Ramsey: A Military Bad Boy Secret Baby Pregnancy Romance (The Bradford Brothers Book 3), page 33
“Here’s to Harlow’s progress,” says Dr. Davis, raising his glass.
As everyone cheers, I decide not to let this moment pass. Mason inadvertently gave me the perfect opening. And as I start to feel a bit tipsy, I decide that putting Dr. Davis on the spot might work to my advantage. It’ll be all that much harder for him to pussyfoot around or blow me off.
“On that note,” I say, plastering a big smile across my face. “When do you think I’ll be able to go back? Since I’ve made so much progress and all? Has your certification of me been reviewed yet?”
“Harlow, we’ll talk about this on Monday,” Dr. Davis says, in an almost angry tone. He clearly doesn’t like that I’ve challenged him. “Why don’t you report to my office at o- eight- hundred so that I can fill you in on the specifics of that? We don’t want your confidential medical information to be bantered around in a bar.”
I’m annoyed that he considers my brothers and closest friends— for whom I would die, and almost did, and who would do the same for me— to be considered “bantering.” But I’m glad he set a date and time to answer my questions and provide me with a status update of sorts. I’m hopeful that now we can actually get somewhere on my goal of returning to my unit.
“That sounds good, thanks,” I tell him.
But something still seems off. I don’t know what it is about that chick at the conference that’s knocking me off my game.
I can’t hit on Blondie like I normally would, and I can’t feel confident about my progress. Try as I might, I also can’t seem to push vague, nagging negative thoughts about Dr. Davis out of my head.
I stand up. “I really do have to get going now. I wish I had known you wanted to join us and I would have made sure to invite you earlier.”
“Harlow, that’s fine, I can’t stay long myself. But I really do think you should call an Uber.”
I look at him in annoyance. What is he, my dad now?
Something nags at the back of my mind. Protecting his golden ticket. Can’t let me die in a DUI crash after all he’s done to restore me.
“Unless you want me to give you a ride home?” Dr. Davis asks.
“I’ll just go ahead and be on the safe side and Uber it,” I tell him, just to get him off my back.
I definitely don’t want to spend any more time with him tonight. And after that last drink he insisted on buying me, he’s probably right that I shouldn’t chance driving. Stop thinking so negatively. He’s just looking out for you.
“Bye guys,” I say, again, as Ramsey tries to give me a drunken high five that doesn’t quite make its mark. “You should probably Uber it too.”
“Yeah, there’s no room on my bike for passengers, unless they’re Riley,” Jensen tells him, laughing.
“I will. Later,” Ramsey says. “The night is young.”
I’m glad to see that he’s relaxed and having a good time. And everyone else seems to be as well. I guess I’m the only one brooding over a girl I’ll never see again, and the doctor who saved my face but seems to be messing with my head.
As I wait for my driver, I remind myself that I owe a lot to Dr. Davis. I shouldn’t let Whatever- Her- Name- Is influence my thoughts so negatively.
It’s probably just regret that’s eating at me. I should have gotten her number, or at least her name.
At seven o’clock in the evening, my mom calls, for our weekly FaceTime chat.
“Hi Sweetie,” she says, and my dad waves at me from the background, where he’s watching his beloved Yankees on TV.
I moved to Albuquerque from the East Coast for college, but I try to visit and stay in touch with my parents as much as I can.
“How’s the internship going?”
“Pretty good,” I tell her.
Especially when it presents me with eye candy like Harlow, I think about adding, but I don’t.
“My clinic has the opportunity to work with a doctor who performs facial reconstructive surgery on military members who are wounded in action,” I continue. “It’s exciting, but there’s something about this doctor I can’t put my finger on. He seems a bit too… opportunistic.”
My mom’s face wrinkles with concern. It’s nice to hear my opinion validated, even if by a “hmmm.”
“Well, just follow your gut and trust your intuition,” she says. “You know God gave it to you for a reason.”
“That’s true, Mom.”
“So what else is new?”
“Ummm,” I rack my brain, trying not to mention Tony. Although they’re too polite to say much, they’ve never been big fans. “I’ve been trying to go to the gym more, and lose a little weight. I feel pretty out of shape.”
“Oh nonsense, Dear. You’re just perfect the way you are.”
I do my best not to sigh. I know I should be grateful to have such a supportive mother, but she’s so full of empty platitudes.
When I first moved out here, it was because my eventual goal was medical school, and it’s much more affordable out here than it is in New York. My pre- med classes turned out to be harder than I expected, and every time I tried to express my frustrations to my parents, I felt that they just wrote off my concerns.
“Anything worth doing is difficult,” they would say. Or “you have to stay motivated to succeed.”
I feel like everything’s always come so easy for them. My dad has a brilliant mind when it comes to science, and he got paid a lot as an engineer, before he retired. My mom has always been a stay at home mom. And my older brother got a full- ride scholarship to Columbia, for computer engineering.
I’ve just always felt like I can’t compete. Everything I do seems mediocre in comparison, and I guess I start to wonder why I even try.
