One of the first I write when I returned to the field of writing after being a nurse. Took a few years to be published. Then I discovered electronic publishing.
On Opposite Sides
Janet Lane Walters
New Concepts Publishing
On Opposite Sides
With a flourish, Jenessa signed her name to the nurses’ notes on a fourth chart. She picked up a stack of papers and the brown bag containing the lunch she hadn’t had time to eat. All day, the pace in the Intensive Care unit had been hectic. Two Codes. Three admissions in five minutes, all of them critical. Instead of twenty-seven, she felt more like seventy.
She waved at the night nurse. “See you tomorrow.”
“That’s two extras in a row,” one of the women called. “Are you some kind of glutton?”
Am I? One more thing and I’m out of here. She straight-armed the door and headed for the stairs. After stopping on two other units to collect protest forms, she entered the stairwell.
Voices, eerie and distorted, drifted from below. The echo-effect made her wonder if the speakers were male or female. “Don’t worry, if we just push them a little harder, they’ll walk.”
“You’re right. Who could resist --”
Who were they talking about? She leaned over the railing, but shadows hid the speakers. The voices faded. A door slammed. She frowned and headed to the fifth floor where she entered the Nursing Office.
Lorraine Rodgers, one of the evening supervisors, looked up. “Again? Don’t you get tired of making waves?”
“Is that what I do? I thought I was fulfilling my role as a good union member and a conscientious nurse. The contract gives us the right to protest unsafe working conditions. I just make sure they’re collected.”
The middle-aged woman shook her head. “We all know this is your personal crusade. Can’t you put the past to rest?”
Jenessa’s hands clenched and she felt the muscles in her shoulders tighten. “Could you?” She fought a barrage of memories. “See that Ms. Wallace gets these. Not that she cares.”
“You could give them to her. She’s in the house. The Board’s meeting to select the new Director and we all know who that will be.”
“Maybe they’ll choose someone else.”
Mrs. Rodgers laughed. “Do you really believe that? She’s been angling for the job since she arrived. We’ll have to learn to live with her.”
“Another petition asking for Sandra’s removal?”
Jenessa shrugged. “See you tomorrow.”
“You’re on again? Do you work all these extra shifts just to log complaints?”
“If I don’t, who’d be here for the patients?” Jenessa strode away.
Fifteen minutes later, in her apartment across the street, she stood in the shower. Hot water uncoiled her tight muscles, but not her thoughts. Would the hospital Board really name Sandra Wallace, a woman disliked by most of the nurses, as the new director? With Jim Bishop as Board president, the choice seemed likely.
After pulling on an over-sized blue tee shirt, she headed to the kitchen and zapped the spicy chicken dish she should have eaten for lunch. Though she considered working on her Master’s thesis, she felt too tired to read the stack of articles on the desk.
The apartment door slammed. She looked up and saw her roommate. Megan kicked off her shoes. “Are you ready for a bomb? Guess what the Board has done.”
“Is out.” Megan grinned. “Josh and I were at the Cove for dinner. Sam introduced Eric Bradshaw. Would you believe he’s the new Director of Nursing? And what a hunk he is.”
Jenessa pushed back long strands of dark brown hair that had come loose from her braid. “You’re kidding.”
“Not one bit.”
“It’s a ploy. Can’t you hear Mr. Bishop’s laughter? We’ll give the girls a man to drool over. That’ll shut them up.”
“Come on, Jen. At least they didn’t name Her.” Megan headed across the living room, discarding pieces of clothes as she walked. “He’s every woman’s dream. Tall, blond, broad shoulders. I positively drooled. He’s got the greatest dimples. That’s because he’s a Libra.”
Trust Megan to ask his sun sign, Jenessa thought. Her roommate’s description confirmed her suspicions of the Board’s motives. “Sounds like you’re adding him to your string.”
“Wrong. A Libra and a Pisces. Odd couple material.” Megan’s blonde curls bounced with the force of her denial. “He’s for you, my Aries friend. Remember what I always say. An opposition can be exciting.”
Not again, Jenessa thought. For the past year, Megan’s attempts at matchmaking seemed designed to drive her crazy. “Megan, no.”
“You can’t be alone forever.”
“Alone I’m not. My problem is too many and being unable to hurt anyone.” She shrugged. “Give it a shot.”
