Read an Excerpt
Summer in Tuscany
By Elizabeth Adler
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2002 Elizabeth Adler
All rights reserved.
Let me tell you right from the start, you wouldn't want to know me. Especially on a Saturday night. Why? Because that's when it's toughest here in the emergency room, and the only reason you would ever get to meet me is if you were wheeled in here on a gurney. Then it would be my face looking down at you under a glare of white light, saying, What's your name? ... Where does it hurt? ... Who did it? ...
I'm Gemma Jericho, resident-in-charge at New York's Bellevue Hospital Trauma Department, and Saturday night is always hell on wheels. Right now I'm forging through the usual weekend mayhem of stabbings, shootings, and road accidents, wailing women and haggard drunks, overdosed addicts and a poor limp baby in a frantic mother's arms. I'm on an adrenaline high, calling instructions, going from victim to victim: an intubation; a CAT scan; another shot of ephi; tending the comatose baby; paging the pediatric surgeon.
Sometimes I ask myself, What am I doing here? How did I get here? Why are most of my Saturday nights spent like this? Where's my life? Then I catch a glimpse of myself and I see the answer.
I'm wearing scrubs and the equivalent of a plastic shower cap over my hair, sneakers, and a white coat. I've been on duty for eight hours already and with a few more still to come. I'm tired, tousled, and cranky, and I need a shower. Plus this face is never going to launch any thousand ships, even though my mom tells me I'm a bit Meg Ryanish, albeit on one of Meg's bad days, but that's just my mom talking. The truth is that besides being an emergency physician, I'm thirty-eight and divorced, with a teenage daughter to support. And that's reality talking.
Add to that, I have a secret that I'm not telling, a horrible secret guilt that will haunt me all my life, but it explains why I believe no one would want to really know me. The true me that lurks beneath this efficient, noble, white-coated doctor exterior.
Sometimes, before I leave for the hospital, I look in the mirror longer than the minute it takes to make sure my face is still there and that my hair has at least been combed, and instead of seeing reality, I remember when I was in high school and thought I might be reasonably pretty.
Gemma Jericho, the Dancing Queen, that was me, and boys were my main interest and girlfriends the center of my life. I remember my mother trying to drill some sense into me, the way I try now with my own daughter, telling me to think about my future and not just throw it away on the high school football hero. Which, of course, is exactly what I did. But that's another story.
Those teenage years are long behind me now. I mean, thirty-eight is awfully close to forty, don't you think? The Big Four Oh. It seems so far away when you are only sixteen. How many of us ever really think we will get there? Certainly not me ... or do I mean "not I"? Whatever, forty is forty. Right. And plain with it. Plus I probably rate a zero in "style."
What do I really look like? Okay, so I'm on the skinny side and, as my mom tells me every Sunday when we go to her place for lunch, I could use a bit more meat on my bones. Actually, bigger breasts might help. Maybe I should think about that? I used to stuff my bra when I was younger, but I gave that up long ago. Anyhow, I'm a leggy five-ten, but that doesn't make me "elegant." I'm a bit of a klutz, really, and somehow prone to accidents, except when I'm working, and then I'm a fine-honed speed machine.
Last time I looked I had blue eyes, usually hidden behind horn-rims, the kind that swoop up at the sides. I'm so nearsighted it's pathetic, and without glasses I practically have to grope my way around. You would have thought, me being a medico and all, I would have succumbed to the lure of laser eye surgery by now, but who has the time?
My hair is a sort of subdued natural blonde, short, wavy, and choppy (choppy because in moments of panic looking in that bathroom mirror, I tend to chop chunks off it myself). Plus it seems to have a will of its own — it stands up in a kind of awful springy halo no matter what I do, and it's always untidy because when I'm frantic, which is most of the time, I have this habit of running my hands through it.
The rest of me? Let me think. Ah yes, I have a nose of the usual sort, with a bit of a bump in the middle from a whack with a tennis racket when I was thirteen that seems to have gotten bigger over the years and gives me an arrogant look that, I can assure you, is absolutely not justified. Oh, and I have kind of a smiley mouth that turns up at the corners even when I'm not really smiling, but it makes the patients feel better, so that's okay.
Let me tell you about my marriage to him-who-is-better-not-spoken-of. You'll gather from that, that my ex is not exactly Mr. Popularity around here. Actually, in my high school days, when I was considered fairly cute and a great dancer, I had quite a few boys after me, including "the football hero." I'm sighing as I say this because, as I tell my own daughter now, it gets you nowhere except maybe to the prom.
Anyhow, I was hanging out with this teenage football hero, and oh how I worshiped him. I would have kissed his sweaty feet when he pulled his boots off after the game had he wanted me to. And oddly enough, he was hot for me. So hot, we married right out of high school.
