Monday, August 21, 1972,
Rose Crackinbush knew better.
However, the phone call came just before she tore out of the office, saying they would leave the sign on her front porch.
She ought to go straight to the meeting. Doc said this was an opportunity and would be exactly what she needed. That attending would give her another boost toward her goal.
Not that the gathering wasn’t important to her, but this sign was the first tangible piece of the puzzle to go into place, touting that her dream might really come true.
So whether Doc approved or not, she made the detour. Good grief, it was basically a matter of crossing the street since she could see the VFW from her front window.
Rose had left Doctor Carlsen alone at the office while she was supposed to attend a Veterans of Foreign Wars meeting, one that Doc insisted would move her dream closer to reality. That was the plan. It’s what she’d intended to do until that last-minute phone call came through.
But now she had to stop by her new residence and soon-to-be-office to see the sign in person, if only for a moment. Just to touch it.
Okay, maybe that wasn’t quite the truth, but that’s how it felt. Besides, it would only take a couple minutes and she’d be on her way with no one the wiser. And she wouldn’t have to drive across town. Her house was within walking distance of the VFW.
On top of that, Doc had worked solo out of his office for years before Rose came on the scene. And she’d moved patients around so that it should be fairly slow while she was gone. Another few minutes added on wouldn’t hurt him. She repeated that thought to herself to stifle any feelings of guilt.
She couldn’t wait until this evening to come home and check out the sign. She just couldn’t.
No matter what her watch said.
Oh, she was cutting it close.
Rose parked in front of her aging Victorian and raced from her car up the old concrete steps to her open wrap-around porch. There, leaning against the house behind her swing, sat the package.
It was heavier than she expected, so she balanced it on a white railing as she removed a portion of the covering, then gasped.
Dr. Rose Anna Crackinbush, DC
This was real.
Of course, she had been treating patients with Doc for a few months now, and she even had returnees who requested her. This is what the two of them were aiming for—to get her set up so she’d finally be able to open her own practice here, in her very own location.
Staring at the sign that would hopefully soon grace the front of her house caused her tunnel vision. Everything else blurred away. Time screeched to a halt.
This carved-out instant was the best. Ever.
She’d read about people falling in love and imagined that it must be sort of like this. There was no way it could be better. In fact, she couldn’t conceive of anything surpassing this magic moment.
“Miss? Yoo-hoo, Miss!”
The world rushed back along with the realization that she needed to skedaddle. A glance at her watch told her she still might make it. Maybe.
“Hey, there. Are you alright?”
Rose turned to the voice to find an elderly lady waving a hankie and calling from the porch next door. “Oh, sorry. How can I help you?” Please don’t need me.
“I was wondering if you’ve seen my cat. Her name is Miss Kitty, and she’s an indoor little girl.” The concern came through loud and clear. “I’ve searched inside the house and just know something awful’s going to happen if I don’t find her.”
Rose glanced around her porch and then over the railings, finally spotting an orange, fluffy-looking mound. “I think I see her.” She returned the sign to where the messenger had left it and tiptoed down her front steps to the azalea bush. “Here, Miss Kitty. That’s a nice girl. Come to me now.”
Pfft! The cat shot out her paw.
Rose narrowly got her hand out of the way in time. Little monster. Another peek had her amending her thought. Big, fat monster.
“She’s here, but she doesn’t seem to like me.” Rose straightened.
“Oh, that’s just how she plays. Nothing to worry about. Miss Kitty is as sweet as her namesake.” The neighbor didn’t move toward them. Why didn’t she come rescue her own cat?
Neighbors should get along with each other, and Rose wanted amicable relations with hers. But she also needed to be at that meeting. With her hands on her hips and an ill-disguised huff, she took another gander behind the bush. Where was Matt Dillon when she needed him?
Miss Kitty comfortably groomed her tail.
She’d probably get nailed and end up walking into the meeting with deep scratches, but she had to put a stop to this now. Okay, once more, with fortitude. Rose stooped and this time she reached in quick.
