Never Been Ready
Author: By J.L. Berg

Never Been Ready By J.L. Berg

 

For Leslie,

 

Best bitches, partners in crime…I love you more than fuzzy socks and Justin Timberlake.

 

You are my real-life Leah and I’ll drive you anywhere.

 

We-out!

 

 

 

 

 

Like all novels in this series, Never Been Ready can be read as a standalone. However, for frame of reference, this story takes place three months after the last chapter of When You're Ready. The events that take place in the epilogue have not yet occurred.

 

 

 

 

 

~Leah~

 

 

 

I remember the shattering glass most of all. The sound still echoes through my head to this day. It was deafening to my child-sized eardrums, and I awoke quickly, covering my ears to try to mute the piercing sound.

 

The shrill voices came next. Heated, angry words were shouted outside my frilly pink bedroom that my mother and I had decorated from things we'd found at Goodwill. I was used to the shouting. My parents lived to fight. I spent a good part of my early childhood hidden behind the walls of that room. I'd play with my Barbies and dream of a normal family. Barbie would bake apple pie and sing Etta James in the kitchen, and Ken would take her out dancing. He would never raise his voice...or his hand. When I awoke that night though, it felt different...scarier. Even at seven, I knew something major was about to happen, and my world would never be the same.

 

Angry stomping passed my door, followed by hysterical cries and pleading words. Someone rushed down the hall, stopping briefly by my door, and then I heard the front door slam. Jumping out of my bed, I peeked my head out the door in the direction of our small living room. It was empty, and dark. The glass coffee table was in shards, and pieces were scattered all over the shaggy brown carpet. The dark shadows of the room seemed to be closing in on me from all angles. With the curiosity of a young child getting the best of me, I pressed on and walked farther into the room. No one was to be seen anywhere, and my exploration proved fruitless. Not knowing what else to do or where else to go, I picked a spot in the corner, curled myself into a ball, and started to count the glittery pieces of glass.

 

"What the hell are you doing out of bed?" my father asked when he found me some time later. My count had reached the hundreds by then, and my feet were ice cold from the lack of heat in the house. I looked up at the man I both loved and feared. Both of his hands were wrapped in bloody bandages and his clothes looked askew and out of place. I remember wondering if he had a hard time getting dressed with those bandages on his hands and that’s why he looked so funny. I reminded myself to help Daddy button his shirt the next day. Children have such innocent minds.

 

"I couldn't sleep," I answered quietly, "Where's Mommy?"

 

"She's gone. For good."

 

 

 

 

 

~Leah~

 

 

 

"How are you feeling, sweetie?" I asked the soon-to-be-mother as I walked into the birthing room carrying her chart and a cup of ice chips.

 

"I'm okay," she groaned before grimacing in pain as another contraction rolled through her tiny body.

 

Natural childbirth —I would never understand it. It was like going to the dentist and saying, "Novocain? No thanks. Just go in there Doc and rip that sucker right out!" Epidural was the way to go and it made my job so much easier.

 

I was a labor and delivery nurse and my current mother-to-be was named Hillary. With her granola eating boyfriend, Teegan, she had come in tonight with mild contractions after her water had broken. They were like any soon-to-be-parents —excited, nervous and scared. They were also very adamant in what they did and did not want. They had a three-page birthing plan. Three fucking pages that were single spaced no less. Hillary had promptly handed it to me in between her Lamaze breathing, and she'd instructed me to read and follow it to the letter.

 

Hippie chick was bossy. Five hours later, she was also bitch-ass tired and hadn't progressed at all. Stuck at six centimeters dilated, she was in a hell of a lot of pain and completely miserable.

 

Handing her the ice chips, I asked, "Can I get you anything?"

 

She shook her head and tried to give a polite smile, but I could see it waver. She was losing her strength fast. Hard lines from exertion showed in her forehead, sweat trickled down her brow and her eyes were heavy from exhaustion.

 

"Okay, I'll come back in a few and check on you." I gave a reassuring smile to Teegan before exiting the room.

 

Walking down the hall, I headed for the nurses station and spotted one of the other nurses on shift.

 

"Hey Trish. How's your night going?"

 

"Just finished delivering a baby boy. It was her third, so I think she could have done my job for me."

 

"I love the repeat offenders. They're so much easier."

 

"Yeah, but the newbies are fun too. Hey, I heard you went out with Susan's brother, Neil. How'd that go?" she asked, her eyes flickering with unshed laughter.

 

Neil and I had gone out the other night, and unfortunately it was three hours of my life I'd never get back. He was a financial advisor and he really loved his job. It had been all he talked about, and by the end of the evening —after repeated attempts at keeping myself from stabbing my own eyes out with a fork —I faked a stomachache and fled. It had been my first date in months —six months to be exact.

