A ringing phone at two in the morning never brought good news. With its distinctive ring tone, this phone call might be different. Dylan Harper made a quick check of his watch as he rolled to his back on the narrow bunk. It was midnight when he first arrived at the hospital. After fifteen years as a pediatrician, he was used to the after-hours summons and woke fast and alert. Always ready to provide care to the child who needed him.
Except he wasn’t here to care for one of his patients. This visit was far more personal.
He was careful to keep the lights off in this area of the Doctors’ Lounge in deference to slumbering colleagues and groped on the floor beside him for his cell. When his hand closed around the thin metal object, he peeked at the caller ID to be sure and let out a long sigh.
This was it. The call he’d waited for. “Doctor Harper.”
“She’s just out of surgery.”
That a stranger was on the other end of his wife’s phone shouldn’t have startled him, but did. He sat up and gave himself a mental slap. Of course someone would call for her.
“What room did they put her in?”
“I’ll be right there.”
The cell shoved in his pocket, he took off out the door and down the wide corridor to a main elevator. His thick soled running shoes made no sound on the carpet as he hurried along.
Red satin bows, sparkling silver garland scallop-draped between, lined the walls. Shiny golden ribbon arranged in swirls and twists adorned the towering artificial fir in the atrium entrance. A mammoth green wreath studded with red and white candy canes hung high above the glass double doors that led to the attached parking garage.
Even clad in all the trappings of a flourishing holiday season, for Crossroads Medical Center, the largest metropolitan hospital in the state, it was still business as usual healing the sick.
Wiping remnants of sleep from his eyes, he re-focused on his wife. His reason for being here today. With a blink, his mind skittered to the first time they met.
“Excuse me. Can you make change for a dollar?”
The special sound of April’s voice came back to him in a rush. He was in the basement lunch room at college, and the prettiest girl he’d ever seen stood before him. Short brown hair, ready smile. The woman who would turn out to be the love of his life simply wanted to buy a cup of coffee from a vending machine that wouldn’t accept dollar bills.
Full of himself at the time, his reply was of the flip look-at-me-I’m-going-to-be-a-doctor variety. “’Fraid not. As a first year medical student—a struggling first year medical student—dollars come into my life few and far between these days.”
The most gorgeous bright blue eyes sparkled back at him. “Then I guess we’ll just have to live on love.”
Baffled at her unusual response, not to mention intrigued, he uttered the first thing that came to mind. “Guess so.”
More Christmas decorations went by in a blur as his mind jumped ahead and he gave the memories full reign.
Their wedding took place a few short months later. They celebrated their first Christmas together shortly after that. A small synthetic balsam, on sale at the grocery store, served as their first tree. One they decorated with a single string of white lights and some tinsel—all they could afford at the time.
Face beaming with pride, April stepped back when they were finished. “It’s beautiful. A masterpiece!”
Loving gaze on her, he’d nodded in agreement. She was far more beautiful than any tree.
A second later she’d turned toward him. Frown lines around her eyes replacing the laugh lines of a moment before. “You’ve taught me Christmas really is about being together. I never experienced anything like that…until I met you. Promise me every Christmas Day we’ll be together like this.”
His brow furrowed at her sudden shift in mood. Then he brought out his broadest, most reassuring grin. “Of course we will. Why wouldn’t we?”
There was no need for her to explain the reasoning behind this request. He’d long ago learned of her history. The holidays she celebrated as a child were more about power struggles than family togetherness. Thanks to the set of vain, self-involved parents she was unfortunate to be born to.
His arms had slid around her waist as he pulled her close, emotion clogging his throat. “And each and every day in between for the rest of our lives.”
“Especially at Christmas. This is important to me, Dylan. Promise. Please.”
His forehead had creased again, but only for an instant. “I promise.” Said on a laugh, he gathered her hands in his, then rested his head on hers to gaze into serious blue eyes. “I promise no matter where we are, you and I will always be together on Christmas Day.”
As he hurried to her side nearly two decades after that exchange, Dylan silently renewed the vow made long ago. Over the years he’d easily kept that promise and was determined he would this year too. Regardless of their current—okay difficult—circumstances.
The elevator dinged, and the door opened. Dylan stepped out onto the brightly lit eighth floor. Except for a couple of wreaths hung above the nurse’s station, business as usual prevailed more than ever here in the ICU.
Wasting no time to get where he was going, he merely nodded to a few bustling personnel sporting holiday themed scrubs as he made his way down yet another hallway. The chords and lyrics of a hopeful Christmas carol drifted into the air around him. Head lifted toward it, Dylan let out a sigh as he was reminded how life went on in the world, no matter what.
“Her vitals are approaching normal.”
With his hand on the knob of room 815, he turned as the charge nurse recited some basics into the electronic record stored in the computer just outside.
“That’s good to hear.” To mumble the acknowledgement was second nature.
She looked up at him, and their gazes met in a knowing, professional way. “It is. It really is.”
As he entered the room, moonlight of all things filtered through from between thick white slats over the solitary window. The beams brought in just enough light to cast the slight figure on the bed in its glow and leave the rest of the room in shadows. A pallid complexion was nothing to be alarmed about. Totally expected of a patient recently out of the OR. An endotracheal tube was in her nose to assist with breathing. Arterial lines, heart monitor, pulse oximeter, additional tubes and cords connected her to life giving machines that whirred and clicked in the background. Motionless in the doorway, his gaze lifted to another woman dressed in scrubs who stood on the opposite side of the bed.
“I got here as soon as I could.” He took a moment to swallow before he asked a question he wasn’t sure he wanted answered. “How much time do we have?”
Please join me here tomorrow for Part Two of Christmas With You. And for more about me and my stories, please visit my WEBSITE