“Bad Miss Kitty.” Rose held on tight. So did the cat. Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!
The neighbor met her at the top of her porch steps. “Oh, thank you so much. You can bring her inside for me.”
“Sorry, but I’m in a hurry. Can’t you just take her?” She didn’t want to be lured into the house, tricked into being company for a lonely old woman. Rose had places to go, things to do, a meeting she shouldn’t be late for. Besides, Miss Kitty’s nails were taking up residence in her forearms.
“She slips out of my arms these days. Guess I just don’t have the strength I used to.”
Sounded like someone who could use Rose’s services. However, not this minute. She carried the cat to the door and the woman held it open.
“Will you be able to keep her inside if I set her down?”
“Follow me. You can put her in her carrier.” Rose’s neighbor led her to the back of the house where the wire cage sat on the kitchen table.
After unloading and locking the naughty Miss Kitty in her jail, Rose turned to go.
“Oh, my, I didn’t think she’d get you so bad. Let me find some Merthiolate for you.”
“No, no, thank you.” Just the thought burned worse than the scratches. Besides, now she wasn’t going to make the first part of the meeting. “Since Miss Kitty is where she belongs, I really ought to scoot. I’m running late.”
“Oh, and I’ve kept you. I’m so sorry.” The neighbor walked Rose to her front door. “Please stop by any time, and thank you for rescuing Miss Kitty.”
“That’s okay. It was nice meeting you.” Rose got as far as the sidewalk.
“But I didn’t give you my name, and I don’t know yours.”
She turned and forced a smile. “Sorry. I just moved in not that long ago. I’m Dr. Crackinbush.”
“Oh, a doctor, and I’ve held you up. Probably from an emergency. Just tell them Amelia Whitehead is to blame. You must be fresh out of medical school.”
Rose shook her head, wiggled her fingers in a quick wave, and hustled to her car before she let the comment drudge up unintended offense.
While gripping her Pontiac Fury’s passenger door handle, she got a good look at her arms and hands. Deep red furrows had appeared and traveled down her forearms. Although blood didn’t pour out, it oozed somewhat. Now she’d have to stop at a restroom to rinse off and hope that would be enough. She needed to remember to keep a first aid kit in her glove box, or at least Band-Aids in her purse. She was a medical professional, for goodness sakes. Rose grabbed her bag and locked her car.
The VFW building sat across the street and down about three houses on the corner. Not far, but since she was already late, she didn’t want to add to it.
After walking halfway around the old building, she found the entrance. By now, her feet were screaming at her from her pretty, strappy wedges.
This was so not her plan for the day as she got ready this morning. The sigh spilled out.
Still, these were the shoes she needed. Any device to help add height to her petite frame kept men from looking down on her.
As long as she didn’t break her ankle, sprinting like an Olympian, of course.
Turned out the restroom was just inside the door, and she made a beeline there to try to remedy Miss Kitty’s damage. Once she’d run water over them, her wounds didn’t look quite so raw. She patted them down with a paper towel, thankful this place was more hygienic and not sporting one of those fabric loops for drying hands. They must not have a lot of women on the premises, because with its shiny white porcelain and pink hued walls the ladies’ room looked almost new.
She’d done the best she could. Now to get in there. Rose dropped the paper towel in the trash.
Signs pointed toward a conference room on the other side of the foyer. She made her way, opening the door as quietly as possible, and slipped into the first vacant seat.
The man beside her flashed a smile.
Why, of course, he did.
Pause a minute, girl. Maybe he was merely being friendly. Nah, even if that were true, she’d been through enough to not trust a male right off the bat, no matter how affable his grin. Or how much he resembled Chad Everett.
He handed her a program.
Rose missed seeing any on her way in and nodded her thanks.
As she scanned the plan for today’s meeting, she noted the special presentation. There was the reason Doc encouraged her to come. Very interesting. And she hadn’t missed it.
A new speaker arose at the podium. “I too, want to welcome you. Could we take a moment and have a show of hands for those who are here for the first time?”
