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Authors: Patricia Davids

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His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage (13 page)

BOOK: His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage
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“You’re looking more rested,” Sandra said.

“Thanks, I feel better.”

Pulling a chair close, Sandra sat beside Caitlin. Two other nurses who often took care of Beth came over and stood behind her. Caitlin tensed. What was going on now?

Sandra reached out and covered Caitlin’s hand with her own. “We want to apologize.”

“For what?”

“I think you and I got off to a bad start. Mick told me how sick you’ve been, and how you’d been walking all the way from the Lexington Street Shelter—”

“Sometimes Mick talks too much.”

“In this case, I don’t think so. As nurses, we should have noticed you were sick. You and I weren’t on friendly terms and that led me to believe the worst about you. I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too,” one of the women behind Sandra added.

“So am I,” the other one chimed in.

Caitlin met Sandra’s gaze. “It wasn’t your fault. I should have told someone I wasn’t feeling well. If I had, Beth wouldn’t have gotten this sick.”

“It wasn’t entirely your fault. We take part of the blame. Anyway, we wanted you to know how sorry we are.”

Caitlin swallowed the lump that formed in her throat. These women had taken care of her baby day and night for weeks. She resented them for being the ones Beth needed. Sometimes, she even felt that they were trying to replace her as Beth’s mother, but the truth was, without them Beth wouldn’t be alive.

“If you have any questions, about anything, please know that we’ll be glad to answer them,” Sandra continued. “Our job is to see that Beth goes home with you as soon as she can.”

Caitlin nodded but didn’t trust herself to speak. It seemed that all she wanted to do anymore was cry. She wasn’t used to people being nice to her.

The nurses left to attend to other babies, and Caitlin drew her chair closer to Beth’s bed. She kept one eye on the baby’s oxygen saturation monitor. A drop in that number was often the first clue that Beth wasn’t tolerating touch or sounds near her.

“Hey, jelly bean, how are you? I’m sorry I haven’t been in, but I’ve been sick myself. I sure missed you.” Caitlin grasped Beth’s hand but it remained limp.

“I know you don’t feel good. Mick says hello. He wanted to come up—I could tell—but he said he thought we needed some time together—just you and me.

“I’m staying at his place with him and his mom. He’s got a big house with a yard right beside a park, and he’s got a dog.”

He had all the things that Caitlin had dreamed of having. All the things she wanted to give Beth.

“The place you and I get won’t be fancy, but it’ll be decent, and I’m going to tell you every day how much I love you. So, you have to get better.”

Sitting back in the chair, Caitlin was content to watch Beth sleep and study her face. She was so beautiful. Caitlin had heard that mothers always thought their own kids were the cutest, even the ones who had ugly kids, but until now, she hadn’t understood how that was possible. Beth was beautiful in so many special ways. Suddenly, Caitlin had to sketch her.

After telling Sandra that she would be back, Caitlin went to the parent’s check-in room and pulled the duffel bag Mick had given her from one of the tall, narrow lockers. She unpacked her sketchbook then stuffed the bag in again. Back at Beth’s bed, Caitlin flipped her drawing pad open and began to transfer her baby’s most beautiful features to paper.

First she sketched Beth’s fingers, the long, delicate way they lay cupped on the bed. Then her pencil mapped out the faint frown lines on Beth’s brow and the gentle arch of her eyebrows. Soon a picture of her baby’s face emerged, but at the mouth, Caitlin paused. She’d never seen Beth’s mouth without the ventilator tube and the thick mustache of tape that held the tube in place.

Smiling at her daughter, Caitlin said, “I guess that part of you will have to stay a mystery.” Reluctantly, she added a small part of the equipment that was so alien and yet so much a part of her child.

“You draw beautifully.”

Caitlin looked up to find a young woman standing at her shoulder. “Thanks. It helps having a pretty model.”

“Are you a professional artist?”

“Not hardly.”

“You could be. I’ve often admired the poem she has on her bed. It helps me keep faith that my little boy will get better.” The woman pointed to the card with green shamrocks around its border.

