Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Her Sister's Keeper by Sydell Voeller

Her Sister's Keeper by Sydell Voeller
          What next? Logan Corbett wondered as the elevator doors swooshed closed behind her. How can I possibly face another day?

She stepped into the blue carpeted lobby then turned left down the long corridor that led to the rehabilitation wing at Children’s Hospital. Fatigue and worry weighted her feet.

Nearly every day since Kimberly had been admitted to the unit, there seemed to always be another piece of discouraging news. Kimberly was despondent when the pediatrician tried to question her. Kimberly refused to cooperate that morning in physical therapy. Kimberly had barely eaten for the past three weeks.

Logan forced back a lump in her throat as she passed a gray-clad custodian, then gave him a polite nod. "Good morning, Henry."

"Mornin', Ms Corbett. Man on TV says the temperature's supposed to break the all-time record today." He shook his head, pausing to reach into his hip pocket and wipe the perspiration from his brow. "Few weeks it'll be August. Dog days. I'll be glad when it finally starts raining again come September."

"Yes," she said with a nod. "We Washingtonians certainly aren't used to this heat." Hurrying on, she sniffed the usual odor of pine disinfectant mingled with the scent of the warm Sausage McMuffin inside the white paper bag she was carrying. She'd stopped by McDonalds on the way to the hospital in hopes of tempting Kimberly with one of her favorite fast foods.

 A honey-smooth voice on the intercom paged a physician, the thud of the dumb-waiter sounded as it announced the delivery of breakfast trays behind a sliding metal door. Without a doubt, Kim would have rejected the usual morning fare of orange juice, toast, and a soft boiled egg, Logan decided.

Logan quickened her pace. Lucky thing Kimberly's physician had agreed to transfer her here to the pediatric hospital in the sprawling city of Westland, Washington, where Logan worked as a registered nurse. It would make life a little easier now to have Kim close at hand.

Normally Logan loved everything about her job at the hospital. The daily routine of medicines, treatments, baths, and meals. The bright airy therapy rooms. The staff conferences. The visits from the clowns and magicians who came to entertain. And most of all, she loved the children. How she'd longed to begin her own family—back before her marriage to Matthew Austin, a renowned heart surgeon, had ended bitterly two years earlier. Yet now, ironically, after her entire world had been turned inside out, she did have a child to care for. Kimberly. Her ten-year-old sister.

"Miss Corbett? Logan? May I have a word with you?" A familiar voice sliced through her blue funk.

She looked up. "Yes, Dr. Dellinger?"

He motioned toward a small office across the hall. "Let's talk in there."

"Uh. . .sure."

He waited for her to enter first and as she did their shoulders brushed. He'd been standing so close in that doorway. Too close.

"So what is it?" she asked after she'd seated herself in a chair across from his desk. She took in his piercing blue eyes, high cheek bones, the errant lock of dark brown hair falling carelessly across his high forehead. Zachary Dellinger, M.D. At least half the nurses at Children’s had been captivated by his stunning good looks. So had she. But if he needed to discuss an order for one of his patients, perhaps remind her of an upcoming staff conference, why couldn't he have done that back in the nurses’ station like he usually did?

"Dr. Mosely called me in on consultation yesterday regarding your sister, Kimberly. There are some matters we need to discuss."

"I don't understand. Dr. Mosely's been Kim's pediatrician for years, practically since the day she was born. He knows her better than any of the doctors here."

"True enough. But there have's been some big changes in Kimberly's life. I imagine yours, too," he added.

That familiar pang settled in the pit of her stomach, but she squared her shoulders and met his gaze. "Yes, there have. Please understand. It's only been four months since the plane accident. Four months since my sister—who was the best little gymnast in the entire state of Washington—suddenly found herself partially paralyzed from the waist down."

He reached out to briefly touch her arm in a gesture of sympathy. "I heard. I'm sorry." Then he paused, as if considering. "Kimberly and your mother were the only members of your family involved in the accident?"

"Yes." She swallowed hard, dismissing the thought of how his touch had caused waves of pleasure to course through her. "Our father died of a heart attack when Kim was only two. Besides Kim and me, there're no other children. Mom and Kim were flying to Idaho where Kim was to attend a regional gymnastics competition. The original plan was for me to fly with her instead of my mother. . .but. . .but something came up rather unexpectedly and I had to back out." She wrestled with a new stab of pain, wondering why she was telling him this. No one, absolutely no one could understand her gnawing guilt about backing out at the last minute—all because she'd had the chance to attend a Shakespearean Festival in a neighboring city with her best friend, Dorothy, to see a couple of plays. If anyone should have lost her life in that airplane, it should have been she herself, not Mom.


"And well, the rest is obvious. Our mother's gone, Kimberly's partially paralyzed and all we have anymore is each other." She hesitated. "This is Kim's third hospitalization."

"Will you have to give up your job here to care for her at home?"

