Excerpt for Lily's Valentine by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Don Wooldridge Lily’s Valentine



1

“Don’t worry Dad,” Kim Baker said. “You just focus on getting well; I’ll finish the addition for you.”

Now she leaned back against her car, with her arms folded across her chest, looking at the half-finished addition of her father’s house, glowing in the rising Arizona sun, wondering what the hell she had been thinking. An Intensive Care Unit nurse for almost a decade, that’s where she belonged. A nurse building something? Ridiculous.

Why her dad bought this double wide house in a senior community was beyond her understanding. The noisy overhead ramp from the Broadway loop and highway I-10 to Tucson loomed only a quarter-mile away.

Her father wanted to block out the road noise by enclosing the porch to his house by himself. But, as luck would have it, he fell off the roof and was being treated for a broken shoulder and a concussion.

But, that wasn’t her problem. She’d made an overzealous commitment while visiting him at the hospital. Knowing her father’s recovery and rehab would take months, Kim blindly volunteered to finish what he’d started.

Kim wasn’t a girly-girl. Built like her dad, tall, red-headed, square shoulders and strong legs. She also inherited his stubborn streak. Sometimes it got her in trouble, like what just happened.

Lost in her thoughts she didn’t notice a truck drive by and park across the street. Not until the driver spoke.

“I heard Herman . . .”

Kim jumped with a start. “Oh! My God. Where’d you come from?”

Not only did the man surprise her, but his appearance warranted a second look. A little taller than Kim, maybe 5 feet ten or so, there wasn’t an ounce of fat on the guy. Broad shoulders, a tight T-shirt showing off his muscular upper body, and thick thighs indicating this guy was athletic.

“Sorry, ma’am. Didn’t mean to scare you. I just heard that Herman fell off the roof and wondered how he’s doing?”

“Let me catch my breath for God’s sake!” . . . “Herman is my father. I’m Kim Baker. And you are?”

“Rusty Dye,” he said as he extended his hand.

Taking his hand for a very brief handshake, she said, “And what is it you do around here?”

Rusty grinned, I’m a contractor. I do remodeling projects in senior communities like this one. I even bid on enclosing this porch for Herman. Like most folks around here, he thought he could do it himself.”

“Well,” Kim said, “I wish he hadn’t been so stubborn. I’m afraid his hospital bills will prevent us from being able to hire you now. I’m here scouting out the project. I’m afraid I’ll have to finish it for him.”

Rusty looked at the open framing on the new footings and thought of the hours of work needed to complete the addition. He knew this woman would need lots of help. He asked, “Ever do this kind of work before?”

Kim shook her head saying, “Are you kidding? I’m an ICU nurse. I don’t even know where to start.”

“Well, I’ll be working across the street here for a few weeks. Need help with anything, advice, an extra pair of hands, tools maybe, just ask. Okay?”

***

Kim’s three twelve-hour days on and four-days-off work schedule at the hospital gave her the time she needed to help her father. But, now on her second day off she hadn’t done a thing at her dad’s house. As she crossed the parking lot at Starbucks, hoping her friend Linda had some suggestions on how to tackle this project.

When Kim entered Starbucks, she saw Linda already had a table. Kim smiled and waved at her short, slightly overweight friend with her perky smile of perpetual happiness.

God, I don’t know how she does it. I need a slice of her happiness today.

Kim got in line to order. In front of her, a little girl had her head on a man’s shoulder. She had red hair and the cutest smile. The man holding her had shoulder length brown hair and dressed like a landscaper or construction worker. Scuffed work boots, old jeans, and a tee-shirt.

“I like your hair,” the cute little girl said to Kim. “It’s like mine.”

The girl’s smile raised Kim’s spirits and distracted her from worries about her father and her promise to him. Looking girly in her pink dress, white leggings, pink shoes and a matching pink headband, Kim assumed her mother had dressed the little girl.

Hearing his daughter talk to someone in line, the man holding her turned to see who it was.

“Say, aren’t you the man I met yesterday by my dad’s place. Rusty? Right?”

“And hello to you Kim Baker. Are you trying to steal my little girl?”

Kim took the girl’s little hand. “Oh, I wish I could. She’s so cute. How old is she.”

“Lily’s five.”

Kim looked down at Lily’s legs that were in plastic braces. Rusty noticed and answered her questioning look before Kim could ask.

“Lily has club feet, so she wears these braces.” Rusty looked up from Lily’s braces and said to Kim, “We’re hoping she gets them off in a week or two. Well, nice to see you again, Kim. We need to get Lily to pre-school.”

Cute little girl. Her dad seems to be a caring father.

The barista called out for a customer, “I have a double shot espresso ready . . . “

Kim raised her hand. “Oh, that must be mine.”

. . . “For Rusty. You’re order’s ready.”

Really! We have the same order? Where did this man come from, and why did he show up in my life?

Finally, Kim got a double shot espresso of her own, and joined Linda.

“You don’t look like yourself today, what’s up?”

Kim lowered her gaze to her coffee cup. “Oh, a couple of days ago I went to the hospital to visit dad, got all emotional, made a stupid promise. Now I regret it.”

Linda leaned forward and studied Kim. I don’t understand why would you regret promising your dad something.”

Kim slouched back into her chair. Fidgeted with her coffee cup, then said, “Well, his porch is only half-finished.”

“What half is finished?” Linda asked.

“He’s got the cement base done, I think they call it the foot or something like that. The framing and a plywood floor is done, and of course the roof.”

“So, what did he do to get hurt?”

“He was in a hurry to get the roof on before doing the siding. That’s when he fell off the roof, broke his shoulder and suffered a concussion.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry. Will he be in the hospital long?”

“Probably not, but he’s not going to heal up and complete rehab for months, so I just blurted out, ‘Don’t worry dad, I’ll finish it for you!’”

“So, I think I’d say the same thing.”

“I’m an ICU nurse, not a carpenter. I have no idea where to start, or what to do.”

Linda reached across the table and placed her hand on top of Kim’s. “Get a contractor. Why torture yourself.”

“Dad tried to but he didn’t like the price the contractor gave him. He figured he’d do the job himself and save a bunch of money. I just feel I need to pick up the slack for him, somehow.”

“Oh, for God’s sake, just go to Home Depot. They’ve got classes on everything. You’ll be an expert in no time.”

