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 (16 page)

BOOK: His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage
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“A place of our own,” Caitlin tried to infuse some joy into her voice. It was what she wanted only she wasn’t ready to leave Mick.

Sandra came to stand beside Caitlin’s chair. “It’s time for Beth to go back in her bed. We don’t want her wasting her calories keeping warm. We want her to use them to grow.”

“But Mick hasn’t gotten to hold her,” Caitlin protested.

“I’ll hold her tomorrow,” he said. “Let her sleep now.”

She tried to read his face, but she couldn’t tell what he was thinking. Was he sad to know she would be leaving, or relieved to get rid of her?

Pastor Frank excused himself and left. Mick walked with him out of the unit. Caitlin let Sandra put Beth back to bed, then she left as well.

Mick was waiting by his SUV in the hospital parking lot. He held open the door for her. Climbing in, she tried again to find out what he was thinking. “Pastor Frank didn’t waste any time getting me a place.”

“No, he didn’t.” Mick shut her door and walked around. He seemed angry. She waited until he got in and started the engine.

“It sounds like a nice place,” she ventured.

“It sounds small.”

“Compared to your place, maybe. But for just Beth and me, it sounds okay.”

“We’ll see.”

“What does that mean?”

“I’m not going to let you and Beth move into some dump.”

“Did I hear you right? You aren’t going to
let
me? What makes you think that
you
can tell me what to do?”

“Don’t get your hackles up. I didn’t mean it like that.”

“And just how did you mean it?”

“All I meant was that I want to check the place out.”

“You want to check out the place
I’m
going to live? Why?”

“You know why.”

“I want to hear you say it.” Angry now, she didn’t try to hide the fact.

“All right! Because it might not be the kind of place you should take a baby who has spent the last two months in a hospital.”

“I can’t believe you think I’d let her stay in a place that wasn’t okay.”

“Let me see,” he said, sarcasm cutting deep through his voice. “Oh, like the place I found you in! Now that was okay, wasn’t it?”

“I didn’t have a choice then. I was working on getting a decent place, only Beth came too soon.”

“There will always be problems that come up. I just don’t see how you can take care of her by yourself.”

She turned away from him and stared out the window. She had to be strong. Now more than ever. She couldn’t let her feelings for Mick blind her to what he could do. She drew in a deep, steadying breath. “Beth and I will be fine without your help.”

He gave an exasperated sigh. “I know you love her, but love won’t put food on the table, it won’t pay the rent. Beth needs a father. I intend to be there for her. I grew up without a father, and so did you. You know what it’s like. Why won’t you let me take care of both of you?”

She jerked around to face him. “Yes, I grew up without a father, but I barely missed him because I never knew who he was. You know who I did miss? I missed my mother! I missed her every time she was too strung out to get out of bed while I went hungry because there wasn’t any food. I missed her every time she left me alone and didn’t come home for days. All I ever wanted was for her to love me. Me! Not the stuff she shot up her arm.” Her voice broke, but she struggled to keep control.

“All I ever wanted was for my mother to love me the way that I love Beth. She’s all I need, and I’m all she needs. Beth was never yours. I’m sorry you can’t accept that.”

“She isn’t my blood, but she’s mine in my heart. I don’t want to fight, Caitlin.”

She didn’t either, but she couldn’t let him think that he could run her life. He had the power to take her child away if she failed to live up to the standards he set. She hardened her heart. Keeping Beth was all that mattered. She stared straight ahead and kept her voice level when she said, “Beth isn’t some fantasy replacement for the children you can’t have.”

“That’s not fair!”

She cringed at the pain she had inflicted, but there was no way to call the words back. Instead, she said, “Life ain’t fair, Mick’O. I’m surprised you hadn’t noticed. I’m going back inside and stay with Beth a while longer.”

She reached for the handle and pushed open the door. He didn’t try to stop her.

“Go home, Mick. I can find my own way from now on. You know, I’m looking forward to being out on my own again.” It was, without a doubt, the biggest lie she had ever uttered.

Mick didn’t answer. He simply stared at her. She couldn’t bear the pain in his face. She closed the door and walked away.

* * *

It was barely a week later when a timid knock came from the front door of Caitlin’s new home. She dropped the curtain rod she was hanging and hurried to open it. Maybe it was Mick.

It wasn’t. His mother stood on the stoop. She held a large shopping bag in her hand. Her other arm remained in a sling, but the cast was gone. Caitlin stared in surprise at her unexpected guest.

