Slowly, silently, the heavy fog began to rise. The brisk offshore breeze set the thick moisture stirring around the Golden Gate Bridge. Gradually the sun broke through the low-lying vapor to display the wonders of the beautiful city of St. Francis.
Releasing a sigh of appreciation for the natural beauty around her, Skye Garvin leisurely strolled toward the hospital. A freshness seemed to flow through her. Usually by the end of the day the demands of teaching a classroom full of enthusiastic kindergartners left her physically and mentally drained. But even knowing she would be volunteering several hours at the hospital this afternoon couldn’t dampen this new exuberance. The fresh air and brilliant sunlight brought a bounce to her step, and she hummed a catchy tune.
Once on the children’s ward she paused to resecure the thick, honey-colored chignon the brisk wind had ruffled about her oval face. Her bright blue eyes sparkled, and her cheeks were whipped a rosy hue.
“You’re here at last.” Sally Avery, the head pediatric nurse, smiled in greeting. “Billy’s been waiting impatiently all afternoon. I think he’s ready to collect on his bet.”
“Skye pulled a wry face. “Oh, dear, I was afraid of that.”
The corners of Sally’s mouth curved upward. “You realize you’re hopeless, don’t you? Anyone crazy enough to race that child down the corridor in a wheelchair deserves what she gets.”
Skye disguised her own amusement. “Kindly remove that snicker, Sally Avery. How was I to know Billy would practice day and night? You’re the one who told me he wouldn’t even sit in the wheelchair, and then on the day of the race he takes off like Parnelli Jones.”
Sally laughed, but her eyes grew serious. “All kidding aside, thank you. I don’t know if Billy would ever have voluntarily accepted the wheelchair if it hadn’t been for you.”
“Oh, nonsense, he just needed a little subtle encouragement,” she said, refusing the credit. “I’d better go see the little rascal and discover my forfeit.”
“While you’re there, see if you can do anything to cheer up his new roommate.”
“I’ll do what I can.” Skye paused, thinking she’d detected a gleam of mischief in Sally’s expression. “I’ll be back with Billy in a few minutes.” She flashed a quick smile to the short brunette, who had been her good friend for several years. Skye and Sally were strikingly different in looks, but not temperament. Sally, with her short, stylish curls and slightly plump build, was perpetually dieting, while Skye, tall and slender, never needed to worry about her weight. But both were the impulsive, fun-loving type.
“Good afternoon, Sprout,” Skye greeted her favorite ten-year-old.
“Hello, Skye!” Billy’s young face lit up with pathetic eagerness. “You haven’t forgotten our bet, have you?”
“I doubt that you would let me,” Skye said a little drily.
“You said I could choose anything I wanted.”
“Within reason,” she added quickly, wondering how she could have been so rash.
“We’d better whisper,” Billy warned, and gestured to the hospital bed beside his. The heavy white curtain surrounding the area prevented her from looking at his new roommate. “He’s asleep, I think.”
“Then let’s go before we wake him,” Skye whispered.
“I know what I want for my prize,” Billy said loudly, forgetting his own advice in his enthusiasm.
An impatient oath came from the unknown occupant of the room.
“Oops, sorry, Mr. Kiley,” Billy apologized.
“Either be quiet or get out of here.” The hard voice breathed heavily in irritation.
Involuntarily Skye moved closer to Billy. There was no need for the man to be so impatient and brusque. Billy was having a rough enough time. A tragic victim of a hit-and-run driver, he was facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Billy was special, always offering others a ready smile, even when in considerable discomfort. Other children came and left the hospital with amazing briskness, but Billy had remained for two months, and Skye had become devoted to the courageous youth.
Gently she lifted him into the wheelchair and wheeled him from the room.
“Your new roommate is a man,” she said a bit incredulously. No wonder Sally had been so eager for her to meet him. From the beginning of their relationship Sally had assumed the role of matchmaker, intent on finding Skye a husband. Skye had resigned herself to Sally’s schemes but had never allowed any male relationship to develop beyond a light flirtation. Her life would have been so different if Glen had lived. She immediately cast the unpleasant memories from her mind. It did no good to brood over the might-have-beens in her life.
“Of course Mr. Kiley is a man,” Billy said, laughing. “Nurse Sally says he swears like a trooper, and she’s right.”
“What on earth is he doing on the children’s ward?”