About four others raised their arms, along with Rose and the man next to her.
He leaned closer, his voice dropped to a whisper. “I had a feeling.” Now he held out his palm. “Brett Shoffner. You?”
Rose glanced to the front. Was anyone looking their way? No. She shook the man’s hand, her firm I-mean-business grip. “Dr. Crackinbush. Nice to meet you.”
“Doctor? I am too. What’s your specialty?” His twinkling blue eyes were the same shade as his azure tie against his pale blue dress shirt.
“Let’s talk after.” She nodded toward the man up front.
“Okay.” He turned back, but not before she caught the smirk.
Well, yeah, he’d been smiling before, but she could tell the difference. Even heard his thoughts. A woman doctor. Right.
The speaker continued. “… and with this bequeath, we are to interview several of you in the medical field. You do not have to be a veteran to be eligible, but having a heart for our vets would go a long way. The plan is to put together a varied team of specialists to form a group to monitor and treat our members. We’re building an expansion here where you would have offices. Now we realize that you all have your own practices, but depending on how many of you we select to be a part of this, we’ll divide this bequest between you, allowing you to set up a schedule and donate time so that our guys here have medical personnel who’ll oversee the program. There is also a chunk of money that can provide for materials and supplies for each one chosen to be part of this co-op. If this piques your curiosity, please come see me afterward. Thank you.”
The speaker stepped away and the first man returned.
Rose half listened to him as she entertained the thought of claiming a position on that medical team. Doc had been right. This could help in a lot of ways, and she should be part of it. She had a growing practice—slow growing, but still. And helping the vets wasn’t such a bad idea. It would open opportunities for her to meet others who might become patients.
“… so we are looking for volunteers to aid in this fact-finding project.”
This was her chance, a moment to prove she cared. Rose shot her hand up.
So did the guy next to her. Brett.
The speaker looked their way. “Great! You two were first, so come see me after the meeting, and I’ll get you the particulars. Thank you. And now, feel free to grab a cup of coffee and a cookie donated by Puckett’s.”
He stepped away and the low rumble of voices in conversation filled the void.
“We’d better go find him. By the way, what happened to your hands and arms? Looks like Elsa the lioness attacked you.” Brett sang “Born Free,” until Rose put up her hand. Andy Williams he wasn’t.
“My neighbor’s cat got out, but it’s okay.”
“Happy to examine your wounds if you want. Remember, I’m also a doctor, a general practitioner. By the way, you never told me your specialty.”
Here we go. Rose opened her mouth, but before she could utter a sound, the speaker hailed them. “Thank you for volunteering, and right out of the gate, so to speak. I’m Frank Brown, and my law group is overseeing this whole venture. It’s such a large bequest and the stipulations are stringent.” He reached out to shake hands.
She grabbed ahold first. “Dr. Rose Crackinbush.”
That touch of smirk teased Brett’s lips again as he shook Frank’s hand. “I’m Dr. Brett Shoffner. Glad to be here. You said this is a fact-finding project?”
“Yes. Not every veteran in town is a current member of the VFW, though they may qualify. We want to investigate if there are more vets who would benefit from having medical assistance here on site.”
Rose buzzed to jump at the chance. It was more than something to build her business. Veterans, like her grampa had been, were dear to her heart. “How do you see us doing that?”
“Here’s the idea we came up with. We have a list of various citizens who’ve served in the military but currently aren’t members. If you check in with them, request they do a quick verbal survey with you—the questions are on the back of the page—then record their answers and return it to me. That’s it. Maybe start by phoning for an appointment, but assure them that your inquiries are brief. We would just like to know if this would interest them and what has kept them from joining.”
“Oh, I see. How do you suggest we divvy up the work?” Rose was all for splitting the names. Divide and conquer. At least she wouldn’t have to spend as much time with this nosy Joe Gannon wannabe. Kokomo was not L.A., and though the hospitals here were good ones, they didn’t compare to TV’s Medical Center.
