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Three men burst into the clinic's reception area. One carried a wet, hysterical child. Another dripped water and blood from a gash on his forehead. The last one supported the dripping man.
Marjorie O'Brien yelled for the doctor and nurse from her receptionist's desk. For an instant there was total bedlam. The child screamed. The men called for the doctor. Marjorie ran around the reception desk to help as much as she could. Behind them more people pressed into the small waiting area.
Faith Stewart heard the commotion and ran into the crowded waiting room. A highly skilled triage nurse with several years' experience in a big city emergency room and trauma center, she knew an emergency when she heard one. A quick triage assessment of each showed her the bleeding man in the sheriff's uniform needed more immediate help than the crying child.
The mother tried frantically to calm the child, who was probably more scared at the turmoil surrounding him than anything else. For an instant, Faith felt she was back at the county hospital in Portland rather than the normally quiet clinic in Rocky Point, Maine.
"The doc needs to see to them right away," the man holding the child shouted. "As you can see "
Dr. Mallory rushed in, assessing the situation in an instant.
"Faith, help Sheriff Johnson into the first exam room and take care of him. Marjorie, get the child's family into room two." The doctor then turned to the others. "If the rest of you'd wait outside, I think it'll help us get things sorted out and under control here."
In seconds, the wailing child was carried to room two while Faith went to assist the sheriff. The gash on his head continued to bleed, and the water from his clothes puddled at his feet. He leaned heavily on the man next to him.
"I'll get you wet," he said, his words slurring slightly as she reached to shore him up on the side opposite the other man.
"I won't dissolve," she said, pulling his arm over her shoulder. With the other man helping, she managed to get all six-feet-plus of Tate Johnson to the exam room and on the examining table. He leaned back, closed his eyes and gave a soft moan.
"What happened?" she asked as she swiftly began a more extensive exam to see if there were any other critical injuries. Not seeing any, she began to address the gash on his forehead.
"The little boy fell into the sea at the marina," the other man said. "Tate dove in to rescue him."
Tate kept his eyes closed as Faith began to clean the gash, gently pushing his thick dark hair out of the way. She noted that the cut would need stitches. At least that was the only injury she could see. Had the blow been hard enough to cause a concussion?
"Fastest thing I ever saw. In less than a second after the kid fell in, Tate raced down the dock, shucked his utility belt and dove into the water. Don't know what would've happened if he hadn't been walking by the marina park. The mother was frantic, the father didn't even see the child fall in. Kid's too little to swim."
A soft groan sounded again when she pressed a bit too hard.
"Sorry. I need to clean this so it doesn't get infected," she murmured, trying to be gentle, knowing, no matter what, it had to hurt.
"Salt water probably killed any germs," Tate said, his eyes still closed.
She glanced at the other man. "So how did he get this gash?"
"One of the fishing boats coming in too fast. Old Jesse's been warned about it before. Anyway, he didn't see them in the water. Tate had the kid by then, but before anyone could alert the skipper, Jesse rammed his boat right into the two of them." He gestured animatedly as he spoke. "Tate turned at the last minute to shelter the child. Lucky he wasn't knocked unconscious or they both might have drowned."
Faith knew by the excited way the man related the incident that he would be retelling it again and again. She worked swiftly and competently, admiring the way the sheriff had reacted so quickly to help someone in need.
"Is the kid okay?" Tate asked.
"Dr. Mallory's with him now," Faith said. "From my brief assessment when you came in, I'd say he's terrified and soaking wet, but he'll be fine. I think he's scared more than anything. And if you sheltered him from the boat, probably the dunking in the sea was the worst of it." The cut was a bit jagged, she hoped it wouldn't scar.
Faith quietly continued her ministrations. She'd seen much worse in her days in the E.R. Though, for the man lying so quietly, it probably hurt like crazy.
She hadn't met Sheriff Johnson before, though she'd been in town for five weeks. From what others had mentioned in passing, he appeared to be well-liked. This certainly wasn't the way she would have picked to be introduced.
"So, how's our hero?" the doctor asked, coming in a moment later. "John, thanks for getting him here," he said to the other man.
"No problem. Can't have the sheriff bleeding at the docksgives the town a bad image."
All three men laughed, though Tate's ended in a moan as he opened his eyes and tried to focus.
John touched him on the shoulder. "I'm taking off, man. Call if you need a ride home."
"Thanks," Tate said.
The doctor assessed the wound and confirmed Faith's prediction that stitches were required.
"And I expect you have a mild concussion," he told Tate as he washed his hands in preparation for closing the wound. "How bad it is, we'll have to wait and see."
"All I know is my head's killing me," Tate said, closing his eyes again.
"It'll probably hurt for a while. I'll get you some pain meds once we assess things," the doctor said as he drew up a stool and prepared to stitch the gash. Faith quickly had a sterile kit at his fingertips, the lidocaine already drawn.
The work was done quickly and efficiently. Faith stood by, helping as needed. Despite herself, she continued to admire the sheriff for his stoic endurance during the uncomfortable procedure.
