Lois Cloarec Hart
As always, my deepest thanks to my talented beta readers, Day and Betty. You two are the best! Thanks also to Polly for lending her nurse’s eye to the process. This story is a bit of Christmas whimsy for a dear friend who has devoted so very many of her holidays to the children and their parents lucky enough to be in her care.
If you’d like to comment, you can reach me at: email@example.com
This one’s for you, Jo.
It wasn’t my fault. Honest! Who knew the kid would actually pull the fire alarm? Okay, so I told him what it was, but I warned him firmly not to pull it. Still, four-year-olds can be sort of unpredictable, so I probably should’ve known better. But really, I don’t think it was entirely my fault.
I’m not sure the Boss will see it that way, though He’s pretty good at overlooking His Guardians’ occasional mistakes. As He points out, unlike Him, we’re not perfect, and He only expects us to do our best. That IS what I was trying to do!
I guess I should start at the beginning. My name is Flea, and I’m a Guardian. You people have a lot of different names for us Guardians: angels, faeries, sprites, pixies—the list is endless. But then you also have a lot of different names for the Boss, and He doesn’t mind, so why should I? My current assignment is the third floor of a big metropolitan children’s hospital. It doesn’t matter what city, because there are millions of us and my post isn’t much different than that of many of my colleagues.
And look...about that name? For millennia I was perfectly content with my given name—Felicia. But we Guardians usually assume the form of something unremarkable so that no one takes notice of us while we go about our duties. For instance, I once hitched a ride in Dr. Jess’ briefcase to an out clinic, and noticed their Guardian lived inside a pink ceramic pig. Hey, it takes all kinds. Anyway, for this assignment I’d taken up residence in a small, stuffed toy elf that some child had left behind many Christmases before. I thought I was pretty cute, actually, with my canary yellow woolen hair and robin’s egg blue button eyes. My stitched on smile is candy apple red, and my clothes were once a bright scarlet and forest green, though they’ve faded over the years. The white pompom on my hat and the bells on my curled up slippers were lost long ago to the grasping hands of an overexcited toddler; but other than that, I think I’ve held up well with age.
Well, at least I thought so until the day about ten years ago when an arrogant young resident knocked me off the counter at the nurse’s station where I normally sit. Instead of apologizing and picking me up, as any reasonable person would, he kicked me. I bounced off a file cabinet and fell back on the floor, one leg twisted behind my head.
He snarled at me like I was Doctor Jess, who had just chewed him out for his abysmal bedside manner. “Where’d that flea-bitten thing come from anyway? It doesn’t belong here.”
I objected to that “it.” I am a girl, make no mistake about it. Couldn’t he see my graceful, embroidered eyelashes and long, golden curls? Sheesh, what kind of doctor was he going to make anyway? Luckily, all the nurses thought the young resident was a jerk, and they leapt to my defence. Polly picked me up and straightened out my limbs, while Judy and Alma scowled at him. Alma, being the senior nurse on duty, spoke up for me.
“She may not be the prettiest thing on the ward, but many’s the child who found a little cuddle with that elf was just the thing to make a scary place a little friendlier. You leave our Flea alone!”
Darn. That was it then: from that moment on, I was Flea. My fellow Guardians thought it was hilarious, and ever after “forgot” to call me Felicia. Even Anemone calls me Flea, but at least when she does it her eyes twinkle and her wings shimmer, which makes it easier to bear.
But back to the unfortunate fire alarm incident. You have to understand what I do around this place. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not a miracle worker. Okay, I can do some minor stuff, but nothing like the Boss. Mostly I pop up at two in the morning when children wake up frightened, hurting, and wanting their mommies and daddies. They may not see me, but I lay on their pillow and whisper in their ear, reassuring them that everything’s going to be all right until they drift back to sleep. Or I sit on the shoulder of a scared parent as their child is in surgery. I give them hope. Sometimes the Boss calls their child home, and then I cry with them and wrap them in invisible hugs. I wish I could work miracles at will, but that’s reserved for far wiser beings, way above me in the heavenly hierarchy. I just do the best I can.
This particular day, little Bobby was due to be released from the hospital, his left arm still in the cast that he needed after a tobogganing accident during the first early snowfall of the season. His parents had been held up getting to the hospital to take him home, and he was bored with the cartoons the nurses thought he was watching. There’s nothing more dangerous than a bored four-year-old, so I took it upon myself to entertain him.