“Actually, we really liked that you two chose to work together. We figure that a team approach would be better, and having it be a man and woman, making it feel more like family—and that’s how we hope the vets feel here, like family—might help them decide to join.”
Being chosen for her gender was almost as bad as being blocked because of it. Rose’s blood pressure kicked up another ten points. “So you want us to work together. With each one?”
Brett shrugged. “That won’t be so hard. We can do it. When do you need the data?”
Frank looked past them and raised a finger. “I have to speak with someone, but here’s the list.” He glanced at the paper, a last-minute scan. “Just get it back to me in two weeks? I know you both have your own practices, but I’m hopeful this will go quick.”
Rose knew that look. The guy assumed Brett would be in charge.
“It’s been nice meeting you. Good luck.” He threw the last two words over his shoulder as he shoved the list into Brett’s hand.
So Mr. Frank Brown wasn’t as enlightened as he pretended. She should’ve known.
“Well, Dr. Crackinbush, would you like to go with me to figure this out? Or do you trust me to manage things?” The corner of Brett’s mouth twitched as if the whole thing were a giant joke.
“I think we need to plan this together. Or I’m happy to be in charge.” She smiled sweetly.
“Well then, maybe we could grab a cup of coffee and come up with something?” Brett’s smile finally appeared more genuine, friendly.
Rose supposed she’d have to, since he didn’t like the idea of her taking the lead. Might as well get it over with. As long as this counted toward her winning a place on the team. “Kresge’s isn’t far.”
“Kresge’s it is.” He opened the door for her, pausing until she walked through.
Okay. Two could play this game. Rose made it to the exit doors first, holding one out for him.
And waited to see if he’d walk through.
Boy, oh, boy could he pick ’em.
Brett shook his head before motioning Dr. Crackinbush through the door. If he’d heard it once, he’d heard it a million times. Ladies first. And this women’s libber wasn’t about to change all the work his mother had poured into making him a gentleman.
“I’ve got it. You can go on.” Her determined green eyes flashed a dare.
Brett needed to get along with the lady. So he swallowed his pride, hoped no one he knew saw him, and exited the building, making sure that he was on the outside of the sidewalk while they walked to the lunch counter at the small department store.
Was everything going to be a challenge? Oh, man, he hoped not. He needed to find some kind of neutral ground. “You mentioned your first name is Rose. May I call you that?”
She pressed her lips tighter, but then nodded. “I guess. You probably want me to call you Brett then?”
“That or Omar Sharif. That would work just as well.” He dazzled her with a smile—or attempted to.
Her persimmon expression told him he hadn’t succeeded.
He cleared his throat. “Sure, Brett is fine. So, have you always lived in Kokomo?”
“No. My family is from Lafayette.” No elaborating, no pleasant reciprocal questions.
“I grew up near here. Ever hear of Russiaville? For those who pronounce it like it’s written, Russia Ville, I’m here to set the record straight. Roosh-a-ville.”
“Lafayette isn’t that far away. I know about Russiaville. Especially about eight years ago when that tornado hit.” She never looked at him, just continued ahead, her pace keeping him moving.
Rose would never understand what her words had done to his gut, twisting it into knots. She’d mentioned the tornado as if it were merely another storm. Only he remembered. Far too well.
Now she glanced at him. Was that concern in her gaze? Guess he’d been too quiet.
They’d arrived at their destination, and he wasn’t about to let her hold this door for him. Brett reached around her to grab the handle.
Rose shot him a glare. Or maybe he read more into it because she also said, “Thank you,” before heading into the store and making a hard right toward the lunch counter.
Brett followed and took a seat next to her. “Two coffees, please.” He held up two fingers before turning to Rose. “How do you like yours?”
“Paid for with my own money.”
Geez Louise. He’d never met a woman so prickly. “I apologize. It was my idea. I invited you and wouldn’t have done so if I didn’t intend to pay. I’m not trying to buy your good will, just being polite.”
