Border Lines – Chapter 1 Excerpt
Dr. Sheridan Devine surveyed the mess writhing under her porch light, a hand pressed to her mouth to stop her dinner from reversing course. With a wrinkled nose, pounding heart, and stream of curses, she wondered how long the Mexican take-out had been left to putrefy in the June heat. It was past ten o’clock and she had a mountain of paperwork to climb before bed tonight. The last thing she needed was another spiteful event intended to drive her screaming from her clinic.
She swung an uneasy gaze over her shoulder, around the dark cul de sac, and into the long shadows of her driveway, but whoever was responsible was long gone. The clinic, or The Cause – as her brother dubbed it – was going to put her in a hospital. Providing free medical care to Farmingville’s illegal immigrants wasn’t a popular career choice with some neighbors, who’d slashed the tires on her car, left threatening messages on her answering machine, graffiti’d the clinic’s walls and – now – smeared enough rotting Taco Bell food all over the front walk, porch, and door of her home to attract insects of every genus, from ant to worm. But, damn it, it was her choice – the clinic was her life’s work and she wasn’t about to let the few ignorant people who believed she was single-handedly smuggling Mexicans over the border to put her off it.
“Screw ‘em.” Her bravado was barely skin deep. She opened the garage door with the remote, steered the dealer’s loaner car inside and lowered the door. For a moment, she debated calling Donovan for help and quickly dismissed the idea. Running to her brother for help would merely confirm his already low opinion of her. She trudged through the kitchen door, dumped her doggie bag and stack of patient files to a counter, and dug out cleaning supplies from beneath her sink.
It took the better part of an hour to hose the walk and porch, scrub the door and douse the swarm with a homemade garlic spray she mixed in batches. When she finally settled down in her office, a room off the garage, the delicious birthday meal she’d enjoyed earlier was now a distant memory. She’d turned thirty-one today. By this age, she was supposed to be pregnant with her third child, a girl, to upset the two sons she was supposed to have had in her twenties, just as her parents had done.
She hadn’t done anything she was supposed to do, she grinned, amused at herself.
Amusement faded under the heavy burden of regret and her grin evaporated.
Her mother died from a sudden stroke when she was just fifteen and her father moved to a fifty-five-and-older community, Sullivan was in Atlanta and Donovan…well, even though Donovan lived in the same town, he may as well have been across the country, for the distance between them.
It was her fault. Over her thirty-one years, she’d wished for so many things. At the top of the list was closing that distance, mending her relationships with both her brothers. But to fix things, she’d have to talk about things she simply couldn’t face and so had let fifteen years go by, the tension hardening like arteries with age.
When the pang came, she walled it up behind a veneer of tough, as she’d been doing since her teens. Can’t change what was, she reminded herself, and turned her focus to work. Though the clinic wasn’t technically open on the weekends, she’d put in a full day because her patients refused to skip work to see her – even when they needed care. With a heavy sigh, she flipped open the first folder just as the phone rang.
“Devine.” She spoke brusquely, waited.
“Chingate, puta!” A man shouted. “Chupame la verga, almeja!”
Vile words, which she understood. Unfortunately.
Her heart slammed into her throat, her hands shook, but her voice was steady as she glanced at the caller ID. “I have your number. Call again and I will have the police knocking on your door in minutes.”
The resounding click made Sheri feel marginally better so she resettled at her desk, staring at her files, her heart still battering her rib cage, but could think only about the call.
Her patients loved her. It was the legal residents who were angry with her and they had no problems telling her off in English. So why curse her in Spanish? Maybe that was the point, she speculated. To make her frightened of the very people she strived to help on a daily basis. Well, it’s not going to work, she decided.
She’d worked for only five minutes and then hopped up to flick on the stereo. Patient treatment reports to do first. After that, she’d tackle the reconciliations, an account of each piece of medical supplies used to treat the patients on the first list, right down to the smallest Band-Aid.
She glanced up, angled her head to eyeball her front door. It was locked. She was certain she’d locked it after the grueling cleaning job.
“Oh, for God’s sake,” she muttered, stalked over to double check.
The patio doors. Also locked and the track stuffed with a heavy dowel.
She stood in the center of her kitchen, nibbling on her fingernails, still staring at the front door. On impulse, she opened a cabinet and grabbed an armful of canned foods, stacked them by the door. She tested the chain, found it securely fastened. Disarmed and then re-armed the security system.
The phone rang again and Sheri shrieked.
Her hands trembled as she glanced at the caller ID.
“Oh, for the love of God.” She hit the Talk button. “Hi, Dad.”
“Sheri. You were supposed to call me. You got in all right?”
“Daddy, I’m fine.”
She knew if she breathed one word of what had just happened, Drew Devine would be at her door in ten minutes or less, overnight bag in hand. Hell, he’d probably even tuck her in to bed, like she was three.
“Okay, honey. You call me if you need anything, okay?”
Yeah. That’ll happen.
“Sure, Daddy. Good night. And thank you again for dinner.”
“And happy birthday again. Good night, baby girl. Sleep tight.”
Baby girl. Oh, how she despised that nickname. It had started the day she was born, when the nurses scrawled ‘Baby Girl Devine’ on her bassinette. While her parents still argued over the merits of ‘Sheridan’ versus ‘Bryce,’ friends and family had to call her something and so, adopted the nurses’ shorthand.
Unfortunately, it stuck.
Sheri put the phone down and did one more run through the house while her heart continued its relentless pounding on her chest wall. Satisfied that the house was secure, she settled into her office, ignored her pounding heart, and resolved to finish her work.
Impossible, she soon conceded. The whole process needed an overhaul. She’d get to that. Eventually. Between applying for grants, caring for patients, warring with Donovan and scrubbing her front door. With a groan, she remembered she’d planned to email the local nursing school, exchange practical hours for student assistance, but forgot.
The radio station’s weather report interrupted her self-flagellation.
“…tomorrow’s weather, sunny and hot, with temperatures expected to be in the high ‘90’s, and humidity at 99%. Tuesday, a heat advisory is in effect. Thunder storms expected Wednesday.”
Good. Relief against the unbearable humidity would arrive soon, she thought, with a prayer of thanks for the inventor of central air-conditioning, and managed a few minutes of focus.
When the clock in the hall chimed midnight, she looked up, surprised. She really should get to bed. One glance up the stairs, where long dark shadows filled the hall had her returning to work with a little shudder.
It was going to be a long night.