrived.
Arianne’s nails dug into her best friend’s forearm. “I don’t… I don’t want to do this.”
“Deep breaths,” she said, calmly. “You have to. You’re not competing for his heart, you got that years ago. Now, let’s go in there and be gracious and cordial.” They walked arm-in-arm toward the great room where they heard Andrew’s booming voice introducing Tiffany to Sylvia. “Right, Ari?”
Locking eyes with Gregory across the room, Arianne said in a small but determined voice, “Right.”
“There they are,” Andrew said pointing at the two women. “Tiffany, this is Sylvia’s lovely wife Lesley.”
“Hey.” Lesley extended her hand to the petite woman. “Very happy to meet you.”
“You too, Lesley.”
“And my beautiful wife…” Andrew’s arms encircled her waist. “Arianne.”
She smiled and looked at every inch of this woman who enamored her beloved. Tiffany was a cute girl with a generous bosom; she was possibly around her stepdaughter, Sydney’s age. That would make her almost thirty years his junior and certainly ready for marriage and children with the CMO of River City Medical Center. “Good to meet you, Tiffany. Welcome to our home.”
“I’m so glad to be meeting everyone. Gregory has nothing but good words to say about all of you,” she replied. “May I help you ladies in the kitchen?”
Andrew answered for them. “That sounds like a plan. I’m gonna run out here and get the grill fired up. Hope you like steak and sausage, Tiffany. We’re all carnivores here.”
“Sure do,” she said, leaning up to kiss Gregory on the cheek.
Sylvia motioned to Gregory. “We’ll come with you, Andrew. I know Greg wants to go over tomorrow’s meeting before we sit down for dinner.”
“Tiffany, we have a rule with these three. They’ll talk about work all night long if we don’t stop them,” Lesley said, glaring at the three doctors playfully. “They get their time before we eat and then no more hospital business the rest of the night. You’ll have to help us keep them in check. Greg and my wife are usually the worst offenders.”
“I’m usually too drunk to give two shits about the conversation,” Andrew added, opening the patio doors. “Ari, I’ll be ready for the meat in about five,” he said as Gregory and Sylvia followed him into the backyard.
“Arianne, your home is gorgeous. I’ve always loved the Mediterranean style,” Tiffany said, politely. “How long have you lived here?”
“About fifteen years. We moved from New Orleans when Metairie was much more suburb and less crowded. Now you almost have to go across the lake to get any peace,” she said. Though it was hard not to judge everything about her, Tiffany seemed sweet enough. Arianne decided that she could spend the night getting to know this girl, but talking to Gregory about his girlfriend? She wasn’t prepared for that. “Where are you from, Tiffany?”
“I’m from a very small town in northwest Louisiana. Zwolle,” she answered, washing her hands at the sink. “You’ve probably never heard of it.”
“Honey…” Lesley’s clear blue eyes sparkled. “I’m from Bodcaw, Arkansas, and my mamaw and papaw used to drive us down to Zwolle every October for the Tamale Festival. We’d stay for almost a week camping at Toledo Bend State Park.”
Tiffany’s face brightened, grateful for some common ground among Gregory’s friends. After four months of dating and several missed meetings, making a good impression was paramount. “Yeah?”
“I didn’t know that, Les,” Arianne said, turning towards her best friend.
“Nothing my grandparents liked more than eating tamales by a campfire. Goodness, I hadn’t thought of that in years.”
“Well, I’m glad my hometown brings you such happy memories, Lesley.” Facing Arianne, she held her hands out for inspection. “Clean hands. What can I do for you?”
“You’re the guest, Tiffany. You shouldn’t be doing anything.”
Undoing the tie on the bag of sourdough rolls, she said, “I can butter rolls.” After accepting a butter knife from Lesley, Tiffany looked in Arianne’s direction. “Gregory told me you’ve been busy with the Hope Benefit. This will be my first time to attend. I’ve heard about it, but never had the invite to go.”
“I guess it’s your lucky year then.” Arianne gave a closed-mouthed smile through gritted teeth.
“Arianne, that’s an understatement in my book. I wish I could tell y’all how great that man is out there.” Tiffany’s head fell, concealing her blush. “Y’all know him better than me though. You know he’s amazing. I didn’t think it was possible to find someone like him. I just… he’s the best.”
Lesley glanced at the counterfeit smile on Arianne’s face and then to her eyes. Green and expressive, they always told the truth, and now they were screaming “get me the hell out of here.”
