Back in her home, Pearl startled herself with a recollection of the conversation over lunch. The jolt came as she kicked off her shoes and put her bag in the bedroom.
She belatedly realised that she had openly admitted to liking Jesse in front of her godmother- his mother- and her best friend who happened to be his little brother. As some form of mortification assailed her, Pearl stopped dead in her tracks.
Neither of them had been unhappy about it, she conceded to herself. In fact, Vivienne hadn't said anything on the matter but she had been smiling the rest of lunch, patting Pearl's hand at odd intervals. Their kiss and hug at the end of the meal had been normal. Well, maybe the hug had been a little longer but that was okay.
A part of her wondered why Sam had seemed so happy about her unexpected admission. He'd been trying for ages to find her the right man but he'd never once suggested Jesse for her.
So maybe it wasn't that she'd finally found someone for herself. Not, she thought quickly, that he was hers.
That left the fact that Pearl was even considering asking Jesse to stay in the area. Not only was that very selfish of her close friend, there was also no guarantee that she'd succeed. She didn't like the fact that she probably wasn't enough to keep him here but Sam was relying on her anyway. It felt like pressure and kind of as though she had committed to something that she wasn't in the position to deliver.
Before saying goodbye to Sam at the bistro, she'd pointed out that she might not be able to do it, and she also asked him not to discuss the whole thing with anyone.
When he'd looked like he was going to brush it off, she'd grabbed his hands. "Sam, I mean it."
Looking into his hazel eyes that were so much like his brother's, Pearl saw him consider her request. When he said he would do as she asked, Pearl nodded and let go of his hands.
Now she sighed. The last thing she wanted was any of this getting to Jesse before she got back from camp. She'd hardly come to terms with her own admission, she didn't need their family and friends asking her about it. Or telling him.
If she was completely honest with herself, Pearl had started liking Jesse a while back.
Every recollection of their encounters brought back fond memories. From her first and only official doctor's appointment with him to the easy way he'd dealt with her retelling of their meeting. The way he'd teased her at his welcome dinner about beautiful genes.
After putting her things away, she went through the kitchen and fixed herself a sandwich before going into another room. Pearl sat down in her living room and leaned back, resting her head on the sofa. Closing her eyes she let a little motion picture go through her mind, trying to isolate the moment she'd started liking Jesse.
As she recalled Jesse picking her up and running to get her inhaler, him showing up in Bolivia, his efforts to make her comfortable during recovery- it all just made her want to smile but there was no one moment. She realised that by the time she'd started noticing his physique, she'd already liked his personality and now she was becoming inextricably attached.
By the time they'd gotten to Brazil, Pearl knew now that she'd liked a lot about Jesse. Everything else she had discovered about him since then had just made him a more attractive man.
Sam said that his brother liked her company. She considered that now. If that was true, she supposed her crazy plan to talk him into staying would have a miniscule chance.
Unbidden, a hazy memory of a voice whispering to her came to mind.
Let me help you. Let me love you.
Pearl's eyes flew open. Had he really said that? Had it been after her attack at the house in Brazil? She remembered the tender way he'd taken charge of her despite how upset he'd been with her. He'd called her honey, she recalled with a faint blush.
Taking a bite of her sandwich, she wondered to herself, could Jesse really like her? Her hand hovered over her plate.
Sure, he teased her a lot and he always took care to consider her but she'd figured the latter because his medical background was so deeply entrenched.
Was it because of her and who she was?
Forgetting her sandwich altogether, Pearl put her hands on her cheeks as they heated up.
When had his view of her started to matter?
She knew she might never get an accurate answer to that question, but she couldn't deny that it did. Their little altercation when she'd come back home for the conference had been her first conscious instance where she realised she didn't just want to be a patient to him. Pearl wanted, at the very least, to be his friend, but that hadn't been what she actually meant when she'd lashed out at him- she knew that now.
She loved the fun times they'd spent together in South America. The easy going relationship they'd established. No barriers, no judgment, no pretence.
Pearl knew Jesse kissing her cheek or forehead had become normal to her in Brazil, to them both. She now knew why he'd kind of stopped, depending on who was around. She felt bad that he'd been teased about the one incident at Sam and Dana's house. But she didn't want him to stop.
Standing up, Pearl remembered her half eaten sandwich. She finished it and turned the living room lights off. Heading to her bedroom, she asked God to help her keep her head on straight at the camp she was directing starting the following day. She would deal with Jesse when she got back. Her last request to God that night was that she might see his heart the next time they were together.
Not the sexy, teasing side that knew how to confuse a woman or the caring medical professional that made relying on someone else so easy. Not even the friendly family guy but his genuine view and feelings for her.
"I know it's a lot to ask, Lord," she said out loud, taking her clothes off for bed, "but I need this."
She crawled under the sheets, asking God to watch over everyone she loved.
The day Pearl was back in the office after camp, she walked in to find a huge bouquet of flowers on the corner of her desk.
Stopping dead in her tracks, she called out to Beth.
"Yes, Miss Guthrie?" Beth smiled as she appeared in the doorway.
"Who are these from?"
"I didn't read the card." Beth frowned. "Was I supposed to?"
Pearl sighed. "No, never mind. I'll deal with it."
Beth went back the way she'd come and Pearl walked to her desk. Snatching the card from the lovely arrangement of flowers, she opened it with a frown.
I have to confess, I didn't like the idea of another man taking care of you. Have dinner with me tonight… I'm flying down this afternoon. Grett.
Tossing the card in the waste basket, she picked up her phone. Dialling her PA's extension, she waited the seconds it took for Beth to pick up.
"Beth, please put me through to Richmond Grett's office and then come get these flowers."
"Thank you." She put the phone down. Next she started on the emails in her inbox. One email leapt out at her. With a smile, she clicked on Jesse's name.
The email was short.
I'll be back in San Francisco tonight. Want to go to a barbecue with me? Grandma says I shouldn't come alone.
With a chuckle, Pearl replied.
The phone rang while she was still typing, so she picked it up on the second ring.
"Mr Grett's office on the line."
Switching lines, she asked to speak to Richmond. She waited only a moment.
"Pearl! What a pleasant surprise."
"Did you like the flowers?"
"They were lovely, thank you."
"I had to give them away. I couldn't keep them!"
"And why could you not?"
"I'm not going to encourage your stubborn behaviour," she said mildly. "You have to stop this."
"What if I say I can't help myself?" he said in a low voice.
"I'd insist you try a little harder! Really, Richmond. I've never done anything to encourage you, this has to end. The flowers, the comments about me in the conference meetings… I'm not interested in you."
"You're interested in someone else?" he ventured quietly.
She let out a breathless laugh. "Yes."
"Your doctor in Brazil?"
"That's none of your business," she replied not unkindly.
"I suppose you're right." Pause. "So, no dinner tonight?"
"I would say yes but I'm afraid you'll try again."
"I probably will," he chuckled.
"So, no dinner tonight. I'm sorry, Richmond."
"I am too. Good bye Pearl. I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable."
"Thank you, Mr Grett. Good bye."