“Damn that man anyway!” Kendall muttered as she walked through the revolving doors of Johns Hopkins hospital. At this hour the parking lot was empty, but the sound of the nearby traffic told her the drive home would be difficult. The wet asphalt gleamed in the glow cast by the streetlights. The square, empty, black parking pads looked as dead as she felt inside.
The treacherous Dr. Richard Tanner was absent, thank God. That, at least, made her day a little brighter. She had tried so hard to keep a smile on her face, but it had been difficult when all she wanted was to go home and hide. As far as she was concerned, she had no family left to help her grieve. Her sister was probably catting around with the good doctor right at this minute.
“Damn him! Damn them, and damn me!” Kendall slammed open the door to her silver minivan and threw herself into the driver’s seat. She sat there looking out at the bright yellow lines on the parking spaces as tears slowly tracked down her face.
“Damn me for caring.” She wiped her eyes with the heels of her hands, then pushed the key into the ignition. After pulling an eighteen-hour shift on what was supposed to have been the eve of her honeymoon, all she wanted was a little peace.
The radio began to croon nauseatingly sweet lyrics of undying love. “Damn the love songs, too,” Kendall muttered as she reached out to switch the station, but changed her mind. The irony was too good to pass up, even if it was at her expense. Maneuvering her car on to her street, Kendall sang along.
She threw up her middle finger in an uncommon fit of bad temper when she looked up and noticed lights flickering on the waters of the lake behind her house. Late-night boaters, no doubt, out having a good time, while Kendall’s life crumbled around her. They were probably drinking and dancing, enjoying a nighttime cruise filled with all kinds of joy and laughter.
“Damn them for being happy!” Kendall whipped her van into her driveway. Her irrational anger faded into a deep, aching sadness when she remembered the plans that she’d had for many a romantic tryst on that very lake. How different her current reality was when compared to her fantasies.
“A shower,” Kendall murmured to herself. “No, a long hot bath for this old girl.” Absently rubbing the tension from the back of her neck, Kendall popped open the minivan’s door and wearily headed for the house.
Thanks to last winter’s blizzard, she’d been kept running all day. The combination of four-foot-high snowdrifts and stranded couples always made for crowded delivery rooms nine months later. It was just a quirk of fate that the nine-month span ended around the time her wedding was to have taken place.
The most difficult part of the day had been dealing with the pitying looks and uncertain comments from her friends. What could you say to someone whose heart had been ripped out and tossed away like so many used rubber gloves in an E.R.?
She had smiled at all of her well-wishers and reminded them that at least she was getting an all-expenses-paid vacation this week, courtesy of the good doctor.
She had tried to laugh and joke, but the pain had gotten harder and harder to hide…and now it was almost unbearable. Tomorrow was the start of her vacation and new life, but the night was still her demon, her monster to face and to double fist into submission.
I’ll deal with the world tomorrow!
she decided, a little spark of the old Go-get-’em-Kendall shining through her misery. Tonight I get loaded!
She did have rum in the house, right? Maybe a bottle left over from when her sister flew in to help her celebrate her engagement. She would have to overlook the irony of drinking her sister’s liquor to help her revel in the joy of her lingering single state. Yeah.
With new determination, she hopped to the ground and gave a small nod to her property. All these double shifts were worth it as long as she could still afford to keep her own house.
The brick-faced split-level was barely within her price range. With careful budgeting, though, she would be able to keep up the mortgage payments by herself. As an added bonus, Richard had no claim on it! She had bought it just after finding out the truth about her fiancé and was proud to say that no memories of him tainted her beloved sanctuary.
Her front yard always made her smile, and tonight was no exception. In the warm, humid air of the late summer night she could smell the roses that grew in abundance around the perimeter of her yard. She had painstakingly planted and nurtured each one like a child, and all of her efforts were paying off. Her flowerbeds were fully stocked. Gladiolas, impatiens, and colorful decorative grass surrounded the house like a vibrant, living welcome mat. The garden glowed softly in the illumination provided by her porch lights. Even the delicate white moonflowers she had planted beside her front door gave off an enticing aroma that teased and pleased her senses.
She paused in the perusal of her organic masterpiece of a front yard when she spied a pile of garbage near her front porch. Her eyes flared in sudden shock before narrowing into angry slits. “Damn the person who left that there!” she declared. She gave a small snort of laughter. At the rate she was damning people, the word would soon lose all meaning. “I need to find some better swears!”
Muttering under her breath about overpriced community association fees and cheap, ineffective security, she stalked over to the pile of refuse. After all her hard work creating a horticulture showcase, she would be damned before she let a litterbug destroy her near perfect view.
She never expected the garbage to move.
With a shriek, Kendall fumbled for the pepper spray in her pocket. Hands trembling, she held her weapon before her. When the pile showed no other signs of life, her heart rate returned to normal. She inched closer to the dark pile and carefully nudged it over with the toe of her nursing shoe. Again she jumped back, barely controlling another shriek of fright.
It was a man.
A big man in obvious pain.
He groaned as a wave of pain twisted his features. “Help me!” he managed, desperation sounding in his voice.
