His Forbidden Bride: 50 Loving States, West Virginia

BOOK: His Forbidden Bride: 50 Loving States, West Virginia
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His Forbidden Bride
50 Loving States, West Virginia
His Forbidden Bride
50 Loving States, West Virginia
Theodora Taylor

C
opyright
© 2016 by Theodora Taylor

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

ISBN: 978-1-942167-07-5

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[Willa and Sawyer]

Prologue

E
verything
in the world stops as I sail through the air. No gulls. No breeze.

The Pacific Ocean goes eerily silent beneath me, as if catching its breath before the drop. Then…SPLASH! My body hits the water with violent force; the anger of the man who threw me in it, powering my descent into its dark, gray depths.

Next comes the sensation of sinking, faster than I normally would without the added weight tied around my legs. Water overwhelms me, rushing into my ears, my screaming mouth, my eyes…I want to close them against the sting of the salt, but I can’t.

In those first few moments I lose control of my body. Instead of closing my eyes and gracefully accepting my fate, I thrash and struggle with my eyes open, seizure wide. I fight to get my head back above water, even though I know it’s useless. I can’t swim with both my hands and legs tied together, not to mention the heavy weight dragging me down. But I also can’t think clearly enough to comprehend how little chance I have of ever leaving this ocean alive.

So I thrash and scream, making a bad situation that much worse thanks to my body’s instinctive response to drowning. In three minutes or so, brain damage will set in and I’ll sink less fitfully towards my coming death. I might even relax a little, the hypoxia placing me in a trance-like state.

I was born and raised in California, but I never tried anything stronger than weed. And I stopped doing that after I got into med school. I wonder for a moment what it will feel like to be blissed out on the heaviest of narcotics: my fast-approaching death. Wonder and thrash. Wonder and scream useless bubbles.

Unfortunately, as far as untimely deaths go, drowning is just about one of the most brutal ways to die. Yes, eventually I’ll pass out from hypoxia, but before that happens will come the worst three to four minutes of my short life.

And as I die, all I can do is fight the inevitable and bear witness to my twenty-five years of life as they flash before my eyes.

Beginning with my first memories of my childhood in Compton. My mother’s church. Backyard barbecues in January. Dipping churros in vanilla ice cream at the Long Beach street fair. My insane middle school years…Chanel dying in her hospital bed…medical school…and finally my residency in West Virginia.

This is where the slide show of my short life ends all too soon after meeting the same blue-eyed man who, less than a minute ago, looked at me with such hatred… right before he ordered me thrown overboard.

Chapter One

I
don’t think
I’ve ever seen anything more heartbreaking and inspiring than eight of our cancer patients singing, “To Dream the Impossible Dream.”

“Yassss!” I tell them after I hit the last chord hard with my guitar pick. “You are going to make our department
so
much money from this YouTube video! Thank you!”

Most of the kids giggle, delighted—in spite of the grim circumstances—at the prospect of the internet fame that will come with being featured in one of my
Chemo Kids Sing Broadway
videos.

But Ronnie Greenwell, the only black kid in the group of kids receiving chemo, raises her free hand. “I have a suggestion, Nitra…”

“No,” I answer, not caring that she’s in a wheelchair, or the only kid here who’s the same color as me. Mostly because she insists on calling me by my old nickname instead of Dr. Anitra like all the other chemo kids.

“But you ain’t even heard the question!” she protests, keeping her overly thin arm in the air.

“I don’t have to. The answer’s always no,” I inform her, before returning my attention to lining up my fingers on my guitar. “Okay, everybody, let’s do this song one more time, then we’re done for the day.”

“I’m just saying,” Ronnie continues as if I didn’t already shut her down. “I think we should switch it up! That girl who sang ‘Fight Song’ on the internet—”

“Already did it,” I remind her. “I’m telling you, Ronnie, Broadway is where it’s at. People loved when we did ‘Defying Gravity’ last month.”

Ronnie sucks on her teeth, a suspicious adult in a child’s sickly body. “You just saying that because you like that old-ass music. I’m telling you we’d get so many more hits if we…”

Moving her oxygen cable out of the way, Ronnie unexpectedly springs from her seat and launches into a wheezy rendition of “Watch Me Whip.”

Apparently her enthusiasm is catching, because the rest of the makeshift choir joins in with her. Most of the kids jerk side to side in their seats, but a few of the stronger ones jump up and start throwing each arm out before waving their left arms over their heads.

