Read Backstage Nurse Online

Authors: Jane Rossiter

Tags: #romance, #nurse, #medical

Backstage Nurse (10 page)

"I'll have to be back at the hotel by five-thirty!"

"Don't worry," he promised. "I'll have you there on the dot."

They went down the street a block to a garage which specialized in auto rentals. After a few minutes, he led her to the parking lot and a shiny blue hardtop.

As he helped her in and closed the door, she smiled up at him. "It will be fun, Hugh. I'm glad you thought of this."

He slid in behind the wheel and sighed with satisfaction. "It's been quite a few months since I've driven. I used to be in a car all the time. You miss it."

"And the fresh air." She took a deep breath of the crisp autumn afternoon as they drove away. "You don't get much of this in the theater."

"Show business has its drawbacks," he admitted, turning from the business section into a broad residential avenue. "There are things you miss. A car, enjoying the outdoors, and a permanent home." He nodded toward the pleasant homes that lined the road.

"It's all right if you're a star. Or a big-paid performer like Jeffrey Sayre," Shirley agreed, "but for the average player, it means lots of sacrifices."

Hugh grinned. "Now you're on Joy's favorite theme."

Shirley gave him a roguish glance. "By the way, where is your girl friend today?"

"Another shopping spree. She spends most of her salary on freak clothes."

They drove into the country until they came to a scenic turn-out by a lake. Hugh brought the car to a halt on a hilly spot where there were large trees. They could look out across the water and their view was framed by branches on which the leaves had turned to gay autumn reds and yellows. The afternoon sun was at its most brilliant and here in the country the air had a fresh, bracing quality.

Getting out of the car, they walked together to a railing that fronted on the edge of the lake. Leaning against it, Shirley stared across at the summer places on the opposite shore, white squares amid the foliage. "I'm glad we came," she said. "This is lovely."

"I lived in the country for a year or so," Hugh mused. "A long time ago."

She looked at him. "Your first years in practice?"

He nodded, his eyes fixed on some distant corner of the lake, his brown hair gently blowing in the slight breeze. He said, "I wish you'd stayed in the theater, Shirley. I like to think that, if you had, we would have met someday in a company somewhere and been good friends."

"But we
are
good friends."

"I mean, really close. We'd have had the same backgrounds, the same hopes and ambitions."

"Haven't we those now?"

He faced her. "No. It's just a crazy dream of mine. But that's the way it might have been."

Her expression became serious. "I can understand you, Hugh, up to a point. I can like you, but only up to a point. Don't you want to stop pretending and really live your life again?"

"I like this life," he said. "And you said I was doing a good job."

"But you're capable of better things." She spoke earnestly. "Doesn't it pain you to see a fine life like Oliver Craft's lost because medicine is so limited? Don't you have the feeling that you want to do something about it? All right, something has happened that turned you against private practice. But there's nothing to stop you from going to work for some clinic, or in research."

"I've thought of it," he admitted. "I doubt if I'd be any good."

"Hugh!" she exclaimed hopelessly. "What will it take to get you out of this terrible frame of mind?"

He smiled. "Maybe someone like you."

"I'm serious."

"Ever since we first met," he said, taking her hand, "you've wanted to make me over. Do you know what that's a sign of?"

"If you're suggesting that I care for you, you're mistaken," she told him evenly, her green eyes challenging him. But she didn't pull her hand away.

"I'm saying you may be in love with me."

She drew away from him. "If I were that unfortunate, I'd feel very sorry for myself. You're not a man; you're a cynical shadow."

He laughed at her, a soft, understanding laugh. "A cynical shadow who makes a brief appearance before the footlights each night and then retreats to his hidden lair."

"It's not funny, Hugh. It's too close to the truth."

He looked out at the lake again. "I'm sorry, dear girl. I'd like to do all the things you want me to do—be a righteous young Dr. Kildare for you—but it just doesn't interest me."

She sighed. "Now that you've spoiled a lovely afternoon, let's go back."

He turned to her again, immediately all repentance. "Forgive me, Shirley. Maybe I'm the one who cares, and too deeply. In a way, that's why I'm glad you've hit it off with Roger Craft."

