A Tyler Christmas
Copyright© 2016 by AA Nemo
‘It’s a mystery like the deep blue sea. You can take it, you can leave it, but I still believe. So I won’t give up and I won’t give in. I know I’m gonna find him, I just don’t know when. A girl trying to find herself the perfect man is like trying to find Atlantis. – Jamie O’Neal
Emily stood in her quiet living room, keeping an eye on Sarah’s brick rambler directly across the street. In the pre-dawn darkness, the only illumination was from the lights on her fragrant Christmas tree. The twins had done a pretty amazing job of decorating. Emily smiled as she thought about the few hours of rare family time when they were all together, listening to Christmas music and drinking cocoa as they decorated. She had resisted grabbing a sugar cookie this morning, and opted instead for her usual pre-workout protein smoothie.
She was the usual morning driver to the YMCA in exchange for Sarah providing fresh-brewed coffee to get them awake enough to face the early morning workout classes.
As soon as she saw Sarah come out her front door Emily zipped her quilted parka and slung her gym bag over her shoulder. She walked through her kitchen to her attached garage, pushed the button to open the garage door, and got in her SUV. It was a brisk winter morning and she engaged the seat-heaters as soon as she started the engine.
Emily couldn’t help it if she was cheerful in the morning. She was a morning person – she loved mornings. Of course, she’d already had her smoothie to get her started. She knew when she got home from her workout, Greg and the twins would be up and the normal morning pandemonium would be going at full blast.
Sarah, on the other hand, never seemed to wake until they were half way to the ‘Y.’ Emily figured it was much safer that she was the driver. Like Emily, Sarah was bundled against the cold, which included a knit cap over her blonde hair. She opened the back door of the SUV, tossed her gym bag on the seat, and then got in the front. Without a word, she handed Emily a travel mug filled with steaming coffee. It smelled heavenly. After Emily took a long sip, she backed the SUV into the empty street.
If you wanted scintillating conversation you’d have to wait until Sarah became fully conscious – usually about the time the class was over and they were in the showers. Otherwise it was a crapshoot. Sarah placed her travel mug in the cup holder, put her head against the back of the seat and closed her eyes. It was not uncommon for her friend to sleep for the entirety of the fifteen minute trip to the ‘Y.’
Emily drove in silence, enjoying the quiet of the winter morning, and the sight of her neighbors trying to outdo each other with their Christmas decorations. After a few minutes Sarah began to stir. She even took a sip of her coffee. Usually that signaled permission to begin a conversation.
“So, how was Dallas?” Emily knew she’d have to wait a bit for a response.
After an unusually short period, Sarah responded, “Dallas is Dallas, too big, too busy and too crowded.”
Emily found that comment amusing coming from a woman who spent much of her life in southern California. In two years she’d readily adapted to Tyler’s slower pace and become a small-town girl. “And the conference?”
Sarah took another sip of her coffee. “The conference? I hated being gone three days, but it was well worth it. The advances in emergency medicine are amazing – too bad the hospital can’t afford all the new devices and diagnostic tools.”
“I’m sorry I missed it, but somebody had to hold the fort. Plus the fact they only had money to send you.”
“Yeah, you would have enjoyed it too. Lots of good stuff. I’ll distill what’s in the binders and put together a presentation for the staff in a couple of weeks.”
“Oh, right. Sometime after the first of the year.”
They were quiet for a couple of minutes. Emily knew she had to address the elephant in the room, James Cavanaugh. She’d not seen Sarah, nor spoken to her in the three days she’d been in Dallas. She’d learned a lot of things about their once-mysterious patient, but she was reluctant to broach the topic, considering the last time Emily saw her, Sarah had been storming out of James Cavanaugh’s hospital room.
“Are you awake enough to talk about James Cavanaugh?”
“Okay, I’ll talk – you listen.”
“There’s really not much to talk about, unless he’s been readmitted.”
“I guess that means you’ve not heard from him.”
