McMurray stood silently at his window watching the scene below on the helipad. That was one thing that he enjoyed about the placement of his office, he always knew when a helicopter arrived or took off. He thought of it as one of the perks for being Chief of Trauma Services.

The rotor had spun down to a stop before he saw the first figure approach the ship. By the physical attributes he reasoned it to be his Fellow, her long, dark hair being held back by a loose braiding. She paused at the open door, turning back to look for the rest of her team. Only seconds later did the wind-tossed blonde hair emerge into his view. The petite form cautiously reached for a handhold on the ship before attempting to step up into it. The surgeon quickly followed her in and soon the door slid closed.

The Ol’ Cutter knew that it would be a few minutes before the ship lifted off. That would leave him just enough time to pass the news along. He strode over to his desk and pressed down on the ancient call buzzer for his secretary.

"Yes, Dr. McMurray." The intercom crackled to life with the sound of the secretary’s voice.

He cleared his throat and then proceeded to wet his lips before speaking. "Let that pack of glory-seeking revenue hounds know that the Surgical Flight Team is onboard the helicopter and getting ready to take off."

The voice came back rather hesitantly. "Am I correct in assuming that you want the Board notified?"

"You’ve got that right. Then, call Communications and tell them to notify us as soon as they land."

"Yes, Sir. Will there be anything else?"

"No, nothing else for now." McMurray went back to his window and patiently waited for the helicopter to lift off.

******************

The nip of the cold weather had brought some color back to Danni’s cheeks, the rosy blush giving her a healthier appearance. Garrett kept checking on her from time to time as they went through the preflight checklist that was their responsibility. The nurse had eagerly begun the task once she had strapped her helmet in place. The list was small in comparison to the one that she used in the Trauma Rooms for daily stocking. Within several minutes, the chore was done and Garrett gave the thumbs up sign one more time to the pilot. The nurse sat in her assigned seat and fumbled with the seatbelt trying to get it to connect.

"Here, let me." The voice sounded as though it was inside of her head. It was going to take some time to get used to the speaker inside the helmet. Danni held the ends up in offering to the surgeon as the whirring of the engine began to turn the blades overhead.

"Thanks," she yelled into the microphone, trying to be heard over the noise.

Garrett grabbed at the helmet trying to muffle the amplified voice that was screaming in her ear. She grimaced, then smiled sweetly. "Danni, just speak in your normal tone. I’ll be able to hear you."

The nurse grinned apologetically and nodded, not trusting herself to speak. She handed over the seatbelt locking mechanisms to the surgeon who deftly worked in her Gore-Tex gloves to secure the small team member into her seat. Garrett pulled at the belt, making the final adjustment to the size of Danni’s lap, then hurriedly secured herself into her own seat.

The pilot’s voice now spoke to them. "We’re cleared for lift off. Everyone secured back there?"

Garrett glanced over at Danni in time to see her tug at the seatbelt trying to make it tighter. "Yeah, we’re in and ready to go."

"You know that we are just going to get up there and land. Then you ladies will go into the hospital and evaluate your mock patient and deem what needs to be done. Then load him up into the medivac and we’re off again for home. Nothing fancy they told me. You got that?"

"Yeah, they mentioned that to us." Garrett nodded her head. She was glad that all Danni had to concentrate on was just getting there and back again. ‘At least this way, I can keep an eye out for her.’ The surgeon looked over to the nurse and smiled pleasantly, trying not to alert the petite woman of her growing concern.

"Okay, I’m going to increase my revolution speed so that we can lift off. It’s going to be a little bumpy at first. Just sit tight." He gave the back passengers "thumbs-up" and then quickly busied himself in his duties.

Danni closed her eyes. The incantation of earlier quickly coming to her mind. ‘You can do this. It’s only a ride…a nice safe ride. You can do this.’

The noise coming from the rotors increased dramatically. Soon afterward the shaking started as the engine whined under the heavy strain to lift the ship off the helipad. What had started as small tremors and vibrations were now escalating into outright shaking of the ship underneath them.

Danni’s hands clasped tightly around the edge of her seat, willing it to stop. Her eyes opened, searching for comfort of any kind to calm her mind from the ravaging effects that were overwhelming her. The mantra in her thoughts being replaced by one of immense terror as her eyes caught site of the buildings around them as they slowly gained height. ‘I’m going to die. Please don’t let me die.’ Then suddenly her mind went blank, as did her gaze. Her body was shutting down any sense that would bring harm to her. She sat still, transfixed on nothing, suspended in time within the realm of her own body. The nurse’s shallow breathing and glazed-over eyes were the only evidence of her being alive.

Garrett was reveling in the adrenaline rush of the moment. During her Naval Career, each time she had set foot into a helicopter it was the beginning of a new experience for her. The surgeon’s mind compared those ascents to the one she was now a part of. It was a much smaller airship then the kind used by the military, with more vibrations emanating through the hull. The bumpiness of the ride was unmistakable, as the extra weight of the helmet on her head seemed to intensify it.

Turning back from the window to look at her companion, the surgeon was met by lifeless eyes staring aimlessly into space, the petite body stiff as a board. The sluggish movement of her body to the violent bumping of the airship was the only visible motion of life.

"Danni!" She spoke softly at first trying not to startle her. Then repeatedly calling out her name, increasing louder with each time until she was yelling at the top of her lungs. The surgeon reached over and gently shook her friend. Nothing was breaking through into the world of catatonia.

Garrett’s first reaction was to have the pilot land the ship back at the helipad. Then she remembered her friend’s anger and determination to prove herself earlier when she had suggested not taking the flight. It only took a minute for the surgeon to decide doing it would be a blatant act of betrayal on her part.

She had been witness to this kind of behavior one other time. It was a young sailor who had done the same thing on his first flight. As soon as the turbulence had diminished he was fine and able to function with no problems. In fact, he had no memory of the event even happening.

Garrett waved her hand in front of Danni’s face as the ride started to smooth out. To coin an old phrase, the light was on but nobody was home. The young woman’s features remained devoid of any emotion, her skin a pasty white. The surgeon fumbled with her seatbelt. Once it was released she positioned her body in front of Danni’s, bringing her face within inches of the young nurse. Blue orbs searched relentlessly into the abyss of green straining to see some semblance of life. Gone was the spark that had flickered and danced with mirth giving that familiar impish quality to her features.

With one hand on Danni’s shoulder and the other under her chin, Garrett talked calmly in an attempt to pull the nurse out of her catatonic state. "Danni, I’m right here with you. Can you see me?" She searched the depths of her friend’s eyes but still could see no inkling of recognition in them. "You’re safe here with me. I won’t let anything bad happen to you."

The surgeon turned to the pilot, motioning for him to turn his headset controls to monitor the back of the ship. She waited for him to comply with her request. "How much longer until we set down?"

The pilot scanned the horizon for his pivotal landmark then came back with his reply. "One minute to designated LZ." Then he quickly turned his attention back to piloting the ship into its downward approach.

The surgeon repositioned herself in front of the nurse and started talking to her in a reassuring tone. "We’re going to be setting down in the landing zone now. You’ll feel some vibrations as the ship descends. There’s nothing to be afraid of. You hear me, nothing." Garrett detected a slight nod of Danni’s head and feeding into her encouragement, the surgeon continued to reassure her young friend. Within minutes the helicopter had landed, the blades spinning to a stop. It was now safe enough for them to leave the confines of the airship. Garrett hastily released the seatbelt on her friend and scooped up the rigid form into her arms. The surgeon’s only thought was to get Danni onto firm ground and show her that she was out of any danger.

The large powerful hand of the surgeon jerked open the door giving her access to the outside. The sting of the cold against her flesh made Danni turn her face into the leather-clad form. Its soft feel against her skin mixed with the familiar scent of the leather helped to bring the nurse back to life. The barely audible mumbled rambling that came from the young woman was like music to Garrett’s ear as she continued to talk to her, coaxing her back from catatonia. There, they remained oblivious to the world around them, absorbed only in the sight, sound and feel of each other.

*******************

The dignitaries of the two hospitals that had been gathered to witness the test of the Surgical Flight Team were unimpressed. The huge build-up that they had been given ahead of time simply fizzled with each passing moment. All that anyone could see were two figures, one in the arms of the other. There was no action and excitement as they had been told. For all that any of them knew it could have been two housekeepers in those suits.

The random grumbling of the executives began to take on more pointed comments as to the team’s abilities. Each one voiced their opinion in an effort to outdo the last one.

The co-founder of the team, Dr. Ian McCormick was finding it downright embarrassing. Where had he gone wrong? The numbers were there. He had checked the data himself. The only thing that he had never considered was human frailty. And now, it was biting him in the ass.

"Hey, McCormick! Do we need to provide a Psychiatric Consult each time they come, or will they bring their own shrink?"

Before Ian could address the question, another one was thrown his way.

"Is that all they can do, or do they faint at the sight of blood too?"

There was laughter coming from all around him now. This was not how it was supposed to happen. There were supposed to be cheers of triumph not of defeat. One by one the gathered crowd started moving back into the warmth of the building. Soon Ian was left standing there all alone.

**********************

Several minutes had passed by and the young nurse was becoming more aware of the world around her. The microcosm that was theirs now started to expand to include more than just the two. Danni’s hands clung on to the feel of the leather underneath them as she began to look about. There, off in the distance was the familiar figure of Dr. McCormick. The lone man was making his way toward them with puffs of steam coming from his mouth and nose with each labored breath.

"Gar…"

"Hmmm…"

The small hands tugged on the leather that they were curled around. "Gar, I think you better put me down now."

"Oh, ah…yeah." She didn’t want to break the bond of having the small woman in her arms. "You able to stand?" The blue eyes looked for any indication of the opposite.

Danni closed her eyes and nodded. "Don’t look now but I think we’re in for trouble." Garrett spun around to view the approaching form, then delicately lowered the nurse until her feet were touching the ground. The surgeon’s strong hands stayed in contact with the petite woman, ready at a moment’s notice to catch her if the situation warranted it. They stood side by side waiting for the impending confrontation.

"What the hell do you two think you’re doing?" Ian’s voice was menacing. "You look more like the poster for Boy’s Town, than a Surgical Team." He shook his head wildly. "I can’t believe you made me look like a fool in front of all those people. Because of you, we’re going to be the laughing stock of the entire area. Hell, within a week it will probably be across the entire nation." McCormick kept advancing until he was within a few feet of the women.

Danni could feel the tension increase in the hands that still held on to her. She glanced up to see Garrett’s jaw becoming set and her body straightening to its full height. The nurse stood her ground when the gentle tug came as the surgeon tried to position herself between the approaching man and the petite blonde. Their eyes met, each one of them intent on their own plan.

Finally Danni spoke up. "I’m not hiding behind you."

With that understood, Garrett nodded in agreement. "All right, we face this together, like a team then."

They both turned to eyeball the man who was now only a few feet away, his hand moving all around in emphasis to his spoken thoughts. "I expected more from you, Trivoli. God damn hot shot! I should have known that a woman would fall to pieces at the first sign of danger. You were supposed to be our ace in the hole. Now look at where you’ve gotten us." He spit on the ground. "We look like asses now. It will take years to get rid of this fiasco."

Garrett’s hands dropped to her sides, her fists balling tightly, waiting for the call into action. The sounds of her snorted respiration were a definite sign of the anger that was building up on the interior of the usually well-regimented surgeon.

Her eyes narrowed, their steely color turning to ice blue. "You don’t even care what happened up there. You’re more concerned with how you look to those idiots than you are about your own people." Garrett clenched her jaw. "Why I have a good mind to…"

"If you had a good mind, you would have been able to complete your mission." He snapped. "What’s the matter with you?"

"Nothing! Nothing is the matter with her." Danni spoke up. "It was me. I…I kind of zoned out during the flight. She was only trying to…"

"Only trying to what? It certainly wasn’t part of her job, or yours for that matter. All you had to do was get off the damn helicopter and come over to the mock patient: assess, treat and take him for a ride back in the helicopter. Nothing fancy. It was all to be a show." He turned and took a step or two then quickly pivoted back in their direction. "Bossard, you’re grounded." Ian’s arm thrust forward and his extended finger pointed straight at Danni. "Better yet, you’re out of the program."

The nurse nodded, resigned that her fate was sealed. She looked to Garrett apologetically. The tears were starting to well up in her eyes, her hands just hung dejectedly by her sides. She had let her friend down, and now there was nothing she could do to correct it.

"We’ll get you another nurse as a partner, Trivoli. Try not to be so soft with the next one."

"Soft? You call being compassionate and caring soft? I thought that doctors were supposed to come to the need of the sick or injured." The surgeon slowly inched her way toward the man until she was within reach of him. Her fist shot up to his face and her forefinger extended as she brought it down into his bulky coat covered chest. "I suppose that you would have wanted me to walk away from her in a catatonic state." With each new point she made, her finger pushed a little harder into the coat until finally he began to backpedal. "Would it have been a better show for you? We’re a team. Do you know what that means? In the military that means you take care of your own first and foremost. You can her. You can me. I don’t want another partner. I won’t have another partner. Do you understand that?"

