Chapter 1

Copyright© 2015 by angiquesophie

Drama Sex Story: Chapter 1 - "We have insurance," she said, looking at the bill. The doctor shrugged. It made his jowls tremble. "I know," he said. "This is after insurance, though." The absurdity hit her. She giggled. "We could never pay that." Her voice sounded higher than she intended. His smile reached his eyes. "Oh yes, " he said. "You could."

Caution: This Drama Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Reluctant   Heterosexual  

The ancient Greeks blamed Fate for all the twists and turns in their lives. We modern men don't like that. We make our own Fate, we say – we have our own responsibility. Happiness is a choice. And the Gods laugh.

The cab driver that took Juliana to the clinic must have been from a more gallant era. He opened her door and helped her out of the car. She smiled shyly, accepting his hand. Her foot found the pebbled surface of the driveway.

"Thank you," she whispered, searching for money in her wallet. She would have given him a bigger tip, but things being as they were, well ... The man smiled under his moustache and said: "De nada. Thank you very much, and have a wonderful day, señora." The pebbles crunched under his car's wheels as he drove off. She was alone again, except for the load that weighed on her shoulders. Turning on her heels, she walked over to the quiet villa where she had her appointment.

Her name was Juliana Austin, née Enders. She'd just turned 20, but her petite frame and very blond hair hardly gave her 16. She would have been beautiful if she'd dared. But Juliana Austin was too shy for that. If she hadn't had her big blue eyes in her pixy face, she might have been invisible.

Hurrying up the few steps, she looked for a bell on the ornate doors. She found it right over a modest sign that told her she'd arrived at the right address. She pressed the button and stepped back to wait for a response. A ray of afternoon sun slipped around the corner and lighted up her hair. It also gave some transparency to her simple summer dress. Her left hand squeezed a white handkerchief into a moist ball.

The door opened. A woman in the professional whites of a nurse stared at her. She didn't smile or say a word, so Juliana cleared her throat and asked for the doctor she had her appointment with. The woman scanned her from top to bottom. Then she opened the door wider and invited her in.

"Sit over there, please," she said. "I'll inform him when he gets in."

Juliana sat down in one of the designer chairs around a table that was strewn with glossy magazines. She touched the face of a wide-mouthed blonde. The silence around her did nothing to sooth her nerves.

Juliana was used to waiting. The stretching minutes caused a silent frustration to grow inside her, but she could handle it. A childhood of obedience guarded her rage.

She'd grown up on a farm in the Midwest – lost under immense skies, miles and miles away from neighbors, let alone towns. She was the youngest of five children ­– four brothers – a fragile girl in an isolated world of silence and hard physical labor. There hadn't been television until she turned sixteen – no sleepovers, no trips to the mall. Travel meant a weekly car ride to church; entertainment was the after-service barbecue. Her mother read a magazine for Christian housewives, her father the local newspaper. Her brothers didn't read at all.

She went to school with her two younger brothers, until a new principal thought that mixing the genders in class would be a healthy idea. She, with a number of neighborhood girls, was home-schooled after that by a woman appointed by their church – who took all guidance from the Bible.

When Juliana turned eighteen she was introduced to Kurt Carlson. Kurt was 32 and the only son of the owner of the local General Store, annex grain mill. She knew him from church, but as he was male and so much older, she'd hardly ever talked with him. So things became awkward when, one balmy summer evening, her parents introduced him to her, and left the two of them on their porch.

Kurt Carlson was large and sweaty, with a pale baby face and reddish hair that already got thin. He seemed as shy as she, fumbling as she invited him to sit with her on the swing. The swing was an old, rickety affair; it creaked under his weight.

Juliana poured lemonade from the old carafe, handing him a glass and taking one herself – if only to have something to focus on. She didn't understand why he should be nervous; she even less understood why she herself was.

"So you are Kurt Carlson of the General Store?" she asked, smiling. He blushed and took a huge gulp from his lemonade. He nodded. Then he gushed:

"And you are very beautiful, Miss Enders."

Juliana knew she shouldn't have giggled. It must have been her nerves, or being called Miss Enders by someone so much older than she. For whatever reason, she couldn't stop giggling. It soon turned into laughter, and Kurt Carlson's face colored crimson. He pushed himself out of the swing, almost making it crash, and ran off.

"What did you say, stupid girl?" her father growled, looming over her. His fist grabbed her wispy blond hair. She felt the sting where his hand had slapped her cheek. Tears burned behind her eyeballs.