"No. I have an excellent nanny on stand-by. Then this fall, Kim'll attend a special education program in the school where she's already enrolled. . .if she's ready."

He sat with his hands folded, studying her for a long moment. "Dr. Mosely told me Kimberly's been uncooperative in treatment and that's why he's called me in. Apparently the physical and occupational therapists feel she's given up completely. Lost all incentives to walk again."

"Yes. . .I'm afraid that might be true. Though Kim has her ups and downs, most of the time it's very difficult to get through to her." She paused to toy with a button on her uniform, then asked, "But then, can you blame her?"

"Of course not. Depression is normal after a traumatic injury. It's even worse when the child involved has also lost her parent. But I may have a solution."


"Perhaps you already know about the summer camp sponsored by the hospital. It's a camp for kids with special needs—kids much like Kimberly."

"Yes, I'm familiar with it." Several of Logan's coworkers volunteered each summer to help out at the camp, though Logan had never joined them. Dust and mosquitoes—not to mention the lack of modern conveniences—had never been her idea of a good time.

"Earlier this morning, I met with the camp selection committee and we determined that Kimberly would be an ideal candidate to attend this summer's last session. She'll be awarded a full scholarship. You won't have to worry about coming up with a single penny." He leaned back in his chair, lacing his hands behind his head as he waited for her response.

"Kim? My little sister? Why Kim?"

"Camp Rippling Waters might be just what she needs. Not only will a month outdoors in the crisp mountain air put some color back into her cheeks, but the activities there might prove more beneficial than the more traditional modes of therapy."

"But her injury's so new! Kim's not ready for this! She's still grieving for Mom. . .just like I am. She hasn't had time to work through this. She still has terrible nightmares. . .wakes up screaming. As often as I can manage, I sleep on a cot in her hospital room so I can be there to comfort her." Tears welled up in her eyes. "No, I don't think so, Dr. Dellinger. Maybe next summer."

He sat forward again, his eyes earnest. "I think you're making a big mistake. I think you should reconsider."

"Have you ever worked at the camp? Do you know firsthand what dangers could—?" She stopped talking, bit her lip, remembering Zack Dellinger's track record there. He'd been a faithful volunteer at Camp Rippling Waters for several summers, not only while he'd completed his fellowship at Children’s Hospital, but also after he'd stayed on to set up his practice.

"Yes. This is my fifth summer. Logan. . .Miss Corbett. . .believe me, I understand what it takes to motivate kids like your little sister. I've been in their shoes. I was once a kid with physical problems, too."

"You? You were handicapped like Kimberly?" She shuddered at the very sound of her words. Last year at this time, she would've never dreamed she'd be saying that about her little sister.

"Yes. At the age of four I was diagnosed as having a degenerative hip disease that required a full body cast for several months. After rather disappointing results, I underwent several surgeries over the next ten year period. That's why, as you may have noticed, I walk with a slight limp."

"Oh!" Her hand flew to her mouth. "Yes. I'm sorry. I. . .I didn't mean to sound so crass." The news had taken her totally by surprise. The sight of Dr. Dellinger's tall, athletic build, complemented by his firmly sculpted muscles, gave him the aura of physical perfection. No wonder people paid little, if any, attention to the way he walked.

"Not a problem. I'm more than willing to talk about it, especially with the kids. I understand what it's like to feel different. What it's like to think you can never run and play and do all those things so-called normal kids can do. But I also want to help empower them. To let them know they can rise above their problems. And one of the best places to do that is in a camp setting."

She had to admit, he did sound convincing. Part of her yearned to say yes, while the other part continued to hold back. She owed it to her mother to protect Kimberly. Shelter her from any further trauma. Kimberly simply wasn't ready to be hurtled into the great out-of-doors.

"I've another idea." His voice broke through her confused thoughts. "Let's talk to Kimberly together about this."

"What good will it do? You've already pointed out how uncooperative she's been. You really expect her to listen to you?"

"Don't sell Kimberly so short. She might surprise you." He got to his feet, flashed her a disarming smile and motioned toward the door. "Come on. Let's find out."

A minute later as they strode together down the hallway towards Kimberly's room, Logan steeled herself against a flood of new emotions. Here she was walking side-by-side with the much sought-after Zachary Dellinger, but now it felt so different. Suddenly he was no longer merely a colleague, a professional acquaintance. He was a far-too-sexy male who had stepped into her life and offered to help her with her greatest dilemma—what to do about Kim.

 Yet there was no way she'd allow his magnetic appeal to break down her defenses. After her marriage to Matthew had ended, she'd sworn she'd never fall in love again with another doctor. Far too many nights she'd spent waiting up for Matthew when he never showed till the wee hours of the morning. An already too crowded schedule at the office with emergencies and other interruptions. Unexpected late night surgeries. After-hour consultations. The reasons had gone on and on.

But the bottom line was she'd learned an important lesson—no husband at all was far better than an absent one. There was no way one could build a solid family life with a doctor for a husband.