To the average human eye, I was still sitting nestled next to one of the computers at the nurse’s station, but actually I was perched beside Bobby having a most excellent conversation about Beyblades, his newest passion. Adults never see me, but little kids often can, as long as adults aren’t around. When his limited attention span waned, I suggested that we go down to the sunroom and assemble a puzzle. He liked that idea and, despite his cast, clambered over the metal railings of his bed like a monkey. Dropping to the floor, he looked over at his roommate, but Teddy was engrossed in poking his green Jell-O and paying us no heed, so off we went, me riding on Bobby’s small shoulder. The sunroom was empty since many of the children were just having their lunch. Bobby’s mommy had promised him a stop at Mickey D’s for lunch on the way home, so he had skipped the hospital cuisine. Wise kid.
Bobby dragged a chair over and took his favourite Harry Potter puzzle off the top shelf, tucking it under his cast. While he was up there, he noticed something on the wall beside the cupboard.
“What’s that, Flea?”
“It’s called a fire alarm, Bobby. It makes a big noise, but it’s for emergencies— only emergencies. You mustn’t touch it.”
Of course, he touched it. “What’s an emergency?”
I was getting nervous at the way his curious little fingers were tracing the outline of the device.
“Bobby, why don’t we go make your puzzle on that table over by the window?”
“What’s an emergency, Flea?”
So much for distracting him. I sighed. “An emergency is when something bad happens, like a fire starts, and you need to let everyone know so that help can come.”
He nodded, and started to turn. I breathed a sigh of relief, only to squawk, “No!” as he suddenly reached back and pulled the alarm.
“Oh no, no, no!” I groaned as Bobby jumped guiltily when the siren rang out through the quiet halls. He hopped off the chair and darted out of the room, knocking me off his shoulder in his haste to leave the scene of the crime. I peeked around the door at the commotion in the hallways as nurses and orderlies scurried about in a rapid, but organized evacuation of the children. Deciding discretion was the watchword of the moment, I backed away and huddled in the corner behind a large, potted philodendron, waiting for things to quiet down.
That’s where Anemone found me. I just knew she would. She’s one of the supervisors of the hospital Guardians, and it’s inevitable that if I screw up, it’s on her watch. This time she poked her head through the leafy fronds and laughed at the sight of my miserable face.
“I’m sorry, Nem. I didn’t know he’d pull the stupid thing. I did tell him not to.” I pleaded my case, taking some comfort from the affectionate twinkle in her dark eyes.
Her lilting voice was indulgent, but mildly remonstrative. “Flea, how long have you been working this assignment?”
I thought back quickly. I’d been here since they brought the first children into the old hospital. “Um, ’bout sixty or seventy years, I guess?”
“And in that time, how often have children heeded a simple “no?”
“It could happen,” I protested, knowing I’d already lost the argument.
She smiled, and pushed aside the big leaves so she could crawl through to my corner. Tucking her silky wings neatly behind her, she took a seat beside me, took my hand, and patted it comfortingly.
“Don’t worry about it, Flea. It happens to all of us, and there was no harm done in this case. Bobby has already gone home, and all the other children are safely back in their rooms.” She turned serious then. “I need you to help out Nehemiah tonight.”
I looked at her apprehensively. “A bad one coming in?”
She sighed deeply. “A burn case. He’s going to have his hands full, and I want you to be there to help.”
I nodded. Nehemiah was the Guardian for the Intensive Care kids, and it wasn’t unusual for me to be called in to assist him when he got overwhelmed with frightened, grieving relatives. Anemone would keep an eye on my kids while she went about her duties, while I was needed to offer comfort to a mother who couldn’t believe that the child who had helped her make cookies the day before was on the edge of death today; or a father stunned by the sudden way his safe, secure world had upended; and terrified grandparents who pleaded with the Boss to be taken in place of a child who had barely begun her journey through life.
“I’ll be there,” I assured Anemone, then blushed as she gave me a light kiss. She stood, shook out her wings gracefully, and looked at me.
“Call me if you need me, Flea. I’m always here for you.”
With that, she launched into the air and swooped easily around the foliage, disappearing through the doorway. I stared after her, my hand resting on the cheek that she had kissed, an unconscious smile on my face despite the grim duty that faced me that evening.
It was many, many hours later when I wearily crawled back to the nurse’s station and slipped back into my elf body. It had been a tough shift. Nehemiah and I had our work cut out for us, but we’d kept the family functioning and sane while the doctors and nurses worked on their baby.
Anemone had stopped in once to assure me all was quiet on my floor, but I’d been too harried to stop and talk. I was frantically trying to convince the father not to leave the hospital with vengeance in his heart. He wanted to go after the babysitter whose inattention had allowed the accident that had left his two-year-old daughter badly burned and fighting for her life. I knew that the babysitter’s conscience would torment her for the rest of her life, and no good could come out of the father’s fury. I managed to get him calmed down enough to redirect his attention to supporting his inconsolable wife.
