Rae glared at the woman standing quite close to Nick. Who was she? More importantly, what the hell was she doing with her hand on Nick's shoulder?
From her vantage point on the uppermost level of the deck, Rae could only glower and seethe with hatred at the sight of her man with another woman. The couple were too far away for them to hear her shouts, else Rae would have a few choice things to say to the woman.
From the balcony, of course. Just so the woman would clearly get Rae's message: don't mess with my man.
And Rae wanted everyone else within earshot to hear the message as well. She wished she had a pair of binoculars so she could see more clearly but for now, she pounded her fists on the deck's railing as she watched the woman suddenly stand on her tiptoes and give an obviously surprised Nick a kiss smack on the mouth.
"Oooo, the things I'd like to do to her," Rae said aloud, quite angrily. "There is nothing that I hate more than for someone to go after my man."
"That's the kettle calling the pot black," Jules said behind Rae. Rae spun around and glared at Jules.
"What the hell are you doing spying on me?" she asked Jules.
"I was just passing by," Jules said innocently. "And I couldn't help but overhear." Jules walked down the short stairs of the deck, and stood next to Rae. A light sea wind ruffled their hair. "Nice view."
Rae had to admit the view was nice, when one excluded the fact that Nick and that woman were muddying the view of the ocean. The four of them, Nick, Rae, Matt and Jules had decided to do a weekend escape. It had been a coin toss to see who decided where the foursome went, and Jules had won. She chose a small inn on the far nothern coast of California, an inn that had a magnificent multi-level deck going down the side of the cliffs.
And is was from here, on the highest level of the deck, that Rae had discovered a woman kissing Nick.
Jules sighed and took a deep breath. "Mmm, smell this air! Makes you wonder why we all live in the city," she commented lightly, leaning on the deck's railing. The sun glinted off the golden highlights that Matt had persuaded Jules to get. Jules shaded her eyes.
"Isn't that Nick?" she asked. "He was wearing that red jogging outfit..." her voice trailed off as she glanced at Rae and saw Rae's expression.
"Ah, so that's what you're angry about," she commented. "Who's that woman?"
"Stuff it," Rae muttered.
"Don't get nasty on me, Rae. You're the one who had an affair with Nick and left your husband." Jules snapped her fingers. "Like that."
"I don't need instruction from a single woman like you," Rae retorted hotly, her cheeks red with anger.
"Wow," Jules said stiffly. "Aren't we getting all proper now that we have gotten our man," Jules told her.
"Jules, I'm warning you," Rae said. A sharp tone had crept into her voice and Jules noticed.
Jules turned to face Rae. "Look, you made your choices in life. In retaliation for Sean's having an affair a mere three years after you married..."
"JULES! Stop it!" Rae interjected.
This time, it was Jules who got angry. "Rae, I will not stop it. You chose to have a multi-year on-going affair with Nick while married to Sean. You couldn't figure out what you wanted, until Nick showed up on your office doorstep," she said, holding up her hand to stop Rae's retort.
"Now that you have gotten your man, you've discovered that you now have to pay Sean off via your family's business. And that has you peeved, doesn't it?"
Rae glared at Jules.
"A divorce in California is always more pricey than people want to admit. You're going to have to make some tough choices regarding your assets."
"I don't want to give up my home!" Rae said, annoyed that a stray hair was hanging in her eyes. Angrily, she brushed back the hair, only to find the mild sea wind was intent on annoying her. Deciding to let nature help her, Rae turned so her face was towards the wind. This, however, had the effect of turning her back on Jules, who obviously interpreted Rae's gesture as one of defiance.
Jules walked around Rae and came face to face with her.
"It's your marital home, Rae, and unless you want to sell off your share of your family's racehorse investment, you'll have to sell your home."
Rae looked away, not wanting to admit that fact was probably true.
"And now you've also discovered something else," Jules said, pointing down to where Nick and the unknown woman were still having a conversation.
"I suppose you're going to tell me what else I've discovered, Miss Smarty Pants," Rae commented sarcastically.
"Yes, I am." The tone in Jules's voice was defiant.
Rae looked at Jules. "What stellar insights do you have that would enlighten me?"
"That now you're jealous because you're in Sean's shoes," Jules said. "That behavior has been noticed before."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Rae asked.