"I ... I said nothing," she gasped. Another intended slap was stopped right before it landed.

"Enough, Carl." Her mother's voice was soft and came from the door. The hand relaxed around her hair.

"You think you can do this?" His voice was gravelly. "Be the princess? Get what you want?"

Juliana's head was in turmoil; she had no idea what he meant. Her father plunged down next to her, making the swing protest again. He grabbed her head in his calloused hands, leaning in until his nose almost touched hers.

"You listen," he said, his breath stained with tobacco. "While you were dreaming your little miss princess dreams, we had two failed crops and a disease that cost us fourteen cows. Brian and Jack will have to leave and find work in town." They were her younger brothers. "Will and Jim and I will break our backs to keep the bank at bay. You?" he asked as if it was a question, "you will marry Kurt Carlson and be off our hands before the year is out. Understand?"

"Carl," her mother said. He growled.

"You keep out of this Marie."

"I... ," Juliana squeaked, not knowing what to say. Marry Kurt Carlson? She didn't even know him; she hardly knew herself yet. Her father grinned.

"Aye," he mockingly repeated. "Aye it is."

Juliana knew she could talk with her mother. She could even cry with her, but it wouldn't help. They were both victims of a rude male universe of fathers, brothers and priests – a world of silent one-track righteousness and medieval morality.

"I won't marry him," Juliana said. "I can't."

"You have no choice, sweetheart."

"It's my life. I have plans." Her mother smiled weakly.

"Those were my words," she said, "when I was your age." She brushed a strand of hair out of her daughter's face. "Now look at me."

For the first time Juliana saw her mother as she was – pale and tired. How old was she – in her late forties, maybe? Married at 17 she had five children and two miscarriages in twelve years, doing the household next to working the land with her husband until the first boys were old enough to take over. Her body was the body of a seventy year old; her eyes had lost their sparkle ages ago.

"You must help me," Juliana said. Her mother's eyebrows rose.


"To get away from here."

"But you can't!"

"Why not?"

"I'll be all alone."

Once more Juliana saw her mother like she'd never seen her before. She saw a helpless child – fearful eyes; panic.

"But you'll also be alone when I have to marry this Kurt," she said.

"You'd still be in town," her mother opposed, "in church; close. I'll get to see your children; I can visit."

Hard and bony fingers grabbed Juliana's hands.

"I won't marry Kurt Carlson, mother, " she said. "You must help me run away."

The fear died in her mother's eyes, replaced by a gaze Juliana knew better. She'd always thought it was calmness; now she knew it was resignation.

"Your father will kill me."

Juliana reached out and hugged her mother.

Sitting at the table, leafing through the magazines without seeing much of the long-legged models or what they wore, time passed. Juliana had no idea how long she'd been waiting when she heard the clip-clop of clogs on the marble floor.

"Doctor will see you," the nurse said. No excuse, no smile; just an arm gesturing down the corridor. "First door on the right."

Juliana rose, picking up her bag. She sighed and walked to the distant door.

The room wasn't at all like a doctor's office. It was monumental, with high ceilings, abstract paintings and modern tapestries. The desk was a big black table, simple and austere. Behind it, in a high-backed chair, sat the man she'd been advised to see – Dr. Charrier, neurological surgeon. She estimated him to be fifty. He was large and bulky. His jowls were pink and heavy; his graying hair receded and was slicked back. He rose and extended his hand, smiling. She murmured a greeting.

"Mrs. Austin," he said, gesturing at the one chair in front of the table. "Please sit down." She walked over and sat down, looking across the immense black tabletop. He kept standing.

"I'm so glad to see you," he began. "And yet I'm sad we have to have this conversation." Juliana smiled nervously, squeezing the purse in her lap. The easy authority of the man crept under her skin, finding well-trodden routes.

"As my young colleague told you at the hospital," he went on, picking up a file from the empty table, "your husband's health is, err ... precarious."

His words took her back to yesterday. She relived the shock of finding her husband stretched out on the floor of their kitchen. It was followed by a crazy ride in an ambulance, she holding his cold fingers. Juliana still heard his labored breathing, the sirens, and the beeps of instruments. After that she'd been waiting and waiting in the emergency room. Nurses and doctors ran back and forth through white, clinical spaces, mostly ignoring her. Everything seemed more important than her excruciating uncertainty.

After what felt like hours, a young doctor approached her. He was tall and dark, and had a friendly smile, although his eyebrows were knitted into a frown.

