Doctor’s Orders: Chapter One
My flight is the last one to land at Sacramento Airport. From there, I rent a car and drive for another hour to Auburn Springs, a small town in the Sierra Nevada mountains. With my eyes intent on the road, I barely notice all the beauty around me, from the pine trees that dot the landscape on both sides of the highway to the stretch of the Yuba River underneath the bridge which I don’t see anyway, not at night. Still, I know it’s there since this is where I grew up.
No, right now all I can think about is my mother who fell off a ladder while trying to clear the debris from her roof gutters herself. She knows better than to do it herself but she’s stubborn and so she got up on that ladder anyway and did it. The neighbor told me a squirrel surprised her and caused her to lose her balance and down she went.
I left New York as soon as I heard, putting everything on hold even if I’m scheduled to present our latest project to the client in less than two weeks. No, this time, family comes first. After all, I’ve set Mom aside in favor of work more times than I care to admit, like last year when I cut short my vacation to fill in for Ryan in Las Vegas. Ex-boyfriend or not, he’s not going to talk me into returning to New York in a week to do the presentation. Is he kidding me? My mother is scheduled to have surgery in the morning! I need to be with her.
Of course, I’m also in major panic mode and it doesn’t matter that Mom assures me she’s fine. She may be fine but I’m not. I’m a nervous wreck.
I arrive at the hospital just before the end of visiting hours. They let me through only because I spotted Becky emerging from her office from behind the front desk and told her I needed to see my mother in the fourth floor. Although we’re not exactly the best of friends, we went to high school together. Auburn Springs is also a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business.
I find Mom watching TV, her body dwarfed by the white sheets and wires emerging from under her hospital gown. Various pieces of equipment beep and blink next to her bed and for a moment, I wonder if I’m in denial about how bad her situation really is. She did break her hip and will require surgery tomorrow. wires emerge from under her hospital gown.
“Ava! You made it!”
I give her a hug, careful not to move her in any way. “I did, Mom. How are you feeling?”
“Filled to the max with painkillers,” she says, gently patting her left hip. “But I’m so glad you’re here, Ava. I thought you’d be busy.”
“I’ll never be too busy to be here with you, Mom,” I say, setting my carry-all on the chair and standing by her bed. “I can’t believe you were cleaning the roof gutters. Why didn’t you just hire someone to do it?”
“Do you know how much they’re asking?” She exclaims. “Too much money if you ask me. So I figured I’d do it myself. I’ve always done it myself before.”
“You were younger then, Mom,” I say. “What time is your surgery?”
“Some time in the morning,” she replies, pausing to watch me open the wardrobe doors and pulling out a pillow.
“What are you doing, love?”
I set the pillow on the loveseat. “I’m spending the night here.”
“Are you crazy? The chairs here are terrible. Ask Lisa,” she says, referring to Lisa James, our next door neighbor and Mom’s best friend. “Doug said he’ll probably need a chiropractic adjustment in the morning the chair is so bad.”
I sit down, testing the padding. It’s not bad, but then I’m not the one who drove cargo trucks for the last twenty years and ended up with a bad back. “I’ll need to request a blanket from the nurses’ station though.”
A nurse knocks on the door and after a quick round of introductions, she announces that she needs to take Mom’s vitals.
“I’m going to the nurses’ station to get a pillow, Mom,” I say as I make my way to the door. “I’ll be right back.”
The nurses’ station is located in the middle of the floor, flanked by a corridor of patient rooms on both sides. Everyone seems busy but one of the nurses sees me and approaches the counter.
“I’m Carla Turner’s daughter in Room 428,” I say. “I’m staying with her for the night and I was wondering if you have any pillows you can spare. A sheet, too.”
“Sure, let me get one of the nurse aides to get them for you.” As the nurse picks up the phone receiver, a man emerges from a patient’s room behind her.
It takes a few seconds before my mind registers the line of the man’s jaw, his blond hair, and those unmistakable blue eyes to know who he is, only this time he’s wearing a white doctor’s coat over his light blue button down shirt and dark trousers, a stethoscope hanging around his neck.
I’ve seen him without his clothes on, completely naked, and he’s gorgeous.
The intruding thought surprises me, even if it’s the truth. I turn away, needing to step behind the partition that separates each wing but the nurse says my name again.
“Ava Turner,” she says, her gaze on her screen. “Your mother is in Room 428, yes?”
That’s when my Las Vegas hook-up looks up and sees me. Parker’s eyes widen in surprise but he composes himself, turning his attention to a fellow doctor who approaches him.
“Yes,” I blurt out before ducking behind the partition and heading back to my mother’s room at the end of the hall. I don’t even know why I’m running away but… what the hell is he doing here?
I’m one door away from Mom’s room when I hear his voice. “Ava?”
He must have cut through the corridor between the stations. He also has long legs.
I turn around, forcing a smile. “Hey, Parker. What are you doing here?”
He taps the badge clipped to his breast pocket that says Parker O’Neill, MD. Beneath it is the word Neurology. “I was doing a last-minute consult for a colleague. What about you? Are you visiting a friend?”
“My mother. She was admitted here this morning,” I say.
He frowns. “Is she okay?”
“She broke her hip and she’s having surgery tomorrow, but she’s fine,” I reply. “How long have you been in Auburn Springs?”
“I moved here six months ago,” he replies, his voice lowering as he continues. “You never left me your number.”
