Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart, page 16
Christy pondered for a moment. Her feelings for Linc were much stronger and deeper than those she’d felt toward Jon, but she wasn’t ready to admit she was in love.
“I care about him,” she said simply. “More than I’d expected I would. Probably even more than I should, which is why I can’t be certain he really knows what he’s getting into. Yes, he has all the medical knowledge, but I’m not sure his heart knows what he’s getting into.”
“You want to protect him.”
Linc had called her tactic “giving him an escape clause”. However anyone described it, her mother had pegged her correctly.
“You can be right about so many things, but in this you’re wrong. Call your excuse for what it is, daughter. You’re not trying to protect him as much as you’re trying to protect yourself.”
Christy mentally argued against that notion throughout the day, but by the time she was back on the plane and flying home, she finally conceded her mother’s assessment might have merit.
She’d always thought she was being altruistic by spelling everything out early in her relationships. Full disclosure early on was in everyone’s best interests because if a fellow couldn’t deal with her situation, she’d rather learn it early in a relationship. Maybe she was only protecting herself, but her method worked.
With Linc, however, it hadn’t. He wasn’t reacting true to form.
I’ll be with you every step of the way, he’d told her. She wanted to believe him, but she couldn’t take that leap of faith. He was the one man who, if he ever changed his mind and walked away, would devastate her to the point where she’d never recover.
As the evening dragged on and bad weather delayed her flight, one thought kept her going—she was heading home.
* * *
As the hours ticked by, Linc found it more and more difficult to wait patiently for Christy’s return. Every light in the main part of the house blazed because he wanted her to see the beacon as soon as she turned onto their street.
He’d expected her at nine and wished he could have met her at the airport, but he couldn’t leave Derek and Emma unattended. He’d tried phoning her, but his call had gone straight to her voice mail. A check on her flight status via the internet told him she’d been delayed due to bad weather. He might have wished the airline had cancelled the flight so she wouldn’t endure such a long travel day, but he wanted her safe at home and he wouldn’t rest until she was.
Finally, he heard the distinctive sound of the garage door mechanism and his shoulders slumped with relief.
“You made it,” he said inanely as he greeted her with a heartfelt hug and a brief kiss.
“Finally,” she muttered. Her body drooped with apparent exhaustion, her smile seemed forced, and she leaned on him as if the sheer act of standing required more energy than she could summon. She made no effort to leave his embrace, which suited him just fine.
“It’s past midnight. I can’t believe you waited up for me. You didn’t have to, but I’m glad you did.”
He grinned. Those few words made the hours of impatience worth it. “I said I would. I couldn’t go back on my word, could I?” he said lightly, hoping she’d see this incident as another example of his trustworthiness. “I couldn’t sleep anyway until you got home.”
She chuckled. “I’ll bet you stayed awake when Ty or your sister went out, too.”
“Sometimes,” he admitted, although waiting for his siblings didn’t compare to waiting for Christy. Not knowing where she was or what might be happening had made it impossible to close his eyes. The saying “Ignorance is bliss” didn’t apply where Christy was concerned.
He changed the subject. “How did your tests go?”
“Like they usually do. I didn’t do a thing except lie on the X-ray tables or sit in chairs. Machines and the staff did all the work.”
“Are you tired?” he asked, already knowing the answer.
“Very. You’d think, though, after sitting or lying down all day, I wouldn’t be.”
“It’s a good thing tomorrow is Saturday,” he told her. “The kids and I will watch cartoons so you can sleep late.”
“That isn’t necessary,” she began.
“Yes, it is,” he insisted. “I’m repaying the favor.”
As a sign of her exhaustion, she capitulated. “Okay, but no later than nine,” she warned. “Derek has a soccer game at eleven and I have a few things to do before then.”
“Nine a.m.,” he repeated. “Can I get you anything now? A cup of herbal tea? A glass of water?”
“Okay, then. Pleasant dreams.”
“You, too,” she murmured, before disappearing into her room.
As he performed his final walk-through of the house for the night, his own exhaustion tugged at him and he realized he was ready for the day to end. Now, though, it could, because Christy had come home.
* * *
Christy didn’t report to work until Tuesday, but the thought of what Linc and the children had done for her this past weekend still brought a smile to her face. Promptly at nine a.m. on Saturday, Emma had knocked on her door and Linc had barged in, carrying a breakfast tray. The plate had contained several misshapen pancakes, a small bowl of fresh strawberries and blueberries, and a cup of her favorite herbal tea prepared specially for her by Emma.
The day had been declared a “Coddle Christy” day and the trio had done so with great enthusiasm. She’d been encouraged to do nothing but eat and sleep and although she’d been certain she didn’t need a nap, she’d found herself snoozing in Linc’s lounge chair when they’d gone to his house to water his flowers.