 

"Yes. Why do you say it like that? I asked, eyeing her suspiciously. "What do you know?"

 

"I'm surprised you made it out alive. Did he talk you to death? I thought I was going to bleed out from my ears from the endless chatter I had to endure on our date," she confessed.

 

"Oh my God! You went out with him, too? And you didn't feel the need to warn me? Shit, you could have told me he was a walking, talking, ad campaign for abstinence, " I scolded, causing her to burst into laughter.

 

She muffled the sound with her hand as a doctor walked by, and gave us a look that clearly held judgment, but I ignored it and pressed on.

 

"Seriously Trish! I thought you were my friend!"

 

"I'm sorry, Leah. I am. I didn't know. I found out afterwards, when Susan was talking about it in the cafeteria. She was so proud. She thought she'd finally found her new sister-in-law. Man, she is going to be disappointed."

 

"I have news for her. She's never, ever going to marry that man off. The only chance she has is finding a nice young girl who happens to be deaf."

 

We continued giggling and talking as I checked charts and entered a few things into the computer. When Susan asked if she could set me up with her hot brother, I leaped at the chance. My love life had taken a serious nose dive lately, and I was sick of sitting on the couch being utterly boring. I had no one to blame but myself. Well, that wasn't true. There was one other person I could blame for my complete lack of interest in the male species —Declan James.

 

Declan was childhood pals with my best friend's husband, Logan Matthews. Declan and I had met one night at a bar when Clare and Logan were dating. Declan had been an up-and-coming star in Hollywood, and well...he was gorgeous —like, sizzling hot, forgot-every-other-man-in-the-world-but-him-hot. Tall and rugged, with dark chocolate brown hair, he had hazel eyes that seemed to take on a life of their own, depending on his mood. Despite his obvious attempts to hide his appearance, I’d known who he was the minute he'd walked into that bar. Even with his dark sunglasses and baseball cap pulled tight against his head, I'd known.

 

I would recognize that weathered jawline and chiseled body anywhere. I'd spent enough hours looking at him on the internet, and even more time lying in bed, thinking of all the naughty things I could do to him if given the chance.

 

 

And suddenly there he had been, staring at me from across the bar. My wet dream had come to life. His eyes had locked with mine, making me feel hot and flustered. I didn't do flustered. Up until that point, I hadn't even been sure I'd understood the complete definition of the word.

 

I'd always been confident around men. They were fun and nice to be around, but some time ago, I'd come to the realization that they just weren't worth the trouble. I spent many good years of my adult life with one man who I thought was the man. When things got rough, he bailed. I was sick of investing my emotions and feelings into the part of our species who seemed unable to reciprocate. Men never followed through with their promise and they never loved me enough to stay. So, I'd sworn them off —until my eyes found Declan James, standing in a crowded bar, and I suddenly found myself unable to breathe.

 

By the time Logan and Declan had made it to our table that night, I had been nearly panting. My nether regions were on high alert, and wanted to play. I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from whimpering. By the time the two of us had been left alone, I had barely said two words to him. It hadn't been because I was star struck. The problem was I was so goddamn horny that my brain wouldn't function.

 

I kept telling myself, He's just another man...a really hot, yummy, lickable man. Stop drooling and say something.

 

But nothing had come out.

 

Eventually he'd spoken, and I had managed to get a few things out. What had I said? I had no fucking clue. I could have told him about puppies or the weather for all I knew. It was a wonder the man had wanted anything to do with me at all after that. But he had. We'd left together, and stopped at a local cemetery I'd apparently mentioned during our chat. He'd wanted to check it out before leaving town as a possible location for his upcoming film. It was a Civil War movie and Richmond, our home town, had been picked as one of the filming locations.

 

I'd watched him walk through the cemetery, looking at old graves and bending down to get different angles and views. His body had moved and flexed as he'd shifted positions, and I had to bite my lip to keep from groaning. I'd known him for all of two seconds, but I knew he was in his element in that cemetery.

 

After about fifteen minutes, I'd took him all in as he'd made his way back to where I had been standing, towards the entrance. His jeans had sat low on his hips and his black T-shirt accentuated the ridges of his abs. His eyes, no longer focused on the cemetery, had been dead set on me. He was male perfection.

 

"Looks good," he had announced, taking one final glance around. "I'll have the crew come out tomorrow during the day to take some photos that we can take back with us. But I think it's definitely a place we could use."

 

"This is your passion," I'd said softly.

