“Absolutely. It’s not at all impossible, even in little old Virgin River. Let’s get you something reliable while you’re considering all this. You want a pill you can take while breast-feeding? Can I hook you up with a diaphragm or IUD? Have you given the options any thought?”
Vanni smiled gratefully. Of course she’d thought about it. “Yes. IUD please.”
“Let’s go over the models,” Mel said. Then she smiled. “By the way, you’re all cleared for intercourse. Should you find…”
Vanni laughed. “Thanks,” she said.
“You have good judgment. Make sure there’s a condom involved. We don’t want the transmission of any—”
“I have good judgment,” Vanni repeated. “And extremely good taste.”
There was a man on Vanessa’s mind, he was the reason she’d found herself imploring Matt for help and blessings. Matt’s best friend; her best friend. Paul.
He spent months in Virgin River, supporting and comforting her, spending Christmas away from his parents, brothers and their families. They spent a lot of time talking about Matt; crying about Matt, lost in hours of sentimental remembering. Without Paul’s strength, she’d never have gotten through the worst of it. He was her rock.
Her relationship with Paul went back much further, of course. It wasn’t as though they became friends because of Matt’s death. In fact, that night long ago when she met Matt, it had been Paul across the room who’d first caught her eye. He was so tall, his legs so long and hands so big, it was hard for him not to stand out in a crowd. There was that willful, sandy hair that had to be kept short because it would defy any kind of styling. Not that Paul was the kind of man to fuss with his hair—it was obvious even from a distance that he stuck to basics. It was his masculinity she noticed; he looked like a lumberjack who’d cleaned up to go into town. He had an engaging smile; one tooth in front was just a little crooked and he had a dimple on the left cheek. Heavy brown brows, deep chocolate eyes—details she discovered a bit later, of course. She hadn’t even noticed Matt…
But it was Matt who put the rush on her, swept her off her feet, made her laugh, made her blush. While Paul hung back, shy and silent, Matt charmed her to her very bones. And shortly after the charm, he made her desire him madly, love him deeply. He was hardly a consolation prize—he was one of the best men in the world. And a devoted husband, so in love with her.
She loved Paul before Matt’s death, grew to love him more deeply afterward. When little Mattie was born, she said to Paul, “I will never love anyone but Matt.” But as the weeks passed she realized that she didn’t have to stop loving Matt any more than Paul should. Matt would be with them both forever. And it was like the natural order of things that Paul should step in now. But there was no indication from him that he felt anything more than a special friendship. She had no doubt that Paul loved her, loved little Matt, but it didn’t appear to be the kind of love that could warm her on cold nights.
She’d called him several times since he’d returned to Grants Pass; polite and entertaining conversations about the baby, the town and his friends here, about her dad and brother, even sometimes about Matt.
“The baby’s gained a pound and a half already,” she told him. “He’s already changed so much.”
“Who does he look like?” Paul asked. “Is his hair still dark or does he have a patch of fire on his head, like his mom?”
“Still just a little Matt,” she said. “I want you to see him. Hold him.” Hold me!
“I’ll have to try to get down there.”
He hadn’t visited yet. And he never betrayed any longing. Not a whiff of desire came through those phone lines.
She felt like a fool for even wanting him. But there was no denying it—she missed him so much. And not the way a young widow misses having a man in her life. The way a woman longs for a man who stirs her, moves her.
When Mel walked Vanni out to the clinic’s waiting room, Vanni spied her younger brother’s girlfriend waiting there. “Brenda!” Vanni said, going to her, giving her a hug. “I guess if there are only appointments on Wednesdays, there’s a good chance you’ll run into all your friends here,” she said with a laugh.
“I guess.” Brenda shrugged, blushing a little.
“I have to rescue my dad before he runs into a messy diaper. He’s got the baby at Jack’s. I’ll see you later—probably tonight at dinner?”
“Sure,” Brenda said. “Later.”
Vanni blew out the door and Brenda sank into her chair. The waiting room had been the old house’s front room and was decorated exactly so. Heavy cream-colored velvet draperies covered the front windows. They were pulled back with sashes and always remained open. An ancient sofa and settee, upholstered in burgundy velvet, were flanked by two wing chairs with curved wooden legs. The fabric on the chairs was yellow brocade that had long ago lost its luster. A few Gisele chairs with cane seats were spotted around the room, which, itself, was rarely full. There was only Mel and Doc Mullins to see patients, so unless someone wandered in, the appointments were spaced comfortably apart.
Brenda had an elbow on her knee and her forehead rested in her hand. “Whew,” she said weakly. “Of course I’d have to run into Vanessa. Crap.”
Mel grabbed Brenda’s chart. She just chuckled and went to her, pulling her to her feet. “Don’t worry about that. Come on, let’s check you out.”
“But it’s Tommy’s sister! What if she asks me why I was here?”
“Brenda, Brenda, that’s not going to be a problem.” Mel pulled her along to the exam room. While Brenda stood by the door, Mel stripped off the disposable paper from the exam table and refreshed it. Then she handed Brenda a gown. Mel flipped open the chart and said, “So—you’re here about concern over heavy periods…”
“I know,” Mel said. “Except, they’re fine.”