I look around, making sure no one heard that last bit. “I… I had a flight to catch.”
And I’m not lying. I did have a flight to catch but I also didn’t want to risk disappointment in case he’d never call me after I’d give him my number.
Parker clears his throat as a nurse walks past us. “Anyway, I just overheard you request for a pillow. Are you spending the night then?”
“Yes, I am,” I reply, relieved he changed the subject.
Parker doesn’t speak right away, his brow furrowing. “The armchairs on this wing are notoriously horrible for sleeping. If you don’t mind, I’m going to recommend having the lounger wheeled to your mother’s room.”
I stare at him. “A lounger?”
“A chaise lounge, yes,” he says, nodding. “It comes with an ottoman that you can attach to make it seem like a twin-sized bed.”
“You don’t have to,” I stammer. “I’ll be fine.”
Parker shakes his head. “It’s no big deal. Besides, I’m not about to let you or anyone sleep on whatever armchairs they have in the rooms, not when we’ve got something more comfortable. I’ll have one of the orderlies set it up for you in the next few minutes.”
“Parker, I…” I pause when he cocks an eyebrow and I force a smile. “Very well then. Thank you.”
We don’t speak for the next few moments but I can feel my discomfort growing. I’d been a wild woman back in Las Vegas and that’s the version of me that Parker knows. But I also met a version of him that’s unlike the doctor standing in front of me right now. That one was delicious enough to make me forget my name although the present version is just as sinful.
The pager clipped to his belt beeps and he silences it.
“I should let you get back to work, Parker,” I say. “Or should I call you Doctor O’Neill?”
“Call me Parker. Please,” he says, smiling as my stomach clenches, the memories of that night coming back to me.
“Well, see you around.” I don’t wait for him to reply. I turn away and slip into my mother’s room, my stomach a bundle of knots.
I never thought I’d see Parker again. I mean, he was a one-night stand—and in Las Vegas for that matter where what usually happens there stays there (because I sure as heck never told anyone about it). But to see him again, and in my hometown of all places, is crazy.
The giddy feeling is soon replaced with dread. Wait, is he married? Why the hell didn’t I check his ring finger?
Mom is watching an infomercial for a cooker when I return to the room.
“To be honest, Ava, I’m happy you’re here tonight. I’ve never had to spend one night in a hospital before, Well, not as a patient,” Mom says as worry lines crease her brow. “Lisa stayed for as long as she could but she couldn’t stay here all night.”
“I’m really glad she was home, Mom. What if she wasn’t? Did you have your phone with you?”
Mom gives me a look. “What do you think? I was on a ladder.”
Of course she didn’t have her phone with her. It’s bad enough she insists on living alone although she sometimes rents the guest rooms out to students enrolled at a nearby massage school. But refusing to spend a few dollars to have someone else clean the roof gutters is a bit much.
There’s a knock on the door and we both turn to see an orderly standing outside. “Miss Ava Turner?”
“Dr. O’Neill requested this to be brought here.” The orderly pushes a chaise lounger into the room, positioning it close to the window a few feet from Mom’s bed. Behind him, a nurse aide follows carrying two pillows, folded sheets and a blanket in her arms.
“Oh wow,” Mom says. “That looks really comfortable.”
“Thank you,” I mutter. “And thank Dr. O’Neill for me, too. That was really nice of him.”
“If you need anything else, just let someone at the nurses’ station know,” the orderly says before he and the nurse assistant leave the room.
“Who’s Dr. O’Neill? Is he someone you went to school with? Whose kid would that be, I wonder?” Mom asks as I unfold the sheets and lay it over the chaise. “Is he single?”
I shrug. “I actually don’t know.”
“And you know him how?”
I set the pillows on the chaise and sit down, as if testing to see if it’s comfortable. It’s more than comfortable, actually. Reclined, it’s the size of a twin sized bed. “I met him briefly a few months ago while on business.”
“Oh, really?” Mom says, a slight smile on her face. “And he just happened to have the chaise lounge brought in here… for you?”
“I’m sure they’d have done it for anyone, Mom.” I open my bag and pull out my makeup kit, wanting to keep busy, nonchalant, as if seeing Parker again isn’t making the butterflies in my stomach flutter like crazy and my belly clench at the memory of our night together. But it’s also growling because I barely ate anything other than the peanuts they gave us on the plane. The sound it makes is loud enough that Mom turns to look at me, frowning.
“Oh dear. Have you eaten?”
I shake my head. “I was too anxious to eat anything.”
“Well, then you better eat something before you go to sleep,” she says. “I hear they have a nice cafeteria downstairs, complete with espresso machines and everything. They could still be open.”
“I just might check it out. If anything, they should have cold sandwiches in a vending machine somewhere.”
Mom yawns. “Whatever painkillers they’re giving me, they’re pretty strong.”
“You fell off a ladder, Mom,” I say, reaching for her hand. “You fractured your hip and tomorrow you’re having surgery.”
She squeezes my hand. “Thank you for being here, Ava. Tonight, especially. I know you’re a very busy executive.”
I roll my eyes. “As if that would have stopped me from getting on a plane to come here. I’d have moved heaven and earth to be here with you.”
As if on cue, my stomach growls again and we both chuckle. “Better go downstairs before they close then,” she says. “But I’ll probably be asleep by the time you get back.”