“You’re kidding! Home Depot?”

***

Rusty Dye left Starbucks, dropped Lily off at her pre-school and drove to the Meadows senior living community. When he parked in front of the house that he started remodeling, he looked across the street at a Herman’s addition.

Sure didn’t know Herman had such an attractive daughter. I think I’ll wanta’ be around here a whole lot longer than I planned. Just to make sure she’s doesn’t get hurt, of course.

***

Meanwhile, Kim’s first visit to the Home Depot warehouse shocked her. She felt as out-of-place as a plumber in an operating room. Seeing the customer service desk, she went there and asked if they really had home repair classes.

“Yes, we do,” said the woman at the desk. They fill up fast though, so you need to sign up quick.”

“I don’t know what classes to take. Is there a program, a list or something I can see what classes are offered and when?”

“There is. See that cashier way down the line?”

“Yes.”

“Well, just before you get to her, there are brochures on the left with a list of classes, days and times. You go get’em girl.”

Kim found the printed lists of classes with everything from home electrical, plumbing, installing siding and flooring. As she thumbed through the list of classes, she heard a man talking about laminate flooring. Following the sound, Kim went around the corner and saw people on a bleacher in front of an instructor. Not wanting to interrupt, she leaned against a shelf support and listened in.

So, this is what a class is like. I’m sure not smart enough to ask the questions these people do. But I still have to learn.

When she left Home Depot, Kim drove out to her dad’s house to do some thinking, and planning. While quietly contemplating what she would have to learn, clanking and banging broke Kim’s concentration. The noise came from across the street. She turned to see Rusty putting tools in his truck.

Seeing Kim, Rusty crossed the street and stopped a few feet from her, put one foot on top of a pile of scrap lumber and said, “Anything I can do to help?”

“I’m afraid not. I plan on learning at the Home Depot classes so I can finish the siding myself. Oh, while you’re here, will you please compliment Lily’s mother on the cute way she dresses her for me? I meant to mention it yesterday”

Rusty lowered his head and replied softly, “Lily doesn’t have a mother, anymore.”

 

 2

Kim’s first class at Home Depot left her feeling inept. She had visualized the class would be a no brainer.

After all, she was a trained nurse. Someone with real-world experience to convert situations full of chaos, fear, even blood curdling screams into settings of calm, peace and healing. Someone who could instantly switch from injecting a life-saving medicine to clearing someone’s breathing tube. How hard could it be to hold up a board and pound a few nails?

Many in the class asked questions, some even had suggestions that the instructor seemed impressed with, and even wrote a few down. These people didn’t need this class.

Kim learned to install something called fiberwall to cover the outside of the studs. The instructor helped Kim figure how much material she needed and then she placed the order.

On her first day off, Kim pulled up to her father’s house pleased to see the materials delivered. She strapped on her father’s tool belt, ready to start nailing up the fiberwall.

Her reach only allowed her to grab the four-foot side of the fiberwall, so she had to control eight feet of the board vertically. Kim proved strong enough to handle the load, until she put it in place.

Wham!

“Ouch! Damn!”

The sheet of fiberwall fell out of her hands, bounced on her head and landed against the house. The impact smashed two inches across the corner so it wouldn’t fit square any more.

Kim flipped the sheet of firewall with the ugly dented corner on the bottom. When she got the sheet in place, she leaned against it and slid her side down to the corner she wanted to nail. Pushing her butt into the firewall Kim started to hammer the corner in place. At the very moment she swung her hammer at the first nail, the sheet slipped and fell on the arch of her foot.

“Ouch! Jeez that hurts!”

As Kim hopped around on one foot, she noticed pieces of scrap wood nearby. She picked out some about the same length and headed back to the attack the demon fiberwall again.

This time she put the 4x8 sheet in place and stuck the pieces of scrap wood under the edge to hold the sheet in place.

Success at last!

Pounding the first nail created enough vibration to cause the scrap wood to fall away. Pivoting on the nailed corner, the sheet fell to the ground, damaging another corner.

Convinced that she would never put up this fiberwall by herself, she looked at the house across the street and wondered if Rusty would have time to help her. When she walked into the house he was remodeling she shouted, “Rusty, where are you?”

“Back here in the laundry room. What’s up?”

Kim hung her head, fidgeted with her gloves, then said . . . Is there any chance you could help me?”

Rusty smiled. “You know, I’ve barely started here, so why not? I’d be happy to help. That is, until my mom brings Lily by. I’ll have to take care of her, of course.”

“Rusty,” Kim said, “we can let my dad watch her while we work. It’s no problem.”

Together they spent two days hanging the sheets of fiberwall on the studs. Kim even learned that Rusty’s planning minimizing the amount of cutting and fitting needed to finish a wall.

Grateful to finish the exterior walls, Kim gave Rusty a hug and enthusiastic thank you for his help.

Rusty retrieved Lily, said goodbye to Kim, and turned to cross the street.

“Daddy,” Lily said, “can’t I stay with Kim ‘till you load the truck? Please!”

“Sure. But only for a few minutes.”

As Kim and Lily watched Rusty walk past his truck into the house Lily looked up to Kim and said, “He likes you, you know.”

Kim gasped with surprise at what this little girl just said.

“Lily! How would you know such a thing?”

Pointing at the house Lily said, “He watches you through that window there. And I hear him tell grandma about you . . . a lot.”

Lily caught Kim off guard. Sure, she and Rusty were becoming friends, but why had Lily said such a thing?

When Rusty walked out to his truck Kim said, “There’s your daddy, kiddo. Let’s get you across the street and on your way home.”

Rusty thanked Kim for bringing Lily, then watched as she abruptly turned and walked away. It seemed to him something upset her, but he had no clue what it could be.

“Okay, little one. Up you go.”

Rusty drove to the exit of the senior living community and started to turn onto Southern Avenue when Lily said . . .

“Do you know Kim likes you, daddy?”

Rusty patted Lily’s leg saying, “Of course, honey, we’re friends.”

Lily put her hands on her hips as she looked up at Rusty. “No, not that kind of like. I mean, she really likes you.”

Rusty chuckled. When they stopped at a light, he looked at Lily and asked, “What do you mean, ‘she really likes you?’ ”

“Whenever you go to your truck she stops work and watches you. She acts helpless so you’ll come and work with her. That kind of stuff.”