It was well into the night before a tired doctor finally emerged to assure the family that their baby would live, albeit with a long road to recovery. Tears that had been held back all night now flowed freely, and I was relieved to see them. Nehemiah and I exchanged exhausted smiles.
“I can take it from here, Flea. They’ll be okay now. Thanks for all your help. Any time I can return the favour, just ask.”
I patted him on the back, and left the small, but exultant group of people. I probably would never need to call on Nehemiah, but that was the way of the Guardians. We were there for our people, and for each other, no matter what.
Yawning, I relaxed back against the computer, letting my tired eyes survey the quiet nursing station. I lazily eavesdropped on a conversation between a couple of the nurses who were updating charts between sips of strong coffee. Twelve-hour nightshifts were no picnic, and I’d long ago learned the indispensability of the thick, black sludge they all seemed to thrive on.
“So, do you have any plans for the holidays, Jaideep?”
The dark-skinned, middle-aged man with the softest black eyes I’ve ever seen smiled at his young colleague. “I am taking my wife and children back to India to visit my grandparents for two weeks. What about you, Cynthia?”
“Duncan wants us to go skiing and avoid all the seasonal fuss, but I have to work on Boxing Day so I don’t feel like going far. We’re trying to reach a compromise.” The woman shook her head in exasperation. “This is the first Christmas I’ve had off since I started here so I don’t much feel like going away, but he can’t seem to understand that.”
“We’re both lucky to be off this year,” Jaideep said cheerfully. “Since we don’t celebrate Christmas, I usually volunteer to work; but with the children out of school for two weeks, it was the perfect time to travel.”
The young nurse reached for another file. “Yeah, luck of the draw, I guess. Mind you, Christmas was pretty quiet last year, so I didn’t really mind working then.”
She was right. In my experience, most parents tried to have their children home for the big day; so with little elective surgery being done, a lot of the rooms were empty at that time of year, though there were always inevitable accidents and illnesses no matter what time of year it was. Last Christmas Anemone was even able to spend the whole afternoon with me. My eyes couldn’t help shining a little brighter at the thought that she might do that again this year.
Jaideep stood, stretching out his back with a grateful sigh as he did. “So who got stuck on shift this year?”
Cynthia laughed quietly. “Well, you can figure Dr. Jess will be working, and if she’s working...”
“Then Connie will be on,” Jaideep finished with a grin.
I couldn’t help a silent snicker. That was an easy prediction. Despite her seniority, Dr. Jess always took the least desirable shifts, and inevitably Connie volunteered for the same duty. Single for many years, Dr. Jess did it so that her fellow doctors could enjoy the holidays with their families; and Connie did it because she’d loved Dr. Jess with a quiet, unspoken intensity almost from the moment she’d first come to the hospital twelve years earlier. Oh, don’t get me wrong, she was fiercely dedicated to her small patients too, but it hadn’t gone unnoticed amongst her colleagues that the normally highly competent nurse often got flustered and tongue-tied in Dr. Jess’ oblivious presence.
Letting myself contemplate the mystery of how humans managed to fumble such perfectly simple situations, I closed my eyes. I’d almost nodded off to the background sound of the nurses’ chatter, when I felt a comforting presence materialize beside me. Anemone put her arm around me and gave me a warm hug.
“You did well tonight, Flea. I’m so proud of you,” she whispered, before disappearing again.
That put a big smile on my face, and as I drifted off to a well-earned sleep I couldn’t help wondering what Anemone would think if I gave Connie a little help. Technically, matchmaking wasn’t among my duties, but surely the Boss wouldn’t object to me giving two lonely women a nudge towards recognizing what was right under their noses. I’d have to consider it a little more...tomorrow.
It was Christmas Eve, and I still hadn’t figured out how to get Dr. Jess and Connie together. I’d even sent a gossamer-mail asking advice from my old buddy, Naida, who specialized in romantic situations, but she was tied up with a particularly difficult case involving an international meeting of hearts. Apparently some cold-hearted government department was being irrationally inflexible about letting the couple be together –some nitpicking thing about crossing borders. And as Naida pointed out with exasperation, trying to sway the INS was like trying to sway the path of the moon: it could be done, but it would require time and effort. Anyway, her g-mail came back apologizing, telling me I was on my own for now but that she’d be glad to help once she’d gotten her pair of lovers together.
Being as this was my first foray into matchmaking, I’d been watching Connie and Dr. Jess very closely for the previous couple of weeks. I was responsible for the well being of the staff as well as the patients, but usually that entailed comforting them after tough cases. I’d never played Cupid before, that’s for sure; but once I started to pay attention, it was a plain as the painted nose on my face that Jess and Connie had deep - albeit unacknowledged - romantic feelings for each other.
