Under The Mistletoe With John Doe, page 10
“To make matters worse,” she finally admitted, deciding to share it all, “I’m actually one of the investors in the hospital. So I have more than just a professional interest in its success. I’ve got a personal interest, too.”
“No wonder you’re worried.”
“Yes, but it’s even more than that. I’ve come to love the people in the area, and I’m concerned about the type of medical care they’ll receive if the hospital has to shut down. They used to have to drive all the way to Wexler for X-rays, lab work and surgery. And just shaving the time off an ambulance ride has saved several lives already.”
“Maybe the hospital board of directors needs to hire a financial consultant to come in and help them run things a little more efficiently.”
She appreciated John’s concerns, but other than listening to her vent about things she’d be better off holding close to the vest, there wasn’t anything he could do to help.
Deciding to avoid letting the conversation get any deeper, she feigned a yawn.
“Tired?” he asked.
“I’m exhausted. I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“Do you want me to walk you home?”
She really ought to tell him no, but her answer rolled out before she had a chance to think it through. “Sure, if you’d like to.”
As she stood, he got to his feet, too. Then they started across the lawn to the guesthouse, where the automatic timer had already turned on the porch light to illuminate their path.
Would he try to kiss her again?
And if so, would she let him?
She knew that she had no business allowing things to get physical between them when the only things she had to go on when assessing his character were hunches and hormones.
How could she trust emotion to help her make a rational decision?
Yet as they reached her front door, her heart was already slipping into overdrive and the pheromones were swirling overhead.
As John pulled her into his arms, he searched her face as if looking for something.
For an objection? she wondered. If so, he wouldn’t get one from her now. Not when all she wanted was to feel his mouth on hers.
So she wrapped her arms around his neck and drew his lips to hers.
As their bodies pressed together, taking up where they’d left off last night, their hands began to stroke, to explore. As he reached her breast, as his thumb skimmed across her nipple, an ache settled in her most feminine parts.
This was so not a good idea. But how in blazes could she put a stop to it when her body was screaming for more?
Yet when they finally broke away to catch their breaths, when they both had to hold on to each other as if they’d collapse in a heap if they didn’t, Betsy finally took a step back, providing the distance needed to separate.
“I’m glad your memory loss didn’t include kissing,” she said, trying to make light of the passion that blazed between them.
His eyes, hooded with desire, locked on hers. “I didn’t forget what comes next, either.”
She was sure that he hadn’t.
The invitation to come inside the house and show her all that he remembered hovered over them, yet she couldn’t quite bring herself to ask him in.
Despite her fears, she was falling for John Doe.
What in the world was she going to do if he proved to be less than the man she hoped him to be?
Ten days and two paychecks later, John had settled into the ranch and had tackled all the chores that had been expected of him and several fix-it projects he’d found on his own.
At first, he’d thought that Doc had offered him a place to stay and a job out of the goodness of his heart. And while that was probably a big part of it, John had soon come to realize that there was more going on than that.
Over the past couple of years, Doc had sold off several parcels of land, as well as a lot of his stock. But he was still having a hard time keeping up with the daily work and the regular maintenance of the ranch.
That shouldn’t be surprising, though. Dr. Graham was pushing ninety and, as a result, was slowing down.
The elderly physician knew it, too. He and John had even talked about it briefly over breakfast this morning.
As he’d poured himself a cup of fresh coffee, Doc had said, “I’m thinking about selling this place.”
The man’s comment had surprised John, although he wasn’t sure why. “If you do decide to sell, where will you go?”
Doc carried his mug back to the table and sat across from John. “Have you ever heard of Shady Glen?”
“Yes, I’ve even been inside the lobby.”
Doc took a sip of coffee. “It’s not a bad place. In fact, I know quite a few people there, including Pete and Barbara Nielson. And everyone seems to like it.”
“Are you thinking about moving into one of the senior apartments?” John asked.
“That’s certainly crossed my mind. I may not like facing my physical limitations, but I need to. It happens to all of us eventually. Besides, I don’t have much family left, just a couple of nephews who live out of state. And as much as I’ve come to think of Betsy as my daughter, she really isn’t. So why burden her?”
John had come to know Betsy pretty well, so he didn’t think he was out of line when he said, “I don’t think she’d mind.”
“Maybe not. But even her own parents know that she works too hard as it is. And that she wouldn’t have a life at all if she had to take care of them.”
Doc had a point. Betsy had taken up the slack again this week at the hospital when one of the E.R. residents had broken his leg skiing on Saturday. So neither John nor Doc had seen very much of her.
She’d even had to cancel that Sunday dinner she’d wanted to have with her parents, thanks to a cocky young intern who should have stuck to the bunny slopes and not tried to hotdog it.
Of course, that didn’t mean John hadn’t seen her at all. After dinner each night, when Doc had retired to his room and curled up with a good book, John had gone out to the porch and waited until Betsy came home from work. Then they’d hung out for a while and talked about their days.
