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Annals of the F.O. Ranch, Chapter 5


Author of two fiction novels, short stories and book reviews, Peggy Cole is a HubPages writer since 2009, currently working on a 3rd book.


Paula woke up in a room that smelled like disinfectant. She tried to lift her head but it felt like a bowling ball. Her eyes darted around the room, squinting under the glaring Fluorescent lights. In the visitor's chair sat a man, his chin resting on his chest.

“Where am I?” Her voice cracked.

Floyd twitched in his chair startled by the sudden noise in the room. Jumping up, he walked to Paula’s bedside.

“There you are!” he said. “You had me worried.” He took her hand and gave it a light squeeze. “You’re at the hospital.”

“That’s pretty clear.” She tugged the sheet up around her neck. “But how did I get here?”

There was a quick tapping, then someone in scrubs pushed open the oversized door.

“How are you doing?” he asked. His glasses slid down his nose as he reviewed her chart. Looking up at Floyd he asked, “Family member?”


“Um, no,” Floyd and Paula both answered at the same time. The doctor pointed to the door and pulled the curtain around her bed.

“Young lady,” the doctor began, “you’re fortunate you got to the hospital when you did.” He poked around on her stomach. “Does that hurt?”

“Yes, a bit.”

He used his stethoscope to listen to her lungs and heart, looked in her mouth and ears and announced, “We’ll start you on the strongest IV antibiotic we have. You should be feeling better shortly.”

“What’s wrong with me?” she asked again.

“Somehow, you’ve gotten a bacterial infection that probably started in your kidneys. From the labs, it looks like it’s traveled to your blood.”

“When can I go home?”

“We’ll need to keep you here for a little while where you can rest and get better. But, don’t worry. You should be better in a few days.”

“A few days? I can’t miss work for that long.” But the doctor was already heading out the door as the nurse came in with packets of alcohol swabs, needles, and a plastic bag of fluid. When he finished, the nurse motioned Floyd back in the room. He took a seat in the same visitor’s chair as before.

“So, what’s the verdict?”

“I’m likely to lose my job,” she told him.

The hallway was quiet and empty outside the hospital room in the ER.

The hallway was quiet and empty outside the hospital room in the ER.

Jess pushed the tapered candles into their crystal holders and stepped back for a look at the table. It was set as Clare would like it with the good dishes, tall water glasses, cloth napkins and even salad forks. He’d always had a knack for cooking and tonight, he’d outdone himself.

“Let’s see, Spunk,” he said glancing at the golden retriever whose nose twitched at the roast in the oven. The dog's head cocked at the mention of his name. His lip caught on a front tooth giving him a lop-sided smirk.

“The wine is chilled, the salad is made, homemade raspberry vinaigrette dressing, her favorite, veggies ready to be steamed, just the way she likes them.” Spunky panted a seal of approval as Jess took off the apron that Clare usually wore.

“Now, we wait.”

Clare glanced at her watch, hoping to wrap up this last-minute call with a patient. The guy had called on the 800 number saying he was depressed and needed to talk. She learned that his wife had left him, he’d lost his job, his aging dog wasn’t doing well and the bank was about to repossess his truck. Sounds like a country song, she thought, trying to come up with some wisdom for this man whose life was faltering. She understood the despair and sadness he poured out in their hour of talking. The story reminded her of her own situation with Jess.

“Tell me, what do you truly love?” she said quietly. She heard his chair squeak as he leaned back in it. “Is it music? Art? Fashion? Hiking? Is there anything you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t had the time or opportunity?”

“Well,” he paused, “I’ve always wanted to go back to the Bahamas. I went there once during college. I was broke. Slept on the beach. Even so, it was great.”

“Then, why don’t you go?” He sputtered as if it were an absurd suggestion.

“I’ve told you my financial situation.”

“Yes, I know. But why not have some fun before you check out?” she said. “You never know who you’ll meet, what might come up. At least you’ll get a nice tan.”

They talked for a few more minutes about his hobbies. He liked to paint. She could hear hope in his voice as he mentioned he might have enough room on his credit card for a plane ticket.

“You know, I think you may be right,” he said. “Why not enjoy a fling?”

Clare wondered if she’d done the right thing suggesting the trip.

“There’s an old hotel I’ve always wanted to revisit. Reminds me of that spring break years ago. I’ve always wanted to paint the Old Driftwood Inn.”

“It’s good to hear you’ve got a plan,” she told him. “Clear your mind for a while, come back, and start over with a renewed spirit, like you’ve just been born.” He laughed, at first with hesitation, and then genuinely.

“Maybe I can start over.”

“Of course, you can,” she told him. “A new beginning.”

Clare checked her watch again as she closed the door to the office and locked it. The conversation with a stranger gave her new optimism about herself and Jess. Maybe they could start over, too. With a smile on her face, she headed home for her dinner date with Jess.


Floyd was stunned by the surge of protectiveness he felt for this near-stranger. Her vulnerability, her quiet nature, even her beauty had been overlooked in his quest for the unattainable Cheryl. This girl was within reach, right here in front of him. All he had to do was reach out and touch her.

His office had needed a bookkeeper for a while after the last one quit.

“What kind of work do you do?” he asked Paula after the technician left.

“Nothing all that exciting,” she said, “but it pays the bills.” She looked at the ceiling and added, “At least it did.”

“How are you with numbers and spreadsheets?”

“That’s what I do all day long. Crunch numbers and turn them into spreadsheets. It’s my thing.”

He smiled and reached into his wallet for a business card.

“Give me a call when you’re released from here.”

She took the card and looked at him as if seeing him for the very first time.

“We’re always looking for good people.”

Rewind to Chapter 4

  • Annals of the F.O. Ranch, Chapter 4
    Alan’s trip home with his ailing passenger had gone smoothly until time to drop her off. When she refused to go to the emergency room, he had no choice but to leave her on her own.

© 2021 Peg Cole

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