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Author's Chapter Notes:

Something really strange happened with this chapter and the link somehow got broken. I had to delete and re-upload the chapter. If you've read chapter 8 but got a blank page on chapter 7, read this. It will fill in some blanks. Unfortunately, it also deleted the reviews for this chapter :(

Annie changed into a clean pair of lavender scrubs and pulled her damp hair into a ponytail before taking the stairs up to the third floor. She tapped lightly on the open hospital room door and peeked her head inside. “Hey! Where’s Baylee?”

“Oh, hi Annie!” Brian smiled and jumped up from his seated position on the windowsill to greet her. “He’s gone down to x-ray. Dr. Tony just wanted to check and make sure the bones are still aligned okay.”
“How’s be been doing?”

“Fine. Not as much pain as yesterday. Better now that Leighanne’s here. She walked with them when they wheeled him downstairs.”

She noticed an older couple sitting in the chairs by the window and realized that the man looked just like a rounder, balder version of Brian. “You must be Baylee’s grandparents.”

“Are you Baylee’s nurse?” Brian’s dad asked her. “He was saying something about popsicles....”

“I’ll see what I can do.” Annie gave Brian a wink. He opened his mouth to protest, but she’d already gone to the freezer at the nurse’s station to see what kind of popsicles they had. She felt a presence behind her when she opened the freezer.

“Sorry about my dad.” Brian’s voice tickled the back of her neck.

“What are you doing behind the nurse’s station?”

“The nurses love me.” He smirked. She glanced over to find two nurses, both probably in their early twenties, whispering to each other and giggling, and rolled her eyes. “You know you’re probably old enough to be their dad, right?”

“You know I am not that old!”

“What? About 36? Technically.....”

“Oh, hush! That’s weird.”

Annie dug around through a box of popsicles, bringing several up to eye level one at a time so that she could look through the white wrappers and see the colors. “Do you think Baylee would like orange or grape?”

“Grape. Definitely.” Annie handed him two grape popsicles. “So, like I was saying before...sorry about my dad. I let him know you were actually a doctor.”

Annie unwrapped an orange popsicle and licked it slowly. “Like I said to you yesterday, it’s a southern gentleman thing. It’s fine.” She took the popsicle back into her mouth and sucked greedily so that the coldness could soothe her throat, sore from crying earlier.

Brian’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head and he cleared his throat uncomfortably. “So, uh....Bad day?”

Annie narrowed her eyes at him and took the popsicle out of her mouth. “What makes you think that?”

“You just look really tired.” He tucked a stray curl that had fallen out of her ponytail behind her ear and she sighed.

“Yeah. It was definitely a Monday....a bad Monday.”

“I’m sure working in emergency medicine is pretty tough. Does this have anything to do with the code blue in the ER I heard them call over the intercom earlier?” Annie squeezed her eyes shut and the saw the little boy with curly blonde hair laying on a stretcher, blue and lifeless.

“I hate my job,” she blurted out.

“Oh. Uh....” Brian stammered.

“Sorry. That wasn’t really supposed to come out.” Annie sighed and caught some drips from her melting popsicle with her lips, then bit into it.

“Can I ask you a question?” Brian’s eyes searched hers imploringly. “If you hate your job, why were you so quick to tell me no yesterday?”

Annie chewed on her popsicle thoughtfully. “It’s complicated Brian, and I don’t think I know you well enough to tell you about it. But....”


“I think I’m going to talk to my husband about it tonight. Maybe tomorrow.”

Early the next morning after dropping Drew off at Tim and Tracy’s house, Annie parked her car, turned off the engine, and took a deep breath. It had finally stopped raining the night before, and the sun was now streaming down on the morning dew, creating a fine fog that hovered just over the grass. She stepped out of the car onto the little road and the gravel crunched underneath her tennis shoes as she walked gingerly along the path to where he was. She stepped onto the soft grass and sauntered over to it, then bent down and ran her hand along the smooth marble before placing a single red rose on the grass in front and dropping down to her knees. The wetness from that morning’s dew and the rain the day before soaked through her jeans to her knees, sending a slight chill through her body. Her finger traced lightly over the engraved lettering that spelled out “Andrew David Morgan,” and a single tear trickled down her cheek and landed on a blade of grass, blending in with the dew.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been so long, Andrew. Some days it feels like just yesterday when you went away. Other times, it feels like I’ve already had to spend an eternity without you.” She paused for a moment and looked down at her left ring finger. The delicate metal glimmered in the sunlight. “I took my engagement ring off a couple months ago and tucked it into a dresser drawer. Every once in a while, when I really get to missing you, I take it back out and put it on for a few minutes. It’s such a beautiful ring, but even now I can’t believe you spent so much money on the dang thing. I still can’t bring myself to take off my wedding band, though. I know you’d tell me that’s silly, but it’s baby steps, I say. Maybe someday. It’s so much a part of me that I can’t even imagine what my finger feels like without it. I didn’t even take those rings off when I was pregnant and my fingers started swelling. One particularly warm day, my finger started to turn a little purple and Brad threatened to cut them off. I told him to do it and die.” She laughed through her tears. “He told me to suit myself when the gangrene set it and they had to cut off my finger. The swelling went down that day though, enough that my finger got its normal color back, and we didn’t even have to cut it off...or the rings. I would have let him do it if it was really that bad, you know. I’m crazy, but I’m not stupid.”

