Reunited with Her Army Doc

By: Dianne Drake

CHAPTER ONE

THE RADIO SCRATCHED out a sour little tune, one that sounded like it was on vinyl. Caleb’s hand went automatically to the scan button because he wanted to hear something else. When Matthew was with him, it was always classical—a symphony or concerto from the only world his son knew. But when Caleb was alone, like today, he dialed straight into country. He loved the soulfulness of it. The expression. The heartaches, trials and tribulations. Things he could relate to in his own life.

Marrell, Montana, the sign ahead of him said, welcoming him back to the one place he’d thought he’d never live again. Visit, yes. More than a day or two…no. Not him. Not anymore. Too many childhood memories, too many difficult times. But never say never, right? Because here he was, right back where he’d started. Only this time with his son. Just the two of them. And, he was driving a beat-up old pickup truck that had come with the property he was renting. Plenty of dents, a fair share of rust, bumpy ride, but dependable. The same could be said of him. Plenty of dents—war wounds, physical and mental, plus a fair share of rust because, face it, at thirty-six, he wasn’t getting any younger. And the bumpy ride—that was his life now.

So much had changed. It amazed him even thinking about it. Six years ago, he had been an army field surgeon, seeing active duty in off-and-on stretches, spending most of his time acting as the intermediary medical consultant and surgeon between combat injuries and the soldier’s transport back home. Until two years into his duty when he, himself, had been the one on that transport, finding the end of his military medical career in a hospital rehab section, trying to relearn the use of an arm now held together with hardware.

Sighing, Caleb glanced at the time on his cell phone, and pressed the gas pedal a little harder. Marrell was about as big as a blink and here he was, on his first day at Sinclair Hospital, tooling through town so slowly he was in jeopardy of being late. First day on a new job in a new life, and he was unsure of himself. Unsure of his decision to move home, to start over here. But Hans Schilling tutored privately nearby, and the Schilling name was nothing to be sneezed at in the world of classical piano. Matthew needed that tutoring, so his list of “nevers” went by the wayside.

Also, being back home did come with some advantages. His family, the beautiful area… Yes, those were his own personal fond memories, and he was glad he did have some, because he had other memories, too. The dark, painful ones, where he’d been the odd kid out. And now Matthew could easily become the same.

Stopping his truck in front of the hospital, in a parking spot that was already labeled with his name, Caleb glanced at the sign over the front door, then glanced away. Was he really doing this? Really going to work at Sinclair Hospital? It used to be just a clinic—a lodge-type building sporting one doctor, two exam rooms, a makeshift lab and a tiny space for minor procedures. It had also been his safe haven as a kid. But Henry had added on a piece at a time to his clinic until he’d finally built a respectable regional hospital. Henry Sinclair—the doctor who’d delivered him, who’d introduced him to the world of medicine. Something that had turned into his passion at a very young age.

“You coming in?” Henry asked, knocking on Caleb’s window. He was an affable-looking man. Large, broad smile, thick gray hair, keen gray eyes, rugged build. Except for his hair color, Henry hadn’t changed in the thirty-six years he’d known him. Not true for Caleb, though. He was gaunt, could see it when he looked in the mirror. And he looked tired. Plus, there was no joy in his eyes like he saw in Henry’s. Only a haunting reminder—

“Just indulging in a few memories of the place,” Caleb said, stepping out of the truck. But the memories here were mixed. Good and bad. The good had helped build him into who he was today, the bad had worked against him for a long, hard time.

“It’s changed a lot since you last worked here. Got forty-five beds now, an operating room for minor surgeries, and specialists coming in part-time. So, you could say we’re almost well-rounded.”

“Marrell’s changed, too. It has more than two buildings. And did I notice a turnoff sign out on the highway.” For a town where no one ever turned off.

Caleb locked the truck door behind him, wondering if people here still left all their doors unlocked, or had time finally caught up to this tiny little nowhere town? Nah, time hadn’t caught up, he decided. Their doors were still unlocked.

“Population has almost quadrupled since you left. People are finding this a nice place to retire, or build a weekend cabin. Got a couple of movie stars with ranches nearby and, of course, Hans Schilling. Also, lots of beautiful wilderness still untouched, no one to bother you—”

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