So, I figured I would just share another unedited excerpt from Till You Come Back to Me. This is the scene when Charles Stafford makes his decision known to his family. Enjoy!
The family room of Charles’ parents’ Atlanta home buzzed with anticipation. The family had all been together a few weeks ago to celebrate Christmas. This time, he had called them all together for a meeting without giving them an inkling of why, but he knew they would all show up out of mere curiosity.
When he arrived, Cydney, his brother Jesse’s wife was the first to greet him as she discreetly nursed their newborn in an easy chair in the corner. “Hey, brother-in-law! You have us all on pins and needles here. We’re just waiting for Nick. He went to Cherilyn’s church this morning.” She propped the little pink bundle on her shoulder and patted her back.
“They’re still seeing each other?” Charles asked. “I’m impressed. Okay. That’ll give me time to log on to my laptop.”
“Are you giving a symposium, Dr. Stafford?” she asked with a giggle.
He gave her the side eye. “No, Cyd. I’m Skyping Marc and Greg, so they can be here with us.”
Ramona, who was married to his brother Vic, raised her perfectly-shaped eyebrows. “Wow, this must be serious.”
“Charles!” His mother, Lillian, came around the corner from the kitchen before he could answer. “I thought I heard your voice. “Do you mind telling your mother what this is all about?”
He kissed her cheek. “I want to talk to everyone at the same time, Mama. As soon as Nick gets here, I’ll get Marc and Greg on the computer. Where is everybody?”
“In the kitchen making sandwiches. If Daddy and your brothers don’t eat the second we get out of church, they think they’ll die. I sent the kids downstairs to watch a movie.”
Charles set his laptop on the cocktail table in front of the sofa, plugged it in and hit the power button. “Since Nick’s not here yet, I’m going to make a sandwich.” He left the women in the family room.
“What’s this all about, Charles?” his father, Victor Sr., asked when he entered the kitchen. “Why was it necessary to call the whole family together?”
“Did you guys leave any meat? I could use a sandwich before we get started,” he answered, scanning the counter and momentarily disregarding the older man’s interrogation. “Nick’ll be here in a few.”
His older brothers, Vic and Jesse shared a puzzled glance. Vic slid the bread, mustard, and mayonnaise in Charles’ direction. They watched him in silence as he slathered the bread with mayonnaise, and slapped together a combination of ham, turkey, and cheese.
“I have to set up this conference call on my laptop.” He poured a glass of apple juice. “If Nick isn’t here by the time I’m done, I’ll just start without him.”
The three doctors stared at him and nodded. “Who the hell is he conferencing?” Charles heard Jesse say as he left the room.
Thankfully, his baby brother walked in the door as he headed toward the computer. “It’s about time, man,” Charles grasped Nick’s hand, and they bumped shoulders.
“I had to take Cherilyn home. What’s up, man? Why the appearance summons?”
“You’ll know in a few minutes. Do you know how to do a Skype call?”
“Sure. Don’t you?”
“Yes, but I’ve never made a conference call.”
“And we’re conferencing with?”
“Marc and Greg.”
Nick’s cerulean gaze rested on his. “This must be major. Give me the numbers, and I’ll do it. Are they expecting the call?”
“I told them between two-thirty and three o’clock.”
Nick, the family cyber-wizard, positioned himself in front of the computer. “They’ll be on the line in five minutes.”
“Okay. Let me get the rest of the family from the kitchen.” Charles crossed the room and peered into the kitchen. “We’re almost ready. Come on.” His father bolted into the living room as though he couldn’t wait another minute to find out what this whole production was about. He took a seat next to his wife.
“Hey, Marc. It’s Nick. I’m arranging this call for Charles. Can you see me?”
“Uh huh, is everybody there?”
“Present and accounted for.”
“Hey, people!” Marc called from the screen. “Gianne is here with me. Say hi, baby.” Marc’s fiancée leaned in, waved and was met with a chorus of hellos.
“Hold on, so I can get Greg.” Nick did his thing, and the last of his five brothers appeared on the screen from his Manhattan apartment. “We’re all in the family room.” He moved aside and let Charles take his place in front of the laptop.
“I obviously have an announcement to make, but first I want to say that I’ve been considering this decision for a couple of years.” He met Vic’s gaze, and his brother smiled. “And I discussed it with Marc when he was here a few months ago.” He paused, cleared his throat and met his father’s gaze. “I’ve put my practice up for sale, and I’m moving to Las Vegas to work with Marc for half of the year.” A collective gasp traveled around the room, but Charles was determined to finish. “The other half of the year I’ll be working with Doctors Without Borders performing reconstructive surgery in a small village hospital in Nigeria. As soon as the legal details are finalized with the real estate agent and the legal guys, I’ll be leaving.”
His mother grabbed his father’s hand. Cyd and Ramona put their heads together and whispered. An uneasy silence lingered until Greg spoke from the computer screen. “That’s fantastic, man! It takes a lot of guts to make a move like that.”
“I agree,” Marc chimed in. “If that’s where your heart is, go for it.”
“Did you talk him into this, Marcus?” his father challenged, clearly shocked by the news.
“Daddy. Daddy!” Charles raised his voice. “This was my decision. When I asked Marc if I could stay with him, he asked me how I planned to make any money during the half of the year I’d be in the States. At that point, I wasn’t sure, so he made me an offer.”
“Dammit, Charles! You’re a Board-certified plastic surgeon,” the older man blustered. I already have one son whose life goal is to be a gym rat.” He leapt from his seat and headed for the bar in the corner where he poured himself two fingers of Scotch and took a long sip.
