Lauren Spencer pushed her shopping cart through the department store in a fury. Her bulging eyes, rapid breathing, and slightly reddened face told people to get out of her way. She just couldn’t believe she was shopping again. She’d finished her Christmas shopping back in October—so she’d avoid this last-minute chaos that was supposed to be a joyous time of the year. But, noooooo, her husband had to spring on her this last minute gift for his boss—and here she was shopping, on Christmas Eve! It just wasn’t fair. Shouldn’t it be Ryan’s responsibility to get his boss a gift? After all, she’d bought her boss’s gift, along with her co-workers and Ryan’s and her three kids. He hadn’t even bothered to come with her to pick out the gifts. She sighed. She didn’t even know what to get Ryan’s boss. She’d only met her once, and that was six months ago at the company barbecue. She hadn’t even found her that pleasant of a woman. How was she supposed to pick out a gift for her?
Lauren stopped abruptly. Aha! There it was—the perfect gift. That had to be ‘the most gorgeous’ bag Lauren had ever seen. Lauren began walking toward it, but from the corner of her eye, she saw another woman walking in that general direction. She kept glancing at Lauren and then the bag. She wouldn’t dare! Lauren stepped faster, but so did the woman. Lauren began to jog, and so did the woman. Then Lauren was running, and so was the woman. Lauren shook her fist at the brazen woman. “You will not get my perfect gift!” Lauren shouted.
They both grabbed it at the same time. “Let go!” the other woman shouted.
“Not on your life,” Lauren said between clenched teeth. “I saw it first.”
The woman yanked hard, pulling Lauren off her feet. It was all she could do to steady herself. “I saw this bag yesterday when I was shopping with my mother.”
“So what!” Lauren exclaimed. “You should have bought it yesterday.” She yanked it hard, and the woman stumbled.
“I couldn’t,” the woman said. “My mother was with me, and it’s a Christmas gift for her.” She yanked it back.
“You’re such a liar,” Lauren accused and yanked again.
“Excuse me!” the woman exclaimed. She yanked it back.
Just then a salesclerk came running over. Lauren hadn’t even noticed the amount of people who’d gathered to watch the yanking match. With one final, whopper of a yank, Lauren pulled the purse toward her, throwing the woman off balance. She flew backward, landing on a glass display that held an array of hats. The glass shattered and blood pooled around the woman’s body.
A huge, collective gasp went out around Lauren, and she pivoted to stare at accusing eyes. A man near her pointed at the woman and screamed, “She killed her!”
It did indeed look as if Lauren killed her. She lay on her back, the pool of blood surrounding her growing darker. She was not moving or breathing for that matter, but nobody seemed to be doing anything to help her—including Lauren.
“I didn’t mean to hurt her,” Lauren said. Then she dropped to her knees and crawled over to her. The bag that had been the catalyst for the unnecessary argument lay crumpled in a heap and forgotten, its handle torn free and soaked in blood. She put two fingers to her neck. Then she exclaimed excitedly, “She’s not dead! Her pulse is good and strong.”
The woman began to moan and tried to sit up. “Don’t move,” Lauren said. The woman struggled to get up, but Lauren pushed her back down.
“Let me go, bitch,” the woman shouted. She looked around anxiously. “What’s going on? Who are you people? Did any of you see this woman attack me for no reason?”
Lauren breathed deeply, her nostrils flaring with her attempt to remain calm.
“You’re bleeding lady,” some kid from the crowd said.
“What! Where?” the woman said, looking around anxiously. She sat up quickly and when she did, Lauren could see the blood pool wasn’t nearly as bad as it had first looked. There wasn’t any blood under the woman, but a large piece of glass from the display case protruded from the woman’s side. The woman began patting down her body.
“Hold still,” Lauren said. “You’ll make it worse.”
The woman narrowed her eyes in a mean glare. “Shut up, bitch. I don’t take orders from you.”
