Getting over Brandon wasn't near as easy as getting her cap and stripes. Life was empty without him and no one seemed to be anxious to replace him – especially her parents. They actually sided with him. Even Rachel and Julia insisted that she was the one with the problem. It was no surprise that Julia thought so, but it hurt to have Rachel say so. They were wrong, and she intended to prove it.
She sent to Bartlesville for information on the pediatrics ward and hinted at interest in a job there. In such a small town, there couldn't be many positions, and the pay wouldn't come close to what she was making in Tulsa. The way she had it figured, the hospital in Bartlesville would tell her there were no openings. They all didn’t understand that she couldn’t simply run out and get a job like she had in Tulsa. She’d be willing to take a job someplace else. That wasn’t the issue. The issue was that Brandon hadn’t included her in his plans. Anyway, the ranch was a good fifteen miles away from Bartlesville. Surely she couldn't be expected to commute that kind of distance on a regular basis. All that aside, Brandon didn’t want her back. If he did, he would have called or visited. Instead, she had heard nothing from him.
Of course, once she had convinced everyone else what a foolish move it would be, how was she going to convince herself that she didn't need Brandon in her life? Every day she worked in a frenzy, trying to keep him out of her mind. Every night she dreamed about him – about the way his voice sounded when her ear was on his chest. About the way he smiled, so sweet and innocent – the way his arms felt around her, so comforting and secure. To make matters worse, lately she had been dreaming of the ranch as well. It was so utterly beautiful – so serene. A little like heaven. Ridiculous – and unrealistic. It was only a dream.
A bout a week later she came home to find Rachel holding an envelope. By the smug look on her face, Adrienne surmised it had to be from the Bartlesville hospital. No doubt, it was a letter stating that there were no openings. She glanced down at the envelope and then tossed it on the table.
“I’ll look at it after I change my clothes.”
Rachel raised a brow and for a moment, Adrienne thought there would be a lecture. Finally Rachel shrugged.
In her room, Adrienne was forced to consider the possibility that there was an opening. What then? She’d already burned her bridges behind her. There was no point moving to Bartlesville now. This thing had gone way too far. Was it necessary that anyone else endorsed her decisions? They could hardly say she hadn’t tried. Hadn't she been supportive of Brandon when he made his foolish move of dropping out of college? Hadn't she been patient while he stayed with his mother? Why did she need to prove to anyone, least of all herself, that she was right in breaking off the relationship? She wasn't going to let them all make her feel guilty.
The envelope had a mind of its own, and it drew her back to the coffee table – demanded that she tear it open and read the answer. In spite of her resolution, a pang of disappointment twisted her heart. There were no openings. She started to toss the letter aside, and then something made her read on. There was a position open at a private home, but the salary had to be wrong. They were offering more than she could make after several years' experience at the hospital in Tulsa. She read on. A child with coronary problems – hours negotiable – benefits. There had to be a hitch. When she was young and naive, she had dreamed of such a job. But it wasn't real – was it?
She tossed the paper aside. What difference did it make? Getting a job in Bartlesville would only make everyone believe she was still in love with Brandon. She had the job she had planned for the last three years. Why should she leave it now? Why should she give Brandon the chance to reject her again? Why go through all that pain again, when she had almost succeeded in putting him in the past – almost, but not quite. He was better off without her anyway. She wasn't much fun lately.
Over the next few days she thought about the job several times with mixed feelings. Why not check it out? Wasn't it closer to her original dream? Was it really so important what Brandon or anyone else thought? And yet, she had worked so hard to get where she was. Wouldn't it be foolish to abandon the carefully laid plans that had helped her achieve her goals in the first place? Not that any of this indecision was necessary. The job was probably filled by now, anyway.
All the same, she finally sent her application for the job. It did sound like an interesting job, and she wasn't likely to see Brandon anyway. She might be getting over him, but the idea of running into him in town was particularly disturbing. What would she say? What would he say? Did he have any regrets? Did he still harbor any feelings for her?
A mere week later she received a call requesting an interview. Why not? After a few questions, she hung up with an appointment scheduled for the following Saturday. It had to be a hoax. Generally speaking, if something sounded too good to be true, it usually was.
All the same, Saturday found her at a restaurant in Bartlesville, where she was supposed to meet her prospective employer. She owed it to herself to find out for sure, didn't she? Besides, what were the odds that she would run into Brandon on any specific day? He was working on the ranch, fifteen miles away. The chances were, he rarely got into town at all.
The voice on the telephone had belonged to a middle-aged woman dressed modestly in a dark suit. Her hair was drawn back severely into a bun and she had black eyes that could render a lie detector machine obsolete. Her voice was harsh and raspy.
"Sit down, young lady. I won't keep you long. I've been through this so many times I could do it in my sleep."
Adrienne smiled. She'd be willing to bet the woman was as hard nosed in her sleep. She was beginning to get an inkling why the job was still open.
"Now," the woman rasped. "I want you to tell me the truth. Do you drink or take drugs? I'll find out, anyway, but you could save us both some time if you tell me now."
"No," Adrienne said. "And I don't smoke, either."
"I didn't ask that." The woman stared at her for a moment. Running the lie detector, no doubt. She must have been satisfied, because she nodded shortly and went on.
"Now, about your experience. I see here you've only been working in pediatrics for a month, but you have an impressive job history for a girl your age."
Adrienne nodded. "I worked my way through college."
The black eyes softened slightly. "You don't hear that much any more. Kids think their parents should work two jobs to pay for their college education. Then they spend all their time at parties instead of studying."
