Doctor’s Orders: Chapter Two
My flight lands at Sacramento Airport at eight and from there, I rent a car and drive for another hour to Auburn Springs, a small town in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The closest “big” city to Auburn Springs is probably Grass Valley, but even Grass Valley is small. Hard to believe I was so eager to leave this place eight years ago, determined to seek my fortune, so to speak, in the world outside our little quaint tourist town known for its Gold Rush roots.
Eight years later, I’ve made it, at least, by small town standards. And through it all, Mom cheered for me, telling everyone willing to listen about my glamorous job in New York even if it was far from glamorous. I lived in a room the size of a closet and without the care packages she sent each month, my diet consisted mostly of office coffee and ramen noodles.
I didn’t care though, because I was right where I wanted to be. Being in Manhattan allowed me to work for Pearson Media, a social media company with offices in Midtown Manhattan. I started out in the mailroom and worked my way up slowly while I took courses at night until I was promoted copywriter. Six years later, I’m a senior copywriter, and although I no longer live in a room the size of a closet, it’s still small by Manhattan standards. Given that I hardly ever spend time at home, it’s okay.
It’s certainly a big difference being back home where I have to admit, I can breathe again. The air is clean and fresh and I can hear the wind rustling in the trees as I hurry from the parking lot into the hospital lobby.
Auburn Springs Medical Center is a new facility, apparently replacing the old hospital five years earlier. During my flight, I’d looked it up online and learned that it had been founded by a group of doctors wanting to set up a state of the art medical facility in the Sierra Nevadas. Something about small town sensibilities combined with modern medical technology. They were about to open a pediatric neurology wing in the coming month.
I find my mother watching TV from her hospital bed. She looks so small, almost frail, surrounded by medical equipment that are constantly beeping and blinking on either side of her. Wires stick out from under her hospital gown and I catch a glimpse of small round pads on her chest.
“Ava!” The smile on her face as she opens her arms to welcome me makes me forget everything else and I hold her for as long as I can.
“How are you feeling?”
“Tired,” she says, sighing as I pull away. “In between visits from neighbors and your aunt and uncle playing guard duty, the doctor had me take so many tests and scans that my head is still spinning. Apparently I have some sort of a clot or something but they put me on medication to dissolve it. If that doesn’t work, then they’ll have to do something else.”
“Did they say how long you’ll be here?”
“They don’t know yet,” she replies. “They’re doing so many tests still and I heard Doctor Crawford tell your Aunt Libby that I might be here for four to five days.”
I sigh, taking Mom’s hand as I rest my forehead against hers. I’d originally heard she’d stay for only two days but I’m not about to argue with the doctors. Suddenly I’m lost for words, the gravity of what happened to my mother finally hitting me. It could have been worse.
I will myself not to cry. She’s fine. She’s here. She’s in my arms.
“You had me worried there for a minute, Mom. I’m really glad Aunt Libby was with you,” I say, my throat tightening. My mother, a school teacher, has been by herself ever since Dad left her for another woman when I was ten. Whatever child support he sent was pathetic and so Mom and I learned to make do with what we had, no matter how little. As long as we had our house (that she owned outright), food to eat, and all utilities paid for each month, we were good. These days, she’s retired from teaching and tells me she has everything she needs although she wishes I lived closer and didn’t work too hard.
“I am, too,” she whispers as I hold her, my chest tightening. “I hope this didn’t interfere with your work. I know you were trying to beat some deadline–”
“No deadline is more important than being here with you. I’m here because I want to be here,” I say, sitting on the edge of her bed. “Besides, my last trip home was cut short because of that Las Vegas conference, remember?”
“Of course, I do. You had to fill in for your boyfriend–”
“Ex-boyfriend,” I say. “We’d broken up by then.”
“Oh well, he didn’t sound that great anyway. Ryan, right? The son of the company president? The one who took you to all the cool places but couldn’t even introduce you as his girlfriend?” When I pull away, wishing I hadn’t confided in her out of sheer desperation, she shrugs. “Oh well, good riddance to him. I hope you got compensated well for cutting short your vacation.”
