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A Sinner's Legacy 5
A tiny premature infant is delivered into the caring hands of NICU nurse, Annie Billodeaux. His father, Matthew Keaton,is the newly hired running back for the New Orleans Sinners football team. His mother is deceased, victim of a stray bullet fired in a gang war. Matt blames himself for having brought his wife to the city.
Annie's heart goes out to little Daniel and his suffering father. As she teaches Matt the ins and outs of the NICU and the handling of his child, her affection for both grows into a love she cannot confess so soon to the grief-stricken man. Matt feels the pull of Annie's tenderness, but won't act on it out of respect for his wife's recent death. When Daniel is able to go home, how can Matt keep Annie near until the right time comes for him to voice his love for the Angel of the NICU?
Page Count: 378
Word Count: 94810
Ten p.m. on a Sunday night, the doors to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit zipped open. Nurse Annie Billodeaux accepted another fragile soul into her care with gentle hands. She weighed in the tiny, bald baby boy delivered by C-section from his mother’s womb at twenty-eight weeks of gestation at two pounds, three ounces. Working with the neonatologist, she went about her duties swiftly but carefully: inserting a catheter, hooking up an oxygen feed to the little nose, attaching sensors to the feeble chest, and starting an intravenous line to feed an infant too young to suckle. He’d stay in the warm cocoon of his incubator until large enough to enter a wider world.
She’d done this procedure many times and remembered each child she’d nurtured before turning it over to the parents to take home. Always, Annie called the patient by its name—in this case Daniel Ames Keaton. “There you go, Danny, all safe and sound. Your parents will want to see you soon and make sure you are in good hands. You are.”
Now that she had a moment to think instead of simply reacting as trained to the emergency, Annie realized she knew this baby and his parents. Not two weeks ago in early May, she’d had dinner with her mom and dad and other siblings residing in New Orleans before starting her shift. As usual, Joe and Nell Billodeaux had taken a young couple under their mighty wings, in this case the Sinners football team’s new running back, Matthew Keaton and his pregnant wife, Melinda. Her oldest brother, Dean, the quarterback, and his wife had been delegated to help the Keatons find housing in the Crescent City.
Over a shared appetizer of Oysters Rockefeller, or Huitres en coquille a la Rockefeller according to the menu at venerable Antoine’s, and rejected by Mrs. Keaton who feared contamination even though the oysters were baked, they discussed what features the newcomers wanted in a home: city, suburbs, lakeside, north shore, number of bedrooms, etc. One thing Annie, seated across the table from Melinda, felt certain of—the wife wasn’t at all at ease in the Big Easy. She fretted over the traffic and crime, the unhealthy climate, and the quality of the schools she wouldn’t need for years.
Hidden by the table, the woman’s belly swelled as she neared the seventh month of a pregnancy, though the tall, slim, blue-eyed and beautiful blonde, the type most football players seemed to prefer as wives, carried a rather small bump. Annie knew that meant nothing in the long run. Tall women didn’t show as much. If she were lucky enough to become pregnant, with her small stature she’d resemble a pumpkin exactly as her petite mother had. She knew one man who’d gone for short and brunette, her dad. So, maybe someday…
Melinda announced she’d be a stay-at-home mom, subtly dissing Dean’s wife, Stacy, who had a part-time nanny that allowed her to continue her interpreting and translating business as well as participate in cultural events. She gave her time to help football players’ wives get settled too. As Annie knew well, Stacy, every bit as tall and blonde and better built, seldom backed down. “Good for you. I’d go nuts if I didn’t get out of the house for some intellectual stimulation.”
Melinda’s husband, snatched from Indianapolis as soon as he became a free agent for a forty-million-dollar contract, exuded the confidence of a man who’d made a great move for his career. Matt entirely missed or ignored the byplay in favor of being deep into sports conversation with the Hall-of-Famer quarterback, Joe Billodeaux. Annie couldn’t read auras like one of her sisters, but a career in nursing had increased her empathy. Possibly, she could help the situation.
She offered Melinda a confident smile, the one she always wore in the NICU. “Who is your obstetrician? Oh, Dr. Cooper is excellent. Both my sister and I work for Ochsner. It’s a great hospital with top notch care. I’d suggest for now you might want to rent a place in the Garden District to be closer to medical care. It’s a quiet area with good security.” In other words, the realm of the rich.
“So Stacy says since she lives there. Excuse me, I need the ladies’ room—again.”
“A hazard of your condition,” Annie said pleasantly, but none of the Billodeaux women offered to go with her.
Annie’s twin, Jude, sitting beside her radiated hostility toward the woman. She whispered to her sister, “Latched onto a husband in college and probably never worked a day in her life.” All the Billodeaux girls were expected to live purposeful lives and be able to earn their own way.
“It must be hard on her, coming here pregnant, losing her support system back home, especially her mother who lived nearby.”
“As she mentioned several times already. You know I can’t stand nervous Nellies.” Jude took no crap from patients or doctors. Suited for the NICU, nope. She’d gone into surgical nursing.
“Yes, if it were one of us in this situation we’d simply squat down and deliver that baby ourselves, wrap it in a blanket, and get back to work.”
“Damn right, Sis.”
Across the table, their mom gave them the hairy eyeball for whispering at dinner. They stopped. Tiny Nell Billodeaux also took no crap from her grown children. The rules they’d been brought up to obey still held sway. All twelve of them had turned out well so far. Okay, there was Mack, but the family hoped he’d grow out of his antics.
In looks, the twins greatly resembled Nell with her big, brown doe eyes and dark hair, despite having been conceived from eggs donated by her sister. They often regretted having inherited their father’s curls and not his impressive stature. But, what could you do about that?
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