"Mrs. Austin?" he asked. She jumped up and blurted out all the questions she'd amassed in her time of waiting, but he raised a hand and asked her to come with him.

"Your husband has suffered a stroke," he said after they sat down in his tiny office. The words sent a cold rush down her spine.

"Is ... is he... ?" she asked, too scared to finish the sentence. He smiled and shook his head again.

"No, no. He'll live." She sighed.

"He'll live," the doctor repeated. "It was a light stroke, and we are quite confident he'll recover completely. He's a strong man." He echoed her smile that had suddenly appeared on her face, setting off a flood of tears.

"Thank God," she whispered. "And thank you, Dr..."

"Fleming," he said. "Lester Fleming. But there is one more thing I have to tell you."

The cold shiver returned.

"We did scans of your husband's head," he went on, turning his computer her way. She saw rows of similar ovals on the screen. He pointed.

"What you see here – this dark spot – is the blood he lost through the rupture of a small artery. It caused the stroke, but isn't a great danger in itself. It will dissolve and, using the right medicine, he might go on living to be 80." He smiled at her and so did she. Then he pointed at another spot.

"This, however, is a different thing altogether." She couldn't see anything remarkable.

"It is the nucleus of a tumor," he said, watching her startle at the word. "It is benign for now." He saw her relax at that. "But when it decides to grow – maybe tomorrow, maybe next year, maybe never – it will get dangerous and could be fatal. We might be too late by then." He allowed a silence, holding her eyes with his.

"What are you saying, doctor?" she asked at last. He cleared his throat.

"It might be wise to operate on your husband as soon as he's strong enough," he said. She sat and stared; what could she say? A brain operation? Wouldn't that be dangerous? Why operate? He could live to be 80, he told her just minutes ago.

"That will be a great risk," she said. "Does he really have to? You said he could live to a great age." The doctor shrugged.

"I said he might," he said. "And you are right, Mrs. Austin; this is about risks – the risk of complications in surgery versus the risk of an inoperable cancer in the near future." He saw how the word 'cancer' made her wince, just like the word 'tumor' had before.

"I," Juliana said, "I have to talk with my husband. Is he strong enough for that?"

"Of course you must," the doctor said. "But you can't just now. We keep him in an artificial coma, so his brain can recover. I think he'll be out of that in a few days." He smiled as he rose. "Before that you must see my eminent colleague, Dr. Charrier. If your husband has a chance, it is with him. Here, let me give you his address, so you can make an appointment." He gave her a card and led her to the exit. "I think you should go home now," he said, taking her hand in his, "and get some rest yourself. This must have been a hell of a day."

Before leaving the hospital, Juliana went to see her husband. He looked small and fragile in the high bed, caught in a web of tubes. She touched his hand and whispered a prayer.

What about love at first sight? Does it exist? And even if it does, does one recognize it if love never was a commodity in one's life? If the word love wasn't even used? If words had been in short supply anyway?

Juliana Enders fled the farm, wearing her dark coat and carrying her small cardboard suitcase. Using the few dollars her mother gave her, she went looking for a bus in the nearest town. The first one available took her to Chicago. It happened to be the only one.

The city scared her; she'd never seen so many people at one place. The noise was overwhelming – the cars, the stink. Picking at a sandwich she'd bought at the station, she sat down on a bench studying the scrap of paper her mother gave her. It held a name and an address. They must be family, although she'd never met them – a cousin, her mother said.

Walking over to a street map, she tried to unravel the maze it presented. "You are here," an arrow pointed out. It could have been anywhere.

"Can I help you, Miss?" a male voice said. It made her jump. She turned and found the face of an elderly black man. Where she'd lived there were no black men. She'd heard about them and seen them on television. There was always trouble involved, and violence.

"I, ehm ... no thank you," she said, grabbing her suitcase tighter and walking off.

The menace of the city grew on her with every step she took – the cars, the honking, the sirens, and the thick, soupy air. Looking around her she only saw tall buildings, cracked concrete and hurrying bodies. Then she saw a police officer. He was black, too, but there was safety in the uniform.

"Officer," she called out, and showed him the address. He smiled and said: "That's not really close, Miss. You better take a cab..." He looked her over. "Or a bus."

Taking the bus he pointed out, Juliana found herself a few minutes later on a hard bench, surrounded by a throng of people. There were mothers and children, hooded men and teenage boys with headphones over their ears and big gaudy sneakers on their feet. Right in front of her sat a man only wearing a tank top; he drank beer from a can and his exposed skin was tattooed all over.

