The Mistletoe Melody
'Tis the season of forgiveness…but can she ever forget?
Brad Monroe was truly unbelievable. Blowing back into Brookhollow for three days to film a Christmas special—three years after the accident that killed his best friend…her husband—and expecting Melody to be civil? Please. He'd been the only one who'd survived the tragedy, hightailing it to Nashville and hijacking her dream…Patrick's dream. She'd spent that time grieving, working three jobs, struggling to raise her boys and keep a roof over their heads. Now she was losing ground on all fronts, and not about to forgive and forget. Or give him the one thing that could save them all…
MELODY SNEEZED AND reached for a tissue from the magazine table of the walk-in medical clinic’s crowded waiting room. Then she promptly pumped her hand sanitizer. Lindsay Harper, the clinic’s head nurse, looked over at her from where she was plugging in the artificial Christmas tree in the corner.
“Not you, too, Mel,” she said. The white, five-foot-tall decoration began to rotate, its multicolored LED lights twinkling in time to the sound of “Jingle Bells,” which suddenly filled the air.
Melody could do without the reminder of the upcoming season. Christmas used to be her favorite time of year, but since Patrick’s death, it only caused her stress—emotionally and financially. “’Tis the season,” she mumbled, sitting back in the plastic waiting-room chair she was sharing with her eight-year-old son, Josh. Every year around this time, they both seemed to get sick. She could mark her calendar by it.
December first—first day of the flu.
Josh’s head fell against her shoulder, and with a scratchy voice he asked, “How much longer, Mom?” The fit of coughing that followed gained him sympathetic looks from some of the other waiting patients.
Melody wiped the boy’s dark hair off his hot forehead and checked her watch. “Soon, sweetheart.” She hoped. Her evening shift started in less than an hour. Thursday was one of the busiest nights at the bowling alley.
Josh’s twin brother, David, who had been sleeping curled up in the chair next to them, stirred and opened his eyes slowly. “Mom, I don’t feel so great.”
“I know, sweetheart. We’ll see the doctor soon.”
Lindsay reappeared with their file and a sympathetic smile. She leaned close to Melody as she whispered, “I know you have to get to work, so I’m bumping you guys ahead.”
“Thanks,” Melody said, grateful for the gesture. Despite Lindsay’s reputation as a party girl, she took her job seriously, and her affection for her patients, especially the young children, was obvious. Helping Josh to his feet and taking the hands of both her sons, Melody followed Lindsay down the hallway to an empty examination room.
“Dr. McCarthy will be just a moment.”
“Okay,” Melody said, helping Josh onto the examination table, as David sat in the chair near the door. She buried a throaty cough in the crook of her arm and cringed. Each time she coughed, her chest hurt and her throat felt rawer than ever. If she was feeling this awful, she hated to think how Josh was feeling. She yawned, shaking off a wave of exhaustion. She’d spent the night before sitting on the edge of Josh’s bottom bunk, one hand propping up his pillow while he slept and the other continuously checking his forehead for a fever.
“Where are our pictures, Mom?” David asked, slumping against the back of his chair and studying the wall of photos of newborns. Dr. McCarthy was one of two pediatricians in Brookhollow and was essentially always on call. She’d delivered almost every baby born in the small New Jersey town in the past decade, including Melody’s boys.
“Just look for the cutest ones,” Melody whispered with a wink at the older twin, who had been born six minutes before his brother on November 2, in the middle of a hail-and-sleet storm. Patrick, a guitar player in a country band, had been performing in Beach Haven that night, two hours away, and had almost missed the delivery, rushing in just minutes before David’s arrival. But he’d been there...
“There we are,” David said.
Melody’s heart swelled as it always did at the sight of the boys’ baby photos. They’d looked so much like her husband in that first year, with their light hair and bright, crystal-blue eyes. Over time, their hair had darkened to the same chestnut-brown color as hers, minus the ever increasing gray ones that seemed to have arrived in the three years since Patrick’s death. Despite the passing of time and the deepening lines on her face, it still felt as if he’d died yesterday. Seemingly overnight, she’d transformed from a stay-at-home mom with virtually no professional skills, to a working woman holding down several jobs and supporting a family on her own.
