tagMatureOf Hope Lost and Found Ch. 04

Of Hope Lost and Found Ch. 04

bynageren©

Glen had been gone for 15 years. I was in my mid-50's, and the shelter had grown into a whole nest of services. We worked with the homeless, we had a crisis pregnancy center, we had a food pantry, a weekly free clinic, a GED training center, and Gina had developed a vocational training center. A number of our women had gone from being homeless to being small business owners. Gina was a whiz at convincing donors to give micro-loans to get these girls started, and most of the donors never wanted the loans back. They just reinvested in the next small business idea Gina pitched to them.

Once a quarter, we had a big weekend planning time with all the volunteers and staff. We'd update on what had happened in the past 3 months and we'd work together to plan the next steps. On the first evening of the weekend, we had a big meal with all the families of our staff and volunteers- sort of a thank-you for their sacrifices. We had about 45 people there, split into 3 big groups. It was a truly magnificent feast. Andrew, Gina's husband, couldn't stop praising the food.

"Dottie, this is incredible!" he said, his mouth still full.

"Don't look at me- I just hire people. It's Macy you should thank. I only wish we could have her services full-time instead of only once a month." Just then, a smiling, middle-aged redhead came in the room with another bowl of food.

"Macy, you have a gift," Andrew told her.

"I know," she said with a smile.

"Seriously," Andrew went on, "why haven't you started your own catering business or something?"

"Oh, I don't have a head for business," Macy answered sweetly. "Besides, working at the restaurant is just fine for me while I've still got a little one in the house."

"Well, you let me know when you're ready, and I'll take care of the business side of things. Ernst can quit his job and watch the kids," Andrew said, already reaching for second helpings. Ernst looked up from his own plate and just shrugged as if to say, Why not?

Gina stood up and grabbed the bowl from Macy's hands. "You should sit down, honey. This meal is for you guys, too."

"Oh, I'm almost done. I just need to check on dessert," Macy said, trotting back to the kitchen.

"You just want to get in there and steal her recipe book," Andrew joked to Gina, who was sitting back down.

"I do not."

"Oh, I'm sure Gina is a fine cook," I said.

Andrew laughed, "Oh, yes. For as long as I've known her, Gina has been a busy little bee in the kitchen."

"Stop it, Andrew," Gina warned playfully.

He didn't stop. "Why, her recipes are good enough to be online!"

"Stop it!" she said again, leaning over to try to cover his mouth.

Andrew was trying to say something else, but his own laughter and Gina's hand over his mouth kept him from getting it out. Apparently there was some joke there none of us was getting. Then with a squeal and a shout, the two of them fell out of the chair and onto the floor. They lay there laughing for a minute, and Ernst looked at me and asked, "You really let that woman run the show around here?"

"Only under my careful supervision," I said, watching the two of them climb back into their chairs, panting and smiling. Just then, Macy came out and took her seat.

There was no agenda for the evening, and I tried to avoid bringing up business. Gina, however, had a habit of switching from playful to serious at the drop of a hat, and during a lull in the conversation, she said, "I heard that the emergency clinic over on Polk Street is leaving. The whole shopping center was bought out."

"That's a shame," I said. "Where are they moving?"

"Not anywhere near here, I think. I didn't even recognize the street name of their new address."

"Folks around here need a place like that," Andrew said. "Don't you think so, Dottie?"

I put down my fork and looked at the two of them. "Don't play dumb with me, kids. I can tell you're cooking something up. Out with it."

Gina and Andrew looked at each other, then Gina answered, "What if we were the clinic? What if, instead of a weekly free clinic, we had a daily one? We probably couldn't do 24 hours, like the emergency clinic did, but we could a least have something."

I looked at Andrew and said, "I assume you have some thoughts on this, too?" Andrew owned a body shop, but what most people didn't know was that he used to work at a bank and could have had quite a career in finance.

"I've looked into it, if that's what you mean. You could probably get a lot of equipment and supplies donated. Most of the basic medicines you'd need on hand come free or very cheap to charitable groups like this. You've already got 2 nurses on staff..."

