Authors: Patricia Davids
Tags: #Fiction, #Religious, #Romance, #General
He had a football in his hands and three small defenders were putting a stop to his run by hanging on to his legs. The details in the picture were incredible. She had captured the boys’ determined expressions perfectly, but the gentle look of happiness on his own face surprised him the most.
He thought back to that day. He had glimpsed Caitlin in the shadow of the building watching the game, but he didn’t remember seeing her with a drawing pad. He stared down at the sketches in amazement. Could she have drawn these detailed images from memory?
He looked through over a hundred sketches that Caitlin had drawn. At the bottom of the box, he found a single photograph bent in half. Picking it up, he unfolded the picture and gazed at a small blond girl standing beside a young woman with dark hair. The child was Caitlin, he was sure of it. Was the tired-looking woman with a cigarette dangling from her lips Caitlin’s mother? The white line of the folded picture separated the mother and child, perhaps just as her mother’s addiction had separated them in real life.
A scraping noise reached him, and Mick’s head snapped up. Something heavy was being dragged down the hallway. A moment later, the door swung wide, and an overcoat-clad figure backed into the room, muttering loudly. “Ya stupid piece a junk. I should a left ya for the garbage truck.”
“Eddy, what in the world are you doing?”
The old man spun around, his eyes wide and startled. “Sheesh, Mick, ya scared the livin’ daylights out of me.”
“Sorry. Can I give you a hand with that?” Mick offered, leaving his place on the windowsill after he replaced the photo and the sketches in the box.
Eddy’s face brightened and a nearly toothless grin appeared. “Look what I found fer Caitlin.” He pulled an ancient, enormous baby carriage through the doorway.
“Pastor Frank told me she had a baby girl. She don’t have no place to keep a baby in here, so I got her this. Pastor Frank said I was a real hero for gettin’ her help that day. He said without me, her baby woulda died fer sure. Ain’t that somethin’? I mean—him sayin’ I was a hero?”
“It’s nothing but the truth, Eddy.”
“You—you think I was a hero, too?”
Mick patted the small man’s shoulder. “I know you were the hero that day.”
Eddy’s smile faded, and his face grew somber. “I ain’t never amounted to nothin’ in my whole life. Not like you, bein’ a fireman and all. I been a drunk and a bum...since I was born, I reckon, but I did somethin’ right for once, didn’t I?”
“You sure did.”
Eddy wiped at his eyes with the back of his dirty, tattered sleeve. “What are you doin’ here?”
Mick glanced around the dingy room with its peeling plaster and sagging ceiling. “Caitlin is pretty sick. I was hoping to find out if she had any family or friends, anyone I can notify.”
Eddy scratched his head. “Not that I know of.” He pushed the baby carriage across the room. The thing bobbed and wobbled on a bent front wheel.
“How about the baby’s father? Did she ever tell you anything about him or his family?” Mick probed.
“Yeah. Let me think.”
Mick waited impatiently. “It’s important, Eddy.”
“Oh, I know. She said he was a case of bad judgment.”
“She ain’t much for talkin’.”
“Take a look at these sketches and see if you recognize anyone who might be a friend of hers.”
Eddy took them and held them out at arm’s length. “I don’t see so good anymore, Mick.”
Battling back his frustration, Mick nodded and took the drawings from him. “Okay, Eddy. Thanks for your help.”
“Pastor Frank said the baby’s gonna be in the hospital a long time on account of her being so small. That true?”
“Yes, she only weighs about two pounds. It’s going to take her a few months to get big enough to go home.”
“Do ya—do ya think I could come and see her? Like a visitor, I mean? I’d like to do that.”
Mick looked at Eddy’s grubby clothes and at his beard with wine stains and bits of food clinging in it. The smell of his unwashed body was overpowering, yet his face held such hopeful longing. How could Mick tell him no without crushing the pride that Eddy had found for the first time in his life?
“She’s too tiny to have visitors yet,” he said gently.
“Oh.” The hope on Eddy’s face drained away. Looking down, he brushed at the front of his clothes. “Sure, I understand.”
Mick couldn’t let the man think he wasn’t good enough to see the baby whose life he had helped save. “But she’s getting bigger and stronger every day.”
Eddy looked up. “She is?”
“I’ll tell you what. You check in with Pastor Frank. When she’s big enough to have visitors, he can bring you to see her.”