 

3

Rusty didn’t see Kim all weekend. However, when he arrived at work the next Wednesday he saw a new load of vinyl siding.

Kim felt her Home Depot vinyl siding class prepared her to install siding on her new addition. That’s why she arrived on site Thursday, confident she knew how to install inside and outside corners, G-channels, starter strips and the vinyl siding.

A couple of hours later Kim balanced on the top rung of her ladder. As she stretched out to her right and nail the piece, she heard a voice below.

“Kim,” Rusty said, “you need to come down from there.”

Kim looked down to say something back when she lost her balance.

“OOoooo! HELP!””

The ladder threw Kim’s feet to the left as she fell toward the house. She reached up, for anything to grab, and got her left hand on the gutter. When her feet slipped off the ladder, she swung like a monkey to get her right hand on the gutter.

She looked at Rusty. “I can’t hang here forever! Where’s the ladder? Get me the ladder!”

Rusty picked up the ladder and said, “Everything going to be okay, Kim. Just relax. I’ll put the ladder under you and you’ll be down in no time. Stay calm.”

“Look who’s saying ‘stay calm’. You’re on the ground. I’m the one hanging from a gutter that’s ripping off the house.”

“Like I said, stay calm. The ladder is under you now and I’m holding it for you. Just let loose with one hand, swing down a bit and your foot will be on the ladder.

“I can’t let loose! How do I know I’ll be safe? What if I miss? If it’s so easy, you come up here and do it.”

Kim held her breath and released one hand. When her foot didn’t touch the ladder, she panicked. She grasped the gutter with her free hand so hard the nails pulled out and the gutter began to sag.

Bzzzzz! Bzzzzz! Bees came out of the rotted header board.

“Oh, my God! Bees! I’ve got to get down.

As the gutter sagged, Kim slid down the side of the house onto the first rung of the ladder.

Bees circled over her head, and followed her.

“You’re on the ladder now. Hurry down!” Rusty said.

“Ooo! Ouch! I’m hurrying. Ouch!” When Kim hit the ground, her arms were waving around her head. “Bees are all around and starting to sting me.”

“Come on, run!” Rusty shouted as he grabbed her hand and headed for his truck.

“Quick! We can’t let them inside.”

Wham! Wham! The doors slammed as they sat safely in the truck.

“Rusty Dye, this wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t hollered at me. Now look at all the bees.”

Rusty looked out the window at the house. “Yeah, the bees. Let me call a bee keeper to clear them out of here.”

Rusty had the beekeeper on speed dial and called him.

Rubbing bee stings on her arm, Kim said, “I’ve got to get to a pharmacy and put ointment on all these stings.”

Rusty nodded, indicating that he’d heard. “After this,” he said.

When he finished the call with the beekeeper, Rusty took Kim’s hand in his, looked at her and said, “You’re going to be okay. We’re not going to get any more work done here today. Let’s go to the pharmacy to get some ointment on those stings, then I’ll buy you lunch. We can discuss how a scaffold will make your work much safer. Okay?”

“Rusty, I can’t afford a scaffold, whatever that is.”

“Relax! I’ve got all the parts and I’ll build one for you. A scaffold will make it easier for you to move around and you won’t have to worry about falling. Now, let’s go to the pharmacy.”

Leaving the Meadow’s community and driving to the pharmacy gave Kim time to think. Deciding to test the waters, she asked Rusty, “Are you aware that Lily talks about adult relationships as if they were movie scenes?”

“Funny you mention it. I just noticed that a few days ago. Interesting, huh?”

“Hmmm, more than that. If she were my daughter I’d put a quick stop to it. I don’t think she always knows what she’s saying.”

“Oh, I don’t know. What I heard made sense to me.”

***

The next day Kim helped Rusty carry the H-frame scaffold parts to her dad’s house. She hesitated, and scanned the area for any sign of bees.

“Rusty, are you sure the bees are gone?”

“I’m sure. The pest control service called me last night and told me he removed them.”

“Okay then. I’ll take your word for it. But I’ll be looking for them all day.”

Together they assembled a scaffold for Kim on one side of the addition. After climbing to the top Rusty said, “Okay, now I need you to hand me those two 2x10 planks to make the platform for you.”

Standing back and admiring the scaffold, Kim was impressed with what Rusty had built for her.

Whatever motivated this man, I’m grateful that he spent his time and materials to keep me safe.

She could see herself walking back and forth installing corner strips and the siding. She just wanted to give him a big hug and kiss.

Instead, she said, “I guess thanks are in order. It does look safer.”

“Yes,” Rusty replied as he started back across the street, “now you aren’t as likely to fall and smash your pretty face.”

 

 4

The next week, Kim stopped installing vinyl siding when a car drove up across the street with Lily and an older woman in it. Rusty’s truck wasn’t around so the woman rolled down her window.

“Hi Kim!” Lily shouted. “ Grammy, Kim is our friend.”

“So, you’re Kim. Hello there! I’m Doris, Lily’s grandmother.”

“Yes, I’m Kim Baker. Nice to meet you Doris. This is my father’s house, and Lily’s visited a few times. Rusty is remodeling the house over there, and we help each other from time to time.”

“I’m supposed to drop off Lily, but I don’t see Rusty around. Any idea where he is?”

“No, I don’t. I saw him here a few minutes ago. I’m sure he’ll be back soon. I think I could watch Lily until Rusty returns. Would you be comfortable with that? Or, would you like to give him a call to get permission to leave her with me.”

“I suppose I could stay myself, but bingo meets today, and …”

“Yes, I know,” Kim said, remembering the hold bingo has on her father.

“Let me stay with Kim, Grammy! Please? I like being with Kim.”

“Okay, only because I know Kim is a close friend of your daddy’s. Go with her now, and wait for your daddy.”

Kim jumped out of the car and pushed the door shut. Immediately Kim noticed Lily’s braces were gone.

Kim held Lily’s hand as her grandmother drove away.

“See, Kim,” Lily said kicking her feet in front of her. “No braces. I can run, and run, and run. Now I’m like everyone at my school.”

Kim scooped Lily up into her arms, giving her a big hug. “Oh, Lily. That’s so special. I’m happy for you. To celebrate we should take a short walk. Okay with you?”

“Yeah.”

