Worth the Trouble (St. James #2)

by Jamie Beck

CHAPTER ONE

Cat loosely tied the plastic ribbons of the paper gown she’d been provided—a far cry from the Armani couture she’d worn in yesterday’s Vogue photo shoot—before sitting on the exam table. The thin paper beneath her crinkled as she leaned back to rest her weight on her elbows.

She glanced at her watch.

Her train to New London, Connecticut, departed Penn Station at eleven thirty. If she missed it, she’d never catch the ferry to Block Island in time for her eldest brother, David’s, wedding rehearsal. But despite the inconvenient timing of this particular appointment, she couldn’t afford to reschedule it again.

She glanced around the stark, impersonal room, wondering about the other women who would pass through it today. Some would arrive, carefree, for regular checkups. An expectant mother might listen to her baby’s heartbeat for the first time. Another, like her own mother, might receive news of a fatal breast tumor. How absurd that such a sterile environment served as the setting for pivotal moments in a woman’s life.

Cat hoped her own concerns were baseless, but doubt was gnawing at her when the doctor entered the room and proceeded to the small sink to wash her hands. Although Dr. Wexler was neither beautiful nor young, Cat envied her and her confidence, competence, and obvious sense of purpose. Intangible qualities that burned brightly from within, and shone through clear, lively eyes.

“Catalina, what brings you in today?” She glanced over Cat’s chart while waiting for an answer.

“Well,” Cat began, “I went off the pill ten months ago and, except for a little spotting early on, never got my period. At first I assumed it was because I was under a lot of stress.” She tucked a length of hair behind her ear, averting her gaze. “But now it’s June, and I’m concerned.”

“Any unusual cramping?”

“Not really.” She tried reading Dr. Wexler’s politely detached expression but, like Cat, the doctor had mastered the art of hiding emotions.

“Disturbed sleep, irritability, or pain during sex?” The assessing tilt of Dr. Wexler’s head discomfited Cat, who hated discussing personal issues.

“Well, I haven’t had sex since then either, but before that there was nothing remarkable about it. I mean, not in terms of pain.” Heat rushed to her cheeks as the innuendo struck. “So, anyway . . . jet lag often messes with my sleep. And I suppose I’m no more irritable than normal.” Cat grimaced.

“Was the source of stress extreme?” Dr. Wexler asked, ignoring Cat’s lame attempt at levity.

Cat’s muscles tensed, like they did every time she thought of her ex, Justin. Throughout their two-year on-and-off relationship, she’d mistaken his jealous, possessive rages for intense love. Sadly it took Vivi getting caught in the crossfire and ending up in the emergency room with a skull fracture for Cat to wise up.

“An ugly split with my ex involving assault charges and unpleasant PR.” Her skin became clammy when her doctor’s eyebrows shot upward. Fighting the urge to slink beneath the exam table, Cat feigned nonchalance. “But things have settled down.”

Settled down because Cat had practically gone into hiding to avoid the paparazzi and men. Of course, hiding from photographers hadn’t been a great career move, which now created a new layer of stress. At twenty-eight, she’d already been fighting to sustain her modeling career. Thanks to Justin (or, more accurately, her response to the fallout), her cover-shoot days were probably numbered.

“Sorry for your trouble.”

Cat hoped to evade a prolonged discussion about that relationship—a relationship that thrust every one of her faults into the open, where they couldn’t be ignored or dismissed. Thankfully, Dr. Wexler patted the stirrups and redirected her interrogation. “Any family history of autoimmune disorders such as hypothyroidism or lupus?”

If Dr. Wexler intended her relaxed tone to calm Cat, it wasn’t working. “Not that I know of.”

Staring at the ceiling tiles, Cat tried to quiet her mind during the ensuing silence. Thankfully, Dr. Wexler spoke again. “Many women experience amenorrhea when they first go off the pill, although it typically sorts itself out within three months. Stress can substantially affect your cycle. Also, extremely low body fat could cause the disruption. That’s fairly common among models and dancers.” She stood, peeled off her gloves, and tossed them in the trash.

Cat sat upright and smoothed the wrinkled paper gown, the knot in her chest beginning to loosen.

“Everything looks normal from a physical perspective. While you’re here, let’s order some blood work.” Dr. Wexler sat on her little round stool. “I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but something more serious could be causing the disruption.”

“Something life threatening?” Cat’s mind immediately veered toward her mother’s unlucky fate. Her next breaths were strained and tight, as if the small room suddenly lacked enough oxygen.

“Doubtful. But we need to consider all possibilities.”

Cat’s stomach acid began to churn. Intuitively she’d known something was wrong, but she’d been putting off this appointment in order to forestall bad news. Why had she thought she’d be ready today? “Possibilities such as?”

“Well, thyroid or hormonal imbalances, sexually transmitted diseases, or the less likely candidates: primary ovarian insufficiency and premature menopause.”

“Menopause?” The word struck with the force of a punishing slap. “But I’m only twenty-eight.”

“Granted, it’s uncommon. It affects about one in one thousand women under thirty.”

Cat’s scattered thoughts collected, latching on to one unfortunate memory. “Didn’t my mom enter menopause fairly early?”

Dr. Wexler nodded. “Yes, your mother’s history is a factor, but it isn’t decisive. Let’s draw some blood to check your FSH and estradiol levels, among other things.”

A small, thin version of her voice wove its way through the haze that consumed her thoughts. “So I might be infertile?”

For years she’d wrestled feelings of emptiness while forced to project an image of absolute confidence and sensuality. How ironic now to possibly be—quite literally—empty. Barren. To confirm that, all this time, her insecurities hadn’t been a figment of her imagination. That all along her father’s perception had been true. She really, truly was just a pretty face.