A stirring debut rife with intoxicating family secrets and dazzling insights into our most basic desires, Perfectly Undone offers an intimate, uncensored exploration of forgiveness and fidelity, in all its forms, as a young doctor struggles with her sister's death—and the role she played in it—while her own picture-perfect relationship and promising career unravel around her.
Yes is such a little word…
Dr. Dylan Michels has worked hard for a perfect life, so when her longtime boyfriend, Cooper, gets down on one knee, it should be the most perfect moment of all. Then why does she say no?
For too many years, Dylan's been living for her sister, who never got the chance to grow up. But her attempt to be the perfect daughter, perfect partner and perfect doctor hasn't been enough to silence the haunting guilt Dylan feels over her sister's death—and the role no one knows she played in it.
Now Dylan must face her past if she and Cooper stand a chance at a the courage to define her own happiness before her life becomes perfectly undone?
Set among the breezy days of a sultry Portland summer, Perfectly Undone is a deeply moving novel of family secrets, forgiveness and finding yourself in the most surprising of places.
Sometimes you have to lose your way to find yourself
“Many women have walked the line between career and love, family and self. Raintree handles the balance with grace and wisdom. Her writing is clear and crisp, the emotion raw and without melodrama. From family secrets to heartbreaking lost love, the characters felt like old friends by the end. Highly recommended.”—New York Times bestselling author Kate Moretti
|Publisher:||Graydon House Books|
|Edition description:||Original ed.|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Jamie Raintree
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2017 Jamie Raintree
All rights reserved.
Some things can never be forgiven.
This thought flashes down my spine like lightning. The rain thunders overhead with the same rhythm as my heartbeat as I sit at the dining room table I bought together with the man I love, in the house we've shared for the last two years.
Can they? I ask myself, consuming every last inch of him with my eyes, as if it will be my last chance.
On one knee.
His blue eyes tense, waiting for my answer.
Those stubborn strands of blond hair fallen over his forehead.
"Dylan?" he presses.
I shake my head — not an answer, a try at clarity. It comes.
We can't start a marriage based on secrets.
"I can't give you an answer," I whisper in a voice that isn't mine. His eyebrows furrow, unsure of whether or not he heard me correctly. I can't stick around to watch understanding take over his features. He can't push me into this one. I place the fork in my hand back on the table with forced precision, then attempt to pull my fingers from Cooper's grasp. "I'm so sorry. I love you, but I can't."
Still he won't let me go. The fact that he knows he isn't going to get the answer he wants and he still doesn't want me to leave pushes a sob from my lips.
"Cooper," I cry, but I pull myself free, stand and cross the living room. I wrench open the front door, no shoes, and walk out into the rain without looking back.
The storm hits me with a force that shocks me, making me feel more awake than I've been in years. I don't know what I'm walking toward or what I'm running away from, I just feel the wet earth against the soles of my feet, holding me up, pushing me on. My breath comes quickly, and the spring air is so new, it forms a cloud in front of my face with every exhalation. I rush forward, rain and tears mixing together on the palette of my cheeks. I reach the road, follow it with my eyes until it disappears in both directions and realize I'm in the middle of nowhere with nowhere to go and not a single person I can turn to.
My hair sticks to my face, the mud to my clothes.
With no one to hear, I ask myself what I'm doing, how I got here. Don't I have everything I'm supposed to want?
With no one to notice, I wonder if I'm wasting the life Abby never got to live.CHAPTER 2
Six weeks earlier ...
I stand at the edge of the terrace outside the Women's Clinic and grasp the cold metal railing. I watch the orange rays of sunset spray across the downtown high-rises, Portland's never-ending rush-hour traffic and the landscape of trees as they soak up the last offerings of winter moisture. My white coat is draped over the back of the metal chair next to me, and a cool breeze sweeps over my arms.