In the face of his unmistakable distress, Kendall’s medical training kicked in. The pepper spray was swiftly replaced with her house keys, and she was squatting to help the man struggle to his feet. It wasn’t easy. He was lying in a fetal position, his back to her as he strained to hold his head up and speak. Kendall placed her hands on his quivering shoulders, only to pull back at the cold wetness. He moaned and she rushed to brush the wet hair from his face in an effort to calm him down. She dropped to her knees then eased her hands beneath his arms.
Muscles straining and screaming in protest, Kendall managed to pull the man the few feet to her porch, grunting and breathing heavily with the effort.
“Come on! Help me here!” Moving him was probably not the best medical option, but something in her gut made her want to get this man out of the night and into sanctuary as fast as possible.
He must’ve been dumped by one of those boats, she reasoned. Maybe there had been an accident and he had managed to make it this far for help. Many scenarios quickly raced through her brain as she helped support the man. Maybe after he’d been dumped, he had managed the swim to safety. Maybe he was as lost as she was.
The man’s slow nod brought her back to the situation at hand. She would contemplate life and its mysteries after she got him to safety. He braced himself and tried to force his body upwards. Working together, they managed to get him upright and attempted a few shaky steps forward. They were a wet, shaking mess as they made their way to the front door.
Once there, he released a tortured groan as his body stiffened further and he began to spasm in her arms. “Come on,” she urged, “you can do this!” She added a bit of command in her voice as she tried desperately to hold him upright long enough to get the key into the lock. His legs trembled, but he managed to take some of the burden of his weight, freeing up her arm for a wider range of movement.
“Shh,” she crooned while searching for the right key, sighing in relief as it slid into the lock.
The key turned slowly and the tumblers clicked loudly, but finally the door slammed open under the combined weight of her scared self and the stranger. Kendall ignored the noise and any possible damage to her walls while she urged him into her hallway. They both let out a sigh of relief when they were inside and she could kick the door closed.
But there were still more obstacles ahead of them, mainly how to make it to the couch that seemed a million miles away instead of across the room. Of course, then the man’s wet clothes would have to come off as he was beginning to shiver in the air-conditioned hall.
“Couch!” was her war cry, and together they gathered their strength and nearly ran the last few feet before his legs collapsed beneath him. Like a puppet with its strings cut, he lay there dripping on her couch as if it were too much of an effort to right himself.
“Are you okay?” she questioned in her best nurse’s voice, dropping to her knees in front of him. “No, you are not,” she answered her own question. She pressed a palm against his forehead, brushing wet tendrils away from his clammy face.
Babies? She hadn’t seen anyone else out there. There had to have been an accident. Were there other people hurt? “Where?” she demanded. “Where are they?” She was pulling her cell phone out of her pocket when his next action made her freeze.
“My babies…” He reached out for her hand, and she found herself gripping it as his body began to shake in earnest. He groaned, closing his eyes as if agony was ripping though him. “I am in labor.”
“Labor?” Oh, no! He’s escaped from a loony bin, she thought. Why do I get all of the nut jobs?
She wanted to drop his hand but his grip tightened, a tear falling from his right eye.
Before she could say anything else or check for some kind of head trauma he pulled aside his long coat to reveal his distended abdominal cavity.
Shocked by what had to be an extreme case of peritonitis or some type of internal hemorrhaging, Kendall jumped to her feet and eased his legs up onto the couch. “I’ll call for help…” She tried to jerk her hand free but his back arched almost off of the couch and he sucked in and held his breath.
In front of her disbelieving eyes, his stomach tightened in what appeared to be an actual contraction. It lasted nearly a full minute before his abdominal muscles began to relax and he started to breathe again.
“Please, Mistress, help me!” he panted, his voice sounding broken and defeated. “I am about to deliver.”
Kendall looked into the grayest eyes she had ever seen—eyes that were now filled with anxiety and pain. Her rich, brown, coffee-au-lait skin paled as she read both truth and sincerity in their clear depths of his eyes…and not a drop of madness. She stared down at his stomach, watched as it rolled and something pressed outward. She pressed her free hand against the mass and choked back a cry as it pressed back. She had felt something like this many times. She knew without a doubt that this was the unique feeling of a fetus pressing against its mother’s stomach. Swallowing hard, Kendall nodded. She believed him. She actually believed him. She was going to help deliver this man’s child.
“There are some things I need first.” She managed to force the words past her suddenly tight throat as she stared, bug-eyed, at the miracle man before her. “Just…just remember to breathe with the pain and try not to fight against it.”
He closed his eyes and seemed to relax a bit as he released her hand and pushed his trembling fingers through his long, wet hair.
She turned and raced to the second floor, mentally reciting the list of things needed for a home birth. Breathing hard, she grabbed sheets from her linen closet along with a few clean, white towels fresh from the laundry. From the bathroom, she pulled her first-aid kit from beneath the sink before rushing back downstairs with her unsteady burden to the man lying on her couch.
“My name is Kendall Moore.” She attempted to implement some kind of bedside manner. “I’m going to try and make you a bit more comfortable.” Never before had she ever had to speak her litany in such unique circumstances, let alone say the words for a man. This was certainly the first time that she had seen a man in this condition. The medical universe was about to be knocked on its collective ass.