Jenessa frowned. Megan and she had been friends since they were five, but there were things she couldn’t tell her…Things about Chuck and the marriage.
“I’m union. He’s management. Can you see me falling for someone from the opposition?”
“And what will you be when you finish your Master’s?”
“Not here. I’ll work for a doctor. Head to the city. Become a consultant.” She followed the trail of clothes and gathered them as she walked. “With my reputation here, they won’t promote me.”
“Your reputation is undeserved. Just because you organized the union, sent a
petition to recall Sandra, started the protest forms, negotiated the contract --”
The click of the bathroom door cut off Megan’s words.
Jenessa dropped the clothes beside the door. She entered the bedroom and stared at the red brick building across the street where she worked in ICU. She liked Eastlake Community. For nearly three years, the hospital had been her refuge. She didn’t want to leave.
She returned to the hall just as Megan emerged. wrapped in a blue bath sheet that nearly reached her toes.
“...use someone who plunges to the center of a problem and won’t give up until the next one appears. You are kind of blunt though. He’ll weigh his decisions. Libras do. What’s on the agenda now?” She stumbled over the heap of clothes. “I know. In the hamper.”
“The contract. Monday, I’ll demand a meeting.”
“Why not give Eric Bradshaw a chance to settle in?”
“Why? They said they’d talk once they hired a new director and they have.” Jenessa headed to the kitchen.
“It’s the same everywhere. Don’t you pay attention to the letters from the gang?”
“There are hospitals where the problems are addressed.” Jenessa picked up a fork.
“Around here no one admits there are any.”
“I’m not sure there are answers. The health care system is in flux.”
“If the Board would sit down with us, we could try.”
Megan grinned. “Do I see you, sword in hand, leading the charge?”
“Don’t make fun. This is serious.”
“I’m sorry. I know how important adequate staffing is to you.”
“I’ll do whatever it takes to get a decent contract.” Jenessa bit her lower lip and fought a storm of memories and guilt.
Megan opened the refrigerator and poured a glass of juice. “Letters from the gang are in. Did you do yours?”
“What do you think?” The idea for a monthly exchange of letters between the members of their clinical group from the nursing program at Grantley was Megan’s project.
“When are you going to write it?”
“How about after the softball game Saturday?”
“I’m mailing copies tomorrow.” Megan raised her hand in a gesture of surrender.
“I’ll write yours...About the game. Will we win?”
“We’d better. Softball is the one place where Nursing stands a chance against the other departments who, with one whimper, get everything they want.”
“He’ll be there.”
“Eric Bradshaw.” Megan left the kitchen. “Night.”
As Jenessa loaded the dishwasher, a slow grin built from deep inside. He’d be there. So would Jim Bishop and Sandra Wallace. The annual hospital picnic might be an interesting event.
On Saturday morning at a few minutes after ten, Eric left his apartment. Moments later, his sneakers slapped against the asphalt surface of the path leading to Community Park. The shade beneath the oak and maple trees brought relief from the relentless August sun.
Today promised to be as hot as Eastlake Community would be if the problems that beaded like the sweat on his forehead weren’t solved. For an instant, he allowed himself to regret the injury that had ended his career as a cop and his decision to become a nurse, the way his father and a number of ex-cops he knew had done. During the week since his arrival, he’d asked himself a dozen times why he’d listened to Sam and applied for the position as Director of Nursing.
“Something fishy’s going on. I’m not sure who, what or why. You’ve got the training to dig out the info.”
In the past week, he’d learned a number of facts, but none were illegal. The nurse managers and supervisors couldn’t see or didn’t care about the signs of unrest among
the nurses. Sometimes, he thought administration was the problem. But since their contracts protected them, he couldn’t fire the lot.
He emerged from the tree-sheltered path and stopped to let a herd of children charge past. Where was Sam and where was the ballfield? His buddy had volunteered him as first base umpire for the game between the nurses and a team from the other departments.
“Eric, over here.”
He jogged toward the picnic table where Sam sat. The children returned. With the adroitness he’d once displayed on the football field, he twisted and evaded until he cleared the crowd.
“Just like old times, my man.” Sam’s brown hand slapped Eric’s.
