"Well, how did you do this?" Hayley said, unzipping her duffel and pulling out packs of gauze. She tore open the packages, then poured antiseptic on the squares.
"This late?" She blotted the wound. "What were you doing up?"
"I had to go to the bathroom and I couldn't see in the dark."
She put pressure on the child's chin. "Bet you wish you'd turned on the hall lights now, huh?"
Kim nodded, cracking a reluctant smile.
Hayley smiled back and with her free hand cradled Kim's. "So you tripped and hit your chin on the floor?"
She shook her head. "On the edge of the counter."
"Open your mouth." Kim obeyed, and with a pen-light Hayley examined her mouth. "You bit your tongue. Just a little," she assured her. "But places like ears and tongues and your head bleed a lot more than other places."
Nash came into the room, setting the cloth and a bowl on the nightstand, then moved to the opposite side of the bed to watch.
"Has she had a tetanus shot?" Hayley asked him.
Nash's brows drew down. "No."
"Hold this." She instructed him to keep pressure on Kim's chin, and as she rummaged in her bag, he talked soothingly to his daughter. Hayley prepared the syringe.
"I have to give you a shot, Kim."
Her eyes growing wide, the child immediately started to squirm.
"This'll keep that from getting infected. Right, Nash?"
"Sure will," he said. Kim looked at her daddy. "I dare any germs to get on my little girl."
Kim smiled before her gaze swung back to Hayley's, then to the syringe. Hayley was already pulling it out of her arm.
"That didn't even hurt!" Kim said, amazed.
"Why, thank you, Miss Kim. You're very brave." Hayley winked and tended the wound. "It needs stitches, at least two." She glanced at Nash, then back to Kim. "I can do it, honey, or we can take you to a hospital and have a doctor there do it."
Kim looked at her dad, her lip quivering with fear, then brought her gaze to Hayley. She touched her hand and in very adult manner said, "I want you to do it. I know you won't hurt me."
Kim's trust was like a banner wrapping around her soul, and Hayley's heart filled with love for the little girl. She patted her hand and looked at Nash. He was now leaning against the wall, his arms folded over his chest.
"I'd trust you with my daughters' lives, Hayley. Go ahead."
She nodded, a lump swelling in her throat. Funny how a couple of stitches were so monumental, she thought, and went about numbing the area with a cream novocaine. She didn't think Kim could take another shot right now. She made the little girl close her eyes, then took two quick stitches and sealed the wound. The one on her tongue would close by morning.
As she worked, Nash studied Hayley, her moves efficient, and he recalled how Michelle used to fall apart over the littlest crisis. She was never this independent and self-assured, and at first, he'd felt flattered to be needed. But with his children, Michelle was helpless. Watching Hayley calm his mother and his daughters, he realized he wanted a woman who was less dependent on him. He wanted Hayley.
Kim smiled. "I can't feel nothing."
"Anything," both Nash and Hayley corrected at once, then laughed.
"Your tongue is going to hurt a little later on, but it will heal fast. I want you to rinse your mouth with saltwater in the morning. Okay?"
When Hayley finished applying a small bandage to her chin, she kissed Kim. And the girl hugged her tightly. Hayley closed her eyes, savoring the feel of the little arms around her neck and tears burned. Oh, I will miss them, she thought. "I think we could use a treat about now," Hayley said. "A Popsicle for that tongue." Kim's face lit up. "Come on. Let's go see what Grandma Grace has in that big ol' kitchen." Hayley stood, holding out the child's robe, and Kim climbed off the bed and pushed her arms into the sleeves.
"Thank you, Miss Hayley."
"You're welcome, honey." Taking her hand, they left together.
Nash was slower to follow, glancing at the duffel bag and the small plastic bag Hayley had put her used materials in. He collected her things and the bowl of water, then carried them to the kitchen. The girls sat at the table, sucking Popsicles. Kim looked funny as she tried to suck the Popsicle and hold an ice pack to her chin at the same time. His mom was leaning against the counter, cupping a mug of coffee. Hayley took her things from Nash, put the bowl in the dishwasher, then offered him some coffee.
"Thanks so much, Hayley," Grace said softly. "I don't know what I'd have done."
"You'd have taken her to the hospital, Grace."
"But the hysterics. I don't remember Samantha being like that."