Chapter 26

“But, Mommy, I liked Doctor Hat!” Caitlin sulked.

“I know, Caity-Cat, but Dr. Hatherly is retired now. He’s no longer at the clinic. Doctor Mott took his place. You’ll like him.”

Caitlin wore her pink coat, with the matching pink earmuffs and mittens. She stuffed her hands in her pockets and slowed her walk so that I was almost dragging her along. It had started snowing and lazy flakes settled on our shoulders.

“Caitlin, come on. You’ll like him. Trust me.”

We finally arrived at the warm clinic and shook off the cold. Connie greeted us wearing a short, checkered red shirt and green jacket.

“Hi, Caitlin. Long time no see!”

“Hi,” Caitlin said, her attention on the small wrapped boxes under the Christmas tree in the corner.

“Caitlin’s a little upset that Dr. Hat is not here anymore,” I said, trying to explain Caitlin’s subdued manner.

“Well, Caitlin, I think you’ll like Dr. Mott. Your mommy sure does.”

I flashed Connie a piercing look.

Gail came down the hall and called Caitlin, “Hi, Sweetie. We haven’t seen you for a while. Are you ready for Dr. Mott to check for sugar bugs?”

We walked together to the back room. I hoisted Caitlin into the dental chair and sat on the wicker one in the corner.

“Here’s a pair of glasses for you to wear today.” Gail handed Caitlin ruby-rimmed safety glasses. “So have you been brushing every day?”

Caitlin nodded.

Gail put on purple plastic gloves, rotated the chair back and positioned the overhead mirror so Caitlin could watch. “Let’s have a look inside.”

Caitlin opened her mouth wide and let Gail poke around with a silver instrument. Gail counted her teeth out loud as she touched each tooth.

“It looks like you may be getting a visit from the Tooth Fairy soon, Caitlin." She used the tip of her finger to wiggle a front tooth.

Caitlin’s eyes lit up.

“Well, everything looks good to me. Dr. Mott will be in shortly.”

Gail stood up and pressed a round button as she left the room.

“Did you hear that, Mommy? The Tooth Fairy!”

It wasn’t a moment later that Dr. Mott entered the room. He gave me a playful smile and bumped my knee as he passed by. “Well, hello, Miss Caitlin. What brings you here today?”

“I wanted Dr. Hat.”

I lifted my shoulders in apology.

“Yes, I can understand. Dr. Hatherly was a great dentist. Did you know that he’d been at this clinic for over thirty years?”

Caitlin didn’t flinch.

Bill tried a different approach. “Dr. Hat left me a list of his most favorite patients.”

Caitlin perked up a bit.

“He asked me to be extra nice to his favorite patients. And do you know what, Caitlin?”

She shook her head left to right.

“He had your name at the top of the list! That means that you get an extra toy out of the treasure box today.”

Caitlin beamed.

“Do you want to be on the top of my best patient list?”

Caitlin looked at him sideways.

“I have a pack of gum for my best patients. Would you like this?”

Caitlin nodded. She loved gum.

“Okay, let’s get started.” Bill sat at the chair and leaned in to look at Caitlin’s teeth. “Mmm, hmmm. Looks good. I don’t see any sugar bugs. I bet your mommy helps you to brush your teeth every day.”

“Mommy showed me, but I brush my own teeth,” Caitlin said proudly.

“Well that moves you to the top of the list!” Bill reached into his white coat pocket and produced a pack of sugarless spearmint gum. “Here you go.”

“Thank you,” Caitlin said with a gleam in her eye.

“You’ve been a great patient, Caitlin. You can go get yourself two prizes from the box.”

Caitlin took off her glasses and handed them to Bill. She hopped off the chair and skipped over to the treasure box.

“You spoiled her!” I said out of earshot.

“Hey, she happens to be at the top of my list. You’re at the top of my other list.”

“Other list?” I asked.

“See you behind the desk at noon?”

I twirled the hair of my ponytail around my finger and said, “I’ll be here.”

Once outside, Caitlin skipped along beside me. “Mommy, I like Doctor Mott.”

“So do I, Caity-Cat. So do I.”


Later that night, I settled down on the couch with my favorite pair of blue track pants with the hole in the left knee and faded sweatshirt, a hot chocolate in one hand and a big bowl of popcorn in the other. Blue-Casey lay on his back with his legs splayed beside me. Caitlin was sleeping in the next room when the door buzzer sounded. Startled, I flipped my bowl and spilled popcorn all over the carpet. Who could be calling at this hour?

“Yes?” I spoke into the intercom.

“Heather? Hi, sorry to barge in like this. Can I come up?”

“Who is it?”

“What? Oh, sorry. It’s Bill.”

“Bill? What are you doing here?” My knees sagged.

“I’d like to explain, but not while standing here in the apartment lobby. Can I come up?”

“Yeah, sure. I guess. Come up.” I buzzed him in.

Moments later a quiet tap sounded on the door. I peeked through the hole and confirmed it was Bill.

I opened the door and invited him in. “I’m afraid you’ve caught me off guard. I was just settling in to watch a movie.”

Bill smiled and his dimples melted my heart. “Again, sorry. I just had to see you.” He leaned over to untie his shoes. “What movie are you watching?” He took off his jacket. I could smell the leather.

“Oh, nothing, really. Just a comedy I rented. It can wait.” I bent over to pick up popcorn pieces. “Can I get you something to drink?”

“Sure. I’ll have whatever you’re drinking.”

My hot chocolate no longer looked hot. “How about a tea?”

“Great, thanks.” Bill followed me into the small kitchen.

Sensing his bulk behind me I fumbled with the tea bags. I kept my back to him. “You had to see me?”

“Heather,” he lightly touched my elbow, “I know the old cliché that people shouldn’t have office romances, but I’m falling in love with you.”

Shocked, I let the teapot slide from my hand. It crashed against the counter top and water spilled everywhere.

“Oh, my goodness!” I leaned over to grab the towel hanging from the fridge door handle and bumped into Bill doing the same.

“Sorry!” he exclaimed, baring his teeth in a grin while he cleaned up the water.

He had rung the towel over the sink and let the excess water squeeze out. Then he slowly turned to face me. “May I?” He gestured to the other chair.

“Yes, of course.”

Bill pulled the chair out and straddled it, resting his arms on the back. “Heather, I’m sorry. I feel like a teenage kid. I just don’t know how to act. You make me feel so goofy.” He looked at the floor and continued. “I knew it the first time I saw you behind the desk at the clinic. But I didn’t have the courage to say anything. And honestly, I didn’t think I was ready for another relationship.” He lifted his eyes to look piercingly into my own.

“Oh, Bill.” I managed to squeak. “It’s just so complicated. This whole horror with Caitlin. It’s just not a good time.”

His voice was low and intimate, “Heather. Forget that. I wanna help. I’m coming into this with my eyes open wide. I know that an office romance is frowned upon. I know that you are still in the middle of all this. I know what I want.”

Bill approached me, reached toward my neck and fingered the chain necklace I wore.

“You don’t even know me,” I whispered.

Bill stood beside my chair and combed his hair with his fingers. “I want to get to know you more. Is that too much to ask?”

Timidly I said, “We’ll take it slow?”

A crooked grin spread across his face. He said, “Is this slow enough?” and leaned in to brush my cheek with a kiss.