More Than a Convenient Bride

By: Michelle Celmer
One

 Julie Kingston stood and waited in the crowd, her heart overflowing with pride as her best friend and colleague, Lucas Wakefield, prepared to cut the ribbon marking the opening of the new, state-of-the-art Wakefield Clinic. It seemed as though the entire town of Royal, Texas, had shown up to mark the occasion.

 The town’s original free clinic once stood directly in the path of the F5 tornado that had ripped through Royal last October. In the blink of an eye, all that had remained of the structure was the concrete foundation. Patients from all over the surrounding counties had lost an important lifeline in the community.

 Lucas, who had been a regular volunteer there despite his duties as chief of surgery at Royal Memorial Hospital, hadn’t hesitated to donate the money to rebuild, using some of the proceeds from the sales and licensing of surgical equipment he’d invented several years ago.

 Humble as he was for a multimillionaire, he’d intended to keep his identity as the donor a secret, but someone leaked the truth, and the news spread through Royal like wildfire. The town council had immediately wanted to rename the clinic in his honor. But of course Luc had protested when he’d heard about plans for the Lucas Wakefield Clinic.

 “This clinic doesn’t belong to me,” he’d told Julie when she’d tried to convince him that he was being ridiculous. “It belongs to the people.”

 “This is a huge deal,” she’d argued time and again. “You donated millions of dollars.”

 He gave her his usual, what’s-your-point shrug, as if he truly didn’t understand the scope of his own good will. For a man of his wealth and breeding he lived a fairly simple life. “It was the right thing to do.”

 And that was Luc in a nutshell. He always did the right thing, constantly putting the well-being of others first. But finally, after much debate, and a whole lot of coercing from his mother, Elizabeth, Julie and his colleagues in the Texas Cattleman’s Club, he relented, allowing the use of his last name only.

 Julie smiled and shook her head as she thought back on it. Lucas was the most philanthropic, humble man she had ever known. And at times, the most stubborn, as well.

 Luc looked out over the crowd, and when his eyes snagged on hers she flashed him a reassuring smile. Despite his dynamic presence, and easy way with his patients and coworkers, he despised being the center of attention.

 To his left stood Stella Daniels, the town’s acting mayor. To his right, Stella’s new husband, Aaron Nichols, whose company R&N Builders rebuilt the clinic. In the six months since the storm, the town’s recovery had been slow but steady, and now it seemed as if every week a new business would reopen or a family would move back into their home.

 “I’m so proud,” Elizabeth Wakefield said, dabbing away a tear with the corner of a handkerchief. Julie knelt beside the wheelchair Elizabeth had been forced to use since a botched surgery a decade ago left her paralyzed from the waist down. In the months since Julie came to Royal last October, Elizabeth had contracted a multitude of infections that led to numerous hospital stays, and she now required permanent, round-the-clock care from a registered nurse. Though she was a beautiful and proud woman, she looked every one of her sixty-eight years, and a recent hospital stay for viral pneumonia had left her weak and vulnerable. Originally Luc forbade her from attending the ribbon cutting, but she insisted she be there. After much debate, he eventually caved, and it was more than clear to Julie where he inherited his stubborn streak.

 “You have every reason to be proud,” Julie said, patting Elizabeth’s frail arm. “You’ve raised your son to be an amazing man.”

 “I wish his father could be here. From the day Luc was born he insisted that his son was destined for great things. It still breaks my heart that he didn’t live to see how right he was.”

 Julie took her trembling hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “He knows.”

 The mayor completed her brief speech and handed Luc a pair of gold-plated scissors. With a quick swish of the blades the ribbon drifted to the freshly laid grass, and a round of applause erupted from the crowd. Luc’s club brothers crowded around him to congratulate him and shake his hand, but Julie hung back, still clutching his mother’s hand. Elizabeth looked proud but tired. The simplest of activities exhausted her.

 “We should get you home,” her nurse, Theresa, said.

 Too sleepy to argue, Elizabeth nodded.

 “Shall I call Luc over?” Julie asked. “So you can say goodbye?”

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