Lisa took a moment and her smile slowly faded to an expression of mild discomfort. “This used to be your life, sweetheart. Not long ago you probably would have ended up dancing with that guy. It breaks my heart to see you this way; it’s as if a light has gone out of the world.” Lisa dropped Amanda’s gaze and fiddled with her napkin. “I should not have said that; it was stupid of me.”
“No, you’re right, and Mindy was right. I have a choice to make. I either accept my life as it is, or I change it. Only I doubt I am going to get a modeling contract and become the mega-star she did.”
“You don’t need a modeling contract, or to be a mega-star. And for the record, I think you are far more attractive than Mindy,” Lisa said.
“Not a chance,” Amanda answered, discreetly putting her hands in front of her breasts. “I’m a couple sizes short.”
“Even still, you’re different from Mindy. She’s Raquel Welch to your Gwyneth Paltrow; she’s sexy to your elegance.”
“Elegant, huh,” Amanda smiled, and for the first time in a long time it wasn’t so difficult.
“I have returned, and I hope my absence was not too painful,” Ricardo said, twirling around the two ladies as he served the iced teas. “You must know that I live to serve. Please tell me, what can I bring you to make your life complete?” Once again he slid into the chair opposite them.
“I believe that I will get a Cobb salad,” Lisa answered, after consulting the menu.
“I would like a turkey club on wheat bread,” Amanda followed.
Ricardo stood and put a forearm over his eyes and then a fist to his mouth. “Please excuse me for a moment,” he said, in a voice choked with emotion. “Setting aside the fact that you are my first guests of the day, that is the most perfect order I have had since yesterday. I must leave now before your beauty breaks my heart.” And Ricardo was gone in a dramatic rush.
“It’s hard to have a conversation with Ricardo around,” Lisa said.
“Actually, he makes it a little easier.” Amanda sipped her tea. “What do you think about me going back to work?”
“I think it’s a big step, but one in the right direction,” Lisa said, after a pause prompted in equal parts by the sudden shift in the conversation and the sudden shift in Amanda’s attitude.
“You weren’t expecting that, were you?” Amanda said almost playfully.
“Well, after this morning… It didn’t sound like you were ready.”
“I wasn’t, but now that this interview is behind me, plus the fact that I don’t have to deal with Heather Waylens any more…it feels as if…” Amanda paused. “Mindy mentioned that there was a moment…” Amanda struggled and her face darkened, sudden and uncontrolled emotions welling up. It was almost two minutes before she continued. “Ever since the accident I have had this tiny voice in my head. It’s Jacob, and he’s saying that thing…”
“I hurt me self,” Lisa filled in, and both ladies started to tear.
“For a long time, every time I heard it in my head I just wanted to die. No matter where I was or what I was doing, if I heard his sweet little voice I …”
Lisa listened quietly.
“Michael was always the strong one. He made all the decisions; he protected me. I still wake up feeling his arms around me. Sometimes I’m not completely awake and I feel so safe, and then I remember. It’s like losing them all over again.” Her tears were falling freely now.
A painful silence, filled with loss, followed. Finally, Amanda began to dry her eyes with a napkin. “For the last week or so when I hear Jacob … it doesn’t … affect me the way it did.” She looked up into Lisa’s eyes and held them for a long moment. “I hurt me self,” she said. The tears started again but Amanda didn’t break the connection. “I think maybe this is my moment. I know I have to move on.”
Lisa smiled and silently took both of Amanda’s hands.
“I know that I’ll never be the person I was, but I think I’d like to try and find her,” Amanda said while squeezing her mother-in-law’s hands.
“I’m so happy,” Lisa said quietly.
“I’m sorry for doing this here; I know you wanted to have a good time.” Amanda turned in her chair and began to look around, embarrassed by her public display. “Where is our Casanova?”
“Where were you thinking of working?” Lisa asked.
“The Lieber Institute. An old classmate called a month ago and asked if I had any interest.”
“Not a hospital?” Lisa looked confused.
“No. I think I need something different. The Lieber Institute coordinates public health at the state and international level. They also contract with the International Red Cross for disaster relief. It would mean a lot of traveling.”
“Well, I know we’ll miss having you around all the time, but it sounds like an interesting opportunity. Are they based in Colorado Springs?”
“Now comes the hard part.” Amanda paused. “They’re in Dallas.”
Ricardo swooped in and served them with a muted “Bon Appetite” as he disappeared.
“Dallas?” Lisa’s voice had dropped.
“I still don’t have all the details; I may not even have to move there. It’s possible that I could do most of it over the internet.”
“That doesn’t sound likely.” Lisa began to stir her salad aggressively. “What would you actually be doing?”
“A lot of logistics. Coordinating vaccinations in schools here in the States and in Central America.”
“That part doesn’t sound all that stimulating. Why wouldn’t they want a public health nurse for that?” Lisa answered quickly.
“They just need an RN. All the protocols are in place, and all that’s needed is someone to coordinate them. Besides, that’s just the day job. What they really want is someone willing to coordinate disaster response. I would be assigned to a team, and at first assist the senior coordinator with logistics. Sometime down the road, after I’ve gained enough experience, I would be assigned my own team.”
“Sounds like you’ve looked into this quite a bit.” Lisa’s voice dropped another notch as Amanda watched her study the Cobb salad.
“Not really. Martha, my old classmate, sent me all the promotional material. She called me just before we left to make sure that I got everything, but I put her off and promised to read it while I was here.”
“Is this what you want, Amanda?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t lived outside of Colorado for a very long time, and the prospect of moving away from you and Greg terrifies me. On the other hand, I could use a fresh start. No reminders.” Her last sentence was only a whisper. “What do you think?”
“Well, you sound excited, and you haven’t sounded excited about anything in a long time.” She looked up at Amanda and then quickly looked away. “It scares me, you all alone in Dallas.” Lisa abruptly cut herself off and returned to picking out the black olives from her salad. “Who puts olives in a Cobb salad?”
“I’m not even sure it means a move. I’m not even sure this is what I want.” Amanda’s voice began to drop as she watched her mother-in-law dissect her meal. “Maybe we should talk about this later.” She retreated into her club sandwich. The two ladies sat in silence for a long uncomfortable minute, conflicting emotions left unsaid.
“No, we should talk about this now,” Lisa said suddenly. “I was being selfish. A part of me wants to tell you that this is a terrible idea, so you’ll stay with us and allow us to watch over you, but you don’t need that. You don’t need anybody.” Lisa took Amanda’s hand. “We will always be here for you, but you need to do this for yourself. If the Lieber Institute or Dallas isn’t right, then find something else that makes you feel happy.”
Amanda looked up to find Ricardo standing over Lisa, a guilty look on his face after inadvertently overhearing a part of their conversation.
“Sorry for interrupting.” Ricardo had reverted back to Richard. “I see that you are not a fan of olives,” he observed.
“Not in a Cobb salad.” Lisa smiled back at the waiter.
“Is there something else that I can bring you?” he asked Lisa. Amanda turned in response to the sudden change in persona, and he gave her a smile in return.
“No, I’m fine,” Lisa answered.
“I’m good,” Amanda said as he turned to her.
“You are so much better than good, mi amore.” Ricardo had returned.
He dragged his fingertips along her bare shoulder, batted his eyebrows lasciviously, and sashayed away to another table, where he announced his presence by yelling: “What the hell do you want?”
“If disaster management doesn’t work out, maybe I could come and work here,” Amanda said as she craned her neck watching their waiter’s third persona.
Brian O’Grady is April’s Story Plant Author of the Month, which means you can get the e-book versions of his novels Amanda’s Story and Hybrid for a great price all month. Read more about it here.