At the nurses' station, with its high white counters and revolving files filled with patients' charts, sat the night staff. Some were finishing their charting before the rest of the day shift came on duty at seven, a couple of others were preparing to dispense the early morning medications.

Outside Kimberly's room, Logan paused, then drew in a calming breath. "Be prepared for an onslaught of complaints," she warned him as she clutched the white bag perhaps a little more tightly than necessary. By now, she was sure the Sausage McMuffin had grown unappetizingly cold.

He smiled knowingly. "Fair enough. Lead the way."

Inside the room, Logan plastered on a smile she wasn't feeling and handed her sister the bag. "Hi, there, pumpkin. Surprise. Your favorite."

"Yuck," Kimberly balked, pushing it away without first looking inside. "I'm not hungry." She looked up from her wheelchair, her soulful blue eyes wide and questioning. Across her lap lay a pale pink blanket, nearly as pale as the color of her cheeks. "Who's the man?"

"This is Dr. Dellinger. He has something he wants to discuss with you."

 "Another doctor?" she complained. "Someone else to tell me I'm not trying hard enough? Someone who'll make me do all those horrible exercises—even though they hurt worse than anything's hurt me before?"

Dr. Dellinger sat on the edge of the bed across from her and took her hand in his. "I have some exciting news for you, young lady." Logan couldn't help but notice how protective and strong his hand appeared, how gentle his voice as he went on to explain about the summer camp. "So what do you think?" he finally asked. "Sound like a good way to spend the last part of your summer? The session begins next week."

"Oh, yes!" Kimberly exclaimed, her eyes bright with excitement. She turned to Logan. "May I go, Sissie? Would it be all right? Pleeeze?"

Logan's mouth dropped open. This was certainly the last thing she'd expected. "But next week is so soon," she stammered. "I mean, there's shopping to do. . .things to get ready. . .and all those name labels to sew on."

"I can do that!" Kimberly insisted. "I can write my name on the labels, maybe even sew them too." She giggled—her first indication of happiness Logan had witnessed in months. "Remember last summer—before the accident—how Mom promised me I could go to Girl Scout overnight camp when I was a year older! Well, now I am! Who cares if this is another kind of camp? It's probably more fun anyway. And besides. . .those labels aren't any big deal. Marcie told me last summer during one of our sleep-overs that before she went to Girl Scout camp, her mom glued them onto her clothes."

Despite her misgivings, Logan found herself joining in with Dr. Dellinger's laughter. She liked the way he laughed. Sort of deep and mellow with a nice warm ring.

"We'll talk about it, Kim," Logan said at last. "We'll talk about it later after we've had a little more time to think things over." She knew she was stalling, but she needed more time. Checking her watch, she added, "Now if you two will excuse me. It's nearly seven and time for report."

Turning to walk back out the door, she felt Dr. Dellinger's hand on her shoulder. This time his touch made her heart race. "So, you will get back to me?"

She tossed a glance over her shoulder, then swallowed hard. "Yes. Yes. . .I will. I'll have my answer in twenty-four hours."


* * *


Next morning at Logan's condo in the eastern suburb of Westland, she shrugged into her teal blue raincoat. It wouldn't be necessary to stop by MacDonald's on the way to the hospital, she decided hurriedly. In a few short hours Kim's appetite had improved remarkably. Could it be the anticipation of attending Camp Rippling Waters?

She flipped a comb one final time through her shoulder length black curls, then began rummaging through her purse for her car keys. She'd overslept by nearly a full hour, leaving herself not a moment to spare. All night long till the first light of dawn, she'd tossed and turned, trying to decide what to tell Dr. Dellinger. Finally, after piecing together a workable plan, she'd fallen into a fitful sleep.

The telephone rang. Hesitating for a split second—should she allow the recorder to take a message so she could be on her way?—she hurried to the extension in the hallway and answered it.

"Good morning. Your twenty-four hours is nearly up." Dr. Dellinger's mellow voice greeted her without preamble.

She pictured him smiling into the phone and had to gather her composure before answering. "Yes, I know. But I didn't expect you to take me so literally. I mean, I figured I'd see you sometime today on the wards."

"I made rounds early. I have to assist in surgery at nine. So what have you decided about camp? Will you accept the scholarship and allow Kimberly to go?"

"I. . .I. . ." She inhaled deeply. "Yes. . .But only under one condition."

"Oh? What's that?"

"On the condition that Florence Matland, the director of nurses, approves my request for a month's vacation leave starting next Monday. I should know later today."

The surprise in his voice carried across the wires. "You plan on taking a trip while your sister goes to camp?"


  1. This looks like such a touching story! I can't wait to read it.

  2. Hi Sydell,
    What a great excerpt. I would certainly love to read more.

    Best wishes


  3. Sydell: This is a grabber--at the heart strings. A terrific opening for a family story/romance. best wishes!