“Honest? You mean it? Ah, Mick—” Eddy’s voice broke, and he turned away to busy himself straightening up the leaning pram.
After a moment, he said, “I clean up pretty good, Mick. You’ll see. She won’t be ashamed of me.”
Mick blinked back the tears that threatened his own eyes. “How could she be ashamed of the guy who saved her life?”
Mick gathered up Caitlin’s things. A sketch fluttered to the floor and he bent to pick it up. It was a portrait Caitlin had drawn of herself. Her pixielike face and wide eyes stared back at him, but like Caitlin herself, the sketch gave him no answers.
He had to admit that holding her in his arms had stirred his protective instincts and made him aware of her as a woman, but who was she really? He’d invented a persona for her when she’d been unconscious, he realized, and now he was disturbed to discover it didn’t fit her at all.
Where was the vulnerable, desperate woman he’d taken to the hospital? The woman he’d begun to care about? He wasn’t comfortable with the Caitlin who had emerged yesterday. Her refusal to see the baby again disturbed him deeply.
There were unfit parents in the world, he knew that. In his line of work he’d met men and women who neglected and abused their children. He simply didn’t want to believe Caitlin was one of them. Even if she was the best mother in the world, she didn’t have a job or a place to live. She couldn’t take care of herself let alone a baby. She needed his help. She needed him.
* * *
The doctor listened to Caitlin’s chest, checked her eyes, peered down her throat, had her squeeze his hands and finally hit her knees with a little, red rubber hammer. Without comment, he took the chart from the end of her bed and leafed through it.
He gave her a pointed look over the top of his glasses then snapped the chart shut. “You’re making a remarkable recovery. A week ago, I wouldn’t have believed it was possible. How would you like to move to the maternity floor? You’ll be closer to the NICU.”
“I’d like that.” Caitlin struggled to keep her elation from showing. She’d be closer to her daughter. Closer, but not close enough to cause any more problems.
“Good. If you keep up this progress, I’ll have to let you go home in a few days.”
Caitlin twisted the edge of the covers in her hands. Home? Where would that be? A crowded shelter or maybe the building where Mick had found her? Some choice. Neither one was a fit place to take a newborn.
If only Beth had waited until August to be born. Caitlin had planned to earn enough money selling her sketches to tourists down on the Navy Pier over the summer months to be able to afford a place to live. She’d made a few bucks in the past two months, but not many people wanted to sit for portraits when the cold north wind was whipping off the lake.
No matter, she’d manage somehow—she always had—but she hadn’t had a baby to look after. How was she going to pay the hospital bills, or find a job or someone to look after the baby while she worked? She forced those fears to the back of her mind. She couldn’t dwell on them or she’d go crazy.
“Feeling hungry?” the doctor asked.
She shrugged. “I could eat.”
Turning to the nurse, he said, “Betty, pull that IV and start her on a general diet.”
After he left, Betty said, “This is great. Now you’ll be right down the hall from the NICU. Let me get you a menu. You can choose something for dinner tonight besides Jell-O.”
There didn’t seem to be any end to the things they wanted her to read in this place. If she wasn’t careful, they’d discover the truth. She hated the way people treated her when they found out. She hated being stupid.
“I don’t see how you expect me to read anything without my glasses.” It was her oldest line.
Betty’s eyes widened in surprise. “I didn’t know you wore any. Maybe they’re in the things that came from E.R. with you.” She opened the closet and began searching through a large, white plastic bag marked with the hospital’s logo. “They don’t seem to be here. Are you sure you had them with you?”
“I was unconscious, remember?”
“Why don’t I give Mick a call? Maybe he has them.”
“No! I mean, don’t bother. I’ll manage.”
“Perhaps I can read you the choices and mark them for you. Will that work?”
“Whatever.” Caitlin stared at the window. She didn’t like acting this way, but she had discovered early on that if people didn’t like her, they left her alone. When she was alone, she didn’t have to watch what she said or did.
“It’s no trouble. Let me take your IV out. The sooner that’s done, the sooner you can move out of here.”
Caitlin held up her arm. “Knock yourself out.”