“Fine,” Brenda said shyly. “I need birth control pills…” She looked down and Mel just lifted her chin with one finger.
“Sure. I know,” Mel said. “But if Vanessa ever asks you why you were here, you just say you were concerned about your periods and I checked you, told you everything was just fine. How’s that?”
“I don’t talk about patients’ business,” Mel said. “Put on the gown. We’ll have a checkup. We’ll talk about why you’re really here. And Brenda—everything is going to be fine.”
“My mom doesn’t know I’m doing this,” she said. “She thinks it’s my periods.”
“Okay,” Mel said, but she knew Sue Carpenter was pretty sharp. Chances were good she knew exactly what was going on. After all, Tommy and Brenda had been steadies since the start of school and there was no question they were real serious. “I’ll be back in five,” Mel said, leaving the room.
Few seventeen-year-old girls felt comfortable discussing birth control with even the closest of mothers. When Mel returned and Brenda was gowned and ready, she said, “I’ll need to update your pap and, if you don’t mind, I’d like to do a check on you for STDs to be sure there’s nothing we should treat. Should we talk about emergency birth control?”
“Have you recently had unprotected intercourse?”
“No,” she said. “Thing is, Tommy won’t come near me without my own birth control, even though he has…you know…”
“Condoms,” Mel supplied.
“Yeah. He says that’s not good enough.”
“Well, God bless him,” Mel said. This darling girl, a gifted student who would very likely get lots of offers for full-ride scholarships, had been the victim of a sexual assault less than a year ago, before Tom had moved here. She’d gone to a beer party in the woods with a bunch of teenagers, intending to have one sneaky beer, and three months later, discovered she was pregnant without having the first idea how that could have happened. If that wasn’t bad enough, Brenda had had a raging case of Chlamydia, which may have contributed to a spontaneous miscarriage.
Mel performed her examination, did some tests, gave her a three-month supply of contraceptives and a prescription and said, “I want to commend you for taking care of your health, Brenda. I know it can be scary to ask for this kind of help when you’re young. But you’re wise to take precautions.”
“What if my mom asks you about this?”
“She probably won’t, but if she does, I’ll tell her that you’re doing just fine.”
“You think that’ll do it?”
“Oh, honey, I’ve gotten very, very good at not telling things. Ask Jack,” she added with a laugh. “You can start taking these right now, but they won’t be effective for two weeks. Try to remember to take them at the same time every day—like right before bed or as soon as you get up in the morning. That will increase the reliability.”
“He’s going away, you know,” Brenda said a little emotionally. “Right after graduation he goes into basic, then West Point.”
Mel put a hand against the girl’s soft, pretty hair. “First of all, you wouldn’t want any other kind of boyfriend—he’s an overachiever and will be a huge success. Cream of the crop. Second, just because you have pills doesn’t mean you have to do anything that you’re not ready for. With me?”
“He’ll be back for leave and vacations. There will be lots of letters between you—wonderful letters.”
She nodded again but said, “E-mails.”
“Just as good. These pills are for your health and safety, Brenda. You don’t have to send him off with something to remember. Don’t be pressured.”
“Oh, I’m not. I understand what you’re saying,” she said softly. “Tom would never pressure me. Besides, I love him.”
Mel smiled. “How nice for you. He’s a very special young man. And you, my dear, are a very special young woman. You’re completely in charge of your body—always remember that.”
Nikki Jorgensen pulled up in front of the Booth ranch and gave the horn a toot before getting out. When she let herself into the house, Vanni was sitting on the floor beside the baby. Little Matt was lying on a small baby quilt with toys he was entirely too young to enjoy spread around him.
“Hurry up,” Vanni said. “He’s smiling!”
Nikki threw her purse in a chair and knelt on the floor opposite Vanni. They were so unalike—Vanni being a statuesque redhead and Nikki small and dark, her black hair falling down her back almost to her waist in a straight, silky sheath. Vanni was bold; Nikki was quiet and hated confrontation. Nikki liked to say that while she was studying the latest hairstyles in high school, Vanni, the military brat, was learning to pack a house in six hours and navigate Customs in foreign countries.
They spent a few minutes making faces at the baby until Vanni finally said, “I can’t wait to tell Paul he’s smiling for real.”
And that alone plunged them into silence. “Have you heard from Paul?” Nikki finally asked in a gentle voice.
Vanni shook her head, looking away. “Well, I call him. A couple of times every week. But he’s only called here once.”
“Oh, Vanni,” Nikki said, sympathetic.
“Never mind. He’s probably relieved he doesn’t have any obligation to the Widow Rutledge anymore…”
“I’m sure that’s not it,” Nikki said, giving Vanni’s thick, red mane a stroke.
“A couple of months ago it never occurred to me I’d have feelings for him. I mean, these kind of feelings. I thought of him as my ballast, my rock. And then slowly, he started to mean more to me than that. Since he left…I miss him so much. And not just because he was a supportive friend.”