I try to put on my best stern look. I mean, I am a doctor after all. Even if my
Chemo Kids Sing Broadway
video series is a tad unorthodox as far as hospital fundraising activities go. But those clips bring in money for our shoestring Pediatric Oncology department, which at this point is barely more than a pipedream with one senior Pediatric resident (me), one attending—who is also responsible for any pediatric cases that come into any other part of the hospital, including the ER—and a couple of oncology nurses to oversee chemo for a kids-only hour in the lounge on Monday and Thursday mornings.

Right now, I can feel the glares of those nurses, who are quite understandably afraid of things like ports getting dislodged while the children dance. And then there are the even fiercer glares of parents, who don’t want to deal with tired and cranky kids later on, along with the after-effects of chemo.

But c’mon! “Watch Me Whip” is such a great song. Steadfastly ignoring all the glares from the adults in the room, I get to my feet and dance with the kids. I improvise a few chords on my guitar and drum on its body with my hand to give Ronnie an underlying beat. And for a moment, we forget our roles, and the various cancers the kids are battling, and the maybe/maybe-not life saving chemo as we dance and sing like maniacs.

That is until Ronnie sinks back into her orange and gray recliner, overcome by a fit of coughing, and the exertion it took to not only get out of her chair, but also to sing and dance to the popular Silento song.

I set aside my guitar and rush over to her along with one of the oncology nurses.

“See, this is why we have to do old Broadway songs,” I tell her as I check her vitals, and the nurse re-adjusts her oxygen.

Ronnie wheezes and laughs. Like a girl with a rare form of leukemia that so far hasn’t responded to any of the treatments her mother’s threadbare insurance covers. Like a girl who knows she most likely won’t be around much longer, and has to take all the opportunities she can to whip and nae nae, even if it requires everything she has.

Our rehearsals are always a free-floating thing lasting anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour, depending on the kids’ energy levels. Today we made it to forty minutes, and despite Ronnie’s episode, I feel good about our progress as I head toward the lounge door with my guitar.

But just as I’m leaving, a voice calls out, “Y’all should’ve done ‘Free Bird!’”

I stop short and look up to find a tall man with the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen standing to the side of the lounge doorway.

The hospital chemo lounge is on the first floor, and we often get lookie-loos, especially if they’re fellow chemo patients—adults scheduled for therapy right after the kids-only hour is up. But lookie-loos don’t usually make song requests.

And this guy definitely doesn’t look like he’s here for chemo. For one thing, he’s wearing a full set of UWV/Mercy Hospital sweats, which we certainly wouldn’t give to outpatients here for chemo treatment.

Also, he looks…broken.

He’s on Lofstrand crutches—the ones with the arm cuffs attached to provide more stability and comfort than the old school axillary crutches—and wearing a full boot on his right leg. So a fracture of some sort, and the doctors want him to keep his weight off of it. Another trauma—not cancer—sign: his longish, honey blond waves have been shaved off on one side, but not in a cool boy band way. An ugly scar snakes around the shaved side of his scalp, parting his new hair growth in crooked two.

Brain surgery, I decide. One of our surgeons clearly opened him up for any number of reasons, but my guess is it was to remove a blood clot or relieve pressure after a blow to the head.

He also has what I’ve come to refer to as “a hospital Keanu.” The kind of unchecked stubble verging on messy beard most male patients get when they’ve been here too long without a shave. Though unlike the actor I’ve named this particular look after, this patient’s beard is growing in just a shade darker than the golden hair on his head.

But the main reason I’m guessing Free Bird has been in a terrible accident is standing right next to him. Ken, our biggest physical therapist, is leaning on the wall right next to the patient, hands folded at his waist.

As a general rule, Ken doesn’t bring anyone but his most depressed patients down here. It’s his way of reminding them, “Hey, look, all this PT isn’t so bad. At least you’re not a child with cancer.”

But Free Bird doesn’t look as fragile as most of the accident victims Ken brings in to watch us perform during the kids-only chemo. For one thing, he’s still in fantastic shape. Tall and wiry, with lean muscles roping both of the forearms encased by the Lofstrand arm cuffs.

For another, he doesn’t look at all depressed. In fact, he’s staring down at me with his head tilted to the side and a very amused glint in his eyes.

I cut my eyes to Ken and ask, “’Free Bird’? Is this guy serious?”

“Completely,” the patient answers before Ken can. “Hey, it’s a good song!”

I glare at him and slightly raise the hand holding my guitar. “Hear these words, sir. No classic rock will ever,
ever
be played on this guitar.”