“Hardly. Where’s your gaudy uniform?” When Eric had played football, Sam had been a member of the marching band. He’d also been pianist for the jazz ensemble. Eric rested his hands on his thighs until he caught his breath. “I’m too old for this.”
Sam laughed. “At thirty-two? In five minutes, I guarantee you’ll be rejuvenated.”
“About the game. Fun or serious?”
“A bit of both.” Sam slid from the table. “The captain and pitcher for the nurses is intense. She likes to win.”
“Is this a warning?”
Sam’s laughter rolled the way his fingers moved along the piano keys. “You’ll see. Wait ‘til you see her legs. Long and lean and stretching forever. Simone threatened to blacken my eyes if I leer. Grab a beer and let’s go.”
When Eric reached the field, he forgot the beer. The hospital’s problems vanished. He put the beer on the ground several yards from first base and stared at the pitcher. Sam had been on target.
He studied her exceptional legs until they vanished beneath brief red shorts. His stare lingered on the white tee shirt that clung to her small, yet perfect, breasts. Sunlight caught the red glints in her brown hair and turned them into flames. As she moved from the mound, his body reacted. How was he going to remember he was her boss?
The heat of the August sun caused a trickle of sweat to run down Jenessa’s back. As she threw her practice pitches, she watched Sam Gray and a tall, blond man approach. He put a can on the grass. She felt his appraising stare and tamped an urge to ask what his problem was.
“Play ball.” The home plate umpire’s call interrupted her thoughts. She stepped on the mound and prepared her first pitch.
The first two innings were scoreless. She stepped to the plate in the bottom of the third. The first three pitches were high and wide. “Put one across.”
The pitcher hurled. Jenessa tapped a liner off the end of the bat. The opposing pitcher bobbled the ball. Jenessa streaked past first and dove for second.
She bounced to her feet. “You’re blind. I was safe.”
“Out,” he repeated.
Megan, he’s not for me, she thought. As she walked away, she dusted her shirt. Her braid slapped against her back. A few feet from first base, she turned.
For a moment, she thought he intended to continue the discussion. She felt his gaze on her back and grinned. Sparring with him at the bargaining table could be fun.
In the seventh and final inning, the other team scored two runs. Jenessa rallied her team. “We can’t let them win. Nan, Simone, just get on and I’ll bring you in.”
They walked. She strode to the plate and connected with the first pitch. The ball soared over the heads of the outfielders. She trotted past first. “I was safe.”
Eric hid a smile. She ran the bases with a cocky gait. At home, her teammates engulfed her. When he saw Sam wiggle into the mass of cheering women, Eric laughed. Moments later, the petite, ebony-skinned catcher for the nurses dragged Sam from the huddle.
“Simone, remember Eric.” Sam winked. “See you at the buffet. Me and this woman’s got to talk about her attitude.” He gestured toward the pitcher for the nurses.
“Looks like you made an impression.”
He knew he had, but not the one he wanted. He strode to first base, retrieved the beer and straightened.
She stood on the base. “I was safe, you know.”
“Really?” He raised the can to his lips without lowering his gaze. The sweat-stained tee shirt hugged her ribs and clung to her breasts. He swallowed a mouthful of warm, stale beer he hadn’t meant to drink and caught the edge of a memory.
He knew her. Though their first meeting had lasted less than an hour, he remembered her fire and determination. He’d watched her ply every skill and trick she knew and he had stepped in to help. For a short time, they’d been a team.
Before he had a chance to identify himself, a booming voice ended the staring match. A hearty slap made him drop the beer. White foam gathered on the grass.
“Getting into things already. Good idea.” The Board president stepped around Eric. “Jenessa, you look good enough to start a dead man’s heart. Two of you been introduced?”
“Not officially,” Eric said. The audible wheeze in Bishop’s breathing made him wonder why the man was puffing on a cigar.
“Allow me. Jenessa Robertson, Eric Bradshaw.” Bishop beamed. “Now, let me tell you, this little girl’s not as sweet as she looks. She’s a rabble-rouser. Fights hard for the union.”
Sweet didn’t match Eric’s impression of her from the past or today. Stubborn, courageous, a leader and much too attractive did.
Her hands moved to her hips. “It’s contract time, Mr. Bishop.”
“Don’t be rushing into the fire, little girl. Eric just arrived.”
“We’ve been on hold for months.”
