Authors: Rhonda Lee Carver
2013 Rhonda Lee Carver
Copyright © 2013 by Rhonda Lee Carver
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States
For Chase, Tyler, Ava and Lilly…My biggest supporters
Thanks to Todd Tinker and Tracey Jackson
LILA SINCLAIR SWALLOWED the last bite of her chocolate bar. She headed up the wide stairs, two at a time, and pushed through the grey swinging doors leading into the hospital’s emergency corridor. Glancing at her watch, she smiled. Her shift ended in thirty minutes. She couldn’t remember feeling this anxious to leave work. In fact, most times she preferred working late instead of going home to a quiet house.
Times certainly have changed.
Slipping into the station, she bumped into one of the nurses. “Ooh, sorry, Denise. I guess I need to slow down.” Lila laughed as she emptied her pockets of old candy bar foils and sucker wrappers.
“Girl, I can’t believe you ate all of that junk in one shift.” Denise shook her head. “What happened to the health bars and fruit you’re always preaching about?”
Lila shrugged. “What can I say? I can’t resist the candy machine.” The other woman’s stare made Lila swipe at her cheeks and mouth. “What? Do I have chocolate on my face?”
“No, your face is fine.” Denise chuckled as her warm brown eyes twinkled. “Okay, lady. You and I have worked together for a while now and I’ve never seen you so enthusiastic. Who are you meeting after work that deserves the million-dollar smile?”
Picking up the nearest chart, Lila pretended interest in the notes. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“You can’t fool me. You’re seeing Cowboy again, aren’t you?”
Lila couldn’t hold back. Dropping the chart onto the desk, she turned and hugged Denise. “Yes, I am. We’ve been seeing each other for three months and I have a feeling—” She didn’t want to say the words aloud for fear she would jinx Duke’s intentions. “Well, you know what I mean.”
Denise’s features lit up. “You think he’s going to pop the question?”
Lila didn’t answer. She picked the chart back up, crossed the space of the cubicle and placed the folder into the sleeve for the on-call doctor. She leaned against the counter and sighed. “You know the story. It’s been a long road, but I think we’re finally here.”
“Sometimes it’s more fun to journey the road less traveled,” Denise said.
“True,” Lila said. Tendrils of hair fell from her ponytail and she attempted to push them back into the rubber band. She wasn’t sure what was wrong, but her hair seemed to have a mind of its own these days. “It’s certainly been a memorable trip. I could have strangled him when he broke it off with me. Devastated, I swore I’d never forgive him.” She blew a puff of air out of the corner of her mouth. “The point is, never say
. Six years later, he’s back in my life and I’m tired of playing hard to get. I’m more than ready to be caught by my cowboy.”
Denise opened her mouth as if to respond when a booming voice came over the scanner. “This is paramedic Wheeler. We are en route with a male victim suffering from burns and head injury. Copy that?”
Lila punched the button on the two-way. “Copy. A male victim, burns and head trauma. Read me the stats and how far out. Over.”
“He’s hypertensive with BP of one-forty-five over one-hundred, pupils are dilated, responding to muscle stimulation and coherent. Second and third degree burns on face and chest. Head trauma from a blunt force to the left side. Age thirty-nine with no history of medical illness or medication. We should arrive in five minutes. Over and out.”
“I’ll alert Doctor Lucas that we have a patient arriving.” Denise started down the hall in quick stride. “You better call that cowboy of yours. It doesn’t look like you’ll be out of here any time soon,” she said over her shoulder.
Disappointment erased Lila’s eagerness.
Grabbing her cell, she hit a number on speed dial. Three rings later, Duke’s voice mail picked up. Waiting for the beep, Lila then said, “Hi Duke. I’m running late. Wait for me.” She started to switch off when she placed the phone back to her ear. “And Duke, I love you.”
Lila readied the medical supplies and pulled on gloves as two paramedics stormed into the emergency entrance. Lila rushed to the gurney and helped roll the victim into the burn room. A thick layer of soot and blood covered the patient. His shirt was missing and his jeans were dirty. The paramedics had done a quick burn wrap on his forehead, cheek and chest area. “Help me get him on the bed,” she said to the EMT standing closest to her.
Once the medics were out of the small space, Lila worked fast in ripping open the plastic wrap to the needle and preparing the patient’s arm for the intravenous bag. She was taking items out of a burn basket when Dr. Lucas ran in, shouting out instructions. Lila was a step ahead. “Here, Dr. Lucas, let me help you in your gloves.”
She stopped and listened. Had she heard someone say her name?
“Lila.” The raspy voice came again. She dropped the gloves.
A feeling of terror threaded through her veins. Her vision blurred and her hands shook. She turned, moved toward the bed and looked down at the patient. Her heart slammed against her ribcage as air rushed from her lungs. Stepping back, her hip hit the metal table, knocking the materials to the floor and scattering at her feet.
“Lila, are you okay?” Denise’s voice sounded distant, although Lila felt the woman’s hand on her shoulder.
“Nurse Sinclair? What is it?” She heard Dr. Lucas say through the haze.
“Lila,” the patient moaned. “I’m…”
She stared down into the face of the victim as monitors beeped wildly. She barely registered the movement around her as the room filled with several other nurses. It wasn’t possible! Then she saw it, the bull tattoo on his left arm. “Oh, no. Duke
Bringing her hand to her mouth, she attempted to cover her sobs. Her legs weakened and she had nothing to hold.