By this time they were several steps away from where they had started. Danni watched in awe at the temperament of her friend. She stood frozen in time until she caught sight of Garrett raising her opposite arm. Sensing what was to come, the nurse bolted toward the arguing figures. She readily stepped in between the two towering figures, facing the surgeon. Bringing her hands up above her head, Danni caught hold of Garrett’s arms preventing them from slamming into the E.R. Attending’s chest.

The icy cold, blue crystals raged with an all-consuming fire as the surgeon locked her gaze on the petite woman. The green pools churned with the will of a giant wave, first capturing the attention of its prey, then crashing down on it, releasing its cooling effect all around.

"Gar, he’s not worth it. Nothing is worth that." Danni could feel the anger letting go in her friend and breathed a sigh of relief.

Ian McCormick was appalled to think that a Fellow would have the balls to confront him in such a manner. Then he remembered that Garrett Trivoli was a woman, and his mind was completely intrigued by the force that she had displayed toward him. He quickly took check of his body and found himself to be turned on by the sheer power that the raven-haired beauty exuded. ‘God! What I wouldn’t give to taste all of her treasures.’ He could feel his heartbeat quicken and his breathing becoming ragged. He wasn’t sure whether it was the excitement of the exchanged words or the heat of passion that was coming over him.

He stepped back and threw up his arms in disgust. "Have it your way then. I’ll see that the Board is aware of your feelings. I’m sure that they’ll have a few things to say to you both when you get back." Ian turned and marched off in the direction of his parked car, never once looking back.

There were a few moments of silence while the accountability of their actions was being reconsidered. They each knew that they were both responsible for the dismal performance during and after the flight to warrant their departure from the program. Each one blaming themselves solely for it and absolving the other at the same time.

"Gar, I’m sorry."

"No need to be sorry, Danni. This wasn’t why I came here for the Fellowship. I’m a surgeon. I never really wanted to be riding around in helicopters and doing drop-in surgeries." Garrett looked away for a minute before casting her gaze back on Danni. "I…I never wanted you to have to go through that." She motioned to the helicopter. "I guess we should find another way back to the hospital. I’m sure that by the time we get there, McCormick will have the Board asking for our heads on a platter in retribution for today."

"Come on, let’s go tell the pilot his crew has been grounded."

The two women walked slowly back to the airship.

******************

The pilot had seen enough when he got out of the ship to know that he didn’t want to be a witness to an altercation of any kind. He was an older man, his face worn with experience. He had seen many a heated argument between enlisted men and their superiors during his time in Vietnam. It’s funny the way men will fight to save your life and then, when they get back to the safety of the home base, want to rip your head right off for some foolhardy judgement call that was made. He had learned early on to stay out of the way, but mostly out of sight of any confrontations.

He figured that there was at least enough time for him to find a restroom and a good cup of java before he’d be needed again. After shutting down the engine, he exited the ship and walked across the helipad to the warmth of the building directly ahead. Once inside, he nodded a silent greeting to the clerk at the desk and made his way back into the treatment area. This was one of the frequent outlying hospitals that he had flown into often during his time with civilian medivacs. It was a hot bed for trauma. That’s why, he guessed, that it was chosen for today’s little demonstration.

He took his time using the facilities. He was certainly in no rush. Nobody’s life was at stake. Well, maybe just one. His mind thought of the tall surgeon and the fury that he had seen in her. ‘Nope, sure don’t want to be in her path when that pent up tornado lets go.’

The pilot strode down the hall to the nurse’s lounge with its tall urn of coffee waiting for him. His pointed toe boots clicked against the tile floors as he went. They weren’t regulation but they were his trademarks and that’s how he got his nickname. ‘Cowboy,’ that’s what he was known as.

He poured himself a drink of the potent black liquid and sat down to warm up as he slowly sipped away. It wasn’t long before he heard the scurry of activity around the E.R. A few seconds later, he heard one of the nurses calling out his name.

"Cowboy!" The woman stuck her head around the corner looking into the lounge. "Jeez, Cowboy, we’ve been looking for you. They need a medivac up at the old logging site. There’s been an accident. A tree came down wrong and someone is pinned underneath it." Her eyes had that desperate look to them, as if there was more to it than she was saying.

He shrugged his shoulders. "I’m out of service, strictly a training mission on this one. You better call dispatch and put in your request."

"We already did. They’re all committed to patients right now. The best time to get one here could be over an hour." She pleaded with him. "Can’t you do anything to help?"

"The best that I could do is check with dispatch and see if they can hurry one along." He grimaced at the thought. He always knew how dangerous it was to think about the next flight when you were still locked into one already. That’s when a pilot would make mistakes that could be fatal.

He picked up his Styrofoam cup that was half full of java and got up. "Okay, show me to your phone." He followed her out to the front desk of the E.R.

******************

After waiting at the ship for the pilot’s return, the two women decided to go looking for him inside the building. They walked over to the hospital as Garrett thought about what might be their best form of transportation to get back home without exposing the young nurse to another bout of catatonia. She had made her mind up. The surgeon was not about to ask Danni to step foot on another helicopter for as long as she knew her. ‘I wonder if there’s a rental car place around here?’ She thought about her habit of carrying a credit card with her, even into the operating theatre. ‘I guess it’s going to come in handy today.’

The blonde was somewhat let down by her own inability to cope with the thought of flying. She had so wanted to be there and functional for her friend. ‘Fat chance in hell, now. I’ll never be able to make this up to her.’ She thought a moment and considered all the ramifications of the botched job today. ‘I bet that carte blanche on the survivor project goes right down the tubes, too.’ She was beating herself up over something that she had no idea how to remedy. ‘I wish…’ she sighed. ‘Damn it! I’ll never get another chance.’ The tip of her small boot made contact with a stray stone on the driveway in front of the building and sent it flying.

The motion caught Garrett’s eye. She looked over to her friend and sensed the frustration that she was in. ‘If only we could prove to them that it would be different when it was for real. I know that Danni could pull it all together when there’s a patient involved.’ It was such a shame. The two had literally been thrown together and found that they both flourished in each other’s presence. The last three weeks had proven that, not only to them, but to others too.

The now defunct Surgical Flight Team entered the sparsely populated waiting room in search of their pilot. Eyes scanning the room, Danni spotted the flight suit through the window of the doors leading into the treatment area. She reached out and touched the surgeon’s arm drawing her attention. "Gar, I think I see him."

The tall woman followed Danni’s line of sight. "Hmmm…Might as well tell him that he’s free to go without us."

They each reached out and pushed open the doors of the E.R. and stepping through them presented a unified front. Between the unison of their actions and the commanding flight suits, it was a sight to behold. The head of the E.R. Clerk bobbed up and his mouth dropped open. Another nurse at the front desk fumbled with a chart dropping it onto the floor. She was so startled by their presence. Garrett turned her head slightly toward Danni and raised an eyebrow in question. While Danni’s only response was the subtle raising of her shoulders and the tiny giggle that she tried to restrain.

The waving hand of the pilot motioning them to come nearer grabbed their attention. He covered up the mouthpiece of the phone and called out to them. "Dr. Trivoli!" He waited for a few seconds until they were standing next to him. "I’ve got dispatch on the landline here. Seems that all of the other helicopters are committed to patients and there’s an emergency call for a medivac up here in this neck of the woods." He took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I told them that I’d ask you if you’d take it."

The nurse quickly spoke up, trying to fill them in on what little details that she knew. "It’s up at the logging site. One of the men is pinned underneath a tree." Her eyes pleaded for assistance.

Danni looked up to see the strange twinkle that her friend’s eyes always got when their own trauma pagers beckoned them. She knew that the surgeon felt compelled to help. "Garrett…"

Garrett pushed the rising adrenaline rush back down. "We’ve been officially grounded. Sorry, but we won’t be able to help."

Danni looked over at the surgeon. Her eyes showed the confusion that she was experiencing. Then it came to her like a flash of lightning. ‘I never thought she would refuse to help anyone.’ Green eyes darted back and forth from the pilot to Garrett and back again. ‘She’s doing this because of me. She won’t go without me.’ "Wouldn’t it be best for us…"

The surgeon peered down at the blonde. "I’m not making you get back on that helicopter."

"Gar, we just can’t not help." The nurse was determined to speak up. "We could be his only hope. I can’t just walk away."

The voice started out as a low growl. "Danni…"

The blonde planted her hands on her hips and looked directly into the taller woman’s eyes. "We’re wasting time here, Dr. Trivoli. Are you coming or not?" A few seconds passed when Danni delivered her one-two punch straight to the surgeon’s brain. "This could be the only chance I ever get to prove myself. At least let me try."

Garrett thought about what Danni had just said. ‘Maybe that will do it. I know that her patients always come first.’ She nodded slightly then turned her gaze to the pilot. "Well, don’t just stand there. We’ve got a patient to take care of." The surgeon could feel the adrenaline already surging through her veins. One look at Danni was all that she needed to tell her that this ride was going to be different…a lot different.

******************

Within minutes they were belted in and going over the checklist of supplies and equipment, making sure that everything was ready should they need to use it quickly. Garrett looked up from her task in time to see the familiar twirling finger of the pilot signifying that he was ready for lift off. The surgeon watched as Danni busied herself now with the small satchel that held the drugs that they may need to give for one purpose or another. The nurse wasn’t even noticing the vibrations that were going through the ship as it gained altitude. Her mind seemed completely centered on what she was doing.

Garrett breathed a sigh of relief when the helicopter started its forward flying and the shaking became almost non-existent. She watched the young nurse for any sign of distress, or the reemergence of the catatonia. Seeing none, the surgeon settled into her thoughts of what she needed to do to keep the man alive.

Either the pilot was finding no pockets of air turbulence, or flying with kid gloves on, holding the ship steady. Cowboy was giving his passengers the smoothest ride that he could, even on his descent into the designated LZ.

The surgeon looked over to see Danni unscathed by the experience as she readily released her seatbelt and grabbed for her assigned satchels to carry.

Garrett opened the door and the team quickly disembarked the craft. They knew that it would have to be a hot unload, and remembered to keep their heads low, bodies hunched over and out of the way of the blades spinning over them.

They were met by the foreman of the logging crew who told them what had transpired when the tree fell incorrectly. This simple miscalculation had caused a chain reaction of unbelievable events to happen. That’s when they found out that the trapped man was not a member of the logging crew, but instead a Road Department Worker who was just driving by in his dump truck filled with road salt.

The trio walked to the edge of the road and looked down at the truck, as it lay on its side halfway down the hillside, the huge tree resting on top of it.

"Where’s the driver?" Garrett immediately asked, her eyes darting across the wreckage.

Danni took in a breath when she saw the wreckage shifting ever so slightly as a few loose stones took off rolling down the hillside.

"He’s trapped under the side of the dump. Got his foot pinned underneath the edge of it." He wiped his brow with the coat sleeve on his forearm. "We tried, but we can’t get him free. His foot is between a ledge of rock and the body of the truck. I think he’s going to either lose that foot or his life."

"Is EMS or the fire department here yet?" The surgeon looked around for any sign of their arrival.

"Well, Doc, we usually take care of our own evacs up here. We just call for the helicopter to get them out. Takes the locals way too long to get up here to our part of the hill. Besides, they usually get stuck on our mud roads."

The surgeon’s eyes narrowed. This was a whole new ballgame from the one that they thought that they were going to. "You got a backboard?"

"Yeah, it’s already down there."

"Danni, we’ll take the drug bag, the surgical tools, and large dressings."

"Okay, Doc." The nurse quickly ditched the rest of the bags. "Already to go."

They walked along the edge of the road until they were parallel to the rear of the dump truck. Looking down they could see the loose stones shifting under the weight of the wreckage. Garrett evaluated the degree of tilt and the slope of the hill. She needed to figure out just how long they would have to do the necessary procedure if it was warranted. She didn’t like what she was coming up with.

Staring down at the truck, she held her hand out to Danni. "Give me the bags. There’s no sense in both of us risking our lives."

The nurse grabbed back the bags. "Listen Garrett, we agreed that we were a team. Where you go, I’m going. You’ll be able to work fast with another set of hands to help you."

Garrett clenched her teeth together as she traded glances with Danni. "Okay! Just stay right beside me and do what I say."

The blonde nodded her head. "Right by you."

The two women took off down the embankment being careful not to loosen any more soil then necessary. Once they were below the level of the wreckage, they crossed over to where the man lay, trapped from his ankle down.

"Hey, sir. We’re going to get you out of this mess. How are you doing?" The surgeon was yelling out to the man as soon as she saw his body.

"For the love of God, get this damn truck off of me," his voice was filled with anger. "I should never have came up over that damn hill."

