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Turbulence, p.21

Turbulence, page 21

 

Turbulence
 


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  “How does anyone juggle a job with a personal life? But you’re right. Some people can do both and others can’t. You’ve obviously decided you fit in the latter category.”

  His eyes narrowed as if he didn’t like being told that he couldn’t do something. “So you agree that I can’t do this.”

  “It isn’t a case of ‘can’t.’ It’s more a matter of establishing your priorities. Raising a child, even if he’s half-grown, is a big responsibility, and I recognize that. It would require a massive adjustment on your part. To be honest, I don’t know what I’d do if I was in your position.”

  Actually, she did know. She would take Sam without hesitation. But she’d reached a different stage in her life than Micky had.

  “But you do agree with me.” He sounded as if he needed her approval.

  She didn’t answer. “You said you were going to do what’s best for the both of you. So far, I’ve only heard what’s best for you.”

  “I’m away from home for at least sixteen hours a day. Sam would spend all of his time at a sitter’s.”

  “That is a problem,” she agreed.

  “I’d have to cut back to twelve-or ten-hour days.”

  “You might.”

  “My business would suffer. Success doesn’t happen overnight or by chance.”

  “No, it doesn’t,” she agreed. “You have to weigh the rewards of financial gain against those of being a role model and mentor.”

  “It’s more than the money.”

  “Then what is it about?”

  “I can’t be there for him.” He fell silent as he tore the edge of his cup in precise sections.

  She wanted to remind him that Crystal didn’t know where Sam was ninety percent of the time and obviously didn’t care. Dana also had her doubts about Sam faring any better with his great-aunt. Those were things that Micky had to consider and sort through on his own.

  “We’d both sacrifice a lot,” he said. “Living out of a hangar isn’t a life for a young boy.”

  “No, it isn’t.” Allowing him to think of the pros and cons for himself seemed the best way to guide him toward a decision. Whatever he decided, she wanted him to make the decision based on logic rather than personal insecurities.

  “Being his guardian wouldn’t be easy. Worrying if he’s sick or doing well in school, or making sure he eats what he should.”

  She nodded solemnly. “Parenthood isn’t a picnic.”

  “I just don’t think I can make it work.”

  “Sam has faith in you.”

  “Well, he shouldn’t,” Micky answered crossly. “A boy belongs with his mother, even if she’s not the greatest in the world. I just can’t be responsible. He isn’t even family.”

  “Then, if Sam were Courtney’s son, you wouldn’t hesitate?”

  “I wouldn’t have a choice. She’s my sister.”

  “But you’d make it work if Sam was your nephew,” she persisted. “Wouldn’t you?”

  He answered with a shrug that could have meant anything.

  “Remember this,” she warned. “Emotional ties can be stronger than blood ties. You and Sam are already closer than some parents are to their own children.” She leaned closer. “Don’t you see? However it happened, you already have a relationship with him, a quasifamily bond, and if you walk away from him now, not only will you break his heart, but you’ll have a hole in yours. Oh, you’ll fill it with something like flying more hours and working harder, but it won’t be enough.”

  She knew because she’d done it. She’d filled the void that Alex had created with work and off-duty activities, but the empty spot had remained.

  Micky, too, had filled the vacuum in his life with his career and an occasional romantic encounter, but he hadn’t yet come to the same realization that she had. Only someone not something was the answer.

  “Even if I wanted a family—which I don’t—nothing says that Crystal would agree to Sam’s suggestion,” he pointed out.

  That truth shredded her—and Sam’s—last hope into confetti. She sat back and drained the last of her coffee. “You’re right. All of this may be hypothetical, in which case your conscience will be off the hook. And if that is Crystal’s decision, then never, ever let Sam know that the man he thinks capable of walking on water rejected him.”

  Aware their conversation wasn’t going anywhere, she rose. “Shall we see how he’s doing before we leave?”

  “Yeah.”

  Back in the E.R., a sleepy Sam was being prepped for surgery. “They’re putting a plate in his ankle and pinning the bones together,” Crystal told them as they stood in the doorway. “He’ll have to stay off his foot for a few weeks until it heals, but he’ll be fine.”

  “Then you won’t move to Nashville right now?” Dana asked.

  Crystal stared at her, clearly aghast at Dana’s assumption. “Of course I will. I’ve worked out everything. When he’s ready to go home, my aunt will take him to Fayetteville. It’s for the best,” she said defensively. “Until I get established.”

  Somehow, Dana doubted that would ever happen, but perhaps Crystal would surprise them all. She glanced at Micky, hoping he would ask Crystal if Sam had mentioned an alternative to her plans, but he was remarkably tight-lipped.

  “You’ll keep me posted?” he asked instead.

  Crystal nodded. “They’ll discharge him on Sunday.”

  Micky thanked her for the information, then shepherded Dana outside to the ambulance.

  “At least he’ll have a few weeks to adjust to his new surroundings before the fall term begins,” Dana said. “I hear it’s rough to switch schools after classes have started.”

  He nodded, although whether he agreed or was simply acknowledging her comment, she couldn’t tell.