Finally, a security officer arrived and pushed his way through the circle of onlookers, who all began talking rapidly and pointing accusing fingers. Some pointed to Lauren and some to the other woman. He put his hands over his ears. “All right, people,” he shouted. “You all need to calm down.” Slowly, voices began to diminish to murmurs. He turned his attention to the woman on the ground, whose face had turned beat red with anger. Her mouth quivered in a most unattractive way as she pointed an accusing finger at Lauren.
“It’s her fault, Officer. She attacked me without provocation!”
Lauren looked at the young officer and thought he looked familiar. The officer grinned. “It’s me, Doctor Spencer—Cam Johnson. I know we haven’t seen each other for a while, and I’ve grown a bit older, but it’s me.”
For a moment, Lauren couldn’t remember Cam Johnson, and then memories of a red-haired, freckle-faced kid came rushing back. Cam Johnson—the boy who always sat in the front of the Sunday-school classroom—the eager boy who always had the answer to the question, now stood before her wearing a security guard uniform. She nodded slightly—embarrassed that one of her old Sunday school students had caught her in this position.
“What happened to you?” he asked. “I never see you at church anymore,” he said.
Lauren looked down at the ground. “I guess I just got busy.”
Cam’s smile dropped. “Too busy for God?”
Lauren felt the sting of tears come to her eyes and wiped them away.
“Are you going to arrest her?” The woman asked.
Having forgotten the woman and her bleeding side, Lauren looked at her, and her demeanor softened. She pointed at her and said, “I’m a doctor. Let me do something about that.”
The woman recoiled. “Not on your life. I’ve never seen a doctor act this childish. But then I guess that makes some sense. All you doctors think the world owes you something. You think you’re special just because you have all that education. You just stay away from me.” She scanned the crowd with her eyes. “Has anyone bothered to call an ambulance? Or, are you all going to let me bleed to death?”
An older man, also wearing a security guard’s uniform and a name badge that read ‘supervisor’ stepped forward. “I called them.” Then he turned to Cam. “Take Doctor Spencer into the office and wait for me there.”
“Please,” Lauren said, pointing to the woman on the ground. “Let me stay near her. If that glass lodged too deeply, it could be close to an artery. If she moves in the wrong direction and the glass shifts and ruptures an artery, she could bleed to death.”
“Hell no,” the woman said. “I’d rather bleed to death than let her touch me.”
Lauren frowned and shook her head. “Suit yourself, but I’d advise you to lie as still as possible.” She rose to her feet. “Let’s go.”
Cam led the way, and they walked away from the crowd. Lauren looked back at the woman, pleased to see she hadn’t moved an inch. She thought about the situation and wondered how she could have stooped so low. What was happening to her lately? She and Ryan had been fighting nonstop, Eric and Elise drove her crazy most of the time, and it seemed that lately she found any excuse she could to escape one of her committee meetings.
“Right here,” Cam said as he opened a door and stepped aside for her to enter. She walked in and blanched at the sterility of the office. Is this what her attitude lately had brought her? She wondered when she’d become so unhappy. It seemed as if she’d lost purpose to her life, but she couldn’t think of any specific event that had caused it. Eric and Elise were nearly grown now and hardly needed her at all. Ryan got a promotion at work, and that was great for the budget, but it seemed to have put a damper on their relationship. They’d grown apart, and it seemed neither of them had noticed it happening.
“This is embarrassing,” she said to Cam.
He smiled at her. “It’s the holidays. We see things like this all the time.”
She cocked her head at him and a thought struck her. When had Christmas become about shopping for the best gift. It seems I don’t even know what Christmas is about anymore.
“Have a seat,” Cam said. When she was sitting across from him, he regarded her. “I remember you as being the nicest Sunday school teacher I’d ever had. I never thought I’d see you in here? What happened?”
Lauren shook her head. She knew he wasn’t just talking about today’s incident. “I guess I just got lost.”
“They miss you at church.”