A lazy grin spreads across Free Bird’s boyishly handsome face. And though he’s a patient, and most likely severely injured, I can’t help but notice that grin makes him look way more cocksure than a man wearing a boot and standing on Lofstrand crutches in hospital issue clothing should.

“Well, that is by far the most inhospitable thing I’ve heard come out of a nurse’s mouth,” he says, his blue eyes twinkling despite his words.

“I’m a doctor,” I answer, pointing to the DR. ANITRA DUNHILL badge on my white coat. My response is a pretty automatic reaction these days. People have been mistaking me for a nurse since I first set foot in this hospital as a medical student. UWV/Mercy isn’t exactly a Shonda Rhimes show. I’m the only black female doctor on staff, and only about five percent of the rest of the staff are people of color. So it’s a correction I now deliver without much thought.

But the blond man leaning into his Lofstrands continues to lazily grin down at me. “Still mighty inhospitable if you ask me,” he says, his light blue eyes lazy and self-assured underneath his hooded gaze.

He’s not intimidated by my credentials, I realize, not one iota. And again, even though I’m a pediatric resident, I find myself way more curious about this adult male patient than I should be.

Even so, I must inform him, “Look here, it’s one thing to come down here to watch the kids sing. It’s quite another to start making such inappropriate suggestions.”

“You think ‘Free Bird’ is inappropriate?” he says, tone disbelieving, even as his eyes keep me trapped in his lazy blue gaze.

“Sir, these children have been through enough already,” I whisper dramatically. “Why would I want to expose them to southern mullet rock?”

He squints, his lazy grin finally wavering, if only a little. “Mullet?”

It takes me a moment to realize he’s not sure what a mullet is.

“It’s a haircut,” I quickly explain. “Short on the sides and top, long in the back. It’s pretty much the worst thing that’s ever happened to hair.”

And just like that, the lazy grin is back at full tilt. “Is that right?”

“That is exactly right,” I assure him with the conviction of someone who’s played guitar since the age of six, but has never once let a mullet rock anthem cross her strings. “And if I were you, I’d reconsider any Lynyrd Skynyrd songs on your playlist.”

He makes a considering sound, somewhere between a ‘hmphh’ and a grunt. Then he says, “Maybe you can visit me on the eighth floor, Doc. Let me know what I should be listening to instead of the songs I’ve been hearing on the radio. I liked that one you just did with the kids.”

On one hand, I’m alarmed by his blatant invitation for me to pay him a visit on the rehab floor. And I’m deeply aware of Ken’s curious stare as I continue to talk to his rehab case.

On the other hand, the decent human being in me can’t stand the thought of someone being confined to listen to the limited number of stations on the clock radios in the patient rooms.

I don’t want to call UWV/Mercy backwoods exactly, but I did come here on a scholarship program intended to bring talent from all over the country to work in one of West Virginia’s most rural counties. Located at the very top handle of the state, we’re designated to serve the populace who live within the mid-sized city triangle of Wheeling, West Virginia; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Cleveland, Ohio. Which pretty much means we’re in a radio no man’s land.

“How about if you give me your email address and I’ll send you a Spotify list?” I answer Mr. Tall, Blond, and Broken.

Once again his smile sags. “Only problem with that is I don’t have an email address that I know of…or a phone number.”

I raise my eyebrows, wondering if he’s visiting us from higher up in the nearby Appalachians, where it’s not unusual to come across technology-free households. But those folks usually stare openly at me since so few have ever met a real doctor, much less a black lady one.

This guy is staring at me, too. But not like that. The way he studies me with his lazy blues, I have to fight the urge to do a million things that would reveal how self-conscious his attention makes me.

No, I think, as I get a little lost in his gaze. This fellow might have a scraggly beard and an accent that cuts the “g” out of words that end with “ing.” But he is definitely not from around here. I’ve been in West Virginia for seven years, and I’ve never, ever encountered someone who speaks like he does: deep and melodious. And I’ve definitely never come across someone who looks at me the way he does.

Like I’m not a complete freak who has no business being here.

“So you don’t have email or a phone number,” I say consideringly. “How about a name? I can drop a CD mix or something off with Ken. And he can give it to you at your next session.”

But Free Bird shakes his head again and the smile drops all the way off his face. “I don’t have one of those either.”

“What? A CD player?” I ask, not really that surprised. I’m not even sure my laptop has a CD player. And come to think of it, I don’t really know how I’d go about burning a mix tape onto a CD with the technology I have on hand…

But then he says, “Afraid I don’t exactly have a name at the moment either.”

BOOK: His Forbidden Bride: 50 Loving States, West Virginia
11.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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