“No, why? Did you give him my phone number while you were telling him about Mike?”
Her irritable tone told Emily that Sarah was now fully awake and still upset from her last meeting with James Cavanaugh. And, as Emily feared, she was under the misconception that Emily had been gossiping about her to one of her patients.
Emily glanced at her friend. She was sitting with her arms folded, looking straight ahead, clearly upset.
She took a couple of deep breaths to ensure she answered calmly. “No, I didn’t give James Cavanaugh your phone number, but as we know, James is a capable guy and he could probably get the number.”
“By hacking into the hospital personnel records?”
“Possibly, but the easy way would be directory assistance. I believe you’re one of the few people in the country who still has a landline at home and has it listed.”
“And while you’re jumping to conclusions, I need to set you straight about what I told Cavanaugh about you.”
“I think I know...”
“No you don’t.” Emily took another deep breath. “James Cavanaugh is a nice guy, and he’s interested in you. Unlike others around, he is not interested in married women.”
“So? You did talk about me though.”
They were stopped at a red light and Emily turned to Sarah. “We’ve been friends since you started working at the hospital two years ago, and you know darn well I don’t gossip about staff or patients.”
Sarah just glared at her.
Emily sighed. “James Cavanaugh asked me if there was a Mister Doctor Evans. Like I said, he’s not interested in being a home wrecker. And I told him you were a widow...”
“But then how’d he know about Mike?”
“He doesn’t know about Mike. Mike’s name was never mentioned. I decided that you both carry around enough Afghanistan baggage, so he needed to know that the reason you’re a widow is because your husband was killed in Afghanistan, and that was it. Anything more has to come from you, but at this point I’m beginning to be sorry I ever talked to him.”
They were silent for a few minutes and soon Emily pulled into the parking lot at the YMCA. She shut the motor off and as she started to get out, Sarah reached out and touched her arm. “I’m sorry, Em.”
Emily covered her friend’s hand. “I’m sorry too.”
“I’ve had a couple of days to think about what happened, and I don’t understand why I had such a reaction. It’s been six years...”
“Sarah, in that time have you been attracted to someone? I mean really attracted?”
Sarah shook her head.
“And you’re attracted to James Cavanaugh?”
Sarah didn’t say anything for a minute. Finally she said, “Yes.”
“And that caused you to feel disloyal to Mike?”
“I think so ... maybe.”
“And when James said he was sorry about your husband, what happened?”
Sarah took a tissue from her pocket. “All I could think about was Mike’s funeral – that sunny San Diego day with all the members of his SEAL Team pounding their badges into the lid of his casket.” She wiped her eyes. “And then he said he knew how it felt.”
“And that’s when you went after him?”
“Sarah, while you were in Dallas, I talked to my friend at Walter Reed. James does know how it feels. In his last recon patrol – the one where he was hurt so badly - he lost four of the six members of his recon team. He prided himself in taking care of his people and getting them home. They were his friends. He couldn’t even bring their bodies home.”
“James Cavanaugh has known his share of tragedy, and he has the wounds to prove it.”
Sarah stared out the window. “I guess, I probably won’t be hearing from him, but it’s probably for the best.”
“Oh? How did you come to that conclusion?”
“Em, first of all, the guy probably thinks I’m a maniac considering how I corked off at him. I also heard him tell some guy on the phone he wasn’t interested in relocating to Dallas because there are lots of attractive women in Tyler, starting right there in the hospital. I think he’s more interested in someone closer to his own age. Anne Blankenship was his day nurse. She’s pretty and single and doesn’t have a child or any Afghanistan baggage, as you call it.” She sipped her coffee. “Why would he be interested in me?”
Emily swallowed a laugh. Her friend seemed to be feeling sorry for herself – something she’d really not seen before. “Sarah, you know I’m wired into the hospital, especially the nurses, and I’d know if Anne was the subject of his interest - she was certainly interested in him - as were a number of nurses who found excuses to just stop in and see how he was doing. I can assure you though, the only attractive woman at the hospital he was interested in is you.”