They walked for only a few minutes, but when they returned, Kim saw Rusty leaning against his truck scratching his head in confusion. He had a concerned look on his face. Picking up Lily he said, “There you are. You worried me. I had no idea where you were.”

“It’s my fault. Her grandma left her with me because you were gone. Lily and I were taking a walk to celebrate the fact that her braces are gone.”

“Well, I’m glad she’s with you. Yesterday we took her braces off. Her club feet are corrected and the doctor says she’s good as new. We’re really happy.”

“You should be. Now she can run.”

“Yes, but she shouldn’t be running.”

Kim seemed dismayed. “I don’t understand how you can deny a little girl the joy of running?”

“It’s a long story. But, speaking of running, would you be interested in running with me tomorrow?”

            “Actually, I can’t. I have plans with friends.”

***

The “Time to Help” charity marathon to raise funds for the Phoenix homeless support groups, started at 8 a.m. Saturday morning. Slightly over fifteen hundred runners were participating in the marathon, with three thousand running in the 5K race. Rusty pushed himself toward the front of the marathon runners when he came upon a red-headed woman who resembled Kim Baker. He pulled out wide right to look and save himself any embarrassment of being wrong. It was Kim.

Rusty grinned. “Hey Kim! I wanted to invite you to join me here today. I guess it worked out anyway.”

Looking at Rusty and speaking between breaths she said, “I guess it did. I take it you thought running a marathon would be a date?”

Jogging beside her Rusty replied, “No, just friendly competition. You  seemed to be competitive to me.”

“I am competitive, but not today. I plan on finishing, not trying to outrun you.”

“Okay then, I’ve gotta go if I have a chance of winning this thing. See you next week.”

***

Monday morning, Kim went into the hospital staff room for her first shift of the week. Four of her friends were crowded around a counter looking at a newspaper.

“Hey,” she said as she locked up her purse. “What’s up?”

“We’re just talking about your friend and neighbor, Rusty Dye,” said Diane.

“Yeah,” Shirley said, “Isn’t he the Rusty, dirty, know-it-all that you find so annoying?”

“Yep, that’s the one.” Kim said.

“Well, ain’t it amazing? There's a picture of a guy named Rusty Dye in the newspaper. He took second place in the marathon they say. You see that?”

Surprised, Kim had not seen the paper. The thought crossed her mind that there chat during the race had something to do with the fact he didn’t win.

“This can’t be the Rusty Dye you tell us about because this handsome guy is ripped,” Linda said.

Diane laughed. “I’ll bet if you took his shirt and shorts off he’d make an impressive Greek statue.”

“Who’d want to make a statue out of that hunk?” Shirley said.

“Hey, hey, girls. Ease off. He’s just a friend.”

The girls looked at Kim and shook their heads. “Kim Baker,” Linda said, “If this good-looking hunk of man is just a friend, then you aren’t smart enough to work here.”

***

The following Thursday, Kim returned to the job of trying to finish the siding on the new addition. Her dad, Herman, had been released from the hospital a couple of days earlier and still needed therapy, but it would be performed at his home. To prevent boredom, Kim encouraged him to bring out a folding chair and keep her company a while.

At the end of the day, Lily waited in the truck as Rusty closed the tailgate.

Herman hollered at him. “Hey, got time for a beer? Got a cold one for you.”

Rusty had the time but didn’t know if Kim would welcome his presence. However, he would get to know Herman better.

“Yeah, Herman. Sounds Good.”

When Rusty and Lily arrived, Herman unfolded two chairs for them. Rusty sat down, Herman handed him a beer, and Lily ran into the addition looking for Kim.

Kim was sweeping the floor when Lily showed up. “Hey there sweet pea. Where’d you come from?”

“I’m not a pea, I’m Lily.”

“How’d you get here?”

“Daddy’s outside with that man.”

Kim stepped over to the window and saw Rusty and her dad together.

This is not good. Now, I’ll have both of them telling me what to do.

 

5

One afternoon a couple of days later, Kim concentrated on installing siding when she heard rustling behind her. She turned, gasped, and said, “Lily, where’d you come from? You know you shouldn’t cross the street alone.”

Sitting on a small pile of dirt Lily answered, “I know, but I want somebody to talk to.”

“Well, honey. Can’t you talk to your daddy?”

“No, he won’t talk. He’s sleeping on the floor.”

Why would Rusty be sleeping?

“Lily, what’s your daddy doing on the floor?”

“Holding a board.”

“Lily, your daddy’s on the floor; he’s not talking to you; and he’s holding a board?”

“Yes.”

Immediately, Kim picked up Lily and hustled across the street into the house.

“Okay, Lily. Show me where daddy is sleeping.”

Kim hurried in the direction Lily pointed and found Rusty unconscious with a hollow false beam near his head. She put Lily down and said, “Stay here and don’t you move while I check you daddy.”

Kim checked Rusty’s vitals quickly. His respiration and pulse were slow, but not alarming. She called 911, then checked his shoulders, arms and legs for broken bones. Patting his face, she hoped to bring him around.

Lily asked, “Why are you slapping my daddy?”

“I’m not slapping him, honey. I’m just patting his face.”

“Is anybody in here?” yelled an EMT.

“Yes, at the end of the hall.” Kim yelled.

As the EMT’s entered with their equipment one of them asked Kim, “What do you know about the accident.”

“From what I’ve seen he fell off this ladder and hit his head. I’m a nurse, and have checked vitals and found no bone breaks.”

“OK, please step back and let us work, please.”

Kim felt a strong tug on her fingers, and looked down into Lily’s frightened eyes.

“What is that man doing to daddy?”

“He’s giving your daddy medicine that will help him get better.”

“Is that why they tape up his arm?”

“No, honey. He’s taking your daddy’s blood pressure.”

“Why don’t they just wake daddy up and ask him questions?”

“Well, honey, that’s the problem. Your daddy can’t wake up yet. Why don’t you come with me and we’ll go outside for a bit. Okay?”

“I want to stay here.”

“I know, but we’re just in the way. We’ll see your daddy soon.”

As the EMT’s prepared to leave with Rusty, Kim requested they take him to St. Luke’s Hospital on Mill Avenue. As they left, tears ran down Lily’s cheeks as she asked Kim, “You said I could see daddy soon. But you lied. He’s going away. Why can’t I go with my daddy?”