It had become an evening ritual, he supposed. After a while, Betsy would make an excuse to go home, and he’d walk her to the door. Then he’d kiss her good-night, something they both clearly enjoyed.
Trouble was, each kiss seemed to be more heated and more demanding than the last, which was a damn good sign that the two would be good together in bed. But Betsy had continued to hold back, to keep things from getting out of hand.
John couldn’t blame her for that, he supposed. But he was ready to take their relationship to a sexual level, and it was getting to the point that he’d have to suggest something to her pretty soon. Maybe even tonight.
A plan began to form-a quiet dinner, a glass of wine. Candles, some soft romantic tunes.
He had her cell-phone number, so he would call her later and tell her not to eat before coming home. Then, after lunch, he would borrow Doc’s truck, drive to the market and pick up everything he needed to make a special dinner for two.
He wasn’t sure what he’d fix, though. Maybe tacos. He’d been craving some good Mexican food lately. He hadn’t had any since…
Well, it had been ages, he supposed, as he socked away yet another vague and useless recollection.
As he reached for another nail to hammer into the loose porch railing, he pondered taking Betsy out to dinner instead. He’d seen a restaurant in town called La Cocina, which translated to The Kitchen in English.
His movements froze. How had he known that? Was he bilingual? Or had he just taken Spanish in school and been left knowing some of the basics?
Was he Latino?
Whenever he looked into the mirror, he thought he might have Hispanic bloodlines. Had he learned English as a second language? Was he craving the type of food he’d grown up eating?
At this point, he had absolutely no way of knowing,
He had, however, fixed the railing in no time flat.
As his stomach growled, he looked up at the sun, which was high in the winter sky and starting a slow descent. Was it after noon already? Doc hadn’t called him in for lunch yet.
It wasn’t any big deal, he supposed. But he set the hammer in the toolbox and went into the house.
“Doc?” he called.
When he reached the living room and spotted the old man lying on the floor, his heart dropped to his gut.
“Oh, God.” He hurried to the Doc’s side. “What’s the matter? Are you okay?”
Doc’s lips quivered, but he didn’t speak.
John hurried to the phone and dialed 9-1-1. When the dispatcher answered, he explained the situation and requested an ambulance and immediate help. Then he called Betsy on her cell.
“Something’s happened to Doc,” he said. “I think it’s a stroke.”
“Did you call the paramedics?”
“They’re on their way.”
“I’ll be waiting for you.”
A response wadded up in his throat, so he didn’t say anything else. When he ended the call, he sat on the floor next to the elderly man who’d become a friend, hoping that help arrived in time.
John followed behind the ambulance in Doc’s pickup, trying to keep up with the emergency vehicle without breaking the law. The paramedics had confirmed what he’d suspected: Doc had suffered a stroke.
As red lights flashed up ahead and the siren blared all around him, a disjointed vision formed in his mind-a black Mercedes, its air bags deployed. A light blue minivan, broken glass, twisted metal. The cries of a child. Another siren sounding.
John blinked a couple of times, trying to hold on to the images and to make sense of them, but nothing materialized.
Had he been in an accident?
Had he witnessed one?
Damn, the amnesia was getting old. And it frustrated the hell out of him.
He followed the ambulance to the entrance of the medical center, where it turned to the left and headed toward the front doors of the emergency room. John continued on and found a place to park. But by the time he got inside, Doc was already back in one of the exam rooms.
Now what? he wondered, as he scanned the waiting room that was neither full nor empty.
Not all of those seated were patients, but they represented the people Betsy dealt with every day: the worried parents holding a sick feverish toddler; a teenage boy with a gash on his knee; a blue-collar worker with what appeared to be a broken arm.
On the night John had been found beaten in the parking lot of the Stagecoach Inn, he’d probably been rushed through this same room on a gurney. But he had to have been unconscious when they brought him in. The place didn’t look even remotely familiar.
Before taking a seat, he wondered if he ought to let Betsy know that he was here, but he didn’t want to call her away from Doc. Not while she might be working to save the man’s life. So he took a seat near the television, although he didn’t give a damn what channel it was on. He couldn’t concentrate on anything other than the two double doors that required a security code to get through.
Finally, about twenty minutes later, he spotted Betsy standing behind a glass window where the receptionist sat. She was looking out into the waiting room, and when she spotted him, she waved, then beckoned toward the doorway that led to the exam rooms. He crossed the room and when the doors opened, he joined her.
“The paramedics told me you were driving Doc’s pickup and would be waiting here,” she said as she led him through a maze of exam rooms.
“How’s he doing?” John asked, keeping step with her.
“I think he’s going to be okay, but it’ll be a while before we know if there’s been any permanent damage. But you got him here quickly, and we’ve started treatment.”
“Are you going to be his doctor?”