His thoughtfulness had given her a few bittersweet moments because their time of sharing a house would be ending soon. While it wouldn’t be long before she’d only have her memories to sustain her, what fun it was to create them.
Her good mood faded, however, as Linc pulled her and her supervisor, Denise, into a treatment room during his morning rounds and closed the door.
“I want Christy to look after Mrs Connally this week,” he informed Denise in his typical, authoritative physician’s voice.
Shocked by his request, Christy listened with a combination of horrified surprise, embarrassment, and anger at his high-handedness. “I appreciate your request, Doctor,” the charge nurse said diplomatically, “but I can’t honor it. If I allowed the doctors to pick and choose which nurses would look after their patients, I’d have a staffing nightmare.”
“It’s in Mrs Connally’s best interests for Christy to be her nurse,” he argued. “Have I ever asked for a favor before?”
“Well, no, but I can’t establish a precedent. If the other doctors—or the nurses—learned I gave you a special favor, I’ve have a mutiny on my hands.”
“Who has to know?” he said. “This is strictly between the three of us.”
“I realize the medical staff each has his or her favorite nurses, but I work hard to spread the difficult cases around. Christy already has several. I can’t load her with one more.”
“Then pass one of hers to someone else.”
“I could, but why do you want her for this particular case?” Denise asked, ever blunt. “I have more experienced nurses—”
“This woman and her family need Christy right now.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You don’t have to. However, I know what I’m talking about.”
Denise frowned. “I’m sorry, but if you want me to bend the rules, I need a good reason to do so. Why is Christy the only nurse who can take care of your post-mastectomy patient?”
Christy’s anger and embarrassment faded as the reasons were painfully obvious. To Linc’s credit, he didn’t divulge her story but simply reiterated his stance.
Seeing Denise’s mulish expression, Christy knew her supervisor wouldn’t give in. Linc wasn’t trying to draw attention to her but he must be concerned about his patient to ask for such an unusual favor.
“I can explain,” she addressed her supervisor quietly. “I had a double mastectomy myself.”
Denise’s argumentative expression vanished and she looked as shocked as if the floor had disappeared underneath her feet. “You?”
“Yeah. About five years ago.”
“My patient needs to see she can still have a full and happy life,” Linc added. “Because of her personal experience, Christy can show her that in a way few others can.”
Denise let out a deep breath. “Okay. You’ve been reassigned. Tanya can take Mr Wiseman.” She paused, peering over her reading glasses. “You should have told me about this before now.”
She shrugged. “I’ve told a few of my patients if they’ve had similar surgeries, but I didn’t necessarily want it to be common knowledge.”
“You do realize I’ll take advantage of your experience in the future, don’t you?”
Christy nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Then it’s settled.” Denise addressed Linc. “Are you satisfied, Doctor?”
He worked his mouth in an obvious attempt to hide a grin. “Absolutely.”
“Good.” Denise strode from the room, leaving Christy alone with Linc.
“I’m sorry for putting you on the spot,” he began, “but Renee Connally is having a difficult time coping with her diagnosis. She’s forty years old, has three children, and is convinced her life is over.”
“Is it?” she asked.
“The cancer is invasive, but we caught it early and her sentinel lymph nodes are clear. You were the first person I thought of who might convince her that she can get past this. I’m sorry I outed you.”
“The news was bound to break sooner or later,” she said, “but don’t worry about it. Meanwhile, I’ll talk to her.”
“Thanks,” he said. “The sooner you get her to look positively at her future, the better.”
Christy found Renee dozing, her husband in the chair beside her bed. As soon as she walked in, the woman opened her eyes.
“I’m Christy and I’ll be taking care of you,” she said calmly. “Are you staying ahead of your pain?”
“For the most part.”
Christy chatted about non-consequential topics while she checked Renee’s drain and offered to teach her how to maintain it as soon as Renee was able. After discussing a few other physical issues with her, Christy said cheerfully, “Doctor says we have to get you moving, so I’m going to bump your hubby from his chair. You can sit there for a while.”
As her husband jumped up, Renee shook her head. “I’d rather not. There isn’t any point, is there?”
“Of course there is. Lying in bed won’t help you return to your normal life.”
“That’s the point. My life isn’t normal any more, is it?”
“Not by your old standards, but whatever treatment you face won’t last for ever. You’re facing a tough period, to be sure, but you can get past this. You have to, for your children’s sakes.”
“I know you mean well, but save your Pollyanna attitude for someone else. You have no idea what I’m going through.”
“Actually, I do,” she said bluntly. “I had a double mastectomy five years ago and I’m proof that life goes on.” She pulled up a nearby folding chair and began to tell her story.
* * *
By the end of the week, Christy was pleased with Renee Connally’s progress. She had begun to take an active interest in her own nursing care and her entire outlook seemed much improved.