"Well, so much for the A and B." Danni was making reference to the man’s ability to maintain his airway and that he was breathing. The nurse hastily knelt down next to the man and looked into his eyes and around his upper body for any signs of injury. "Just try to stay still. Do you hurt anywhere?"

"Nah, just that damn ankle." His breathing was labored as he tried to control the excruciating pain. "I’m a goner Doc…You’re not going to get that dump off of me. Go on, get out of here before it shifts."

Garrett surveyed the damage to the man’s ankle. The foreman had been right. That rock ledge wasn’t going to allow them any leeway in releasing the extremity. "Sir, I may have to amputate that foot to save your life. From what I can see of it here, it’s pretty well crushed from the weight of the truck."

"They told me that they had a surgeon flying in. I kind of knew that it was hopeless then. Just get me out of here." His eyes widened and he let out a scream as more stones traveled down the hillside, the evidence that the truck was again shifting.

"Sir, are you allergic to anything, any medications?" The nurse was opening the drug compartment of the bag she was carrying, in anticipation of the surgeon’s orders.

He grimaced in agony. "No…Nothing."

"Danni, start an I.V. and give him 5 milligrams of morphine."

The nurse quickly set about her duties, finding a large vein in his forearm for the I.V. site. Her years of trauma experience were evident by her skills. She had already prepared and flushed the tubing prior to their landing. Now all she needed to do was to insert the I.V. catheter, secure it in place and make the final connection to the fluid-filled bag. Next she reached for the pre-filled syringe of the ‘pain-killing’ drug. "Five of morphine in. You should feel that starting to work very soon, sir."

By this time the surgeon had exposed the trapped limb from all clothing. She didn’t like the idea of amputating the foot but it was going to be his only chance to live. Garrett prepared her mind for what she was about to do.

"Oh, boy! That’s some good stuff, Doc." He winked at Danni. "Thanks little lady." His face was becoming less tortured looking with pain as the drug began taking effect.

The surgeon observed the patient as she pulled on her surgical gloves and took up her scalpel. The logging crew had placed the man in a cervical collar to protect his spine and slid the long backboard underneath him as far as they could with one belt around his waist holding it in place.

Several small stones again started rolling down from the edge of the wreckage. Then more trickled down from the other side of the patient. What had begun as only a few, now turned into a cascade of shifting stones and dirt as Garrett looked up to see the movement of the dump body coming over top of them. She threw the scalpel off behind her and dove over top of the patient pulling her team member into the shelter of her body. There, the three lay huddled, one on top of the other, as the weight of the wreckage caused the truck to turn over on them, trapping them in the now empty dump bed. The tree came shifting over top of the wreckage, causing it to continue to roll down the hill until it stopped abruptly at the bottom with a loud metallic crash.

Garrett and Danni slowly raised their heads, looking cautiously as to where the next barrage was going to come from. Seeing none, they allowed themselves a brief glance at each other, the warming smile of each telling the other that the other team member was safe. They had survived a fate much worse than any helicopter ride, and they knew it.

As they pulled themselves up off of each other and their patient, several members of the logging crew had come down the hillside to assist them. Within minutes, the group of rescuers had made their way to the road with the patient strapped onto the backboard ready for transport. Even though his leg was still intact, the crushing injury might still result in his losing the lower portion of the extremity. Garrett knew that with injuries like that, the faster they get to a Trauma Center, the greater chance they had for saving it.

The surgeon pressed the group for their best effort in making the trip to the awaiting helicopter an expedient one.

Danni took off ahead of the group gathering up the bags that they had brought with them. She reached the helicopter easily and motioned for the pilot to get ready. Stowing the bags quickly inside the crew compartment, she emerged just in time to take up her position as tail guard. This would assure that no one would accidentally venture too close to the spinning tail rotor blades. Keeping her body hunched over, she motioned for the rescuers to do likewise.

Once the patient was loaded in and the logging crews were away from the ship, the nurse left her safety position and climbed in, closing the door after her. She scampered hurriedly to belt herself in as Garrett signaled to the pilot that they were ready to lift off.

Danni attended to the patient as Garrett relayed information about the patient’s condition to the awaiting Trauma Center by radio. The commanding voice was precise with her description of the injuries that were sustained. The nurse waited until the surgeon was finished before looking over at her and smiling proudly.

"What?" Garrett looked around the patient and then herself.

The nurse’s voice was soft and loving as she spoke. "Thanks, Gar, for back there. I realize that it could have been a little messy if you hadn’t pulled me in." Her facial features were expressing her sentiment better than her words.

"Hey, we’re a team. Remember?" Then with a look of genuine concern she asked. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I’m fine now." She let her look linger on her friend for only a moment before she went back to caring for her patient.

********************

They landed unceremoniously and whisked their patient into the Trauma Room where the team of Orthopedic Surgeons had been assembled at Garrett’s request. After giving a speedy report, Danni and Garrett both wished the patient a quick recovery from his injuries and turned to leave the room.

"Hey, Doc!" He hoarsely called out. "Thanks for everything. You two are ‘A’ number one in my book." Then he held up his forefinger in an exemplary display of the number and then waved. The two women just smiled in silence and nodded at the acknowledgment as they left the room.

Outside in the hallway, the pair was meet by Nan, the Nursing Manager. "Danni, Dr. Trivoli," she greeted them. "I’ve been asked to inform you that your presence is requested in Dr. McMurray’s office, STAT."

They each took in a deep breath and then let it out, knowing that the excitement was not yet over for the day.

******************

The Surgical Flight Team stood before the desk in the outer office of Dr. McMurray, their clothing rumpled and dirty but their spirits united in their newfound teamwork. The satisfaction of a job well done reflected in their confidence as they waited to be admitted in to see their boss.

Danni leaned in toward the tall surgeon, whispering. "I thought Nan said STAT. I wonder what we’re waiting for?"

"Be careful what you ask for, you may find out sooner than you’d like." Garrett joked back at her, keeping her voice just slightly above a whisper as they took up seats along the wall.

The door to the Ol’ Cutter’s office opened and members of the Board of Directors filed out, each one with a grim look on their face. Bringing up the end of the line was Ian McCormick himself. He cast his eyes down and just kept walking. Obviously he was not getting what he was after. The scowl on his face was pretty evident.

Danni nudged Garrett’s arm with her shoulder. Even sitting, the surgeon was still taller than the nurse. The quick shift of her eyes and the subtle nod of her head were all that was necessary for the surgeon to understand.

Garrett took in a deep cleansing breath as she tried to calm her already edgy nerves. It had been a tough day. Tougher than she had ever imagined that it might be. She had been troubled by the prospects of a Middle East conflict, terrified when her teammate suffered from catatonia, put on display then subjected to the belittling tantrum of Dr. McCormick, and then thrust into a real life rescue that nearly got her team killed. The kicker of it all was that today was only supposed to be a dry run, a test of their preparedness as a team. Well, by the looks of it, her team was prepared for just about anything that life could throw at them. The surgeon closed her eyes to help further instill her calming thoughts.

The feather light touch of the small hand on hers was all that Garrett needed. The soft tingles of electricity coursed through her body, chasing out the last remnants of anger or apprehension for the upcoming meeting with her mentor. As the calmness overtook her body, the beginning hints of that lopsided smile of hers came to the surface. The two women glanced at each other and began to chuckle.

McMurray stood in his doorway observing the subtleties about the interaction between the surgeon and the nurse. He could actually see that the two were now closer than ever, both in mind and body. He reveled in his keen insight and made a mental note to talk to his wife about it when he got home.

The Ol’ Cutter cleared his throat and called out crankily. "Trivoli! Bossard! In my office now!" Then he turned and walked back to his desk.

The two slowly got up from their seats and then filed into the office, Danni taking the lead.

‘Now that’s a switch.’ McMurray sat down and motioned for them to do the same. He watched them closely for a minute and then began to speak. "I understand that you two have had a pretty rough day. Seems to me that all you were supposed to do was go for a little ride in that helicopter of ours and show your faces at an outlying facility." He paused studiously then added. "Isn’t that correct?"

Garrett’s thoughts were in a quandary now. ‘He’s way too calm for all that happened today. I wonder what’s up.’

They both nodded and answered meekly, "Yes."

"You didn’t do that, did you?"

"Sir, if you would allow me to explain…" The surgeon leaned forward to talk.

McMurray threw up his hand in a halting motion. "When it’s your turn to talk, I’ll tell you." The man peered at them over top of his glasses.

The women sat quietly and nodded.

"Let me tell you what you did manage to do today." He looked directly at Danni now. "You, Nurse Bossard, should have told us of your problem with flying. But you didn’t and therefore put the entire helicopter crew in a high-risk situation. The confined space of a ship such as that is no place to lose it and go berserk."

"Yes, sir." Danni answered weakly.

Now, McMurray turned his gaze to the Fellow. "Did you know about that phobia of hers, Trivoli?"

"I suspected she might."

"Don’t you think that it might have been a good idea to let us know about it?" He snorted and then coughed. "I guess not…eh?"

"I was looking out for her." The surgeon stated.

The man looked sternly at the tall woman then cleared his throat. "You are the only two that I know of who could totally botch up a simple little exercise to the point of embarrassment on the part of the entire hospital. McCormick wants your heads on a platter and has the whole Board of Directors in an uproar." The Ol’ Cutter paused to watch their reaction. Watching the uniform slumping of their shoulders told him that they both were taking responsibility for their actions.

"You get grounded, Nurse Bossard," he paused then shifted his glance to the other. "Then you go barging right in and ground yourself along with her."

The woman both nodded in agreement.

"Hmmm…" He sniffed and then scratched at his chin. "Then, when an emergency call for a helicopter comes in, you two just up and decide to take it. Oh, let me correct that. First you argue about not letting her ride in a helicopter again." He points to Danni. "Then miraculously you overcome your phobia of flying and ungrounded yourself only to have her," now pointing to Garrett, "follow right along and commandeer the airship."

McMurray looked questioningly at them both. "I’ve gotten everything right so far, haven’t I?" He waited a minute. "I thought so."

He got up and walked behind his chair. "Then you put yourselves in a damn near suicidal rescue, thinking that you’re going to have to amputate a man’s foot to save his life. Now if that’s not enough, things go drastically wrong fairly quickly and nobody gets hurt. The logging crews are your biggest fans and the media had gotten wind of the botched up training flight and is now clambering at our doorsteps to do a human-interest piece on the new Surgical Flight Team. A team that is already saving lives in heroic rescues and they aren’t even fully trained yet."

There was dead silence as the Chief of Trauma Services glared down at them from his standing position.

Danni spoke first. "We’re sorry. We didn’t…"

"Sorry, hell!" The voice was loud and strong. Then he walked over to them and smiled. "It was the best damn PR that this hospital has ever gotten. All the news stations want to know about the two women who overcame adversity to save a public works employee."

"So," Danni wrinkled up her nose and asked shyly. "Does that mean you’re not mad at us?"

"Damn right. Now, go and have a Merry Christmas." He shooed them out of his office.

"Thanks, Sir." "Thanks," was their slightly off beat reply.

"Oh, and Trivoli, you are allowed in the operating room for the next two days. I can’t have my holiday Trauma Fellow standing outside looking in. Now, can I?"

Her eyes immediately perked up. The slump of her shoulders was now leaving, causing her to stand proud and tall. She looked to her friend and saw the mirror of her own self-realization taking affect in her, too.

They went through the door and McMurray could hear the bantering of close friends start. Yes, they had bonded well into a team and he knew that they could go even further if they would only put their hearts and souls into it.

"Yes, it’s going to be a very good Christmas after all." The Ol’ Cutter sat down in his chair and picked up his phone. He suddenly felt the need to tell his wife how much he loved her.

 

 

 

Chapter 4

The day started early for Danni. There were a lot of things to be done and little time to do them in. It was the morning of Christmas Eve and she still needed to wrap presents, decorate the tree that she and Garrett had picked out last night on their way home, and bake cookies. It was going to be a big task, but Christmas was her holiday and she considered it a labor of love.

She crept out of her room with the biggest grin on her face. She had awakened before Garrett this morning. That in itself was something to be happy about. There were times she thought the surgeon never slept.

She noticed that the door to her friend’s room was slightly ajar. Tiptoeing over to it, she opened it just enough to look in. By the lumpiness of the covers and the soft rhythmic sounds of breathing, the woman was asleep and probably would be for a while longer. ‘Gar’s probably beat after all that we went through yesterday. I can’t believe how she stuck by me. I’m sure that anybody else would never have set foot into a helicopter with me again, after witnessing first hand my terrible performance on that initial flight.’ She thought to herself as she closed the door and then rested her forehead against it.

