Tempting Nurse Scarlet

By: Wendy S. Marcus

As far as bad days went – and Dr. Lewis Jackson, head of the pediatric emergency room at Angel’s, had experienced some pretty hellacious ones over the past nine months, since finding out he was the father and new primary caregiver to his demon of a now thirteen-year-old daughter – today was shaping up to be one of the worst. Two nurses out sick. A new unit secretary, who, while nice to look at, had clearly overstated her abilities, and Jessie, taken into police custody for shoplifting at a drug store and truancy.

The one bright spot in his afternoon, whether because of his scrubs and hospital ID, or Angel’s excellent reputation, or Jessie’s difficult past year, the police officer in charge had convinced the store manager to let her off with a warning.

Lewis stood on the curb outside of the police station and raised his arm up high to hail a cab. “This is by far the stupidest and most inconsiderate stunt you’ve pulled since you’ve gotten here.” And that was saying something. A yellow minivan taxi pulled to a stop. Lewis slid open the rear door, grabbed Jessie by her arms and pushed her in ahead of him.

“Angel Mendez Children’s Hospital,” he told the driver then closed the door. “Pediatric Emergency Room entrance. And if you can get us there in under fifteen minutes I’ll give you an extra twenty.”

At the added incentive, the driver swerved back into traffic, cutting off another taxi. And a bus. And almost taking out a bike-riding delivery man. Horns honked. Drivers yelled out their open windows. Middle fingers flew. A typical taxi ride in New York City.

Lewis turned his attention back to Jessie. “What were you thinking?” Leaving school. Wandering the streets of Manhattan. Unaccompanied. Unsupervised. Unprotected. At the thought of all the terrible things that could have happened to her fear knotted his gut.

Per usual Jessie didn’t look at him. She just sat there in her baggy black clothes, mad at the world, and ignored him. But this time when she reached into her pocket for the beloved ear buds she used to effectively drown him out with vile music, which would likely be responsible for permanent damage to her eardrums, he yanked the white chords from her hands. “I’m talking to you, young lady. And this time you are going to listen.”

She glared at him in response.

“Your behavior is unacceptable, and I have had enough. I’m sorry your mother passed away. I’m sorry she never told me about you.” And even sorrier she’d spent so much of her time bad-mouthing him to the point Jessie hated him at first sight without ever giving him a chance. “I’m sorry your life was uprooted from Maryland to the heart of New York City. I’m sorry I work such long hours. But I’m all you have. And I’m trying.”

He’d given up his privacy, his freedom, and a very active and satisfying sex life to spend quality time with and be a good role model for his daughter. He’d hired nannies to watch her after school when he had to work, while she’d achieved new heights of belligerent teenage obnoxiousness to the point none stayed longer than a month. He’d hired a car service to take her to and from school on days he couldn’t, while she didn’t show up to meet them at the designated times and locations, leaving them to wait, and charge him for every minute. He brought home pizza, thinking all kids loved pizza. Jessie wanted Chinese food. He brought home Chinese food, she wanted Italian. He’d gotten her a fancy cellphone so they could keep in touch while he was working. To date, she hadn’t responded to one of his calls or text messages. And the only time she’d used it to contact him was today, to ask him to come down to the police station.

He was trying dammit. Was it too much to expect her to try, too?

“You left me at that police station for two hours.” Her words oozed accusation and anger.

“Because I was at work when you pulled your little caper, and I don’t have the type of job where I can run out at a moment’s notice. I have a responsibility to my patients. I had to call in another doctor, on his day off, pay him overtime, and wait for him to come in and cover for me before I could leave.”

Jessie crossed her arms over her chest and said, “I hate you.”

No surprise there. “Well I’ve got news for you.” Lewis crossed his arms over his chest, just like his stubborn, moody daughter, and glared right back at her. “Right now I hate you, too.”

The second the words left his mouth he hated himself more. Lewis Jackson, the over-achiever who never failed at anything was failing at single parenthood. Even worse, he was failing his troubled young daughter.

