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  ALMOST FIVE YEARS LATER

  The suitcase sat open on the bed. The past five years hadn’t been easy for twenty-eight-year-old Holly Scallanger. She’d lost one child and raised another on whatever she could get her hands on.

  If it hadn’t been for Jane, her mother, she had no clue where she’d be today. Her decision to become a doctor hadn’t made life any easier, either.

  Not a day went by that she didn’t thank the Lord for creating her with a good head on hershoulders—and for placing people in her path who recognized talent.

  Deep down, she knew it was a huge part of why she had been awarded a scholarship.

  If it hadn’t been for all the good that had stumbled her way, she wouldn’t be standing in front of the very suitcase that sat open on the bed.

  “How many sleepies, Mommy?” A curly black head popped up and asked.

  Her ice-green eyes made Holly’s heart skip a beat every time.

  Jamie was the spitting image of her father, and even though it was hard to be reminded ofhim whenever she looked at her daughter’s face, Holly thanked the Lord every night thatJamie had come into her life.

  The almost-five-year-old had been nothing but a blessing, and she couldn’t imagine life without her.

  “Did you find the calendar?” Jamie hopped off the bed.

  She really needs a haircut, Holly thought. The girl’s black curls almost reached her bottom. Just a trim, though.

  If there was one thing Holly loved, it was Jamie’s curls. She had them too, but because of all the pulling and tugging she’d endured when Jamie was a baby, she’d cut it all off, so short she could barely put it into a ponytail.

  Jamie returned with a calendar almost as big as she was. She flopped with it onto the bed, out of breath. “Here you go, Mommy. It’s heavy.”

  Holly laughed and went to the drawer next to her bed. Retrieving a black marker, she paged through the four months, until she got to November.

  “That’s your birthday, and I promise I will be here, okay?”

  Jamie’s eyes continued to stare at the round circle her mother had drawn, her tiny lipspulled down in a frown.

  “What is it, peanut?”

  “That’s a lot of sleepies.” Jamie looked into Holly’s eyes, her bottom lip now trembling.

  “I know,” Holly said, picking Jamie up and setting her on her lap. She gave her daughter a big hug. “Remember what we spoke about?”

  Jamie nodded.

  “I need you to be a brave little girl, and to be good for Nanna.”

  “You won’t go into the rainbow, too, will you?” Jamie asked with a squeak in her voice.

  “I promise. I’m staying as far away as I can from any rainbows, except when I’m chasing one. But I would be very careful, okay? Nothing, and I mean nothing, will ever take me away from you.” Holly’s heart turned into a knot as she thought about the rainbow.

  Jamie was smart, too smart for an almost five-year-old, but it was to be expected. Her father was a genius, and Holly thought she had a pretty good head on her own shoulders, too. She’d gotten it from both sides.

  Ever since she was two, Jamie had asked the daddy question. Holly couldn’t bring herself to tell a two-year-old the truth; not that she would’ve understood. Instead of telling Jamie that her daddy hadn’t wanted her, she did the opposite. She told Jamie that he loved her but was stuck in a rainbow. The story evolved as she got older and Amelia, Robin, Grandpa Gus, and all the others had made their way into the rainbow as well. Every single one of them lived in a rainbow.

  She was grateful that the Peterses were easy to Google, so she ended up printing their photos. She’d stuck them in a book with their names above each respective picture. It was the only thing she’d been able to do as Jamie’s questions kept on coming. Her daughter wanted to know everything.

  In the beginning, it had been extremely hard. Holly cried every night before going to bed. Angry tears would eventually turn into tears of sorrow. Sadness where Jake was concerned, because he was missing out on the most beautiful little girl— both inside and out.

  At the time, she hadn’t thought too much about her story, or even contemplated introducing her to Jake and his family. But Jamie had wanted to know where her father was and what he looked like, and Holly had relented. Now, it seemed to be biting her in the ass.

  She had been planning to complete her first year as a resident at Seattle Memorial, but it had lost its status as a teaching hospital a few months ago, so there would be no program available.

  Holly and Rodney, her best friend—who was gay but would never say so—had to take whatever was available. That day, she’d almost told him who Jamie’s father was, but she was thankful she hadn’t.

  As for the rainbow stories, she’d managed to keep those from him as well; at least the true meaning of them. Although he knew about them through Jamie.

  Rodney wanted to be a neurologist, and the best one around was Jake. It came as no surprise that Jake had quickly made a name for himself, and become known as thedoctor who’d take risks with tumors nobody else would touch.

  It all began with that first operation her mother had told her about, the one where he’d scrubbed in with a doctor from China, Dr. Huyo—who’d sort of become Jake’s mentor.

  Jake had even spent a year in China. Holly had silently wished he’d never return, but he did. Since then, he’d taken on patients who were close to death, giving them anothertwenty-five years of life.