“He has to go see the doctors at the hospital, honey. I’ll make sure you see him soon.”

Wow! Is this what it’s like to have kids? Hiding my own emotions so I can deal with hers? Now I’ve got Lily, and don’t know how to reach her grandma. I desperately want to be with Rusty but I can’t leave her alone.

Searching for an answer as they walked across the street, Kim’s dad stepped outside.

“What’s going on?”

“It looks like Rusty fell. I think he has a head injury. He’s on the way to E.R. But, I can’t help him get admitted until I figure out what to do with this little munchkin.”

Herman stretched out his arms to Lily. “Give’er to me. I’d love to have some company.”

“Are you sure, Dad?”

“Of course. Go, take care of Rusty.”

***

After Kim left, Herman said to Lily, “Come up here and sit on my lap. We’ll watch the football game together.”

After a while Lily was bored. She turned to Herman and asked, “Are you a grandpa?”

Herman chuckled. “No, I’ve got to have grandchildren to be a grandpa. And I don’t have any.”

“You look old enough to be one.”

Herman got a kick out this little girl. “You think I do, huh? Well, what about your grandpa?”

“I don’t have one anymore. He went to Heaven.”

Lily didn’t look as sad as Herman did after hearing that.

“Oh Lily, I’m sorry he’s not with you anymore.”

Lily playfully bounced on Herman’s lap. “That’s okay. You can be my grandpa. Yeah, I don’t have a grandpa and you don’t have kids like me, so it’s a good deal.”

Herman smiled at the little girl’s proclamation, as she snuggled up to him with her head resting on his good shoulder and went to sleep.

While Herman dealt with being a grandpa, Kim dealt with Lily’s grandma.

 

6

Driving to the hospital, faster than she should, Kim knew she was begging for a ticket, or even worse, an accident. Every red light stoked her anxiety until she could leap off the line and get going again.

What am I doing? Why am I so emotional about Rusty?

When she arrived at the hospital, Kim rushed into the E.R. waiting room, passing people moving too slow for her. She recognized Lily’s grandmother, Doris and went her way.

Doris recognized Kim as well and motioned for her to sit next to her. “Oh, Kim, thank you for coming. I know Rusty will be pleased.”

“Wow!” Kim said, “am I glad to see you. How’d you get here so fast?”

“Rusty has me as his ICE number in his phone. An EMT called me.” Glancing about Doris asked Kim, “Where’s Lily? What’s happened to her?”

“I wouldn’t be here if my dad hadn’t volunteered to watch her. If I had to guess, I’d say they’re watching a football game.”

Doris’s shoulders relaxed. “Oh my, thank you. This certainly isn’t a place for her.” Patting Kim’s leg she said, “Rusty has told me so much about you. It’s nice I get to finally spend some time with you. I wish it was under different circumstance, though.”

Wrinkles of doubt formed on Kim’s forehead as she looked at Doris. “He talks to you about me?”

“Oh, yes. He admires your strength and determination, and how gracefully you handle Lily.”

Kim sat back in her chair shaking her head slightly. “Interesting. I haven’t been aware he feels that way. The Rusty I know is more of a know-it-all, and kinda bossy.”

“Oh, honey. Since his wife Laura’s death, he’s changed, and holds his feelings in. But, since he’s met you he’s become overly protective, not wanting you to make mistakes or get hurt. Otherwise, all of his attention is focused on being both mom and dad for Lily.”

“I wouldn’t think he’d be that interested in my construction project.”

“Honey, open your eyes. It’s not your construction project that he’s interested in.”

Not a prospect that Kim wanted to dwell on, she crossed her legs and turned toward Doris hoping to change the subject.

“Doris, I remember Rusty saying that Lily doesn’t have a mother anymore, but he never said anymore about it. Do you mind telling me what happened to her?”

Doris sighed deeply. “Well, I can understand why Rusty doesn’t want to talk about it. It happened so sudden he felt like his heart had been ripped out. Laura was young, active and a competitive triathlete. On a normal day for her, out training on her bicycle, a semi-truck hogged the road. To get out-of-the-way a driver moved onto the shoulder and ran over Laura.” Taking out a tissue to dry her eyes, Doris said, “She died at the scene.”

The lump in Kim’s throat prevented any response. She’d seen people die many times at the hospital from illness or injury, but never as needlessly Laura’s. Kim placed her hand on Doris’s hand in sympathy and support. The two women were silent for a few moments, as if mourning together.

“Mrs. Dye? Are you here?”

Doris flinched, startled that the silence was broken. She gathered herself and responded, “Yes, I’m here.”

A young doctor appeared to be East Indian, but spoke excellent English. “I’m Doctor Djamel Abduon, but you can call me Dr. D. Do I understand correctly that Rusty Dye is your son?”

“Yes, he is.”

“And you miss?” Dr. Abduon asked Kim.

“Oh, well . . . I guess I’m a family friend . . . and I’m here to support Rusty’s mother.”

“Doris took Kim’s hand again and said, “Yes, of course.”

With compassion, even tenderness, the doctor began explaining Rusty’s condition. Surprisingly, in spite of her medical training, Kim felt an emotional need to absorb every word about Rusty herself.

“First of all, your son apparently sustained a blow on the head causing lacerations. We’ve used a little over 80 stitches to close the wound. When he awakens you’ll need to explain to him why his head is shaved.”

Kim couldn’t keep from laughing. She said to Doris. “Oh, no! What’s Lily going to say about that?”

Rusty’s mom chuckled too. “I’m more worried about what Rusty’s reaction will be. He’s loves his long hair.”

“Ladies, if I may continue? Your son has a mild concussion. He also has quite a lump on the back of his head and will have a considerable headache. He should not work or participate in any physical activities until the headache ends. Then, I want him to rest for two more days before returning to work. We’ll keep him overnight for observation, and we should release him tomorrow. Any questions?”

“No, I understand,” Doris said. “Thank you for all you’ve done for him. May we go see him now?”

“Yes, but understand he is still under a sedative. He’s in room F-32.”

Doris turned to Kim saying, “Do you want to come along?”

“I think I do, but just for a moment.”

They left the waiting room and entered the “F” hallway, encountering doctors and nurses rushing by them as they walked toward the nurse’s station. After checking in with the nurses, they were allowed to visit Rusty. As Doris stood at the side of his bed with her hand on Rusty’s arm, Kim removed her cell phone from her purse. When the flash went off Doris looked at Kim with a smile.