Caitlin had noticed the card the first time she had come to visit, and she had wondered what it said, but she couldn’t bring herself to ask. Instead, she said, “Which one is yours?”

“Jacob is in the last bed on this aisle. He weighed almost the same as your daughter when he was born.”

“Is he doing okay?”

“Pretty good. He got off his ventilator today. It’s the second time they’ve tried him off. Last time, he went a day before he had to go back on.”

“That’s good. Beth has never been off hers.”

“She will. Well, I’d better go. It’s time to feed him. I like to hold him when he gets fed even if it’s just by tube. It’s not like I can do much more for him yet.”

“I know what you mean.” Their gazes met and Caitlin nodded. She knew about feeling useless, about not being able to do a single thing that would ease her baby’s way. She recognized that same emotion in this mother’s eyes.

“I’ll let you get back to your drawing,” the woman said and walked to her child’s bed. Caitlin watched as the nurse moved Jacob to his mother’s arms and attached a syringe with milk in it to his stomach tube. The look on his mother’s face was pure happiness as she held him close.

Glancing around the unit, Caitlin realized she wasn’t the only mother riding the emotional roller coaster of having a baby in the NICU. Some mothers were proudly showing their infants to visitors, one sat silently staring into an incubator and a few others leaned over the sides of their children’s open units to try and be close to their babies. Nurses moved between the beds with a smile or a word for the parents, who like Caitlin, were learning to take one day at a time, and to measure success in a few ounces of weight gained.

Later, when Jacob’s mother was leaving, she stopped beside Caitlin again. “I know it’s a lot to ask, but could you sketch a portrait of my baby? I’d be happy to pay you for it.”

“I don’t know. You can take pictures in here, I’ve seen people with cameras.”

“I know. We’ve taken lots of them, but your drawings...I don’t know...they’re so soft.” She reached down and touched the page Caitlin was working on. “All that’s here is your baby. In a photograph, all the equipment, all their stuff, it’s always in the picture.”

Caitlin turned over the idea in her mind. She could use the money, but somehow, it didn’t seem right to take advantage of a mother with a sick child. “I’ll think about it,” she said.

“If you decide that you want to, I’ll let Jacob’s nurse know that you have my permission.”

“Good point.”

The woman smiled and leaned closer. “They are sticklers, aren’t they? I know their hearts are in the right place, but sometimes, I have to wonder whose baby he is—mine or theirs?”

* * *

“Let me get this straight.” Woody moved a chess piece, then leaned back in the black leather chair beside the game table in his apartment. His stark white walls held numerous landscapes done in watercolors and oils in every size. “You aren’t the father of this baby. But instead of letting Caitlin go her own way, you keep tabs on her and wind up taking her home with you.”

“She was sick and walking all the way from the Lexington Street Shelter to the hospital.” Mick studied the board and made his move. His heart wasn’t in the game. He was here because Woody was the one person he could talk to who wouldn’t judge or offer unwanted advice.

“I get that part.” Woody moved a knight to block Mick’s next play. “Wow! No wonder you didn’t tell me the whole story when I asked. Now that she’s better, why is she still staying with you and your mom?”

Mick reassessed his strategy and moved his queen. “She doesn’t have anywhere to go. She’s homeless, remember?”

“So you are going to take care of both of them. Mother and child. A ready-made family.”

“I didn’t plan it that way.”

“I know that. You never look more than four moves ahead when you play this game, why should your life be any different?”

“Now you make me sound like a fool.”

“Not a fool, Mick. Just a guy who leads with his heart instead of his brain.” He countered Mick’s move. “Check and mate.”

Mick studied the board. Woody was right. About the game and about Mick’s tendency to follow his heart. He sat back and looked at his friend. “What would you do in my shoes?”

“Buy a bigger pair. Your boots are two sizes smaller than mine.”

“You know what I mean.” Mick reached down and moved the chess pieces back to their starting positions.