Macy jumped in, "And one of your nurses, Denise, has been wanting to get her Nurse Practitioner's License, which would really be useful at a clinic like that..."

I looked down the table at Denise, who, with a mouthful of bread held up her hands and said, "I'm not in on this conspiracy! I'm innocent!"

Gina, who had been watching and listening, couldn't resist taking the conversation back over. "So Dottie, the main expense would be getting a full-time doctor. We couldn't run something like this just by having doctors volunteer their time. We'd need someone there consistently."

"But there's no way we could pay a doctor's salary," I said, knowing she had already thought of that.

"Not a typical one, no. But what if we find someone who is willing to work for what we can pay?"

I laughed, a little cynical. "You find someone like that, Gina, and we'll talk."

Gina smiled and bounced in her chair. "So I can start looking?"

"You can look. But don't make anyone any promises."

*******

Gina looked and looked. She used every connection we had through our network. She had Ernst ask around at the Mental Health Institute where he worked, she called the university, she sent letters to donors. After a few months, I wasn't sure she would find anything at all.

"Try asking actual doctors," I suggested.

Gina gave me a sharp look.

"No, I'm serious, dear. Maybe someone who is looking to retire from a private practice, but who still has enough gas in the tank to keep working. You keep looking for younger people, but they're mostly so piled up under debt that they can't imagine working for what you're offering."

Gina took my advice, but continued to come up empty. I was glad we hadn't gone forward with any plans until we had a doctor committed. Otherwise, we'd have a clinic that we couldn't use.

*******

Six months after getting the green light to start searching, Gina called me. She was too excited to say hi, but instead jumped right out with, "I found someone! He's it! I know it!"

"Gina, you didn't promise him anything, did you?"

She calmed down...a little. "No, Dottie, you know me better than that. But I really think he's the right guy for the job. You need to meet him."

"OK, OK. You know my schedule better than I do. Set it up."

*******

Two days later, Gina brought him into my office on a late afternoon. He was tall, thin, and darker-skinned, clearly some form of South Asian. I rose to meet him, and I still had to look up to find his eyes. When I did, I paused- they were soft and a deep, dark brown. My business smile gave way to a genuine smile. He extended his hand to shake mine and said in a deep voice, "I'm Thomas."

"Dottie. Please have a seat." Gina, who was standing behind him, caught my eye and fanned herself with some papers while looking at Thomas. She mouthed, "He's hot!" She sat down off to the side, letting Thomas sit across from me at my desk.

I asked some preliminary questions- where he was from, where he had studied, what experience he had. He was from Canada but had studied and gotten licensed in the U.S. He had been working in an ER for a few years but wasn't planning to do that long-term. He was young (by my standards), only in his mid-30's. He was single and his family mostly lived in Canada.

"Can I ask your ethnic origin? It's irrelevant, but I'm curious."

Thomas smiled, showing teeth that looked too straight and white to be natural. "I'm Indian, but my family has lived in North America since before I was born."

"Ah," I said. "Which explains why your accent is Canadian and not something else."

"I don't know what you're talking aboot, eh?" he joked. Gina laughed, but I could tell she was exaggerating a bit. I think she was trying to make Thomas feel welcome.

We talked for a while about the position and what it would be like, his future plans, his level of interest, the philosophy of Hope's Advocate and anything else I could think of. Gina hadn't given me any paperwork on him and there was no application, so I was flying a bit blind.

Once I felt like I knew all I needed to, I thanked him for his time. "Gina," I asked, "do you have all the information you need?"

"Not yet, but I didn't want to make him start gathering everything before I got the thumbs up from you."

"Well, go ahead and have him start. Copies of diplomas, transcripts, references, background check- you know the drill."

Gina smiled at me and said to Thomas, "Follow me. I'll give you a little tour of the place and then let you know what all I need, if you want to apply, of course..." Their voices faded into the distance as my door closed behind them.

I sat down to continue some paperwork. A half-hour later, Gina tapped on my door, then entered without waiting. She alone had that right.

"Sooo...what do you think?" she asked, plopping herself down into the chair Thomas had occupied earlier.

"I think he's a very nice, courteous, professional young man. If everything checks out, I'd be very interested in hiring him, but I'm still not sure that he is interested."