When I told them I was switching to Physical Therapy, I could tell in their eyes that they were disappointed, but they just said, “Whatever you think is best, Dear.”
Sometimes I wish they’d challenge me a little more, since I obviously can’t seem to challenge myself.
“How are you and Tony doing, Honey?” My mom asks me now.
“Oh, we’re fine.”
I try to remain nonchalant. I can’t really talk to my mom about deep things like that.
“Well that’s good, Dear. Tell him I say hello.”
“I will, Mom.”
“All right. Well, it’s almost bed time here. Have a good night.”
“You too, Mom. Love you. Love you Dad.”
“Bye!” They both wave at me and blow me kisses.
This is how pretty much all of our conversations go. There isn’t much substance, but at least we stay in touch.
As I hang up, I start to wonder whether anything really exciting will ever happen in my life. Something so out of the ordinary and different, that my parents will stand up and pay attention.
I try to imagine them bragging to their friends about me the way they brag about my brother.
“Our daughter became a world class ballerina.”
“Our daughter helped cure cancer.”
“Our daughter broke up with her deadbeat boyfriend.”
That one hurt, even just in my thoughts.
“Our daughter is dating a member of the Special Forces.”
Now I have to tell myself to shut up, before I let my fantasies run wild. And if I’m going to indulge any fantasies, it’s going to involve a hot, steamy sex session with Dr. Davis’ pet project Harlow, rather than what my parents might tell their friends at their country club.
And in reality, I guess I’ll never do much to impress my parents, or to woo a guy like Harlow.
But at least a girl can dream.
Los Cuates is crowded, and doesn’t take reservations. But it’s my mom’s favorite restaurant, so as usual, all of us wait until we’re called to be seated.
The four of us, plus Jensen’s girlfriend Rile
So far it’s been working out surprisingly well, considering it’s the first family tradition we’ve had since Dad died. And the first one involving Mom that goes back as far as I can remember.
“I wish we could wait in the bar,” Jensen says under his breath, but both Ramsey and I elbow him.
Mom’s a recovering alcoholic and addict, and a bar is the last place she should be. While she’s lived her life being off the wagon a lot more than she’s been on it, she’s been holding steady lately, going to her meetings and abstaining from any harmful substances, and it’s been nice.
Things with Mom have always been rocky, to say the least, and at times I’ve wanted to give up on her completely. But Ramsey, the rock of the family, always persuades me to give her another chance. And I know that Jensen truly wants to keep some semblance of family life together, even though he puts up a tough front.
So I go along with it, as the good youngest brother should, even though I sometimes wonder what we’re doing trying to play Big Happy Family. I’m sure it will fall apart sooner or later, just like everything in our family’s history always has.
“I really love your dress,” Riley tells my mom, who blushes.
“Why thank you. Ramsey bought that for me for my birthday.”
The sarcastic glare I give Ramsey says what a little suck- up. He’s always doing things to try to make Mom happy, even though she’s never really done the same for us.
Recently things got heated between her and her abusive ex— one of many addict losers who string her along until they’re done with her— and she was out on the street with no place to go. Ramsey convinced all of us to pitch in money for an apartment for her, and he goes to visit her often. He thinks she’s becoming senile and may need round- the- clock care, but I think it’s just a combination of the drugs and the successful pity parties she always throws for herself and which only Ramsey really buys into.
Finally the hostess leads us to a table and we continue the Happy Family façade. I’d like to think we can all keep this up, but I know not to set my hopes too high. We make small talk about work and about Jensen’s and Riley’s blossoming relationship, and then I feel the need to bring up a subject I probably shouldn’t.
“So, Dad’s birthday is coming up,” I say.
My brothers nod their head in cautious agreement while Riley turns to Jensen and says, “Oh? I didn’t know.”
Mom says nothing.
“Yeah, I was wondering what you guys wanted to do?” I ask.
“I think we should go to his gravesite as usual,” Jensen says.
“Definitely,” Ramsey agrees. “I’ve been kind of re- learning how to play the guitar, and I’d like to play something in his memory.”
“Wow!” I’m impressed. “That’s great. Since when?”
Ramsey just shrugs, with a look in his eyes that’s hard to read.
“And maybe we can take him to dinner afterwards,” he continues. “Trombino’s, maybe? Since he loved Italian?”
“Remember that time he took us there and convinced the waiter we were visiting from Italy?” I say.
“I do,” says Ramsey. “But I can’t believe you do. You were just a little kid.”
“He was even talking to him in fake Italian,” says Jensen, laughing. “And asking about the authenticity of the food.”
“Dad always was a hoot,” Jensen says. “I miss him so much.”
“Well, I need to piss,” Mom says, getting up from the table and walking away while the rest of us sit there speechless.
“Good ole’ mom. Running away at the sign of any serious conversation,” I say.
“Harlow,” Ramsey says sternly. “Be nice.”
