Home > Surprise Delivery(7)

Surprise Delivery(7)
Author: R.R. Banks

A rueful smile touches my lips. “I'm leaving, Mom,” I finally manage to say. “I accepted a volunteer position with an outfit that provides medical treatment for the impoverished and needy around the world.”

She nods and looks totally unsurprised – which, in turn, surprises me.

“It just seems like something you'd do,” she says and laughs wryly as if reading my expression. “Where are they sending you?”

“I'm heading for Syria,” I say, though I don't tell her that I volunteered for the posting.

“Syria,” she whispers. “That's dangerous.”

“It's where my skills are needed most,” I explain.

“Why would you join this organization?” she asks. “I'm assuming it's voluntary?”

“Yes, it's voluntary. And I joined up because I wanted to do some good,” I say and smile. “I'm taking a page out of your playbook, you know. You and Dad always taught me to give back.”

She laughs softly. “I don't think we ever mentioned needing to give back by running headlong into a warzone.”

I shrug. “No, but you both taught me to do the most good I possibly can.”

“That's true,” she replies. “And I never thought those words would ever come back to bite me this hard.”

“It's only an eight-month rotation,” I say. “I'll be back before you know it.”

“Until you accept another posting.”

I shrug, not able to deny her words. Part of me hopes that I find whatever it is I'm looking for within myself on this posting. I've come to realize there's a hole deep within me – something that goes far beyond life simply being drab and joyless. I'm hoping that doing this will fill that hole for me – or, at least, show me what it is I'm lacking in my life that's making me feel this way.

This trip is as much about feeling alive again as it is about learning to make myself feel whole again.

“When do you leave?” she asks.

“Not for a few weeks yet,” I reply. “So, we still have plenty of time to spend together before I go.”

“Promise me you'll be careful,” she says.

“I promise. I'm not going over there to get myself killed.”

“See that you don't.”

In truth, I can't promise her anything. While deaths are rare among the staff of these aid groups, it's not like they haven't taken casualties of their own. There have been a number of doctors and nurses who wound up dead by working in a warzone like Syria.

It happens, but – it's rare.

“I'm proud of you, Duncan,” my mother tells me. “I don't tell you that as often as I should, but I'm truly proud of you.”

I take her hands into mine and give them a gentle squeeze. “I only am what I am because of you and Dad,” I say.

“Nonsense,” she protests. “You've made yourself who and what you are. And I can't possibly be prouder.”

“Thank you, Mom. That really means a lot to me,” I say, meaning every word of it.

“Just get your butt back here in one piece,” she says. “You have grandbabies to make me.”

We laugh together, the pall on our day together beginning to lift, if only a little.



“You look amazing,” Bri says.

“As do you, my dear,” I reply.

She laughs as we walk up the red carpet, our fancy ball gowns swishing around us. I'm wearing a dark green backless dress, with a plunging neckline and bedecked with plenty of lace. Sabrina is wearing a very similar dress, but hers is purple. My mask is a shade of green so dark, it's almost black. It’s festooned with purple and gold jewels and feathers – befitting the masked Mardi Gras theme.

I feel like a fairy tale princess. I've never worn a gown as fancy – or beautiful – as this one and I can't stop looking at myself in every reflective surface we pass. I just can't stop staring, feeling more beautiful than I think I ever have in my life.

I'm Sabrina's date to a fundraising gala her hospital is having. Her boyfriend also works at the hospital, so she had an extra ticket and wanted to give me a special night out. To that end, we spent the day together having brunch, then got our hair done, then got ourselves all dressed and ready. A car was sent to bring us to the gala, which only added to the whole fantasy feel of the day for me.

“Thank you for this, Bri,” I say. “This – I just can't get over it. It's amazing.”

“You deserve a little fun in your life,” she tells me. “And you are absolutely gorgeous, Lex.”

I hold my skirt out and spin around, giggling, feeling lighter in the heart than I have in seemingly forever.