"He seems very interested. You should have come with us on the tour, he was really excited about all that was going on."

"Well, Gina, as you've learned by now, lots of people get excited about this, but not many convert that excitement into commitment."

Gina frowned a little. "I know, Dottie. But I really think he's going to commit." Then she perked up and leaned in, putting her elbows on my desk. "Now, tell me what else you think of him."

I pulled off my reading glasses and looked at Gina closely. "What do you mean?"

"Dottie, come on! Tall...dark...handsome...doctor..."

"Gina! You are a married woman!"

"I'm not thinking about me, Dottie..."

I looked at her in confusion. What on earth was she talking about? Gina raised her eyebrows suggestively, staring me down. I opened my mouth in shock and pointed to myself. Gina slowly nodded her head and smiled widely. I leaned forward and whispered harshly, "Gina! I'm 20 years older than him!"

She leaned back and said, "Oh, come on! You've got more energy than I do, you look at least ten years younger than you are, he's very mature, and I've been telling you for years that you need to get out there. At least get laid!"

"Gina, just because marriage has made you happy doesn't mean it's what everyone needs."

Gina mumbled back, "I didn't say you needed to get married, I just said you need to get laid."

"That's enough, Gina. Any more of that and you'd be making it inappropriate for us to hire him."

"That's cheating, Dottie."

"It's being professional, Gina. Don't let your hormones cloud your judgment."

She stood up to leave. "Well, speaking of hormones..." I gave her a questioning look. She explained, "Macy and Ernst are watching our kids tonight. We take their 3 once a week and they take ours once a week."

"Going out?" I asked.

"Staying in," she said, and hurried away.

I thought about how happy she had been since getting together with Andrew. Even a few kids hadn't stifled their passion for each other. And they made such a good team. In some ways, it reminded me of how Glen and I had worked well together.

I thought about Gina's concern for my sex life, and I knew it was just because she cared. I did miss sex. I hadn't been with a man since Glen died, hadn't even touched a man other than in a handshake or hug. I missed sex, but not the act itself. Sex could be hurtful and painful, physically and emotionally. I didn't just want to get laid, I wanted to have someone who I wanted to have sex with. I missed having that kind of relationship where you wanted sex because of the person rather than wanting the person because of sex.

*******

That evening at home, I ran a warm bath, let down my hair and relaxed. I thought of Glen and our life together. I smiled to think about the unusual way that we had ended up together. He had known all along that we would fall in love after we got married, but I hadn't expected it, really. Rather than travel the typical (for our culture) path of lust-love-commitment, we had mixed everything up and gone commitment-lust-love. I liked the way it had worked out.

Before long, my hand was between my legs. I sighed and leaned my head back onto the bath pillow. The bubbles hid any evidence of what I was doing, not that there was anyone to see it. I moved my fingers slowly up and down my folds, remembering times past. I thought of the first time I had cum during sex, when Glen had teased and teased and had finally gotten me so ready before pulling me onto him. I remembered wanting to do that over and over during our honeymoon, leaving us both sore and red when we got back from the cabin.

I thought about after Daddy's funeral, how Glen and I had stayed a week with Mama to help her handle her grief and to deal with a lot of the logistics until Irwin and his wife moved in. I remembered staying in my old bedroom, cramped into the double bed I had slept in since I was a child. The night after the funeral, once Mama had gone to bed and Glen and I had cleaned up after all the visitors, Glen just held me and listened to my stories. Then, as so many people do after funerals, I wanted to feel alive and vibrant. I wanted to feel the full intensity of life's goodness. So I asked Glen to make love to me.

I had straddled him and pulled off his clothes, starting to rush in my impatience to feel his skin against mine. With no preliminaries, I pushed myself down on him. I lay down, covering him with my body, striving to feel as much skin as I could. Warm skin, warm breath, life. We made love slowly that night, neither of us wanting to separate. Neither of us wanting to think that someday, one of us would bury the other.

In the tub, I started pushing a finger just past my entrance- enough to make my heart race a little more as my palm pressed against my clit. The warm water on my flesh wasn't as good as feeling warm skin against me, but it still felt soothing. My mind searched my memory for sensual images to fuel my lust. The water started to splash as my legs and my hips began to move. I closed my eyes tighter and rolled my head back and forth a little.