Lauren straightened her shoulders and smiled. She’d gradually stopped going to church. At first, she’d just been depressed and lacked the energy to get up and go. Then when she tried to get back into the routine, she just couldn’t do it. Slowly, she’d begun to miss important meetings and soon began to dodge phone calls from her friends. When they’d grown tired of her refusing their calls, they stopped calling—and that made her angry.
The door opened, and the supervisor walked in with a man wearing a city police uniform. “You called the cops?” Cam said.
“The woman insists on pressing charges for assault.”
“Is she okay?” Lauren asked.
The supervisor shrugged. “She’s on her way to the hospital.”
“What happened?” the police officer asked.
Lauren looked at his badge. “Officer Jayne, we got into a tugging match with a purse,” Lauren said.
Officer Jayne said, “No kidding? Did you really assault her?”
Lauren shook her head. “No. Although, I can see why she might have thought so—I should have just let her have the purse.”
Officer Jayne shrugged and lifted his eyebrows. “Sorry, but I have to bring you to the station.”
Lauren sighed and stood. “I figured that. Is it okay if I call my husband and tell him to meet us there?” He nodded, and Lauren took out her phone and dialed Ryan’s number. She received his voice mail. She briefly filled him in and put the phone back in her purse. “I guess I’m ready.”
He took her purse from her. “I’ll need to hold onto that.” She let it go willingly.”
As they drove away, she thought about how Ryan would take the news. She chuckled.
“What’s so funny?” Officer Jayne asked.
“I’m supposed to be at a dinner party at my husband’s boss’s house in an hour. That’s why I wanted the purse. It was a last minute gift, and I had no idea what to get her. Then I saw that gorgeous bag and knew no woman could resist it.”
“Hmm,” he said.
Lauren laughed. “A bit on the silly side, I guess.” She sighed. “I suppose I’ll have to pay for that along with the display case and anything else I damaged. Assuming that is, I don’t spend the rest of my life behind bars.”
Officer Jayne laughed hysterically. “Hardly, I’m sure the judge—” Just then the car began to swerve and skid on the ice. Lauren reached out to brace herself for a crash. Then there was a huge thud as the car hit something. “Oh my God!” he said just as the car came to an abrupt halt. Without a word, the officer jumped from the car, rushing to the front and disappearing. Lauren tried to open the back door, but it was locked. She fumbled for a lock but found none. Then she remembered hearing somewhere that police cars couldn’t be opened from the inside in the back seat. She pounded on the window, yanked on the screen that divided the front from the back seat, and finally slammed her palm against it.
Suddenly, someone yanked open the door, and Officer Jayne grabbed her by the arm, pulling her around to the front of the car. “Help her!” he shouted.
Lauren looked down at the still form of a pregnant woman, who lay on the frozen ground. Her right arm lay at an odd angle, her left femur protruded from an open wound. Blood pumped at a steady rate, and Lauren feared she’d hit an artery. She dropped beside her and held her hand out to the police officer. “Give me your belt.” He complied without a word. Lauren used it to make a tourniquet, staunching the flow of blood. “Don’t just stand there, call an ambulance!”
Officer Jayne jumped into action as Lauren took off her blouse and tied it around the wound. She began further assessing the damage, relieved when she didn’t find anything else of significance.
A man came down the alley, waving at Officer Jayne. “That’s her!” he shouted as he gestured toward the woman. “She’s a thief. There’s the evidence right there.”
Lauren looked beside the woman and saw several pieces of fruit and a loaf of whole grain bread lying beside her. Then she looked down at her swollen belly and then to the state of her worn-out clothing. It didn’t take much intelligence to figure out this woman was homeless and probably stealing to feed herself.
“I want her arrested,” the man said.
Lauren turned and gaped at the man. What was wrong with people today? It was Christmas Eve, for God’s sake. Had everyone lost their sanity? She ignored him and returned her attention to the woman. She felt her pulse—weak but steady. The blood from the leg wound didn’t appear to be pumping as fast anymore.