Once finished, the doctor asked Tate if his folks could pick him up and watch him for any signs of concussion. "Just for a day or two. Until we know for certain you didn't sustain any further damage."
"They took off for Boston a couple of days ago. I'll manage on my own. I don't want to have them cut their vacation short just for this," he said, sitting up. "Whoa." He closed his eyes and almost fell over.
"Yeah, I thought you might be a bit off," the doctor said, catching him and then easing him back onto the table. "Faith, please ask Marjorie to call around for someone to bring him some dry clothes. We'll get him comfortable and keep him here for a while under observation. I don't want him wandering around with that knot on his head until I know for sure he's not more seriously injured." The doctor looked at Tate. "And if it does look like you're worse off than I think, we'll either keep you here overnight or send you to the hospital in Portland."
When Tate didn't argue with the doctor, Faith figured the man was probably in worse shape than he expected. Dynamic men like him usually ignored injuries or tried to minimize them. Common sense wasn't always an obvious attribute when you were injured or ill.
She went back to the reception area, where Marjo-rie was mopping the floor.
"This is why I told the doctor we needed more help," the receptionist was saying to the waiting patient. The room was empty now, except for Flo Brad-shaw, waiting for her appointment to see the doctor.
"Quite a bit of excitement, I heard," she said when Faith came in.
"Everyone's taken care of now," Faith said with a smile. She liked Mrs. Bradshaw, who was having trouble with arthritis and came in weekly as they tried to adjust her medication to ease the pain.
Marjorie gave her a dirty look and continued mopping up the last of the water from the floor.
"Dr. Mallory asked if you'd call someone to bring dry clothes for the sheriff," Faith said to the receptionist, keeping her voice pleasant. Since she'd started work at the clinic five weeks ago, she had received nothing but thinly veiled hostility from Marjorie.
"I've already had a bunch of calls concerning Tate. Word travels fast in Rocky Point. You don't need to worry any," Marjorie snapped, wringing out the mop. "One of the Kincaid boys'll bring a change of clothes. Zack said Tate could go home with Joe. Tate's folks are out of town for the week." She threw a triumphant look, as if showing Faith how much more she was tapped into the life of the residents of Rocky Point.
Which, of course, she would be, Faith acknowledged. Marjorie had lived here all her life. Faith was the interloper who had been hired for the nurse position that Marjorie's niece had also applied for.
Faith nodded, trying not to let the tension between her and the receptionist get to her. She prayed for patience every day. She hoped one day Marjorie would at least be cordial, even if they never became friends.
Joe Kincaid was her landlord, the owner of the apartment she'd rented when she'd moved to town.
The one-bedroom unit was near the water, over an aerobics studio, and an easy walk to the clinic. She was still in the process of decorating, but already loved living there. It was larger than the small apartment she'd had in Portland and cost less to rent. One of the many advantages of starting over in a new town.
"What happened to the child?" Mrs. Bradshaw asked.
"He was only scared. Doc Mallory took care of him and sent him and his parents on their way. She seemed as scared as her son. I hope they've learned to take better care of the youngster. Kids can get into mischief in a heartbeat. How's Tate?" Marjorie asked, before Faith could speak. She swiped the mop one last time and dumped it into the bucket at her feet.
"Fine." Faith would not talk about a patient in the public waiting room. She held the door to the hallway for Marjorie, and the receptionist stomped past her and pushed the bucket back down the hall to the utility room where she could empty it.
"I'll go check on him myself when I dump this," she muttered as she went past.
Faith followed her into the hall and, once the door to the reception area closed, replied, "I don't think we should discuss our patients where other patients can hear."
"Now you look here, missy. Flo Bradshaw's known Tate since he was in diapers. She's just as concerned as the rest of us."
Faith nodded, refusing to reveal anything. If the doctor saw fit to keep Marjorie informed, that was his prerogative. She was not going to violate patient confidentiality.
Please, Lord, help me maintain my cool. Sometimes
I feel like Paul. He had a thorn in his side and I think You've sent Marjorie to be the thorn in mine. She does good work, Lord. Help me to always see that and not get upset by her snippy ways.
Faith went to the small alcove that held one of the office computers and updated the file on Tate Johnson. She had faith that somehow the Lord was working all this to the good. She was still new in her faith, having been brought to the Lord when a life-threatening disease had knocked her for a loop. None of the foster parents she'd lived with had taught her much about faith and the Lord. Anything she knew, she'd discovered after the nurse on the oncology ward had sat down with her, brought her a Bible and shared the good news. She'd been astonished the God of the universe had time to deal with her puny problems. But she'd felt His presence more than once over the past two years and knew it was true. Not that life was perfect or even easier. But somehow, knowing she wasn't alone made it more than bearableit made life a joy.
Diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she'd had an uphill battle physically and psychologically. The illness had radically changed her life and altered all her previous goals. It had also ended her career as an E.R. nurse at the hospitalat least until she recovered her prechemo energy.
And ended the relationship she'd had with a man she loved.