Elizabeth smiled and wiggled two fingers in an awkward wave. “Hi. I hope you don’t mind my dropping by. I was out shopping, and I saw the cutest baby clothes. I couldn’t resist. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Ah—no, I don’t mind at all. Come in.”

“Thanks, but I have a few more bags in the cab.” She pushed the one she held into Caitlin’s hands and hurried down the steps. She returned with bag after bag until Caitlin wondered if the woman had been knocking over infant stores across the city and was trying to get rid of the stolen goods. As she set the last bag on the counter, Caitlin wondered if the gesture had been Mick’s idea. She couldn’t bring herself to ask.

Elizabeth looked around, and said, “My gracious sakes! What is that monstrosity?”

“I think it’s called a pram. It’s a present from a friend.”

“It’s a gigantic, black leather baby buggy with crooked wheels.” She moved closer to examine it. “This thing must be a hundred years old. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one except in movies. What are you going to do with it?”

“I’m going to use it as a baby bed.”

“You’re joking.”

“I know a girl whose baby slept in the bottom drawer of her dresser. Why couldn’t a baby buggy work as well?”

“I guess it could.” Elizabeth bent to examine the pram then wrinkled her nose. “Thank goodness the baby isn’t coming home yet. This is going to take some work to get it clean.”

Looking instantly contrite, she straightened and said, “I’m sorry. That sounded heartless. I’m sure you wish your little girl were home no matter what. How is she doing?”

“Great, except that she still forgets to breathe sometimes. She’s on a drug to help that, and she’s still on one to control her seizures, but she’s gaining weight. I nurse her three times a day now. If she keeps gaining, she’ll get to move out of her incubator in a few more days.”

“I’m glad. You’ve been very brave in the face of all that has happened.”

Caitlin shook her head. “No, I’m not. I worry every minute that something else will go wrong.”

“That’s only natural. It’s a mother thing.” Moving around the apartment, Elizabeth picked up Caitlin’s sketchbook from the stained-and-scarred coffee table. “May I?” At Caitlin’s nod, she leafed through the book.

“These are wonderful. Mick told me you’re an artist and that you are selling some of your work.”

“Lately, every grandparent with a baby in the nursery wants to buy a portrait. Dr. Wright has even talked to a guy who owns a gallery. He’s gonna take a look at my stuff.”

“That’s great.”

“Maybe, maybe not. I don’t want to get my hopes up. How is Mick?” she asked, hoping she didn’t sound too eager for information.

“Actually, I haven’t seen much of him. I got my cast off two days ago, and I’m moving back into my own apartment. I’ve been busy setting things to rights there. I’m sure he’s been busy with work.”

Too busy to come to the hospital. Caitlin knew because she spent every day there, herself. He’d promised that he would always be there for Beth, but this was how Caitlin knew it would turn out. He was getting on with his life. Only, she hadn’t expected it to hurt this much.

Elizabeth moved a step closer and laid a hand on Caitlin’s shoulder. “I’d really like to keep in touch with you.”

“I’d like that, too.”

“Well, since I’m here, why don’t I take you out to lunch?”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“Nonsense. You have to eat, don’t you? I tell you what. In exchange for a meal, you can bring your young knees over to my apartment and take a broom to the dust buffalo under my bed and sofa. You’d be doing me a big favor.”

“I thought they were dust bunnies.”

“They’ve been growing since I’ve been at Mick’s. Please say you’ll come and tackle them for a crippled, old woman.”

“Since you put it that way, sure.”

“Excellent. I told the cabby to wait in case you said yes. I can’t wait to show you my little place. I have quite a teapot collection that I think you’ll like. That reminds me. Do you have a teapot? If not, I shall make you a present of one of mine. Good tea requires a good pot to brew in.”

Caitlin smiled as she followed Elizabeth down the steps. Besides the fact that she truly liked Mick’s mother, it would be easy now to find out how he was doing. She missed him more than she had ever thought possible.

* * *

It was after two in the morning when Mick entered the NICU and made his way to the incubator where Beth lay sleeping. Propped on her side, she held both fists close to her face like a tiny boxer getting ready to take on all comers. She was a fighter like her mother, and he thanked God for that. Life wasn’t going to be easy for her.

He draped one arm on the top of her box and leaned in close, but he didn’t speak, didn’t open the porthole to caress her tiny head as he longed to do. She needed her sleep. She was doing so well now that the past months seemed like a fading nightmare. How many times had she cheated death while he paced in the waiting room? He had come to hate the sight of those blue tweed chairs. He’d never buy anything that color.

