One Tiny Miracle...

By: Carol Marinelli

CHAPTER ONE

  A NEW DAY.

  A new start.

  Another one.

  Walking along the beach, Ben Richardson was head down and too deep in thought to really notice the glorious pink sky over the smooth waters of Port Phillip Bay. He had been accepted for a position as Emergency Registrar at Melbourne’s Bay View Hospital and would be there in a couple of hours to start his first day, only there were no first-day jitters as he made his way along the beach—after all, he’d had plenty new starts before.

  This would be his fourth job in the three years since Jennifer’s death...no, it was nearly four years now. The anniversary was coming up soon and Ben was dreading it. Trying and failing not to think about it, trying and failing not to constantly think how life should be, had they lived. Had he stayed put at Melbourne Central, had life not changed so dramatically for him, he’d have been starting to apply for consultant positions now. But staying there hadn’t been an option—there were just too many memories there for him. After six months of trying, Ben had realised that he couldn’t keep working in the same place that he had once worked with his wife and had accepted, after some soul-searching, that things would never be the same again, could never be the same again. So he had moved on to Sydney—which had felt right for a while, but after eighteen months, well, that restless feeling had started again and he’d moved on to another Sydney hospital. Only it had been the same tune, just a different song. The place was great, the people too...

  But it just didn’t work without Jen.

  So now he had returned to Melbourne, but on the outskirts this time, and it was good to be back closer to his family and amongst old friends again.

  No, he wasn’t nervous about this new start—the difference was that this time he was looking forward to it, ready for it, excited even by the prospect of finally moving on.

  It was time.

  He had decided to live by the beach and take brisk walks or jog each morning...except on day three after moving in he’d already pressed the snooze button on his alarm a few times!

  Ben picked up speed, even broke into a jog, his large, muscular frame belying his deftness, and all too soon he reached his destination—the house that he had had his eye on for a couple of weeks now.

  While working through his notice in Sydney, Ben had made the trip down to find a home close to the hospital. Looking online, speaking on the phone with real-estate agents, he had found several prospects to view over the weekend, determined to secure a home before he started his new job—deciding that maybe if he owned a property then he’d be more inclined to settle for longer.

  The real-estate agent had been showing him a typical bachelor apartment, a new development along the beach, with gorgeous bay and City views. It was bright and airy and had all mod cons with the bonus of a huge balcony which would be nice when he had friends or family over. It had everything, really, and Ben had come close to purchasing it that day, but, standing on the balcony as the agent sorted out the documents, Ben had seen the house next door. An older house, it jutted out a touch further onto the beach than the apartment block. The garden, which had direct beach access, was an overgrown green oasis compared to the swish decking and clear-walled balcony that he’d stood on.

  Instead of looking at the glorious beach, Ben had found himself gazing into his potential new neighbour’s garden. A huge willow tree shaded most of it, there was a slide and swing and a trampoline, but what had really caught Ben’s eye had been the boat parked along the side of the house—a man in his forties had been hosing it down and he had looked up and waved as they’d stepped out onto the balcony and Ben had given a quick nod back, only realising then that the man had actually been waving to the real-estate agent instead of himself.

  ‘I’ll be with you shortly, Doug,’ the agent called, then took a seat at the well-positioned glass table, sorting out brochures and papers and finally locating the contract.

  ‘Is it on the market, then?’ Ben asked.

  ‘Sorry?’

  ‘The house next door—is it for sale?’

  ‘Not yet,’ the agent said with a noncommittal smile. ‘Have a seat, Dr Richardson, and we’ll go through the small print.’

  ‘But is it coming onto the market?’ Ben persisted.

  ‘Perhaps. Though, really, it has none of the specifications you outlined. That house needs a lot of work, it still has the original kitchen and the garden’s a jungle...’ Only Ben wasn’t listening and the real-estate agent suddenly had that horrible sinking feeling that he was losing his grip on his certain sale. ‘The apartment complex is maintained, regularly serviced, there’s the gym and lap pool for tenants,’ he pointed out, pushing what he assumed were the benefits of living here for this tall, rugged-looking bear of a single guy, with the title of doctor. He had been so sure that low maintenance was the key to this sale.