Danni remembered how it felt to be in Garrett’s arms when she came out of her phobia-induced stupor. The leathery scent of the surgeon’s flight jacket and the warmth of the body that she was being held against were so comforting to her soul. It was as though, somewhere in the expanse of time, she had experienced it before. The nurse closed her eyes, then made a wish that she would experience them again some day sans her stupor. She sighed heavily, then pushed off the door trying to get her thoughts back on track.

Within minutes of taking care of her morning toilet, the young woman was eagerly sorting through her favorite recipes, looking for just the right one. Christmas came once a year and therefore dictated that everything be special. She had a certain recipe in mind. It was just a matter of finding where she had placed it for safekeeping.

Danni’s mother had always made a fuss over her daughters’ effort in the kitchen. To her, it was one of the mandatory skills for a good mother and wife. In that spirit, Brie and Danni liked to show off their culinary advances each year as one tried to outdo the other. Christmas was always the big showdown. The older daughter now considered herself to have the edge this year. What, with Brie being pregnant she wouldn’t have the energy to go all out as in previous years.

Danni paged through the cookbook one last time. She had overlooked it on her first pass of the category but found it this time. It was a festive Stollen recipe that she had come across several months ago in a seldom-used book on her shelf. The dough was raised and the braiding of the layers gave it a very ornate appearance. ‘Now with just a little creative liberty for the filling, I’ll have something that looks and tastes like Christmas, as much as Santa himself.’ She chuckled and then tried to imitate the deep belly laugh of the old elf.

Moving quickly around the kitchen, the young woman set to work making her Christmas creation. The dough would need time to rise and that would allow her to pull together the rich nut and cranberry filling that would be used in conjunction with it. Danni was in her element with the soft music of Christmas carols and the smells of the holiday baking.

The time was passing quickly when she finally put the neatly braided Stollen into the oven. It was approaching 0700 and Garrett still hadn’t come out of her room. ‘I guess she was really tired.’ Danni set the timer on the stove and decided that now was as a good time to go wrap the few remaining presents in her room. There was one gift in particular that needed to be wrapped and soon. The small blonde thought about it and a sly smile came over her face. ‘I hope she’ll like it.’

*******************

The soft strains of seasonal music were filtering in under the door as the long limbs began to stir under the covers. Slowly, the woman became more in tune with the world around her as each of her senses began to come to life. The smooth, silky touch of the sheets stimulated parts of her body as they brushed against it, causing her to moan in a low throaty tone. She turned over and nestled her head into the pillow, a slight smile gracing her face. Garrett’s nosed twitched, trying to distinguish the scent that was wafting in around the door. The sweet smell of nuts and berries was causing her mouth to water.

One eyelid opened as her mind struggled to gain a foothold on waking up. The lone orb surveying the room as it tried to establish some sense of time. The muted light coming from around her blinds gave a soft appearance to the furniture in the room. ‘Damn!’

By the look of the day breaking outside, she knew that she had slept in. The surgeon was used to rising early, long before the first rays of daylight ever came on the horizon.

Garrett rolled onto her back, bringing both her hands up to scrub her face free of any last lingering remnants of sleep. Stifling a yawn, she momentarily drifted to the events of yesterday. Lost in her thoughts now, she closed her eyes and concentrated on the facial expression that Danni had shown her. The agony of seeing that emotionless face was making Garrett feel like her heart was being torn from her chest. It was as though the bubbly nurse had never existed except in statue form. The surgeon’s heart began to race with fear of never again experiencing the warmth and laughter that the young woman brought to her being.

Suddenly she felt short of breath, like the life was being drained out of her body. Her strong arms pushed her upper torso off the bed, her elbows locking to hold her steady. Before she knew what was happening, she could hear her own loud gasping for breath. Her mind flashed with the dump truck bed crashing down toward the small blonde nurse. Garrett’s eyes widened with terror. Then she realized just how close they had come.

‘Jeez, I nearly lost her yesterday.’

"Gar…are you awake?" The soft voice was coming from the other side of the door.

The surgeon’s eyes flashed with awareness at the sound of the voice. ‘By the gods, if this is hell, they really know how to torture me.’ Garrett tried to slow her breathing as she leaned forward, clutching the covers to her supple form. She took a deep breath in and out before she cleared her throat to answer. "Yeah…I’m up. I must have overslept." She could feel the surge of adrenaline that her system had been given dissipating.

"Well, when you’re ready, come on down and I’ll fix us both a good hot breakfast."

"Sounds like a plan to me. I think I’ll take a shower first and get dressed."

Garrett threw back the covers and let her long muscular legs gracefully drop over the side of the bed. She looked at her digital clock at the bedside. It was 0715. The surgeon sat on the edge of the bed trying to sort out her feelings or at least what day it was. Then she remembered. It was December 24, Christmas Eve. ‘I’d better get a move on, Danni will be headed out to her parents this afternoon.’ She thought about the large garment box that was so neatly wrapped in shiny gold paper and wondered about when to give it to her friend. "I bet she’ll never guess what it is."

**********

Danni stood back and looked at the small flat box. It was the last of the presents to be wrapped but in her mind, the most important. Her fingers reached out and toyed with the lid as she made her mind up to look at it one last time. She quickly removed the lid and folded back the tissue paper that was obscuring her view. The antique brass corners set off the rich mahogany of the wood as her eyes focused on the frame. Slowly Danni allowed her finger to run over the row of carved scrolling pattern that interlocked running along the border of it. ‘I only hope that we get to be that close.’ Her eyes shifted to focus on the photograph that was the purpose of the gift. ‘She’ll never guess this.’

The nurse reluctantly put the box lid back in place. She felt good about this gift and the joy that she knew it would bring. Thinking for only a moment, she made her choice of wrapping paper and set off to finish her task.

***********

With the Stollen cooling off on the counter, Danni gathered the needed ingredients for the batch of cut-out cookies that was a tradition for her nephew, as Garrett cleared off the table of their used breakfast plates, putting them into the dishwasher.

The morning hours were already slipping by faster than either woman cared to admit. Danni was trying to think of a way to get everything she needed to get done, and still have time to spend with her friend. Finally, she just broke down and asked for help, to which Garrett was eager to lend a hand. Soon the surgeon was pitching right in, her sleeves rolled up and in the middle of decorating the unbaked cookies with colored coarse sugar. The two of them were like little kids left alone for the first time to bake by themselves.

The joy of the moment was priceless to Danni. Here was the friend that she had always longed for growing up. ‘Well, better late then never.’ The nurse smiled as she watched the meticulous care that the surgeon gave to covering each cookie with the colored sugar. She couldn’t believe that they were actually enjoying this time together, she’d never have imagined that at their first meeting. ‘By the gods, what six months can do.’

Then she thought about the time that Garrett had left to her Fellowship. It was only six months more that the tall surgeon would be here for sure. Danni closed her eyes and took a deep breath at that thought. It was too much to think about, at least right now. She only wanted to enjoy the time that she had left with Garrett, not pine it away in a melancholy mood. Danni opened her eyes to see the surgeon watching her carefully.

The dark-haired woman sensed her friend’s reserved attitude. "Something wrong, Danni?"

The blonde shook her head. "Nothing…nothing’s wrong." She shrugged her shoulders. "It’s Christmas Eve, what could be wrong?"

***********

It was nearly noon when Garrett was banished from the kitchen for pilfering cookies. The surgeon rubbed the back of her left hand as she walked out into the Dinning Room. ‘Damn, that woman has eyes in the back of her head.’ Then she smirked as she thought of the petite nurse standing her ground when she had figured out where all the cookies were disappearing. ‘Yep, she’ll make one darn good mother someday.’

"Do you think that I could trust you with some popcorn and cranberries to string for the tree?" Danni yelled out to the surgeon. "I figure it will be easy for you. It’s just needle and thread and you could probably use the practice for later tonight." The nurse was making reference to Garrett’s forced absence from hands-on medicine.

Garrett looked through the doorway into the Living Room. There, in front of the window was the Norfolk Pine that they had purchased last evening on their way home from the hospital. If ever there was an official Charlie Brown Christmas Tree, this was it. The scantily branched tree stood with its roots planted firmly in the soil-filled pot, looking like something out of a low budget movie. The surgeon thought that Danni was joking when she picked out the little tree, declaring that this was just what she was looking for. Only her friend could see the beauty in the wanton tree. There were a hundred trees to pick from ranging in height and price, all different in shape and color, not to mention needle length and degree of softness. It surely wasn’t what Garrett had remembered as the perfect tree from her childhood, but it made the nurse happy and that was all that mattered.

"Yeah, I think that the popcorn and cranberries will be safe. I’m full now anyway." The surgeon teased her as she stuck her head back into the kitchen. "So where’s the stuff?" Garrett wiggled her eyebrows and licked at her lips.

Danni had grown to love this playfulness that the surgeon was exhibiting. It was something that she knew only her eyes were privy to, making her feel especially close to the once aloof woman. "I’ll pop the corn for you in a minute, just let me finish this last pan of cookies so that I have some to take with me tonight."

"Gotcha!" The surgeon retreated back into the Dinning room.

"Hey, Gar! Out on the hall stand, you’ll find the decorations for the tree. Maybe you could put the lights on, while I make the popcorn."

"Sure, okay." Garrett’s mind conjured up images of her family’s Christmas decorating rituals. They had always spent the better part of the afternoon unearthing the hordes of boxes from deep within the recesses of the attic and carrying them down to the area next to the tree. A tree, that took up every inch of space from floor to ceiling.

The surgeon walked out in the hallway and looked at the lone box resting on the hall stand. It couldn’t have been much bigger than a box used for a pair of the petite woman’s boots. Opening the lid, she marveled at the treasures that were held within. ‘I bet she picks out the same kind of tree every year.’ The large hands picked up one of the fragile looking tiny balls. Cautiously Garrett held it between her fingertips. Putting the ball down, her eyes were drawn to the tiniest of lights that she had ever seen. Nothing at all like the large ones that had so boldly and brightly graced her childhood trees.

The corners of her mouth edged higher into a smile as she thought about the habits of this wonderfully compassionate person that she had allowed into her life. Garrett shook her head in amazement. She was beginning to understand the true nature of the woman a little more each day that they were together.

The surgeon carefully carried the opened box into the living room and placed it on the end table next to the tree. Her agile fingers took special care as she unpacked the bound string of lights, checking to see that none of the bulbs had become loose in storage. Once plugged into the nearby electrical outlet, the multicolored flashes of light soon mesmerized her. She was lost in thoughts of enchanting moments where the glittering of lights had played a part of the mystic. Garrett quickly cleared her thoughts then set about to the task of illuminating the barren looking tree.

********

Danni stood there, turning her head from side to side as she thought about where to place the last of the ornamental balls that she held in her hand. It had been so easy to place the other balls, but this one was special. Her gaze settled back onto the crystal blue ball and she thought how much it was like the eyes of her new friend. The nurse hesitantly looked over at Garrett who was storing the last of the packing cushions back into the small box. ‘It’s her! No one else has ever come to my mind when I’ve looked at this ball before.’ She nodded to herself and moved closer to the tree with her eyes searching for the right spot to hang the ball that would forever remind her of the tall surgeon.

Garrett watched as the delicate hands of the nurse tenderly placed that last remaining ball before she whispered. "Is there a reason why you placed that one there? I mean…I noticed that the others went up fairly fast, as if they had a designated place from year to year."

The petite woman could still feel the warm sensation still coursing through her body when she heard the question. ‘Do I tell her that each ball is someone that I hold dear? Better yet, do I tell her that was her ball that I’ve just given the spot next to my heart?’

Danni had always thought of herself as the tree extending her branches in friendship and love to the people that she invited into her menagerie. Each ball on the tree was a representation of some member of her collection, no two balls ever being the same in color, shape, or size. Each year, she had tried to use the ball but somehow it just never fit the person that she had added to her group. It had always made her a little disheartened to know that the beautiful ball would again stay locked away out of sight. Now, the ball that had always intrigued her with its unique hue had finally found its way onto her tree and there it would stay for the rest of her life.

Standing back to eyeball the tree, the young woman took a few strands of silver colored tinsel and carefully placed them on the branches. "Each one is someone that I think of as a friend." Danni smiled and looked up at the tall woman next to her. "I remember them as I place their ball on the tree, that way each year I think about them and how I helped along their way."

"But I don’t see any names on them."

"There here," she pointed to her chest. "Written in my heart for the rest of my life." Her speech was barely a whisper.

Somehow, Garrett knew that a ball had been added to the tree this year with her name etched into Danni’s heart. The surgeon couldn’t help but feel honored that she would be a part of this woman’s Christmas ritual for a long, long time.

The blonde turned to face her friend. "You think I’m silly, don’t you?" Her eyes were sincere and searched for an answer.

"No, not silly at all." Garrett offered her more tinsel. "Just very caring and filled with more love than you know what to do with, that’s all."

Their gazes lingered, neither wanting to be the first to look away. The moment seemed almost magical in nature, with the twinkling lights giving the periphery of their vision an illusion of the season that they were in, while their full focus was on each other.

