IT WAS ALMOST nine o'clock by the time Luke headed down to the pasture for his nightly check on the animals. Daisy had gone back to her apartment to take care of a few things, and they'd decided to stay there tonight. He missed her already. He was proud of the strong and confident way she'd taken control of the situation with Darren. For her to go above and beyond anyone's expectations and clean the house for Janice only proved how kindhearted she was. He'd noticed the way Daisy's features softened when the other women had hugged and thanked her, but when they'd called her Dr. Honey, he'd felt a physical change. He'd had his arm around her, and he'd felt her body deflate, as if someone had opened a valve and released years of tension. He'd had to fight the urge to turn her to him and hold her against him.
The horses were making their way across the field toward him. His mind drifted back to the glance he'd caught between Daisy and Kevin. It told of years of friendship and support, and it had sparked a moment of jealousy. An emotion Luke was not very familiar with, but he knew he'd only recently come into Daisy's life, and he respected their friendship. Kevin had been there for her during her most difficult years, and as much as he wished he had been the one she'd turned to all that time-or even better, that he could have made it stop back then-he took comfort in knowing she'd had Kevin to lean on. He'd tucked away the sliver of jealousy that had pierced his soul and followed the other desires it spurred in him. He wanted to be with Daisy. With her and there for her, which is why he planned on telling her exactly how he felt tonight.
Chelsea was the first to greet him, pressing her muzzle into his chest.
"Hey, Chels." He stroked her cheek while doing a visual inspection to make sure she didn't have any cuts or troublesome burrs. His cell phone rang, and he slipped on his Bluetooth and answered the call from Wes while he inspected the horses.
"Heard your gal did a good thing today."
He heard the sound of rushing water in the background. "Hey, Wes. White-water trip?"
"Nah. Just riverside pioneering this time. Two-nighter."
"How'd you hear about Daisy all the way out there?"
"I have a sweet little brunette who keeps me abreast of things while I'm away."
He heard the smile in Wes's voice. "Right. Clarissa. Well, yeah, Daisy was amazing today, and hopefully Darren will get some fricking help. The guy's a mess." Luke had been thinking about Darren, and he wondered what would happen when he realized his wife and child were gone. He wondered if it would be a different feeling than what his father felt when he'd left them, and he wondered if that feeling was one of relief or grief.
"Hopefully, it'll be a wake-up call."
"You know, I worked with him over at Daisy's father's farm, and when he's not drinking, he's a nice guy. Quiet, which was probably because he was embarrassed about what went down at the fair, I'd expect, but he was nice enough. I can't imagine what gets into people's heads that they end up that drunk. I mean, you and I, we had our drunken nights when we were younger, but we know when we've had too much to drink, and I sure as hell know that if I didn't, I'd have no business having a wife and child."
"Yeah, I learned a long time ago that we never know what's going on in someone else's mind."
Luke noticed a gash on Shaley's leg. "Aw, crap. Shaley's bleeding."
"Oh, man. Sorry. You need to go?"
"No. I've got my Bluetooth in. I'm walking her down to the barn. Hey, as long as I've got you on the phone, can I bend your ear a few minutes?"
"Sure. What's up? You've decided you're not serious about Daisy and need to know how to bow out gracefully?"
Luke shook his head. He used to be just like Wes when it came to working his way through as many women as he could. Now that Daisy was in his life, that felt like a lifetime ago, like it hadn't even been him, but rather some guy he knew. "Wes, I've never been more serious about anything or anyone in my life."
"So I've heard."
"I guess I have Pierce to thank for that?"
"I'm thinking of asking Daisy to stay in Trusty."
"You asking for my advice?" Wes sounded dead serious.
Luke led Shaley into the barn. "No. I was just airing out my lungs."
"What do I know about this shit? You really like her that much? That fast?"
More than I ever thought possible. "Yeah, I do." He inspected Shaley's wound.
"Well, you know what Mom would say, right?"
Luke smiled. "Christ, how could I have forgotten that? Love will find you when it's damn good and ready and not a second before or a minute too late-and when it does, you don't have a chance in hell in getting away."
DAISY WAS STILL reeling from what happened with Darren and from the things Jerri and the others had said to her when she sat down at her kitchen table with her two job offer letters. She'd driven by Dr. Waxman's house on the way home from Janice's, and it stirred up all sorts of childhood memories. She remembered the way he'd always asked after her and seemed to know what was going on in her life even when she hadn't seen him in months. It had made those doctor visits easier. The grapevine snuck into unexpected offices and ears, and there had been times when she was glad it had.
She remembered how comforting seeing Dr. Waxman had been. Now the children saw rotating doctors in a large practice a town away. Was that really better for them? It was clearly better for the doctors, who were earning more money and seeing more patients. But if patients saw a different doctor every other visit, did they ever establish the same comfort and relationships she had enjoyed with Dr. Waxman? How could they? The doctors were at least a town away, some even farther. They couldn't possibly know if a child won a spelling bee or was a flower girl in a wedding. They would have no way of knowing if Mr. Mace was under stress because his crops weren't doing well, or if her father hadn't left his house in a month. They couldn't know if the library held a writing contest or which child won. Those were the types of things that could help them understand a patient's current emotional state and help in diagnosing as well as comforting the patient.
Dr. Waxman had encouraged her to look beyond the gossip and remain focused on her goals. She wondered if he'd have any sage advice for her now. Should she follow her heart or the best path for a strong career?
A knock on her door pulled her from her thoughts. She'd just seen Luke, and she already missed him. She pulled open the door and was surprised to find Janice, puffy eyed, dressed in clean clothing, her hair freshly brushed and styled, sans Michael attached to her hip.
