Saturday, July 11, 2009

Transcendent Reunion by Connie Chastain

Resplendent in a white dinner jacket and black bow tie, Vandi Decker—Dr. John Vandiver Decker, a year into his residency at Verona General Hospital—rested a forearm on the piano, sipped champagne and smiled slightly at the sexy tinkling rising up from the instrument's strings.

Mellow. That best described the atmosphere at Jimmie Chandler's, one of Georgia's fanciest restaurants located not in sophisticated Atlanta but near the Florida line in small, moss-hung Verona.

Square tables circled the golden oak dance floor, their crisp white skirts contrasting starkly with the black baby grand off to one side. Greenery blanketed the place, from feathery palms that reached the ceiling to banks of lush philodendron vines tumbling down the walls.

There were vacant tables here and there, but it was a nice turn out for a Thursday.

Vandi's eyes, ice blue but not cold and ringed with spiky lashes skimmed the crowd. He nodded or lifted his glass in salute several times to people he knew.

Well off, respected in the community, to-die-for handsome and sexy as all get-out, he was Verona's most eligible batchelor.

Not bad for a kid who grew up in an orphanage. Oh, the progressive consortium that owned and operated the place back in Louisville, Kentucky had called it a "group home" or some silly politically correct nonsense like that. Although it was true that most of the children there at the time were not true orphans. He was.

He had lost his parents before middle school—his father, a construction worker, in the collapse of a bridge under construction, his mother to undiagnosed diabetes. Her illness and death were the primary factors in his decision to study medicine.

Some of the nurses at the hospital said his smile lit up rooms, and a few claimed healing powers for his rare laughter. He knew they thought it odd that he had no steady woman and hardly ever dated.

Across the room, a woman he knew to be interested in him smiled and fluttered her fingers his way. He noted with passive appreciation the flashy dress in red chiffon and the glittery earrings that dangled almost to her shoulders, nodded and smiled back—and his smile froze on his lips. And odd feeling enveloped him and the hair stood up on the back of his neck. He was being watched....

He knew the feeling. It had happened two or three times in the past few weeks.
His eyes skimmed the crowd again and he knew a flame of something—suspicion? fear?—flickered in their blue depths. If people noticed his unease, so what? Maybe it would force whoever was watching him to reveal themselves.

He straightened and made a slow, unobtrusive scan of the dining room. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary and the discomfort gradually ebbed.

But half an hour later, it happened again. Seated at his lonely table for one, his meal partially consumed, he stopped in mid-chew as something—a thrilling tingle this time, not clamminess—swept down his body. He searched the dining room openly, a faint line between his brows.
Deeply disturbed and unable to explain it, he suddenly had to get away, to be alone.

Like a sleepwalker, he tossed a generous tip on the table, paid for his meal, and stepped into the blue-gray dusk outside. Moments later, as he unlocked the door of his sleek, midnight-blue 4Runner, the feeling swept him again, stronger than ever, and now he knew what it was—love and loss mingled, excitement blunted by the sorrow that entertwined it. Great sadness came to his face as memories he had tried to bury long ago rose up to envelop him.

Was this an anniversary date of some sort? April twenty-fifth. Nothing came to mind.
Movement caught his eye. A woman walked toward him across the half-empty lot, a beautiful sweetness on her face. She held the hand of an adorable boy about six years old.

Vandi knew who she was instantly. Breath rushed from his lungs as shock robbed him of strength and he staggered back against the vehicle.

He would have recognized anywhere her lovely face with its rounded chin and amber-brown eyes framed with honey blonde hair.

The woman stopped several feet in front of him and he stared at her as if hypnotized.



Incredulous, he stared at her, blinking as if to clear his vision. "They told me you died. They told me they took you for an abortion, to get rid of our baby, and the doctor botched it and you died.”

Terrible pain came to his face. “They wouldn't let me see you, wouldn't let me go back to Louisville for the funeral. I thought I was going to die, too.”

“There was no abortion. I ran away. I couldn't let them hurt our child. I went to St. Louis and got a job and made friends, and they took care of me when the time came. I'll be grateful to them forever.”

“Why didn't you come to me?” he whispered. “I would have taken you away with me, you surely knew that.”

“They told me ...” she glanced away. Pain distorted her face and tears left tracks down her cheeks “You were in medical school and ... and they told me you’d found someone else, and it served me right for throwing my future and career away on a man and a baby.”

“And you believed them?”

“I didn't know what to believe. But I decided if they were telling the truth, it made me more determined than ever to keep the baby—a part of you I could have for the rest of my life.”
They looked down at the boy who gazed back at them, solemn but with flames of life and excitement in his ice-blue eyes.

“Vandi, this is your son, Johnny. John Vandiver Terrell.”

Vandi knelt before his son and took his shoulders in a gentle grasp. His eyes stung and a breathless laugh escaped his throat. “Johnny. What a fine looking boy you are.” He resisted the urge to sweep the child into his arms in a father-hug—No need to scare the kid to death—but offered a hand and Johnny took it.

“Are you really my daddy?”

Vandi nodded. “I really am.” He looked up at Nicole to see her eyes still brimming and stood up to give her his handkerchief. “How is it that you're here?”

She sniffed and dabbed at her eyes. “When Johnny was four, and he started to look so much like the pictures of you as a little boy, something just clicked inside me and I grew determined to find you. I wanted the two of you to at least meet, even if you didn't develop a relationship. So I started looking for you. I went back to Louisville and started there."

She paused to bring the quaver in her voice under control. "It's a long story but the gist of it is that I moved to Savannah a year ago because I thought that's where you were. Then I found out you were here I already had a job in Savannah so we stayed there, but Verona's only a couple of hours away. Close enough to for me to drive over and find out about you—find out what kind of man you are, find out whether you might have a family, whether you'd be interested in knowing about Johnny.”

“You watched me.”

She nodded.

“I felt you watching me.” He gave another soft, quick laugh, his face dazed as the templates of his very life shifted beneath him. “At the hospital once. And once outside church... I should have known it was you, should have recognized the feeling, but I had been convinced for years you were dead."

"Yes, I watched you enough to know you had no family. Not even girlfriends. It was excruciating to see you, be so near to you, and not make contact. And to know that you must be so terribly lonely.”

His blue eyes roamed her face with awe. “You're more beautiful than I remembered.”
Sudden shyness overtook her and she looked away. But only for a moment and then her eye met his again.

“Have you had supper?” he asked.

“Yes. Johnny and I got burgers and shakes on the way here.”

“Okay. Would you like to go to Howe Street Cafe, for coffee? It's not like this place. It's small, intimate. We can talk there."

“Oh, yes, I'd like that. I'd love it.”

“There's so much I want to know, to ask.” His breath caught as he looked at her, “You're a miracle! They told me you were dead.” His eyes filled and his voice broke on the words. "The frauds, the bastards—they showed me your death certificate. How could they play with lives like that? Cause so much pain and sorrow?”

Pensive, she looked aside, into the distance. “They were going to change the world. Change human nature itself."

She shook her head to dispel the memories and return to the present. She lifted her eyes to him, and he saw in them the vitality and spirit laced with a touch of defiance he had known and loved so long ago.

"They didn't change me," she said. "I never stopped loving you."

Then they were in each other's arms, wrapping each other in a warm, trembling embrace as powerful emotion flowed between them and swirled around them. They separated just enough for Vandi to hoist Johnny into the embrace and the three of them clung to each other, crying softly—tears of pain for a past of sorrow they could do nothing about now, and tears of joy and gratitude for the future of happiness that awaited them.

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