Garrett could feel a wave of embarrassment coming over her, not understanding at all why she was so mesmerized by this moment. She let her gaze drift off to the colored lights, trying to reason what had just taken place. There was no reason why this woman held her attention, she just did.

"So…ah…what time are you going to leave for your parents’ house?" It was a weak attempt to cover her feelings and the surgeon cursed herself for her feeling of inadequacy. It had been years since she allowed anyone close to her and now, here with Danni, things were just coming about all too fast.

Looking over to the small clock that rested on the mantel, Danni sighed. "I guess I’ll have to be leaving in about an hour or so." The nurse put the last of the tinsel on the tree and stood back to admire the symbol of her life. "I’m pretty sure that will do it for this year. What do you think?"

They both looked at the tree, which had started out barren, to see it filled with decorations and the popcorn/cranberry garland. The twinkling lights seemed to multiply as their shimmering reflections were mirrored off the metallic tinsel. To look at it, one would have never known that it was an ugly tree. It had come to new life, just like all the members of Danni’s menagerie did when placed in her loving care.

"Yeah, I guess that does it." The surgeon’s voice reflected her growing sadness of their lessening time together. She turned to speak to Danni, but she was gone. Garrett looked puzzled at the spot where the young woman had been. ‘She was just here a minute ago. Where’d she…’ The tall woman searched the room with her eyes. Then her gaze stopped and fixed on the young blonde coming down the stairway from the second floor.

Danni looked somewhat pensive as she made her way over to Garrett. She was carrying a bright red foil wrapped box with complimentary green ribbons edging the corners. "Gar, Merry Christmas!" Danni held out the box for her friend to take. "I know that you like to travel light so…I…well, just open and see." She waited patiently for the surgeon to respond.

The long sinewy fingers of the surgeon drew across Danni’s hand as she accepted the present. Garrett let her eyes meet the shimmering pools of green that looked back at her. The word was spoken out of courtesy but with more meaning than the simple syllable indicated, "Thanks."

Danni nodded. "Go on now, open it up. I want to see if you like it."

Garrett set to work undoing the ribbons and stripping the foil from around the box. Her fingers trembled in anticipation as they lifted the lid. ‘I wonder what it is that she could have found to give me?’ The surgeon stared down into the thin veil of tissue paper that separated her from Danni’s gift. Her eyes flicked to the petite woman and then back down to the box. ‘I don’t understand. What would I need a picture frame for? The only picture that I…’ Her fingers pulled back the tissue paper to reveal the gift.

The furrows grew a little more pronounced in Danni’s forehead as she waited to see how her gift was going to be received. It wasn’t normal for her to worry, but this gift was different and she hoped that it was not misconstrued. The nurse let out the breath she hadn’t realized that she was holding, when she heard the gasp from the tall woman.

"I hope that you like it. I got the idea the other week when that man went down on us in the E.R."

The surgeon searched her face, puzzled by the comment. "But how…"

"When you tossed your wallet at Karen, things sort of…fell out."

"But Danni, you gave me everything back intact an hour later. I don’t know how you got this." Garrett’s eyes were glued to the image of her brother, her fingers moving slowly over the scrolling pattern that ran along the wood of the frame. ‘If ever there was a gift that could touch my heart, this has to be it.’ "This is way to clear to be a Xerox of that wallet size photograph."

"Believe it or not, John actually helped me out on this."

"John? How?"

"He had his new digital camera and I kind of borrowed it for a minute or two. I hope you don’t mind." Danni’s eyes searched for any glimmer of approval from her friend.

"Thanks, Danni. Only you would realize what this means to me."

"I thought that perhaps with you having an office you might like to be able to look at it a little more often than you do now. I mean…with it in your wallet and all." The nurse wrinkled her nose. "Besides, I saw how you always look around McMurray’s office when we have to meet with him. I figured that it would be your first photograph for your desk when you’re a Chief of a Department somewhere."

"Danni, I’m only a Fellow now. What’s this talk of being a Chief?" Garrett eyed the blonde wondering if she had some hidden talent for predicting the future.

"Don’t worry, I know that it will happen. It’s you destiny."

The surgeon looked down at her friend. "If you say so." Their eyes met conveying the faith and goodwill that each one wanted for the other. Clearing her throat, Garrett suddenly became somewhat shy as she stammered her way through the next sentence. "Hey…I…uhm…I got you something, too. Why don’t you sit down on the couch and I’ll run up and get it?"

"Okay!" Danni’s voice was soft and reassuring. She could tell that Garrett was not in the habit of giving or receiving gifts.

Placing her gift on the table, Garrett strode over to the stairs where her pent up excitement could hold back no longer. Like a child, the long legs of the surgeon carried her up the steps at breakneck speed. Danni watched her friend disappear from sight, as a smile overtook the nurse’s face. ‘I would have loved knowing her growing up.’ She shook her head at the surgeon’s antics and made herself comfortable on the couch.

Within seconds, the sound of someone bounding down the stairs was evident. Garrett finally reigned in her excitement. Now, she walked from the bottom of the stairs into the living room at a somewhat reluctant pace. In her hands was a large box shining brightly of gold, the wide ribbon of silver contrasting nicely against it. She sat it down on the coffee table in front of the nurse and stood back.

"This is for you. Merry Christmas, Danni." Her eyes twinkled with excitement, anticipating the look on her friend’s face once she opened it.

Danni looked up at the towering figure in front of her. "You know that I’m not going to be able to open that without trying to guess what it is first, don’t you?"

"Guess away, you’ll never get it." The surgeon sounded very confident and once again she compared the gold coloring of the gift-wrap to the heart and hair of the woman. ‘Yep, that was a perfect match. I’m glad that I chose it.’ She watched as the petite hands lifted the box as if trying to judge the weight of it. Garrett had never seen the likes of concentration she was witnessing now. "I can tell you…" The surgeon’s speech was met with quickly upturned eyes of green that cast a silencing effect on her. "Sorry," she whispered.

Lifting the box higher, the nurse bent over and turned an ear toward it, listening for any sounds being emitted freely from inside. Having heard none, she gently shook the package, eliciting any information on size and distribution of material that she could. She could only feel the slight movement of the article hidden from her view. "Hmmm…." Danni looked over to her friend and then sniffed at the box. ‘Damn! This is going to be a tough one.’ "A robe!"

Garrett shook her head in response, too amused to speak.

The nurse was now more daring with her investigation. She flipped it upside down, watching Garrett’s face for any clues. ‘Must not matter whether it is inverted or not.’ Now she shook it again, this time more vigorously. "Hip boots for fishing up at the cabin," she declared triumphantly.

"Nope!" The surgeon chuckled at the thought. ‘I’ll have to remember that one for next year.’ "Good thing it isn’t something that’s still alive. You’d have traumatized it by now."

"Ah ha! So it’s something that’s dead." She reached for the bow and started to undo it. "Hmmm…let me think." The wrapping paper was next as she slid her hand along it to find the tape holding it in place.

"You’re not going to give up are you?"

"Not until it’s totally uncovered." She smiled rakishly and went right back to her slow and deliberate torture of guessing. She pulled off the wrappings and looked at the box. ‘No writing or name of a store.’ Danni lifted the lid slightly being careful not to expose the gift too soon. A familiar aroma was filtering from the box. She closed her eyes to sniff, then sniffed once more before bringing her head up in a satisfied way. "A leather knapsack." Her eyes opened to look at the surgeon.

"Nope!" Garrett laughed as she watched the green eyes shift back and forth trying to re-evaluate the clues. ‘I think that I could enjoy trying to stump her every year.’

"A purse. That’s it, a big ol’ purse." She was so sure of herself now that she opened the box without waiting to hear Garrett’s reply. She ripped back the tissue paper and stopped short when she viewed the article underneath.

The surgeon was pleased. She had surprised the young woman beyond belief. In fact, it had rendered her speechless and that was something to behold in itself.

Finally after a few moments of shock, the petite blonde spoke as her fingers ran over the collar of the jacket. "Gar, I never expected this." She looked up just as a tear slid over her eyelashes and trickled down her check. "I…I don’t know what to say."

"Nothing elaborate, a simple thanks will do." Garrett smiled and felt her heart warm with love for the woman in front of her. ‘I can’t believe I went this long without having a real friend.’

Danni sprang up and stepped around the coffee table until they came face to face. She reached out, allowing her hands to grab onto the broad shoulders and pull her in for a hug. The nurse just couldn’t find the words to convey the feeling that she needed to show. It only took a second or two for the nurse to realize that she had made the tall woman feel awkward.

Garrett stood there hunched over, not knowing what to do. Her arms felt like they should be doing something, not just hanging there. For the first time, she realized just how lacking she was when it came to people skills. It scared her a little to actually make physical contact that she had not initiated.

For the first time in a long while, the surgeon realized she wanted to let someone in this close to her.

Releasing her grip, Danni eased out of the close range of the surgeon. "Sorry, I tend to get a little emotional at Christmas." She looked up to see stunned blue eyes looking back at her.

"That’s okay…" was Garrett’s weak response. "I just wasn’t ready for it."

The nurse nodded and looked back to the present as she tried to put a little distance between them. She lifted it out of the box and held it in front of her to view the entire jacket. "I don’t deserve this, Gar. I almost cost you that project."

"But you didn’t. You came through when the chips were down and I appreciate that." The surgeon pointed to the embroidery on the front of the leather jacket that looked very similar to her own, only much smaller in size.

"That’s what I consider us…a team."

Their eyes both gazed down at the decorative writing on the jacket as Danni read it out loud. "Flight Surgeon Team, D. Bossard R.N."

"I figured we’d need something to help us tell them apart in a hurry." Her tone was light as she joked about the difference in size.

Before she knew what had hit her, the surgeon was wrapped in nurse from head to toe. The young woman clinging desperately with her arms around the tall woman’s waist and resting her check on the taller woman’s chest. It was only minutes after the first hug from her friend but this time Garrett knew what to do and let her body respond as her heart told her to. She slowly wrapped her strong arms around the petite woman, enveloping her like a shield from the world around them. Bending her head down, the surgeon rested her check into the golden tousles of Danni’s hair and gently kissed it without making a sound. Closing their eyes tightly, they both wished for this moment to never end.

Somewhere up in the heavens, in that late afternoon sky, a small star twinkled in delight just like the lights that twinkled brightly on that tree of love known as Danni’s life.

***********

The house seemed quiet now without the small blonde. Danni had left for her parent’s house over an hour ago, but all that Garrett had done since was sit on the couch and watch the lights on the tree. ‘Danni’s tree, it’s so much like her, reaching out and touching the lives of everyone.’

The surgeon looked down on the framed photo that she held in her hands, her eyes sweeping over the images of her and her brother at a memorable time in their lives. ‘We were so close then, almost inseparable, Luc. You were in my every thought of the future. We were going to rule the world, you and I.’

The random patterns of the twinkling lights caused her eyes to drift from the photograph, her gaze now held by the warming glow of the tree and its lights. ‘Now it seems that my thoughts are filled with someone else.’ The surgeon’s lips grew into the lop-sided grin as the image of Danni strolled lazily through her mind. ‘But you already knew that, didn’t you, Luc?’

It was so nice to have a tree at Christmas time, and the surgeon considered how long it had been since she could call one hers. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t seen decorated trees or even hung an ornament on one every year she had, usually as part of the program that she was in or in the Navy when each sailor had to place their own symbol on the ship’s tree. She thought about that and how she had always used some piece of medical bric-a-brac to represent herself. Now that just didn’t seem like her at all. She was finding out that there was so much more to life than just medicine.

The gentle ding of her wristwatch alarm pulled her out of her daydreams. It was 1720. Time for her to get her duffel bag and head on out to the Blazer. She got up from the couch and placed the gift that the nurse had given her into the top of the duffel. It was meant for her desk and there is where she was taking it.

Pulling on her own leather flight jacket, she looked around the house that had come to mean so much to her. It was feeling more like home than any place she had ever been before. Sighing, she grabbed her bag and went out the door. At the bottom of the steps, she turned slightly to look over her shoulder to see the twinkling lights of the tree that now acted like a beacon in the window waiting for their return.

***************

It had taken her less time to arrive at her parents’ house than she had thought. The roads had been kept fairly clear, even after she had gotten out of the city limits. The slowly falling flakes of snow gave the scenery an almost magical appearance as Danni drove the last two miles of the county road. Her mother had always liked the stately driveway leading up to the house but her father simply thought of it as getting closer to the country that he loved while keeping the city folks at bay.

The nurse thought about how different as night and day her parents were. Sometimes she even wondered what it was that had brought them together in the first place. ‘I guess that it had to be love.’ Her mind brought forth images of stolen moments that she had seen between the two. Ones that they thought would not be seen by their children, like the tender embrace of two hearts that were devoted one unto the other.