Behind her, the man and Officer Jayne were arguing. She just wished the woman would wake up. What was taking the ambulance so long? She spun around, “Would you two stop arguing and find out what happened to that ambulance.” They stopped and looked at her. “Now!”
Officer Jayne dashed to the car while the man stooped down beside Lauren. “Is she okay?” he asked. Lauren gave him a sideways glance and looked down at the woman. “Was she running from you?”
“She was stealing from me.”
“She’s obviously hungry with a baby to care for.”
“I didn’t see a kid with her.”
“It’s inside her.”
The man looked down. “Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“Lauren shook her head. “She was hungry. What were a loaf of bread and a few lousy pieces of fruit to you?”
“I…” but then he stopped. He wasn’t going to argue with her. The truth was he was tired of people stealing from him. Every day his register ran short. They were all homeless. Was he to feed everyone just because his store was in the heart of the homeless community? They should get jobs and pay for their stuff. He worked hard for his money.
Officer Jayne returned and looked at Lauren with panic. “The ambulance can’t get here for up to two hours. There’s a ten car pile-up on Tenth Avenue. A big-rig overturned when it tried to avoid hitting a bus.”
Lauren took a large breath and closed her eyes. “This woman doesn’t have two hours. Aside from her wounds, her baby’s coming right now.”
“Oh, God,” the man groaned. “I’m sorry. I feel just awful about this.”
“She needs a hospital,” Lauren said.
“I have a pickup truck. Could we put her in that?”
“We shouldn’t move her without proper equipment. If her neck’s broken, we could kill her or paralyze her.”
The man ran off and came back with a neck collar. He grinned. “I got whiplash in a car accident a few months back. For some reason, I never threw it away.” He tossed it to Lauren. “I’ve seen them use this on TV before. Will it work?”
Lauren looked it over. “It’s better than nothing.” She wrapped the collar around the woman’s neck. Then she looked around. “I need to stabilize her leg.” She gestured at the man. “What’s your name?”
He pointed at himself. “Me? I’m Walter.”
“Walter, do you have any boards lying around your store?”
He shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
“I have something you can use.” Lauren looked up and saw a man standing beside Walter. When had he shown up? Then she noticed several people standing around. “I’ll need a board that’s, at least, six feet long, two more boards about two feet wide and three feet long.” The man standing beside Walter tapped him. “Come with me. I’ll need some help.”
Walter and the man ran off. Lauren checked the woman’s pulse again, pleased that it still felt strong. Can someone find me some strong tape?”
“I have some packing tape back at the store,” a woman announced. She ran off before Lauren could tell her to get it.
Walter and the man returned carrying an old door. “Will this do?” Walter asked.
Lauren grinned. “Perfect.”
“What do you want us to do?” Lauren looked to her left and saw two young men and a dog.
“I still need the other boards.”
One of the men tapped the other. “I saw an old packing crate leaning against a wall a few blocks back. We can bust that up.” They turned and ran off, leaving the dog with a girl standing beside them.
The woman returned with a roll of packing tape and thrust it at Lauren. “Will this do?”
Lauren nodded. “It will. Does anyone have a blanket?”
Officer Jayne dashed off, returning seconds later with a blanket. Lauren took it and placed it on the woman.
The two men returned with several long pieces of wood. “Maybe we could tape a few of these together,” One of them said. Without waiting for confirmation, he began to construct a splint. Following his lead, his partner began to construct another. When the first one was complete, Lauren carefully lifted the woman’s arm and slid the splint underneath. Then she wrapped the tape around the splint and arm. When she lifted the leg to put the second splint underneath, the woman moaned.
“She’s waking up,” someone said, excitement in her voice.
“It’s a good sign,” Lauren said. “Bring that door close to her,” she said.