She stopped talking and breathed in the breeze that rustled the leaves on the trees, which were just starting to turn into brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows. “Sorry, I’m rambling. Anyway, guess what? I met a Backstreet Boy two days ago. Can you believe it? It wasn’t at all like I imagined it so many years ago. I mean, we bonded over our kids, and we’re both wearing wedding bands. He’s a really nice man. Kind of reminds me of my brother. I think you’d like him. I met him at church. You remember when one of the Backstreet Boys quit the band a few years ago and I got so upset over it? And of course, you made fun of me for it and said maybe you could become the new fifth Backstreet Boy, so I could finally be married to one. Sorry, babe, but I say it still wouldn’t have worked out. I love you, but you can’t carry a tune in a bucket.” She smiled wistfully. “Anyway, Kevin, the Backstreet Boy who quit a few years ago, is actually the brother of Tim, my pastor. How crazy is that? I never once even suspected it until his cousin Brian showed up at the church service. Now here’s where it gets really crazy. I sang one of his songs....and he liked it! He liked it so much that he wants me to go down to Atlanta and record a contemporary Christian album with him! It’s a dream come true, really, but..... I just don’t know if I can do it.” The wind blowing around her picked up and blew her hair harshly across her face.

“It’s not that I don’t want to. I do. I really do, but..... it’s Drew. I chose to do an ER residency and work in emergency medicine because it pays really well and I could work fewer hours and still make a good living. Plus, I didn’t want to go into a field that would require me to take call from home and go into the hospital at all hours of the night when I was off the clock. I know you loved delivering babies, and you were great at it, but I just didn’t want that kind of lifestyle. When an ER doc leaves the ER, another doctor comes in and takes his or her place. We see our patients and either send them home or transfer their care to another doctor, so we don’t have to take it home with us. That’s why I chose it. I know you’ve heard this a million times before, but I promise there’s a point here.” Her voice got so quiet that it literally disappeared in the wind. Not that it mattered. She was sure Andrew heard anyway. “I lost a patient yesterday. A little boy. He looked like a mix between Drew and Brian’s little boy, Baylee. It was kind of creepy, actually. He was only three, and he just.....died. If he was sick, nobody knew it. I worked on him for an hour, Andrew, but he was just....gone. If felt like someone tore out my heart and stomped all over it. Even though I don’t have to, I still take it home with me. Every. Single. Day. I’m just so tired, sweetheart,” she whimpered. “I don’t think I can do it anymore. I’ve never told you this, but....I didn’t even really want to be a doctor in the first place. I became a doctor because....well, because that was what was expected of me.....and because of you. You were so good at what you did, and to see you come home after a delivery beaming and so amazed at God’s creation after helping bring a new life into the world... it was so beautiful Andrew. I think I would have loved being an obstetrician if it weren’t for the hours. I just can’t do that to Drew. He only has one parent as it is. Don’t get me wrong. It’s very rewarding at times, and I do feel like it was a good career choice for me, but if I’m being honest with myself, all I ever really wanted to do was sing. Of course, dad always reminded me that there were thousands of starving singers in Nashville, New York, and Los Angeles. When we got engaged, just after you graduated medical school and while I was still in college, he sat me down and told me that he didn’t care if I ever worked a day in my life-- that he thought the best thing my mom ever did for my brother and me was to stay home with us while he worked. But, he also said that he wanted me to finish school and get a degree that wouldn’t have me waiting tables to make ends meet just in case.....” She let out a loud sob and clamped a hand over her mouth as the tears flowed freely from her eyes, rolling down her cheeks and across her fingers.

“In case something happened to you. Well, here we are, and something did happen to you, and I’m.....well, I’m not waiting tables. My parents are so proud of me, Andrew, for picking up and going on with my life, but to be honest, the only time I ever feel like I’m living is when I’m with Drew. He is everything. I just don’t know if I want him to have the lifestyle of a musician’s child. How am I supposed to tell Brian that? He is the parent of a musician’s child. Then of course, there’s you. You’re here, you grew up here, your family’s here. I know you’re not really here, but it’s moments like this that I feel closest to you. I just feel like I need to stay here. What do you think I should do, Andrew? Of all the people in my life, other than Drew, and he can’t really talk yet, your opinion, even now, matters more to me than anyone else’s.” The wind that howled around her suddenly stopped, and the leaves that had been whirling around in the air slowly fluttered to the ground. One of them, a yellow maple leaf, drifted and danced in the air in front of her face, then settled on the grass right beside the rose she’d placed in front of Andrew’s tombstone. She looked down at it and gasped. The solid bright yellow was broken by a single patch of red, in the perfect shape of a heart. She knew she had her answer.