Danni’s mind drifted to the country with its fresh air and open spaces. Her father always seemed bigger than life when he was at the cabin, but that could have been merely due to the fact that her mother was never around to cast a shadow over his spirit. She loved the memories that she had of the times spent with her father up there. The only thing that was better was the addition of her grandpa to the mix. I guess that was why she and her mother never seemed to agree on summer activities. Her mother wanted Danni to cultivate her social standing, while all that Danni wanted to cultivate was a good day of fishing and the warm laughter that she and her grandpa would share.

The glowing orange of the dashboard readouts made the young woman think of the bobber that she always used when fishing, just so that she could daydream. She hadn’t used that the last time she was at the cabin fishing. She didn’t have to. Her mind had been totally engrossed in the activity, not to mention the friend who was with her. Thoughts of the tall, dark-haired surgeon casting out into the creek that fed into the lake now took over her mind’s eye. The graceful movements had captivated her, holding her attention on the fishing as she tried to impress the woman with her. The bond that they had built from that weekend was now stronger than any she had ever had before. Giving her friendship to this woman was something that she found to be as natural as breathing itself.

Closing her eyes, she concentrated on the smell of the leather from the jacket she wore. It was funny how some smells just triggered your senses to conjure up the image of someone. This smell was definitely Garrett to her. Danni brushed her cheek against the soft leather of the collar and instantaneously could picture herself earlier today in the surgeon’s powerful arms. Her mind focused momentarily on that image until it started to fade from her sight, the last wavering glimpses fleeting like a mirage with her sigh.

It was at that moment that the seasonal music on the car radio was interrupted by the mellow voice of the announcer. "For all of you holiday travelers and last minute shoppers, let me just remind you that it is now five twenty and time to be making your way home."

The rest of the message was lost from that point on. All that the blonde could think about was the home that she left with its twinkling tree in the window and the tall figure that had waved to her from the door. Danni looked up over the steering wheel at the large house with the huge wreath hung on the door. It’s bright red ribbon proclaiming the excitement of the season. ‘This used to be home to me, but not any more.’

She turned off the engine and removed the key. ‘Okay, Danni, you can do this. You’re here to see everyone else, not just her.’ Taking a deep breath, the nurse opened the car door and started gathering the brightly colored packages into her arms. ‘It’s only sixteen hours, not sixteen years,’ she chastised herself as she walked to the door. ‘Just keep thinking of what’s waiting for you when you get back home.’

As she stepped onto the landing, the door opened and there, waiting to greet her, was the warm smile of her father with his arms out stretched to welcome her.

"Merry Christmas, Danni!" His arms wrapped around her as his cheek brushed pasted hers, planting a kiss as he hugged her tightly. "I’ve missed you lil’one," he whispered in her ear. He gently rocked her as he savored the moment with his daughter in his arms.

"Dad, I’m the oldest of your children. You can’t keep calling me lil’one." The nurse looked up with big green eyes to her father.

The man’s face, etched with years of worry about his children, became drawn and serious. "You’ll always be my lil’one, Danni. Brie is still two inches taller than you and Matt. Well, he was taller than a wild weed when he was born. Face it daughter, the title is all yours." He winked and kissed her again, this time on her forehead.

The embrace faded as he started to take some of the packages out of her arms. "Here, let me help with those." He looked over her shoulder, half expecting someone else to be behind her.

Danni noticed that her father was searching for something and turned to look, thinking that one of her siblings had also just arrived. Seeing no one, she turned back to her father with a puzzled look on her face. "Who are you looking for, Dad?"

"Your mother seemed to think that you might have someone with you this year." His eyes were hopeful. Sensing his mistake, he quickly countered his thought. "Hey, I see you got a new car. Malibu, is it?"

His daughter nodded. "Yeah, I got a good deal when Garrett needed to buy a car. I traded in mine and we each got what we wanted."

"So you finally got one big enough for more than just yourself, a sensible around town car."

"Yep, and Gar got the full-size Blazer, four wheel drive, of course." She laughed. "Now, we’re set for any style of transportation or road condition."

"Henry, what are you doing with the door wide open? You’re letting all of the…" the voice trailed off as Danni’s mother stepped into view. "Oh, Danni! I’m glad that you could make it home for this holiday."

Her mother’s words brought an end to her excitement of being home. Some things never changed as much as you wanted them too. "Hello, Mother. Merry Christmas to you and Daddy both." She hated the fake kiss that her mother was planting on her. "I guess I’m a little early." Danni had always dragged her feet when coming to the family functions. She didn’t hate everyone. It was just that she had never really felt all that much a part of their world.

"Nonsense! It will help make up for the time you missed with us at Thanksgiving." Her mother looked out to the driveway.

"If you’re looking for Garrett, Mother, I told you surgeons have responsibilities to the hospital. Besides, with all the coverage that Nathan and Rene have done for us. They deserved some time off with their families." She watched as the woman, whose looks she remotely mirrored, turned a sour face.

"I thought that perhaps being such a great surgeon that the hospital could pull some strings…"

"Mother, the only strings that Gar will be pulling are the tails on the suturing material after a round of stitching up a patient tonight."

"Well, let’s go in and wait for the rest of the family to come by." She turned and walked away leaving Danni and her father to follow.

The young nurse rolled her eyes and looked to her father.

"You know your mother. She thinks that the world should move for her wishes." He shrugged his shoulders as he shook his head. "Come on, let’s get these under the tree before your brother and sister get here."

With her father in the lead, Danni followed into the Great Room of the house, its cathedral ceiling made it feel open and airy. As usual, the towering Douglas Fir was situated in the corner. The petite nurse stood at the base of it deciding that it was at least three times her height if not more to the large gold star that adorned its upper most branch. She let her eyes follow lazily down the tree looping right along with the intricately ornate metallic garland that made its way around the branches. There didn’t seem to be an empty spot for a single ornament to be hung if indeed one was needed. In fact, she didn’t even remember really seeing any pine needles at all.

‘She’ll never learn to concentrate on the heart of Christmas, just its garish over-manipulative commercialism.’ Danni looked at the presents piled under the tree and tried gingerly to fit hers in where best she could. Taking the last one from her father, she turned to see the front door open and heard the pattering of small feet as they ran across the polished wooden flooring.

"Auntie Dan! Auntie Dan!" The small tyke of two and a half years screeched as he leaped up into her open arms.

"Hey," the nurse giggled. "Merry Christmas, my little dumpling."

"Berry Chrissmust to you, too." The boy held on as Danni danced him around. "Hi, Grampa!" He waved to her father as they danced by.

"Hello, Gunther." The smiling man waved and teased as he grabbed the young child’s hand. "You got a kiss for your Grampa?"

Danni held the wide-eyed little boy as he stretched to give her father a kiss on the cheek. "Wuv you." Then he put his head down onto his aunt’s shoulder and hid shyly.

The nurse rocked him in her arms and nuzzled her face in his hair. "You’re not afraid of Grampa, are you, Gunny?"

"Danni, I wish you would call him by his name and not that." Brie whisked into the room, her coat bulging as it showed her advancing stage of pregnancy. "Now tell Aunt Danni what your name is."

The little tyke pouted as he looked up into his aunt’s face. "Gunter, Auntie Dan. Mommy says my name Gunter."

"And a nice name at that." Danni could obviously see that the child didn’t like it. "You know that my name is really Danielle, but everybody calls me Danni. That’s why I’m always going to call you Gunny. Okay?"

The little boy eagerly nodded his head and began giggling. "I wuv you." He leaned into her and kissed her cheek.

Danni smiled as she touched her forehead to his. "Merry Christmas, Brie…Mark." She looked out of the corner of her eye to see the couple standing together.

"Auntie Dan, how’s come you smell?"

"Gunther! You know better than that." Brie’s voice was sharp.

Danni laughed at her nephew’s directness. "It’s okay, Sis. I think what he is referring to is my present from Garrett." She tugged at her leather collar. "Is this what you smell?"

The child took a whiff and wrinkled up his nose. "Yeah!"

"So Garrett got you a leather jacket for Christmas." Brie moved closer to see it. "What’s that writing on it?"

Danni looked down at it, her smile stretching from ear to ear. She looked up with all the pride that she could muster. "It’s embroidered: ‘Flight Surgeon Team, D. Bossard R.N.’ Garrett and I are a team."

Brie looked strangely at her sister. "Danni, you don’t fly. You never could." She looked over to her dad. "You remember don’t you? That time you tried to fly us all down to Disney World and we ended up having to drive down instead."

Mrs. Bossard had entered the room as her younger daughter was speaking. Without any hesitation she joined in the conversation. "I was never so embarrassed in my life. As soon as we started to taxi away from the loading ramp she went into a trance. The stewardess stopped the pilot from going any further and made the whole family get off the plane. She said that it wasn’t safe for her to go up in the air."

"Well, I did perfectly fine after Garrett helped me through my first time."

"I bet!" Brie rolled her eyes and muttered under her breath, thinking that Danni was na´ve.

"Nobody else would have been so loving and kind when I kind of zoned out on the test flight. They would have all walked away from me but not Gar." Danni shook her head. "Not even when I got grounded. Garrett just told Dr. McCormick that we were a team and if they grounded one of us, they grounded both of us."

"So he lifted your ground restriction?" Mark was showing an interest in the story. "I mean, you fly now, don’t you?"

The blonde wrinkled her nose and kind of squinted at her brother-in-law. "Well…not really. I kind of ungrounded us."

"Danni!" Her mother was appalled. "You disobeyed your superior?"

"Actually, Mother, I disobeyed our superior and Gar both. You have to understand the circumstances though. They needed our helicopter and a surgeon for a rescue but Garrett didn’t want to make me get back on the helicopter again. I…I kind of jumped right in and told that surgeon that I wasn’t going to be the excuse for us not to help that patient. Well, the only thing that I can say is that when a patient’s involved, I have no problem flying." She thought about her last statement. "As a matter of fact, I can say that I have no problem doing anything when someone is in need."

Gunny tugged at the blonde’s hair then leaned in to whisper in her ear. "I need a cookie, Auntie Dan." He leaned back and let those huge brown eyes of his look into hers as his lips rolled into a pout.

"Okay, Gunny. Enough talk of flying now. I’ve got to get something out of my car along with my overnight bag." She began to walk out towards the front door, the child still in her arms. "I made some special cut-out cookies just for you."

"You’re going to spoil his dinner Danni." Brie nudged her husband. "Mark, take Gunther from her. He weighs a ton."

The petite blonde shifted her precious cargo to the other arm opposite Brie and Mark. "He’s not heavy. Don’t even think I’m giving him up while I’m home. Right, Dumpling?" Danni kissed his cheek. "Now, let’s go get those cookies." Her face was full of joy and laughter as she went out the door, her nephew held tightly in her arms.

****************

The ruckus of all the arrivals had finally died down when Mrs. Bossard quietly announced that the holiday meal was ready, requesting everyone to take their seats. As everyone assembled at the table, Brie went from person to person filling the wineglass in front of them with their choice of the local favorites. With the many wineries to the north of them along the shore of Lake Erie, they did not have to go far to find excellent wine. Danni had always, without fail, chosen the special holiday wine known as Kir from the Penn Shore Winery. As Brie readied to pour from the bottle into her sister’s glass, a hand was quickly placed over top of it.

"It’s Kir, Danni, your favorite."

"I think I’d better join you and Gunny this year by having some juice instead. I’m not sure that wine would be a good thing for me right now." ‘With the little bit of sleep that I had after yesterday, I’m going to be lucky to make it to the candlelight service tonight,’ she thought.

Brie looked at her sister for a moment then shrugged her shoulders. "Okay. Mark can you give Danni some of the juice that we poured for Gunther and me?"

"Sure, no problem, hon." Mark was quick to make his way over to Danni’s empty glass, making hers the last one to be filled.

With the bottles resting back in their coolers and everyone seated at their place, Mrs. Bossard began her orchestration ritual of the holiday dinner. Her stately mannerism of nodding politely at the appointed person came from being diligent of the duty that never changed over the years. The first official nod went as always to Danni for the prayer.

Danni smiled in acceptance of the duty and looked to her nephew next to her as she whispered, "Are you ready?"

His little head was eagerly nodding in agreement.

Danni cleared her throat and then looked around the table at the gathered family that was present. "I’m going to break with tradition a little bit this year," she explained. "I’ve asked the oldest grandchild to join me, the oldest child, to give thanks." Her eyes roamed the table looking for any sign of disapproval. Seeing none, she looked over to her nephew. "Gunny, would you please start for us?"

With all of the seriousness that a two and a half year old can have, the boy debated which hand to use, then finally deciding on his right, making the sign of the cross on his body as he spoke. "In the name of the Father," he touched his head, "The Son," his hand moved to his belly, "And the Holy Spirit," he hesitated then touched his left shoulder and moved his hand to the right shoulder. His head turned to look at his Aunt who would fill in the middle part.