The two men with the door carried it and laid it as close to the woman as they could. “Someone help me roll her gently to the side—on my count and at the same time.” Lauren took her head, wanting to be careful to keep the neck from turning. She instructed the woman where to hold her hip. “Someone hold the splint with the broken arm, please.” Walter dropped down beside Lauren and cradled the arm. “Three, two, one,” Lauren called, and all three worked simultaneously to roll the woman to the side. The woman moaned loudly and then went silent again. “The door—quickly!” Lauren exclaimed. In a quick fluid action, they placed the door beneath the woman, and the trio gently laid her body on the door. Lauren secured her head to the door so that she couldn’t move it.
Walter and Officer Jayne immediately picked up each end of the door and carried it swiftly to the back of the pickup truck, sliding it inside. Lauren hoisted herself beside her. Walter jumped into the driver’s seat and began to move. Officer Jayne got into his patrol car and turned on the lights and siren.
As they traveled down the road on their way to the hospital, Lauren sat back and looked at the woman. Then she felt her belly and felt the strong contractions. Lauren worried they wouldn’t make it to the hospital in time. It had been a long time since she’d delivered a baby, and her skills were rusty. Hadn’t it been in medical school, during her OB rotation?
The truck slowed and came to a stop. Lauren looked up to see they had stopped for a train. “Damn!” she said. “Please let it be a passenger train and not one of the long freight trains that held her up most mornings.
The woman stirred at a strong contraction. Then she cried out, and her eyes flew open. She tried to move her head but couldn’t. Lauren reached out and touched her. “Shh,” she said. “It’s okay.”
“Baby,” the woman managed to utter.
“The baby is fine,” Lauren said but in fact, she had no idea if that were true. She had no equipment with which to check out the baby’s vitals—not even a stethoscope to hear the heartbeat.
“He’s coming now!” she cried.
Lauren fumbled in the dark, moved her hand to feel between the woman’s legs and felt the top of the baby’s head. “Shit!” she exclaimed. She pounded on the back window, but Walter could not hear her over the roar of the train.
Lauren made her way down the woman’s side, feeling her leg as she found her way. The head was nearly out, and the woman was screaming in pain. “Oh God, please help me,” Lauren said and began working frantically to save the life of this woman and her child.
As the train passed and the arm to the security gate rose, the truck began to move forward, but Lauren was too busy to attract anyone’s attention. She guided the baby—tenderly freeing each shoulder as he eagerly pushed his way out. Lauren grabbed the infant and cradled it to her. Relief flooded through her when she heard the baby let out a strong, healthy cry. Then she took off her skirt and used it to wrap the baby. An iridescent light replaced the darkness, and Lauren guessed they had come into town. “Almost there,” she said and noticed the one good arm of the woman reaching out for her baby. Lauren carefully made her way to her, laying the infant on his mother’s arm as Lauren maneuvered herself beneath the woman to support her. “What’s your name?” she asked.
“Carmen,” she said with a weak voice.
“You’re going to be fine, Carmen.”
Moments later, they pulled up to the doors of the emergency room. A team of medical personnel stood by, waiting for them. As soon as the truck came to a stop, the tailgate was opened and hands were reaching in to grab the door and drag it out. The woman was reluctant to let go of the baby and held him tightly against her. Lauren touched her hand and whispered, “I won’t let him out of my sight.” Lauren held out a hand. “I need a clamp and scissors.” They appeared in her hands. She clamped and cut the cord. Carmen let go of the baby, and Lauren made her way toward the end of the truck, giving instructions as she handed off the baby to a nurse. “The placenta is still intact. The mother is Carmen. She has a fractured left arm. I think the right leg has a comminuted fracture. She’s going to need a surgeon.”
“I’m right here,” a middle-aged man said.
Lauren turned toward the voice and smiled. “Robert,” she said. “I’m glad it’s you on call.”
He grinned back. “It’s nice to see you again. Just wish it were under better circumstances.”
They were lifting the door off the truck now, and Lauren immediately began to point out her injuries. Carmen had lost consciousness again, and Lauren thought how blessed that was.
Robert took in the makeshift splints and gurney. “Clever of you,” he said.