“Gregory is one of the most genuine men you will ever know.” Lesley took the meat out of the refrigerator. “Ari, Andrew should be ready for the meat.”
“Oh,” Tiffany exclaimed, sliding the rolls into the oven. “May I take it?”
“Sure.” Lesley opened the side door leading to the patio. “Thank you for your help.”
Outside, Andrew stood alone by the grill. “Where’s everybody, Dr. Douglas?”
“Hey Tiffany, it’s Andrew, please. You’re part of us now. No need to be formal,” he said, taking the bowl full of marinating steak and sausage. “Greg and Sylvia went into the pool house to play a game of air hockey. They have a little bit of a competition going on.”
“Yeah? Who usually wins?”
“Sylvia. She has much better hand-eye coordination. Which is saying a lot because Greg is a kick-ass heart surgeon. Did surgery on me.” Andrew proudly undid the top button of his shirt, revealing the top of the six-inch vertical scar over his sternum. “If it wasn’t for him and my ex-wife, I’d be dead.”
“Oh? Your ex? Y’all must have a good relationship.”
Andrew’s jovial laughter carried underneath the awning. “Well, we do. But Ari and Mills? Not so much. They haven’t tried to kill each other in about three years so I say, that’s a good relationship. Millie is a phenomenal doctor and Gregory honestly didn’t want to do the surgery with anyone else.”
“How long ago was it?”
“Fourteen years. And I’m still going strong.” He leaned in, eying the young woman. “I know you might be concerned that it took so long for him to introduce you.” The steaks sizzled as Andrew tossed them on the grill. “Damn, that’ll be good. But Tiff, he only brings the women around that he’s serious about. In the years I’ve known him—and mind you, that’s a long while—I’ve only met three of his girlfriends. And his family, less than that.”
Closing her eyes, she released a long-held sigh, relieved to hear that admission from Gregory’s best friend. “I was so scared, Andrew, that it was because he didn’t like me. And I was scared y’all wouldn’t either. I know our age difference…”
“Aw hell,” Andrew muttered, sipping his bourbon and water. “My wife hadn’t even turned twenty and I was thirty-two. I know there’s a few more years than that between you and Greg, but being so young, Ari was practically jail bait. And here we are twenty-six years later.”
“How did y’all meet?”
“She’d just moved to New Orleans and started working at Rivers as an aide. Had it not been for Greg doing some sleuth work on my behalf, I never would have talked to her,” he said, looking out across the backyard. “She blew me off that first time. But Mother Nature intervened the second time when her car broke down on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in a huge ass thunderstorm. We’re talking hurricane force winds.”
“Oh goodness.” Tiffany’s eyes widened, awaiting the rest of his story.
“I just happened to need some time to myself that evening and was headed to my camp on the lake in Madisonville. When I finally convinced her to come with me, we were both soaked to the bone and freezing. We went to the boathouse and ‘bam,’ it hit me. I didn’t want just one night with this woman, I wanted a lifetime.”
“What a great story to tell your kids and grandkids. And why was Arianne on the Causeway that day?” Tiffany wondered.
Andrew bit his bottom lip realizing his wife had been very vague about why she’d been driving there during such a bad thunderstorm. “I don’t know? I think she’d had an argument with a friend.” He nodded thinking that sounded about right. “Clearing her head, same as me.”
An hour later, pleased with the way dinner went, Arianne quietly excused herself to the kitchen to prepare dessert. She still wanted to vomit, seeing the way Tiffany rubbed all over her beloved, but the night was almost over and she’d managed to avoid him. In her mind, that was a small victory, but as if he knew she was thinking of him, Gregory came in the kitchen shaking his almost empty glass.
“Oh Gregory, I’m sorry. That was rude of me,” she said. “I should have asked about refills.”
“Ari, it’s me. I can wait on myself.” He opened the freezer to add more ice to his tea. “I wanted to talk anyway,” he replied with a nervous smile. “Well?”
“Well, what?” Arianne played dumb.
“Am I going to get your opinion?”
“Of Tiffany?” He led.
“There’s a strawberry virgin daiquiri I made for Pike in the fridge. She’s welcome to it.” The words dropped from her mouth like a guillotine before she could stop them. Immediately she wished she could rewind and start over. “Gregory, that was wrong. I had no right,” she apologized, placing her hand over his.
He jerked away. “No, Ari… you didn’t. This is exactly why I didn’t want to bring her.”