"Father in heaven, look down on us gathered here in the name of your Son, whose coming birth we are celebrating tonight. May the goodness of your love and mercy live on in us now, and throughout the year to come with the new life that you have graced our family with. Thank you for the good times that we have shared with family and friends during the past year and we ask that you look down with kindness on those that could not be present with us here tonight. Let them feel the love that is held within our hearts wherever they may be." Danni tapped her nephew on his leg and nodded slightly to cue him for his next part.

Sitting up as straight as he could, the tyke began the sign of the cross again as he repeated his words once more. The immediate response for those gathered around the table was a very content "Amen."

Danni smiled down at her nephew with pride at his performance. It was something that she had practiced with him while they had waited for her brother Matt to arrive.

"You have a way with children, Sis. I’ve tried teaching him that and he couldn’t seem to get it right without confusing the order." Brie looked at her sister, amazed at what she had done in such a small amount of time. "I can just see what your kids are going to be like when you start having them."

The blonde woman cast her eyes to the table as she felt the blush starting up her neck and fought to keep it at bay. "I guess we’ll just have to wait and see, Brie."

The congratulations came to a halt as the sound of someone clearing their throat was heard, bringing everyone back to the ritual of the holiday.

"Now, if we can continue, please." Mrs. Bossard closed her eyes trying to regain her air of dignity. She opened them when the room was once again quiet, letting them meet her son’s. "Matthew, a toast please."

Danni’s brother rose, holding a wineglass in his hand. Nodding in acceptance to his mother, he then turned slightly to offer the same courtesy to his father at the opposite end of the table. He brought the glass up in toast fashion and slowly began. "Well, since my nephew is too young to imbibe, I guess I’ll have to wait for his help in this duty."

There was a chuckle that escaped from just about everyone at the table in response to the comment. The only one not to laugh being Mrs. Bossard.

"Okay, here goes." Matthew announced causing the family to listen. "May the season of Christmas, with all of its love stay with us always." He thrust his glass into the air. "Merry Christmas, everyone."

The rest of the table followed suit, each turning to the people beside them and wishing the greetings of the season. The clinking of the glasses in toast rang merrily in their ears as they sipped from the swirling liquid in their glasses.

*************

With dinner over and the table cleared, everyone sat around the living room content from the huge meal. The only persons missing were the wives of the clan, who were busy in the kitchen with the leftover food.

Danni found herself sitting by her brother and soon became engrossed in small talk with him. Their conversation coursed through the many years that they had grown up together. Each one remembering just a little different than the other the events that had taken place each Christmas morning. They each laughed as they thought about the past and how they had planned their life for the future so many years ago. Danni noticed that her brother was growing silent in thought after she had teased him about his wish to be married and have ten kids by the time he was thirty.

"What’s the matter, Matt?" Danni had stopped laughing. "You didn’t really believe that, did you?"

Her brother became somber. "At one time I did. I guess we never really know what the future will hold for us, do we?" He shrugged. "I’ve spent so much of my time becoming a lawyer that I’ve forgotten about that dream until now."

"It can still happen. I mean not by the time that you’re thirty, but you can still find someone and settle down. Heck, I expected you to come waltzing in today with a girl on your arm, ready to show her off to the family." Danni watched as her brother bit at his lip.

"I’ve been seeing someone that I think I’d like to really get to know." Matt looked to his sister. "But I’m not sure that Mother would approve of her. She’s not exactly what Mother thinks of as wife material."

Danni leaned back to get a better look at her brother. The astute lawyer now reminded her more of the clumsy, young boy she had cared for every summer at the cabin. "What gives? Is she some alien or does she just have seventeen kids?" The blonde teased him.

"No, nothing like that. It’s just that…she…well…she wants to make her own way in the world and not rely on anyone else for support."

The petite woman looked out to the kitchen as she thought about how her mother would handle such a prospect for her son. "Matt, you can’t let Mother rule you heart. You know what it is that makes you happy and if there is even the remote chance that she is the one, you have to go for it."

The siblings’ eyes met and the unspoken words told each one how the other felt. The closeness of their relationship had held strong over the years even with the distance that their careers had placed between them. The silence was broken as Danni took the lead. "Let’s make a promise to each other right here. Next year we each bring the one person in our lives that makes us happiest, whether we think Mother will like them or not."

"I guess that it couldn’t hurt if we both did it. You got a deal, Danni." He reached over and circled his smaller sister in his arms. Suddenly this Christmas was looking up on his part and all because of her. "I love you, Sis. I’m sure you know that Garrett does, too."

The sound of the soft whisper made Danni’s heart beat faster with the thoughts that they provoked. As they released the embrace the insistent tugging on her sleeve captured her mind and she looked to her side to see her nephew.

"Auntie Dan, I think that its time for my belly to sleep."

Brother and sister both giggled at the comment as Danni turned her attention to Gunny. "You want me to take you upstairs for a nap?" She held her arms out to the tyke, who nodded dutifully and climbed into them. "Matt, let Brie know that I put him down for his nap."

She rose from the couch with him in her arms. "I’d tell Mark, but he and dad look like they’re in a good discussion."

"I’ll let them know, Danni."

"Okay, Dumpling, it’s off to nap time for you. I might even be tempted to join you if you ask me nicely." ‘That might not be a bad idea with how tired I’m starting to feel. I’ll never understand how Gar can be up over twenty-four hours and still function as a surgeon.’

"Pleaz, Auntie Dan, pleaz."

"All right, but only for a little while." The nurse carried her nephew up the stairs, her soft voice lulling him into his dreams by the time they reached the top.

************

The family had returned from the candlelight services to the warmth of the roaring fireplace. The rest of the evening was a continuation of storytelling and the singing of seasonal carols. Their parched throats were easily taken care of with glasses of eggnog that had been passed around. One by one, the family members excused themselves and retired to bed.

Soon the only ones left were Danni and her father. They sat silently watching the embers of the fire slowly die out, each one deep within their own thoughts. Danni looked down at her watch. It was nearly midnight and soon, she too would retire to her old room upstairs. ‘Only twelve more hours and I’ll be back home.’ The woman noticed that her father was now studying her. He had been for some time, she just hadn’t noticed it.

Danni sighed, then spoke softly. "Dad, how did you know that Mother was the one for you?"

Her father smiled. "I was wondering how long we were going to sit here before you finally got around to talking about what was on your mind."

The blonde nodded her head and smiled. "You were always the one that could read my moods. So tell me, how did you know?"

"There’s no real explanation for it. Love just happens, lil’one. One day someone walks into your life and your world just changes. Things that were important no longer matter and all that you can think about is that one person out of all the ones that you know."

"But what if it’s someone that you never expected to love. Someone that you don’t even really know everything about."

"Danni, you never know everything about a person. Why, everyday I find something new out about your mother. That’s what makes it last. There is always another facet to look at and learn."

"Will I know enough to be sure when it happens?"

"That’s assuming that your heart doesn’t already know. Love is a funny thing. It doesn’t always come knocking at our door and announcing itself. Sometimes it comes from places that we least expect it to." He looked his daughter squarely in the eye. "Listen to your heart. That’s how you’ll know."

Danni thought about that for a moment. ‘I can’t believe that my father is such a romantic. I would have never guessed it when I was growing up. I guess we see them in a different light the older we get.’ The young woman opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted by the ringing of the telephone.

"I think that you should get that, Danni. I’m afraid that anyone who would be calling me this late at night, is already here." He motioned to the phone in the hallway. "I’m betting that it’s for you. I’m going to head up to bed now, anyway."

The nurse walked briskly to the phone as it rang the fourth time. "Hello, Bossard Residence."

Mr. Bossard passed by his daughter as she greeted the incoming phone call. "Night, lil’ one. Tell Garrett that I said, ‘Merry Christmas,’ too."

"Danni, is that you?" The voice on the other end had a familiar sound to it.

The blonde nodded to her father and answered. "Yeah, Gar, its me." Her voice turned soft. "Night Daddy." Danni waved her hand to the man starting to ascend the stairs. "Hey, my Dad says, ‘Merry Christmas’."

"Wish him the same from me. Maybe one year I’ll get to do it myself."

Danni called to her father at the landing of the stairs in a hushed voice. "Gar, wishes you a ‘Merry Christmas’, too." She watched the man smile and nod his head approvingly. Then she turned her attention back to the phone. "So what’s your night been like so far? Did you get to the O.R. yet?

"Yeah, Nathan was kind enough to leave me with a hot appendix in a twenty year old. It felt good to be back in there. Other than that, it’s been pretty quiet. How was your drive today?"

"Nice! I actually got here earlier than I expected. Dad and I were just sitting and watching the fire die out from earlier tonight. It was nice being able to just sit and talk to him again."

"That’s good. Sounds like you are enjoying the visit then."

"Yeah, I guess I am. My nephew is a howl and he’s been keeping me pretty busy. Oh, Gar…he said to tell you ‘thanks’ for decorating his cookies."

"Why would he say that?"

"Well, I told him that you helped me. I guess he’s heard about your cooking ability already." She could hear the surgeon laughing on the other end. "Somehow, he just assumed that you did the sugar decorating." Danni chuckled. "He’s so cute. I wish you were here to see him."

"Me, too. He sounds like a lot of fun to be around."

"Gar, was there any reason in particular that you called me tonight?"


"I…I just wanted…I needed…." The conversation was now interrupted by the sound of the Trauma Pager beeping in the background. "I…I just called to say ‘Merry Christmas’, Danni, to you and your whole family. Well, I got to go. Trauma calls, you know."

"I wish I was there with you…for the trauma. I hope you have a Merry Christmas, Gar. I’ll see you at noon. Bye."

"I’ll be here, come find me when you get in. I’ve really got to go, Dan. We got a Santa coming in that fell off a roof. Bye."

The static on the phone become evident as the line went dead. Danni held the receiver in her hands, not wanting to set it back down on its cradle. In her mind, it was a connection to the tall surgeon, and she didn’t want to let it go. ‘I can’t believe she called me here, at my parents. How did she even get this number?’ A few minutes passed before Danni let the receiver down gently in the cradle.

She looked back over her shoulder to the fireplace to check on the embers. They were out and the living room was dark except for the small light that had always stayed on. The blonde started up the stairs to her room. Her mind mulled over the things that she and her father had talked about earlier. ‘I guess it’s true. The older you get, the wiser your parents become. Well, Dad did at least.’

Entering her old room at the top right of the staircase, she got ready for bed. Danni remembered how alone she had always felt growing up in her family’s home, especially late at night when she would lay in bed trying to go to sleep. That feeling was creeping up on her even now. Finally she got up from the bed, seeking solace. The nurse fingered her leather jacket. ‘If anybody sees me, they’ll think I’m crazy.’ She picked up the garment and put it on. ‘There, now maybe I’ll be able to sleep.’ Climbing back into bed, she nestled down and wrapped her arms around herself. The scent of the leather invaded her thoughts as her mind replayed the emotions and physical senses from earlier in the day when the strength of the surgeon had wrapped around her to protect her. Set adrift with the memory of blue eyes, she fell fast asleep.

*********

Garrett stood waiting for the trauma patient to arrive. The adrenaline rush had started when she was on the phone with Danni. Now, for some odd reason, it was no longer there. The surgeon looked around at the gathered staff members who would be her assembled team for the night. They were all good people but something was missing. Something that she just could not put her finger on, at least not yet.

‘Danni!’ Crystal blue eyes flashed at the realization. Danni was the missing piece of the puzzle. It seemed odd not to have her in close proximity. They had become such a huge part of each other’s world over the last month that now the emptiness was quite evident. Garrett felt at a loss without her blonde-haired nurse at her side. She looked up at the large clock on the wall of Trauma Room One. It was 0020. ‘Only eleven more hours to go without her.’

The Trauma Fellow was caught off guard as the Paramedics wheeled in the man in the red suit and white beard. Rosie nudged the tall woman standing next to her, eyeing her through the clear plastic of the shielded mask that she was wearing. "Hey, Doc! You want to come back down to earth or are you still stuck up in the air?"

The teasing from Rosie broke the trance that the young blonde had held over the surgeon. Danni’s image faded as the professional in her once again took over. "Alright people, on my count." Garrett looked around to the faces of the group, letting her eyes stop at the Trauma Nurse One position. The blonde hair was there but attached to the likes of John. ‘What I wouldn’t give for that to be Danni.’ Sighing, she continued. "One, two, three."

The team transferred the patient and briskly set about their duties. When all of a sudden there rang such a clatter that everyone stopped to see what was the matter. There on the table the bearded man in the red suit waved his arms and one good leg that still had on his boot.

"Get away from me. Don’t cut the suit, it’s not mine. Hey, I’m gonna make you be the one to pay for it if anything happens to it." He pointed directly at the tall Trauma Fellow.

"Sir, have you been drinking tonight?" Garrett rested her hands on his shoulders as she kept him down on the table.