  After they’d taken Sam inside, Micky had moved the ambulance to the parking lot. Rather than crawling in the back as before, she strapped herself into the passenger seat and stared into the twilight.

  “People are going to ask me what Texas is like when I get home,” she said, choosing to talk rather than brood over a situation she couldn’t control. “I’ll have to confess that I don’t know. It’s been either too rainy or too dark to see any sights.”

  “What you saw when we flew home yesterday is basically what this county has to offer—flat farm land and hilly ranches. Plenty of wide open spaces.”

  “And ponds,” she added, remembering the snake.

  He grinned. “Yeah, but you have one big one in your back yard, too.”

  She laughed at his reference to the bay for which her hometown was named. “A very big one,” she agreed. “We have the best beach in the world.”

  “Well, now,” he drawled. “You haven’t seen ours.”

  “No, I haven’t.” And she probably wouldn’t, but she didn’t mention the obvious. “We also have a remarkable story to go along with our beach. Want to hear it?”

  “Might as well. It’s a long trip back.”

  “Back in 1848, during the Mexican War,” she summarized, “a terrible storm blew an American war ship off course and it floundered in waters off the California coast. When the ship started to sink, Indians from the local tribe risked their lives to rescue the sailors. In honor of their bravery, the survivors named the settlement Courage Bay. Our emergency teams have carried on the tradition of helping others out of concern rather than a desire for glory. I can’t think of a single person in our department who isn’t committed one hundred percent to our mission.”

  She twisted slightly to face him. “With a name like Turning Point, I’m sure your town has a story, too.”

  “It’s not as dramatic as yours,” he warned.

  “Doesn’t matter. I’m all ears.”

  “Okay, here goes. According to local historians, a wagon train of pioneer folk with all sorts of European backgrounds was headed west along the coast. The settlers didn’t have a common language, but the wagon master knew enough to make himself understand.

  “But the wagon m
aster was killed. Those who were left behind knew that they had to somehow put aside their cultural differences and work together or none of them would survive. They did.”

  “And they stayed?”

  He grinned. “Yeah, they stayed. Apparently they decided the land around here was what they were looking for. They formed a town and called it Turning Point.”

  “Ah,” she said, making the connection. “Because it was the place where they’d turned toward each other.” She also wondered when, or if, Micky might experience a personal epiphany similar to that of his ancestors.

  For a while they traveled in comfortable silence along the dark highway. As they turned onto the road that led to Turning Point, a dome of light appeared in the sky.

  “Looks like power’s been restored,” Dana said.

  “Part of it, at least,” Micky commented. “The southern, residential end is still dark, but I’d bet the electricity will be on all over town within the next twenty-four hours.”

  “Looks like I’ll be leaving soon.”

  He glanced at her. “I can’t talk you into staying longer?”

  Her heart skipped a beat. “How long?”

  He shrugged. “A week or two.”

  She hadn’t truly expected him to profess undying love or beg her to stay forever, but she had hoped that she meant more to him than a mere fling.

  “I don’t have that much vacation leave,” she said.

  “Then stay indefinitely. There are plenty of jobs around the area.”

  “A person needs more of an incentive to move halfway across the country.” Here’s your chance, Micky, she thought.

  “What about your sense of adventure, Ms. I-want-to-see-what’s-on-the-other-side-of-the-fence?”

  They passed the sign welcoming them to Turning Point. “I can find plenty of excitement in Courage Bay. I’m a fireman, remember? Adventure is part of my job.”

  “I’d like you to stay,” he said. “There are so many things we haven’t done.”

  She remembered all his promises of “next time.” Another motorcycle ride. Another trip to his hideaway. As much as she would enjoy those things, they were simply activities to occupy an afternoon, an evening, a weekend.

  “You expect me to be handy when you decide you can spare an hour or two from flying, don’t you? I’ll be just another Barbie doll, standing on the shelf until you’re ready to play.”

  He had the grace to look a little sheepish. “It wouldn’t be that way.”

  There seemed little point in holding back. “How can you ask me such a question?” she asked, incredulous. “You just said you work until nine or ten at night. When were you planning on us getting together? One night a week? Once or twice a month?”

  “Of course not,” he snapped as he pulled into the parking lot of the fire station and shut off his headlights. “I’d see you more often.”

  “But if it came down to a last-minute flight or an evening with me, I shouldn’t expect you to decide in my favor.”

  He opened his mouth to object, then stopped. “I don’t know,” he said slowly. “It might. Or it might not. I can’t promise anything.”

  She wanted to be angry, but she simply couldn’t fault a man for knowing—and admitting—his limitations. “Thanks for being honest, but that isn’t the sort of relationship I’m looking for.”

  He started to speak, but she forestalled him. “Before you accuse me of being like the other women you’ve known, including Jillian, don’t. In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m completely different.

  “You see, I don’t care what kind of job you might have. You’re trained to fly, so fly. Be an astronaut or a test pilot, for all I care. Do whatever makes you happy. I won’t stand in your way or try to ground you.

  “But don’t expect me to be one of your groupies, either, satisfied with your attention whenever you deign to give it. I won’t wait for a call that comes only when you decide you’re ready for more company than what you get from a hunk of metal.