 

He'd seemed a little taken aback by my sudden ability to form a coherent sentence, but he'd nodded, smiling.

 

"Yes. Acting is fun, but this is what I really want to do. Being behind the camera and creating something from start to finish is an amazing feeling."

 

It had been the first honest moment we had shared that evening. I finally hadn't felt flustered and it was the first time I noticed he wasn't paranoid about being recognized. He'd looked younger and more at ease. I'd smiled and relaxed a bit. I was still horny as hell, but calmer.

 

We'd eventually made it back to my townhouse where he'd showed me that all the ways he'd earned that bad-boy, lady-killer reputation he was known for. He'd ruined me for all other men that night.

 

For six months, I'd moped around, thinking about that night, unable to move on. I hadn't slept with another man, and every time I had gone to open my drawer full of stand-ins, the thought of using a vibrator had seemed less than thrilling when I knew what I was missing. The only times I'd managed to release some of the built-up steam had been when I thought of him. When I would touch myself, while remembering his hands touching me, and his lips tasting me, I could find bliss again. It was never as sweet, but it was as close as I'd ever get to him again. He was a player and I wasn't about to be his side dish. We had been doomed from the start.

 

I huffed out a sigh and said my good-byes to Trish before making my way back to the birthing room that held my New Age couple. Standing outside the room was Teegan. Bent forward, his hands were on his thighs, and his head was lowered. He looked ill. I knew this look well. It was the look of an expectant father about to lose his shit.

 

"Hey Teegan. How's it going?" I asked cautiously.

 

"It's...God, it's too fucking hard. She's in so much pain. I don't know what to do. I can't do this. I'm not ready." His breathing became labored as his head sank further between his knees.

 

"Teegan, look at me."

 

Nothing —he didn't budge.

 

"Teegan. It's time to man the fuck up. Look at me."

 

His eyes shot up to mine. That had gotten his attention. It usually did. I'd done this speech more than once.

 

"Hillary needs you right now. You need to get your shit together, go back in that room and take care of her. She doesn't have anyone else in there, except for you and me. As much as I want to help her, it's you she needs and loves. So, if you need to, give yourself a few more moments if you need them to breathe it out, but in a couple of minutes, you are going to walk back into that room and you will be the calm supportive man I know you can be. Got it?"

 

He looked at me. He was completely bewildered for a few seconds, but then he nodded and his lost vacant eyes changed. He became determined and full of driven purpose. I knew then that he was back where he needed to be.

 

We entered the room again together, and he immediately went to Hillary's side. He gave her a tender kiss on the forehead before he whispered something in her ear that made her smile.

 

 

 

 

 

It was a rough few more hours, but eventually baby Kai entered the world. After cutting the umbilical cord, Teegan watched as I cleaned off his newborn son and then placed the baby into his arms.

 

I loved this part of my job. Humans were perfect in this moment. A new life was born, completely void of selfishness or sin. It was humanity at its best. When I saw a mother and father hold their child for the first time, I could see so many possibilities. A blank slate that could do and be anything, and I loved being the one to help usher him or her into the world.

 

"Thank you Leah," Teegan said, giving me a knowing smile.

 

"No problem pops. You did good."

 

"Do you have any children?" Hillary asked lovingly as she watched the two men in her life meet for the first time.

 

She smiled as Teegan carefully leaned down, nuzzling the three of them close together as a happy new family.

 

"No. No kids for me."

 

"Well there's still time. You will be a wonderful mother," Teegan said encouragingly.

 

I just smiled. There would be no children in my future. Children deserved to grow up in a loving home, with two parents who adored each other. I didn't have that. Besides, I had been raised in a house that was anything but loving. What would I know about properly raising a child?

 

 

 

 

 

The night air was chilly against my skin as I pulled my coat closer to my body. The thin scrubs that covered my legs were doing little to block the wind gusting through the parking lot of the hospital. Just as I reached my car, my purse started vibrating and playing the Superman theme song. I was a ringtone whore. I must have spent half my paycheck downloading songs and ringtones in iTunes store. I had a different ringtone for every person in my Contact List. I hand-selected the tone based on the person, making sure each song fit their personality. This particular ringtone, the one from the original movie, with its sweeping melodic ballad, was for Logan. He always reminded me of a superhero because he was so giving and selfless, so I made him one —on my phone at least.

 

 

"Hey Superman. What's up?"

 

"Hey Leah. You still at work?"

 

"Well, technically, yes." I said, starting to do a little dance in the middle of the deserted parking lot in an effort to keep my toes from falling off.

 

"I'm in the parking lot. Why? Are you okay?"

 

Suddenly I was concerned. Logan had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease several months earlier, and although the prognosis looked good, after several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, I still worried.