Then I went off to college, and so did he — me north, him south, though I gather he spent more time in pool-rooms than in class, while I suddenly got this fixation on medicine. I had a goal, he had none. We lasted on and off until, when I was still in med school, I got pregnant. And then he just took off.
That was fourteen years ago. I have never seen him since, and he has never seen his daughter. I divorced him, and I've never taken a cent from him. Not, of course, that he offered. I struggled on through medical school, working and studying, and I raised Livvie by myself. And if you ask is there anything I'm proud of, the answer is yes. I'm proud of Livvie.
I have this picture of her in my mind, silhouetted against the bright sunlight: long skinny legs, big feet in clunky platform shoes, narrow hips, wide shoulders, long giraffe neck, and hair that looks as though it's been run over by a lawn mower, especially when it's tinted green with that spray stuff from the drugstore, which it sometimes is, though usually it's just bleached banana-blond.
Livvie is fourteen and into the latest in Outrageous, and you never know with her what you are going to get. Still, I figure this post-punk image is all a phase and that sometime soon she will grow out of it. I've drawn the line at body-piercing and tattoos, though. I mean, I couldn't sit opposite her at dinner knowing she had a ring sticking through her tongue or a rose embossed on her behind. My stomach churns at the thought, and as a doctor, my heart simply turns over at the risk.
The third member of our small family is my mother, Livvie's grandmother, Nonna. Of course, nonna means "grandmother" in Italian, which is what she is ... an Italian grandmother. That's her profession. And she does it at full pressure.
Nonna has lived in the same small suburban town on Long Island for forty years, and it's where I grew up. Her shabby old house is a startling Mediterranean blue and stands out from the other gray suburban houses like a scrap of summer sky on a cloudy day. She had it painted this color because it reminded her of Bella Piacere, the village in Tuscany where she lived until her family emigrated to New York. She has never returned, and I doubt she even thinks about her homeland or "the old days" anymore, though she still keeps the photos in silver frames on her mahogany sideboard to remind her.
There's a picture of my immigrant Italian grandparents there, caught forever in blurred sepia, sitting on the stoop of their Bensonhurst apartment house.
There's also a photo of me and Livvie, taken at a Little League game when Livvie was about seven and still just a simple little blond kid whose only dream was to hit a home run, and I was about thirty and not so simple anymore and my dream was still to meet Mr. Right. Life offered infinite possibilities back then. The home run. The right man. And you know what? It almost came true. And you know what else? I don't want to talk about that.
Then, of course, there's my favorite picture of Nonna, only she wasn't Nonna then. It was taken in the fifties, before she married, when her name was still Sophia Maria Lorenza Corsini. She was seventeen, tall and pretty, with flashing dark eyes and a mass of dark hair flowing to her tiny waist. In the photo, she's wearing a flowered dress with a sweetheart neckline and platform sandals with wedge heels. I can hardly believe this fashionable vision was my mom.
Now Nonna is sixty, a widow for twenty years, in the basic black of the Italian grandmother with sturdy shoes, a little white lace collar, and glasses perched on the end of her arrogant nose. She's usually to be found standing over the stove cooking up the big ritual Italian Sunday lunch, just the way she has for decades.
Nonna is tall, still with generous curves, but she swears that at her age no man would look at her twice. Unless he's after a good meal, that is, she'll add with a disparaging sniff. Hair pulled back into a neat bun, she still has those flashing dark eyes and a flashing temperament to match, and she keeps us in order with a hard stare or a cutting remark.
So that's who we are. The Jericho family. Oh, plus there's Sinbad, the fattest ginger cat you ever saw. Sinbad is enormous, but he eats so fastidiously, polishing his face with a well-licked paw between bites, you never notice how much he's really consumed. He's also close kin to a dog. He brings his ball — a beat-up Ping-Pong ball, much squashed and bitten — for me to throw. This cat plays catch like a wide receiver — he's up there with the football greats — and he has the neck to prove it.
Actually, he's Livvie's surrogate dog, the huge Newfoundland I promised her when I still believed in that future dream of a house in the country. Because there was a time, you know, not so long ago, when life could have been different ... a time of "might have been." A time when that country house loomed as a bright possibility, filled with a normal, happy family unit: husband, wife, a few kids, dogs and cats....
What am I thinking? I'm not supposed to go there. He isn't supposed to be there. I've trained myself never to talk about him, never to think of him. And yet there he is in my memory, larger than life and twice as handsome. Cash Drummond, the man who brought magic into my life. And changed it forever.CHAPTER 2
I don't quite know why, but what I'm remembering right now is the time we were in his car, the two of us, taking a quick vacation together. I was at the wheel and Cash was beside me, map reading. We were lost and I was annoyed. I said it was his fault and he laughed and said he was sorry and how about we stop and have lunch somewhere. And just like magic, which was the way it always seemed to happen when I was with Cash, we practically tripped over this sweet little country inn. We drove past, screeched to a halt, backed down the winding lane to check it out, and saw the sign RESTAURANT.