"It means," Jules said, "that people around Presidio have been commenting every time you see Nick with another woman, you get jealous, even if it's an off-duty nurse."
"That's not true."
"Is so," Jules replied tartly. "He's a good catch, is our Nick. But there doesn't seem to be enough trust in your relationship with him."
"He's kissing another woman!" Rae said, tears stinging her eyes.
"But is he doing the kissing, or is she doing the kissing?" Jules asked. She pointed downward. "Look at his reaction."
Despite herself, Rae had to look. The strange woman was trying to pull Nick's face down so she could kiss him. Nick's hand was on her shoulder.
"Nick's pulling back," Jules commented. "He's got his hand on her shoulder and he's trying to keep her away. He doesn't want to kiss her, Rae."
Rae had to admit that was, in fact, true.
"I know it's hard for you now, Rae," Jules began.
"Do you? Do you really know what it's like for me?" Rae asked, anger showing in her voice. "Do you know what it's like to be date-raped, pregnant by the rapist, and then have a custody lawsuit filed against you because the rapist has decided to take some "responsibility" for his actions? Do you really know what it's like for me?"
Jules had to shake her head. "No, I guess I don't know, Rae."
"Damn right you don't," Rae told her. She saw Nick glance up and Rae waved her arms. Nick saw her and nodded. Rae watched Nick put both his hands on the woman's shoulders and push her back so the woman was forced to take a few steps back in order to keep her balance. Despite her tears, Rae smiled.
She and Jules watched Nick jog to the stairs and then watched Nick display his fitness by taking the long stair case two stairs at a time.
"Do you think he's going to run all the way up these stairs?" Jules asked, seeming to sense that Rae was not in the mood to discuss her personal problems.
"Looks like it," Rae said, glad that the earlier conversation had seemed to dissipate.
"That would be three hundred thirty two stairs."
"How do you know?"
"Matt counted them."
"That explains it. Damn," Rae commented. "Damn, damn and double damn!" She banged her fist on the railing of the deck.
"She's following him," Rae replied, pointing downward.
"Now's your chance to tell her off," Jules said, following Rae's indication.
"That I will do." A smiling Rae watched Nick still sprinting up the staircase which had been built next to the cliff. "Sure hope he doesn't slip," Rae said. The two women watched in silence as Nick approached the last landing before the final ascent.
Jules clapped and called, "Go, Nick, go!"
"See Nick run. Run, Nick, run!" Rae said, loud enough for Jules to hear but not loud enough for Nick to hear. Jules giggled.
Rae began clapping, calling out to him. "Run, Nick. Just a little further, Nick!"
Nick approached the final eight steps and slowed down. He made a point of panting.
"Thanks, gals. Sure needed the support," he said, his easy tone not matching the exaggerated panting. He approached Rae.
"Morning, love. Good thing you decided to wake up." He leaned down and kissed Rae on the cheek.
"Who is she?" Rae demanded as soon as Nick had pulled back.
"Woke up on the wrong side of the bed, did you?" Nick asked. The hurt showed in his tone of voice, and Jules visibly cringed.
"Well? I'm waiting," Rae said, tapping her foot.
"She is an old flame come to tell me some news," Nick explained. Jules made as if to leave but Nick stopped her. Rae glowered.
"An old flame?" Rae said, softly but the anger in her tone was unmistakable.
"Now, now, Rae," Nick said in a soothing voice. "It's good that someone else hears this so you won't blow it out of proportion."
Rae's expression was shocked. "I do not blow things out of proportion!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, Rae, you do," Jules commented. She boosted herself up on the railing and perched there. "You did it just now."
"Uh!" was all Rae could respond.
"She," Nick explained, "is called Panthea Sarris. We met in medical school." He paused, looking at Rae's angry reaction. "I'm allowed to have former girlfriends, Rae. As you've commented to the girls many times, I'm a healthy male." Nick told her.
"Like Matt," Jules grinned. "He's very healthy as well."
Nick looked at Jules. "So all of you do discuss us fellas, don't you?"
"Well," Jules began. "We do," she finished rather quickly. Then smiled. "But then again, I read in a recent issue of Glamour magazine that you fellas discuss us."