An alarm sounded a few beds down the aisle, and a nurse walked by to silence it. There was still a hustle in the nursery, but it was more muted at night. Perhaps it was the dimmed lights that kept everyone talking more quietly and slowed the frantic pace. He’d taken to visiting Beth in the small hours of the morning since Caitlin had moved out of his house.

Without her presence, he found it hard to sleep. Instead of tossing and turning in his lonely bed he came here. Here he didn’t miss her scent—her vibrancy—the sound of her voice. Here he came to watch over Beth while she slept.

Each day, Beth grew stronger. And each day the child he thought of as his own slipped further away from him. He had to let her go. Just as he had let her mother go.

Knowing that Caitlin didn’t want him in her life was tearing him apart. She wanted to live her own life. He understood that, even respected it, but the love he felt wasn’t fading now that they were apart. Would it ever? How could he face a lifetime without Caitlin and Beth?

Lord, grant me Your wisdom and guidance. Please. Because I don’t know what to do.

Chapter Fifteen

“T
hese are your going-home instructions. Do you have any questions?” A nurse Caitlin hadn’t met before handed her a sheet of paper. Caitlin took it and stared at it trying to calm her fears. How could she possibly do this? How could she care for Beth without doctors and nurses there around the clock? What if there was something important in this paper?

Tell her. Tell her you can’t read.

She opened her mouth to confess, but the words stuck in her throat. Would they let her take Beth home if they knew how stupid she was? The fear of losing her baby always lurked in the back of her mind. If they thought she couldn’t take care of Beth, would they give her to Mick, instead?

She glanced at the car seat by her feet. Beth slept quietly, looking utterly adorable in a pink, frilly dress with a matching band around her head. No, Caitlin decided, she couldn’t risk it. As soon as she had a chance, she’d take the paper and have Eddy look at it.

Caitlin forced a smile. “It all seems pretty clear.”

“Good. Here are the prescriptions for Beth’s medications. Take them to the pharmacy of your choice.”

“But I’ll still give her the same amounts, right?”

“That’s right. Her caffeine is ten milligrams, that’s one cc in the morning, and her phenobarbital is eight milligrams, two cc’s at night. I’ve put several small oral medication syringes in this bag.”

Caitlin nodded. She knew how to give the medications. She’d watched closely as Sandra had shown her how to draw two cc’s of liquid from the round bottle and one cc from the oval bottle. Both medicines were red liquids, but she knew the round bottle was the drug that would control Beth’s seizures and the oval bottle was the drug that would keep Beth from having apnea. “The pharmacy will give me the same medicines, right?”

“Yes, they’ll be the same as what Beth was taking here. Do you have any questions about the home monitor?”

“No, the guy who set it up explained everything. I’ve had my CPR training. I know all the emergency numbers.”

Dr. Wright came into the nursery just then followed by a small man in a sharply tailored, dark blue suit. Caitlin shook the hand that Dr. Wright held out.

“I wish you the best of luck, Ms. Williams. Before you go, let me introduce you to someone. This is Karl Wiltshire. Karl, this is the young woman I’ve been telling you about, Caitlin Williams.”

“Ms. Williams, I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. I’ve been admiring some of your work in Dr. Wright’s office. You have a remarkable talent.”

“Thanks.” Caitlin still felt embarrassed by the attention her work seemed to be getting.

The man held out a business card. “I own a gallery downtown. I’d be interested in displaying some of your work.”

He smiled at Beth. “I can see that you’re going to be busy for a while, but I’d like to get together with you. Would next Friday be too soon?”

Stunned, Caitlin took his card. Her work in a gallery? The idea blew her away. “Um, no. Next Friday will be fine.”

“Excellent. Let’s say ten o’clock?”

“Great. Would it be okay if I brought the baby?”

“Of course. Bring what you think is your best work and we’ll discuss it.” With that, he shook Caitlin’s hand again and followed Dr. Wright out of the unit.

“Well,” the nurse said, “I guess that’s everything.”

Caitlin tucked Mr. Wiltshire’s business card in the bag with Beth’s things. Looking through the bag, she realized something was missing. “I don’t see Beth’s card. It has green shamrocks on it.”

“You mean her Irish blessing. I think it’s still on her crib. I’ll get it for you.”

A few moments later, she returned with the card in her hand. She read it aloud. “‘May God grant you many years to live, for sure He must be knowing, the Earth has angels all too few, and heaven’s overflowing.’ Isn’t that beautiful?”

“It’s perfect.” Tears pricked the back of Caitlin’s eyes. Reaching out, she took the card from the woman’s hand. Mick had chosen these words for Beth on the day she was born, and Caitlin would cherish them forever.