We piled out of the car, a little old red sports model (what else would Cash have had?), and walked hand in hand into a New England wonderland of dark-paneled walls and braided rugs and potpourri. There were antlers and wall sconces, throw pillows, flowered chintz and rickety side tables full of bric-a-brac, and a grizzled, sleepy Labrador who opened one eye to check us out and then went back to his snooze.
A kindly blue-haired lady behind the desk smiled at us over her bifocals. "Lunch?" she asked.
Cash squeezed my hand tightly. "Actually, we were wondering if you had a room."
He caught my surprised gasp, and so, I know, did the woman. "Of course," she said. "Let me show you."
I clutched Cash's hand as we headed up the stairs. "I thought we were lost and just coming here for lunch," I whispered.
He threw me a look over his shoulder, already two steps in front of me — as he somehow always was — and I felt myself melt. Did I mention that he was blond and handsome in that strong-jawed all-American, or should I say all-Texan, way? Sort of cowboy crossed with Malibu surfer? And I had seen that look before and knew what it meant. In fact, that's the way our relationship had started.
Actually, it started with a pickup in a Starbucks where I was sipping an illicit frappuccino (illicit because, though I know how much sugar there is in those things, I still can't resist). He gave me a smiling glance in passing, and our eyes locked. Then he said in an exaggerated Texas drawl, "Hi, how're y'doin', ma'am?" and I giggled because nobody had ever called me "ma'am" before.
"Actually, it's Doctor," I said primly, because I don't usually go around talking to complete strangers except at the hospital, of course, and then they're on a gurney, and the dialogue is hardly racy.
"How're you, Doc?" He hitched himself onto the stool next to me. I nodded okay, staring out the window, anything to stop looking at him, because they just didn't grow them like this in New York City. His long shaggy blond hair gleamed with lights my own did not possess, his tanned skin glowed with health, and his blue eyes were ten shades lighter than mine and looked surprisingly world-weary.
This guy is no hick from Hicksville, I warned myself. He knows where he's at, all right. All muscular six-four of him, with shoulders whose breadth owed nothing to the old suede shirt he was wearing. I sneaked a glance at his feet. Thank God he was not wearing cowboy boots; that would have been just too much.
"Come here often?" he said.
I glanced skeptically at him out of the corner of my eye and took another sip.
"Okay, then, how d'you like those frappuccinos?"
I stared out the window at a dog-walker with a tangle of leads and what looked to be about sixteen Chihuahuas.
"Just got in from Dallas," he drawled, as though I were even listening. "Don't know too many folks here in the Big Apple."
Oh, puh-lease ... I rolled my eyes. Did he really think I was going to fall for that one? And then he started to laugh, a rich, rolling laugh, natural as spring water and just as refreshing. And I found myself laughing too.
"I'm Cash Drummond." He held out a sun-kissed hand dusted with tiny blond hairs, and so help me, I took it.
"Cash?" I couldn't believe it.
He lifted an amused eyebrow. "It could have been worse. I was called after my grandfather, Wilbur Cash."
I laughed then. "Your mother was a wise woman."
My frappuccino was almost gone, and I was due back at the hospital in ten minutes. "Gotta go," I said, hitching my oversized black tote onto my shoulder.
"That bag looks mighty heavy for a little lady like you," Cash Drummond drawled.
Now, this bag contained my entire life: my wallet, credit cards, driver's license, Social Security card, and hospital ID, plus a collection of pictures of Livvie from babyhood to the previous week (she'd turned nine that very October). There were my checkbook and the latest dismal bank statement; my mother's recipe for braised lamb shanks, which I had meant to give to my friend Patty; a clean pair of underwear, in case I had to work late and needed a shower and a change and not for any other reason you might have imagined; and a lipstick that was too pink for my pale autumnal face, plus a comb, rarely used.
"Let me help you," Cash said, reaching for this bag. And this is how moonstruck I suddenly was. I just handed it to him. Me. A New Yorker. I trusted him!
My eyes locked with his, and I could feel the sap rising in me, so to speak. "Where are you heading?" he said.
"All the way downtown," I replied, "to Bellevue."
"Then let me give you a lift." He slung my bag onto his shoulder and held the door open for me. "By the way," he added, "you didn't tell me your name."
"It's Gemma," I said, my eyes still locked with his as we stood in that drafty doorway at Starbucks. "Gemma Jericho."
And that was the way it started — with lust and love and romance, leading up to the minivacation I was telling you about, actually no more than a long weekend, when we got lost and stumbled across that old inn.
Excerpted from Summer in Tuscany by Elizabeth Adler. Copyright © 2002 Elizabeth Adler. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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