The signs were obvious when I started looking for them. I mean, I’d known in an abstract sense that Connie had been crazy about the good doctor for years, but now that I focused on Dr. Jess, it became evident that she had a thing for Connie too. Huh, so she wasn’t quite as oblivious as everyone thought she was. The great thing about being inanimate—as far as the staff could see—was that I was free to observe the two women in their unguarded moments.
What I saw convinced me that each was meant for the other, but if I didn’t get involved, they were going to spend the rest of their lives exchanging shy smiles and not much else. Honestly, you humans do such a dance around each other. There’d be a lot less time wasted if you all just spoke up; but then I suppose there’d be a lot less great literature written, too, if everyone just blurted out their feelings willy-nilly.
I’d been taking notes since the night I’d overheard Jaideep and Cynthia, and by my count, there had been 27 covertly longing looks, 18 deep soulful sighs, and nine bright red blushes between the two of them over just two weeks. How could they NOT see what the other was feeling?
The night before, I’d started to giggle when I saw how Dr. Jess’ brown eyes tracked Connie down the hall as she left the station to attend to one of her patients. Naturally Anemone chose that moment to drop in on me, and wanted to know what I was laughing about. I put on my best innocent look.
“Nothing, Nem. Just feeling good is all. Must be that time of year, I guess.”
She gazed at me suspiciously. “Uh huh. Flea, the last time I saw that look on your face, it was after an unexplained black-out that plunged the whole city into darkness for twenty-four hours.”
Oh yeah, I’d forgotten about that. I’d been playing tag with a new Guardian when we had an unfortunate accident down by the city’s central power station. But Anemone couldn’t know what had happened...could she? I’d sworn the newbie to silence, and thought I’d covered my tracks pretty well.
“Aw, Nem, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Sure a few people were inconvenienced, but look at all the beautiful new babies that joined the world nine months later.”
I beamed beatifically, but it didn’t seem to have any effect on my supervisor. She knelt down in front of me and stared searchingly into my eyes. Suddenly all thoughts of Dr. Jess and Connie flew out of my head, and all I could focus on was the feel of her warm breath on my face, and the delicate, enticing fragrance that filled my nostrils. I was seconds away from doing something that was going to be really hard to explain, when she pulled back.
Startled, I blinked rapidly. What the heck had just happened? Anemone and I had been friends for centuries, but I was acting like a star-struck pixie. Gee, I hope she didn’t notice!
“Okay, Flea, I know you’ve got something up your sleeve, but I won’t press you for now. Just try to stay out of trouble, all right?”
“Um, trouble, right. No, I mean, no trouble, no trouble at all, Nem, I promise.”
Oh that was brilliant. She was going to think I’ve been nipping at the eggnog in the staff lounge again, and it’s been at least thirty years since I’d made that mistake.
Anemone gave me one last suspicious look and flew off. I tried to stand up to go do my rounds, only to find my knees strangely and unaccountably wobbly.
Focus, Flea, focus. You’re a Guardian, and you’ve got work to do.
Still wavering, I tripped over a plate of shortbread cookies that a grateful mother had brought in for the staff, did a somersault over a stapler, and landed feet first in a mostly-empty cup of cold coffee. With all the wounded dignity I could muster, I struggled out of the cup, ignoring the tinkling of familiar laughter that I could hear in the distance. Brushing myself off and wringing out my slippers, I was very glad in that moment that humans couldn’t see me. My less than suave performance would not have been good for the reputation of the Guardian Corps.
It was a pretty uneventful night after that, and once my feet dried out, I was able to return to the problem of how to get Dr. Jess and Connie together. I knew that if I could come up with a plan in 24 hours, I’d get some help from Christmas Eve itself. It’s a special time, when the bonds that humans wrap around their hearts to protect themselves loosen under the magic of the night.
With a little push and a little proximity, those two would finally open their eyes.
And now here it was, Christmas Eve. Did I have a plan? Well, no, not really. Plotting and scheming apparently were not my forte. I’d just have to stay on my toes, and seize any opportunity that presented itself.
It was almost midnight, and the floor was quiet. We’d had one little boy come in a couple of hours earlier, who’d gotten so excited about seeing if Santa had arrived that he’d tumbled down a flight of stairs while peering through the banister at the tree. Dr. Jess had seen to him in the ER and recommended that he stay overnight. The boy and his mother had taken up residence in the last room on the right. I’d peeked in on them, but they seemed to be doing well, so I continued on my rounds. A ten-year-old girl with Norwalk virus was doing much better, and I knew that Dr. Jess was hoping she could go home in a couple of days. Her parents had promised to delay the family Christmas until she could be back with her brothers and sister, so she was sleeping soundly with a smile on her face. I was about to check on a toddler with mumps when I heard the phone ring down at the nurse’s station.
