A Family for Christmas

By: Tara Taylor Quinn

CHAPTER ONE

Prospector, Nevada

“DAMN.” TAKING HIS stinging toe with him, Dr. Simon Walsh carefully and deliberately lifted his right foot and took another step forward. Landed it successfully. Then picked up the left. Success. And the right. Stepping slowly. Adding roots camouflaged by dirt and other ground cover to his list of possible dangers.

After four days of traipsing around several times a day in the forest that served as the borders for his self-imposed captivity, he’d amassed a list that could have been overwhelming if he cared to believe that it would be a permanent part of his life.

He wasn’t giving it that much credence.

His left eye stared belligerently at the black patch he’d placed upon it, while his right strained to make out a shape in the cloud cover that had become its vision.

Cloud was better than nothing, which was what he’d had when he’d made it to the emergency room four weeks prior. He had six months to a year before he’d know what good his injured right optic nerve would be, if any. More than four hours of pressure due to swelling would usually be the kiss of death. His had sustained at least five hours. But death meant no sight at all. He had clouds.

And…whack! Taking an involuntary step back, Simon lifted a hand to his forehead to inspect for any damage. He was either sweating or bleeding. Didn’t feel much of a gash. Not enough to require stitches, at any rate.

His outstretched hands—one holding a stick like a blind man’s cane—had missed a branch hanging above shoulder level. And his damned eye…nothing but clouds.

His pits were wet. Long sleeves and jeans in seventy-degree weather tended to do that to a guy exerting himself. It had been forty when he’d gotten up that morning. And in the woods he wasn’t ready to trust bare limbs to his right eye.

“Whoever thought this was a good idea?” He asked the question aloud. Talking to himself. When you were a hermit, living alone in a godforsaken wasteland, you tended to do that, he’d learned.

And didn’t bother to answer himself. Something else he’d learned…your conversational skills changed when there was only one of you.

It had been his idea to cover his one good eye four times a day to force the weaker one to work. Everyone knew that muscles had to be exercised to stay strong.

Not that an optic nerve was a muscle, of course. But he couldn’t let his brain go soft. He had to keep things working so that if the nerve managed to kick into gear, the rest of him would be ready and able to support it.

His forehead stung.

Lifting the patch off his good eye long enough to get a peek at his fingers, he saw blood. But he’d seen more than that on patients four days postsurgery. He snapped the piece of black cloth back into place.

He wasn’t stopping now.

Feeling like a damned freak, he continued staring at white fog, stepping gingerly and making his way. It wasn’t like he had anything else to do with his day.

Or his life.

A one-eyed surgeon wasn’t going to…cut it.

So much for an attempt at humor. He kicked at the ground. Just to show that he could. That he wasn’t afraid to express himself. He threw away his stick. Took two steps. And lifted the patch long enough to find and retrieve the walking aid.

“If they could see me now.”

Once one of LA’s top children’s thoracic surgeons, now unshaven, wearing jeans he’d stained with jelly that morning when he’d made his right eye get him through breakfast, wandering around in a wooded valley in the northern Nevada mountains.

Until a month ago, his idea of camping out had been a room at a moderately priced chain hotel—as opposed to his more likely choice of a suite in an upscale resort. That had been before he’d needed to prove self-sufficiency.

As his spirits continued to sink, he pushed forward. Reminded himself that he was a lucky bastard. That he sure as hell had no right to feel sorry for himself.

He had a good eye. He could see. Watch TV. Read. Hell, he could even drive.

He was alive.

He just couldn’t be a surgeon.

And he couldn’t ever laugh with little Opus again. Thoughts of his adopted daughter brought him shame at his own selfishness. If ever there’d been a child who’d taken it on the chin and come up with a grin, it had been that feisty little six-year-old.

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