Chapter 5: Maternal Instinct

2 Weeks Later...

The 2002 Conference of Mental Health Caregivers, hosted by Cedars Hospital, broke for lunch. This year, the conference was held at Cedars Hospital. Felicia couldn't resist surprising her daughter with a visit. She took a rain check on the invitation to lunch with her colleagues and sought Mel out instead.

The younger Dr. Boudreaux was more than ready to take a break when her mother appeared at the nurse's station.

"Where shall we go?" Felicia asked as Mel shrugged free of the white lab coat.

"The cafeteria," Mel said. "I'm waiting on lab results for a patient. I don't want to be too far away when they come in."

"Okay."

Mother and daughter headed for the hospital's dining area. They passed Dawn and Lillian Raines as the two women exited. Felicia reminded Dawn of their shopping date. Dawn promised to be there. Then, Felicia and Mel went inside.

"It looks like she and Lillian are getting along." Felicia moved behind Mel in the buffet line.

"I think so. Lillian is a sweetheart."

"The Organ Donor program must be stressful." Felicia took a Caesar's salad from the refrigerator. "I hope Dawn is able to do the work without it getting to her."

"She says that she's ready," Mel said. "Lillian has worked in that area for some time now. I think she's giving Dawn all the ins and outs. Deciding who gets an organ and who doesn't... It's not something I like to think about. Sometimes, it's difficult enough knowing that you're not able to save a patient's life. But then, having to look into someone's eyes and tell them that they're number fifteen on a list of twenty..."

"The person you're waiting on the results for, is it a life or death situation?"

Mel shook her head. "No, routine blood work."

Mel decided on a taco salad, and mother and daughter headed toward the cashier. Felicia paid the bill, and they found a table near the back.

"Okay, Mom. What's the message from Dad?"

Felicia's eyebrows arched in surprise. She should have known that Mel wouldn't beat around the bush. "He's left several messages for you, but you haven't returned his telephone calls."

"I haven't had time," Mel explained, unfolding her napkin. "Besides, if he wanted to talk to me, he wouldn't have left early for his sabbatical." She looked into her mother's eyes. "Please, don't apologize or make excuses for him."

"I wasn't about to," Felicia said. "I'm staying out of it."

A faint smile came to Mel's lips. "But you relayed a message for him."

"Yes," Felicia said, returning her daughter's smile, "but I kept my opinion to myself."

Mel stirred salsa and sour cream into her salad. "If I asked for your opinion, would you give it to me?"

"If you asked."

"How do you feel about Rick and me? Do you agree with Daddy? That the races shouldn't mix--"

"Now, hold on," Felicia cut in, not pleased by her daughter's tone of voice. "Your father isn't a bigot. He just has a low opinion of society. You've grown up in a different world. When your father and I were younger, racism was obvious. Now, it's subtle and quiet. Clayton doesn't want you to get hurt. I think his concerns are legitimate."

"So you agree with him?" Mel asked with a frown. The potential for argument was clearly written on her face.

"No, not entirely. He loves you and has always protected you. He's done it so long that he doesn't know how to stop," Felicia explained. "The world is the way it is. There is nothing any of us can do to change it. I want you to be happy and it's clear to me that Rick makes you happy."

Mel released an audible sigh of relief. "Thank you, Mama. I hoped that you were on our side, especially now."

Felicia's breath caught in her throat. "Especially now? Melissande Boudreaux, are you pregnant?"

Mel laughed. "No, that's not it. Rick asked me to move in with him, and I said yes."

Felicia's eyes widened. What happened to her levelheaded daughter? "You're planning to live with him? I want you to be happy, but this step is a big one. Don't you think you're moving too fast?"

"I'm not allowing myself to think, just feel," Mel said, filled with confidence, "and this feels right."

It took some effort, but Felicia was able to withhold her doubt and words of caution. "I can't tell you what to do, but I hope you know what you're doing."

"We do."

*~*

"Daniker Heights has a lot to offer," Rick said, as he reviewed the brochure his real estate agent had given him. "A playground for kids, a fitness center and 24-hour security. I like that. Mel and Jude will be safe the nights I work late."

Maureen pulled a tray of cookies from the oven. The fragrant scent of warm peanut butter filled the Bauer kitchen. "It sounds like you're sold."

"Just about. We have an appointment with the Realtor tomorrow afternoon."

His stepmother smiled. "Good luck."

"Thanks, Mo." He rose from the counter and pocketed the brochure.

She slid the cookies onto a cooling rack. Her brow creased into a playful frown as Rick grabbed one. "Have you told Harley?"

"Told her what?" He munched on a chewy cookie.

"That you and Mel were planning to live together," she answered. "You share custody of Jude. She should know."

"It's not like she'll object," he said. "I haven't said a word about her friendship with that lowlife Aiturro."

Maureen dropped spoonfuls of cookie dough onto the baking sheet. "The two don't compare and you know it."

Rick groaned. "I know, but Harley doesn't have a reason to object. To Mel being a part of Jude's life? Come on. Harley knows Mel. She knows that Mel is a part of my life, and Harley knows better than to ask me to choose between my son and Mel."

She inserted the pan into the oven and closed the door. Her gaze connected with Rick's. The warmth and compassion in her eyes made him feel less defensive. "Do you think we're moving too fast?"

"Maybe a little," she answered. "You're looking at condos. Buying real estate with someone is a long term commitment."

"We are long term," Rick said. "I hope we will be. Besides, I'm giving Mel a way out if she decides I'm not the one for her."

Maureen frowned. "How's that?"

"She doesn't know it, but I'm buying the condo," he said.

"Are you sure that's a good idea?"

"It's time that I planted roots--"

"But this house is yours. It's been in the Bauer family for years. If anyone should leave, it's me."

"No!" He gave her a quick hug. "You belong here. I want you to stay."

"You belong here, too," she said, returning his embrace, "and I want you to promise me you'll think about remaining here before you move anywhere else."

"I promise to talk to Mel about it," he said. "If she's okay about staying here, we'll stay."

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