“She’s almost thirty years younger.” Arianne tried to bite her tongue, but it was impossible. “What could she possibly want with you, but the charmed existence of being a doctor’s wife?”
“Thanks for the compliment. Isn’t that the damn pot calling the kettle black, Mrs. Douglas?” he countered.
“You know damn good and well why I said yes to Andrew.”
“Yeah, and look at you now.” He threw up his hands. “Still just as conflicted as you were back then. I’m not doing this with you. I think it’s time for us to leave.” He breathed out, exasperated.
“Gregory, don’t do that. Be rational,” she argued.
“Coming from the most rational person in the world. Go to hell, Arianne, you and your perfect life.” Gregory sneered, storming out of the kitchen.
Regretting their conversation, Arianne’s head lowered, ashamed. She had earned that outburst. Every bit of it. If anyone deserved happiness it was Gregory. The question she had to ask herself was: why did she have such a hard time being happy for him?
In the great room, Lesley stared straight ahead, wondering what kind of heavy conversations were going on between the two unrequited lovers. Gregory and Arianne fought hard and loved harder, and when they were together, the rest of the world didn’t exist.
“Hey, where you at?” Sylvia whispered to her wife. “You seem a world away.”
“I don’t mean to, love,” she replied with a peck on Sylvia’s cheek.
Moments later, an upset Gregory rushed out of the kitchen and bent down to Tiffany’s ear.
“Hey Syl, I think we might have a problem.” Lesley tilted her head in Gregory’s direction.
“Crap. They can’t stay away from each other long enough for us to have a dinner? Damn, I need to talk to him about that.” Sylvia shook her head. “Guess we should help them out.”
Wasting no time, Lesley stood, hoping an inebriated Andrew wouldn’t relate Gregory and Tiffany leaving early with anything that may or may not have happened in the kitchen. “I know this is shameful, y’all, she said before the group. “But my wife and I miss our babies. This is the longest we’ve been away from them.”
Laughter filled the room, the loudest being Andrew. She was glad. He suspected nothing.
Agreeing with a strained smile, Gregory helped Tiffany stand. “Yeah, it’s late for me too. I have two early meetings, and we’re still having that luncheon with the interns tomorrow, right Syl?’
Sipping her drink, Sylvia nodded yes. “At thirteen hundred.”
“Great. I’ll see the two of you tomorrow morning,” Gregory said to the other two doctors. “Andy, please tell Ari thank you for another lovely evening.” After a swift handshake, he gripped the bronze door handle.
“We enjoyed meeting you, Tiffany. Keep this old guy in line.” Lesley gave Tiffany a quick hug before excusing herself while the others said their goodbyes.
Finding Arianne up on the levee in the back yard, Lesley chastised, “Next time you want to fight with Greg, please don’t do it during dinner when Andrew is throwing back the bourbons like Prohibition’s starting tomorrow?”
“Did they leave?” she asked, ignoring her friend’s rant.
“What did Andrew say?” Sipping her own bourbon, her eyes were fixed on the waves.
“Nothing,” she reassured. “When I realized Greg was upset, Syl and I ran interference and it’s fine now. Greg was mad though.” Lesley knew the answer but still asked the question, “What did you say to him?”
“I made a comment about her age.” Arianne’s heart burned as much as the whiskey easing down her throat, yet she swallowed hard. One day she might find a way to be happy for Gregory and his hot, sexy girlfriend… but today was not that day.
– Today’s picture is of the Sunshine Bridge in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, a very important place for Ari and Greg in Book 2.
– Layton’s name came from a street in Monroe, Louisiana, which is the only large city near where I live. Oddly, there’s also a Garrison Road (Gregory’s father’s name) and a Mills Farm (Millie’s nickname) in Rayville.
-A local supermarket sells frozen Zwolle tamales, and they are kick-ass.
– Arianne’s car that broke down on the Causeway was a 1979 Ford Thunderbird. We took that detail out.
-The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway has seven turnarounds. It truly is one of the most impressive bridge in the world. The only other one that compares (IMO) is the LA 1 Bridge to Grand Isle. There’s a moment on both these bridges when you realize… it’s you, a bridge, and WATER. Scary cool!!!
– Greg and Ari have such a volatile and maddening relationship. It’s always run the gamut of extremes. I tried to make them romantic and loving, but they didn’t want that. They wanted explosions and fire.
Hope y’all have an awesome week…yay for Christmas! 🎄Elizabeth