"Why bring Roger into this discussion?" she asked.

"He was in it from the beginning, as far as I'm concerned." Hugh was completely serious now. "And I'm glad for you, for both of you. He can give you the sort of life you should have."

"Now just a minute." Shirley's pretty face was indignant. "Aren't you talking a bit out of turn? Roger's only a casual acquaintance."

"He acted a lot more than that the other night."

Shirley turned her back on him to hide her confusion. She knew that Roger had plainly shown his interest in her the night of the party. At the time, she hadn't minded because she had believed that Hugh was engaged to Joy Milland. Now she wasn't so sure. She liked Roger a good deal; but she was by no means certain she was in love with him.

"Well," Hugh pressed, "isn't that so?"

"I don't know what you chose to think," she said, without turning to him. "But it sounds to me as if you were awfully wrong."

"We'll see what happens when he gets here tomorrow."

"Nothing will happen."

"I'll make a bet. This week's salary that he asks you to marry him."

She wheeled around in startled amusement. "That's too much!"

"I mean it. See if I'm wrong."

"You're wrong! I can tell you that now," she said, and started walking back up the grassy rise to the car. But as she walked, it came to her that she had no firm basis for her assurance. It was very possible that Roger might ask her to be his wife. One thing she did know: if the question was put to her, she had no positive answer. Just now, her life was much too upset.

Hugh followed her up to the car in silence. On the drive back to the city, they indulged only in small talk. But she knew that he must be thinking the same thoughts that she was—thoughts about their futures and if they would share each other's in any way.

It was a relaxed, smiling Oliver Craft she found reclining on the bed in his hotel suite when she hurried in. He seemed amused at her bursting in as she had. "There was no hurry, my dear," he said. "I've been taking my rest."

Shirley went to the bathroom and began mixing his afternoon medicine. "I intended to be back before this," she explained. "But Hugh Deering took me for a drive in the country, and on the way back we were held up by the five o'clock traffic."

"Quite all right," the old actor said. "I spent a very enjoyable hour with my friends and then came back to the hotel."

Shirley came in and handed him the glass with his medicine. "We're a bit late with this."

Oliver Craft made a wry face. "That won't make it taste any better." He drank it quickly and handed her the empty glass. "Do nurses take their medicine without complaints when they're ill?"

She laughed. "We're the worst of all. How does your side feel? Should we check it?"

"No." He shook his head. "I'm feeling better than I have in a long while. It did bother me in the early morning, but since you irrigated it, there's been no trouble."

"Fine." Shirley put the glass back on the bathroom shelf and returned with a thermometer. "Better check your temp."

"I suppose. Puts me at a disadvantage." The old man chuckled. "An actor is not much good without words."

Placing the thermometer in his mouth, she checked her watch, then stood waiting. She was not entirely surprised at the star's sudden improvement. In conditions of this sort, there were generally times when the patient felt better, or, his state of mind improving, he was convinced that he was actually better. It was no important indication. Oliver Craft's health was bound to worsen, unless a miracle happened.

Shirley removed the thermometer and looked at it. "Just a wee bit high," she said. "But not enough to be alarmed about."

"There! You see!" He lay back against the pillows. "It's hard for me to believe tonight that I'm as ill as Dr. Trask seemed to think. That this could be my last tour. I'm really enjoying this play, Miss Grant. I'm sure you understand that, having been a professional once yourself. The part is right for me."

"It has been a privilege to watch you in it," she told him sincerely.

He sighed. "But then, I suppose it is all bound to end. I shall not complain so long as I am able to finish this undertaking. So young Deering took you for a drive… You're beginning to like him, eh?"

Shirley sat down in the chair by his bed. "He's hard not to like. But Hugh's a very confused person."

"All the more reason he needs friends."

"It's hard to be his friend." Shirley glanced down at her hands. "He's very withdrawn. And, on the surface, very cold."

"I'm glad you see that it's only a surface coldness." Oliver Craft's patrician face was thoughtful. "That proves you understand him."