“I did.” He just took all the credit.
“I do remember you telling me you got to see your favorite band perform while you were there so at least, something fun came out of it,” she says as a nurse knocks on the door and tells us she needs to check Mom’s vitals. “Are you sure you’re going to be okay sleeping in that armchair?”
“Don’t worry about me, Mom. I’ll sleep on the floor if I have to. You just worry about getting better.” I step out of the way so the nurse can do her thing. “Anyway, I’m going to the nurses’ station to request a pillow.”
“I may be asleep when you get back, honey,” she says, yawning again. “I’m pooped.”
“I suspect I won’t be far behind, Mom,” I say, chuckling as I head to the door. “It’s midnight New York time. Anyway, I’ll go get those pillows.”
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.
“May I help you?”
“I’m Carla Turner’s daughter in Room 420. I’m staying with her for the evening and I was wondering if you have any pillows you can spare. A sheet, too.” I really don’t want to use the same sheets they use for their patients, I don’t have much of a choice. I could have stopped by the house to pick up pillows and a sheet but I wanted to see Mom first.
As the nurse punches a few keys on her computer and squints at the monitor, I see a man wearing a white doctor’s coat emerge from a patient’s room behind her. I almost miss what she says, unable to believe what I’m seeing.
Tall with blond hair and light blue eyes, he’s just as I remember him from Las Vegas, only this time he’s wearing a white doctor’s coat over a white shirt and tie and dark trousers. It’s a far cry from the laid-back man I’d met—and spent the night with—a year ago.
“I’ll see what I can do, Miss,” the nurse says as I continue to stare past her. “I’ll have the aide bring them to you as soon as I can.”
I’m almost tempted to duck out of sight but the nurse asks me to confirm my mother’s room number and that’s when he looks up. Parker’s eyes widen in surprise but he composes himself, turning his attention to another nurse who approaches him.
I make my escape, ducking behind a corner and heading back to my mother’s room at the end of the hall. What is he doing here?
I’m one room away from Mom’s room when I hear his voice.
“Ava?” He must have cut through the corridor between the stations.
I stop and turn around, forcing a smile. “Hey, Parker. What are you doing here?”
He taps on the badge clipped to his breast pocket that says Parker O’Neill, MD. Beneath it is the word Neurology. “I work here. What about you? Are you visiting a friend?”
“My mother. She was admitted here this morning,” I say.
He frowns. “Is she okay?”
“Yes, she is but she’s got more tests in the morning,” I reply. “How long have you been in Auburn Springs?”
“I moved here eight months ago,” he replies as an announcement comes on the PA system and he pauses. “Anyway, I just overheard you request for a pillow. Are you spending the night then?”
“Yes, I am,” I reply.
Parker doesn’t speak right away, his brow furrowing. “The armchairs in the patients’ rooms are notoriously horrible for sleeping. If you don’t mind, I’m going to recommend having the lounger wheeled to your mother’s room. 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. I really need to be more grateful and not argue about everything. “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’d also met a version of him that’s unlike the doctor standing in front of me right now.
The PA system crackles and I hear his name. “I should let you get back to work, Parker… or should I say Doctor O’Neill?”
“Call me Parker. Please,” he says, smiling as my stomach clenches, the memories of that night coming back to me.
I clear my throat. “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. What if he’s married? Why the hell didn’t I check his finger?
“You okay?” Mom asks, yawning. “I hope you’re not thinking about work again.”
“I’m fine, Mom,” I say, my stomach growling. “Actually, I was just thinking about getting something to eat.”
“I might be asleep by the time you come back.” She turns off the TV, setting the remote next to her. “I mean, for real.”
“That’s fine, Mom. You’re here to get better, and I don’t plan on going anywhere.”
Her eyes narrow. “Not even for work? What if there’s another emergency like that last time?”
I pause, her question making me think about what I would do if Ryan called me begging for help. I take a deep breath and exhale. “Then they’ll have to find someone else.”