"Janice. Is everything okay? Where's Michael?"
Janice barely managed a smile. "Hi, Daisy. He's with my mom. Can I come in?"
"Of course." She stepped aside, steeling herself for another verbal bashing, even though Jerri assured her that Janice wasn't angry with her.
Old habits died hard.
"Can I get you a drink? I think I have some lemonade or iced tea."
"No, thanks. I just came to talk to you." Janice sat on the sofa and fiddled with the seam of her jeans.
Daisy sat beside her and tucked her hands under her thighs to try to ease her nerves.
"I...um. I wanted to thank you for helping me today."
"Of course. I was happy to." She noticed Janice's hand was trembling.
"Lynn said you cleaned up, too, and that you had Kevin and Luke with you." She dropped her gaze to her lap. "I'm so embarrassed. I don't even know what to say." Tears slipped down her cheeks.
Daisy didn't think as she drew Janice into her arms. At that moment, the pain of the past fell away completely, and all that remained was a woman whose life had been upended. A woman Daisy's age who had, and would continue to, face rumors about her husband, and in turn, herself. Michael was young, so he was protected from the ruthless rumors, but rumor mills ran like ghosts in the night, driven by jealousy or hatred, feeding off of the misfortune of others. Daisy couldn't stop that from happening any more than she could have stopped the rumors about herself years ago, but she could be there to help Janice through them. She could support her and remind her that alcoholism was a disease that needed to be handled by professionals. She could be her friend. Who could understand the pain rumors caused better than Daisy? Daisy had moved past the pain of it all, but the irony of the situation didn't evade her. Forgiveness and community. The two seem to be bonking her on the head these days. Maybe that was a good thing.
She stroked Janice's back. "You shouldn't be embarrassed. This is a chemical dependency that Darren has to deal with. You didn't cause it. This is not your fault."
Janice drew away and wiped her eyes. "Daisy, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for all those years I treated you badly, and I'm sorry for pulling you into this with Darren today. I just didn't know what else to do."
"It's okay." As she said it, she realized that everything was not okay. "Wait. Janice, all those years of gossip and rumors, that wasn't okay, but this...Coming to me and asking me to help with Darren? That's all okay. I'm glad I could help, and I owe you an apology, too. I said horrible things to you at the clinic the other day. I was angry, and hurt, and...I'm sorry."
"I deserved it. I was kind of a bitch." Janice dried her eyes and fiddled with the edge of her jeans again. "I'm sorry."
"Let's just consider it water under the bridge and try to move forward. Are you really staying with your mom?" God, she hoped so.
Janice nodded. "I can't let Michael be around anything like what happened today."
Daisy breathed a sigh of relief. "Good. I'm glad to hear that. I like Darren, but he needs help."
"I know, and I love him. I can't help it. I've always loved him." A tentative smile lifted her lips. "I'm going to try to get him to seek help, but I'm staying with Mom until he does."
Daisy looked at the boxes stacked against the wall in the living room. Four boxes labeled MEDICAL BOOKS. Medicine was about so much more than science. It was about personal connections and caring about the patients. Daisy realized that she wanted to know her patients as more than charts and names, and that those bonds were far more important than being in the thick of diversity and cutting-edge research.
Her cell phone rang. "I'm sorry, Janice. Do you mind if I get that?"
Janice rose to her feet. "It's okay. I should go anyway." She moved to hug Daisy, and they ended up in an awkward semi-embrace. "Well, thanks for being there, Daisy. I know Darren was lucky that you were here and willing to help."
"Hold on one sec." She answered Luke's call. "Luke, can you hold on a sec?"
"Sure," Luke said.
"Thanks." She lowered the phone. "Janice, what would you have done if you hadn't found me?"
Janice pressed her lips together and shrugged. "I'm just glad I did. Tell Luke I said thanks. I'm really sorry I dragged you guys into this mess."
"If you ever need anything, I'm here, Janice."
She watched Janice leave and then went back to her call. "Sorry, Luke."
"Everything okay? Was that Janice?"
"Yeah. Everything's more than okay. She apologized, and so did I." Daisy exhaled loudly. "How are your girls?"
"Well, my best girl sounds like she's pretty good, but my littlest girl has a gash on her leg."
"Oh no. Shaley?" Daisy's heart ached at the thought of it.
"Yeah. I just cleaned it up. It's not too bad, but-"
"I'll get my stuff and we can stay there. I know you can't leave her."
I love you. He didn't say it, and neither did she, but she wanted to so badly, it practically burst from her lungs.
"Bring enough clothes so you never have to leave."
She closed her eyes, absorbing the meaning behind the words.
"I'll be right over."
Daisy called Alice on the way to Luke's.
"Hello?" Alice's voice was heavy with sleep.
"I'm so sorry, Alice. This is Daisy Honey. I didn't realize it was so late. I can call back tomorrow."
"Don't be silly. I'm up now. I heard that Darren was pretty bad off. You did good, Daisy."
"Thank you. I was wondering if you were serious about letting me use the space at the library for the physicals."
Daisy heard Alice breathing louder, and she made a noise in her throat, as if she were sitting up in bed. When she spoke, Alice's voice was strong and excited, fully awake. They scheduled the clinic for a week from Saturday from eight to eight. It would be a long, grueling day, but Alice said that Betty already had more than thirty families who were interested, and Daisy agreed to hold the clinic during the same hours the following weekend as well, to see anyone who wasn't able to make it to the first one. Kevin would help her see patients. They would be busy, but it would be worth it.