Everybody seemed to watch her.

After at least half an hour the friendly driver called the street she was looking for and she left the bus, trying to avoid contact on the way out.

The street looked slightly shabby, but there were trees and not so many cars. The houses stood back and had yards; some of them with grass on them.

The number on her piece of paper belonged to one of the nicer houses. It had a porch. She rang a bell.

The woman behind the screen door might have been her mother's younger sister. She looked less gaunt, though – les tired too.

"I'm Juliana Enders," Juliana said, trying to show a smile among her nervous tics. "I am Marie's daughter." The woman didn't smile.

"Yes?" she said.

"Aren't you Aimée Calouche?" she asked. "My mother's cousin?" The face thawed.

"Aimée Gunther now," she said, opening the screen door. "Come in. Is something wrong with Marie?"

The glass of chilled lemonade tasted as if made in heaven. The kitchen was clean and cozy. The woman called Aimée sat at the other side of the table. She'd picked up her knife and went on peeling potatoes. For the first time in two days a sense of calm descended on Juliana.

"So you ran from home," the woman said, plunging a potato into the water-filled pan. Juliana nodded.

"I couldn't marry him," she said. The woman smiled.

"I ran away too," she said. "Or rather, I eloped with my boyfriend. Isn't that romantic?" Another splash followed her question. Juliana smiled. She'd never heard the word 'elope.'

"Is he your husband now?" she asked. The woman laughed.

"No," she said, sighing. Then she shrugged.

"He was my first. But he was a no-good bum."

Juliana drank. The woman stopped peeling, watching her closer.

"Where will you stay, honey?" she asked. Now Juliana shrugged, saying nothing.

"You just ... ran." She nodded. Aimée pushed away the peels and rose, wiping her hands on her apron.

"Our daughter left the house for college," she said. "I'll show you her room. You can stay here for now, if you want."

Juliana stayed for almost a year. Aimée's husband, Jack, was a large man, working in construction around Chicago. They had two children, who were both on their own now. The daughter's room was nice; it had its own bathroom. Through Jack she found a part time job as a filing clerk with his company. Some evenings she waited tables at a small diner. Her shyness didn't generate big tips, but after a while her cuteness made up for that. She insisted on paying rent. And whenever she felt homesick, one thought of Kurt Carlson cured her.

Being around people changed Juliana – slowly. During her first weeks she moved through the office like a pale specter, but after she started working as a waitress she could no longer avoid strangers. It took her a while to discover that the loud and aggressive behavior of many customers wasn't aggression; it was just what townspeople do. She got compliments that made her blush; and winks that made her heart skip.

At the office two of the secretaries asked her out for lunch. She refused twice, politely, but they insisted the third time. One was a middle-aged woman called Frances; the other was younger. She was called Carol and had big, whitish blond hair, a lot of make up and a penchant for short skirts, loose buttons and even looser language.

"So, how is life on a farm, honey?" Carol asked after they sat down in a place they called a tearoom. "Must be boring at times." Juliana shrugged; how could she ever tell someone like Carol what life on a farm was? "It's mostly hard work," she said, staring at the glass showcase filled with colorful cakes and pies.

"And hard farm boys, I suppose," Carol said, giggling. Juliana had no idea what she meant.

"Well, I guess so," she said. "Hard work makes them hard. Callouses and things."

"Wow," Carol mimed, turning to the older woman, "calloused they are." Her laugh had the charm and sophistication of a billy goat. Frances shook her head.

Ignore Carol, dear," she said. "She has a one-track mind. Now what shall we eat?"

Life went on. Autumn came, and Juliana got better acquainted with the big city and its inhabitants. At some weekends Aimée and Jack took her out for a meal or a drive. She got to know her distant cousins, and spent some time on the beaches of the big lake. At work she learned how to have small talk with her colleagues, or even how to flirt innocently with her customers at the diner. Carol took her shopping and got her into skirts that exposed her knees. Juliana even bought a pair of two-inch heeled pumps. She remembered blushing like fire when she took her first public steps on them.

Once a week, mostly on Friday, some of the employees at the office went out after work to have a drink. It took them two months to get Juliana to join them, and another month to get her to try a gin and tonic. It made her feel dizzy. It also made her giggle and gave her the feeling she was witty. But most of all it made her think she could have a second one.