Sarah stared into the distance. “Do you really think so?”
She seemed to consider that for a few seconds. “There may be a mutual attraction, but look at it from my point of view. All I know about him is that he’s a wounded Marine Corps veteran. He has no past other than that. Mr. Bailey says he might be from California, but there’s no family history, no anything. I’m extremely reluctant to bring a man into my home when I know nothing about him.”
“That can be rectified. It’s called dating.”
“Yes, dating, but let’s be realistic. For the present, he works in a gun shop, makes maybe ten dollars an hour and lives in a free room upstairs. I don’t want to sound mercenary, but James Cavanaugh can’t even afford to take me out to a show and pizza - and I’d have to drive, since he doesn’t have a car. I know there are things to do on a date if you don’t have a lot of money, but really, this time of year, it’s not like we’re going for a moonlight stroll somewhere. I don’t need to be involved with a man I have to support.”
“True, but what if he had the means, and a car to take you to more than a show and pizza? He is very attracted to you after all. I’d say it’s definitely worth taking the chance, even if you do have to drive.”
“Em, that’s all hypothetical, and what about the future? Attraction or not, he could pack up and leave Tyler tomorrow. He has no ties here.”
“So you’ve got it all figured out?”
Sarah nodded, but she didn’t look happy about it.
“Okay, well I hate to upset your preconceived notions, but while you were gone lots of things have happened.”
“My friend from Walter Reed called me with more news – James’ mother and sister showed up at the medical center looking for him. He did grow up in California, but what’s interesting is that four and a half years ago he left school at Stanford and walked out of their lives, because of family troubles – troubles he did not cause. They hadn’t even known he was in the Marines. He just disappeared. A few days ago they discovered he’d been badly wounded and had been at Walter Reed. They knew he’d left there at the end of September, but wanted to discover if anyone could give them more information on where he might have ended up.”
“Okay, so now I know he has a concerned mother and he has some college from a good school, but what does that change?”
Sarah peered at her watch. “Okay, but if we’re going to get to class you’d better speed it up.”
“My friend told me the family was coming to Tyler and hoped to reconcile.”
“They’re here and staying at The Austin House B and B. James’ mother called me last night and we talked for about half an hour.”
“So now you’re going to tell me he’s a missing prince of the realm, and can actually afford to take me out for a show and pizza?”
Emily looked at her friend. “Damn, Sarah, sometimes you can be as stubborn as a mule, but you might be on to something.”
“After I got off the phone with Pamela Hawthorn – his mother’s divorced and goes by her maiden name now - I called Clarice at the B and B. She’s a terrible gossip, and I love her dearly. Clarice told me that Ms. Hawthorn has rented the whole place for a week.”
“She must like her space, or maybe she has an entourage.” Sarah smirked.
“You’d be surprised. Apparently she got rooms for her two pilots, a flight attendant, her personal assistant, and her daughter.”
“Pilots, flight attendant?”
“Yes pilots, as in private jet. James may not be a prince of the realm, but mama has definitely got some money.”
Sarah was silent for a few moments. “But you said he walked away – so that doesn’t mean his mother will give him any money, or that he would take it. James Cavanaugh seems like he’s pretty independent.”
“That’s what I figured.”
“Okay, so how does that change not having a car or being able to take me out and having him stick around?”
“Yesterday, I called Ed Bailey, to check on James. You remember Ed?”
“Sure, he’s Cavanaugh’s boss.”
“No, he bought the gun shop.”
“What? But I thought you just told me he hadn’t been in touch with his mother and her money. I’m confused.”
“Ed couldn’t wait to tell me that he had sold the place to James. He admitted that he had thought about selling over the last few months, but with his wife sick and all, there was no way he could even consider doing all the things that he needed to do to get it on the market. He was just overwhelmed. So, when James came to him with a generous offer, he was astonished. He told me that he jumped on the offer though, ‘before James could change his mind.’”