Woody began to line his up as well. “I can’t help you with this mess, buddy. If the child was yours, I’d say you have every right to be part of her life. But this? I know you thought you were doing the right thing, but I’m not so sure. I guess you’ll have to find out what it is that you really want and then go from there. If you like this woman as much as you say, get to know her better. If she can take care of Beth, give her some room. If she can’t—you’ve got to do what’s best for the kid. You and I have both seen the downside of situations like that.”

“I know we have.”

“And what’s the most common thing friends and neighbors say when we find a neglected or abused kid in a home?”

“They say ‘I knew something was wrong.’ Or ‘I wish I’d done something sooner.’”

“Don’t let that be you, Mick’O. Don’t let that be you.”

* * *

The next morning, Mick looked up from the potatoes he was peeling at the kitchen sink. “Mind if I ask you a personal question?”

“Shoot,” Caitlin answered.

“Do you like celery in your stew or will it be okay if I just add potatoes and carrots?”

She looked up from the sketch she was working on and cocked an eyebrow. “That’s your idea of a personal question?”

“You don’t think like or dislike of celery is personal?”

“Not hardly.”

He carried his pan of stew makings to the stove, then faced her. “Okay, a personal question. Where did you learn to draw like that?” He indicated the sketch pad on the table in front of her. A remarkably detailed picture of Nikki asleep on the kitchen tiles was taking shape.

“I sort of picked it up.”

“You’re good. I thought you might have had professional training or art courses in school.”

“No.” Caitlin flipped the paper over and began another series of quick strokes with her pencil. “In school, I was always in trouble for doodling instead of doing my work.”

“Surely one of your teachers recognized your talent?”

“Nope.”

“I can’t believe that.”

“Maybe it was because my teachers were my main subjects.” She held up the pad. It was a picture of him, but with a carrot for a nose and celery stalks for teeth in a wide-mouthed grin.

Mick chuckled. “I can see where that might have gotten you in trouble.” He glanced at his watch. “Did you remember to take your medicine?”

She pulled the vial from her pocket and shook it. “Yup.” Suddenly she looked serious. “Mick, why are you doing this?”

He turned back to the stove and set the fire to a low flame before he glanced at her again. “Because I like stew, and it’s one of few things I can cook well.”

“I don’t mean the food. Why are you letting me stay here? I can’t figure out your angle.”

“Do I have to have an angle?”

“Does a rat have a tail?”

“Only if it’s a four-legged one.”

“True.” She laid the pencil down and stared at him. “I don’t know what you expect in return, but I’m not
that
kind of girl.”

He straightened in astonishment. “I never thought you were. Do you honestly think I’m the kind of man who’d demand something like
that
in exchange for a place to stay?”

She gathered her sketches, picked up her duffel bag and stood. “Nobody gets something for nothing. I just wanted to be up front about it.”

Nikki scrambled to her feet, and her nails made clicking sounds on the tile as she followed Caitlin from the room.

Mick rubbed a hand across his jaw. Maybe having Caitlin stay wasn’t as good an idea as it had seemed. He had tried getting to know her better, but just when he thought she was opening up, she blindsided him with something that pushed him away.

He noticed that she had left her medicine on the table. He started to call after her, but thought better of it. Tucking the pills in his shirt pocket, he listened to her running up the stairs. Was she running away from him?

Lord, what is it going to take to make that woman start trusting me? I really could use some help here.

Chapter Twelve

C
aitlin pounded up the stairs and hurried into her room. “I can’t believe I said that!” She dropped onto the bed and turned her head to stare at the dog that had followed her. “I can’t even
believe
I said that.”

She flopped backward on the bed and covered her face with her hands. “This is totally humiliating.”

She’d ruined everything with her big mouth. He’d toss her out for sure now that she’d insulted him. And to think she had wondered if he might be interested in her. Interested, ha! Mick might be interested in a bright woman like Sandra, but not a dummy like Caitlin Williams.

Nikki laid her head on the bed and whined.

“Did you see his face? If I’d asked him to cook you for supper, I don’t think he could have looked more stunned.”