 

"Yeah, I'm fine. I'm actually here at work too."

 

Logan was a doctor and we worked at the same hospital. He worked in the emergency room though, so we very rarely saw each other.

 

"I wanted to ask a favor. We just had a pretty bad car accident come through. Trucker fell asleep at the wheel and veered off into oncoming traffic. Clipped a car, sending it head-on into a tree. We did everything we could for the driver, but she didn't make it. The trucker is fine, of course."

 

"What do you need me for Logan? You know I'm not trained in trauma, and it sounds like it's too late anyway."

 

"No, I know that." He paused as he let out a deep breath. "Leah, there's a kid."

 

I felt all the air leave my lungs at once. Oh God, that poor child.

 

"How old, Logan?"

 

"Seven."

 

"I'll be right there."

 

I walked back into the hospital, and headed towards the ER. Thoughts swarmed my mind as I tried to figure out what to do or say to a child who had just lost his mother. I was the same age when I'd lost mine. Granted, it wasn't the same situation. His hadn't chosen to leave him. But it was still a loss. I knew what it could do to a child. The loss could eat away, slowly taking that childhood innocence until there's nothing but bitterness and longing. If it hadn't been for my best friend Clare and her family, I would have been swallowed by it.

 

I rounded the corner and found Logan reviewing a file at the nurse’s station. He looked tired and worn. We'd tried to talk him into taking time off, but he'd refused. He'd said he would go fucking nuts if he was left with nothing to do. We had managed to get him to reduce his hours and work part-time during his treatments, but on nights like this, when the job got rough, I could see it wearing on him.

 

"Hey, how are you doing?" I asked.

 

He looked up at me and at that moment, I knew what losing a patient meant to him. He was destroyed.

 

"Oh God, Logan...I'm sorry," I said, pulling him into a tight hug.

 

I'd lost patients before. I knew the pain and guilt, worrying that I could have done more. I remembered the few I'd lost like it was yesterday. I remembered their names, the parents who grieved the lost lives and the years that had passed by without them.

 

"I don't know why this one is affecting me so much more. It's not like this is the first time I've lost someone on the table."

 

"You're a father now Logan." I said, pulling back from our embrace.

 

"Every mother you save is Clare. Every child you bandage up is Maddie. It's harder now to separate yourself from your patients because you feel so much more."

 

"You're right. I can't stop thinking about that child. He's parentless now. There's no father on record. We can't find a next of kin. He said they were on their way to visit a close family friend so we are trying to make contact. Social services is on their way."

 

"Hey, it's okay. You did everything you could. Go home. Be with your wife and daughter and let them help you get through this. I've got this. I'll take care of him until Social Services come, all right?"

 

He nodded before pulling me into another hug.

 

We said our good-byes, and I made my way towards the room that held the child. His name was Connor. He sustained only mild injuries from the accident, since he'd been in the back of the car.

 

Right before I was about to push open the door open, I paused, feeling panic rise in my chest.

 

What was I doing?

 

I should find someone else to go in there —a mother maybe, someone who would know what to say or do. I didn't have any experience with children beyond my goddaughter, Maddie. What the hell did I know about caring for a hopeless child? Isn't that something I should have learned from my own parents? All I learned from my mother and father was how to abandon and hurt.

 

Looking around the empty hallway, I realized there was no one else. It was only me. I had to do something. I entered the room, and my heart fell. He was sitting in the center of the bed with knees pulled to the center of his chest and his head lowered. He was clutching something in his left hand, but I couldn't make out what it was. A paper, or a photo maybe? Tears trickled down his legs, and I heard him heave in a breath as he sobbed.

 

As I clicked the door shut, his eyes jerked up and found me. They were hazel and looked like paint splatters. Blue, green, and brown were mixed together to create one of the most beautiful sets of eyes I'd ever seen. They were so unique, yet familiar. I felt the overwhelming need to pull him into my arms and tell him everything would be okay even though I had no proof otherwise.

 

"Who are you?" he questioned.

 

"I'm Leah."

 

"Are you here to take me away?" he asked cautiously.

 

"No, I'm not taking you anywhere. I'm a nurse."

 

"They already put bandages on me."

 

"I know," I said.

 

"So, why are you here?" he asked softly. He quickly wiped away the tears from his eyes in a halfhearted effort to cover up the fact that he'd been crying.

 

"I'm here so you don't have to be alone. You can talk to me if you want, or you can ignore me, but I'm going to sit here with you until it's time to leave because I think you need a friend right now."

 

"You're not my friend," he retorted.

 

"No, but I'd like to be."