Sarah thought about that. “So now he’s a business owner as opposed to an employee, but probably even poorer since he’s mortgaged to his eyebrows?”
“Apparently not. The one thing that isn’t general knowledge is that James Cavanaugh put a substantial amount down in cash – more than half of the selling price.”
“How’d you learn that?”
“A confidential source, where else?”
“So, where’d the money came from?”
“My confidential source didn’t tell me. Actually I think I was too surprised to ask. Maybe he robs banks when he’s not in Afghanistan getting hurt, but now we know about his past, present and promising future in Tyler. In fact, Ed told me that James convinced him to carry the note for the balance so he and his wife would benefit from the income stream and interest.”
Sarah sat in silence for a few moments digesting what Emily had told her. “Maybe he has a trust fund.”
“That would have that kind of money?”
“Possibly. His mother has a jet at her beck and call. I’d say that puts her in the very wealthy category and either she, or someone like a grandparent, set up a trust for him.”
“And you think that’s how he came up with the money?”
“That’s certainly one explanation. You’re his friend. I guess you could ask him.” Sarah smiled as she said it.
“We’re not that close of friends!”
“Well, at least find out if he’s been robbing banks, since I don’t think a sergeant in the Marines makes much money.” Sarah looked at her watch. “We’ve got to go.”
They got out of the SUV and walked toward the entrance to the ‘Y.’
“Sarah, so, that probably means he can afford to take you out to something nicer than pizza and a show, and he can probably afford a car.”
They reached the door and Sarah turned to her. She didn’t look happy. “But that goes back to the question, why would he be interested in an older woman who acted like a crazy person the last time he saw her and comes with all kinds of baggage?”
With some trepidation, Sarah walked into Bailey’s Guns. She noticed James Cavanaugh had not changed the name – probably a good idea. She’d never been in a gun store before and was a bit surprised it was so clean and well-lighted. Rifles were neatly displayed on racks on the walls and pistols were in brightly-lighted glass cases.
What did you expect?
She really didn’t know - maybe a dimly lit place with smoke-filled air, and a bunch of tough-looking biker guys.
She stopped just inside the door and surveyed the scene. There was a beautifully decorated Christmas tree in one corner and the windows were decorated with Christmas ornaments and red and green LED lights. In the corner nearest her, there was a table piled with what looked like home-made Christmas cookies and there were large silver urns, labeled, ‘coffee, ‘ ‘cocoa, ‘ and ‘eggnog.’
She was also surprised to see two young women working behind the counters. More surprising was that each sported a pistol in a holster on her belt. Muted Christmas music played in the background. It was four in the afternoon and there were a number of customers in the store, which had all the trappings of a very successful business.
She spotted James Cavanaugh behind one of the counters. He was showing a pistol to a young couple. He was smiling and he looked very relaxed. Her heart beat a little faster. He was quite handsome in his denim shirt and jeans.
Why does he affect me this way?
As she got closer, she saw his name was embroidered above the left shirt pocket. Looking around once again, she noticed each of the employees was similarly dressed.
He looked up and seemed surprised to see her. She was relieved when he smiled though.
When she reached the counter, he turned back to the couple. “If you’ll excuse me, I think my doctor wants to talk to me.” He nodded in her direction. “I’m lucky, my doctor makes house calls.” James turned to Ed Baily, who had just come from the back of the store. “Ed, would you please help these folks?”
Ed grinned. “Sure thing, boss.”
Sarah examined Ed Bailey. James bought the store and then kept Ed on – bonus points for James. Ed knows everyone in town and all the customers. The sale has obviously been good for Ed because he looks much more relaxed – one less thing for him to worry about.
At that point the realization hit her, When did I start thinking of patient Mr. James Cavanaugh, as ‘James?’
The couple looked at Sarah. The woman gave her a quick once-over and smiled. Sarah was glad she’d applied some makeup and had put on her nicest jeans and her cashmere sweater and had taken some time with her hair.