She pushed the dog’s nose aside. “I had a right to say something, didn’t I? Now we can both relax.”

No, if Mick wasn’t outright insulted, he was probably laughing about the very idea right now.

Caitlin sprang to her feet and paced the floor. She didn’t have to wait for Mick to ask her to leave or to laugh at her. She’d leave now. There were plenty of places she could go. Only, if she left, she’d have to walk right past him downstairs and there was no way she wanted to do that.

It was either go down and face him or toss her bag out the window and escape. Right now, jumping from a second-story window held a certain appeal. She sat down on the edge of the bed and waited.

An hour later a knock at the door caused her heart to leap in her chest. Emotionally, she braced herself. She’d been thrown out on the street more than once. She’d survive. Taking a deep breath, she said, “Come in.”

It wasn’t Mick, but his mother who looked in. “Caitlin, Mick wanted me to give you these and to tell you that dinner is almost ready.”

She held out the vial of pills Caitlin had left on the table. Caitlin took them from her outstretched hand.

“Did he say anything else?”

“Not really, why?”

“I thought maybe he’d want me to leave now.”

“Why would you think that?”

“I said something to him that I shouldn’t have.”

“I see. Do you want to tell me about it?”

“No. I think it’s best that I find somewhere else to stay.”

Elizabeth stepped inside the room. “Are you unhappy here? Have we done something to offend you?”

“No. You’ve been super to me.” Caitlin pulled the purple cat into a close embrace.

“Then why do you want to leave?”

Caitlin shrugged, but couldn’t meet her gaze. “I like living on my own, that’s all.”

“Do you like it? I mean, do you really?”

“Sure.”

Elizabeth sat down beside her. “Caitlin, dear, you are a poor liar. I don’t think you like being alone, but for some reason you believe you don’t deserve anything better.”

Caitlin bit the corner of her lip. “That’s not true.”

“How right you are. You deserve
much better.
And your daughter deserves better. I want you to stay. Mick wants you to stay. Right now, the thing he wants most in the world is to see that your little girl doesn’t end up living a hand-to-mouth existence in some slum. He believes the only way to guarantee that is by helping you.”

“I can take care of myself.”

“In time, I firmly believe you can, but do you want your daughter living the way you’ve had to live until that day comes along?”

Caitlin swallowed hard at the prospect. “No.”

“I didn’t think so. Whatever your feelings are for Mick or for myself, Beth is really the important one, isn’t she?”

Why did she have to make so much sense? Caitlin searched Elizabeth’s face and felt her affection and respect for the woman deepen.

“Please say you’ll stay,” Elizabeth coaxed.

“Okay. But only until I can get a place of my own.”

“Good. That’s all we’re asking. Once you find a job you can pay Mick back if you feel you must.”

“I will.”

“You can start by coming down and pretending to like the way he cooks.”

“It’s not that bad.”

“You must be kidding?”

“It’s better than eating out of a garbage can.”

Elizabeth’s smile slipped a little. “I shall simply have to take your word on that. Now, come on. The food is getting cold.”

Once seated at the kitchen table, Caitlin cast a covert glance at Mick. He didn’t look angry. Relief made her realize how hungry she was. She picked up a piece of bread and took a quick bite. Looking up, she saw that Mick and Elizabeth were watching her. He had one hand on his mother’s injured shoulder. Both he and Elizabeth extended a hand toward Caitlin.

“What?” she mumbled.

“We’d like to give thanks,” Mick said.

“That’s fine.” She took another bite.

Mick seemed to choke back a laugh, but quickly composed his face. “Please join us. We all have things to be thankful for.”

Caitlin wiped her fingers on her jeans and joined hands with them. Mick’s hand was large and warm. His mother’s hand was soft and dainty.

Mick bowed his head. “Dear Lord, bless this food before us. As we gather here, make us ever mindful of Your presence in our lives and grateful for the gifts You have bestowed upon us.”