I popped back there to see if it was anything I needed to be concerned with. Polly was just hanging up, and I watched her turn sadly to Connie.
“Three year old female coming up from ER. Looks like an abuse case. Cracked ribs, cuts, and contusions. Geoff is bringing her up now.”
Connie shook her head, and I saw the sorrow in her green eyes. These were the hardest cases for the staff. Accidents and illnesses were bad enough when the young and vulnerable were the victims, but when they dealt with the aftermath of deliberate cruelty, even the most experienced had a difficult time steeling themselves to professional objectivity.
“I’ll put her in 312. Did Geoff say if anyone would be with her?”
Polly shook her head. “He said not. Dunno where the parents are, but she came in with only the paramedics in attendance.”
“Helluva Christmas,” Connie muttered, walking down the hall to meet her tiny patient at the elevators.
I decided I’d better stick close, even though the toddler would undoubtedly be drugged and sleep through the night. This might be one of the times when my skills were needed more for the staff than the patient. Wouldn’t be the first time, and they were my charges too. I took their peace of mind very seriously, and this looked like an instance where I might be working overtime.
The doors opened, and Geoff pushed the gurney with all its attached paraphernalia out into the hall. The child lay so still and small on the mattress. I couldn’t help gasping at the sight of her tiny face, bruises half hidden under stark, white bandages, an oxygen tube running into her nose, and an IV going into her foot. I heard Connie’s sharp intake of breath before she steadied herself.
“Yeah, sucks big time,” Geoff agreed sadly. “Makes you want to throw her lousy parents into a pit of lions to see how they like being scared, defenceless, and at the mercy of beings that want to rip them apart.”
I ignored the two of them and landed at the foot of the gurney, gently making my way along the child’s body until I knelt at her head. I stroked her matted hair softly as I asked the Boss to keep an eye on her. I felt His peace descend on the child and me, and was reminded that she was in His hands. That didn’t necessarily mean she’d survive, but whatever happened, she’d be lovingly cared for.
The gurney had continued to move, and now Connie and Geoff were lining it up beside the hospital bed that Polly had turned down and prepared for its new occupant. With infinite care they transferred the child as I scuttled to keep out of the way. Geoff patted Connie’s arm comfortingly and left, pushing the gurney ahead of him.
“Well, little one, you’re safe now; and we’ll do our best to make you all better,” Connie said in her soft, sweet voice. She unwound her stethoscope from around her neck and, warming it with her hand, laid one end gently against the child’s small chest, listening intently. Then she carefully inserted a thermometer into one ear to check the toddler’s temperature. Satisfied, she picked up the chart that had come up from the ER on the gurney and made some notations. Reading over the notes quickly, she frowned, until she came to the end. Then in a reassuring tone, she whispered, “You’re one lucky little girl. You’ve got Dr. Jess looking after you. You couldn’t ask for better, believe me. She’s the best, and she’ll have you singing and dancing before you know it.”
“Singing and dancing?” The low, amused voice came from behind Connie, and she just about dropped the chart as she whirled around to see Dr. Jess standing in the doorway. I couldn’t help giggling at the chagrined look on the nurse’s face.
“Well, it’s a figure of speech, of course,” Connie said, nervously tucking a lock of her short blonde hair behind one ear and turning back to her patient. “I don’t really expect her to foxtrot her way out of here.”
Dr. Jess chuckled as she moved to the opposite side of the bed. “So, you’re saying I couldn’t really teach someone to foxtrot then?”
I sat on the pillow, arms wrapped around my knees as I watched the two of them with interest. This was the first time in my two weeks of observation that they’d been alone—or almost alone—together. I thought Connie’s blush was so cute; and by the look on Dr. Jess’ face, she thought it was pretty attractive too.
Flustered, Connie blurted, “I’m sure you could teach anyone anything if you really wanted to.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” Jess’ words were quiet, but sincere, and inwardly I urged Connie to respond to the open, vulnerable look in those velvet brown eyes right at that moment, but my shy nurse wouldn’t even meet the doctor’s gaze as she fussed with the blanket.
Dagnab it! What the heck was it going to take here? I could see Jess visibly withdraw into herself again and become strictly businesslike. I sighed for yet another missed opportunity.
“So, how is Miss Tamara Dawn Fraser doing?”
The nurse responded to the doctor’s brusque tone by straightening and rattling off the child’s stats. Dr. Jess nodded at the summary of the toddler’s condition.
“I made some calls after she came in downstairs. Seems young Tammy here has seen more than her fair share of the city’s ER’s in her short life, though this is the first time she’s come to our facility.”