  “I know you feel you have a lot of living to do for yourself and for your father, but you two had a special bond. Don’t let fear make you throw away your opportunities to have that same bond with other people.”

  “I can’t. If I develop MS—”

  “Who said you will? And even if you don’t, there’ll come a day when you can’t pass your flight physical. Then what will you have?

  “Someday, I’ll have to pass the torch on to someone younger and stronger, too, but in the words of Clint Eastwood, ‘If you’re looking for guarantees, buy a toaster.’”

  She continued with another flash of insight. “If you ask me, your real problem is that you refuse to allow anyone to get too close because it will hurt when they leave. Flying, your business, the risks you take—they’re all excuses to keep people away, including the ones who’d be thrilled to be a part of your life.”

  Dana slipped out of the truck, but didn’t close the door. She wanted to see his expression by the glow of the interior light. “You asked me to stay. I would, because I think I could love you without even trying, but I won’t, for the same reason.”

  His dark eyes narrowed. “You’re not making sense.”

  Her smile was bittersweet as she gazed at him for what could easily be the last time. “It makes perfect sense. When you find the courage to admit that you’re not as afraid of responsibility and commitment as you think you are, that a long-lasting relationship has rewards worth fighting for, then call me.”

  She strode into the brightly lit rescue center, hoping to find something to do tonight. If nothing else, she’d find Flo and listen to her stories from her years in the local school system. And if Mitch said anything to her about leaving, she intended to take the first flight home. Why prolong the inevitable?

  As much as she would love to cry about the unfairness of finally finding a man who was everything she’d ever dreamed about and not being able to have him, she couldn’t. Micky knew better than she what would work in his life, and if he couldn’t make room for her or think of marriage as a partnership instead of a responsibility, then she’d rather deal with the disappointment before she grew more attached than she already was.

  Micky may have stolen her heart, but he’d also done her a favor. He’d helped her realize the importance of any family relationship, no matter how it came about, no matter how fate had intervened and interfered. She was finally ready to follow her parents’ urging and find a place for her birth parents in her life.

  As for losing Alex’s friendship, the rift in her heart that had created didn’t compare to the chasm that Micky had left.

  MICKY WATCHED HER ENTER the building in stunned amazement. After her declaration, he’d nearly run after her, then stopped himself. What would he have said when he caught up to her? That he wasn’t afraid of commitment and responsibility? That he wasn’t hiding behind his career or using it as an excuse to keep an emotional distance from people who might care about him?

  He couldn’t say those things because her accusations were true to a certain extent. He might be willing to commit whatever energy it took to build up his business, but when commitment on a personal level reared its head, he ran faster than a coyote after a cottontail.

  He peeled out of the lot and headed to his home, north of town. To his great annoyance, Dana’s presence filled every room…especially his bedroom.

  Unable to wander through his house with reminders of her everywhere, he drove to his hangar, where he always had a list of things screaming for attention. He shouldn’t have any trouble keeping his hands—and his head—busy.

  To his surprise, as he walked inside and saw his Maggie May, the normal rush of pride and satisfaction he felt was missing. His comfortable little office didn’t seem comfortable tonight. Without phones ringing and people dropping in to load his desk with cargo manifests, it felt lifeless and cold as his footsteps echoed hollowly on the concrete floor.

  Dana’s best thinking spot might be a tree house or the beach, but
his was the sky. After a long night of paperwork and a short, fitful nap on the lumpy cot in one corner, he revved his engines shortly after the sun peeked over the horizon and colored the sky pink.

  Why couldn’t Dana be satisfied with what he was able to give? He’d offered to share as much as he could of himself with her. Hell, he’d even cut back on his hours a little if necessary. But, like Jillian, Dana wanted more. No matter what he offered, it was never enough.

  Did you honestly expect that doling out a few crumbs of yourself would be?

  The thought came like a bolt of lightning from the cloud he’d just flown past. No, he supposed not. Dana was too full of life to settle for half measures. She threw herself fully into her endeavors and wouldn’t be content with second-best from herself or anyone else.

  In this, at least, he understood her. He’d dreamed of becoming a first-rate pilot, and he’d flown every chance he could. Then had come the desire to be his own boss, make his own choices and decisions. But that was a far cry from adding the responsibility of a young boy to his load, much less trying to keep a wife happy.

  He drew a deep breath, and immediately the memory of Dana’s scent came to his mind.

  I could love you without even trying.

  She could love him, but she was leaving.

  Watching other women, including Jillian, walk out of his life hadn’t given him more than a few moments of regret and, on occasion, a sense of relief. Dana was a different story. After only a few hours without her, he felt as if an important part of him was missing. So much for his belief that if they made love, he’d flush her out of his system. Sleeping alone last night had hammered home how much he missed having her in his arms.

  Was this what had made his pilot friends decide to settle down into the nine-to-five jobs he disdained? Not the demands of a woman, but their feelings for a woman?

  His mom had been telling him for months to stop and smell the roses. He knew she was worried about his long hours, flying when he was tired, rising at the crack of dawn, but he had so much to accomplish in case he ended up trapped in his body like his father.

 
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