She’d also learned something from Renee and her husband as well. As she watched her walk the hallway with his help and sometimes caught the two of them in the room with their heads together, she came to a startling conclusion.
Jon hadn’t loved her.
Oh, he’d been good company and they’d got along well, but true love had staying power. When the going got tough, love allowed two people to endure. It didn’t encourage one person to abandon the other.
I’m not going anywhere.
Linc’s words resurfaced in her memory. For the first time she began to believe it was possible—that there were men who stood by their wives and girlfriends during difficult times. That fellows like Jon were the exception, not the rule.
Unfortunately, her revelation came at a time when she had to shelve her personal concerns and focus on the job at hand. Gail and Ty were due home on Saturday and Christy had a million things to do before they arrived. Not only was the dance competition on her mind but she wanted everything in the house to be in perfect order, from the housework to the laundry. To that end, she created lists of chores for everyone until Linc complained as loudly as the children.
Naturally, Derek and Emma were wild with anticipation.
“We should visit the park so Ria can run off their energy, shouldn’t we?” Linc said on Wednesday evening.
“I think so,” she said ruefully. “The sad thing is, they’re like Energizer Bunnies. Poor Ria is so tired her tail drags most of the time.”
“After Saturday, Ria can resume her quiet life.” He paused. “If their flight is delayed again for any reason, we’ll cut it close to get to our event on time.”
“We’ll manage. If nothing else, we’ll leave their car and they can drive themselves home.”
“Let’s hope we don’t have to. Derek and Emma would be crushed if they weren’t able to greet their parents as soon as they land.”
Christy didn’t understand what had caused the airline to bump Gail and Ty to a later flight, but she was relieved to have the extra hours’ reprieve. Truth was, she wasn’t looking forward to returning to her quiet little apartment after being a part of a boisterous family atmosphere.
“I’ve been spoiled the past two months,” Linc commented.
“As crazy as it sounds, I liked having all the commotion when I came home at night. It’ll take time to get used to peace and quiet again.”
“I agree.” She grinned. “Maybe we can borrow Derek and Emma for the occasional weekend.”
“It’s a deal,” he said.
Suddenly both children raced through the house, doors slamming, with Ria barking at their heels as they rushed into the back yard.
Linc visibly winced. “I was going to ask if you wanted to run through our dance routine again, but we’d better save that for later. Unless you think we don’t need the practice.”
She hated the idea of never dancing with him again, so she intended to make the most of her opportunities.
“‘Practice makes perfect,’” she quoted. “I’ll pencil you into my schedule after the kids are in bed for the night.”
“I can’t wait.”
Neither, it seemed, could she.
* * *
On Saturday at two, Linc herded his group through the airport to the baggage claim where they waited for Gail and Ty to arrive. According to the monitors, their flight would land in a few minutes, so they still had plenty of time to wait. Linc would have preferred spending the extra hour at the house, but every five minutes Derek or Emma had asked, “Can we leave yet?”
Although he’d miss the time with the children, Linc was glad his brother would be home again. He looked forward to giving Christy his full attention.
“Are you okay?” he asked her as they milled around the open area along with others who were also waiting for their friends and family to appear.
“Sure. Why wouldn’t I be?”
He suspected the reason went far beyond her desire to cre
“You look a little stressed,” he hedged.
“Too much on my mind, I guess. Oh, look.” She pointed to the group of passengers descending on them. “They’re here.”
As both children broke away to run toward their parents, Linc remained at Christy’s side, his arm slung around her waist. From the way she swiped at the corner of her eyes, he knew his brother’s family reunion bothered her more than she let on.
He remained rooted to the spot, determined to show her that no matter the situation, she could lean on him.
* * *
“My word, Christy!” Gail exclaimed as she walked into her house a short time later. “This place looks better than when I left.”
Christy laughed at her friend’s awe. “I wouldn’t go that far, but everyone worked hard to get ready for you. We also went grocery shopping and stocked the refrigerator so you won’t have to fight the stores for a few days until you recover from jet lag.”
“You’ve thought of everything,” Gail marveled. “So tell me quick while the men are unloading the suitcases—how did things go with you and Linc?”
Her gaze narrowed. “You’re not just saying that, are you?”
“No, I’m not. In fact, things went much better than I’d ever dreamed they would. You were right. He really is a great guy. In fact, I’ll probably miss having him around on a daily basis, dirty socks and all,” she finished lightly.
Gail eyed her carefully. “Oh, my gosh. You’ve fallen in love with him, haven’t you?”
Christy wanted to deny it, but she couldn’t—not to her dearest friend. She didn’t know when it had happened, but it had. “I think so,” she said.
“How does he feel?”
She smiled. “He says he isn’t going anywhere.”
Gail clapped her hands and crowed. “I knew you two were meant for each other. This is absolutely wonderful.”
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