Rose sighed and her expression softened. “You’re right. Now, I apologize. I’ve had too many people—men—try to take over for me as if I haven’t a brain. I can pay twenty cents for a cup of coffee, but I appreciate your kindness.”
“Let’s start over. I don’t know how we ended up like a couple of porcupines, but certainly we can get along just fine, working together on this project.” He stuck out his right palm. “Hello, I’m Brett Shoffner, a local general practitioner and fun guy—not fungi as in mushroom.” He winked and hoped that would help.
She shook his hand, just as strong as the first time, and the corner of her mouth sort of twitched. She’d be very pretty if she really smiled. “I’m Rose Crackinbush, a local doctor of chiropractic—”
“Chiropractor? I thought you said you were a doctor.” Oh, boy. That slipped from his brain and out his mouth way too fast to stop it.
From the storm clouds filling her eyes, he should have tried harder.
The room grew silent as she smoothed out her tan linen skirt. He could imagine she counted to ten in her mind before she dropped her voice to just above a whisper. “The regulatory bodies have been overseeing chiropractic for over fifty years and consider it a long-accepted practice. Before I received my license, I had to meet rigorous educational and competency standards set forth by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners and the state of Indiana. My training after finishing my undergraduate degree was as lengthy as your medical school training. I’ll have you know I earned my title of doctor, at the top of my class, mind you, and no one, especially some joke-telling MD, will treat me as if I am a quack. I don’t even possess sugar pills.”
The lightning sure flashed in those gorgeous green eyes of hers. It was almost worth her ire to see the storm surge. He could even overlook her less-than-stellar view of his humor. “Again, I apologize. My aim was not to attack your intelligence. But you can understand how cracking someone’s back … Cracking.” He stared and knew, just as sure as the coyote would fall prey to his plans for the roadrunner, he was about to get into more trouble. A whole lot of trouble.
But he couldn’t help himself.
“You really are Cracklin’ Rosie.”
Rose dug in her purse and slapped two dimes on the counter before spinning off the stool and marching for the exit. Spine straight, shoulders back.
He probably shouldn’t have said that.
You don’t say? Brett’s mother’s voice whispered in his head that he should run after her and apologize for the third time. Three’s the charm, right? But Rose was too hot to handle at this point.
He’d call her this evening and try groveling again. Maybe.
But a chiropractor? Come on. What did she think he would say? And with that profession and a name like Rose Crackinbush, what was he supposed to say?
You were supposed to keep that giant mouth of yours shut and those silly thoughts locked up in your brain.
Thanks, Alma. As if he couldn’t figure that out already. It was bad enough hearing his mom correct him. Why did he need his big sister in his head too?
It wasn’t the first time his mouth had gotten the rest of him in trouble. You’d think he’d have learned by now. But seriously. Rose Crackinbush, Chiropractor. Didn’t that just scream Cracklin’ Rosie to everyone? Someone? Anyone?
He drained his coffee and left a good tip along with payment before beating a path out of there.
Even though his stalwart receptionist/secretary/everything-that-the-office-needed-besides-a-nurse (or doctor) Belinda had cleared his afternoon in order for him to take the VFW meeting, he had scads of work waiting for him. He might as well head there and use the quiet of the afternoon to finish up paperwork.
Brett retrieved his car from where he’d parked and headed toward his office off South LaFountain.
It still sounded weird to call it his office. It had been Dr. Eilert’s for as long as he could recall, even back when he was a little kid getting his shots and vaccinations for elementary school.
Oskar. That’s what the good doctor wanted to be called these days.
Brett needed to remember they were colleagues now. Peers. Sort of. Dr. Eilert would always be his mentor and the man who saved his life. Nothing about taking over the established practice changed that.
He pulled into the office lot and parked in his designated spot. Belinda’s white 1966 Ford Custom was still there. That woman was a workhorse, and Brett learned more each day why he was blessed she’d stayed on. He’d given Pam, his nurse, the afternoon off since he wasn’t sure what time the meeting might get out. Now he wished he hadn’t. There might be an emergency. But his colleague, Dr. Forrester, agreed to handle anything urgent that came up this afternoon, so it should be quiet. As long as no one noticed his Buick Wildcat in its space.