"Well, of course I have. How else do you think I’d get enough courage to get up on the damn roofs?" He sighed heavily and then let his body relax. "How was I supposed to know that they’d have ice up there." He looked directly at John. "Doesn’t heat rise? You’d think that roofs would be cleared of all that stuff with the heat and all."

The male nurse just shook his head. "Buddy, not everyone keeps it as hot and steamy in the bedroom as I do."

The surgeon just rolled her eyes with that comment. ‘Danni, where are you when I need you? Nothing like having a little compassion, John.’ "Okay, everybody just stop right where you are." She looked around the room. "Santa, do you hurt anywhere?"

"Just that darn ankle." He pointed to his bootless limb. "I think that I twisted it when I came down on the garbage can."

"All right, let me give you a quick exam here and some X-rays to make sure that you’re not hurt. I promise that I won’t cut the suit unless I absolutely have to. Okay?" Garrett looked down on the man with sincerity showing in her eyes.

The bearded man looked at her for a long moment before he conceded. "Okay, but I’m still not paying for it if you do."

The surgeon nodded. "Somehow I knew you were going to say that."

‘I can see that it’s going to be a long night without you, Danni.’ Garrett’s eyes glanced up to the clock on the wall opposite her. She brought her attention back to the Santa suited man, examining him as Rosie and John both undertook the effort to disrobe him. It was going to be a long night for all of them.

************

The gentle knock on the door was met with no answer. Brie stood patiently in the hall as the rest of the adults slowly emerged from their sleeping chambers, drawn by the sound of a gleeful child on Christmas morning. She rapped a little harder this time as she tried to arouse her sleeping sister. Again, she was met with no answer. Knowing that Danni was alone, Brie dared to be bold, opening her door and looking in.

The dim light from the hallway illuminated the room barely enough for her to see the tousled hair blonde snuggled deep in her childhood bed. Venturing into the room, Brie made her way over to the bed. "Danni, are you going to wake up?" Her question was met by the rustling of covers and the emergence of a leather clad arm out from under them. ‘How cute! I bet she missed a certain surgeon. I wonder how she’s going to explain wearing that coat all night?’

Brie’s thoughts turned to how her older sister had needed to have Gunther with her nearly the entire time. She had even taken a nap with him after dinner. ‘And speaking of dinner, what’s with her refusing her favorite wine? Then Danni’s words echoed in her sister’s head. "I’m not sure that wine would be a good thing for me right now." That prayer of hers, such a soft touch, even remembering to mention the littlest of the family in it. The woman found herself rubbing he belly reflexively at the thought of her unborn child. Suddenly Brie’s eyes grew bigger when she thought of her exact wording of the prayer. "…And throughout the year to come with the new life that you have graced our family with." Brie’s eyes fell on her sleeping sister. "Danni, are you trying to tell us…" but she couldn’t complete the thought. Brie turned to leave when the husky sound of her sister’s voice stopped her.

"Gar?"

"No, Danni, it’s me, Brie. You’re at home, remember?"

"Huh?" One very tired eyeball rolled lazily as it began to awaken. Danni began to recognize her old room. She pushed her upper torso off of the pillow. "How’d I get…" She looked over at her sister standing in the doorway as the sound of an excited toddler echoed throughout the house. "I remember now. Merry Christmas, Brie."

"Merry Christmas! You going to come down for the present opening or are you going to lay around missing that surgeon of yours?"

"Missing Garrett…why would you think that I was missing…" She looked down to the jacket that was wrapped around her small form. She could feel the blush start as it rose up her neck and began to take hold of her face. Danni rubbed her arms across her chest, acting like she was cold. "I…I was…" The small blonde searched for a reason. "Cold! I was just cold that’s all." It was all that she could do to keep the blush from overtaking her face.

"Whatever you say, Sis. I’ll let mother know that you’re up, that way you won’t have to get embarrassed twice about sleeping in that gift." Her sister chuckled and started to close the door. "I’ll see you downstairs, Danni. Your nephew will be waiting for you."

Danni let the door close before she glanced over at the clock. It was 0600. ‘Only six more hours to go. With any luck, I’ll be out of here in about four or so.’ She rose from the bed and headed for the door. Then with her hand on the doorknob, she looked into the mirror of the nearby dresser. ‘Guess I better wear my robe instead, huh?’ Reluctantly she exchanged the jacket for her robe, continuing out the door and down the stairs.

The morning had been one that the family had relived many times before. The only difference now was that the children were grown up, taking the places of their aunts and uncles. Rightfully so, their parents were now taking on the roll of grandparents with the offspring that Brie and Mark were adding to the family. The roles of everyone may have changed with time but the ritual was still the same, presents from Santa followed by presents from relatives and last of all, presents that Mother had picked out for everyone.

***********

The hours had flown by when Mother had announced that the buffet breakfast was ready. This had always signified that gift exchanging was done. Dutifully the family would put their gifts down and move with a zombie-like walk to fulfill the matriarch’s command. This year was going to be different. Danni had stayed playing on the floor with her nephew when her Mother had approached her.

"Didn’t you hear me, Danni? I said breakfast was ready." She stood over her, waiting for an answer. "You don’t want to set a bad example for Gunther, do you?"

For a brief second, the young woman felt like a child again, being chastised for not setting a good example. Then it dawned on her. ‘I’m not a child anymore. I’m an adult and I can do what I please.’ "Mother, I’m not really hungry right now. I think that I had a little too much eggnog last night. I don’t really feel like eating."

"In all my years as your mother, Danielle, I’ve never known you to pass up breakfast."

Brie came back into the room with a plate for her son. "Something wrong, Danni? I don’t ever remember you not being first in line for breakfast."

"Nothing, Brie. I’m just a little queasy this morning and with having to ride for an hour to get to work, I’d rather not eat, that’s all."

Her mother looked at her daughter still sitting on the floor. "Are you sure? Maybe you should call your work and tell them that you’re not coming in."

"I’m fine, really." Danni got up holding her hand out for her nephew to follow her. "Come on, Gunny, your mommy’s got breakfast here for you."

She led him over to her sister, helping him up onto the couch. "You be good for mommy, now. I’m going to go get my shower and get ready to go to work."

The small boy looked up to his aunt. "I glad you here Auntie Dan."

Danni smiled, brushed his hair off of his forehead, then planted a kiss in the vacated spot. "I love you, Dumpling."

"I wuv you, too."

Danni waved to him and headed for the stairs. His eyes grew big as he watched his aunt go.

It was only a short time before Danni had showered and gathered up her clothing. There was little to pack in the overnight bag as she made one last look around the room that she grew up in. She compared it to her house in the city and for the first time realized that here in her mother’s house she was never allowed to really be herself. Her mother decorated the room for her and she supposed in that same vein, it was an attempt to have Danni live her life like her mother wanted. Now she longed to be home, in her own house, even more. She gathered her bag and jacket then left the room, never looking back.

With her belongings at the door, Danni made her rounds of ‘good-byes’ through the rooms, stopping to hug and kiss each family member that she came upon. Her last stop was the kitchen where Brie and her mother were clearing away the food from the table. Watching from the door, she could see the similarities that her sister and mother shared. ‘Thank the gods that it’s you, Brie. I don’t think I could ever be like her.’

Brie was the first to notice her sister. "Danni, are you leaving already?"

"Yeah!" The nurse went over to her sister to say good-bye. "I’ve got to be at work by noon. I don’t want to have to rush with the weather out there." She leaned in to hug her sister.

"It was nice seeing you. Next time maybe we’ll get to meet Garrett, huh?"

"Sooner or later, I’m sure you will." Danni turned to her mother. "Mother, thanks for inviting me." She waited for the official hug and kiss that was always initiated by her mother.

Brie waited until the greeting was finished before she addressed her sister. "There’s a piece of your Stollen left, would you like me to wrap it up for you?" She held up the small section that was left. "I’m sure that Garrett might enjoy a little sugar burst when you get in."

Danni could feel the warm hands of her father resting on her shoulders. He bent slightly and spoke softly into her ear. "Or maybe Garrett won’t need anything at all to get a boost once you show your face. Huh, lil’ one?"

‘Is it that noticeable?’ The young woman could feel the growing heat of the blush that was starting at the base of her neck. She fought hard to arrest it in its early stages but it was no use. Slowly her skin was turning from pink to deeper shades of red. "I…I think I forgot something upstairs. I’ll be back for it in a minute, Brie." She put her head down trying to keep the ever-growing blush from their sight. Danni left without another word, too afraid of what might be said.

Mr. Bossard just shrugged to his wife. "I guess she’s not used to being in love. In fact, I’m not sure she even knows that she’s in love yet, come to think of it." His mind reviewed the discussions that they had the night before and he was sure that was her situation.

Danni had made her way to the front door. She stood cursing her body that betrayed her at the mention of Garrett’s name. She wondered if anyone else had noticed it or was her father just so intuned with her that only he could tell? Danni pulled on her jacket and pushed her hands down deep into the pockets, as her lip rolled over into a pout. The young woman stood there, unsure of her next move when the tug at her pants caused her to look down. There, was Gunny with a look of genuine concern on his adorable face.

"Auntie Dan, why you sad?"

Her heart melted in his stare. She didn’t want to lie to him but she couldn’t tell him the truth. Hell, she didn’t even know what the truth of the matter was. She knelt down next to the boy and gave him a big hug. "Dumpling, I’m just sad that I have to leave you and I won’t see you for a while. That’s all." Danni tried to muster a smile. It was a weak one at that.

His little mouth puckered up as his hands guided her face towards his. The moment held a special quality to it and Brie recognized it as soon as she came through the Living Room. The pregnant woman slowed her steps to a crawl as she absent-mindedly rubbed her protruding abdomen. Brie actually felt a twinge of jealousy toward her sister. Gunther was so cute and loving when she was near.

After another hug, Danni stood and waved to the tyke, then picked up her bag and headed for the door.

"Danni!" Brie moved quicker now. "I’ve got your Stollen for Garrett." She held up a hand with the bag in it. "Come on, Gunther, its time for you to get dressed. We have a schedule to keep." She grabbed his hand in exchange for the bag and started to tug him away from her sister. "Your Aunt Danni is too busy to spend the rest of Christmas with us."

"Brie, hospitals don’t close on holidays. We all deserve a chance to be with our families for part of the day. I’ll be taking someone’s place so that they can be with their family for a while."

"Whatever you say, Danni." Brie rolled her eyes in disgust.

Danni took the bag and gave her sister a weak hug. "Thanks, Brie, for everything."

"I’m pregnant, I won’t break." She reached out and hugged her sister tightly. I’m the matriarch in training here. God knows you could never be strong enough to keep this family running like a well-timed watch.’

The petite blonde felt like a young child that was being shown who was in charge. Closing her eyes, Danni waited for the "kiss" from her younger sister. ‘Yep, there it is, just like Mother’s.’ She let out a sigh as she felt her body being released.

Danni’s father waited patiently until his younger daughter had gone up the staircase with his grandson in tow before he let his presence be known.

The clearing of his throat caught his older daughter’s attention.

"Oh, Dad…I didn’t see you standing there." She crossed into the doorway of the Living Room and circled her arms around the man’s waist. "I’m headed back to Pittsburgh. Thanks for the time we shared last night." The nurse reached up and kissed him.

"I asked Brie to pack a little something for you, on the drive back." He looked down at her. "I noticed that you didn’t start the breakfast line earlier. Too much eggnog last night, lil’one?"

"Maybe! Thanks." Danni was pensive for a moment, then spoke what was on her mind. "You know, Dad, I really miss grampa but I’m glad you’re able fill his shoes."

Her father tipped his head in appreciation of the compliment. He knew that his oldest daughter had spent many a long summer day talking to his own father during her childhood. The man had given her all of his time while his son was busy building a business. They had been almost inseparable when she was not in school. Now, it made her own father happy to be there for her in his father’s absence. "If you ever need to talk, I’m here."

Danni nodded in response. Taking in a deep sigh, she went out the door.

Her father watched as she loaded the trunk of her car and drove off down the driveway.

The car was slowly driving off of the property when Brie noticed the movement outside of the window. She stopped undressing her son for his bath as she thought about the impressions that her sister had left her with. ‘All of the things from yesterday I could let go, Danni, but this morning. Now that was the clincher! You with a queasy stomach, not likely unless…’ Then Brie knew that her earlier suspicions were true. ‘She’s pregnant!’

She had wanted to confront Danni before she left, but not in front of the rest of the family, especially their mother. Brie saw no reason to ruin Christmas for the rest of the family. Perhaps if she gave it a little while longer, Danni would take the matter into hand herself and not disgrace the family with a bastard child. ‘Danni, I hope you know what you’re doing. Raising a child is tough work with two parents, but with just one…I hope this Garrett is the one for you, at least for Mother’s sake.’

************

Continued

 


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