Lauren shook her head. “I can’t take credit.” She ran to catch up to the baby, intent on keeping her word to Carmen. The police officer and Walter followed closely behind. Lauren turned at the door of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. “You can’t come in here,” she said. “I’ll come out in a minute and update you.” Each man shook his head and wandered away to find a waiting room.
Lauren approached the incubator that held the infant. “How is he,” she asked.
The nurse looked up and smiled. “Hey, Doctor Spencer. I hear you’re a hero tonight.”
Lauren shook her head. “Not a hero,” she said, thinking about her behavior at the department store and the police officer outside the NICU waiting to arrest her.
“The baby looks great. He seems to be full-term. Dr. Jacobs is on her way to check him out, but he’s breathing fine on his own accord and his scores look great.”
Lauren breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank God,” she said.
The nurse looked into Lauren’s eyes. “It is a night for miracles.”
Lauren smiled, realizing for the first time that night she was not depressed. “I’m going to update Officer Jayne. I’ll be right back.”
She made her way to the waiting room and found the pair engaged in a debate over football. She smiled at the normalcy of their banter. When they saw her enter, they stood. “How’s the baby?”
“He looks good.”
Is there anything we can do?” Walter asked.
She looked at Officer Jayne. “Can you see what you can find out about the woman at the department store? I promised Carmen I’d stay with the baby.” He nodded. “Just call the NICU desk when you find out.” He turned and walked away.
“How about me?” Walter asked. “I feel responsible. I want to help.”
Lauren smiled tenderly and reached out to touch his arm. “It’s not your fault. You have every right to protect your property.”
“Still, I want to do something.”
“Maybe you can see if you can find out any more information about Carmen. Someone in the neighborhood must know who she is.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Lauren made her way back to the NICU. Dr. Jacobs was examining the baby when Lauren approached. She looked up and greeted her. “Evening, Lauren.”
“How’d you find this one?” she asked.
Lauren sighed. “Let’s just say I happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
Dr. Jacobs lifted the baby and placed him in Lauren’s arms. “Well, this little guy is in perfect shape. He’s a little underweight for my liking, but still great.”
“Have you heard anything about the mother?” Lauren asked.
“She’s in surgery,” Dr. Jacobs said.
Lauren looked down at the baby as a nurse placed a bottle in her hand. Lauren sighed contentedly and found a rocking chair. It had been a long time since she’d held an infant. She’d forgotten how good they felt. She sat and began to hum a lullaby.
Lauren rocked the baby for ten minutes when a nurse approached her. “Your husband is on the phone. I parked the call on line ten.”
Lauren stood and handed the sleeping baby to the nurse. She made her way to the nurses’ station and picked up the call. “Hello, Ryan.”
“Lauren? What is going on? You’re supposed to be here at the party right now.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” She sighed and poured out the story for him. When she’d finished, she listened to a silent line. “Ryan?”
There was another moment of silence and then he said, “I’m here. I just don’t know what to say.”
“I could use you right now.”
“Of course,” he said. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
She hung up the phone and stared off into space for several moments, with her hand on the cradle.
“Is everything all right, Dr. Spencer?”
Lauren looked up and smiled. “Fine, Tammy.”
“They’re talking about you in the ER.”
“Is that right?” She cocked her head sideways.
“Dr. Rhodes, the chief of emergency medicine, says you missed your calling. He says you should have been a trauma doctor. He said you saved that woman’s life, and probably her leg, too.”
Lauren gasped. She had once considered being an ER physician but had convinced herself that general practice was safer and had better hours. She could go to work on a regular schedule, take vacations when she wanted, and be there for Ryan and the children at the end of the day. Instead of feeling useful, she had begun to feel as if her family took advantage of her. Instead of feeling as if she made a difference in someone’s life, she had begun to feel depressed every day. Her practice was routine and mundane.