“Lila I’m here,” Denise said as Lila felt the other woman’s arms come around her waist.
The room started to spin just before darkness fell over her.
Eighteen months later...
Lila moved in the hard wooden chair, stretched languorously and yawned. The door to the room opened and a pretty blonde-haired woman bustled into the room, humming an upbeat tune.
“Hey, Janette.” Lila shifted a gaze down the woman’s neon green, polka dotted scrubs. Seeing Janette’s choice of uniform was always a highlight of the day. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were trying to make a statement with that outfit.”
Janette puffed up her big hair and batted her thick kohl-lined eyelashes. “It gives the patients something to talk about.” She chuckled.
“You do realize most of them are asleep, right?” Lila asked.
Janette shrugged. “Don’t hate because my patients don’t talk back like yours.” She winked. “I’d work here with comatose patients over the emergency room any day. I’m not sure how you do it.”
“I like the fast pace,” Lila said.
“By the way, what are you still doing here, woman? It’s getting late. And it’s not Monday or Wednesday. It’s Saturday. We’re supposed to get out of the hospital environment on our days off. It’s called a mental health day.”
“I could ask you the same question, considering your shift was over two hours ago.” Lila stood up from the chair and pushed it against the wall. Blood started rushing back to her limbs.
“I got talked into a double shift. My oldest is turning sixteen next month and he’s asking for a car. Bring on the overtime.” Janette wriggled thin eyebrows and sighed. “But then again, I’m not the one with a hot date tonight. I’d give up some of these long hours if I had a hunky doctor asking me out for dinner.”
Lila glanced at Duke’s motionless body lying in the twin bed and a twinge of guilt surfaced. “I have a date but I wouldn’t go as far to call it a hot one.”
Janette tipped her head toward the bed. “He’s not going to wake up from the coma and talk you out of the date, if that’s what you’re hoping for.”
Folding her arms over her waist, Lila wished she could get rid of the heaviness in her chest. The feeling became painful as she contemplated taking a step in moving on. “It’s sort-of silly, but I keep thinking, hoping...” She’d been through this a hundred times. Nothing changed.
“That he’ll wake up?” Janette gave her a compassionate smile. “It’s been what now? A year?”
“Eighteen months and three days.” Lila kept her gaze on Duke. “I only wish his mind would heal as fast as his body had.” The burns on the right side of his face healed the first six months of his coma. Pale blemishes lingered on his olive complexion, but they were less visible. His severely wounded chest and shoulder had deep scars. The pajama top hid most of the pitted marks but a few of the white discolorations were noticeable on his neck. His hair was longer now than he used to wear it and his cheeks had three days worth of stubble. Lila trimmed his hair every few months and shaved his face once a week. The nurse’s aide had offered once, but Lila refused to allow her to help. Lila appreciated those private moments she shared with Duke when she could talk to him about life, her hopes and dreams, but mostly how she wished he’d never been injured.
None of the doctors could explain why he was in a coma, except that tests showed no brain damage. On some days, Lila was convinced he only rested while his body mended. On others, she couldn’t get past how lifeless he lay there. He’d twitch once in a while, but Lila knew spasms were involuntary actions.
“He’s a lucky man. Not every woman would hang out here as often as you.” Janette checked his chart and filled in the stats for the day. “Between you and Chance Taylor, you keep the door rotating.”
“Chance still blames himself for the accident,” Lila said without thinking. Talking about the tragedy always caused her an overwhelming sense of agony. Walking to the window, she stared out into the parking lot. She couldn’t see anything through the mist in her eyes. Every day she relived that awful night a year and a half ago when a barn at the Swift Wind Ranch caught fire and Duke was left for dead.
“Blames himself? Chance saved Duke’s life, right?” Janette asked.
Lila hadn’t spoken to very many people about the events. In fact, Lila had gone out of her way to prevent talking about the accident. Bottling it up wouldn’t make the truth of the situation go away. “A fired worker took his anger out on Chance by setting fire to one of the horse barns on his ranch. Duke was on his way to his truck when he saw the flames. He ran in and tried to put it out. One of the beams fell and knocked him unconscious.” Lila inhaled deeply, finding the courage to continue. “Thankfully, Chance got there in time and pulled Duke to safety. Unfortunately, not before he was hurt.” Glancing at Duke’s sleeping form, Lila sniffed back tears. She wondered if somewhere within the silent confines of his mind he could hear her.
Janette’s exhale echoed off the walls. “From what I know, Duke was a great man. I don’t think he’d want you spending all of your days here in this room hovering over him like a hen.”
a good man.” Lila corrected her.
Janette blinked. “Yes, he is a good man.”
Lila hesitated and then nodded once. “No, he wouldn’t want me here watching over him. His pride wouldn’t allow it.”
“Well, kiddo,” Janette closed the distance between them and dropped a hand on Lila’s wrist, squeezing gently. “You can still go home and get all snazzied up for that date. Dr. Lucas is mighty fine and he’s also kind.”
“Yes.” Lila forced a smile on her lips. “He’s a nice guy. He’s helped out a lot since, well, all of this.” She smoothed her hands down the legs of her jeans. After the accident, Lila had felt like she’d tired out her best friend, Carly, by crying on her shoulder day in and day out. One evening after Lila’s shift ended, Dr. Shaun Lucas asked if she’d have a cup of coffee with him and she’d said yes. They’d started making it a habit to have coffee and long chats about Duke and work.
Janette started for the door. “If you need anything, just holler.”