The taxi screeched to a halt at their destination with one minute to spare. Jessie was out of the cab and heading to the electric doors before Lewis had even paid. After practically throwing the fare, plus tip and a crisp twenty dollar bill, at the driver, he slid out and ran to catch up. “Jessie. Wait.”

She didn’t.

He ran into the ER. “Don’t you dare –”

Jessie broke into a run, heading toward the back hallway.

Lewis took off after her. Not again. He rounded the corner in time to see the door to the unisex handicapped bathroom slam shut. He reached it just in time to hear the lock click into place. Again. He banged on the door. “Dammit, Jessie, get out here.” So he could apologize. So he could try to make her understand. So he could drag her into his office and barricade her inside so, for the next few hours at least, he’d know she was safe.

He paced. Flexed and extended his fingers. Felt wound too tight. And realized maybe it was best she didn’t come out. Because she had him vacillating between wanting to hit her and wanting to hug her, between yelling at her and throwing himself to the ground at her feet and begging her for mercy, between letting her continue to stay with him and researching strict European boarding schools that allow only supervised visitation – once a year.

Never in his adult life had he felt this indecisive and ineffective and totally, overwhelmingly, embarrassingly inept.

“Jessie,” he said through the door, trying the knob just in case. Locked. “Please come out.” He used his calm voice. “I need to get back to work.” And he didn’t want to leave her when she was so upset.

When he was so upset.

She didn’t respond which didn’t come as a surprise since she hadn’t responded any of the other dozen/thirty/hundred times he’d called to her through a locked door. He pictured her smiling on the other side deriving some perverse sense of satisfaction from him standing in the hallway, frustrated, enraged, and in danger of losing what little control he had left.

Well enough of that.

“Fine.” He stormed back to the nurses’ station. “Call Maintenance,” he snapped at the new unit secretary who seemed to be paying more attention to a huge glass vase filled with roses than doing her job.

He waited for her to return to her phone where she belonged.

“Tell them I need the door to the handicapped bathroom in the rear corridor opened again. And this time I want them to bring me a copy of the key.”

As soon as she confirmed someone would be up in a few minutes, he hurried back to the bathroom, hoping Jessie hadn’t taken the opportunity of his absence to escape and disappear until it was time to go home.

After the initial shock of finding out he was the father of a pre-teen girl, Lewis had actually gotten kind of excited at the prospect of sharing the city he loved with his daughter, taking her on bike rides in Central Park and to museums and shows, the ballet and opera, of immersing her in culture and introducing her to new experiences, teaching and nurturing her, and guiding her into adulthood.

At least until he’d met her.

Lewis rounded the corner and stopped short at the sight of Jessie standing in the hallway, facing away from him, talking to a brown-haired female hospital employee he didn’t recognize. But she wore light blue hospital scrubs covered by a short white lab coat typically worn by staff in management or supervisory positions.

“Now he won’t make me go to stupid Lake George,” Jessie said. “I’m too bad. His parents won’t be able to handle me.”

Rage like he’d never before experienced forced him forward. “That’s why you broke the law?” he bellowed as he stormed toward Jessie. “That’s why you risked getting arrested and going in front of a judge and having to do hours of community service or some other punishment? To get out of a fun Memorial Day weekend trip with your grandparents and cousins? Of all the stupid -”

Jessie crossed her arms, locked her left leg, and jutted out her left hip, taking on her defiant pose. “I told you I don’t want to go.”

“Well I’ve got news for you, young lady. My mind is made up and my decision is final. You are going to Lake George.” In eleven days. Because Lewis needed a break and sex and a few days to re-visit his old, relaxed, likable self, to clear his head and come up with a new approach to handling his daughter, calmly and rationally.

“He wants to get rid of me.” Jessie threw herself at the stranger who barely managed to get her arms up in time to catch her.

Not permanently. Just for a brief respite. “I –”

“He doesn’t want me,” she cried. “He never wanted me. My mom told me so. Now that she’s gone I have no one.”

