The Doctor's Choice(5)

By: J. D. Faver


Cami helped herself to a portion of the chicken casserole and a slice of homemade bread. She ate standing at the counter because she couldn’t bear to sit at Aunt Silky’s polished cherry dining room table all by herself. The food was tasty in spite of her melancholy. She took a few bites of the cobbler with a tablespoon, then covered the food and placed it in the refrigerator. She surveyed the banquet laden table and did her best to store the food appropriately.

In a few minutes she heard a soft whine and opened the door for the damp dog. He trotted to a closet and looked back at her expectantly.

“What do you want, Shadow? What’s in there?” She opened the door and he pulled a stained towel out from under the shelves, laying it by her feet.

“Okay, I get the hint.” Dropping to her knees she dried the dog with the towel. “Aunt Silky sure did spoil you and that hairball, didn’t she?” Giving the dog’s neck a final scratch, she tossed the towel back into the closet and washed her hands, reflecting that these pets had been Silky’s family. The view out the window had changed from a few fluttering flakes to gray blowing sleet.

“Hey, Aunt Silky. Is this what you always called ‘God’s Country’?”

She smiled recalling Silky’s devotion to this rough terrain. When she was a child, Silky had ridden with her to watch a summer sunset from a hilltop. Enjoying the colorful horizon from horseback, Silky had said that it looked like an artist’s oil palette smeared across the sky.

Her smile froze as she heard her own young voice saying, “Aunt Silky, this is the most beautiful place in the world. I could stay here forever.” A clutch of pain clawed at her throat. Had she led Aunt Silky to believe that she wanted to live on this ranch? She swallowed hard.

Oh, that’s silly. She and Silky had many long talks about Cami’s lifelong goal of becoming a doctor. She reached out a finger and traced a squiggly line on the frosted window pane. But, had they ever discussed where she would set up practice? She shook her head, unconsciously issuing a wordless denial.

Cami lit a fire in the fireplace and stretched herself onto a long sofa. Flipping a crocheted afghan over her legs, she stared at the flickering tongues of flame licking at the kindling. The cat leapt softly onto the couch, treating her to a thorough kneading before settling into a purring bundle at the curve of her body. Shadow curled up in front of the sofa. Soon they were bathed in warmth from the fireplace.

She imagined Aunt Silky in this very scene, her pets gathered around to offer comfort. She wondered if her aunt was ever lonely, ever regretted her choice of remaining single and childless.

She visualized Silky riding around her property, astride a strong horse. Frowning, she sucked in a deep breath. She found it hard to believe that Silky had been thrown from her beloved paint stallion, Red. In their many conversations, Silky had never said Red was hard to handle.

“He’s a great big pussy-cat,” Silky claimed. “He treats me like I’m made of glass.” She was a petite but excellent horsewoman, bragging that she could ride better than any of her hands. Cami had no reason to doubt her.

Closing her eyes, she thought of Clay, her long-time boyfriend who had recently asked her to become his bride.

Marrying him was the sensible thing to do. He was a fledgling stock broker, having earned his MBA in Financial Management. He had a knack for the market and assured her they had a great future together. She knew this was true. Clay was sweet and steady. He made her feel secure.

She hadn’t even had a chance to tell Aunt Silky before her accident.

As she drifted off to sleep, she wondered what had happened the day Silky had been thrown to her death. Maybe she’d had a dizzy spell. Silky never had any complaints of this sort. Perhaps the local doctor had examined her. She could check with him before she left for the airport.

#

Early the next morning, Cami was awakened by the insistent ringing of the telephone. Fighting off confusion, she struggled to disentangle herself from the afghan and cat, who gave her an indignant look before jumping to the floor.

“Hello,” she gasped into the receiver.

“Hello, Miss… I mean Dr. Carmichael.” The smile in Breck’s voice made a shiver run down her spine. “I thought I might take you to breakfast before we head to my office.”

“Sure.” She stifled a yawn. “Give me a few minutes to get dressed.”

“I’ll pick you up in half an hour,” he said.

She showered and dressed in her warmest clothing. When she heard Breck pull up in front, she slipped on her coat and wrapped one of Silky’s scarves around her neck. Stepping outside, she wished she had brought gloves. Breck held the door open for her and handed her up into his truck. She tried to recall if Clay had ever performed this simple deed. She shrugged it off, thinking it was just a country sort of thing. One couldn’t expect a city boy to go through the whole courtly gentleman act.