At The Raleigh (Niki & Gerald Go Out for Drinks)

Chapter 49

In an upscale restaurant overlooking Santa Monica Bay, I’m standing behind a long table. Every seat is filled with PICU nurses, and staff from other departments celebrating Kris’s bridal shower. Above the chatter and laughter, Kris holds up a scanty piece of lacy lingerie, a gift inciting a round of cell phone photos from the group.

Gerald sidled next to me, “Hey girlfriend, you’ve been working that same drink for an hour. Can I bring you something fresh?”

I smile at his thoughtfulness, “No thanks, this is fine.”

“How are you holding up, Niki? I’m worried about you.”

“Huh? I’m fine. Why are you worried about me?”

“I’m thinking how you might feel: Kris is getting married, your ex-husband is getting married. And Corey moved to Seattle with his family. You know.”

I didn’t know Gerald knew.

“You knew about me and Corey?”

“It was pretty obvious, especially when our group beer breakfasts ended.”

“I’m sorry Gerald. I haven’t been a very good friend lately, especially to you and Liz. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry Niki. I’m thinking you’re the one who needs friends now.”

Liz joins us. She’s carrying her purse.

“Leave it to Kris to live large,” remarks Liz. “I wish I was as fearless about life.”

“Why do you assume that quitting your job, and marrying a rock star to take care of his mother on tour is a risk?” asks Gerald.

The three of us pause to think about it, and then bust out laughing.

“So Niki, when’s Simon getting remarried?” asks Liz.

“Next week.”

“How are you doing? Does it feel weird?”

“A little. Maddie’s so excited about it. Amber took her shopping for a dress, and I realized she has a stepmother now. I’m trying to see it as a positive, you know, like another adult caring about my daughter’s welfare, but sometimes I think  Maddie’s comparing us.”

“You’ll always be her mother, Niki. Nothing will ever change that,” says Liz.

“I know.”

Someone pops a bottle of champagne, while Kris cuts pieces of cake passed around to the guests. A server brings the check. I notice Dr. Polk takes it and places his credit card into the leatherette folder without looking over the bill.

“You leaving Liz?”

“Yeah. I gotta get home, and check Nathan.”

“I was just telling Niki that the three of us should go out this weekend. Have drinks, some fun, and get our group back together. Are you in Liz?”

“I’d love too, but Nathan’s grounded, which means I am too. He’s been in some trouble lately, so I’m staying close to home.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Anything I can do to help?”

“No,” says Liz, “but thanks for offering.”

“Well Niki, it looks like it’s you and me. Do you like cabaret?”

“I don’t know.”

“Meet me at the Raleigh on Saturday night, and let’s find out. Prepare for a good time.”

* * *

At the Raleigh, I hand my car key to a valet, grateful I don’t have to search for parking. Gerald’s at the club’s entrance, wearing a black v-necked tee, designer jeans, a grey sports jacket slung over one shoulder. His hair and light beard are neatly groomed. He smells nice when I hug him. I’m glad I decided to wear a little black dress, and pumps.

“Gerald, you clean up real nice!” I kissed his cheek.

“You too darling. I don’t know how toned your legs are when I only see you in scrubs. Love the heels.”

Gerald holds the door, and then takes me by the elbow, guiding us to a small table near the stage. A server in black slacks, and bow tie, but otherwise shirtless, instantly sets a scotch rocks in front of Gerald, and then waits for my order. “I’ll have a gin and tonic please.”

“Put it on my tab,” says Gerald, handing the server a bill, which he tucks into the waistband of his pants before walking away.

“I’ve never been to a male strip club,” I admit. “Or a female strip club either, for that matter”

“There’s a first time for everything,” laughs Gerald. “I think you’re going to have fun.”

Looking around, I agree. The dimly lit lounge is spacious. Couples and foursomes of men and women occupy the small tables surrounding the stage. Beyond the tables the bar is bustling and a small wooden dance floor already teems with people dancing to the heavy beat of music. Others stand around with drinks in hand, talking. In the far back a large group of women appear to be celebrating a birthday: gift wrapped packages and bottles of wine in velvet bags are piled in front of one of them.

The server returns with my drink, and places a small plate of cheeses, sliced meats, and bruschetta on the table. I notice there’s glitter on his chest.

“On the house,” he says.

“Tell Rubio, thanks,” instructs Gerald.

“You know the owner?”

“Yes. That’s how we scored a reservation for this table.”

“Very cool.”

The rest of the evening is almost a blur. The entertainers performed individually and then in groups. Our server keeps bringing us drinks. Buzzed, Gerald points out that if I look towards the stage through the bottom of his empty glass, “Things will appear larger.”

Laughing and nearly as buzzed, I wonder out loud, “What does it mean if you and I find the same dancers attractive, Gerald?”

“Does it matter?”

“No, it doesn’t matter at all.”

You Remember What Night Shift’s Like (Niki & Kris Talk)

Chapter 48

 The following morning, I gave report to Kris, beginning with what I hoped she would interpret as an apology,

“Kris, I just want to say again that I’m really happy about your engagement. You must be super excited about going on tour with Spider.”

She smiled, and then added shrewdly, “Thanks Niki, but I get the feeling you have more to say on the subject.”

Busted, I decided to charge ahead,  “Aren’t you at all worried about giving up your nursing job? I mean you’re really a great PICU nurse. Do you think you’ll miss it?”

“What you mean is, ‘Aren’t you worried that marrying a rock star is a little crazy, and what if the marriage doesn’t work’?” replied Kris. “That’s the fun of being alive, isn’t it Niki? A willingness to be surprised. Letting go of things so you can go to the next adventure. I’ve tried many things in my life, and lived in most of the United States. Not everything has worked out, but I’m still standing, no worse for wear. I’m not the kind of person to put down roots for too long anyway.”

Maybe because I’ve been up all night, or maybe because I won’t see Kris much more, I let my guard down, “Do you ever worry that in the end you’ll be all alone?”

Kris’s upper lip begins to curl into laughter, but meeting my gaze, she changes her mind. “You mean, like when you die?”

“Maybe, I’m not sure what I mean exactly, but sometimes I wonder what the right choices for my life are; if I’m doing the things I’m supposed to do, or if I’m missing the point.”

My words don’t make a lot of sense, even to me. “I guess I worry a little that it will end, and I haven’t lived the life I want, or maybe I’m not living life right.”

“I’m not sure what you mean. Right by who’s standard, Niki? Like God? Like the life your parents wanted you to choose? Who’s standard of what’s right or wrong are you judging yourself by?”

I realize I’ve said more than I’d intended. “I’m just tired Kris. You remember what night shift’s like.”

Kris looks at me brightly, and then her eyes soften. “It’s hard being a nurse, taking care of everyone all the time, feeling as though you always have to have all the answers,” she says. “Don’t over think things, Niki. It doesn’t take much to wreck the best-laid plans: a car accident, a cancer diagnosis, or a debilitating disease. Try having more fun, and let go of some the responsibility for healing the world. Have you thought about transferring to day shift? Someone has to take my place. It might open up more of a social life for you.”

“Oh, I don’t know if I’d like day shift,” I hedge. “Too many phones, the doctors overrun the place on day shift.  I’d be expected to join committees.”

“Suit yourself, it was just a thought,” retorts Kris. “So tell me about this kid. Another case of measles? How many does that make this year?”