The nurse said, “I’m surprised Mick isn’t here.”

“He’s been working a lot, I guess. He hasn’t been able to come and see her lately.”

“Except at night.”

Caitlin frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I usually work the night shift. I’m covering for a nurse who is sick this morning. I’ve gotten used to seeing Mick here in the wee hours.”

Caitlin blinked hard. Mick had been to see Beth, but he hadn’t come to see Beth’s mother. That hurt, although she knew it shouldn’t. Did he still worry that she wouldn’t be able to take care of Beth by herself?

Beth was going to be the only priority in Caitlin’s life from now on. She would stop mooning over Mick O’Callaghan. She would stop missing him. Maybe someday, she’d even stop dreaming about him.

Slipping the strap of Beth’s monitor over her shoulder, Caitlin picked up the car seat. “Please tell everyone I said thank you.”

“Good luck, and don’t be afraid to call us with questions.”

Glancing around the unit once more, a sense of loss settled over Caitlin. Strangely enough, she was going to miss this place. She looked down at her baby and smiled. “Let’s go home, jelly bean.”

The cabdriver waited for them while Caitlin took Beth’s prescriptions into a nearby pharmacy. She hurried, knowing the meter was still running. She had some money, but none to waste.

In the pharmacy, the woman behind the counter handed Caitlin the drugs in a small white paper sack. It wasn’t until she and Beth were back in the cab that Caitlin opened it and looked in. There were two identical oval, amber plastic bottles.

Caitlin stared at them in dismay. At the hospital, the seizure medication had been in a round bottle. Her heart hammered with panic. How was she going to tell them apart? She took a deep breath and tried to remain calm. She’d find a way to manage. She always found a way.

A few minutes later, the cab pulled up to the small apartment that she and Beth were going to call home. Caitlin leaned forward to pay the driver. “Could you help me carry some things in?”

“Sure. No problem,” he replied.

Caitlin took one bottle of medication from the package and let it slip to the floor. Then she unbuckled Beth’s car seat and lifted the baby out of the cab. “I’ll take her if you can get her monitor and the diaper bag.”

Caitlin was halfway up the outside stairs that led to her new home when the driver called out, “Hey, you forgot some medicine here.”

She turned back frowning. “I don’t think so. What is it?”

He peered at the bottle. “It says Caffeine Ci—something.”

She sagged with relief. “Oh, yes, it’s mine. It must have fallen out of my bag.”

“Good thing I saw it.” He tucked it in his shirt pocket, then lifted the diaper bag and the monitor from the cab.

Once inside the apartment, Caitlin set the bottle with Beth’s seizure medication on the kitchen counter. She’d mark it with something that would let her tell the medicines apart right away. She set Beth’s car seat on the floor beside the couch.

The driver carried in the diaper bag and Beth’s VCR-sized monitor. “Where do you want these?”

“Anywhere is fine.”

“Oops, she’s spitting up,” he said, pointing to Beth. “My youngest one was always doing that.”

Caitlin took the diaper bag from him, and he moved aside as she found a cloth to wipe Beth’s face. When she looked up, he was standing by the kitchen counter reading the bottle he held.

“I’ll take that,” she said.

“Oh, sure.” He handed it to her. “What’s it for, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“She has apnea. The caffeine helps her to keep breathing.”

“Wow. And the Pheno stuff?”

“It controls her seizures.”

“Seizures? The poor kid.” His voice held an edge of pity that annoyed Caitlin.

“The doctors think she’ll outgrow them.”

“That’s good. Well, I’d better get going. Good luck to you both,” he said.

Caitlin showed him to the door and closed it behind him, then she stared at the bottle in her hand. She had found a way this time, but it might not be so easy the next time. Not being able to read hadn’t meant much when she only had herself to worry about. Street smarts had mattered more than the things she’d learned in school, but now she had Beth to think of.

Someday Beth would go to school, and she’d want her mother to help with homework and stuff. Caitlin bit down on her fingernail as she stared at her sleeping daughter.

Could she lie and fool her own daughter the way she had fooled others? She didn’t want to, but she didn’t want Beth to be ashamed of her, either.

Carrying the bottle in her hand to the kitchen, she set it on top of the refrigerator. She found a small rubber band in a drawer and put it over the neck of the bottle on the counter. It would be easy to tell them apart now. Next time she had them filled, she’d ask the pharmacy for two different kinds of bottles.

She crossed the room and sat down on the brown floral sofa that had come with the apartment and stared at her baby, still sleeping peacefully. The quiet of the small place surrounded them. They were home. She had her baby with her now and forever.