"Sometimes I feel I do; then I'm not at all sure."

With a smile, Oliver Craft changed the subject. "Well, perhaps we should order. I think we'll have something light sent up. Or rather, something good and solid for you. That drive in the country should have given you an appetite."

"I believe it has," she admitted.

"Good. Tomorrow night we'll dine downstairs. Roger's plane arrives in the afternoon and he'll be having dinner with us, I imagine."

Shirley tried to sound extremely casual. "That will be nice." She went to the phone, adding, "I'll see what room service has to offer."

When they finished dinner, they took a taxi across the city to the theater. The box office in Cincinnati was not quite up to the other cities, but the house was almost completely sold out for the first night. The play went very well, with Oliver Craft giving one of his finest and most vital performances. Jeffrey Sayre was also lifted by the star's pacing of their scenes, and all down through the supporting cast it was the same. It made for an evening of great theater.

At four o'clock the following afternoon, there was a knock on the door, and when Shirley answered it, a smiling Roger Craft stepped in.

The tall, dark young man with the hornrimmed glasses studied her. "I've missed you," he said, "a lot."

Slightly embarrassed, Shirley nodded toward the bedroom. "Your grandfather has been waiting for you."

"How is he?" Roger asked.

"Very well. He's surprising us all."

"Good!" Roger's tone showed his pleasure. He went in and greeted the old man affectionately.

After a few minutes, Oliver Craft called Shirley into the room. "This young man has been working hard since we've seen him," he told her. "I want you to see that he gets around a bit and has a little pleasure while he's here with us."

Shirley raised her eyebrows in amusement. "Remember, you're my patient," she said.

The old man waved an impatient hand. "I know all about that. But I'm so well I hardly need a nurse at all. You give him some time."

Roger came to her defense. "Miss Grant has to do what her conscience dictates." With a grin, he added, "Don't you, Shirley?"

She liked this brainy young man from Philadelphia. He had a frankness about him that was appealing. Certainly wealth and position had not spoiled him. He had even survived his youthful unhappy marriage with surprisingly little bitterness.

"We'll see how things go at the theater this evening," she said.

"Fair enough," Roger agreed. "If all goes well, I've been told there's a very pleasant room downstairs for dining and after-theater dancing. I think it's called the Log Cabin."

"Uh-huh," Shirley said. "I've heard it's very nice."

The show was again a success, although the house was just a bit more than half-full.

"This has never been a good town for a play of this type," Lyon Phillips told Shirley and Roger as they chatted together between the acts backstage. "Now in the next spot, Cleveland, you'll see a difference. We'll go big there."

"Towns, like people, have personalities, I suppose," Roger suggested.

"That's it," Lyon said. "They like your grandfather here, but it's the play that's holding business back."

It was only a few minutes before the last-act curtain and Hugh Deering and Joy Milland strolled up together. Hugh, who was in his most mocking mood, bowed deeply to Roger Craft.

"What a pleasure to have you with us again," he said in the exaggerated tone he reserved for these occasions.

"It's hardly that breathtaking," Roger observed with very good humor.

Joy, who had completely missed Hugh's irony, took it all at face value. "It is lovely that you like us well enough to come back. Your grandfather must be delighted."

Roger managed a sly wink in Shirley's direction. "He seems very happy."

Lyon glanced at his watch. "Time for the third act," he said. "Places, everyone." He grinned at Shirley and Roger, knowing this would release them from Hugh's teasing and Joy's banalities.

After Shirley had seen Oliver Craft safely in his room, she and Roger went downstairs to the Log Cabin. As they stood in the entrance of the dimly lighted room, she glanced around to see if any of the others were there. But the place seemed to be filled with strangers.

They were shown to a table and Roger ordered for them with the authority and judgment of long experience. Shirley enjoyed being with a man who so easily fitted into any social occasion. Roger made everything they did more fun because he had the knack of getting the best out of every situation.

The orchestra began, and they got up and enjoyed several dances. It was a pleasant repetition of the night she had gone to the party at the Statler in Boston with him. Except that tonight they were quite alone.

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