Adrienne waited for the woman to go on. She knew some students like that, but none would be found in their apartment.
The woman cocked her head, looking for all the world like a raven. "You aren't giggly or a blabber mouth either, are you?"
"I suppose not." There was no need in adding that right now she didn't have much to giggle about. It sounded more like a statement than a question anyway.
"All right," the woman continued. "We'll get down to the details." She glanced up as a figure approached, and her smile was genuine.
"Hello there, Brandon. How's your mother doing these days?"
Adrienne stiffened, her heart lurching into frenzied activity at the sound of his voice.
"Just fine, Miss Clara." He glanced down at Adrienne and their gazes locked.
Blood pulsed painfully in her throat, and her face grew warm. Was it wishful thinking, or did she see the same love in his eyes?
He dug in his pocket. "I have something to return to you." He pulled out the engagement ring, along with a wad of lint. The lint he tucked back into his pocket, and the ring he tossed on the table in front of Adrienne. "That is, if you still want it."
She couldn't tear her gaze from his. "What makes you think I might still want it?"
His voice was soft. "What are you doing in Bartlesville, Adrienne? It's a long way from Tulsa." He turned to Miss Clara. "I saw your add in the paper. I can vouch for this young lady."
Miss Clara gathered her papers and smiled up at him. "You can stop making your pitch, Brandon. I've already made up my mind."
"Well I haven't," Adrienne said. He wasn't going to mess up her interview.
Two sets of startled eyes turned on her. Miss Clara chuckled like a mother hen. "Run along for a while, Brandon. You can talk to her after I'm done. I don't want to lose this feisty little jewel."
Brandon retired to a table nearby and it was all Adrienne could do to keep her mind on the interview. The more she heard, the harder it was to believe the job was for real. The hours were perfect, nine to five, and the job sounded as if it were tailored for her. Finally Miss Clara gathered her papers.
"I hope you decide to take the job." She glanced at the ring and leaned forward, lowering her voice. "And personally, I hope you decide to take that back. I've known Brandon since he was knee-high to a grasshopper. He gets kind of crusty sometimes, but he's a mighty fine boy."
"Thank you for your time," Adrienne said as she stood and shook Miss Clara's hand. "I'll take both into consideration."
Miss Clara nodded and glanced at Brandon.
Brandon folded into the chair Miss Clara had vacated and smiled nervously.
"I didn't bring my hat to throw in the door."
She rested her chin on her palm, elbow on the table, and stared at him. "Are you sure you want to? Last time we talked, you sounded like you never wanted to see me again."
His eyes flashed. "I did? You're the one who threw the ring at me." He waved a hand. "It doesn't matter. I was being a jerk. I switched boats mid stream and expected you to follow me. I was wrong and I admit it. I was using my mother as an excuse. I love that ranch and I wanted to stay there. Those are the plain and simple facts." He hesitated and then went on. "I did graduate, though. I talked to the school and they let me take the finals, since I was so close to completing school."
Adrienne smiled. "I'm glad to hear that." She squirmed in her chair. "And I don't blame you for wanting to live on the ranch." She hesitated and gnawed on her lower lip. "What was that saying you were always reciting to me? Some people get to the top of the ladder, only to find that it's leaning against the wrong wall?"
He lifted a brow. "Are you trying to say that you're not happy with your success?"
She shook her head. "I'm trying to say that it's all right to switch boats if that's what you really want. Only . . ." She examined a rough spot on her thumbnail. "You shouldn't change your goals simply because they don't fit into someone else’s plans."
She could feel his gaze on her and he responded in an uncertain tone. "Like my mother's?"
She glanced up and met his tortured gaze. "Like mine," she responded evenly.
"Meaning you forgive me for what I did, but you've got other fish to fry?" His voice was controlled.
"Meaning it's all right to change your original goals if you find a better one."
He stared at her for a few moments. "Whose goals are we talking about here, mine or yours?"
She smiled. "Both, I guess."
He picked the ring up and stared at it absently, rolling it back and forth between his thumb and index finger. The stone flipped back and forth, winking at her as it caught the light. Finally his troubled gaze lifted to her face.
"If it's that important to you, I'll find some one to take care of the ranch. We can get that little place in Tulsa that we talked about. You're more important to me than that ranch. I love you and it's been miserable without you."
She reached out and put her hand over the ring, stopping its infernal winking. "Now you're asking me to give up this job?" she asked in a futile attempt to lighten the mood.
His gaze remained sober. "I'm not asking you to give up anything you want, Adrienne. I'm saying what we had together was more important than what I have now."
She bit her lower lip. "I want my best friend back, too. That's why I'm here, I guess. I’ve been in a rut for a long time. I was so busy following the road map I made so many years ago that I didn't notice it was outdated. They were a little girl's dreams, so a husband was a secondary road. Wherever we go, I can find a job to fit my goals. This interview was proof. I love you, Brandon, and I'll never find another you."
He slipped the ring on her finger. "Come on. Let's go break the news to Mom. She's been moping around every since you left." He squeezed her hand. "Nothing has been the same. I don't know how the ranch ever saw a spring without your sunny smile." He paused. "What did you do with that old road map to your future?"
She smiled. "I burned it behind me. From now on I'm going to get a new map every time there's a change."
He smiled. "Good idea. That way we'll never get lost from each other again."
They married a month later at a small church in Bartlesville and Adrienne moved to the farm. A year later they started a family with the birth of their first daughter. Life sometimes got in the way of their goals, but they learned to be resilient. Maybe that was why they were so happy.READ MORE >>