Read His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage Online

Authors: Patricia Davids

Tags: #Fiction, #Religious, #Romance, #General

His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage (14 page)

BOOK: His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage
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Caitlin picked up her sketch pad and began to draw Vinnie as she remembered him, concentrating on the good times they had had together. She could see that Beth would have this much.

When she finished her second sketch of Vinnie, she flipped the page and began a drawing of Beth without her ventilator tube to add to the growing number of pictures she had compiled of the baby’s days in the hospital. A nurse came to the bedside and began to take Beth’s temperature. Finishing that, she picked up the stethoscope and placed it on the baby’s chest. Quickly, Caitlin added the nurse’s hand holding the stethoscope to her picture. After all, Beth had needed lots of helping hands to get her this far.

“What do you have there?”

Caitlin looked up to see Dr. Wright peering over her shoulder. “It’s okay if I draw, isn’t it? I can put it away.”

“Of course it’s okay. I’m simply admiring your work. Why, it’s wonderful. Ladies, come look at this.”

A group of nurses gathered beside Caitlin’s chair. She heard compliments and exclamations of delight exchanged all around her, and she grew embarrassed at being the center of attention.

“Do you ever sell any?” someone asked.

“Sometimes I sell portraits over at the Navy Pier,” Caitlin admitted.

“Really? How much do you charge?”

“Do you have a studio?”

The questions came faster than she could answer them.

“I’d love to have a portrait of Beth,” Dr. Wright said. “She’s been such a special little girl.”

“I can do that.” Caitlin flipped back through the pages until she came to one with Dr. Wright leaning over Beth to examine her. Carefully, she pulled the sketch from the book and handed it to the doctor.

“My goodness, you certainly flatter me,” the woman said beaming. “I don’t usually look this good after a night on call. Why is it that I’ve never noticed you sketching before?”

“Mostly, I draw when I’m at home.”

“From memory? You can draw a detailed picture like this solely from memory?”

“Things I see just sort of stick in my head.”

“What an extraordinary talent.” Dr. Wright stared at the picture she held, then looked at Caitlin as if she had never truly seen her before. “How much do I owe you for this?”

“Nothing.”

“Nonsense. You can’t give it away for free.”

“Sure I can. You’ve done more than enough for Beth and me. I’m not going to charge you for a little picture.”

“Very well, I’ll accept this one, but the rest I insist on paying for.”

“The rest?”

“I’ve been wanting to get some new pictures for my office walls.” She held up the sketch. “This would be perfect in a light blue mat with a silver frame.”

“A grouping of three would be nice,” one nurse suggested.

“I know—three of Beth, one on the vent, one when she’s bigger and one when she’s ready to go home.”

“What a neat idea.”

Like traffic on a busy street, their chatter flowed around Caitlin. She couldn’t believe all the enthusiasm for her work.

“How soon could you have six more done?” Dr. Wright asked.

It took a minute for Caitlin to find her voice. “Six?”

“I have two walls that I’d like to put groups on. How much do you charge?”

Dr. Wright wanted to display her pictures on the walls of her office. Her pictures!

A doctor wouldn’t want the kind of quick portraits that Caitlin did down on the pier. She would want ones with a lot of detail. The other women seemed interested, too. Maybe some of them would buy her work. But how much should she charge? If she named a price too high, they wouldn’t want them.

She settled on a price that was twice as high as she usually charged down on Dock Street.

“Oh, no,” Dr. Wright said quickly, and Caitlin’s hopes fell. “I’ve purchased original works in galleries, and I’m not going to allow you to give these away.” She then named a price that made Caitlin’s jaw drop. It was five times what she had suggested.

“Which babies would you like me to sketch?” Caitlin managed to ask.

“That’s a good question. Beth, of course, but who else?”

“You’ll need to get permission from the parents,” a nurse reminded her.

“I don’t imagine that will be hard, not once they see what a wonderful job Ms. Williams does.”

Caitlin cleared her throat. “Little Jacob, down on the end, his mother asked me to do a sketch of him.”

“Excellent. See, what did I tell you?”

Dr. Wright’s brows drew together in a slight frown. “I don’t want to monopolize your time. I know you come here to be with your daughter, and I don’t want to detract from that.”

For that much money, Caitlin would draw standing on her head in a corner while she visited Beth. “No problem, Doc. I’m here every day, anyway. I can’t always hold her, so I can draw while she’s asleep.”

