“She can wait, she’s safe where she is for now. Let me see you insi—”
“No, Raoul!” Alexis’s voice was sharp. “You can’t just leave her in the car. I can manage for now.”
Without waiting for him to reply she began walking slowly toward the entrance, disappearing between the front sliding doors as he fiddled with the baby car-seat buckle—cursing its efficacy until he had it loose—and lifted Ruby from her restraint. He ran with her to the building and straight to reception.
“Alexis Fabrini, where is she?” he demanded when he reached the counter.
The receptionist stared at him over the edge of her glasses. “And you are?”
“Raoul Benoit,” he replied automatically.
“Are you her next of kin?”
Inwardly he groaned. He could see where this was going. They weren’t going to let him see her, or tell him anything. “No, I’m not. I’m her employer. She has no family locally.”
“Then I’ll ask you to wait over there,” the receptionist said firmly, gesturing to the bank of chairs lined up in the waiting area.
“I’d like to see her, be with her—”
“She’s with the medical staff. I’m sure they’ll call you if necessary,” the woman placated. “There’s nothing you can do right now but be patient.”
There was a sympathetic look in her eyes as if she understood his frustration, but he didn’t want her sympathy. He wanted Alexis. He wanted her well, not pale and trembling. Not sliding unconscious down the side of her car. That she hadn’t hit her head when she’d fallen was sheer luck, but why had she passed out in the first place? She must have known something was wrong to have made the appointment in the first place—had she expected this to happen? And, if she’d had a medical appointment today, why hadn’t she just been upfront and told him about it? They were lovers. They’d shared more with one another than most people. Knew each other intimately.
But sitting here, confused and worried, he was struck with how little he truly knew. He didn’t know that she was unwell, or what she thought was wrong. Didn’t know how long she’d been worried about whatever it was, or why she hadn’t told him. And the more he thought about it, the more he realized how little of her thoughts she really shared with him. What were her hopes, her dreams for the future? Had he ever bothered to find out what they were? Had he ever taken the time to learn about her? What made her happiest, what made her sad? He knew for a fact that he made her angry with his reluctance to be a part of Ruby’s life.
Ruby squirmed in his arms, wanting to be let down to play with a toy in the waiting area. He eyed it suspiciously. The wooden base looked clean enough but who was to say the roller coaster of colorful wooden beads was hygienic? Who knew what she’d catch if she played with it?
“I don’t think so,” he murmured to the little girl, holding her firmly on his lap.
Ruby squawked a protest.
“It’s okay,” the receptionist said blandly from behind her desk. “I disinfected all the toys at the end of clinic last night. She’ll be fine.”
Raoul still felt uncomfortable with the idea, but he nodded his acknowledgment and gingerly set Ruby on her feet. He followed her to the toy and sat on a chair beside it as the little girl squatted down and reached for the beads, picking them up and dropping them on the brightly colored wires that threaded through them.
“Here,” Raoul said, getting down to her level. “I think you’re supposed to do this.”
He demonstrated with one bead, guiding it along a wire as Ruby watched. But she was having none of it. She quite happily continued to do what she was doing. With a sigh, Raoul sat back on his chair, his eyes flicking every now and then to the corridor where he assumed Alexis had been taken. The waiting was interminable—the minutes stretching out to ten, twenty, thirty, then forty. The long wait was getting to Ruby also, it seemed, as she worked her way from interest in the bead roller coaster to every other toy in the waiting room. Finally, she brought a book to Raoul, making it clear what she wanted him to do.
“Not now, Ruby. You read the book,” he stated, but the baby continued to vocalize her demand.
Mindful of the risk of her cries disturbing the other people that were now coming into the waiting room, he lifted her onto his lap where, to his surprise, she settled quite happily and banged her hand on the book. He opened the cover and started to quietly read. When that book was done she squirmed back down and got another. And so passed the next painfully slow ten minutes until Ruby began to fidget and fuss again. Feeling at a total loss, he stood up with her and started to walk back and forward, rubbing her gently on her back as he’d seen Alexis do so many times before. But it seemed he didn’t have quite the knack he needed.