“Hey Boss, how was it?” Belinda’s original smiling face, surrounded by photos of her kids and grandkids sporting the same toothy grin, welcomed him back.
“The meeting itself wasn’t bad but …”
“But what? Something happen?” Now she was all concern with two furrows sprouting between her shapely eyebrows. She tucked her salt and pepper hair behind her ears, a sure sign she was worried and ready to do battle for him.
Should he tell her? Why not? Get an unbiased opinion. “What comes to mind when you hear the name Rose Crackinbush, DC?”
“Oh, she’s a chiropractor?”
“Yeah, but doesn’t that remind you of something?” He leaned in a little, his hand moving as if to pull the correct answer from his audience.
Belinda shrugged. “Should it?”
“Neil Diamond’s ‘Cracklin’ Rosie.’”
She peered back.
“Don’t you get it?”
Now her cheeks lost color. “Please tell me you didn’t say that out loud.” She stared at him, and he knew she read the answer in his eyes without him forming a word. “You did.” Belinda groaned while covering her face with her fingers.
“What is so horrible about that?”
“Boss, I need to tell you something, and promise me you won’t fire me for it.” She took his hand and patted it, just like his mother would. “You are not as funny as you think you are.”
He tried to pull his hand back and defend himself, but she held on and overrode him. “Now those of us who love you can find some things humorous, but I’m betting this was your first conversation with this Rose person. Am I right? Please hear me. You’ve gotta know your audience, or one of these days I’ll be visiting you in the ER because you said the wrong thing at the wrong time.”
Belinda gasped, then chuckled and smacked his arm. “You couldn’t function without me.”
“Oh, if only that weren’t true. Fine. But don’t speak to me unless it’s an emergency. I need to suffer in my office. Not funny? That was harsh, Belinda.” He shook his head but couldn’t help the tiny smile. She only confirmed what he knew all along. Rose was not the type of person to tease like that.
But not funny? He’d show her funny. Just wait and see.
He started through his stack of to-do work—some he’d left for himself, and some Belinda had added because it required his signature or attention. Usually there weren’t enough minutes during the day to get at this. He really ought to hire an office manager who could manage the medical things Belinda couldn’t.
Pam had the qualifications, just not the time. Nor the inclination, for that matter. She was a working mom with school-aged kids. Staying to deal with paperwork deprived her family of their only parent. Belinda was in a similar situation—employed here because she had to be—though her offspring were now grown with little ones of their own.
That got Brett to thinking. Why did Rose feel like she had to work? Wouldn’t she prefer to stay home with her children when she and her spouse started their family? True, he hadn’t noticed a ring on her finger, but most women wanted that, right? A husband, a house, and a bunch of kids in the white-picket surrounded yard?
Okay, maybe that was presumptive of him. But it shouldn’t lessen a woman’s intelligence to care for the next generation. Didn’t children deserve moms at home to be there for them when they needed a parent?
Brett knew before he voiced any of this not to do it in front of a female. Today’s women were sure they could do it all, and without a man. Yeah, right. There were a few things that still required the male of the species, so he didn’t think his gender would become extinct like the Dodo, but he could envision a poster touting scarcity of the obsolete gentleman.
The train of his thinking made him depressed. Somewhere out there, there had to exist an old-fashioned girl who would love to marry a funny—
You’re not funny. Belinda’s voice invaded his musings.
What were the women in his life doing? Having a coffee klatch in his brain?
He tried again. Somewhere out there existed an old-fashioned woman who would succumb to his charms and want to build a home together. It had worked for his parents. Even when his dad was stationed overseas.
It wasn’t a matter of a female being weak or brainless. His mother was neither. But she found satisfaction and happiness in raising her family and creating a loving haven for them all.
He needed an old-fashioned girl, like his mother.
Was that too much to ask?