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Lauren pressed some tissues into Gina's hand. "As soon as I get your feet cleaned, I'll put some temporary bandages on them and wheel you over to get your x-rays. On the way, we can check on your children."
"Thank you." Gina's voice was muffled against the pillow. She sniffed and mopped her face with the tissues. "I'm sorry about this. I'm not usually such a baby."
"You're not acting like a baby—you're acting like a worried mother with two children and a medical condition she doesn't understand. I wish I knew what to tell you. I don't think I'd be as brave under the circumstances." Lauren quickly revised her words. "Not that the circumstances are hopeless, Gina. My impression is that Dr. Sheldon is knowledgeable and thorough, and if anyone can figure out what's going on, he can." Lauren bit off her babbling as she finished cleaning the wounds and placed Telfa dressings over them.
She wrapped both of Gina's feet with gauze. "You can turn over and sit up."
When Gina did as she was told, Lauren saw that the mascara had spread even farther across her face. Time to try to lighten the mood, if possible. "Honey, you look like you've got a couple of shiners." She pulled her gloves off and reached for a paper towel. "Hold still for a minute." She dampened the towel and went to work on the makeup mess.
"Levi and Cody will think their mother suddenly turned into a raccoon." She grinned to assure Gina she was teasing.
Gina closed her eyes and held still while Lauren dabbed around her eyes. "Thank you."
"For what? You'd tell me if my makeup was smeared, wouldn't you?"
The copper-colored eyes opened again. "Thank you for taking such good care of Levi. He doesn'tusually trust strangers so quickly."
"You're welcome, Gina. He's precious. I'd love five just like him, but I need a husband first."
Gina grimaced and looked away. "Why? You can't depend on them. I tried."
"I can't imagine a daddy not wanting to stay around to watch those two angels grow up."
"Their father barely waited until Cody was born before he took off with somebody who didn't have any kids to tie her down." Gina's voice was layered with pain.
Lauren placed a hand on Gina's shoulder. Oh, Lord, touch her heart. Teach her that real love doesn't fail. Aloud, she said, "Then he's the one who will lose the most. Your children have a mother who obviously loves them very much."
"I left them alone tonight." Gina's voice wobbled and her chin dimpled in an obvious effort to control another onset of tears. "I can't believe I did that. I made a vow years ago that I would never allow my own children to feel the way—" She stopped and bit her lip, then straightened her shoulders and sniffed. "I'm sorry. This isn't your problem. I'll figure it all out later. Do I still look like a raccoon?"
Lauren wiped the last smudge, then stepped back to admire her handiwork. "Aha! Now I recognize you. You're Gina Drake from Respiratory, the one who's so good with children. No wonder your own kids are so sweet."
Something warmed in Gina's eyes, and Lauren thought she caught a hint of a smile before the worry took root once more.
"Levi was so brave while we treated him, Gina."
"Do you think he'll be okay to come home tonight?"
"We'll be sure and ask Dr. Sheldon when he comes back in." Lauren continued to chatter about how cute both little boys were and how the neighbor had told the staff how obedient the children usually were. She allowed her chatterbox mode to continue instead of stifling it midstream.
At first Gina watched Lauren's face closely, as if she were trying to detect any false note. But soon her expression relaxed. Lauren realized she was probably seeing a side of Gina Drake that few of her co-workers ever saw. Ordinarily, the respiratory therapist was calm and kind, but strictly professional. She kept to herself. She never showed any vulnerability. Some of the less inhibited male members of the hospital staff claimed that Gina was a snob because she turned down all invitations to lunch, dinner, breaks, or breakfast. Lauren always quickly informed them that was simply because Gina had good taste.
"Lauren," Gina said at last, interrupting the quick-paced monologue. She held Lauren's gaze with her own and worried her full lower lip with her front teeth.
"Yes?" Lauren sat down on the stool so they were eye to eye.
Gina's mouth worked silently for several seconds. Her face flushed, and her eyes watered again. "I'm scared."
"Of course you are, honey. Who wouldn't be?"
"I don't know what's happening to me."
"That's what we're going to try to find out." Lauren leaned closer. "Meanwhile, I want you to know that you do have a friend in town. I haven't been in Dogwood Springs very long, either, and I know how lonely it can get."
"Where are you from?"
"A beautiful place called Knolls. It's about an hour's drive east of here, and sometimes I think I must have been crazy to move. Do you ever feel that way?"
An invisible strain of tension seemed to fill the room. "No. Never. At least not until this happened."
"Good. I'll give you my home phone number before you leave tonight, and you can call me any time."
"Am I going to be allowed to leave?" Gina asked. "With my children?"
"We're going to do everything in our power to see that you do. In the meantime, it won't do you or your children any good to worry about it."
Gina studied Lauren's eyes for several seconds, then some of her tension dissipated, as if she had run out of energy to continue.
"How about lunch Monday?" Lauren asked.
There was a flash of surprise and then a nod that seemed to open the gates to a flood of gratitude. Lauren had never before noticed what an expressive face Gina had.
"Can I go see my boys now?" she asked.
"Of course; then we'll get your x-rays. Let me get you back into the wheelchair."
Second Opinion (HEALING TOUCH Book 1) by Hannah Alexander
Copyright © 2002, Hannah Alexander