“The hospital must be full. I heard someone say my room had the only available bed, but I think Nurse Sally is going to get rid of him fast.” His young mouth twisted into a lopsided grin. “Mr. Kiley knocked his lunch tray on the floor this afternoon.”
Skye shook her head disapprovingly. Sally and the other nurses on the children’s ward were gentle and patient. They certainly had enough to do without having to deal with an ill-tempered, oversized juvenile.
“It seems your new roommate needs to be reminded of his manners,” Skye retorted crisply.
“I don’t think you should blame Mr. Kiley for being in a bad mood. He’s just in pain and hungry,” Billy said with a maturity beyond his years. “You said for my prize I could have anything I wanted.”
“Well, I’ve decided what I want.” He turned in his chair to look at her, his eyes full of boyish enthusiasm. “I want you to get Mr. Kiley to eat. He’s only a grouch because he won’t let anyone feed him, and his hands are bandaged so he can’t feed himself.”
“Oh, no, you don’t, Billy!” Skye protested, waving her finger back and forth urgently.
“Please, Skye,” Billy pleaded. “Remember how you coaxed me? I bet it would work with Mr. Kiley. If anyone can do it, you can.”
“Oh, Billy.” She sighed, hating to disappoint him. “It just won’t work. A man isn’t going to get excited over a button that says I ATE THE WHOLE THING.”
Sally joined them in the wide hospital corridor. “Did you tell her yet?” she asked Billy.
“Yeah. I think she’ll do it.” He gave a reckless grin.
“No way!” Skye said instantly. “I’m sorry, but your request is beyond reason.”
“It sounds fair enough to me,” Sally interjected, a glint of laughter shining in her eyes.
“Sally!” Skye glared at her friend, her look speaking volumes.
Unaffected, Sally laughed. “You’d best be on your way, or Billy will be late for his physical therapy session.”
“Come on, Skye.” Billy’s hands hurriedly rotated the large wheels of his chair as he pushed himself toward the elevator. “If we don’t hurry, I might be late for dinner.”
“And we wouldn’t want to miss dinner, would we, Skye?” Sally taunted.
“Come on, you guys,” Skye pleaded helplessly.
But Billy refused to be persuaded otherwise, although Skye made repeated attempts as they rode the elevator downward. Leaving him with the physical therapist, she returned to pediatrics.
“I’m glad you’re back,” Sally said when she saw Skye had returned. “Pastor Johnson phoned and asked if you could visit Mrs. Montressor when you get the chance. There’s nothing pressing here. Go now, if you like.”
The hospital chaplain often requested that Skye visit certain patients. Her duties entailed reading scripture aloud, writing letters, or just visiting with a Christian brother or sister. Mrs. Montressor was a sweet, elderly woman from Skye’s church who was being transferred from the hospital to a nursing home. Skye realized the older woman was anxious about the move and just wanted a reassuring chat.
The visit lasted nearly an hour, and Skye returned to pediatrics only a few minutes before Billy was due, so she hurried to put his bed in order. Nervously she entered the room. The curtain around his roommate’s bed was open, but the man’s face was turned away from her. She said a quick prayer that she wouldn’t wake him and worked as quietly as possible.
“Well, if it isn’t little Miss Pollyanna.” A gruff voice thick with amusement spoke as she completed making the bed. A grin twisted the corners of his mouth as he regarded her volunteer uniform. He paused to read the button attached below her name tag, which said: I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES.
“Mr. Simon Legree, I presume,” she said without her usual warm smile, hoping to show her disapproval of his behavior.
Their gazes met and held. Cool arrogance returned her study. As Billy had explained, his hands were bandaged in thick white gauze resembling makeshift boxing gloves; his left arm was propped at an awkward angle in traction. He wasn’t strikingly handsome, but he was compelling, with a sense of self-assurance. His eyes were a deep gray, widely set, and lent his face a look of intensity. His jawline, proud and strong, was ruggedly carved.
His eyes darkened under her scrutiny, as if he deeply resented her or anyone seeing him disabled. Not that it was likely she would view this unnerving male as weak. He exuded an easy strength and confidence, but Skye could sense his frustration and impatience.
His helplessness stirred something within her, and she realized she wanted to help this man. Common sense quickly intervened, however. She was out of her element, and there was little she could do.
Copyright © 2013 by Debbie Macomber. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.