She made her way back to the baby’s crib and peeked inside. He slept peacefully, his little chest rising and falling with the rhythm of sleep. She smiled at him and went to sit in the rocker, to watch the little guy sleep. A tap on the shoulder startled her. She looked up to see the surgeon staring down at her. “Hey, Robert. How’s the mommy.”
He pulled up a chair and sat next to her. “The arm wasn’t as bad as it looked. I put a couple of pins in it, and she’s in a cast.”
“And the leg?” she asked.
“I did the best I could with it, but I’m not optimistic. She may still lose it. Time will tell.”
Lauren frowned. “I guess it could be worse. I worry about how she’ll fare with that little one to care for.”
“Any word on who she is?” Robert asked.
“I have someone working on that.”
“Let’s hope they find some family,” Robert said.
Robert stood, and Lauren rose alongside him. “I’d better go and check on her,” he said.
“And I should see if anyone has found out anything about her identity.”
They walked out together. Lauren waved goodbye and headed for the NICU waiting room. She found Walter sitting with his hands in his lap. He stood when she approached. “Any word?”
He grinned. “I found a sister about two hours from here. She said Carmen ran away because they had an argument about the baby.”
Lauren frowned. “How old is Carmen?”
Walter shrugged. “The sister didn’t say, but she said she’s her older sister. I’m fairly sure she’s over eighteen.”
“Thank you for all you did to help,” Lauren said.
He shrugged again. “I still feel responsible. I know what you said, but if only I’d taken the time to assess the situation then maybe I would have realized she needed help.” He ran his hands through his hair. “I’ve been sitting her thinking that I might need someone at the store. Maybe I could help her out.”
Lauren grinned. “You’re a good man, Walter.”
He turned red and looked at the floor. “I didn’t do anything somebody else wouldn’t have done. I’m starting to realize that. I think I’ve judged the people in that neighborhood unjustly for too long. It’s time to reach out and help.”
Officer Jayne came in with an amused grin on his face. “I hope that smile means you have good news,” Lauren said.
He chuckled. “Ms. Lathrop was treated and released. The glass hadn’t gone as far in as it first appeared. She started making accusations again—until news of your heroics reached the ER and subsequently her ears. I guess she felt foolish for accusing Dr. Hero of trying to end her life. She not only dropped the charges against you, but she’s also agreed to pay for all the damages herself.”
Lauren shook her head. “I can’t let her do that; it was both our faults. I’ll call her and thank her and we’ll work out the details.”
Lauren turned at the sound of her daughter’s voice. She held out her arms and Elise ran to her. Perhaps she still needed her after all.” She kissed the top of her daughter’s head and then looked past her to see Eric standing in the doorway with a big grin on his face. She grinned back.
“Pretty cool, Mom,” he said. He was too cool for running, but he did walk over and embrace both his mother and his sister. Lauren held both children tightly against her. Then her husband appeared in the doorway with big bags of food from the Clucking Chicken.
He locked eyes with Lauren and a thousand apologies flooded them. Lauren’s eyes filled with tears that she wiped away. Now was not the time to fall apart. Ryan set down the food on a table and embraced his wife.
“I’m sorry about missing the party,” she said.
He shook his head. “Don’t be. I was a jerk for expecting you to drop everything and take care of something that was clearly my responsibility. I’m sorry.”
“I don’t know what’s been wrong with me lately. I just can’t seem to shake the depression. I’ve felt so useless lately—as if I had no purpose in life. I haven’t even been able to capture the Christmas spirit this year—a holiday I truly love.”
“I know,” Ryan said. “I’ve seen you falling deeper every day, but I didn’t know how to help.”
Lauren looked thoughtful. “Maybe there was a reason for all that happened tonight.”
“You mean you think God let this happen?” Ryan asked.
“No. Not that exactly,” she said, “I just know that I haven’t felt this alive since I did my residency training.”
“What exactly are you saying?” Eric asked.
“I think I’m ready to close my practice and pursue a position in emergency medicine. I know it means a lot of time away from home, but it’s something I’ve always wanted, and tonight made me realize that.”