“Why should I? It’s always more same old same old with her. She left us and Dad a long time ago, to run off with some loser. And she’s never really been committed to trying to fix anything since.”
Ramsey’s face turns beet red. He looks angry. I’ve never seen him like this. He’s usually the cool, calm, collective one among the three of us.
“Harlow, you make good points but I don’t want to talk about it right now,” he says. “I just can’t.”
He clenches and unclenches his fists several times.
Jensen, Riley and I exchange concerned glances.
“Okay. Sorry. I won’t say another word,” I say.
I feel bad but I don’t really know what I did to make him so mad.
“We’ll just have a nice time at lunch,” Jensen says, reaching out to touch Ramsey on his shoulder.
This gesture seems to calm him down. He nods.
The waitress comes to take our order, but Mom still isn’t back. She refreshes our tortilla chips and salsa and waters, and says there’s no rush.
We sit in silence for a while.
“How’s your practice going, Riley?” I ask, finally thinking of something to say.
“Pretty good,” she says, with her infectious grin. “Working for myself and for clients I enjoy may not pay as well as I’m used to, but it sure beats working as a billable hour slave, I mean associate, for partners at a big firm.”
“Great,” I say, genuinely happy her career shift is working out for her.
When she met Jensen, she was a big shot at a nice law firm, but she gave that up to offer legal help to military service members like him.
It’s hard to stay upset when Riley’s around. Jensen may have wussed out and gotten himself a girlfriend, but at least he picked a good one.
Still. That’s not happening to me, ever. After growing up with our mom and seeing how flaky and unstable people can be, and how a once- loving relationship can be destroyed once somone decides to throw it away, I don’t know how Jensen could ever commit to anyone. I certainly will never be that stupid.
Mom finally comes back and says, “On my way to the bathroom, I passed a board that said their special today is the blue corn enchilada plate. I think I’ll try that.”
She sits down as if nothing is wrong, but she reeks of alcohol.
I want to ask her if reading the specials board is what took her so long. Or if she thinks we’re that stupid. It’s obvious she went to the bar and had a drink.
I look at Jensen and sigh, and he shrugs. For Ramsey’s sake, neither of us points out the obvious.
“I’m going to have the huevos with carne adovado,” I announce, playing my role in the Everything- is- Great game.
“Sounds good,” says Riley, as the waitress approaches us once again.
Time to have a big fake happy family meal, I think, as we order. And to get the hell out of here as soon as I can.
At eight o’clock on Monday morning, I report to Dr. Davis’ office as instructed. He’s not here yet, and I’m annoyed. All weekend I’ve been waiting to talk to him and find out more about my status.
I head to my own “office,” which is makeshift at best: a large, windowless supply closet that he set up with a desk and computer chair when I first started working for him. Neither he nor I have felt inspired to do anything else to improve it since then. I look at the clock hanging rather haphazardly from the drab wall of my office and tap my foot impatiently.
While the rest of Dr. Davis’ offices are modern and elegant, my office is the only one lacking any kind of curb appeal. No one except Dr. Davis and I have to see it, though, because my job is to assist him and to talk to the patients who are scared of upcoming procedures, just as I once was.
He doesn’t pay me that well for the work, but it gives me something to do besides sit at home brooding over the fact that I can’t be serving with my unit. Dr. Davis keeps telling me that my work will pay off tenfold once his patented technology is bought out and the stocks go public. At that point he is going to give me a large share of the sale. He’s even mentioned the possibility of making me a partner in his business.
“Jensen,” he says, as if he’s surprised to see me. “You make it home okay on Friday night?”
“Yes sir. I just…”
“Oh yes, you wanted to talk about your certification status.”
“Have a seat.”
I sit down at the chair in front of his desk, trying to appear as patient as possible. He walks over to his locked filing cabinet and then retrieves my file, first having to search for a few seconds to find it. He had clearly forgotten about meeting with me, even though he was the one who had set it up.
“Now, I have some good news and some bad news.”
My palms are sweaty and I can feel my own heartbeat racing. I don’t like the phrase “bad news.”
“The good news is that you are progressing remarkably well. As you know, you were at death’s door step and had significant physical injuries and brain trauma. But now you have come so far. I believe that you are ready to return to combat, but the Powers That Be don’t agree.”
“The Powers That Be?”
“Oh yes. You know, those in the military who look over your file and decide whether you’re fit to fight. They don’t think enough time has passed from your accident until now in order to be assured of your recovery, and they want to see your continued improvement. So, that’s the bad news.”
“But you’ve worked with me this whole time, and everything is back on track,” I tell him. “What else could there possibly be to improve?”
“That’s what I told them,” he says, his hands up and his face showing a look of amazement. “But they don’t believe little old me. Probably because I’m not in the military. So I’ve decided to refer you out for physical therapy, so that another person will be on board and will be able to give you tests and assessments to independently verify that you’re fit to fight. The physical therapy program is through one of the military’s own clinics, so I’m thinking they’ll have to give that person’s opinion more merit than they’re giving mine.”