Lewis’s chest tightened at the devastation in her voice. No, children were not part of his life plan. But since the paternity test had proved Jessie to be his biological daughter, even though she’d gotten her pretty face and unpleasant temperament from her mother, he was determined to do the best job he could raising her. A task that’d turned out to be much more difficult than he’d ever imagined.

“Jessie -” He reached for her, wanting to be the one to hold her and comfort her.

But Jessie held up her hand as she sucked in a few choppy breaths and cried out,

“He says I have to stay there. No matter what. And I can’t come home early.”

“Because I have to work,” Lewis lied. But it sounded better than, “Because I need some time away from you to regain my sanity.”

“You work all the time,” she accused, scowling at him over the stranger’s shoulder.

“And why should it matter if I do?” Lewis shot back. “It’s not like I can get you to go anywhere or do anything with me when I’m not working.”

“See how he talks to me?” Jessie said. “He hates me.”

“You’re laying it on a bit thick, don’t you think?” the woman asked, peeling Jessie’s arms off of her and stepping away, giving Lewis his first view of her name tag. Scarlet Miller, RN, BSN, MSN, CCRN. Head Nurse NICU.

“I’m totally serious,” Jessie said, wiping her eyes with the backs of her hands. “He told me so.” She glared at him. “In the taxi on the way here.”

Scarlet turned her assessing gaze on him. “Wow,” she said, shaking her head. “And all this time I’ve been telling Jessie you couldn’t possibly be as big a jerk as she was making you out to be. I stand corrected.”

Her keen blue eyes locked with his in challenge. Her face – an attractive mix of natural beauty and intelligence – in full view for the first time, Lewis lost track of the conversation for a few seconds, moving his focus to her chocolate brown hair and pleasingly trim figure. Her confident stance as she berated him. Her statement of ‘all this time’ registered bringing him full circle to wonder why a professional adult female, who looked to be closer to his age than his daughter’s, would befriend a little girl.

“If he makes me go I’ll run away,” Jessie said to Scarlet as if Lewis wasn’t standing right there.

“No you won’t,” Scarlet said firmly.

Good. Another adult on his side.

“You did,” Jessie accused.

What kind of nut job shared that information with a confused little girl?

“Did you not listen when I told you what a dangerous and stupid move it was?” She took Jessie by the shoulders and turned her. “Look at me, Jess.”

Jess. So familiar. So caring.

The vulnerable expression on his daughter’s face as she obeyed, gave him his first opportunity to see beneath her tough-teen anger and defiance to the scared little girl she’d hidden away so effectively, from him, but not this stranger. Why?

“You have what I didn’t. You have me.” The woman dug into the pocket of her lab coat, pulled out a business card, and wrote something on the back. Then she held it out to Jessie. “On the front is my work number on the back is my cell phone number. You can call me anytime for any reason. I didn’t offer earlier because I didn’t want to interfere between you and your dad.”

As it should be.

“You are not all alone, Jess. You have your father and you have me.” Scarlet glanced at him before continuing. “And if, while you’re on vacation, someone tries to make you do something you don’t want to do or in any way makes you feel uncomfortable and your dad won’t come up to bring you home, I promise I will.”

Oh no she would not. “My daughter will be driven to and from Lake George by her grandparents. And she doesn’t need your telephone numbers because if she needs to talk to someone anytime for any reason, she can talk to me.” Lewis grabbed for the card.

Jessie thrust it behind her back.

“This entire situation is getting out of hand, Jess,” Scarlet said. “You need to tell him.”

Lewis stopped and looked at her. “Tell me what?”

“What’s said between us stays between us,” Jessie yelled at Scarlet. “You promised.”

“That was before you got yourself picked up by the police and threatened to run away.”

“You mean you know -?” Lewis started only to be cut off when an urgent voice came through the overhead speakers. “Scarlet Miller to the emergency room. Stat. Scarlet Miller to the emergency room.”

“Saved by the hospital operator,” Scarlet said with a wink to Jessie. “Talk to your father,” she added before turning her back on him and walking away.