I remembered a time when Glen and I had bathed together. I sat between his legs and his fingers rolled along my clit. I pictured his hands sliding effortlessly along my soapy body. I remember the feel of his short beard tickling my neck and the sound of his breathing next to my ear. I heard a voice say, "So beautiful...so beautiful..."

But it wasn't Glen's voice. Completely unbidden, Thomas' voice entered my fantasy. The hand that cupped my trembling breast was darker and and large. In my mind, two long arms wrapped around me, and in a few seconds my legs kicked up out of the water, splashing all around. Toes curled and then stretched out as I let out a strangled cry. I slipped down, my face almost going under the water. I caught myself with my hands on the side of the tub and held that position while my walls clenched open and shut, asking for something to fill their void.

It was a short, intense orgasm, and once I was cooling down, I shivered to think that another man had entered my imagination so suddenly. Thomas was attractive. And he was intelligent, mature, and kind. But he was young. I would have stood a better chance if Gina had found a retiring doctor for our clinic.

As I drained the tub and stepped out to dry myself, I looked in the mirror. The top half was steamed over, hiding my face. The view from the neck down was...acceptable. The only real indication of my age was the long silver hair that was visible falling over my shoulders. A healthy lifestyle and good genes had helped keep my body looking younger than my years. Most men my age would be very happy with it, but to a younger man...well, they probably had more attractive options. I didn't feel bad about that- it's just life. I grabbed my robe and headed to bed.

*******

All of Thomas' credentials checked out, his references were glowing, and in every way he seemed ideal. Still, I had a natural skepticism that such a promising young doctor intended to commit to our shelter, taking in a pay that was less than a third of what he could be making elsewhere. The whole process of finding, vetting, and hiring him was Gina's project from beginning to end, but I had the final say-so on new staff. So when Gina asked me to make it official, I hesitated.

"Should we consider a female doctor instead? A lot of our patients will be women, and..."

"And Denise and Kara will be there. If we're opening this clinic to the public, we should have at least one man on the medical staff," Gina countered. I was increasingly relying on her thoroughness.

"Right, right...But what if he decides it's not for him? What if the idealism that brought him here wears off?"

"Look at the contract he'll be signing. He gets a three month trial period, just like I did. During that time, he'll experience all our services, working in each department like a volunteer and shadowing you for a while. He'll work with Denise and Kara to order equipment and supplies. He'll also be advising Andrew and me on the final details of setting up the clinic, and we won't open the clinic until he's finished his three months and has signed a longer-term contract."

I glanced over the contract, noting the clauses Gina had mentioned. "Well...I guess I can't find a reason to say no..."

Gina tried to act professional, but the poor girl was a terrible actress. She wiggled with excitement, then said, "Now Dottie, you're going to have to have a very good working relationship with Thomas, so try to really get to know him. Spend time with him, talk to him...It'll be good for you and for making him feel more committed to Hope's Advocate."

"And why do I get the feeling you've got ulterior motives for wanting me to talk to our good doctor?"

"Because I do. I found you a smart, sexy, sweet doctor. And I'm going to find a way to get the two of you together."

"You'll do no such thing! Gina, are you so blind? You could end up driving our doctor right out of town! We can't risk losing him over your desire to play cupid for an old woman. Swear to me, Gina, that you'll leave it alone."

"But Dottie..."

"Swear it, Gina," I said in my sternest voice.

"Fine," she grumbled, getting up to leave. "But it's your loss."

*******

Gina supervised Thomas' transition into our system. Each week he volunteered in a different area, and either Gina or I (usually Gina) would spend an hour with him that day, asking and answering questions. He was quite professional and didn't seem to be put off by being required to work changing bed sheets or serving food. He got along well with the volunteers, most of whom didn't know he was going to be our new doctor.

The process of setting up the clinic was going smoothly. Andrew knew the numbers, and Gina conquered everything else. We converted a wing of our living quarters to be the space for it, buying an old house adjacent to the church to serve as new living quarters.

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