After reaching the toilet in the nick of time, she felt sick and too ashamed to return to the bar. Stumbling up the steps to the street, a voice stopped her. A hand touched her shoulder and turned her around. She was too dizzy and embarrassed to look the man in the face, but she recognized his shirt. He was the new young man from the studio. What was his name? Alex, or Alec something.

She missed a step and fell against him.

"Oops," he said. "They shouldn't have given you the second one." His hands were strong, holding her up. He smelled of cologne. Being so close to a man gave her the shivers. He seemed to tremble too.

"I'll bring you home," he said. "You can't take the bus like this. Where do you live?"

He took her home in his not very new and not especially cool car. She smiled all the way and made walking from the curb to the porch seem harder than it was. She just liked the way he held her.

Jack thanked Alec profusely for his gallant act; Aimée took her upstairs.

"That was pretty stupid," she said, helping her get to bed. "He could easily have taken advantage of you, you know?" Juliana mumbled a sorry. Aimée smiled.

"But I'm glad it happened, in a way," she said. "You seem to like the young man?"

Alec asked her out the next Saturday night – a nice simple pizza dinner and a movie. When he brought her home she knew she was supposed to thank him; he might at least expect a kiss, but he didn't insist when she didn't offer one. The moment was awkward, though. She had to run inside to put an end to it – panting as she leant against the closed door, hearing her heart thump. After a while she heard his car start and leave. Cursing herself, she lay awake for hours.

When he asked her for a second date, she blushed crimson and apologized for her rude actions the time before. He made light of it and took her out dancing. Her only experience with dancing were the chaste maneuvers at church functions. When Alec took her in his arms, though, she followed his lead instinctively. Her knees were too weak to have a mind of their own anyway.

That night they kissed on the porch, and she allowed him to feel her body through her clothes. From then on making out became part of their dates. Afterward she'd sneak up the stairs, shoes in her hand and her head in the clouds.

A few times, back at the farm, she'd touched her body, standing under long showers or lying in her lonely bed. It had always been a secret mixture of shame and excitement. She'd caressed the tips of her little breasts and the hairy folds between her legs, knowing it was bad to do that – taboo. Allowing a man to do it, out there on the porch, doubled the intensity of her feelings ­– the arousal as well as the shame. Just opening her mouth to receive his tongue sent waves of heat to all niches of her body. She didn't resist; he seemed to suck her will out of her. His hand was under her blouse, finding the hot, straining pinpoints at the center of her breasts. Dizziness closed her mind; she fell against him, moaning.

But when his fingers crawled past the waist of her new skirt to slip inside her cotton panties, she woke up and pushed him away. A flash of frustration passed over his face.

"I'm sorry," she said, closing her blouse, trying to keep standing on her wobbly legs.

"Oh no!" he objected in a thick voice. "It's me. I'm sorry. You are so beautiful ... so beautiful."

From that time on all they did was kissing and making out. But when she lay in bed, her heart kept racing and her body couldn't wind down. She started fingering the tiny knob at the top of her slit, where her urge seemed to dwell. She had no name for it, nor did she know where rubbing it would take her. But she went on, and was amazed how wet she got. Concerned about her clean bed, she went to her bathroom and crouched over the toilet. Her fingers made squelching noises, and she felt hot moisture run down her thighs. What was it? Urine? Her period?

Bewildered, she tried to stop, trembling on her feet. She sniffed her fingers, smelling a new, musky smell. She turned and watched herself in the mirror, seeing a flushed face and wild eyes. The moisture on her thighs cooled down, and the hot feelings retracted until they only dwelt in the tiny, throbbing button between her legs. Getting cold, she grabbed her towel and cleaned her legs before returning to the warmth of her bed where she lay shivering.

One day, Juliana sat at the kitchen table, drinking tea with Aimée. They often did that, right before she had to leave for her waitressing job.

"You like going out with your beau," Aimée said, smiling. "Alec?" Juliana nodded, blushing. Aimée picked a crumb from the table.

"Is he nice?" Juliana nodded again. "Oh yes," she said.

"Good," the woman remarked, looking up and smiling again. "Is he your first boyfriend?"

Juliana considered the word 'boyfriend.' She guessed he was, although she didn't consider him a boy at all.

"Juliana," Aimée said, losing her smile. "I know this might be prying." She allowed a pause. "But I wonder if you've ever been with a man before."

Juliana stared at her; then she shook her head no.