This is my midday ritual, when my first round of patient consultations is finished, before the bustle of the day is replaced by stacks of charts to be filled out. I escape to this terrace, this place of solitude, and hold tight to a few moments of perspective. I breathe in the busy silence, and once a day, I pretend I could go somewhere no one knows my name, where absolution is easy, and truth isn't so hard to come by.
A bird flies overhead, past the parking lot below me and the still street entrance beyond that. My gaze follows it to the path of the Willamette River, a wide divide of sleepless water that cuts Portland in half. The break in the scenery means nothing to the bird, but I often wonder why they bothered to build the foundation of a city on land that would always be split. No matter how close to the water they plant offices, or how many bridges traverse one shore to the other, the two sides will never connect. It will never be whole.
But I am up here, seven floors high, and if I close my eyes and raise my face to the sky, I can almost pretend that I, too, am flying above it. Untouchable.
"Dr. Michels." I turn to see Enrique, a nurse intern, leaning against the open glass door to the clinic. His dry sarcasm and the way his brown eyes squint almost closed when he smiles has made him one of my favorite nurses.
"You ready for another delivery?" he asks, his Puerto Rican accent pulling down his vowels.
"Of course," I say. I pick up my coat, feed my arms back into it, and follow him inside.
Sunlight shines through the towering glass walls of the clinic and glints off the modern furniture tucked in alcoves and lining the walls around the check-in desk. Enrique and I weave through women at various stages of pregnancy, with their families, nurses and doctors, and back into the halls of the clinic — a beehive that from the terrace is a low hum; inside, a violent roar. Between my four-year residency and my year as a licensed OB/GYN, this is my fifth year at this clinic, and it still surprises me how many patients we fit into a day.
Once we hit our stride in the hallway, Enrique passes me the chart of the laboring mother.
"Eight centimeters," he says. "She's been laboring for six hours and progressing at a steady rate."
I quickly flip through the pages of Mrs. Forrest's chart, then let the pages flutter back to their place.
"Have you seen Vanessa around today?" I ask him. Vanessa Lu is the chief of the OB/GYN department and the woman who holds my fate in her email inbox. Vanessa agreed to be my mentor for my first clinical trial, one of a dozen hoops I have to jump through to get my research grant approved. A place to conduct my trial is the final piece of the puzzle. Once Vanessa gets the okay on lab space, I can finalize my grant application.
"Does anyone ever actually see Dr. Lu?" he asks, and I have to laugh. It's true that although everyone knows she hardly ever leaves the hospital, no one ever runs into her in the halls. She appears as if out of nowhere when she needs something and disappears just as quickly when she's done with you. "The clinic nurses have a pool going as to who her secret lover is."
"Secret lover?" I say through stifled laughter.
He shrugs, as if to say why not? She is a beautiful woman if you can look past her tough exterior. Of course, more than a few people have said the same thing about me.
"It could explain where she's always hiding." He waggles his eyebrows mischievously.
We reach the labor and delivery wing and Enrique leans on the entrance button. When the nurse on the other end of the line picks up, he rattles off something in Spanish. The doors swing open as if of their own volition. Our patient, Mrs. Forrest, is on the bed, her feet in the stirrups, her brown hair splayed around her head like a mermaid underwater. The woman standing next to her is clearly her sister — they both have dark freckles smattered across their noses and cat-like green eyes. I smile at the two other nurses in the room, and walk over to Mrs. Forrest. Her eyes are closed in concentration, the epidural taking away most, but not all, of the pain. She's focusing in on it. Meditating. I place my hand lightly on her hair to let her know I'm there.
"Mr. Forrest still deployed?" I ask her sister softly.
"Three more weeks," she says.
Fingers curl around mine, and I look down to see Mrs. Forrest staring up at me with tears in her eyes. I squeeze.
"We've got this," I say.
She nods, and I run my fingers over her hair one more time before I make my way to my seat.
"How are we doing?" I ask the nurse monitoring her dilation.
"Ten centimeters," she says. "She's ready."