The obese man’s teeth clamped on the cigar. “Stick to nursing, little girl. When you have a seat on the Board, you can push.”
“We’re asking for one.”
“Already have a nurse. Your director has a seat.”
She made a face. “I mean a real nurse.” She turned and jogged away.
“What?” If Bishop hadn’t grabbed Eric’s arm, he would have followed her and demanded an explanation. The desire for a confrontation rocked him.
Bishop laughed. “That’s one fine looking little girl. Needs a man to blunt her claws.” He winked. “You interested?”
“What did she mean by a real nurse?”
“Seems she thinks only bedside nurses should have a say in how the hospital’s run.” Bishop ground his cigar on the sun-browned grass. “Girl’s a born leader.”
“Why isn’t she a nurse manager?”
Bishop lit another cigar and released a cloud of smoke. “Would be like setting a mongoose in a cobra’s nest. Better idea would be for you to feed the sparks jumping between you. Set her to thinking about a man not a contract.”
Eric’s jaw tightened. He felt the same anger he’d felt years before when he’d been a rookie cop and a smooth- talking drug dealer had offered a bribe. “That’s not my style.”
“Why not? A good administrator is like ice applied to a burn. The rule is -- find the troublemakers and use any means to neutralize them.”
Eric looked away. No matter how expedient, he wouldn’t use attraction to gather information. “I’ll be busy then. There are a lot of unhappy campers.”
Bishop laughed. “Long as they’re carping, we don’t have to worry.”
“Oh, there you are.” Sandra Wallace, the assistant Director of Nursing, strolled toward them. She shifted her ever-present briefcase to her right hand and grabbed Bishop’s arm. “Weren’t we meeting at the buffet?”
Bishop’s meaty hand covered hers. “You missed the game. The nurses won.”
She eyed Eric’s faded cut-offs. He felt like he’d been examined by a fashion consultant and dismissed. “My aren’t you casual.”
“Not for a picnic.”
Her lips curled at the edges. “Appearance is always vital. Have I interrupted something important?”
“We were talking about Jenessa Robertson.”
As though brushing crumbs away, her hand fluttered. “Watch her. She’s always stirring up trouble.”
“She seems to know a lot about the hospital’s problems,” Eric said.
Sandra sneered. “She should. She enjoys causing them.”
Bishop laughed. “Girl’s always rooting like a goat in the garbage dump.”
“Lobbied for us to hire floats.”
“So how much real trouble has she caused?” Eric asked.
“Organized the union. Fought for every point in the contract,” Bishop said.
Sandra’s laughter rang hollow. “She has no respect for authority. Threatened a sick-out. Even stormed a Board meeting to make demands. Jim thinks she’s cute.”
“And dangerous.” Bishop waved the cigar. “Might offer her a job.”
Eric moved away from the pair. “See you later. Promised to meet Sam.” As he jogged away, a glimpse of red shorts and long legs tempted him to change direction.
Moments later, still watching Jenessa Robertson, he dropped to the ground beside Sam. Rushing into a situation he wasn’t sure he could control made no sense. He swallowed a mouthful of the icy beer Sam handed him. There would be other encounters with her. He smiled in anticipation.
Jenessa leaned against one of the picnic tables and finished her food. She felt confused and uneasy. Megan had been right, but broad shoulders and a dimpled smile didn’t make the rest of the prediction true.
“Thank heavens for Bishop.” Her whispered comment ended in a chuckle. Being grateful to him for anything felt weird. Usually, his attitude made her want to scream.
She scanned the clusters of people for members of the negotiating team. Time for a meeting. She spotted one of the women at the buffet and joined her. “Hi, Dru.”
“Good game. What’s happening?”
“It’s time to push for negotiations. They have their D.O.N. That was their excuse.” She slathered catsup on a hamburger and took a bite.
Dru put down her fork. “Claire said to wait.”
“Do I head the team?”
Dru finished a chicken leg. “You do.”
“There’s a strategy meeting. My apartment at five.”
“Who else have you told?”
“You’re the first. Nan’s by the swings. Let’s go tell her.”
“I’m on the way.” Dru dropped her plate in the trash. “They may scrimp on pay and benefits but they always have a great spread.”
“Right. Keep the girls happy.” She and Dru strolled across the playground.
“What’s up?” Nan asked.