Beth stirred and began to fuss. Happily, Caitlin picked her up and began to nurse her. This was how she had always known it would be. Silently, Caitlin thanked God for the beautiful child He had given her.

* * *

Mick helped loop the long fire hose back onto the sides of the truck. He pushed back his helmet and wiped the sweat and soot from his forehead with the back of his coat sleeve. Woody secured his end then turned to Mick. “Our shift ended forty minutes ago.”

The small kitchen fire had produced a lot of smoke, but most of the home was still intact. The family stood huddled together on the sidewalk, thankful it hadn’t been worse.

Mick looked over his shoulder at his friend. “Don’t tell me you’re complaining about overtime.”

“Not me. I can always find ways to spend it. Now that we’re off, what are your plans for the next few days?”

“A hot shower, some breakfast and then I’m going to see Caitlin and Beth.”

“You’ve waited—what? A whole week?”

“I wanted to give them time to get used to being in a new place, but I need to see how they’re doing.”

“Mick, they’re doing fine.”

“I know they’re fine. I’m the basketcase. How am I going to convince Caitlin that I’m in love with her? She thinks I’m only interested in Beth.”

The “fantasy replacement” for the child he couldn’t have. Her comment had hurt, but in a way, it had been true—to start with. Only so much had changed since the day Beth was born. He had changed. He needed both of them in his life.

Woody slapped Mick’s shoulder and pushed him toward the cab of the truck. “First, let’s get back to the station and out of this gear, and then we can discuss your love life. The main thing is, don’t rush her. Take it slow and easy. Be a friend.”

On the ride back to the firehouse, Mick pondered Woody’s advice. It made sense. Slow and easy, that would be the plan.

Please, Lord, let me prove to Caitlin that I love her. That I want us to be a family.

He’d show her he could be a dependable friend before anything else. She would be hard to convince. She was stubbornly independent. She had a little money now from her drawings, but that wouldn’t last long. Soon she’d see that she needed him and he’d be there for her.

After showering and getting dressed in Levi’s and a blue plaid cotton shirt, Mick pulled a small bag from the top shelf of his locker. Inside was a plush pink bunny that played a child’s prayer when its paws were squeezed. Today he would simply say that he had stopped by to see Beth and give her a welcome-home present. Caitlin would believe that.

* * *

Beth wouldn’t quit crying. Caitlin paced the floor of her small apartment, switching the baby from one weary arm to the other. It was almost eight in the morning, and Beth had been crying since before midnight. Caitlin’s feelings of frustration and inadequacy had long since given way to pure exhaustion.

“What’s wrong? Tell me what you want,” she pleaded, knowing she had already tried everything. “I’ve fed you and changed you and rocked you. What else do you need?”

Even the warm bath and wrapping Beth tightly had failed to calm her for more than a few minutes. Nothing worked.

Caitlin was due at the Wiltshire Gallery at ten o’clock. She had less than two hours to get presentable and get downtown. Having the gallery accept her work was so important. Why did Beth have to choose this night to have a case of colic? “Hush, baby, please.”

Beth arched her back and flailed her arms as her cries continued. The last bit of Caitlin’s patience vaporized. Crossing to the bedroom, she laid the baby abruptly in her oversized buggy. “Well, just cry then! I don’t care!”

Shutting the door with a bang, Caitlin dropped onto the sagging sofa, pressed her hands over her ears and battled the need to burst into tears herself.

She waited, watching the hands of the clock tick slowly around. Five minutes. After ten minutes, she gave up. Dragging herself off the sofa, she returned to the bedroom. Beth’s cries had subsided to ragged sobs and pitiful whimpering. She turned her tiny face toward Caitlin, her wide-eyed expression a picture of panic and fear.

Consumed with guilt, Caitlin scooped her up and held her close. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m a terrible mother, only I just don’t know what else to do.”

A knock sounded at the front door and Beth began crying loudly once more.

Now what? Carrying her screaming child, Caitlin yanked open the door, then sagged with relief. “Mick. Oh, I’m so glad to see you.”

“What’s wrong?” His concern was her undoing.

A sob escaped her. “I don’t know.” She thrust the baby toward him. “She just keeps crying and crying. I’ve done everything I can think of.”

Taking the baby from her, he balanced Beth in one arm and draped his free arm over Caitlin’s shoulders. “Okay. It’s going to be all right. Babies get fussy sometimes.”

“Not like this.”

He led her to the sofa and sat beside her. “When did this start?”

“I don’t know. The day before yesterday, I think. She started having high heart-rate alarms on her monitor.”

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