Elise started to open her mouth to speak but was cut off by the arrival of a nurse. Lauren turned around at the sound of her approach. “Excuse me, Dr. Spencer. Carmen is awake and asking to see you.”
“I’ll be right there.” She turned back to her family. “Go ahead and eat. I’ll be back soon.”
She was almost to the door when Elise said, “Mom.” She turned to look at her daughter. Elise smiled. “I think you’d make a great ER doctor.”
Carmen rolled her head toward the door when Lauren entered. “Hey,” Lauren said. “How do you feel?”
Her eyes looked hollow, and bruises were already forming around them. Her face still had traces of blood on it, and her arm had a pink cast on it. But despite all of this, Carmen glowed with happiness. Her voice cracked, and she had to stop twice to swallow, but she managed to say, “I feel blessed. Thank you for saving my life, and Joshua’s, too.”
Lauren smiled. “Joshua. I’m glad I finally have a name to go with that beautiful face.”
“It means one who God saves. When can I see him?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Lauren lifted Joshua from his crib and giggled at the sour face he made. “Time to meet your, mama,” she said. The baby cooed and settled into the crook of her arm. Lauren gazed at his face while she carried him back to his mother.
When she walked in carrying the baby, Carmen’s face lit up. “Here she is,” Lauren said softly. “Here’s your mama, little Joshua.”
She laid the baby in Carmen’s good arm and propped a pillow underneath it for support. Then she sat on the bed beside Carmen and brushed her hair away from her eyes. “Do you know what you’re going to do now?”
“My sister’s coming to help me—just until I get back on my feet. Then we’ll see. The nurse said the hospital’s social worker would be by to see me.” She looked down at Joshua and continued. “I don’t know how I’m going to do it alone, but I guess we’ll figure it out.”
Lauren cupped Carmen’s chin and lifted her head. “You’ll have more help than you know.” At Carmen’s questioning look, she said, “I’m not the only one who saved your life tonight. Many people from your neighborhood helped, including Walter, the store owner from whom you stole.”
Carmen blushed. “I was hungry.”
“He knows that.”
Carmen’s eyes grew heavy, and Lauren knew it was time to go. She reached down to pick up the baby, but Carmen grasped him more tightly. “Please, can he stay?”
Lauren looked at the nurse who shrugged and nodded. Lauren bent down and kissed the baby’s head, and then on impulse, she kissed Carmen’s too. “Merry Christmas,” she said, but Carmen was already asleep again.
She made her way back to her family. When she walked into the waiting room, she had to blink hard to clear her eyes. Standing before her was everyone who helped her save Carmen’s life that night. Gifts for the new baby were everywhere, and laughter filled the room.
Ryan put his arm around her. “Amazing, isn’t it?”
Lauren nodded. She looked up to look into her husband’s eyes. “I’ve been looking for it in all the wrong places.”
Ryan’s eyebrows came together. “Looking for what?”
“For Christmas—I’ve been looking for it in all the wrong places. I couldn’t catch the Christmas spirit because I wasn’t looking in the right places. It’s not in the tinsel or the tree filled with expensive ornaments, or the gaily wrapped packages underneath it. It’s not finding the right gift for your boss. It’s not even in the Christmas carols we sing by rote. It’s here in this room with all these people who cared so much about saving the life of a woman they didn’t even know. It’s about the love that brought them all here. It’s about you and the kids knowing why I needed to be here tonight and bringing food to the hungry. It’s about the nurses and doctors who come here every day to heal the sick. But mostly it’s about the baby, who came here just in time to save us all—that little tiny baby, who brought an entire community together. That’s where you’ll find Christmas.
Wishing you and your family the merriest blessings of holiday season.
Copyright 2015 by Victoria Schwimley.
The characters and locations in this story are fictitious, and a purely the imagination of this author. Any resemblance to persons, living or otherwise, is purely coincidental.