Twin wails drown the sound of the car radio. Nora wanted to pull to the side of the road, put her head on the steering wheel and add her cries to the ones pouring from the back seat. The two hour drive had stretched to three and headed for four.
“Hush, hush, now babies, don’t you cry.” Her voice sounded hoarse. “We’ll be there soon.” If the directions were right, they were about twenty-five miles from Prairie. She was too close to her goal to stop for another futile attempt to quiet them.
When she saw the sign announcing Prairie,
population 10166, she nearly shouted with joy. She slowed the car to meet the
speed limit. The crying stopped and so did the pounding in her head.
She looked around and saw houses that appeared to have been there forever. The business district had the same appearance. An odd excitement filled her. For an instant, she felt as though she’d come home.
A foolish notion. Home was an apartment in a town on the Hudson River not far from
New York City. Years ago,
home had been houses and apartments in myriad towns and cities, but never a
place like Prairie.
What would it be like to live here, she wondered. She would never know. She had a secure job and plans to buy a house and plant her roots in bedrock. She’d even found a house that fit her budget.
A moment later, she turned into
and her dream house changed from a suburban ranch into a white clapboard three
story house surrounded by a white picket fence. This was the kind of house
she’d always dreamed of owning.
She pulled into a driveway that led to a detached garage. After unfolding the stroller, she put the twins in their seats and pushed them onto the wide porch that embraced the house. She rang the bell. Chimes pealed. The babies waved their arms and kicked their legs.
Nora chuckled. “I know the feeling. It’s good to be out of the car. Won’t be long before you’re settled in your new home.”
In the distance a clock chimes three times. She rang the bell again and tapped her foot against the porch floor.
Where is he?
She needed to settle the babies and be on her way. When there was no answer, she tried the door and to her surprise it swung open.
“Dr. McKay, we’re here.”
Her voice echoed in the hallway. She pulled the stroller inside and closed the door. Cool air bathed her heated skin and she sighed with relief. “Dr. McKay.”
Where was that man?
She pushed the stroller into the living room. The lack of homey touches confirmed his bachelor status. The white walls were bare. A couch, two chairs, a coffee table and an entertainment center were the only furnishings. A stack of taped boxes stood near the shelves that lined one wall. The sight stirred memories that made her gut churn.
Was he moving?
According to Lena Greene, he’d been here less than a year. Since finishing his residency, he had worked in two other towns. Because of his frequent moves, even in these days of rapid communication, locating him had taken more than a week.
She parked the stroller beside the couch and returned to the car for the diaper bag and the twins’ suitcases. Then she took a multi-colored afghan from the couch and spread it on the beige carpet. Once the twins had been changed, she laid them on the afghan with some rattles and a pair of teddy bears.
What plans had he made for the babies?
She had expected to see a playpen or even a portable crib. She left the room, found the kitchen and put several bottles in the refrigerator. After filling a glass with water, she leaned against the counter and sipped. Here too, the furnishings were minimal. Though she knew she shouldn’t pry, she couldn’t resist exploring cabinets that resembled Mother Hubbard’s cupboards.
When would he arrive?
Soon, she hoped. She looked at her watch. She hadn’t planned to spend much time here. Just long enough to give him a report and deliver the packet of official papers.
Nora chewed on her lower lip. She hoped he would come soon. She needed to be on the road.
When she returned to the living room, she sat on the afghan. Molly and Todd reached for the ball on a string that she dangled for them. The hands on her watch crept forward. She fed the twins. Molly fell asleep in her arms. Nora brushed the infant’s soft hair and sighed. Someday, she thought. As soon as Todd fell asleep, she carried their suitcase upstairs. While she waited for Dr. McKay, she’d unpack their belongings.
She opened the first door beyond the stairs. The massive unmade bed and the spicy aroma told her who slept in the room. A stack of sheets sat on a chair. Next door, she found a bathroom. She eyed the large claw-footed tub with envy. The house she planned to buy had an ordinary glass-enclosed tub/shower. She used the facilities and left the room.
The other three bedrooms on the second floor were nearly bare. In one she found a twin bed and in another, an assortment of unpacked boxes. Visions of her childhood flashed in her thoughts. She was sure her parents still carried sealed boxes every time they moved. Remarks she’d heard so many times filled her head.
“We don’t need the things in this one.”
“Then let’s not unpack it.”
She hurried downstairs, but even there, she couldn’t escape her memories. She slumped on the couch and stared at the sleeping babies.
Tightness settled in her chest. He hadn’t made a single preparation for the twins. She knew what that meant. Like her parents he was a rover. Why had his foster sister named him guardian for her babies? Surely, the woman knew the kind of life he lived. How could she hand the babies over to him? There was no choice. He was their legal guardian.
She stared at her watch. She’d been here for over a half hour. Her simmering anger built like steam in a boiling kettle.
The man was irresponsible. He’d known they were coming. He could have left a note. He could have called to see if they’d arrived safely.
She knew a doctor’s life was filled with unexpected emergency situations, but he’d known for a week when they would arrive.
He could have at least bought cribs.
She heard the front door close. She straightened and tried to hold her anger in check.
A tall, dark-haired man strode into the living room. Nora sucked in a breath. A dark green knit shirt spanned his broad chest and made his shoulders seem massive. Well- worn jeans molded his muscular legs. His face was ruggedly handsome. On the physical side, he embodied her dream of the perfect man. Except, she had seen the unpacked boxes, one evidence of his restless nature, and in that, he fit her every nightmare.
He grinned and his expression was boyish and devil-may-care. As his gaze swept from her face to her feet, his smile changed.
“Dr. McKay, I presume.” She struggled to keep calm.
“At your service.” He leaned against the door frame.
“Where have you been?”
“At the clinic.”
“Did you forget we were coming? What are you going to do about Molly and Todd?”
His gaze met hers. She saw confusion there. “Raise them, I guess.”
His answer brought her to a halt. For an instant, she felt sorry for him. He’d had little chance to refuse the responsibility. Then she remembered his lack of preparation.