southern-heart-banner2.jpg

Chelsea

After putting the truck in park, a smile spreads across my face as I look out at all the trees. "It’s good to be home." I get out of the truck and notice the wind has picked up when I hear the leaves rustling in the trees. I spend an extra second just to take it in again. Living in the city, I don’t have any of this. I have car horns and sirens. 

The blue sky has clouded over, and my blond hair covers my face now. I don’t know why, but the air smells so different here than anywhere else. It just smells like home. My black ballerina shoes are no match for the rocks in the driveway, so it’s time to dust off the cowboy boots. 

I hear the front door open and look up, seeing my brother, Ethan, coming outside. His whole face lights up with a smile. "Well, well, well," he says, coming down the front steps of his house. "If it isn’t Care Bear." 

I shake my head at the nickname he gave me when I decided to go into nursing. "How long are you going to keep that up?" I ask as he gets closer to me, grabbing me and pulling me close to him. 

My hands go around his waist. "Welcome home," he says, putting his chin on top of my head like he always does. 

"It’s good to be home," I tell him. Five years ago, I decided I would try my hand at being a nurse. I wasn’t sure how I would like it, but I fell in love with it and graduated last week at the top of my class. 

"Is Mom all over you?" He lets go of me now as we walk into his house. 

"Let’s just say that I’m happy I have my own house." We both laugh. Even though my parents expected me to move back home and had my bedroom all ready, I needed to have my own space. 

"I’m still surprised she went for that." He looks over at me.

"Oh, she didn’t at first." I stop when I get up the two steps. "But then I threw in that you disappeared from our lives for five years." When he was twenty-one, he found out that his father was not Jacob. He didn’t handle it well and took off for five years, cutting everyone off. It was a rough time for everyone, but he’s home now. 

"Nice." He pushes my shoulder now. 

"Daddy!" Gabriel, his four-year-old son, yells his name and then looks down the hall and sees me here, and his blue eyes sparkle. "Auntie Cece!" he yells, running to me, and I bend down to grab him in my arms. He wraps his arms around my neck and his legs around my waist.

I turn my head to kiss his neck just as I did when he was a baby. "I can’t even pick you up." I pretend he’s too heavy. No one knows I made the decision to become a nurse because of Gabriel. 

One looked at him and I fell so madly in love with him I couldn’t explain it. I also got this fear he would get sick, and I wouldn’t be able to actually help him. "Have you been eating your vegetables?"

"I did." He squirms to get out of my embrace, and I see he’s really gotten big since the last time I saw him six months ago. "Feel my muscles." He puts up his hand, and I squeeze it.

"I think you are even bigger than your dad." Bending to kiss him on the neck and blow bubbles in his neck. He squeals out in delight, and it’s music to my ears.

"Chelsea." I hear my name being called and look up to see my sister-in-law, Emily, coming toward us with a baby on her hip. The smile on her face matches Ethan’s. 

My one-year-old niece, Aubrey, chews on her finger while she looks at me and smiles. "Well, hello there, pretty girl." I take her from Emily, and she claps her hands, showing me her gummy smile.

"You look fabulous," she says to me. "I love those jeans." I nod, looking down at the black jeans I put on today with a white shirt and short black leather jacket. City chic but also okay for the country. "What are you doing here?" Emily asks, and I just look at her.

"I’m here to babysit my two favorite people in the whole world," I tell her, looking at my brother. "Someone called and begged and pleaded."

"I did not beg or plead," Ethan says, walking to Emily and putting his arm around her shoulders.

"He said he’s naming the next baby after me." I wink at her, and they both laugh now. 

"I just made her feel just a touch guilty that she hasn’t put Aubrey to bed in six months," he says, turning now and walking into the house.

"Ethan," Emily says his name. "She just got back two days ago." I knew that the minute I graduated, I would be going back home. I did my training in one of the busiest hospitals in the state. I went from the emergency room to surgery to obstetrics to see what I really wanted, and in the end, I just loved the emergency trauma. It pushed me on so many levels and I found it challenging. It also gave me a chance to work with different doctors. No matter how much I loved the hustle and bustle, I knew I wanted to come back home.

"And she is bored out of her mind." He repeats what I told him. "She said it herself."

"I did," I say. I reached out to one of the top medical centers in the area, and I start in a month. I could have started right away, but I wanted to get settled and have some extra family time, seeing my cousins and my grandmother. But I was getting antsy to get back out there. "I might call and ask if I can start before I’m scheduled." 

We walk into the house, and I see toys scattered everywhere. I look around the living room, but everything is much the same. The only thing is the new family pictures that Emily keeps adding. I pick up a frame on the side table, seeing the picture of all of us at Christmas. "I see that someone really put his foot down with no more toys."

"Don’t look at me," Ethan says, walking to grab a glass. "It’s all Emily."