Undeterred, Charles continued. “Doctors Without Borders is a highly respected organization, and if I’m ever going to do this, it has to be now while I’m single with no kids. If I divest most of my hard assets, I can have a nice cushion. After all, nobody needs a Benz or a wardrobe of designer suits to operate in a remote third-world hospital.”
“I think it’s wonderful, Charles,” Cydney said, bouncing the sleeping baby across her lap.
Ramona just rolled her eyes. Pro-bono work of any kind ran contrary to her DNA.
His mother spoke up. “Victor, I think you’re losing sight of the real point here. We raised the boys to give back, didn’t we?”
“He doesn’t need to sell his practice and move to Las Vegas in order to give back,” his father insisted. “You can stay here in Atlanta and volunteer wherever you want, Charles. I know of colleagues who donate their time to DWB, but they only do short tours.”
“I thought about that, Daddy, but I don’t want to go that route. I’m sick and tired of catering to people’s narcissism. I want to help people, I mean, really help. If I have to enlarge any more lips, butts, or boobs, I’ll lose my mind.”
His father slammed his glass on the table. “Boy, what is wrong with you? Those lips, butts, and boobs paid off that $200,000 student loan debt!”
Charles stood his ground. “Right. So my time doing vanity surgery has served its purpose. This isn’t up for discussion. It looks as though I have a qualified buyer for my practice, and once the deal is finalized, I’ll be moving to Vegas.”
“So what will you be doing for Marc?” Cydney asked, obviously trying to intervene on the brewing verbal brawl simmering between father and son.
“I’ll be the suit, the one who visits corporations to sell them on the value of corporate fitness programs for their employees. Since the major corporations in Vegas are the casinos, they’ll be my targets. It should be interesting, since this will be my first stint as a businessman rather than a medicine man.”
“You’ll do just fine,” his mother reassured him. “I’m just concerned about the reports I’ve heard about the dangers of visiting Nigeria. That’s where they have all those kidnappings, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Mama, but it’s not like I’m a movie star or anything.” He chuckled. “Nobody would get anything out of kidnapping me.”
“Charles,” Marc interrupted. “I need you to call me as soon as you get your flight details.”
“Will do, man.”
“All right, folks. We’re signing off now. Gianne and I have things to do.”
“Yeah, I bet you do,” Greg said from his window on the screen with a snide laugh that elicited laughs from the family. “Check you later.”
Gianne peeked into the camera’s view. “It was good to see everybody.”
“Before you go, tell us how the wedding plans are coming along?” his mother asked.
“Okay. We haven’t decided what kind of ceremony we want yet.”
She scowled. “Marcus, please don’t call and tell me you decided to take her to one of those awful casino chapels.”
“Let’s just be thankful he’s not taking her into the desert and having a cactus officiate over the ceremony,” his father joked, always taking stabs at Marc’s New Age tendencies and raw vegan lifestyle.
“Stop it, Victor.” She swatted his father’s arm.
“We’re definitely not doing that, but we’ll let everyone know the details once we get everything arranged. We’re not getting married until next summer.”
“It takes at least a year to plan a decent wedding, Marc,” Ramona said.
Marc grinned. “Okay, we’re going now. Bye.”
The family called out their goodbyes and his window disappeared. Charles disconnected the call then closed his laptop.
“Why?” his father grumbled. “I’m convinced Marcus had something to do with you making this crazy decision.”
“You’re wrong, Daddy. I asked him if I could stay with him when I’m in the States. He’s living in that big house with so much extra space. Oh, that’s right, you’ve never been to his house,” Charles added with such a cutting edge it made his father look away. “I thought it was the perfect solution. A couple of days later, he called me with the job offer. Even when he and Gianne get married, I don’t think my living there will be an imposition.”
Always the statesman, his big brother Vic raised his glass of apple juice and said, “I think this deserves a toast. To a future filled with discovery and the chance to share your talents with the world. Here’s to a great new career! To Charles!”
Everyone holding a beverage, except his father, raised their glass and repeated, “To Charles!”
The elder man shook his head as though in disbelief that yet another of his six sons had chosen to go against the Stafford family tradition. He and his brothers, Clifford and Rodney, were successful private practice physicians. Three of Charles’ brothers had all followed in their father’s footsteps, and Jesse was part of his practice. Vic Jr. had formerly worked as a surgeon with the practice until he was offered a position as hospital Chief of Staff. A recent graduate of medical school, Nick, the youngest brother, had done his internship but was now wavering on selecting a specialty. The other two, had chosen non-medical professions. Greg currently held a coveted position as a primetime television magazine show host in New York. Marc was creating a name for himself as a Las Vegas celebrity personal trainer and raw foods advocate, which their father considered akin to witchcraft.
Now he had upset the status quo by announcing his decision. At least he’d chosen to remain in medicine, but not in the manner the senior Stafford considered respectable. For years, his father and his twin brother Marc had been estranged because of his decision not to pursue medicine. Only recently had they begun to work on settling their differences. The fact that he would be working part-time with Marc put a burr under the old man’s collar.
He planned to fly to Las Vegas in a couple of weeks to start brainstorming with his twin about what his function with Canyon Gate Personal Training would be. The prospect of doing something so completely different excited him. So did the idea of leaving Atlanta. Charles had been born and raised there, and the only time he’d spent away from the Queen City of the South was when he did his undergrad work at UGA. After graduation, he returned to Atlanta and attended Morehouse School of Medicine.
The glitz and glamour of Vegas held a certain attraction for him. He liked the idea that he would be in a city where no one knew him. Here in Atlanta he was always conscious of upholding the Stafford reputation. Seeing your doctor in the club with a girl twerking on his crotch was bad for business to say the least. After spending the past five years working nonstop, Charles had every intention of getting his party on during his six months stateside.