  He was wrong.

  Ben was fast realising that high maintenance would be fantastic!

  This was a garden and a house he could lose himself in, what with house repairs and oiling decking. And how about a boat...? How much better to fill up his limited spare time renovating a house or out on a boat on the bay than to be confined to modern, sleek lines of the apartment or burning off his endless energy in a lap pool? For the first time in a very long time, Ben found himself interested in something that wasn’t work, and, staring at the house, he could almost glimpse a future, a real future... So, instead of closing the deal and moving into the plush apartment complex, to the agent’s obvious annoyance, Ben took a gamble, put his furniture into storage and rented one of the cheap furnished units at the other end of the street, prepared to sit it out till the house came on the market.

  It was win-win really, Ben thought this morning as he walked along the beach access path to the front of the house. In that short space of time, the bottom had fallen out of the housing market and the developers were having trouble selling the luxury apartments. Already the price had gone down a few thousand, so, if nothing happened with the house...

  For Sale by Auction

  He saw the board and gave a smile as he read that the auction wasn’t far off, just a few weeks away, in fact. And there was an ‘open for inspection’ scheduled at the weekend. Walking back toward the beach, this time he noticed the glorious skies and the stillness of the morning, seagulls sitting like ducks on the calm water, a dog running in and chasing them away. And then he saw her, standing in the glassy ocean, the water to her knees, legs apart and stretching, her hands reaching for the sky. She stood still and held the position and then slowly lowered her arms.

  And then did it all over again.

  God! Ben rolled his eyes. He had a great physique and made a very half-hearted attempt to keep it, relying mainly on walking a thousand miles a day in Emergency then burning it off with a swim, but this new-age, welcome-the-day-type stuff, or whatever she was doing...

  Please!

  Still, Ben conceded there was something rather spectacular about her lack of inhibition, something about her that made Ben smile as he walked.

  And then she turned and his smile vanished as she bent over...doubled over, actually. Ben saw her swollen stomach and realised she was pregnant and visibly in pain. Picking up speed, he walked a touch more quickly along the sandy pathway and onto the beach—not wanting to overreact as maybe it was part of her exercise routine. But, no, she was walking uncomfortably out of the shallows now, still bent at an awkward angle, and Ben broke into a light jog, meeting her at the foreshore. He stared down at a mop of dark curls on the top of her head as, still bent over double, she held onto her knees.

  ‘Are you okay?’ he asked in concern.

  ‘Fine,’ she moaned, and then looked up. She had amber eyes and big silver earrings and was gritting her very white teeth. ‘Stupid yoga!’

  ‘Are you having a contraction?’ He was assessing her. Not wanting to just dive in and place his hand on her stomach, he thought he ought to introduce himself first. ‘I’m Ben, I’m a doctor...’

  ‘And I’m Celeste.’ She blew out a breath and then slowly unfolded. ‘And I’m not having a contraction, it’s a stitch.’

  ‘You’re sure?’

  ‘Quite sure!’ She stretched and winced and then rubbed the last of her stitch away. ‘Stupid new-age stuff!’ He couldn’t help but smile and then so did she. ‘According to my obstetrician, it’s supposed to relax both me and the baby. It will kill us both, more like!’

  He tensed, standing on the beach on a glorious warm morning, and was slammed back there again—just as he was almost every day, every night. Not all the time now but surely, given it was nearly four years on, too many times.

  ‘So long as you’re okay,’ he clipped, and went to go, but she was holding her swollen stomach now with both hands and blowing out a long, slow breath. ‘That,’ Ben said firmly, ‘is not a stitch.’

  ‘No.’ Her eyes screwed up just a touch and this time he did place his hand on her stomach, felt the weak tightening flowing around her uterus, and held his hand there till it passed, satisfied that it was nothing more than a Braxton-Hicks’ contraction.

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