Dr. McCarthy knocked once on the door before walking in. “Hello, Myers family,” she greeted, setting their files on the tiny desk in the room. “Let me guess—coughing, sneezing, fever and muscle aches?”
“Been seeing that a lot today?” Melody asked.
“When one person in Brookhollow gets sick, we all get sick,” Dr. McCarthy said, placing a hand on Josh’s forehead. “Part of small-town charm, I guess. Has he taken anything for his fever?” she asked as she reached for a tongue depressor. “Say ‘aaah’ for me, okay, buddy?”
“Children’s Tylenol about two hours ago,” Melody said.
Dr. McCarthy nodded as she looked at Josh’s throat. “Strep is my guess, but we’ll send a swab to the lab just to be sure.” She swabbed his throat and placed the pad in a tube, which she then sealed and labeled. She turned to David. “Him, too?” she asked, sympathetically.
“I think so... Not as bad, yet,” Melody said, before another sneeze escaped her.
“You don’t sound too good yourself,” the doctor said. She checked David’s throat.
“I’m fine... I’m too busy to be sick.” It was true. Three jobs didn’t afford her the luxury of giving in to sickness, even if it meant she was spreading the contagion.
“I think it’s strep over here, as well.” Lifting the back of David’s shirt, Dr. McCarthy listened to his breathing. “I’ll give you a prescription for antibiotics for both of them.” She scribbled a prescription. “And just continue the Tylenol every four to six hours for the fever... Do you want me to take a look at you, as well? I’ve heard you cough.”
Melody shook her head as she accepted the prescription slip and helped Josh climb down from the table. “Thank you, Dr. McCarthy.” Antibiotics for the boys would be expensive enough, and they needed the drug more than she did. If only her pending promotion with Play Hard Sports, the big sporting-goods store in town, could happen a little sooner. Medical coverage was a benefit enjoyed by a full-time management employee, which she hoped to become in a few days, after she’d completed the training course and written the final exam. She hoped the three months of study would pay off. With the raise in pay, she could quit her two evening jobs bartending—as long as she passed this one last exam.
She began to collect their belongings. She had half an hour to pick up their babysitter, Lauralee—a high school girl who’d been babysitting the boys for years—drop them all off at home, put their dinner in the oven and then get to the bowling alley. She’d be lucky if she had time to change out of her Play Hard Sports uniform. She prayed the predicted snow hadn’t started yet. Her old minivan still had its summer tires and it would be at least a few weeks before there was money in her tight budget to take the vehicle into Bailey’s Place to have new winter tires put on. She knew the mechanic, her future sister-in-law Bailey, would do the work without charging her, but she couldn’t accept charity.
When Patrick was alive, he’d taken care of such things as the upkeep of the vehicles, or repairs to their old bungalow, which they’d bought as a fixer-upper ten years ago. As much as she loved the character-rich home, in recent years the maintenance had drained her limited funds. Still, the idea of selling the home where her family had made a lot of happy memories wasn’t one she liked to entertain.
“Come on, guys,” she said, taking Josh’s hand.
“Mel, hang on a sec.” Dr. McCarthy opened a locked mini fridge in the hallway near the file cabinets. Removing a white plastic bottle, she checked the label before handing it to Melody. “Here. This is essentially the same antibiotic I gave the boys—just a stronger dose. It’s FDA-approved, but it’s still in the clinical-trial stage, so it isn’t being offered in pharmacies yet. It’ll help with your cough.” Melody hesitated.
Dr. McCarthy reached for her hand and forced the medicine into it. “Take it. It’s really not a big deal—I’ve been handing it out all week. Unfortunately, the dosage is too strong for the boys,” she said, stopping in front of the door of the next examining room and turning her attention to a file.
“Thank you again, Dr. McCarthy,” Melody said. Exchanges like this were so awkward. She longed for the day when her financial struggles weren’t obvious to everyone in Brookhollow. But today wasn’t that day. She was sick and she was expected to be behind the bowling alley bar in twenty-five minutes.