Enrique appears at my shoulder with a gown, and I take off my jacket to feed my arms through. He snaps gloves on my hands as the nurses flutter around me, unpacking instruments, setting the lights, and preparing for the new life about to take over the room. I sit down and confirm Mrs. Forrest's progress for myself. When the shuffling stops and everyone is in position, I look up with a smile and say, "It's time."
Mrs. Forrest nods, and with an ear-shattering screech, she begins to push.
An hour later, once I've helped deliver a healthy, red-haired baby girl, Enrique brings me a cup of the strongest hospital coffee he can find, and I drink it around the corner from the emergency entrance as Enrique smokes a cigarette — our celebratory routine.
"You're always so cool in there," Enrique says between drags. "Cool. Calm. Collected," he muses, almost to himself.
I swallow down the dregs of my coffee and toss the cup into a nearby trash can.
"I have to be," I say. "It's when emotions get involved that things get messy. I follow procedure, do what needs to be done, and everyone comes out safely." I trained under a few doctors during my residency who were scattered in the delivery room, and I could sense that their patients didn't fully trust them. Since practicing solo, I've been able to approach deliveries with my own style, and even in that short time, I've noticed the difference in patient rapport.
I snort a laugh.
Afterward, I walk the halls back to the clinic, with an unapologetic smile on my face, high on another successful delivery. I can't imagine it ever getting old.
When I walk through the doors of the clinic, Vanessa is standing with her arms hugged around a chart, waiting for me. My breath hitches, as it does every time she asks to speak to me privately these days, wondering if today I find out that everything I've been working for is finally coming to fruition.
"A word?" she asks.
When we enter Vanessa's office, she closes the door behind me and breezes around her desk. She perches on the end of her chair but doesn't offer me a seat. She's succinct enough to have rendered the visitors' chairs useless.
"You got it," she says. "You're on the clinic schedule."
I got it. A chance at absolution.
After a long moment of anticipatory silence, I remind myself to breathe. I cover my mouth with my fingers, unsure of which emotion might be displaying itself there. I'm not sure, myself, which emotion is tugging at the center of my chest like the string of a puppeteer, trying to pull me in the direction I'm supposed to go. My rooted feet keep me planted.
"Really?" I say, unable to believe it's actually happening. I've waited for this moment for so long, but some part of me always thought the day would never come.
"Yes. I need your application complete and on my desk in two weeks, so I can review it before you submit it."
"Of course," I say, not expecting the tight timeline, but what choice do I have? This is what I asked her for, and I won't let her down now. I'll work through the nights if I have to.
Vanessa squints her tapered eyes at me, like she can see my mind calculating the hours in a day, hours in the clinic, hours in the office, and in Labor and Delivery. She must be in her mid-forties but there's not a single line on her face, a result of either good genes or preserving herself inside these four walls. I glance at the curtains she always keeps drawn, blocking out the light and the world. When I started my residency here, I used to wonder how she could spend so much of her days confined in here. Now that I'm a doctor myself, I understand completely.
"Dylan," she says, "what you're trying to do is important. Don't forget that. I don't put my name on things unless I believe in them." Vanessa has spent enough time in obstetrics to have seen her fair share of pregnancy complications — many more than me. She wants the proof that we need better early pregnancy monitoring practices as much as I do. Right now, the first ultrasound doesn't take place until the eighteenth week of gestation in most cases. But so many life-threatening things can happen in those eighteen weeks, for the fetus and the mother. So many broken families. With my research, I hope to prove that the first ultrasound should be done as early as six weeks.
I take a deep breath and nod. Vanessa doesn't need to tell me how important this research is — I've seen the damage personally. "Yes, ma'am. I hope you know how seriously I take this opportunity."
Being the chief, Vanessa gets a lot of requests each year to mentor doctors with dreams of making medical breakthroughs. She can't say yes to all of them.
"I do." Vanessa almost smiles, then picks up her phone by way of dismissing me.
I close the door behind me as I leave and lean against it, close my eyes, breathe deeply.