“I have a feeling your dance card is going to be extremely full tonight,” Bri giggles, winking at me from behind her mask.

“Oh, is that why you brought me along?” I say and laugh. “Trying to hook me up with some hot doctor, huh?”

She shrugs. “Or a rich donor,” she replies, joining my laughter. “You just never know when or where you're going to find a love connection.”

“You're terrible,” I chide.

“You won't be saying that if you get to hook up with some of the doctors we have on staff.”

“With some of the doctors on staff? Some?” I grin.

“As they say, variety is the spice of life.”

“You are incorrigible.”

“That's what Dominic likes about me,” she smirks.

Dominic is her boyfriend – a resident at the hospital. They met during a procedure about three months ago and have been inseparable ever since. Those two are practically glued at the hip. Or, as much as they can be given the crazy schedule the two of them have. But, they're really sweet together and I'm happy Bri has found somebody who treats her so well.

She plucks two glasses of champagne off the tray of a passing waiter and hands me one, then we wander around the ballroom. It's decorated in shades of purple, green, and gold, and there's a Cajun Zydeco band playing on stage. The ballroom is filled with the sound of music and the loud buzz of conversation, and people are already dancing out on the floor.

On the side of the stage is a giant digital thermometer that's tracking the level of donations. At the moment, it's about halfway up the thermometer to their goal – not bad for the party having just started a little while ago. Clearly, they have some pretty wealthy donors.

“What are all of the donations for, anyway?” I ask.

“I dunno for sure,” Bri replies. “I think they want to build a new wing and bring in some new, more advanced equipment or something.”

“Ladies,” he says smoothly, his Georgia accent dripping like Southern honey. “You both look ravishing this evening.”

“You're not looking so bad yourself, Dom,” I say. “You clean up pretty good.”

He holds open his purple tuxedo jacket, flashing the gold cummerbund he's wearing, and spins around for us, drawing a laugh from both Bri and I. He pulls his girlfriend to him and plants a soft kiss on her cheek. Sabrina melts into him, wrapping her arms around his waist and I feel a momentary flash of jealousy. Not jealous of what she has with Dominic, just jealous that she has somebody she feels so comfortable with and connected to.

I can't recall the last time I felt that way towards a man. I kind of miss it. The men at work have turned me off to the idea of dating. At least for a while. They represent the worst in men to me and it's really made me hesitant to get close to anybody, let alone open up to them. I just don't trust anybody right now – which makes for some very lonely evenings. And that loneliness is sometimes overwhelming to me.

But until I can make some positive changes in my life – until I am able to get out of the toxicity of that office – I'm not entertaining the notion of being with anybody. It's just not worth it to me.

“So, Lexi,” Dom says. “See anything you like at the buffet?”

“I haven't been just yet,” I respond. “But, if you two would like some time alone –”

Bri laughs and shakes her head. “He's not talking about food,” she says.

I look at him and his smile is wide and charming. Then, I realize what he's talking about and I feel my cheeks flare with color – which makes me glad my mask hides most of my face. I can be so gullible and naive sometimes.

“So, you're in on this with her?” I ask.

He shrugs his broad shoulders. “We both just want to see you happy, Lex,” he says. “You deserve to be pampered and spoiled.”

“I'd settle for respect and genuine care,” I reply.

“Well, that's a given,” Bri says.

“Seriously though, some of the doctors around here are really good guys,” he tells me.

“Yeah, I'm not really in the market right now, but thanks,” I say.

“Maybe not,” he replies. “But, there's nothing wrong with doing a little window shopping, is there?”

I laugh. “I suppose not.”

Somebody calls his name and he gives them a wave, then turns back to me. “Mind if I borrow your date for a minu –”

“Go,” I encourage. “You two lovebirds have fun. I'll be just fine.”

They both give me a smile, then head over toward an older man who's smiling wide at them. I'm genuinely happy for Sabrina. Dominic seems like a really good guy – which gives me some small measure of solace and hope that maybe, one day when I'm ready, I can find one too.

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