“If you’re sure you don’t mind?”

“I don’t. It’ll be good to have something to keep me busy.” And something to put money in her pocket—more money than she would have made in a month washing dishes at Harley’s—and simply for doing something she loved. God was surely smiling on her today.

Dr. Wright stood. “Great. Let me show this sketch to some of the other parents and see if they’ll give their permission to have you draw their children. And let me get you an advance for the ones I’ve ordered in case you need to get more supplies. Would fifty dollars cover your expenses?”

Caitlin stared at her in astonishment. “Sure.”

“Okay, good. I’ll be right back with it.”

“Ms. Williams, do you think you could do a portrait of my two children?” a short, dark-haired nurse asked. “They aren’t babies, they’re two and five. It would make a perfect birthday gift for their grandmother.”

Bemused, Caitlin smiled and nodded. “I’m sure we can work something out.”

She would be earning her own money. Mick was going to be so proud of her.

Chapter Thirteen

A
s promised, Mick pulled up to the front of the hospital at four o’clock and spied Caitlin waiting on a bench out front. She waved and hurried toward him. His spirits soared at the sight of her. Her smile was like sunshine. It warmed him all the way to his toes. Since she had moved into his home, he couldn’t ever remember being happier.

She was grinning from ear to ear as she threw her duffel bag on the floor and climbed in beside him.

“You’ll never guess what happened.” Excitement electrified her voice and sparkled in her eyes.

“Okay, I won’t try. What?”

“They want to buy my artwork!” With a squeal of delight, she threw her arms around his neck. “I can’t believe it.”

“Whoa!” He returned her enthusiastic hug. “Slow down and tell me what you’re talking about.”

She pulled back a fraction, still grinning. “Dr. Wright saw me sketching Beth, and she wants to buy some of my prints to hang in her office. She’s going to pay me for them. She even gave me an advance.”

Her announcement stunned him. She was earning her own money. But not enough to live on, of course. No, she still needed his help. “That’s terrific. I told you someone would recognize your talent.”

Suddenly, he realized how close her face was—how close her lips were. He shifted his gaze to her eyes—her wonderful, beautiful eyes. The pace of his heart accelerated and the excitement changed, deepening into something different. She sensed it, too. With a sheepish grin, she moved away and settled herself on her side of the car, taking her time about buckling her seat belt.

“How’s Beth?” he asked.

“Dr. Wright said she might be able to do without the C-PAP in a few days. Course, she’ll still be on oxygen for a while. Where are we going?” she asked as he pulled out into the street.

“I have one more stop to make.”

“Where?”

“Mercy House.”

“Oh.”

The flat tone of her voice caused him to look at her sharply. “Is something wrong?”

“No,” she said at last.

Mick glanced at her frequently as he drove into a section of town where abandoned buildings grew more frequent between run-down homes and boarded-up businesses. She didn’t speak, and he wondered what he had done or said to upset her.

He pulled to a stop in front of a renovated three-story clapboard house with a wide porch across its front. A tall sign in the sparse grass beside the broad steps read Mercy House Shelter for Women and Children. The sign was somewhat misleading as the soup kitchen that occupied the spacious basement served anyone who came to the door, but the bedrooms in the house were given over to housing women who found themselves and their children without a place to live.

Stepping out of his SUV, Mick went to the back and opened the hatch. Caitlin stood on the sidewalk staring at the house. “Give me a hand, will you?” he asked. She joined him, and he handed her a small cardboard box, then he grabbed a bigger one for himself.

The front door of the shelter opened and an elderly man came down the steps toward them. He wore a beige polo shirt that was tucked into brown polyester pants belted high on his waist letting a good three inches of his pale blue socks show above scuffed black loafers.

“Hi ya, Mick,” he called. Stopping beside Caitlin, the fellow took the box from her unresisting grip with hands that trembled faintly. “You shouldn’t be liftin’ stuff,” he scolded.

Caitlin’s eyebrows flew up. “Eddy?”

A wide, tooth-gapped grin appeared on his face. “Yup. Told ya I cleaned up pretty good, didn’t I, Mick?”

“Yes, you did,” Mick agreed. He never would have recognized the man without his tattered overcoat, thick gray beard and long hair if he hadn’t spoken.

“How’s that baby?” Eddy asked.

“She’s doing better,” Caitlin answered. “Eddy, you look great.”