Her features clouded over, and I saw a shadow of her legendary temper in the rigid set of her strong jaw and the sternly narrowed eyes. Dr. Jess was famous for not tolerating fools, or anything or anyone who endangered her kids. I’d seen a former head of the hospital literally kicked off the floor when he’d had the temerity to suggest a less expensive course of treatment for one of her patients. Nurses and parents loved her for the way she championed the children, but administrators and incompetent interns lived in fear of crossing her.
“If I have my way, this will also be the last time Tammy ends up in the hospital.”
Connie nodded, her eyes now glued on Dr. Jess’ expression, and I could see her utter faith that the doctor would make things right.
“C’mon, you two, open up your eyes,” I muttered fiercely under my breath, but to no avail. Connie raised the rails of Tammy’s bed, then flashing the other woman a quick, bashful smile, she took the chart and left the room. The look of loneliness and despondency that settled over Dr. Jess’ face as she leaned heavily on the bed’s rails almost broke my heart.
All right, I’d had it! There comes a time when you have to set subtlety aside and take the bull by the horns! Anemone claims I wouldn’t know subtlety if it bit me in my nose anyway, so it was time to go with my strengths. With a quick check to ensure the child was sleeping soundly, I left Dr. Jess gently stroking Tammy’s hair, and flew down the hall to find Connie. She wasn’t at the station with the other nurses, and I finally located her in the staff locker room, sitting on a bench, hands dangling between her knees, looking every bit as morose and isolated as the woman I’d just left.
“God, why am I so stupid! All I have to do is ask her if she’d like to join me for coffee or something. Then we could talk, and get to know each other a bit... Yeah, right; like I could manage to string two words together when I’m around her. I’m such an idiot!”
I listened to Connie castigate herself, and suddenly came up with a brilliant idea. But I’d have to work fast. Rushing back to Tammy’s room, I ran into Dr. Jess coming out the door. I mean, I literally ran into her, but luckily she didn’t feel a thing. I, however, ended up on the linoleum, my head spinning from the impact. Groggily, I picked myself up and weaved my way after the doctor, catching up with her at the station. Perching somewhat unsteadily on her shoulder, I whispered fervently in her ear, planting a suggestion. For a moment I didn’t think she was going to heed me—the more strong-minded a person, the harder it is to get through to them sometimes, but finally with a halfway puzzled look on her face, she set down the chart she’d been reviewing and headed down the hall to the staff locker room.
Gleefully, I flew ahead to ensure that Connie hadn’t left. She hadn’t; she was standing in front of her locker, leaning with her head resting on her arms. When Dr. Jess entered the room, she straightened and pretended to be opening her locker, but I could tell that the doctor had seen the nurse’s melancholy posture.
Slipping behind the doctor, I quietly closed and locked the door. That thing wasn’t opening again until I said so! Grinning, I flew to the top of the lockers and settled in to watch.
“Connie? Are you all right?”
Dr. Jess’ tone was warm and compassionate. Connie flushed, but didn’t turn around.
“Um, yes, no problem. It’s just...well, seeing Tamara and all—you know. Thanks for asking, though.”
She still hadn’t faced the other woman, and Jess took a seat on the bench slightly to one side, never taking her eyes off the nurse. I watched her take a deep breath and knew that at the very least, my suggestion that Connie really needed a friend right now had taken root.
“I know. The abuse cases are the worst,” Jess agreed softly. “But I promise that she’s going to be alright.” She regarded the nurse sympathetically. “Would you like to talk about it? I’m a pretty good listener.”
That finally got Connie to turn around, but as her eyes darted nervously from the doctor to the door, I knew that she’d bolt if she could. Fortunately I had already circumvented that option. I smiled smugly.
Connie edged around the doctor, shaking her head. “Um, no, thanks anyway, but I’d better get back to work.”
Jess turned to watch her go, shoulders slumped and disappointment evident in her eyes.
When Connie couldn’t open the door, Jess rose to help her.
“What the...?” Jess muttered, as she too was unable to open the door. I think I mentioned that I can’t do big miracles, but little stuff like locking a door was a piece of cake.
Connie hammered on the door, but the staff locker room was quite a distance from the nurse’s station and none of the on-duty staff heard her. Then Jess tried, with similar lack of success. Finally both of them stepped back and looked at each other.
With a little shrug, Jess remarked, “I think we’re stuck in here until some one realizes that we’re missing, and comes looking for us.”
Hmmm, that prospect didn’t seem to upset the good doctor too much. Interesting...
Connie nodded uncomfortably and took a seat at one end of the long bench that bisected the lockers. Jess settled at the other end, and fiddled with her stethoscope. Both women kept glancing at the other, and I thought I was going to have do something more drastic to the reluctant couple when finally the doctor spoke up.
“Pretty weird about the door, isn’t it? I never even knew it could lock.”
Connie flashed a look at the door and frowned. “It doesn’t have a lock.”