Two hours later, Betty helped her out of a wheelchair and into her new bed on the maternity floor. As she watched the woman prepare to leave, Caitlin realized that she would miss the cheerful, little nurse. Betty had been nothing but kind even when Caitlin had been deliberately rude. As the nurse maneuvered the empty chair toward the door, Caitlin called out, “Hey, Betty.” She looked back and Caitlin managed a smile. “Thanks. For everything.”
Betty grinned, then surprised Caitlin by crossing the room and enfolding her in a quick hug. “Good luck, honey. I’ll keep you in my prayers,” she said, and then she hurried out the door.
Caitlin tried to swallow past the lump that rose in her throat. She wasn’t used to people being kind to her.
Somewhere down the hall a baby was crying. But not her baby. Her baby was barely clinging to life. Every time she heard that sound, she’d be reminded of what she didn’t have. Of what she had missed out on.
A new nurse came and took Caitlin’s temperature and checked her pulse, then offered to take her down to the nursery. Panic exploded through Caitlin. What if she did something else that hurt the baby? “No. I—I want take a nap. I’ve got a headache.”
It sounded lame, but it was no lie—the pain behind Caitlin’s eyes never let up. The nurse gave her a puzzled look but didn’t push the issue. After the woman left, Caitlin stared at the wall as thoughts of her daughter ran around and around in her mind. As the shadows of evening lengthened, Caitlin’s feelings of inadequacy and guilt grew. Beth needed a breathing machine, and IVs. She was hooked to wires of every kind. She needed doctors and nurses with her now, not a mother who had failed at everything in life. Not a mother who couldn’t even keep her safe until the right time to be born.
Caitlin’s throat tightened at the thought and she began to sob. Turning over, she muffled the sound in her pillow.
If only Mick were here. She longed to hear his voice telling her that everything would be okay. She pressed her palms to her aching temples. Why should she crave the comfort of a man she barely knew? She didn’t need anyone to take care of her. She had always taken care of herself. Always!
Confused, frightened and weary, Caitlin stayed in her room and slept fitfully as the night slowly crawled by. Her breakfast tray arrived, but it sat untouched on her bedside table until someone came and took it away.
Occasionally, a nurse came to check her temperature and her pulse or with an offer to take her to the NICU. Caitlin ignored them, and for the most part, they went away. The more persistent ones she brushed off with rude remarks. They left too, and that was what Caitlin wanted. She wanted to be left alone.
* * *
Mick snapped his locker shut and glanced at the clock. Twenty-three hours and thirty minutes until he could see Beth and Caitlin again. It was his first day back on the job since he’d signed paternity papers. Already he missed visiting Beth, but at least Caitlin would be with her.
When he had called the hospital yesterday afternoon he’d been informed that Caitlin had been moved to a floor adjacent to the neonatal unit. He heard the news with mixed emotions. He was happy Caitlin was improving, but where did that leave him?
Woody stopped and leaned on the locker next to him. “Is it true?” his friend demanded.
“Is what true?”
“That you had a baby and that she’s really sick?”
“Who told you?”
“Captain Mitchell let it slip. So, it is true! Why didn’t you tell me? What’s wrong with her?”
“She’s premature—she only weighs two pounds. She’s doing okay now, but it was touch and go for a while. She’ll be in the hospital for several months.”
Woody punched Mick’s shoulder. “You dog! I didn’t even know you were seeing anyone. So, who’s the mother?”
Mick rubbed his arm. “I’m not sure that’s any of your business.”
“I’m your best buddy. You can tell me anything. Do I keep secrets from you?”
“Sometimes I wish you would.”
Mick debated whether he should explain that Beth wasn’t really his child. And what could he say about Caitlin?
“Is she a fox?” His friend probed for more information.
“She’s pretty, if that’s what you mean. Her name is Caitlin Williams. We met first at Pastor Frank’s place.”
Woody’s disbelief was almost comical. “Then she’s definitely not a fox. The only fox in the church I went to as a kid was the dead one on the collar of the old dame that sat in the pew in front of me.”
Mick shook his head. “There is a lot more to church than checking out the girls. Are you still cruising the art galleries looking to pick up classy chicks?”
Woody grabbed Mick’s arm and cast a quick look around. “Hey, watch it, will you? I’d never live it down if these guys found out.”
“Being an art lover isn’t a crime.”
“Yeah, right. The only art that’s appreciated around here is the picture of the swimsuit model on Ziggy’s calendar. These guys wouldn’t know the difference between a Picasso and a piccolo.”