The head of the trauma unit was going to retire in a couple of months. An old army buddy had given Eli the heads-up that the position was coming available. Eli had actually only worked in the ER for a few months, but since he was already an internal doctor, he had a leg up on any outsiders vying for the position.
He couldn’t worry about that right now, but he was hopeful that he would hear something soon.
“What time is your surgery scheduled in the morning?” Eli asked, taking a seat next to his mother on the old floral sofa that belonged in the same Dumpster as the recliner.
“They’re doing it at seven,” she told him. “But they’re going to admit him this evening. We wanted to wait until you came before we left.”
Eli glanced to his watch, then over to his dad. “Are you ready to go or do we need to finish this game you’re cursing under your breath about?”
His father pointed the remote at the TV, shutting it off. “I guess we can go. Let it be known that I am not happy about having my independence taken away.”
Eli laughed. “Noted. Let it also be known we’re glad you’re having surgery so you’ll be around for a few more years.”
The doorbell chimed through the house and Eli held up his hand. “I’ll get it. You two go get whatever you need to take to the hospital.”
He figured his parents were already very well prepared to go. He also knew as the hometown doctor his father was popular and figured whoever was at the door was here to send Mac off. Eli thought it best to intercept the visitor and usher his parents on out the door before throngs of people came by.
Eli neglected to glance out the sidelights before he jerked the door open to the one woman who could make his knees weak and his gut clench.
All that rehearsing in the car did absolutely no good when he was rendered speechless.
Nora Parker, the epitome of hometown girl, stood on his parents’ porch looking all bright and fresh even as the blistery cold winds swirled about. She’d wrapped herself in a cheerful red coat and multistriped hat and matching scarf.
The girl who had won over the hearts of his parents when his youngest brother, Drake, had befriended her in junior high and brought her home after school still had a place in their lives. Shortly thereafter she’d stolen his heart and just a few years later they’d turned their backs on each other, him to pursue his dreams, her to make a life in the only place she wanted to call home.
Now, here she was, no doubt checking in on his father. Their inevitable time together was about to begin whether he was mentally prepared for it or not.
“Eli.” With eyes wide, she pasted on a radiant smile. “I knew you were coming home, but I didn’t expect to see you here tonight. I didn’t miss Mac and Bev, did I?”
Eli forced himself to snap out of this stupefied state and stop staring like some lustful teen. Good grief, he hadn’t even invited her in from the biting cold.
“You didn’t miss them. Come on in.” He gestured, opening the door wider. “It’s freezing out there.”
Her sweet, floral perfume slid right under his nose as she passed through. Eli closed the door, turning to offer to take her coat, but, like an idiot, he became mesmerized as she started talking.
For pity’s sake, he acted like he’d never seen a female before. This wasn’t just any female. This was the one girl who’d stolen his not-so-innocent heart at the age of sixteen. This was the girl who had finally settled down four years ago with his best friend.
This was the girl who had no idea about the deceit behind her own marriage and the lies behind her late husband. Eli couldn’t tell her, though. He’d never purposely hurt Nora again. Once was enough to leave him scarred. Literally.
“So,” she said, looking around. “They’re still here?”
Oh, right. While he was fighting the urge to travel down that lane of not-so-pleasant memories, she’d been waiting for a response.
“We were just getting ready to go,” he supplied. “Come on into the living room. Do you need me to take your coat?”
“Oh, no. I can’t stay long.”
He followed her, clutching his fists the whole way. Those instant lustful feelings that had slammed into him at the sight of her standing on his parents’ porch had better just go away. How disrespectful could he be? A giant gap of years lived between them, proving nothing from the past was the same.