“Nah, I don’t, but thanks anyway. I’m gettin’ some help with my drinkin’ and Pastor Frank, he gave me a job here.” His skinny chest puffed out. “I’m his right-hand man, now.”

Pastor Frank appeared in the doorway. “You certainly are, Eddy. I don’t know how I managed without you.”

Mick nodded toward the box he held. “The guys at the station donated some clothing. Where do you want these?”

“Bring them into the living room, and I’ll let the ladies know that they’re here. It’s good of you to help us like this, my boy.”

Smiling, the pastor came down the steps and extended his hand toward Caitlin. “And you must be the young woman I’ve heard so much about.”

“Caitlin Williams,” she replied as she took his hand.

“I’m glad to hear your daughter is doing better. Mick’s been keeping me informed. He thinks the world of your little girl, but then, he thinks the world of all children. I’ve never known anyone with quite the gift he has for making them happy.”

The man took Caitlin by the elbow and walked up the steps beside her. “Welcome to Mercy House. I’m sorry I couldn’t offer you a place here when Mick first called, but we’ve been full to the rafters. It’s sad how many women and children have no place to go.” He held open the door and waited for Caitlin to proceed.

Caitlin didn’t answer him. She glanced back at Mick, but he was talking to Eddy. She bit the corner of her lip and walked inside with a sinking feeling.

“Caitlin, would you excuse us?” Pastor Frank asked. At her nod, he turned to Mick. “Could I see you in my office for a moment?”

Mick followed the pastor into his office. Frank moved to his chair at the small, scarred oak desk that along with a large gray filing cabinet was the only furnishing in the Spartan room. “I’ve known you since you were five, Mick. Your mother is a dear friend. Obviously, your intentions are good, but are you going about this in the right way?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“I have room for Caitlin now. Don’t you think it would be better if she were living here?”

“She’s fine at my place. There isn’t any need for her to move in here.”

“How much longer will your mother be staying with you? Now that she’s better, I know she’s anxious to get back to her own home and to her friends.”

“I thought she’d stay until Beth was out of the hospital. Has she told you she wants to leave?”

“Not in so many words, but surely you must see that having Caitlin living with you is putting your mother in a difficult spot? She can’t leave the two of you there alone.”

“I didn’t intend to offer Caitlin a place to live, but now that I have, I won’t go back on my word. I want to protect this woman—to see that she and her baby don’t slip through the cracks and end up as two more lost souls in a city that already has far too many.”

Mick moved to stare out the window at the children playing in the backyard. “Caitlin’s mother was an addict and she never knew her father. She’s a throwaway kid. You see them every day—you know what they’re like. They don’t trust anyone. She’d rather starve in a back alley than ask for help because she doesn’t believe she needs it or deserves it. She’s learning to trust, maybe for the first time in her life. I won’t do anything to destroy that. She needs someone to take care of her.”

“She isn’t a child. What she needs isn’t someone to take care of her. She needs to be able to take care of herself. Give her the tools to do that, show her that you believe she can, and you will have helped her more than any amount of free room and board ever will.”

Mick pondered the pastor’s words. If Caitlin could manage on her own what would it mean for him? He hated considering the idea. He wanted both of them in his life.

Frank picked up his pen and began to scribble notes on a pad. “I’ll do what I can to find her a job. Does she have any technical training? Has she expressed an interest in going to school to learn a trade?”

“No, but you should see her artwork. She has a rare gift.”

“That’s something. Talk to her—find out if there’s anything she’d like to do. I’ll work on locating a place for her and the baby to live. This may take some time. Is she going to be okay with that?”

“I’ll see that she is.”

Caitlin leaned against the living room wall and watched the office door as she worried her lower lip between her teeth. They were talking about her in there, she was sure of it. Did Mick intend to leave her here? He wouldn’t do that without telling her first, would he?

She bit down on the nail of her index finger and tore the corner of it. Who was she kidding? Her own mother had put her in a Dumpster and forgotten about her. Why should anyone else care what happened to her?

Maybe this was what God wanted from her? Mick had talked about trusting God’s will. Maybe God wanted her to give up her nice place in exchange for Beth getting better? If that were the case, she’d do it and not complain.

She had money in her pocket and a chance to earn more. She was better off than she had been in a long time. She looked around the room. This wouldn’t be a bad place to stay.

The office door opened and Mick came out. He smiled at her and her heart tripped into double time. Man, she had it bad for him. All he had to do was smile at her and she was willing to forgive him anything. Even if he left her here she wouldn’t hold it against him.