“You didn’t!”

“Oh, yes I did. When Mr. Know-It-All here starts struttin’ his stuff again, a picture of his baldness ought to come in handy.”

 



 7

The two women left the hospital and drove to the house of Kim’s father. As they entered the living room Lily squirmed off Herman’s lap and jumped off his La-Z-Boy chair. Racing across the room to the women, she grabbed their legs for a group hug with her grandma and Kim.

Lily’s grandma scooped Lily up as Kim introduced Doris to her father.

“He’s my grandpa,” Lily said as she threw her arms around Doris’ neck.

Doris and Kim looked at Herman as if he were a kidnapper. “Don’t you think you’ve gone a little overboard, Dad?” Kim asked.

Herman threw his hands in the air. “Ladies, don’t blame me. This is her doing.” Looking directly at Kim, he continued, “Apparently because my daughter hasn’t provided me with any grandchildren, Lily here figured I needed one.”

“Oh, great.” Kim said. “Your mischief is now my problem?”

“I find this quite interesting,” Doris said. “So, Herman, do you babysit often?”

“Are you kidding? I can’t do much with this broken shoulder.”

“Then, what can you do these days?” Doris asked.

Kim didn’t expect this. She put Lily up on her lap and observed the conversation between these senior citizens.

“Oh, not too much. Watch television mostly, while I’m waiting for my shoulder to heal.”

Doris scooted to the edge of the couch, leaned forward and said, “Well, if you’d like to get out of the house you could come to bingo with me.”

If dad doesn’t stop this quick, she’ll have him out of the house now.

As Doris leaned forward, Herman leaned way back into his La-Z-Boy. “Never done that before.”

“Well sir,” she said. “Next time I drop off Lily I’ll pick you up and take you along. You can do that can’t you?”

“Sure. Just say when.”

Kim couldn’t say what she was thinking. How smoothly Doris reeled him in.

Happy with her arrangement with Herman, Doris said, “Alrighty then. Lily, come along with grandma. We need to get you home.”

As Doris and Lily walked toward her car, Kim shut the door and turned to her father with a big grin. “And the lovely lady says to the gullible man, “So, Herman, why don’t I just pick you up and take you away with me.”

“Listen here,” her dad said, “just because there’s no man in your life doesn’t mean I can’t have a woman in mine.”

***

The next day Kim had a shift at the hospital. She anxiously waited for a break so she could check on Rusty. Eventually her relief showed up, and she headed for his room.

Entering his room Kim saw Rusty sitting up in bed watching TV. He shut it off as soon as he noticed Kim. She saw the usual IV and monitor probes attached to his arms and chest. The sounds Kim heard from the monitors were normal for a healthy man.

“You look wide awake.” Kim said, noticing a gauze dressing covering his bald head. “How is your head feeling?” Kim asked.

“Much better since my personal nurse is here to care for me.”

“Nice try. To have me as your personal nurse, your head would have to crack open.”

“Whatever,” Rusty said with a sigh. “Have a seat, I’d enjoy some company.”

Kim picked up a chair and sat it beside his bed, sat back and asked, “Rusty, I’m curious. What were you doing before your accident?”

“I began installing the false ceiling beams in the living room. They’re lighter because they are hollow, but look just as good.”

“If they aren’t heavy, how did you fall?”

“Somehow the high end slipped off, fell to the side and pulled me off the ladder. That’s when I fell and hit my head.”

I know he’ll never do it, but he needs to know.

“You should have asked me for help. I’m only a few steps away.”

Rusty heard her, but asked instead, “How’s Lily?”

“Lily? This isn’t about Lily! I just said you should have asked me for help. Aren’t you the one that insists I need a helper? You need to take your own medicine, mister.”

“Don’t get all wound up. I’m sorry. I will ask for help the next time.”

“You’d better. Now, Lily’s just fine. My dad has Lily on his lap watching television. Your mom’s on her way here to take you home when you’re discharged. And, I’ve got to go back to work.”

Kim leaned over the bed and gave Rusty a kiss on the forehead. Holding his hand she told him, “I’m glad you weren’t hurt badly, and will recover quickly.”

A bit surprised, Rusty smiled and said, “I didn’t know you cared, Baker.”

“Of course I care. You’re very important to me. I haven’t finished my addition yet.”

***

Thursday of the next week things seemed back to normal, with Kim finishing the siding in the peace and quiet of her father’s absence. Of course, Doris hauled him off to bingo with her. That’s why the sound of footsteps and loose dirt falling against the footings surprised her.

She turned and saw Rusty grinning at her with a baseball hat pulled down to his ears.

“Hey,” he said, “came over to thank you for helping me out, and taking care of Lily.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I’m glad you were here for Lily. I don’t know what would have happened if she hadn’t come to you.”

“I’m just glad she knew she could.”

Anxious to get his hat off to expose his shiny bald head Kim asked Rusty, “Are your stitches starting to pull yet? Bend over here and let nurse Kim take a look at them.”

A quick step backwards and a hand on his hat indicated that wasn’t going to happen.

Kim chuckled.

Hands in his pockets, staring at the ground, he looked like a little boy about to admit guilt.

“Kim, I’d like to show my appreciation for all you did for us. Can Lily and I take you out to dinner?”

“I would like that Rusty, but I think there’s a better idea. Why don’t you and Lily come here for dinner Saturday? That way Lily and her new “grandpa” can watch football while you practice making meatloaf for dinner.”

“What’s with the meatloaf?” Rusty asked.

“Oh, I heard Lily tell my dad the last one you made looked black and you couldn’t eat it.”

After Rusty left, it dawned on Kim that Saturday was Valentine’s Day. She wanted to cancel, but didn’t know how to do it gracefully. She chose to embrace the occasion, and get it over with, quickly.

 

8

When Saturday came, and Kim let Rusty and Lily into the house, Lily immediately went to sit on Herman’s lap. Kim and Rusty embraced in an awkward hug.

Rusty asked Kim, “Do you know it’s Valentine’s day?”

“As a matter of fact I do.” Kim said. “Sorry if I caused a conflict with your plans for Lily.”

“Not at all.” Rusty said. “By-the-way, I have a card for you. Didn’t want you to be left out.”