Nick raised his eyebrows.
"What does this have to do with this?" Rae asked, waving her hands. She looked around. "Did you guys understand that?"
Nick looked at Jules quizzically. She supplied the explanation.
"There's a column by Jake. He says that men have a universal male checklist of stuff men want to do before they die."
"What does this have to do with Panthea?" Rae wanted to know. Nick held up a hand.
"Go on," he told Jules.
"There's a list of a threesome, sex with a married lady..."
"There's one off your list, Nick," Rae commented.
"Sex with a much older woman..."
"Cross another item off his list," Rae added drily.
Nick smiled at Rae, then glanced down at the stairway. He frowned. Panthea was huffing and puffing her way up the staircase.
"What do we do with this list?" Nick inquired.
Jules grinned. "You tell your male friends every time you cross something off the checklist."
"Oh, Nick, you didn't!" Rae exclaimed. "Please tell me that I wasn't office fodder for your colleagues back in Athens!"
"You weren't," Nick promised.
Slightly mollified, Rae leaned against the deck's railing.
"How did we get on this subject?" she asked.
"Dunno," Jules said.
"Back to what I was saying, Rae. Panthea is an old girlfriend from med school. Someone at the office told her where I was and she followed me here."
"Stalker?" Jules asked. Nick glanced at Jules and shook his head.
"No. She says that she had my child."
"What?!" Rae exclaimed.
"That's what she said," Nick supplied.
"You're a daddy? Nick Kokoris is a daddy? Nick, you should have told us earlier!" Jules said, grinning.
"I didn't know earlier," Nick said.
"Oh. I understand," Rae commented. "Is the child yours, Nick?"
"I doubt it," Nick said. "I asked her when he was born, and she said December 31, 1990."
"And where were you on that date?" Jules asked.
"I happened to be in off the coast of Monte that evening," Nick supplied. "With my parents."
"Ooooo. Does Panthea know that?" Rae asked.
"She does now. And here she comes." Nick indicated behind him to where Panthea had just surmounted the final step. She was huffing and puffing.
"Whew! What a climb!" Panthea commented. She paused a moment and held onto the railing for support. When she had caught her breath, she looked around. Panthea was about the same height as Rae, somewhat heavier, with dark brown hair and nearly black eyes. She was attractive, but you could see that in another ten to fifteen years Panthea would be fighting desperately to keep what looks she had.
"I supposed you're the older woman in Nick's life," she commented, looking Rae over.
"I am Rae," Rae confirmed drily.
"Ladies," Nick said. "Panthea Sarris, this is Rae Brennan and Jules Keating. Ladies, this is Panthea," Nick finished making the introductions.
"Charmed, I'm quite sure," Panthea replied, somewhat cooly. She brushed a wisp of her hair out of her eyes. "I'll cut to the chase, Miss Bremner..."
"Brennan," Rae corrected. "It's Doctor Brennan." Rae didn't like Panthea and the feeling showed in her voice.
"Whatever. Now, I bore Nick's son, whom I've named Deo. I need a father for him."
"Now's certainly a fine time to come asking, nearly fourteen years after the fact," Jules said irritatedly. She squinted her eyes to block out the sun.
"Turns out that I thought another man was Deo's father," Panthea replied, ice creeping into her voice. Nick, Jules and Rae decided to remain silent. Panthea looked at the three of them. "We divorced earlier this year. Athan insisted on a DNA test for Deo."
"That explains it," Jules commented.
"So what's that got to do with me?" Rae asked.
Panthea looked at Rae, then looked at Nick. "I've asked Nick to marry me." She smiled warmly at Nick.
It was Rae's turn to look at Nick. He raised an eyebrow and shook his head.
"Panthea, I've told you that I was off the coast of Monte New Year's Eve of 1990. With my parents."
Panthea shook her head. "Deo looks exactly like you, Nick. There's no mistake. Besides, Deo was born New Year's Eve and exactly nine months earlier you and I were taking that skiing holiday in Gstaad," Panthea said, her voice in a singsong.
"I will admit that's true," Nick said. Panthea smiled. Nick held up his hand. "But you were on birth control."
Panthea flashed a grin at Nick. "I was prescribed the birth control, but I didn't take it."