He stopped in front of her. “Ready to go? I don’t know about you, but I’m starving. Let’s get something to eat on the way home.”

A ton of tension drained out of her. She realized she was biting her fingernail and quickly tucked that hand under her arm. “That would be great.”

Later, with a burger in one hand and a box of hot, crispy fries balancing on her lap, Caitlin asked the question that had been turning itself over and over in her mind. “Did you ask Pastor Frank if I could stay at Mercy House?”

“Is that what you want to do?”

She shrugged. “Not really.” She wanted to stay with Mick forever, but that wasn’t going to happen. She was lucky to have stayed this long.

Mick gave her a sidelong glance. “We’ve never talked about what you would like to do—for a job, I mean.”

“I’ll take whatever I can get.”

“Still, you must have something that you’re interested in. You’re such a talented artist. Have you thought about going back to school to study art?”

She paused with her burger halfway to her mouth. Back to school? There was a joke.

“No. Drawing is a hobby. I can make a few extra bucks on the side with it, but I need something full-time to pay the bills.”

“Pastor Frank is willing to try and find you a place of your own. When you’re ready, that is. There isn’t any rush, and I mean that. He can help find you work, too. He does it all the time for the women who come to the shelter.”

Pastor Frank would send her to job interviews where she would have to fill out applications.

“I can get my own job, thank you. I haven’t started looking because Beth has been so sick.”

“I understand. Like I said, there isn’t any hurry.”

“No, she’s better, and it’s time I got busy.”

“You can start with the paper when we get home. Something might jump out at you.”

Sure, she thought, like the one or two words that she recognized in print. “I’ll start tomorrow.”

“But I’m on duty tomorrow.”

“So?”

“Nothing, I guess, but I thought maybe I could drive you to some job interviews.”

“I can take the bus.”

“It would be easier if you’d wait until I could take you.”

“Mick, I can manage.”

“I’d like to help.”

“And I’d like to be able to eat a burger without you thinking you need to wipe my face between bites,” she snapped, and turned to stare out the window.

He was dense as pavement. She hated acting like this, but she would have to find her own job. She couldn’t let Mick or anyone else discover that she couldn’t read.

“I’m sorry,” he said after a long silence.

“Forget it.”

“No, you’re right. I tend to forget that you aren’t helpless.”

She twisted around in the seat to face him. “I can’t forget it. Not ever! I’m the one who has to hold down a job and take care of Beth.”

“Caitlin, I’ll always be here if you need something.”

“You don’t get it, do you? You’ve got your own life. Beth and I, we can’t be waiting for you to find time for us. I’ve seen it happen more than I care to tell. A guy gets involved with a girl, he likes her, likes her kid, but it isn’t his kid and sooner or later, he stops coming around.”

“I won’t be that way.”

“Maybe not,” she conceded. “But I can’t take that chance. It’s hard for me to say thanks and the truth is, I’ll never be able to repay you for the help you’ve given me, but I have to be able to survive on my own.”

“Life is about more than surviving.”

She looked away. “Not for some of us. Not for me.”

“Caitlin, I can’t let Beth lead that kind of life.”

“You don’t have a choice.”

“You forget, I’m her legal father.”

She hadn’t forgotten, but until now, she had assumed that he wouldn’t press the issue. Did he still think that he could take Beth away from her? Cold fear gripped her heart. “Is that a threat?”

Mick turned the car into his driveway and stopped. He shut off the engine, then looked at her. “Of course not. It’s only that I want life to be about more than surviving for you and Beth. You deserve more, Caitlin. You deserve a life of comfort and security with someone who cares about you.”

“Until that comes along, I’ll manage by myself.”

He stared at her, and she could see the struggle going on inside of him. “If things were different for us—”

“But they’re not. I don’t need you feeling sorry for me.”

“You’re wrong. I don’t feel sorry for you. I admire you, very much. I care about you.”

“I care for you, too, Mick, and for your mother. You’ve both been very kind to me. But now that I’m well, I need to stop depending on you and start taking care of myself.”

“But I want to take care of you. I’m saying this all wrong.”

He covered her hands with his and her heart raced. She tried to read his eyes, but she didn’t trust what she saw there.

“Caitlin, I care about you deeply. You know that I love Beth like she was my own flesh and blood. I’ll be a good father to her. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I want to marry you.”

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