"I can’t even believe you just said that." She looks at him. "You, Mr. McIntyre, are fibbing." She folds her arms over her chest. "Now I’m going to take a shower and even put on jeans."

"Jeans are overrated," I say. "They also judge you. Don’t listen to them."

"You’re wearing jeans." She points at my pants.

"I was in nursing school and working at the hospital. I lived on coffee and ramen noodles. Sometimes I ate the noodles uncooked." She walks back to their bedroom as I sit on the couch next to Aubrey. She is lying down, watching some cartoon playing on the big-screen television. I kiss the top of her head, and she looks up and smiles at me.

Forty-five minutes later, Ethan is opening the car door for Emily. "There is a bottle in the fridge already," Emily says, sticking her head out of the window. "They both ate, so bath time in an hour, and then they should go right to bed."

"I know the drill," I say, standing on the porch holding Gabriel’s hand with Aubrey on my hip.

"Call if you need us," Ethan says. "And by that, I mean we will see you later." 

"Wave bye," I tell the kids as they drive away from the house.

I look up at the sky now and see that the clouds are rolling in faster and faster. Gone is the blue sky and the fluffy white clouds. The sky darkens with gray clouds, and I feel a couple of drops. "I smell rain," I say to Gabriel as we turn to walk back into the house before the sky opens up and the pouring rain starts. "Now, how about you show me all your favorite toys?"

"Yes," Gabriel says, jumping up and down. He pulls my hand toward his playroom in the back of the house. The floor-to-ceiling windows view the backyard and the big pool Ethan put in right next to the enormous play structure the guys spent a weekend building last year. The worn hammock remains in the yard. No matter how tattered it gets, they refuse to get rid of it.

Placing Aubrey down, I sit on the plush beige carpet in the middle of the room. Gabriel goes on and on about all of his toys while Aubrey brings me one doll after another. I kiss her sweet little cheeks every single time. When she finally brings her last doll over, she turns and sits in the middle of my legs, gibbering the whole time. I’ve missed so much by not being home, but watching these two grow up is what I missed the most.

Even though I saw them during our regular FaceTime sessions, it’s not the same. I hear the rain start, and I look outside the window and see that the dark clouds have taken over. "It’s raining cats and dogs," Gabriel says, and I laugh at him, knowing Grandma taught him that.

"Why don’t we go take a nice bubble bath?" We clean up the room, then I walk back to their bathroom. By the time they’ve finished their bath, I have to put down four towels to clean up our splashing. I tie my hair on top of my head as I dress them both and then walk back into the kitchen to warm a bottle up.

While I wait for the microwave to beep, a huge clap of thunder makes me jump. I laugh, thinking I’m being silly. Rainstorms are my favorite, but I don’t like the thunder and lightning that go along with them. "That was a big one." I look out the kitchen window but can’t see anything since the rain is coming down so hard. 

I’m rocking Aubrey to sleep when thunder claps again, and this time, I see the lightning through the windows. 

The lights flicker, but the kids are oblivious to the fact a storm is raging outside. I place her in bed and check on Gabriel, who is fast asleep.

I close his door just a touch and walk back to the living room starting to clean up when the lights flicker again. I walk to the kitchen, looking for candles in case the lights go out. 

The lightning outside is intense this time. It lights up the whole sky, the rain not letting up, and now it sounds as if little pellets are hitting the windows. I find the candle at the same time I hear a soft ticking. Tick. Tick. Tick. 

I look around, walking to the back door to make sure it’s locked as another round of lightning starts, this time with a roaring sound of thunder first. "Someone is getting their asses kicked tonight." I walk toward the front door, where I can still hear the ticking. 

A tree branch is swaying from the wind and hitting the front window. I turn off most of the lights and sit down when it sounds like two rocks being crushed together fills the whole house, and the lights go out.

"Great," I say to myself, getting up. I’m ready to send Ethan a text to tell him that we are fine when the thunder starts again, but this time, there is also banging on the door. 

I drop the phone as my hands go to my chest. Making my way through the darkness, I slowly head to the front door. The streaks of lightning give me some light as I get to the door and look out the peephole.

All I see is a black lump. My head screams at me not to open the door while my hands reach out my hand going to the lock and turning it.

I start to pull it open, and it’s pushed in by someone bent over. I scream, not sure what to do. The lightning gives me just enough light to see that the man is bloody. His face is bruised and battered, and he has blood everywhere along with dirt. His dirty white shirt is soaked through from the rain, and parts of his shirt are pink from the blood. My heart pounds in my chest, the fear creeping in as I look to turn and grab the kids. I back away from him as he crashes into the table in the hallway, the vase of flowers crashing down now at the same time as the thunder strikes again.

He holds up one hand, and I can see the dripping blood. "Oh my god." 

"Help." It’s the only thing he says to me before falling to the floor in front of me.

southern heart.jpg