“No, I’ve called in Jim Kelso. We’ll know more after he’s had a chance to examine him and run the appropriate tests.” Betsy entered the break room and indicated that John should take a seat. “It’s going to take a while. Do you want some coffee?”
She filled two disposable cups, brought them to the table and handed one to John. Then she took the chair next to his. But instead of taking a drink, she circled her fingers around the foam container, soaking up what little heat it gave out.
Doc didn’t have any family members who lived close enough to make decisions, but she was up for the task. In fact, she wouldn’t want it any other way.
“When Doc’s released from the hospital,” she said, “I’m going to have to find a caretaker who can stay with him at the house.”
John placed his hand on her forearm and gave it a gentle squeeze. When she looked into his compassionate gaze, her heart took a tumble.
“You don’t need to go to the trouble,” John said. “I can look after him, but I think he might be ready to move into Shady Glen.”
“What makes you say that?” she asked.
“Because we actually talked about that at breakfast this morning. He told me that the ranch was becoming too much for him, and he said he planned to put it on the market. He also mentioned how happy your parents seemed to be at Shady Glen and that he thought he would be, too.”
Betsy pondered John’s words, realizing that Doc had already contemplated his future, and that the stroke would only force him to make a move sooner than he’d planned.
“I know you’d like to find a way for him to stay at home,” John said, his hand still resting on her arm, his body heat warming her to the bone. “But I think he’ll fight you on that, honey.”
His understanding of the emotions running through her heart, as well as the friendship that had developed between her and her mentor, surprised her. And as a result, she didn’t know what to say.
“Doc has accepted the limitations his age has brought about,” John added.
“And you’re saying that I need to accept it, too?”
He nodded. “That’s about the size of it. And I’m sorry.”
She took a deep breath, acknowledging the truth of his words, of Doc’s situation, then slowly blew it out. “There’s an intermediate care facility located right next to the Shady Glen apartments.”
“So Doc will be close to your parents, and they can visit him often.”
That was true. And the nurses and the staff at Shady Glen were exceptionally kind and loving to the residents. They never let a holiday go by without decorating and planning various outings and activities to honor that particular day or season.
In fact, the day after Thanksgiving, they put up that big Christmas tree in the lobby. But thoughts of the holidays at Shady Glen took a sad turn.
Last year, Betsy had brought her mom and dad to Doc’s house for the day. They’d had a special dinner together, complete with homemade pies from Caroline’s. But this year, she wouldn’t be cooking. Not if Doc wasn’t at home.
There’d be no more Christmas mornings at the ranch, sitting around the tree, enjoying a cozy fire in the hearth, laughing with the three people she loved most in the world.
Betsy, more than anyone, knew that time marched on and that change was inevitable, but she wasn’t ready for it. And she wasn’t just getting nostalgic about Christmas, either.
If Doc was going to sell the ranch, she’d have to move, which shouldn’t be that big of a deal for a woman who spent so little time there. But the little guesthouse had become home to her, a quiet little corner of the world where she could let down her hair and just be herself.
She would have the memories of living on the ranch, of course, but since she’d spent so much of her life burning the candle at both ends, she wouldn’t have as many of them as she could have-if she’d stopped long enough to smell the roses.
“I’m sorry,” John said again, as he lifted his hand and brushed his thumb under her eyes, wiping away her tears.
She managed a smile. “I know. I’m sorry, too.”
They sat like that for a while, wrapped in an emotional cocoon and connected in a way that went beyond the physical-the stolen glances, the good-night kisses. Somehow, over the past couple of weeks, they’d become friends-and more.
When one of the licensed vocational nurses came into the break room and removed a yogurt she’d left in the fridge, she froze in her tracks.
“I’m sorry,” she said, apparently picking up on the vibes Betsy and John must have been putting out. “Am I interrupting something?”
“No, not at all.” Betsy pushed her chair back, got to her feet and, addressing John, said, “I’ll be right back. I’m going to check with Dr. Kelso and get a prognosis.”
At least, that’s the excuse she came up with for gathering up her heart before she threw it at the man, hoping he’d catch it.
And hoping that he’d cherish the gift Doug had taken for granted.
After Betsy had talked to Jim Kelso and learned that Doc’s situation seemed a little more promising than it had appeared to be when he’d been brought into the E.R., she’d relayed the prognosis to John.
“Thank God,” he’d said, relieved to know the retired doctor would probably recover-with time and physical therapy.
“They’ll be taking him to Intensive Care for a day or so,” she’d added, “but that’s routine. They want to monitor him closely.”
At that point, John could have taken off and gone back to the ranch, he supposed. But the elderly man didn’t have any family to speak of, and John figured he could use a friend about now. So he’d waited until Doc was settled in the ICU, then stopped by to see him.
Doc had opened his eyes long enough to acknowledge John’s visit. His lips quirked in what might have been a smile, then he’d dozed off.
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