Caitlin listened to his words and heard the deep sincerity in his voice. She never realized that people who got three squares a day might be as thankful for their food as people who had to hustle for it. Mick had a way of mixing up her ideas of how the world worked. He was unlike anyone she’d ever met. It was no wonder she found him so attractive.

He had come into her life at a time when she and Beth needed help the most. His kindness and concern were as foreign to her as bubble baths. In the depths of her heart she realized that his quiet strength came from his deep belief in God. For once in her life she was on the receiving end of goodness from people who asked for nothing in return. Maybe Mick was right, maybe God did care what happened to Caitlin Williams.

When Mick finished saying grace, Caitlin added a hearty “Amen.”

During the meal that followed, she didn’t find a thing wrong with Mick’s cooking. His mother kept up a running conversation that covered the lulls in both Mick’s and Caitlin’s contributions.

“Do you cook, Caitlin?” Elizabeth asked as she pushed a chunk of fatty meat to the side of her plate.

“Enough to get by. Burgers and stuff like that.”

His mother cast a cheeky grin at Mick then leaned toward Caitlin. “I have a great Italian cookbook that you can borrow. Spaghetti is an easy dish to fix and Mick goes on and on about the kind he gets at work.”

Caitlin stirred her stew. Following a simple recipe was one more thing she couldn’t do without knowing how to read. How stupid had she been to think Mick might be interested in someone like her?

In the past she might have made some rude comment to change the subject, but she found she didn’t want to hurt Elizabeth’s feelings. Mick seemed to sense her discomfort.

“I’ve had all the spaghetti I can stand at the firehouse this week. At home, burgers would be fine if you’d like to cook. Please don’t think we mean to have you slaving in the kitchen.”

Grateful for his intervention, she met his gaze. “How do you like your hamburgers?”

“Cooked, but not burnt.”

Seeing his grin as he tossed her own words back at her erased the last of her doubt. He wasn’t angry with her. Her heart lightened. She liked him, she liked him more than was good for her, but she couldn’t seem to help it. She would be the perfect houseguest from now on. Anything to make him happy.

* * *

Over the next week, Caitlin was drawn into the lives of Mick and Elizabeth. She discovered that Elizabeth had founded Mercy House and still worked to keep it running by raising money and finding volunteers. Mick worked his days at the firehouse and on his days off he helped out at Mercy House and drove Caitlin to spend time with Beth.

Slowly, the strangeness of living in a real house with a real family faded and Caitlin began to feel that she belonged. Her affection for both Mick and his mother deepened daily.

One evening, Caitlin sat curled up on the sofa with Nikki while his mother shared the other end. Mick lounged in his favorite chair. They all laughed at the latest sitcom on TV.

Was this truly how people lived, Caitlin wondered? Did families laugh together in the evening? Did they bow their heads and say grace before meals? Looking around, Caitlin knew this was the kind of life she wanted for Beth. Only, how could she ever provide it?

When the nightly news came on, Elizabeth excused herself and headed up to bed. After the sports report, Mick clicked off the TV. “I think it’s time we got some sleep.”

“Mick, I haven’t thanked you for everything you’ve done for me, and especially for what you’ve done for Beth.”

“There’s no need to thank me.”

“But there is. Without you, neither one of us would have had a chance. I’ve never met anyone like you.”

He shrugged. “You don’t hang out at enough fire stations. Guys like me are a dime a dozen there.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Okay, I’m one in a million, but it’s still past your bedtime.” He tipped his head toward the stairs.

Caitlin stared at her hands. “Do you believe God grants us special gifts?”

“Every time I see Beth, I know I’m face-to-face with one.”

She nodded. “Whatever God wants from me He can have as long as she is okay.”

“Caitlin, God doesn’t make deals.”

“Then what does He want?”

“He wants us to love Him above all else and for us to love each other. We have to open our hearts and trust in His will. We do it by letting go. By giving up thinking that we’re in charge of our lives and realizing that He’s in charge.”

“How do
you
do it?”

Mick chuckled. “Not very well at times. I’m no saint. I struggle with my temper. I get impatient with people.”