  It was by no means easy with all the studying one had to do to become a doctor—a field inwhich the Peterses received awards for practically everything—as well as attending lectures where their names popped up constantly. And it wasn’t just Jake. They were allmasters in their chosen fields. It was depressing at times.

  Robin had also accomplished a huge goal. She’d become an oncologist, inventing some kind of synthetic colon. She’d also found a more effective treatment for pancreatic cancer, winning the Gillespie Award, too, just like her brother had.

  If Rodney ever found out that the Peterses were the ones who’d left her in her time of need, and that Jake was Jamie’s father, he wouldn’t want anything to do with him. He would always be second best, and Rodney needed to be the best. He deserved to be trained by the best, and he’d wanted to meet Jake for the longest time.

  So, Rodney went to P&E, and Holly chose Downsend. The distance between the hospitals wasapproximately fifteen minutes, but she would find a way to steer clear of P&E as much as she could.

  That had been one of the reasons why she wouldn’t take Jamie with her. She now knew whather father looked like—what his whole family looked like—and Holly was scared that Jamie would accidentally run into one of them.

  Holly breathed deeply just thinking about it all. Jake would be livid with her for having kept Jamie, but if he’d had a chance to meet her, she knew he’d have fallen deeply in love with the little girl who had the tendency to crawl into one’s heart, dirty feet and all. He could never find out, because if he did, he’d surely take her away.

  Holly didn’t have the money to fight Jake in court, and she doubted very much that her father, Charles, would hand it over to fight him, even though he hated Jake’s guts.

  Charles had figured out that his granddaughter’s father was a doctor the minute Holly told him about her great plan to become one herself.

  That was the day everything stopped.

  He’d gone on to tell Holly that she needed to start paying him back the money he had already given her. Her dreams were something Charles Scallanger just didn’t understand.

  He didn’t want that for her, and the only way he could keep her from her goal was to overpower her with bills. Bills she’d somehow found a way to repay by working nights asa cleaning lady at an upmarket hotel.

  She’d almost paid a tenth off but was convinced that once she became a doctor, it would be easier to pay her father in full. And then she could finally tell him to stuff it.

  Jake would definitely win should she ever find herself at that crossroad. Even if his case was weak, he would always find a way to win.

  Though Holly had made up the rainbow story, she would eventually tell Jamie the truth. For now, her little girl lived in a dream where her father was some sort of hero, saving lives in a rainbow world.

  Jamie’s arms released her mother’s neck, bringing Holly back to the present. The two looked at one another, their noses touching each other’s softly.

  Don’t cry, Holly, she begged herself.

  “Where are my kisses?”

  Jamie giggled and started kissing Holly all over her face. She gave her one long kiss on the mouth. “That one counts for ten sleepies.”

  Holly laughed. “Okay, but I think you should give me about ten of those and you’ll be that much closer.”

  By the seventh kiss, Holly could tell Jamie was really getting bored.

  “Two more long kisses and they count for twenty.”

  “Okay,” Jamie said, giving Holly the requested quota.

  A knock on the bedroom door made both of them look up.

  “And where are my kisses?” Rodney asked, walking into the room.

  “Uncle Roddy!” Jamie yelled, jumping off Holly’s lap and into his arms.

  Jamie could never pronounce the ‘n’ in his name, and Holly laughed every time she called him Roddy. He was the father she’d never had.

  To Holly, he was the brother she’d never had. He loved kids. She was sure that had he not been gay, she would have married him. His mom was African American, and his dad Caucasian, which left Rodney with soft brown skin and beautiful blue eyes.

  He was handsome. Still, the guy who one day captured Rodney’s heart would be the luckiest man ever.

  Jamie, having become bored all over again, squirmed out of Rodney’s hands, and half-skipped, half-ran to her room.

  “How are we holding up today?”

  Holly looked at him, tears glistening in her eyes.

  “Come here, sweetheart.”

  When she complied, he wrapped his arms around her. “You are leaving her for a good reason. To give her the best future any child could have.”

  “I know, but it’s so hard.”

  “Of course, it is. But think of the end result. It’s only for a year, and the followingyear we’ll be back, somewhere close to Seattle. Hopefully the pay will be better and wecan finally get a house where she can have a damn puppy.” Holly giggled through tears.

  “It is going to be fucking hard, though,” he admitted.

  Holly slapped him. “Watch your language.”

  “Ow! Sorry.” He rubbed his chest. “Okay, it’s going to be fudging hard, but she’s going to love you tons when you get back.”

  Holly couldn’t help but burst out laughing, wiping a stray tear from her cheek. “News flash: she already loves me.” “She loves me more.” He winked.

  Only because you can’t say noto her.”

  His face scrunched up. “You’re the only one who can say that to her.”

  Holly laughed again.

  Just then, Jamie ran back into her room. “Look what I made you.”

  Rodney crouched in front of her and looked at the picture.

  “It’s you and Mommy, saving lives,” she explained.