When Kim opened the Happy Valentine’s Day card, it had a $50 Home Depot gift card in it.

“Oh, Rusty you shouldn’t have. This is a bit much.” she said, thankful it wasn’t anything romantic.

“I didn’t want you to be left out, either, so here’s a card for you.” Kim gave Rusty a hand-made Valentine. The outside had a poem, which Rusty read aloud.

“Roses are Red, Violets are Blue. He opened the card and the poem finished across the top of the picture she took of him in the hospital . . . “nobody looks as bald as you.” Rusty chuckled a little, looked at Kim and said, “You took that picture just for this card, didn’t you?”

“I took it thinking there would be a time when it would be useful. No better time than now.”

Wanting to move on past the Valentine scene, Kim invited Rusty to join her in the kitchen where they were going to prepare a meatloaf.

Lily sat on Herman’s lap watching football and practiced reading aloud the numbers that popped up on the screen.

“Grandpa,” she said as she handed him a red envelope, “Will you be my valentine?”

Rusty stopped what he was doing and watched Herman and Lily. Kim watched too.

“Why Lily,” Herman said, “You made a lovely card. But, why is this big black dot in the heart. Did you run out of red color?”

“No, grandpa, that’s a hole. I have a hole in my heart, don’t you?”

Herman didn’t know what to say. He looked toward the kitchen for guidance, and saw Kim’s mouth wide open with surprise and Rusty shrugging his shoulders. It was obvious he wasn’t going to get any help.

“You know Lily, I’ve never looked. I don’t know if I have one or not.”

“Don’t worry; you can come with me the next time they take pictures. Then you’ll see.”

As Herman talked with Lily, Kim expressed her surprise to Rusty, in a hushed tone.

“A hole in her heart? Seriously?”

Rusty turned back to preparing the meatloaf. “Now is not the time. Later.”

“I see,” Kim said as she slammed a bottle of sauce onto the counter top, not happy with being put off.

“Well, it’s time to get this meatloaf in the oven.”

Rusty set the temperature dial to broil while Kim opened the door and placed the meatloaf inside. When she reached to set the temperature Rusty said, don’t worry, I already started it.

Kim immediately turned the heat off.

“Rusty Dye, do you know the difference between bake and broil?”

“No, I thought an oven was just an oven.”

“Well, it’s not. You just set the temperature to broil…same as the last time I’m guessing. When you bake, the burners are underneath. When you broil, the burners on top can reach 500 degrees, and burns your meatloaf into a block of inedible tar. You do remember that, right?”

“Hold it down a little, will you. The whole world doesn’t need to know about it.”

“Oh, really! I think the whole world should know in case you invite them to dinner.”

“Listen, that’s why we’re doing this, so I can learn, right?” Rusty said. “If you’re going to be my instructor, you need to chill out.”

“Watch me.” Kim reached for the temperature dial, turned to the side of the dial with temperature numbers and stopped at 375 degrees. Now, we’ll let it bake for an hour. You’ll be amazed. We’ll actually be able to eat it.”

Kim went to the refrigerator and took out two bottles of beer. “We’ve got an hour to wait, let’s go sit outside for a bit.”

She motioned to her dad that they were going outside. He nodded his head in acknowledgement.

They sat in Arcadia chairs on a small patio shaded now by the new addition to the house. The sweet smell of orange blossoms was floating in on a fresh breeze. “Here Rusty.” Kim handed him a beer.

Kim took a swig of beer, leaned back in her chair and stretched out her legs. “Rusty, would this be a good time to talk about the hole in Lily’s heart?”

Rusty twisted the cap off his beer. “I don’t understand why it’s so important to you.”

“Well, dah!” Kim said. “We’ve become close neighbors, if not close friends. Dad and I couldn’t love Lily more if we tried. She’s special to us, and as a nurse, I deserve to know.”

Rusty lowered his head, sighed and said softly, “We’ve known since birth there’s a hole in her heart. You probably know more about it than I do. They call it ASD.”

“Yes,” Kim said, “Atrial septal defect is a hole in the lining between the two atrial chambers. It’s an easy fix using a cardiac catheterization procedure.”

Leaning forward, Kim rested her elbows on the arms of the chair. “For something so routine I don’t understand why you would wait five years. Why didn’t you have the surgery done when she was younger? Her heart could have been healed by now!”

“Usually,” Rusty said. He sat up in his chair and looked over at Kim. “The hole in Lily’s heart is too large for catheterization. She needs open heart surgery.”

Kim looked shocked. “That’s a lot to ask of a five-year-old girl. Are you sure?”

“I’m sure. Her mother and I decided not to take action until her braces were off her legs. We didn’t want her to feel bad about herself having two major things wrong with her. Now that she can walk, shortness of breath and fatigue will happen quickly. It’s time to take care of her heart.”

Kim just knew that Rusty had it wrong. “I don’t think you understand, Rusty. Children shouldn’t need open heart surgery.”

Rusty gave Kim a little jab in the shoulder. “Sorry, but you are wrong nurse Baker. The hole in her septal wall is too large. Open heart surgery is needed to install two discs over the hole. As the heart tissue grows it will cling to the discs and close the hole.”

Kim clammed up, looking moody and deep in thought. It was either her squinting eyes or the set in her jaw that caused Rusty to sit quietly. Finally, Kim sat up, looked Rusty in the eye and said, “Okay then, if she has to have open heart surgery, I want her in my hospital and on my watch so I can take care of her. Will you do that?”

 

9

Early Thursday morning Kim was installing soffit molding in the overhang when Rusty pulled up across the street. After he slid some cartons onto the tailgate, he looked across the street and said, “Hey, Baker! You got a minute?”

“Whatever you want, come over here. I’m not coming down,” she replied.

Rusty crossed the street and walked slowly up to Kim’s ladder. “I see how hard you’ve been working. I’d like to suggest you take a break. How would you like to go out for dinner and a dance or two at Handlebar J’s tomorrow night?”

“As long as it’s not a “Date – Date” if you know what I mean.” Kim said. “If it’s just, well let’s say it’s just two contractors out for a good time. I could live with that.”

“That’s all I’m asking,” Rusty said as he turned to walk away. “I’ll pick you up at 6. Okay?”

“Six it is!”