"You should be careful, then," Aimée went on, placing a hand on one of Juliana's. "Some men seem nice, but all they want is ... use you; and dump you afterward." Juliana tried to grasp her meaning, recalling their making out sessions.

"When I say 'no, ' he stops," she whispered. Aimée sighed.

"Now does he?" she said; it didn't sound like a question. "Anyway," she went on, pushing a small packet over the table. "Always ask him to use this. If he doesn't want to, send him away. If he still insists, scream."

Juliana knew what was in the package, although she'd never seen a condom. She ran a finger along its edge.

"I would never ... do that with him," she whispered. "I'm not supposed to until I get married." She looked up, knowing she blushed deeply. Aimée's hand closed over hers and the package.

"I know," she said. "But put it in your purse anyway."

The next day Aimée told her she'd made an appointment for her with their doctor. Having to lie down and spread her thighs wide was very embarrassing. The doctor was a woman, though, and that helped. She prodded inside Juliana's vagina with gloved fingers. It caused no arousal at all.

When she was finished they sat down and the doctor prescribed her birth control pills, explaining how to use them. Juliana protested that they were against her beliefs. The doctor looked up from her writing.

"Your beliefs?" she asked. "Or your parents'?" Juliana didn't know what to say. She took the receipt and went home.

Alec kissed her. They stood on the dance floor of a loud club where the lights were low. Juliana was the center of a maelstrom of bare limbs and half-naked bodies. Sweaty skin sparkled in the searching spotlights.

They had never been to a place like this before; she wondered if Alec ever had. Juliana felt overdressed in her white blouse and dark grey skirt. She also felt a wave of claustrophobia attack her. Wrestling free from his embrace, she panted that she was too hot. She had to repeat it much louder before he understood. Moments later they wrestled themselves out of the melee, finding a much cooler passage to the restrooms.

"I'm sorry," he said.

"Stop saying that," Juliana blurted out, still panting. "It's my fault. I don't belong here; I'm a silly hick." He stepped forward to embrace her, but she turned away.

"I have to freshen up," she said, and went to the restrooms.

Sitting in a stall she cried, letting the tears run freely down her cheeks. She hated herself for not being a cool city girl; for not daring to be like the other girls; for selling sweet Alec short. What did he see in her? She could never be the woman he must be wanting. Look at her now – a silly, snot-blubbering, backward hillbilly, afraid to dress sexily and make her date feel proud of her.

When her eyes ran dry she sat up. Maybe she should just try and run off, unseen. She opened the door, seeing two girls chatting away at the mirrors. Juliana sneaked past them. When she saw her own reflection she stopped. Her face was blotched, and her mascara had been smeared. Thank God she never used much. She splashed cold water into her face; it felt good. Only then did she see the eyes of the girls on her. She turned and fled, leaving the door open behind her.


She didn't stop. She ran out into the fresh night air, greeted by the humming energy of the city. Looking left and right she lost her purpose, if she ever had one. People ignored her, cars rushed by. She shivered.

"Juliana!" His hands gripped her shoulders from behind. He panted from running. "What's the matter, honey?" She didn't turn around.

"Leave me alone, Alec," she said. His hands forced her to look at him; she kept her eyes down.

"What did I do?" he asked.

He put his arm around her shoulder and they walked. She said 'sorry' and that it wasn't him, but her. He gave her his jacket against the cold and they sat down on a bench. She started crying again, hardly hearing what he said. He said a lot. Then he kissed her, his lips sliding on her tears and snot. She shirked closer into his embrace.

"Mrs. Austin?"

The smooth, insidious voice took her back to the present – the posh office of the neurosurgeon who was supposed to save her husband. Her hands relaxed around her purse. The man smiled, or rather, his lips did. He pushed a white sheet of paper across the table. She looked at it and then looked up.

"We, err... ," the man said. "We put together a plan of action, say. It has everything needed to save your husband."

Under the fancy heading of a private clinic was a long list of gibberish that left Juliana confused. What she did understand, though, were the amounts of money listed behind each bullet point. Her eyes traveled down to the bottom line. The total sum was staggering. She looked up, raising her eyebrows. His smile was still there. A pig, she thought, he looks like a pig, but his eyes ... She'd seen live tigers in the Chicago zoo.

"We have insurance," she said. He shrugged. It made his jowls tremble.

"I know," he said. "This is after insurance, though." The absurdity hit her. She giggled.

"We could never pay that." Her voice sounded higher than she intended. His smile reached his eyes.

"Oh yes, " he said. "You could."

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