Mick might not be a saint, but Caitlin knew he was a good, decent man. The fact that Mick O’Callaghan had come into her life was the closest thing to a miracle that she had ever seen.

He might be able to shrug off her thanks, but it didn’t lessen her gratitude.

“Go on,” he said. “Hit the sack.”

She nodded and did as he asked.

Once in bed, sleep eluded Caitlin. Turning over, she flipped her pillow searching for a cool place and kicked aside the sheets. Mick O’Callaghan was a good man—a genuinely good man. Everything she learned about him only made him that much more special. He was an easy man to love.

She sat bolt upright in bed.

She was in love with him. She hadn’t wanted to, hadn’t planned to, but here in the darkness she saw the truth. She was in love with Mick O’Callaghan.

* * *

“Are we ready for the big moment?” Dr. Wright asked, standing beside Caitlin’s chair.

“I am
so
ready,” Caitlin replied. She waited with Mick beside Beth’s bed in the NICU. Beth was being taken off her ventilator for the first time in her young life.

“Okay, let’s do it,” the doctor said with a happy smile.

With the help of a nurse and a respiratory therapist, she removed Beth’s breathing tube, and Caitlin heard her baby cry for the very first time. Tears sprang to her eyes at the sound of that weak, hoarse, pitifully tiny wail. It was the most beautiful sound she’d ever heard.

A hand closed over hers, and she looked over to see Mick smiling at her in understanding.

“That a girl,” Dr. Wright coaxed the baby, “tell us all about it. What do you think, Mommy? Isn’t she cute without all that tape on her face?”

“I think she’s gorgeous,” Caitlin managed to say through the emotion that threatened to choke her.

The doctor quickly adjusted a thick, stiff tubing with small prongs that fit into Beth’s nose. Velcro straps attached to a colorful stocking cap held the tubing in place.

“This awkward-looking thing is called C-PAP,” Dr. Wright explained. “It blows oxygen in under low pressure and that makes it easier for her to breathe, but from now on, every breath she takes is on her own.”

When the doctor left the bedside, Caitlin glanced at Mick. He was grinning like an idiot. He touched the tubing in Beth’s nose and said, “It looks like she’s wearing the face guard of a football helmet.”

“If you’re thinking she’ll be the next linebacker for the Bears, you can forget it.”

He chuckled. “I can’t believe how big she’s getting. Even her cheeks are getting chubby.”

“Well, she weighs a pound more than when she was born. She’s three pounds and two ounces now.”

Mick leaned closer. “You know, I think she has your mouth.”

“Do you?”

His gaze rested on Caitlin’s lips until she grew uncomfortable with his scrutiny. The atmosphere between the two of them had been strained in the last week. Oh, he had been as kind and as considerate as ever, but often she’d seen him staring at her intently. She was desperately afraid that he would discover just how much she had come to care for him.

She reached to hold Beth’s foot. “She has her dad’s knobby knees,” she said to change the subject.

“Hey. My knees aren’t—”

Caitlin’s glance flew to his face. He looked stunned. Slowly, the joy faded from his face. He sent Caitlin a rueful smile. “I forgot for a second that she isn’t really mine.”

“Mick, I...” She what? Caitlin had no idea what to say.

He stood suddenly. “Well, I’ve got to run.”

“I thought you were going to stay?”

“I can’t. I have something I have to take care of. I’ll pick you up out front at four o’clock.”

“Okay.” She managed a smile.

He leaned down and dropped a kiss on Beth’s head and quickly left the unit. Watching him, Caitlin bit the inside corner of her lip. A man like Mick would make a wonderful father. A jerk like Vinnie didn’t deserve to have a dog, let alone a daughter as beautiful as Beth. There had been a time in Caitlin’s life when she would have given anything to know who her father was, to be able to see him just once. Vinnie wasn’t much, but Beth should know who he was; not knowing, always wondering and dreaming, it was no good.

Someday Beth would want to know what her father had been like—if she looked like him, if she had his eyes or his smile.

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