Matt was true to his word. It wasn’t the end of it. As if he could prove her wrong, he threw himself into her life, coming over every day after work--no matter how late the hour--ready to help with her projects. Val couldn’t fault him for trying so she started leaving things for him to do.
She’d decided she needed to get the back porch fixed and painted before any fall weather set in and that was the perfect task for Matt. He replaced broken rails, built a new set of steps and together they painted the entire outdoor room. She would turn on all of the lights inside and out, and they would paint into the night, talking about his day and her plans for the bed and breakfast. Like a regular old married couple, she thought.
But Matt was struggling. She knew that he was balancing a double work load. In addition to seeing his patients at his office, he was advising the board about the new hospital on a daily basis. After all of that, he was spending every moment he could with her and she could see the exhaustion taking its toll.
Finally, one night when he’d fallen asleep while testing out the new cushions she’d made for some reclaimed wicker furniture, she decided it was time to give the guy a break.
“Matt,” she said after kneeling beside him to gently nudge him awake. “You can’t go on like this.”
He rubbed his eyes and gave himself a shake. “No, I’m fine.”
“No, you’re not. You’re going to make a mistake with a patient if you keep working yourself to death. Something has to give.”
“What then? What gives?”
She sat back on her heels. It was a testament to his exhaustion that he would express his frustration. He had thought he could be Superman and have it all—his career and her. Now he was realizing he was only human.
Her heart broke for him.
“Nothing has to give,” she said, deciding he needed a break. “Just go home and rest. The hospital is putting a strain on you right now. When it’s completed, you’ll have more time to spend with me.”
He was fully awake now and he swung his legs around so his body faced her. He reached for her hands. “They want me to be Chief of Staff, Val. Next I’ll be interviewing doctors and nurses and administrative officers. It goes on and on.”
She didn’t want to say I told you so because she could tell that he so clearly saw that now.
“You were right, Val. I can’t be the man you need.”
She stared at him, feeling the air leave her lungs in one long exhale of breath.
“Not like this anyway,” he continued. “Not right now. I have some things I need to work out first.” He squeezed her hands and then lifted them to his mouth to kiss them one by one. “Can you give me that time, Val?” He frowned for a moment as he thought and then his lips curled into a smile. “Give me until New Year’s Eve. One year from when I saw you after all of these years. If you still tell me no on New Year’s Eve, I’ll leave you alone.”
“Matt, I feel like such a selfish worthless human being sometimes. Look at you, dead on your feet and now we have a time limit to how long I’ll give you to prove I can be first in your life.” She shook her head. “It’s not right.”
He pulled her to him in a hug. “No,” he said against her hair. “It is right. You’re right. You know what life with a doctor is like first hand and if that’s not what you want, than you shouldn’t have it. I just want time to prove it can be different.”
He pulled away just far enough so he could see her face. “But you and I can’t keep going on in this purgatory. It’s not good for either of us. So on New Year’s Eve, we’re going to decide once and for all.”
She forced a smile, hating that serious look on his face, hating herself for putting them both through this. “So I already have a date for New Year’s? I don’t think I’ve ever had one that early.”
“If I have anything to say about it, you have your New Year’s Eve date lined up for the rest of your life.”
They both heard the soft buzz of his pager and he looked down, checking the number. He frowned. “That’s not good. Hang on a second.” Still watching her and gripping her with one hand, he grabbed his cellphone from his waist band and punched in a few numbers.
She watched his eyes as he spoke into the phone.
“Dr. Schaffer here, what’s going on?” He listened, holding her gaze, and nodded. “Okay, I’ll be there in five minutes. Contact all the area hospitals, have them on alert and then call in every nurse and doctor, retired or not, who you can find.” He disconnected the call and shoved the phone back in its pocket. “There was a blast at the machinery plant. We have an unknown number of dead and wounded. I have to go, Val.”
Horrific visions swam in her head and she nodded. “I know you do. It’s okay. We’ll talk more later. Good luck.”
They stood up together and before she knew what was happening, he was pressing his mouth against hers. The kiss was quick but firm, as adament as his New Year’s Eve declaration. He would be back, that kiss said. Just wait for him.
He grabbed her hand and led her through the house before he let go and jogged down the steps to hit the ground running to his Volvo. He flung open the door and then looked at her over the roof of the car. He pointed his finger at her. “New Year’s Eve. Remember.”
She nodded and watched him drive away, her heart surprising her by swelling with pride for him.
New Year’s Eve. How could she possibly forget?