  “And what is that?”

  “That is a kidney, and a heart, and those are brains.”

  “Okay…” Rodney gave her a playful, raised-eyebrow look and then gave Holly an insane look, which made her giggle. He looked back at the picture. “And that?”

  “It’s blood.”

  Rodney laughed. “You are watching way too much Grey’s Anatomywith your mother.”

  “Are you insane? She’s not watching Grey’s Anatomyuntil she’s twenty-one! There isway too much…painting on that show.”

  Jamie’s body bent over as she laughed uncontrollably at what Holly said, having no ideawhat it was really about.

  “Well, maybe Mommy should paint again.”

  “Oh, shut up. My painting days are so over.”

  “Are not! You painted with me last night,” Jamie spoke up, still having no clue what they’d been talking about.

  “Cheater,” Rodney teased.

  Holly chuckled. “Fine, I cheated. So what?”

  Just then, Jane, Holly’s mother, entered the room. “It’s time you guys hit the road. Otherwise you’re not going to be on time your first day. You still need to hunt for an apartment.”

  Rodney dangled a set of keys on the end of his finger. “I’m way too organized for you, Scallanger.” He shook his head in a taunting motion, earning him a slap on the chest from Jane.

  “What is it with you women and slapping?” He rubbed his chest.

  “Those new keys thanks to your daddy?” Holly snorted.

  “Whatever. You are going to live like a queen because of my daddy.” Rodney wiggled hiseyebrows.

  Jane laughed. “At least your daddy pays for things like that.” Holly rolled her eyes.

  “I don’t get your father. He still wants you to pay him back?” Rodney queried.

  “Every month.”

  “He sucks.”

  Both women laughed.

  “Grandpa Charles doesn’t suck.”

  “Okay, missy, he doesn’t suck thatmuch,” Rodney teased again.

  Jamie loved her grandfather, but then she got away with murder every other weekend when she visited him.

  Holly blew out a breath and her lips quivered as she tried to push back tears. To defuse the situation, Rodney grabbed her suitcase, and Jamie helped by taking hold of the smaller bag. Smiling thankfully at him, Holly picked up her handbag and slung it over her shoulder, tucking a pillow under her armpit for the long trip.

  Both Jane and Jamie walked down to the ground floor where Rodney’s Toyota was parked. It was a typical ‘doctor starting out’ type of car; it huffed and puffed when startingit, but it got you where you needed to go.

  He placed Holly’s suitcase on the backseat with the rest of her stuff.

  Holly couldn’t help but snort when she thought back to when she’d left Boston.

  The situation was practically identical, and now she was going back in a similar fashion. Turning to Jamie, she crouched to her level.

  Her baby had tears in her eyes, so she pulled her in for a tighter-than-tight hug. To keep her voice from breaking, she cleared her throat. “Remember what Mommy told you?”

  Jamie nodded, still in Holly’s arms.

  “I’m going to miss you so much, but I promise to speak to you every day over the phone, and to chase down every rainbow I can find, okay?”

  Jamie smiled and Holly smiled back. How she was going to break the truth to her one day was a conundrum she’d have to figure out. She just hoped that when the time came, Jamie would understand why she’d lied.

  “Love you, Mommy. Be good.”

  Holly snorted. “You be good, and no ice cream after eight.” “What we do is none of your business,” Jane butted in.

  Jamie giggled. “Yes, it’s our little secret, Nanna.”

  Jane covered Jamie’s mouth playfully, making everyone laugh.

  “I’ll know.” Holly climbed into the car, closed the door, and rolled the window down.

  “Love you, Mommy.”

  “Love you more.”

  “Love you more than more,” Rodney said, picking Jamie up.

  “I’ll see you on your birthday, okay?”

  “Promise?” she asked.

  “I’ll try my damn best.”

  “Rodney!” both Holly and Jane yelled.

  “Oops! Sorry.” He glared at Holly. “I’ll try my damn best,” he whispered in Jamie’s ear, but it was loud enough for Holly to hear.

  She merely shook her head.

  “Big kiss, and a biiiiig hug.” He made a grunting sound.

  Jamie flung her arms around his neck, squeezing tightly.

  Jane winked at Holly.

  Holly winked back. “Love you,” she mouthed.

  “Love you more,” her mother answered softly.

  Rodney put Jamie down and got into the driver’s seat.

  “Drive safe, and don’t forget to call me the second you get there.”

  “We will,” Holly promised.

  “Last touch.” Jamie snapped her hand out, grazing Holly’s elbow just before the car pulled slowly away.

  Holly tried to touch her back, but Jamie had squirmed away, Holly tried to touch her back, but Jamie had squirmed away, giggling loudly.

  “I love you, Jamie!” Holly shouted, halfway down the road.

  “Love you more, Mommy.”

  Holly watched her little girl until Rodney turned a corner. When the coast was clear, she finally broke down and bawled her eyes out.

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