Now Nick was visibly flustered. Jules gasped, ever so softly. Nick glanced at her. Rae was looking at Nick, her eyes narrowed. The expression told Nick that Rae couldn't believe what Panthea was saying.
"I suppose," Rae began but Panthea cut her off.
"So you see, Nick, to put a Maury Povich on it, you are the father," Panthea finished. There was a note of triumph in her voice.
Panthea clapped her hands once. "Now, I heard Reno does quickie marriages. We could do like Britney Spears did--have you met her? Wonderful person. Got her autograph for Deo. He's so in love. Still," Panthea chittered on happily. "Reno it must be and it must be tomorrow. Deo's got to have a father."
She paused, looking at Nick. He was stoic and he kept his voice even when he replied. "If Deo is indeed my son, I will be a man, acknowledge Deo as my son and I will support him."
Panthea smiled. "Good. Now, you and I, Nick, must be off to Reno. Deo's coming in on a flight to SFO in three days and I want us to be married by then. Come, come!" Panthea said, making to move towards the stairs leading up to the inn.
Nick held his arm out. "Not so fast, young lady," he told Panthea. She paused, brushed her hair out of her eyes and looked up at Nick.
"You might not have taken precautions, Panthea. But I did."
Panthea looked confused. "Huh?"
Nick smiled. "I well remember about your fear of pregnancy."
Panthea gasped then tried to cover it up by looking away. Nick continued his explanation.
"You said, as I recall, that you wanted to be safe and that you didn't want a child to mess up your medical training."
Panthea looked around, apparently hoping for help. Jules was grinning and Rae had her arms folded across her chest.
"Isn't it possible, Panthea," Rae began, "that Deo was born a bit early?"
Nick raised his eyebrows. "Now that's something that I hadn't thought of, Rae. Thanks." Nick leaned down and kissed Rae on the cheek. He looked at Panthea as he brushed Rae's hair back from her face.
Panthea just glowered.
"And, Panthy, dear," Nick said sweetly. Panthea grimaced at the name. Jules tried to stifle a giggle. "You were the one who insisted that I use a condom every time. Every time," he finished a bit emphatically.
Panthea bit her lip and looked away.
"So," Jules said. "What gives? Was Deo an early baby?"
"I don't recall," Panthea replied tartly.
Nick raised his eyebrows. "Oh? Usually the woman recalls very well the day her baby is born."
"It's not like the birthing process is painless," Rae added.
"If you insist on carrying out this charade, Panthea," Nick began. "I'll let you in on something. In California, if a mother is trying for child support, the man has the right to insist on a DNA test."
"Which," Jules added. "I hope Nick insists on."
"That I do," Nick commented, smoothly.
"You were going for child support, weren't you, Panthea?" Rae asked amiably. "Money is, after all, what you need right now."
"Being a newly-divorced woman," Jules put in.
Panthea glared at Jules then she looked at Rae. "It seems, Miss Bremner, that you are also getting a divorce. And from what I hear, you're hurting for money as well, seeing as you have to pay off your ex."
Rae gasped. Panthea's explanation hit a little too close to home. Then she thought of a retort. "Brenner. But I'm not trying to pawn off a child onto someone."
"But you are being sued for custody of your unborn fetus, Miss Bremner," Panthea told Rae. Panthea then turned her attention to Nick when he coughed. Rae's mouth dropped. Again, Panthea had managed to strike a nerve.
"I do plan on insisting on a DNA test," she told Nick. There was a coldness in her voice. "When the results come in, I do expect you to pony up."
"Should Deo prove to be my son, yes I will," Nick replied. He dropped his arm and Panthea continued up the stairs towards the inn. To display her emotions, Panthea stomped her feet on the stairs.
"Do you believe her?" Jules asked Nick. "About Deo's being your son?"
He shook his head. "No."
"Neither do I," Rae said, putting her arm around Nick. She smiled up at him and he smiled back.
"Rae, I know it's hard for you to accept the fact that women like to talk to me. It's especially difficult for you right now, when you've been betrayed like you have. But you need to develop a bit more trust in me. Okay?"
Rae nodded, biting her lower lip.
"I will insist on a DNA test," Nick assured her.
"I know you will," Rae replied.