“Strategy meeting today,” Jenessa said. “My place at five.”
Nan raked her red hair. “About time. Does Claire know? Sometimes she’s as bad as the Board.”
“What do you mean?” Dru asked.
“I told her we should report the hospital to the Labor Board and petition for arbitration. She said she has another plan to force their hand.”
Dru sat on one of the swings. “Maybe she wants to give Mr. Bradshaw a chance. Wonder if he’s taken.”
“You are,” Jenessa said.
“Just window shopping.”
Nan pushed an empty swing. “Want to hear the latest rumor?”
“Would you still tell us if we said no?” Jenessa asked.
“Of course. One of the night nurses from Peds told me the hospital’s being sold.”
Dru laughed. “That’s old news. Heard it years ago. I bet half the rumors are invented by bored night nurses.”
Until she investigated, Jenessa wasn’t about to dismiss the rumor. “There’s Simone. My place at five. Pass the word.” She darted across the ballfield where a group of teenage boys were practicing.
Jenessa turned to see who had yelled. A hard object smacked her head.
The next thing to enter her awareness was a pair of hazel eyes…Incredible eyes. An aroma of pine swirled around her. A vague recollection lapped at the edge of her thoughts.
“Are you all right?” a deep voice demanded.
She tuned out the voice and focused on the rugged planes of his face.
“Jenessa, Jenessa Robertson, are you all right?”
She stared. Lips, tempting in their nearness, moved away. “I’m fine, I think.”
He flashed a smile that revealed a dimple in each cheek. “I’m glad. I was about to call for help.”
His fingers touched her wrist. She wondered if her dizziness was caused by the way her heart rate had accelerated. He slipped his arm beneath her shoulders and eased her into a sitting position. The trees danced and came to rest. A name popped into her thoughts. Eric Bradshaw. She lightly brushed the lump on her head. “Guess I got beaned.”
“My fault. I shouldn’t have yelled.”
“You sure know how to get attention.” Sandra Wallace’s nasal twang grabbed Jenessa’s wandering attention.
Jenessa looked at the crowd and leaned against Eric. For a moment, she savored the aura of protection he projected. “Isn’t that what you always say.” She stared at the dark-haired woman and shook her head in disbelief. “A pink suit and heels. This is a picnic, not tea with the First Lady.”
“I can tell you’re not hurt.” Sandra wheeled. As she strode away, her briefcase swung like a pendulum.
“Bag lady,” Jenessa whispered.
“That briefcase is an extension of her arm. I wonder if she goes to bed with it.”
“Maybe she has dark secrets.” Eric grinned. “Ready?”
He helped her to her feet. Her knees buckled. His hand slid from her shoulders to her waist, leaving a trail of warmth behind. He helped her to one of the tables.
“I think you’d better sit down. Anything else I can do for you?”
She thought of a dozen things best left unsaid. The pressure and heat of his hand at her waist made her want to purr. What was she thinking? “I’ll be fine.”
“Let me get some ice for your head.”
After he left, she rested her elbows on the table and closed her eyes. She searched for a memory that burned off like early morning mist under the rising sun. The idea that she knew him belonged to a fantasy. How could she have forgotten a man who looked like him?
She groaned. The softball must have addled her wits. Someone slid onto the bench. She tensed.
“You’ve done it,” Megan said.
“What are you talking about?”
“His attention. I felt the vibes clear to the buffet. Why did you send him away?”
“You know why.”
“Jen, he’s perfect.”
Jenessa wanted to shake her head, but every movement changed the dull ache into sharp pain. “My head hurts.”
“I got beaned. He helped me up. He’s the enemy.”
“Guess you heard he’s anti-union and was lured from a hospital where the nurses voted theirs out.” Megan half- rose. “He’s on his way back. Darn, he’s stopped to talk to Sam.”
Jenessa stood. While she waited for her vision to clear, she leaned against the table. “We’re meeting at five. Will you be there?”
“Got tapped for a double.” Megan looked at her watch. “Dinner break’s over. See you.”
With steps that began shaky and steadied, Jenessa walked along the path to Grove Street. A contract was essential but if her colleagues voted to strike, no matter how wrong she thought they were she would join them. With a deep sigh of regret, she wished she and Eric Bradshaw weren’t in opposition. Forget it, she thought and began to jog away.