A disfigured veteran. A ruined nurse. A tormented child. A kept woman. Strangers whose
paths cross, bringing redemption into each other's lives in ways none of them could have
Her career in ruins, a desperate nurse answers an ad to care for a disabled veteran.
Disfigured in the war, the antisocial businessman can't get his mind off the nurse he had tossed out of his home.
A young child who never leaves the confines of her mountain home must make a treacherous journey alone to save her mother's life.
A woman kept by men all her life learns through an old love that she has been kept all along by Someone else.
WANTED: LIVE-IN NURSE TO CARE FOR DISABLED VET. GOOD WAGES, BENEFITS. OWN ROOM IN LARGE HOUSE. LITE HOUSEKEEPING, COOKING.
The writer of the ad hadn’t asked for references, and the applicant prayed to God he wouldn’t. She prayed he wouldn’t require her current address. Wouldn’t ask to sample her cooking. For the entire hour-long bus ride from the center of the city, she prayed.
Looking out the open window of the mud-spattered bus, she watched the neighborhoods evolve from clapboard cracker boxes with tricycle- and newspaper-dotted front yards, to modest homes with the latest model Packards parked in their driveways, to grand manors with landscaping right out of Better Homes and Gardens. Two transfers it had taken to transport her to this district. Good thing transfers were no extra charge.
The bus slowed; the driver glanced in his mirror and called over his shoulder. “This is your stop, miss.”
Gathering her pocketbook and the sizeable tote bag that held all she now owned, she rose and stepped next to him. “Thank you, sir. I appreciate your assistance.”
As the lumbering bus came to a halt, she grabbed the bar above the front seat. The doors opened. For an instant she only looked out. She tried wetting her lips—a vain attempt with a parched tongue. Finally descending the steps, she leapt from the last high step onto the sidewalk. The heat emanating from the concrete hit like a blast furnace. The air was stagnant. The mid-Atlantic region’s oppressive combination of heat and humidity bore an effect she believed she’d never grow accustomed to.
She walked two blocks before halting in front of the “large house,” and some of her guilt assuaged. She hadn’t lied to the elderly gentleman she spoke to when calling about the ad, but she hadn’t been entirely forthcoming. But neither had he. If this is what he called a large house, how would he define mansion?
A wide, wrought iron gate blocked her entry. When he told her she would have to press a red button on a black box, she thought he meant the doorbell. But she was a good fifty yards from the front door.
A voice came from the box. “May I help you?” Though a bit scratchy, it sounded like the same voice she’d heard on the phone. Hopefully, the voice of her new employer.
She spoke into the holes of the box. What an impersonal way to communicate. “Hello? Um, my name is Clare Canterbury, and I…uh…I’m here to interview for the home nurse position.”
After several seconds of silence, the gate opened before her on its own accord.
The “large house” was of gray, natural stone construction, and Clare counted fifteen second-story windows and three third-story gabled dormers as she trekked past the precisely manicured lawn and impeccably tended garden.
A gray-haired man dressed in a dark suit greeted her at the front door. His smile warmed her.
“I’m so very glad you could come, Miss Canterbury.” He stepped aside and extended his arm, inviting her to enter. Immediately the coolness surrounded her. Air conditioning. It felt heavenly.
The kindly gentleman led her through a massive, two-storied entrance hall with a marble tiled floor, oil paintings on the walls and busts of various Founding Fathers on white-pillared stands. A wide, red-carpeted staircase ascended to a landing where it parted in two, each set of stairs rising to a second-floor wing.
They passed a mahogany table in the middle of the hall that held an oriental vase bursting with a magnificent flower arrangement. The beauty of the colorful spray, along with their permeating scent, was not lost on her.
A pucker-faced, middle-aged woman—presumably the maid based on her black dress and white pinafore apron—appeared from a hallway next to the stairs.
“Midge, could you please get our guest something cold to drink?”
Without a word or a smile, the woman turned and retreated down the hallway.
Stopping at the door of a room to the left of the entry, the man turned and again extended his arm into what appeared to be a spacious study. His movements were a bit labored, his fingers gnarled with arthritis, but he trekked around well enough. She wondered what unseen disabilities necessitated his need of a live-in nurse.
He showed her to a chair facing a large cherry wood desk, then took a seat across from her. Opening a folder, he perched a pair of reading spectacles on his nose and perused through some papers. The moment had arrived. She had to impress this man. She had to land this job. No hospital would hire her now.
The maid arrived with a glass of sweetened lemonade. Clare guzzled half the drink before remembering her every action would be evaluated. She must show more class. She was, after all, trying to obtain a position in this rich man’s household.
“So, let’s begin with your qualifications. You mentioned you had three years of military nursing experience. Could you expound on this?”
She could. That wasn’t the problem. She’d spent the last six months of the war at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu caring for the wounded coming back from Korea. When the war ended, she was transferred to Fitzsimons Army Hospital near Denver. Her duties there included caring for President Eisenhower after his heart attack. She served her final six months at Walter Reed.
As for her post-military nursing experiences…she touched on her work at the VA but successfully skirted the unpleasant incident there, stating only that she had left to seek non-government work. It wasn’t exactly an untruth. He didn’t question it.
He smiled a lot, that warm smile. She hoped it meant something.
“Well, Miss Canterbury, everything seems to be in order.”
No references. Thank You, Lord. Maybe name-dropping Ike had something to do with it.
He scooted his chair back and stood. “If you will wait here, I will return shortly. I believe I can give you a decision today.”
“Thank you so much, sir.” She let out a breath as he exited the room.
A quarter of an hour passed. The hope she had dared to entertain was waning. No longer able to sit, she rose and stretched. Lifting the glass of depleted lemonade, she gobbled a dwindling ice cube into her mouth. She wandered slowly about the room. A man’s room for sure: heavy, dark furniture; volumes of reference books and business journals on built-in bookshelves; a fireplace enhanced by an exquisitely carved mantel, its sole occupant a Seth Thomas clock. Noticeably lacking there—and in the entire room—were pictures. Photographs of crowed-over children and grandchildren seemed more in keeping with the sweet old gentleman.
Two stuffed chairs angled slightly toward each other and separated by a coffee table loaded with business magazines faced the fireplace. One of the chairs was well worn and obviously favored by its owner. She coasted past a rocking chair next to the fireplace and rocked it gently. Moving to the mantel, she ran her hand along the decorative wood. The wall above it, barren of pictures or ornamentation, revealed a subtle change in the hue of the paint where a large rectangular painting, portrait, or mirror had once made its home. How cozy must this room be in the winter, the fire casting a yellow-orange glow on the masculine furnishings.
She turned from the fireplace, sucked in a breath and screamed at the face before her. Jumping to the side, she nearly fell over the rocker. The man who had materialized as if by sorcery made no attempt to help her as she righted herself. She stared into his face, the left half of which had massive scarring. His blue eyes impaled her where she stood.
“Get out of my house!”
Her breath came in spasms. “Wh…what?”
“You heard me.”
“This interview is over. Now get out!”
* * *
Come join The Refining Fires community on facebook.