“It doesn’t have a lock. Look at it.”
Jess looked over too. “Huh, you’re right. Maybe the wood swelled up or something, making it stick.”
“Could be.” Connie was quiet for a long moment, then she
asked shyly, “Why did you close it when you came in?”
Startled, the doctor examined the door carefully, as if looking for an answer. Puzzled, she protested, “But I didn’t close it. I just wanted to see if you were okay in here.”
Enough with the stupid door already! Get to the good stuff! Exasperated, I leaned forward on the top of the lockers, arms crossed, glaring at my stubborn subjects and inwardly vowing never to tread on Naida’s turf again. It was a lot easier comforting distressed patients and their families than trying to work romantic miracles. They’d lapsed into silence again, and I heaved a long-suffering sigh. At this rate, my brilliant plan was going to come to naught. I blamed them entirely, because the plan itself was good...excellent actually, if I did say so myself. The magic of Christmas Eve, enforced togetherness and solitude, unspoken love burning hot and deep within their hearts… Honestly, what more could you humans ask for? They should be making out like love-starved teenagers by now! Maybe I had to rethink my calculations.
I leaned back on my arms, staring thoughtfully at the ceiling. Where had I gone wrong? I wondered if it would be a little obvious if I conjured up some soft music and candlelight. Maybe a nice Cabernet Sauvignon… Not that I know a good wine from a sour glass of Kool Aid, but I heard one of the orderlies recommend that when his buddy was planning a seduction. Regretfully, I decided that providing a chaise lounge for them to recline on together might be going a bit overboard.
I sat up, prepared to work a little more magic, when Dr. Jess stood and went over to her own locker. I couldn’t see what she extracted, but she put something in her pocket and made her way to Connie’s end of the bench. Straddling the bench two feet away, she took out a candy cane and offered it to the nurse with a shy smile.
“We could be in here for quite a while. I wouldn’t want you to starve to death.”
Connie returned the smile and accepted the candy. Waggling it a little, she teased, “Your secret vice?”
Jess chuckled. “Well, I keep them for the kids, but I’ll admit to having a sweet tooth myself.”
“I know what you mean,” Connie agreed, peeling back the cellophane. “Having a bakery in the basement hasn’t helped my hips any.”
Gleefully, I noted that Jess’ eyes were glued to the way Connie’s tongue slowly and sensuously traced the end of the candy cane. Hah! This matchmaking gig wasn’t so hard after all! The doctor swallowed, then unsteadily peeled her own candy.
“I don’t know, your hips look pretty darn fine to me.”
Both women stopped what they were doing and looked at each other. I’m not sure who looked more startled: Jess, for having blurted out her observation; or Connie, for confirmation that the longtime object of her affections actually thought about such things. I hugged myself in delight.
“Um, I mean...I didn’t mean...”
I don’t think I’d ever seen Dr. Jess so flustered. Oddly it seemed to give Connie confidence, and she grinned at the other woman.
“It’s okay, Doc. It’s not like I’m going to slap you with a sexual harassment suit.”
“Whew! That’s a relief!” Jess’ face was fiery red. “I mean, I wouldn’t ever want you to think... Not that I don’t think you’re... Oh shit...”
Connie and I laughed together.
“It’s okay, Jess.” Connie sucked in a deep breath and I knew this was the turning point...if she didn’t back off first. I rocked back and forth, whispering encouragement.
“Tell her, Connie. C’mon, this is what you’ve dreamed of. You know she feels the same way, but it’s up to you to tell her. You can do it!”
“I was wondering...” The nurse stopped, and so did my heart for a second.
Jess drew a tiny bit closer. “You were wondering?” she encouraged.
Connie tilted her chin and looked the doctor right in the eyes. “I was wondering if you might like to get some breakfast with me after our shift is over; that is, if you don’t have any other plans.”
Wow, I should’ve brought my sunglasses with me. Jess’ smile just about blinded me.
“I’d love to, Connie. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Christmas than to spend it with you.”
Okay, now it was a toss-up as to whose smile was brighter.
“There’s probably not too many places open on Christmas morning, but I make a mean omelet and my apartment isn’t too far from here.”
Yes! I am SO good at this matchmaking stuff! I must have a natural and heretofore undiscovered gift for it. Naida better watch out or she’s gonna lose her position to yours truly. Thrilled, I watched Jess reach out and gently take Connie’s hand. Oooh, looks like it’s admission time ’round these parts.
“Your apartment sounds perfect.” Jess delicately traced the lines of her companion’s hand, while Connie stared at the doctor’s fingers as if mesmerized. “I’ve been hoping... I mean, I’ve wanted to ask you for a long time... Connie...”