***

Six-thirty p.m. wasn’t early enough to get a table at Handlebar J’s. They were forced to wait, standing by a railing next to the dance floor, sipping beers and watching the line dance class. Rusty admired Kim. She wore marbled grey and white boots, a black, pleated thigh length skirt, red blouse and white cowboy hat. He took special notice of her beautiful legs, always hidden in jeans since he met her.

As they scanned the place looking for a table, Kim noticed how handsome Rusty looked. Clean jeans and a striped brushpopper shirt made him look very different from when she saw him at work. The tan cowboy hat and matching Armadillo skin boots created a totally new look for him, reminding her of the nurses drooling over his picture in the newspaper.

Finally, when the line dancing class ended and people started leaving, a table opened up for them. The place became quieter. When their orders were served Kim exclaimed, “Holy cow, this burger’s huge. I don’t remember them being this big. Do you?”

“Check! Check!” filled the room as the band set up. “Check! Check!”

Dusty smiled. “I guess I’ve never noticed. I’ve always been able to finish one.”

Kim shook her head. “Rusty, if you keep eating Bacon Burger’s with four strips . . .

The sound of an electric guitar going through some riffs exploded throughout the room as the band continued their sound check.

. . . “As I was saying, if you eat four strips of bacon on a burger, you’ll soon be a graduate of the heart hospital.

Rusty smiled, took a swig of beer and said, “Once-a-year, nurse Baker. Once-a-year. It’s not going to kill me.”

When the band started playing “The Chair,” by George Strait, Rusty asked Kim to dance. They were cautious, making sure to keep an appropriate distance between them. But things changed when the band leader announced a Texas two-step contest.

The winning couple gets a trophy and $100 each.

Kim hopped up and down clapping her hands.

 “Rusty, this is cool. I love the two-step. Don’t you?”

Before Rusty could answer Kim, a tall burly cowboy walked up and took her hand.

She had a look of surprise on her face, “Bart?”

Bart said to Rusty, “Hey buddy, you don’t mind if I steal my old dance partner away, do you? We’ve gotta win this contest.”

Kim pulled her hand away from Bart. She suspected he’d had a little too much to drink. “Listen Bart, that was in the past. I already have a partner.”

“Yeah, but you’ll never win with him,” Bart said as he shot a glance at Rusty. Grabbing her hand again, he pulled her away, saying “If you want that prize money, you’ll dance with me.”

As Bart dragged Kim out onto the dance floor, Rusty’s blood started to boil. After all, he brought Kim to the dance, and he should be her partner!

“Don’t you just want to punch him in the mouth?” A woman said as she put her hand on Rusty’s shoulder.

He turned and looked into the greenest eyes he’d ever seen. “Yes I would. But who are you?”

“Jolene and I happen to be the second place winner the last time Kim and Bart danced in this contest. Since I don’t have a partner, I’m wondering if you’d want to help me take that $100 away from him?”

Rusty looked at the beautiful woman beside him, then at the woman who walked away from him, and the S.O.B. who stole her away. “Yes, I think I’ll enjoy trying to win. Let’s do it.”

As they two-stepped smoothly around the dance floor, Jolene felt him leading her. She could tell this wasn’t his first two-step.

“You’re a really smooth dancer, Rusty. You must dance a lot.”

“Not much anymore. My mom had a dance studio when I was a kid, and she made me hang out there every day after school.”

“Holy Cow! It must be in the genes. Do you remember any of the moves, like the underarm turn?”

“Of course.”

“Good, here we go!” She said.

There was no hesitation in Rusty’s dance moves. He and Jolene moved like they’d danced together before. Jolene looked over at Kim and Bart.

“Rusty, watch them? Each one of their moves is perfect, but they don’t do many combinations. We need to put some moves together in combinations to attract the judges. Are you up for this?”

“I’m game if you are.”

“Ok, we’re going to do a underarm turn, direction change, a double underarm turn and another direction change?”

“Okay,” he said, “here we go.”

Jolene was thrilled at Rusty’s ability to keep up with her. Just to flaunt their moves in front of Kim and Bart they did a sweetheart move that forced Rusty to hold Jolene close to his side. Gliding around the floor moving from one routine to another, they danced like long-time partners. Rusty felt pleased to see Jolene enjoying herself.

The music stopped; the band took a break; and an M.C. took the stage.

“Ladiiiiieees and Gentlemen. It‘s time to announce the winners of our Texas two-step contest. The third place winners are this lovely couple in matching Polaris shirts.

Rusty had his arm around Jolene’s waist at the time, so he squeezed her gently and said, “I wouldn’t even wear that at work.”

Kim watched Rusty and Jolene, and saw that little squeeze. She wasn’t sure she was ready to be in Rusty’s arms, but she sure didn’t appreciate someone else being there.

The M.C. moved on. “Our second place prize is a trophy and $50 each for the winning couple.

Rusty saw Kim looking his way with a rather firm stare. Bart wasn’t even paying attention, when the M.C. said, “Second place goes to Bart and his lovely partner in the red blouse.”

Bart grew furious! Kim’s hands covered her mouth as she gasped, and back pedaled from the wild man next to her.”

Waving his arms and shoving people out-of-the-way, as he headed for the M.C. he roared, “Just who the hell made you the expert?”

Three men near the stage intercepted Bart and started pushing him away from the stage.

“I’m the best damn two-step-dancer in this town,” he yelled over his shoulder, “and you have the guts to tell me I’m second place?”

Bart’s strength didn’t match the three men shoving Bart further away from the dance floor.

The M.C. collected himself and went on to announce the first place winners.

“It’s my pleasure to award the 1st place trophy and prize money to Jolene and her new partner. And Jolene honey, I’ve got to say that your new partner is a helluva lot better than the one that just left the building. Congratulations.”

Rusty and Jolene were on stage celebrating when Kim walked up in front of Jolene. “Congratulations, Jolene.”

Jolene squatted down to talk with Kim. “Thank you honey. This should be you up here, but when I saw that ass take you away from your date, I couldn’t just let your man stand there alone now, could I?”

“No, but did you have to make him look so damned good?”

“No, no, no. You’re wrong Kim. He’s one helluva dancer, leading all the way. I don’t know where you found him, but Rusty’s a keeper. I wouldn’t walk away from him again, if I were you, because next time I won’t let him go.”


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Download this book for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-27 show above.)