Jules shaded her eyes, squealed, then waved. "Matt! Down here!"
Matt, dressed in lightweight sweats and a long sleeved t-shirt, looked down in their direction and began to climb down the stairs. Panthea was nearing the top of the stairs and as she passed Matt, she shoved him to the side. He flailed his arms to keep his balance and nearly tipped backwards over the railing.
"Hey!" Matt said as he righted himself. "Watch where you're going!"
Panthea turned around and flipped Matt off. He gasped, shocked at Panthea's behavior as she stomped up the rest of the stairs.
"Bitch!" Jules called up.
Matt came down the stairs, brushing himself off. "What was that all about?" he asked.
Jules and Rae looked at each other, then looked at Nick. He shrugged his shoulders and replied, "she thinks that her fourteen year old son Deo is my child," he told Matt.
A surprised look came over Matt's face. "Is he? I mean, he's your son? Nick, that's wonderful!" Matt made to playfully punch Nick in the upper arm, but Nick moved away.
"Huh?" Matt asked, looking from Rae to Jules for an explanation.
"There's some possible deception on her part," Rae explained.
"I'm not sure I follow," Matt said, going over to where Jules perched on the railing. He leaned against the railing.
"Panthea thought that by going off her birth control, she'd get pregnant," Jules explained.
"But Nick took some precautions," Rae added, grinning at Nick.
"And now there's the possibility that Deo was born early," Jules supplied.
Matt shook his head at all the statements. He looked at Nick. "Nick? You handling this ok?"
Nick nodded. "Yeah. I can handle Panthea."
"You think Deo's your son?" Matt wanted to know.
"I'd like to have a son," Nick replied. "If Deo is my son, I'll acknowledge him."
"She's gonna have a fight on her hands," Rae commented, tugging on Nick. "Let's go into breakfast. I'm starved!"
"We'll meet you in the restaurant in a moment," Matt said. Nick raised his eyebrows and Matt responded by raising one eyebrow. Jules and Rae exchanged glances, puzzled. Nick nodded and pulled Rae away. She tried to resist, but Nick gently took her arm and led her up the stairs.
"What's up?" Jules asked, a confused look on her face.
"You're what's up," Matt replied. "I got your note."
Jules looked down, then turned to face the ocean. "The breeze is so fresh right in the morning."
"Jules, what's wrong?" Matt asked, coming up behind her and putting his hands on her shoulders.
She took a deep breath, then sighed. "Having a baby now, Matt, is something I need to do," Jules said.
"I understood that when I agreed to be the father," Matt replied amiably. "Are you rushing because you read that report in C.U.R.E. about recurring ovarian cancer?"
Jules shook her head. "I was sitting in Harriet's office, reading through an old issue of People magazine."
"And it was an issue on pregnancy after forty."
"So I got to thinking: do I want to wait until midlife to have a baby?"
"And the answer was no," Matt finished for her.
Jules spun around to face Matt.
"And the answer was no," Jules echoed firmly. "What if the cancer comes back?" Jules squinted into the sun. Shading her eyes, she looked at Matt.
"It was Stage I, confined to the ovary," Matt reminded gently.
"Yes, that's true. And Rae advised against the Taxol/carboplatin regimen." Something in her face prompted Matt to look at her closely.
"You think you need chemo?"
Jules nodded. "Yeah.."
Matt pressed his lips together. "How does this tie in with your having a baby?"
"I'd like to to have the baby after the chemo."
"Are you afraid of something, Jules?"
"That I am," Jules replied. "I'm afraid that without the chemo, the pregnancy hormones will increase the chances of recurrence or give me estrogen positive breast cancer."
"That's a possibility," Matt conceded.
"What I'm really seeking is time, Matt. Time to enjoy our kid. You know, just in case."
"And what if you remain perfectly healthy?" Matt inquired. "I've read the same reports as you have, Jules. You've nearly a 100% survival rate for five years. And, there is the young lady in her twenties, let's see," Matt stroked his chin. "Where did she live? Ah, yes, up near Saskatoon. She's younger than you, had the same type of cancer, same stage, plus she had a baby with no recurring cancer."
"I know. But..."
Matt took Jules's hands out of her pockets and held them. "But you're worrying."