“I think you’re pretty special too, Jess,” Connie said with quiet intensity, rescuing the floundering doctor. “And I think I’m very glad that the stupid door got stuck.”
Jess raised her hand and softly caressed Connie’s face, as the nurse closed her eyes and leaned into the touch. Two candy canes tumbled to the floor as the women focused on something far sweeter.
I held my breath, then as Jess leaned in and softly touched her lips to Connie, I hollered, “Yes!” and pumped my fist in the air.
“Flea, what have you done?”
I squawked and would’ve fallen off the top of the lockers, except that Anemone’s firm arm caught me around my waist. I’d been so wrapped up in the love blooming in front of my eyes, that I hadn’t even noticed that she’d materialized behind me. Keeping her arm in place, she settled by my side, dangling her legs over the edge of the lockers and raising one eyebrow inquiringly at me.
“Flea, you haven’t answered me. What exactly is going on here?”
I glanced down at the women who were now blissfully locked in a passionate, full-body embrace. Gee, it looked to me like it was pretty apparent what was going on, but judging from Anemone’s stern expression, I suspected one of my smart-ass quips would not be well received.
“Well, it’s like this, Nem,” I began with forced confidence. “These two happened to get locked in here, and well, one thing led to another...”
“They ‘happened’ to get locked in here? Flea, that door has an enchantment on it that I could see from five floors up.”
Nuts. I forgot how sensitive Anemone is to the ethereal traces that magic always emits.
Weakly, I tried, “Really? Huh, wonder how that happened.”
Well, as I learned long ago, when you’re caught dead to rights, best just to ’fess up and take the consequences. I quickly unlocked the door and it swung open, startling the two women who had been giddily lost in each other’s arms.
They drew back a little, and Jess let her hands slowly slide down Connie’s arms. Hands clasped, they simply sat for a long moment with wondering smiles, flushed faces, lips still parted, and eyes shining with gloriously awakened emotions.
Without looking away from her new lover, Connie murmured, “The door’s open.”
“Uh huh,” Jess agreed, her gaze locked on the nurse like she might disappear the moment she looked away.
“We should probably get back to work.”
I couldn’t help it. I giggled. “Aren’t they adorable?” Fearing that had sounded too unrepentant, I glanced quickly out of the corner of my eye at my supervisor whose stern expression had relaxed.
“I suppose they are,” Anemone agreed. I was grateful that she left anything else unsaid as we quietly watched the two women finally rise to their feet. This was such a special moment. I had no idea if Jess and Connie would be a forever match, but the aura they were projecting right now was so powerful that it made me tingle right down to my toes.
They paused just before they reached the door, and Jess drew Connie into her arms again, burying her face in the other woman’s hair.
“Can’t seem to let you go,” Jess murmured.
Connie returned the hug just as fiercely, then pulled back enough to look at the doctor’s face. “Then don’t,” she said simply.
Ah, there’s that smile again. The joy between them was palpable, and I wriggled with delight. Whatever my interference might cost me in the way of punishment would be worth it! As I watched them slowly release each other and walk out the door, bodies still touching and barely able to look away from each other, a happy tear trickled down my face...only to be caught by a gentle finger.
Startled I looked at Anemone, who was gazing back at me with an unusual intensity, her hand still touching my face. I shivered, but it wasn’t for fear of her disapproval with my meddling.
“Nem?” My whisper could barely be heard, but her wings seemed to quiver with the sound.
“What you did for them...” Her silvery voice was strangely hoarse. I stared, unable to say a word. “…it was beautiful, Flea. They’ve been in love for so long, but just couldn’t seem to take that first step. It was sad really: so much happiness just one improbable kiss away...until you opened their eyes and hearts.”
Somewhere in the back of my addled brain, I got the impression that there was a tacit subtext to her words, but in the inexplicable absence of my usual eloquence, I just gulped and nodded.
“I didn’t think the Boss would mind.”
That squeak was me??
Anemone smiled, surely the most beautiful smile ever seen in this world or the next. “The Boss is always happy when His creations find love. You know it was His greatest gift to us all.”
Oh, Boss! She’s going to kiss me! Ooooooohhhh...
Then I was falling, having toppled off the top of the lockers in the ecstasy of the first exquisitely soft touch of her lips. Quicker than my eye could see, Anemone swooped down and I was cradled in her arms mere inches from the floor, staring at her in awe.
Chuckling, she gazed at me indulgently. “I hope you’re not going to do that every time I kiss you, Flea.”
And she did it again.
Good thing Guardians are really, really long-lived, ’cause we sure have a lot of time to make up for.
“Merry Christmas, my Flea,” she whispered as her lips moved to my ear, nuzzling me lovingly. I sighed happily, quite content to spend the rest of my life right where I was.
“Merry Christmas, Nem.”
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