Madison tilted her head, wondering how Dr. Harper would respond to her persistent line of questioning. His involvement with her family went deeper than it appeared on the surface, she was sure of it. Exactly what was his connection? He stood there, resisting the urge to shuffle his feet. She’d asked him to elaborate on his thoughts of her grandmother, but his mind only swarmed with thoughts of her – and guilt; the guilt was nearly overwhelming, and it was only with great effort he managed to finally answer her.
“Well, your grandmother has always been a formidable force. I owe her such a debt of gratitude for the years she spent on my education. I only wish I could be even half the doctor she is.”
Madison raised her brows for the umpteenth time that night, “That’s mighty high praise coming from an internationally renowned surgeon and the NHO’s Doctor of the Year.”
He blushed, “Oh, that- that’s nothing. Really. It’s mostly inner-office politics mixed with a popularity contest.”
“Well, it seems you’re Mr. Popular, then!” A small giggle erupted from her cherry-red lips, “You know, not many of Grandmother’s former students stick around as long as you have. I know you admire her, but – if you don’t mind me asking – is there any other reason you’re so keen on my family?”
Again, her candid demeanor caught him off guard, and he stuttered, “I’m, um- that is, I…” He sighed and shook his head. It was no use. He had to tell her. But, on Christmas? Could – should he – do that to her? Madison’s quizzical smoky-eyed gaze had his heart racing. Nervously, she bit her bottom lip, and the act made the decision for him. He couldn’t spend another moment lying to this Goddess of a woman. The feelings she gave him were undeniable, but, in the end, the truth needed to be told.
Madison’s curiosity turned to concern as she watched Dr. Harper struggle to decide how to answer. His indecision, in itself, told her she’d been right in assuming he was more connected to the Kinkaids than it appeared on the surface. Her mind raced with the possibilities – had her grandmother had an affair with one of her much younger and very attractive med-students? Was he, possibly, a secret child she’d had and given up for adoption before meeting her grandfather? Each thought would bring on another and another until she forced herself to stop dwelling. Dr. Harper might be wrestling with some inner battles, but if his presence had any contribution to her family, whatsoever, she had a right to know.
She pressed, “Dr. Harper, I’m not as naïve as some might think. If you don’t tell me what’s going on in that particularly handsome mind of yours, I may well invent some risqué piece of gossip to entertain myself, instead…” Placing a delicate hand on his shoulders, Madison glanced toward where her grandmother was currently entertaining a throng of people with a vivacious rendition of ‘Deck the Halls‘. “Would you just look at her? She’s intelligent, witty, still gorgeous, even at 84… and she’s a hell of an interior decorator!” She laughed and winked at the doctor, teasing him. “I’m sure she has several men who are madly in love with her. Could that be your secret, I wonder?”
As preposterous as it had seemed at first, his perplexed expression began to worry her. Had they had some kind of sordid love affair all those years ago? Reginald looked at her with a pained face. This wasn’t the place. “Miss Kinkaid, would you mind accompanying me onto the porch? I promise, I will answer all your questions, but it’s… getting rather, erm, crowded in here.”
Madison glanced around the room, noting a handful of new guests had arrived during their conversation. “Yes, I’ll step outside with you. Let me just grab my coat.”
A few moments later, the two were bundled up and alone on the wrap-around porch. The ground was littered with a dusting of pure white snow which was still falling in big, fat flakes. There would be at least a few inches by morning, she was sure of it. “So,” she said, awkwardly, “You and my grandmother…”
A dismissive chuckle, ending with a defeated shrug was her response. Dr. Harper took a deep breath and let it out in a long, white puff of cold air. “Well,” he began, “I suppose you could say I do love your grandmother. I love the entire Kinkaid family as if you were my own. In a way, I’ve sort of made it a personal mission to ensure none of you ever want for anything.”
Madison was taken aback. She’d not been expecting such a warm, open-hearted admission of love. She was also slightly disappointed. Did this mean he saw her as some distant relation? ‘Will my luck with men never change?‘ Frustrated with her thoughts, she nearly missed what Reginald said next.
“I truly do apologize, from the bottom of my heart, for everything. All the pain I have and will cause you. I know it must be selfish of me, but you deserve to know the truth. If you knew… if you only knew, Madison, you wouldn’t be out here with me.” He wiped an unseen tear from his reddened face, “You wouldn’t want to have anything to do with me. And pretty soon, you won’t.”
Now she was confused, “Hey, hey. Slow down. What are you on about? Even if you and Grandmother had a-“
“No, no,” Reginald cut her off, “it’s nothing like that. Your grandmother is a great woman. And her husband is very lucky to have such a faithful, intelligent, witty, and beautiful wife… who’s a damn good interior decorator!” For a moment, a mirthful spark returned to his coffee-brown eyes, before the morose expression once again took hold. “No, I’m very sad to say this is much, so very much worse than any affair. You… remember when I told you I used to drink?”