It's time, I tell myself.
Home — a minimalist house thirty minutes outside the city with large, open windows, unobscured views of the forest, a creek that runs behind the property and my sorely underused side of the bed.
I feel the day melt off me every time I turn down our street, though most nights I don't get home before it's shrouded in darkness. I don't think I'll find much refuge there tonight either with the stack of grant application paperwork on the passenger seat next to me.
When I pull into our circular driveway, I discover a familiar red truck parked diagonally across the gravel. One of the tires is elevated by a rock that lines the empty planter in the center of the drive. I shake my head, but I'm glad Stephen's here. The three of us have shared every milestone — career and otherwise — since I met him and Cooper that first week of med school almost ten years ago.
I find the guys in the backyard, sitting in the middle of the grass in chipped, lipstick-red Adirondack chairs, the legs of which are swallowed to the hilt by the overgrown lawn. All I can see of them is the back of two heads, two hands with two open beer bottles, and four bare feet kicked up on a cooler between them. The trees shade them from the fading sunset but capture their laughter like fireflies in a mason jar.
"Hey," I say.
"Dylan," Stephen calls, not turning but holding up his beer in greeting.
Cooper makes the effort, flashing one blue eye, half a smile and his fallen-down hair at me. My heart flutters. He still gets to me. After all this time, he gets to me.
"Hey, babe," he says. "Come here."
I wade through the rain-damp grass in my bare feet. It's been too long since I've taken this path, through the yard and down the broken stepping-stones to the wooden bench next to the creek. The crisp air nips at my skin as night descends.
When I reach Cooper, he uses one strong hand to pull me onto his lap, and I fall into his familiar angles, the faded breath of his cologne. His warm hand resting on my hip has become less familiar, though, over these last six months as I've focused more and more on my research grant. I feel it acutely.
"Beer?" he asks. I shake my head but take a swig of his. He rests his chin on my shoulder and watches me. It catches me off guard — this act of intimacy. Like I've only just realized we'd come to an unspoken agreement that intimacy would come again later — after — but Cooper's exhibiting the weak spot in his willpower.
"Guess what," I say, my voice airy, a try at excitement. Or maybe it's the lump in my throat.
"You got it," Cooper says. Stephen raises his eyebrows.
I nod. "I got on the research clinic schedule. My spot is guaranteed as long as the grant is approved."
"Which it will be." Stephen is quick to assure me, his face lighting up. "Damn, Dylan. Congrats. I'll drink to that."
I laugh. "Thank you. But I don't know how meaningful that is. You'll drink to anything."
"And I'll drink to that" He winks, raises his bottle in a salute and follows through.
I turn to Cooper, my stomach tight as I wait for his response.
"I'm happy for you, Dylan," he says. His smooth fingers twist their way through my ponytail, not looking at me. "I knew you'd get it." There's tightness in his voice. Still, he presses a kiss to my forehead, pulls me closer to him.
"Thanks," I say, though I'm not reassured. Now that the possibility of getting the grant is so real, the pressure to do the right thing for my family ... for Abby ... is almost suffocating. I had hoped Cooper would remind me that this is the next big milestone in our shared dream for the future. This is a good thing. A great thing. I should have known I was hoping in vain.
I clear my throat. "So, what? Are you guys out here reliving the glory days?"
The hint of spring in the air reminds me of studying for finals and opening the windows in the little apartment Cooper and I used to share in the city; of when the three of us spent so much time at our favorite spot in the forest next to the Willamette River, drinking into the night by the light of a feeble campfire. We talked about what life would be like when Stephen was a sought-after neurologist, Cooper was a partner at a patient-focused pediatric practice and I had discovered the secret to diagnosing early pregnancy complications before the mother's body knows something is wrong itself. Back when the path was simple and our whole lives were ahead of us.
Excerpted from Perfectly Undone by Jamie Raintree. Copyright © 2017 Jamie Raintree. Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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