"Worry is good. But too much worry is not good. We can get a second opinion."
"You know something?"
"I don't mean to disrespect Harriet and Rae, but I think I would like a second opinion."
"There's no disrespect intended in seeking a second opinion, Jules."
"I know. But I feel guilty even saying that I want a second opinion. I don't want to die from an undetected recurrence."
"You won't. I'll make sure of it."
Jules took a deep breath. "Then it's to Sloan Kettering. That's where I want to go. Sloan." Jules pressed her lips together.
"Then Sloan it is."
"I want to go in the next two weeks. Can you take some leave?"
"As a matter of fact," Matt began, smiling. "I can. There's a conference that I have to attend for the World Health Organization in ten days," he told Jules. "Can you get someone to cover your practice?"
"With all the new docs running around fresh out of med school? You bet," Jules told Matt brightly. She took his hand and they began walking up the stairs towards the restaurant.
"So, what kind of names do you want?" she asked Matt.
"I was thinking of Zvi, Aiken, Chai, or Belen," Matt commented.
"Chai? Like the tea?"
Matt shook his head. "Hebrew for grace."
"I rather like that name. Chai Slingerland."
Matt smiled. "Not Chai Keating Slingerland?"
"There's an option!" Jules smiled. "But what if it's a girl?"
"Then Sacha or Meris."
"Meris Keating. Meris and Chai Keating. Twins," Jules explained. "One for each of us," she said. "Not to disrespect you, but...I was thinking Rambler."
"Rambler?" Matt inquired.
"Yes. Don't you like it? Rambler Slingerland. Has a nice ring to it."
Matt raised his eyebrows as he considered the name. "Rambler. Rambler Claire Slingerland."
"Now there's a name I like," Jules replied. "Hey, I thought Nick and Rae went on ahead!"
Matt shook his head. "Nope."
Jules looked up at Matt, a puzzled look on her face. "Was that what the eyebrow raising was all about?"
Matt grinned, then nodded. "Yep."
"Secret male communication techniques?"
"You bet!" Matt replied.
"Everything go all right?" Nick inquired. Jules nodded. Matt nudged her arm.
"You gonna tell Rae?" he asked Jules.
"Tell Rae what?" Jules asked, then put her hand to her mouth. "Oh! You think so?" she asked Matt. He nodded.
"Tell me what?" Rae wanted to know, kicking a seashell off the deck.
"Tell you that I'm heading off to Sloane for a second opinion," Jules explained. "Don't take offense, Rae. I know you're the best..."
"But you're worried," Nick put in.
Jules looked down. "Yeah."
"Jules, I expected this. In fact, I've already made some arrangements at other cancer treatment centers just in cast you wanted a second opinion."
Jules looked up. "At Sloane?"
Rae shook her head. "Didn't think to make arrangements at Sloane, but I can give you a referral if you want."
"Consider it done. Now," Rae said, rubbing her hands on her distending belly. "I'm up for some pancakes, eggs, sausage, rolls, fruit, cottage cheese..." she began to walk towards the restaurant, still reciting lists of what she was hungry for. "cheddar cheese omelette with jalapeno peppers, lemon poppyseed cake, hot out of the oven, pecan divinity..."
Matt, Jules and Nick chuckled as they followed Rae. Matt looked at Nick. "Is she always like this?"
Nick nodded and tried to stifled a laugh. He wasn't quite so successful. "It's actually gotten worse."
"Worse? How?" Jules queried.
"Ever since she went dumpster diving behind an apartment building--that's where she found that computer she donated to the Israel Senior's Center--and she found those cookbooks, it's all I've heard. Nick, we need to make Irish Stew tonight, and Nick, tonight it's beef tangine and for dessert, Koko, luv, it's chocolate maple swirls. With the dark chocolate." Nick smiled. "She says I look thin."
"She is pregnant," Matt observed.
"True," Nick conceded. "But I didn't think she'd get this hungry."
Jules grinned. "With a little help, I'm gonna be hungry like that too, so save me some recipes."
Nick looked at Jules, then at the grinning Matt. Something clicked in Nick's mind and he grinned. "Oh! You're going for the implantation?"
Jules nodded. "After I visit Sloane. I want to be entirely sure."