“Y-yes,” she wondered what he could be getting at, “but you’re in AA, right? You don’t drink anymore?”
“Right. And, right. I haven’t had a drop. Not since I was 23.” He paused, reflecting on the many years he’d wasted in a drunken blur. It truly was a miracle he made it through med school at all. He continued, “Back then, I was still a student. Your mother and father and I were good friends; we went through pre-med together, until you father chose to pursue archaeology instead and your mother moved on to medical science.”
“Wow, I didn’t know you guys were so close. I always just thought you were another one of Grandmother’s former students, and that was that.” Madison thought over what he’d said for a moment, then asked something she’d been wondering, “So, if you don’t mind telling me, what was it that finally made you quit drinking?”
She bit her lip again, and Dr. Harper turned away. He couldn’t look at her heavenly face, knowing he was about to crush her world. “Your parents’ death. That’s what finally made me realize I needed to walk away from the bottle for good.”
Madison nodded, “Losing them was so hard on everyone. At least their passing brought some good into the world. I’m sure you’ve saved countless people since becoming sober and getting your medical license.”
His next words came all in a rush, like ripping off a Band-Aid, “That may be so, but you still don’t understand.” He turned completely away from her, burying his face in his gloved hands. “It was me. The hit-and-run driver… It was me. I was wasted. After your grandmother’s lecture, I went out to my car and spent the next hour nursing a pint of tequila. By the time I drove out of the parking lot, I couldn’t even see the road in front of me. I guess your parents had stayed late to help your grandmother clean up the lecture hall. I was going way too fast in the parking lot. If it hadn’t been so empty, I probably would have crashed into a lot more cars. But, it was pretty vacant, so I just drove over the empty spots and was doing about 50 when I finally made it to the exit. Your parents appeared out of nowhere. Or, so it seemed to me then. We hit, head on. I don’t know, to this day, how I survived. I had a lot of injuries, but they were only surface deep. And my car was still running, so I hightailed it out of there. I am so sorry, Madison. I know this isn’t what you wanted to hear. I can’t tell you how terrible I feel for what I did and for keeping this from you all for so long.”
His speech concluded, Reginald began to silently sob. Madison’s heart broke. She was torn; she loved her parents and had spent so many years angry at the world and, especially, at the mystery drunk driver who’d taken them from her. She also knew and respected Dr. Harper. She believed his story, 100%, and knew, deep down, how very genuine his feelings were. She knew she could forgive him. He’d already done everything he could think of to atone for his crime.
“Dr. Harper,” Madison placed a hand on his arm, his back still to her, “Please,” she whispered, “Reginald…” She gave his arm a tug, and he spun around to face her. His pitiful expression ripped at her heart. “You have to forgive yourself. It’s been 17 years. You don’t have to fear any anger or retribution from me. And there’s really no need for Grandmother and Grandfather to know. They made their peace with it all long ago. I am curious, though… why now? I mean, you’ve been coming around for all these years – why feel the need to speak up about it now?”
A deep, red blush crept up Reginald’s neck, “Um, well… I… uh-“
“You know, for an internationally acclaimed surgeon, you’re not very articulate,” Madison teased.
“Well… I bet you make a lot of men tongue-tied.”
Letting out a good-natured laugh, Madison moved closer. Feeling Reginald’s warmth, she winked and peered up at him with a coy smile, “Women, too.”
Now he truly was speechless. Madison moved even closer, breathing in his spicy-sweet scent, “I think I know why you decided to tell me tonight.”
Reginald’s heart thundered in his chest. “Why’s that, then?” He whispered the words, standing still as a statue, as if she were a rare bird he might startle away with any sudden movements.
“Because of the mistletoe, of course.”
“Mistletoe?” She’d taken him by surprise again. He glanced up. Sure enough, there, hanging from the snow-laden archway above them, was a freshly wrapped batch of the holiday berries. “Well, I’ll be…” Stunned, he looked back down to Madison with a smile and was met with a passionate kiss. She reached up to him, sliding her hands through his slightly-graying brown hair. When his brain finally caught up with what was happening, Reginald pulled back.
“What is it?” Madison asked breathlessly, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, nothing. I just… are you sure about this? I know it’s been an emotional day. I don’t want to be taking advantage at all.”
“Oh, please, Reginald,” Madison tugged on his coat lapels, puling him closer, “I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time.” Lifting her heart-shaped face, their lips met once again, and the two were lost in each other’s embrace for the rest of the night, having received the best gifts anyone ever could – love and forgiveness.
Want to start at the beginning? Click ‘love and forgiveness.’ and the end of the last paragraph. The next part to each story is similarly linked in their respective posts.
Like this #mini-series? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
Thanks for reading, and Happy Holidays!!