Upon a Midnight Clear (Chapter Six)

Harold Risson sat up in bed and impatiently hit the buzzer for the nurse. He had always been self- sufficient, and he found himself resenting the fact that he was dependent upon others for so many things. Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, he grabbed his robe and wrapped it around his slender frame. Cautiously he stood up and made his way to the door, slightly embarrassed that his staff would see him walking around clad only in a bathrobe and slippers.

The whole experience of being a patient in the same unit that he presided over had been a humbling one. But still, he did not feel sorry for himself. Instead, he felt gratified that his illness had allowed him to be with his daughter once more. Her being there had helped heal his heart more than any of the many medications he was forced to take each day.

Harold shuffled awkwardly into the hall and looked both ways for a nurse. The hall was practically empty. He made his way toward the pantry, determined to get his own water.

Outside the doorway he stopped. There were people inside the pantry. People saying his name.

"… Risson. Imagine my surprise. Who would've even thought he had a heart!" There was the sound of a woman's laughter.

"Well, you've heard the news, I'm sure," a man's voice piped in. "Guess who Hoffman's latest conquest is? Kim Risson."


"I saw her riding on his motorcycle the other day. And this morning I drove by Risson's house on my way to work… Hoffman's car was parked outside."

Harold stood still for a moment, not quite believing what he had heard. Surely they were mistaken.,

"Can you imagine? Risson would have another heart attack if he found out his daughter was dating the same guy he'd been trying to fire."

"What does Risson call him again?"

"An immature kid masquerading as a doctor."

There was laughter, then a man's voice again. "I wish they'd just fire Risson. I'd rather work for Hoffman any day."

"Hoffman?" the woman asked. "You think he'll succeed Risson?" "I think he wants to." The man laughed. "Whether he will or not is another story."

Harold Risson turned away from the pantry and slowly made his way back to his room. Kim and Tony? He refused to believe it. Surely his daughter had more common sense than to be taken in by a man like Tony Hoffman.

He had made it back to the doorway to his room when he heard the woman from the pantry call his name.

Harold stopped, his hand on the doorknob.

"Dr. Risson?" the woman repeated as she ran up to him. She was a pretty nurse in her fifties. Harold had seen her many times before. Never would he have imagined himself as the object of her gossip. "What are you doing?" she asked. "You shouldn't be up walking around."

He touched his throat. "I need a glass of water. Please."

Kim drove the Cadillac into the parking lot, pulling in in front of a large, unruly-looking snowbank. She jumped out of the car and smiled. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and two large fresh green wreaths had been placed outside the hospital doors in honor of the approaching holiday. Kim had to admit she was enjoying this Christmas season. She was with her family–her dad. And of course, there was Tony.

When she had opened her eyes and seen Tony lying there beside her, his arms still wrapped around her, she had been filled with a warm, calm sense of intimacy. She didn't want the morning to end.

In fact, when Tony left, she had found herself unable to think of anything else. So she had done the only thing she could think of. She had started work on his Christmas present. She had had little trouble deciding what to give him. She would paint him a picture.

Kim stepped inside the hospital, glancing around for Tony, even though she knew that he was in surgery. She took the elevator to her father's floor, clutching the fresh-baked bagels she had brought for him. She knocked on his door and stepped inside. Her father was sitting straight up in bed. When she entered the room, he raised an accusatory eyebrow.

"Hi, Dad," she said, giving him a kiss on the forehead. "How are you feeling this morning?"

"Sit down, Kim," he said sternly. "I want to talk to you."

She put the bagels on his tray. She may not have had any contact with her father in fifteen years, but she still recognized that tone of voice. Not to mention the old hairy eyebrow. "What's the matter?" she asked.

"Why don't you tell me what's going on around here?"

"What?" she asked, confused.

He sighed. "Look, I know that you have not been here all that long, and… well, sometimes it's difficult to ascertain a person's truthful intentions when inundated with–"

"Dad," Kim interrupted him. "Cut to the chase. What's wrong?"

"Tony… Hoffman," he added quickly.

Kim hesitated. "You've heard that Tony and I are friends."


Kim nodded as she smiled slightly. She was glad that her father knew. "I like him. He's very sweet___and interesting…"

"Oh, for Pete's sake, Kim," her father said angrily. "You don't know him. Tony Hoffman has been a troublemaker around here since he began his internship."

"I don't know about that. But I do know that he's a good surgeon. He did your surgery," she said defensively.

"Any decent doctor could've done it." He shook his head. "Look," he said, softening his tone. "Tony Hoffman dates a lot of women around here. He's immature and… well, I don't want to see you get hurt."

"I know he seems a little wild," she said. "I thought so too. But he's really not…"

"Listen to yourself!" He shook his head. "I don't like my daughter falling into the same traps that I've seen so many other women fall into."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Kim said stiffly. "We're friends."

"I know about motorcycle rides and cars parked outside each other's homes…"


"He's using you, Kim. He thinks if he's got you on his side, I'll name him division chief…"

"Oh, for God's sake, Dad. He's not using me."

"I'm not blaming you, Kim. I just don't want you dating him…"

"Blaming me? For what? For living my life?" she said incredulously. "You seem to be forgetting that I'm not a little girl anymore. If you wanted to be a parent, you should've been one," she said angrily, her eyes filling with tears. "But it's too late now. Your little girl has grown up–without you. And I'm more than capable of making my own, decisions." She shook her head as she stood to leave.

"Kim," her father began.

"It's too late, Dad," she said, wiping away a tear. "I'm an adult. And I have been for a long time. You missed your chance to be a parent."

The phone rang several times at the house during the day, but Kim ignored it. She didn't care who it was, she didn't feel like talking to anyone. Her argument with her father had upset her so much she hadn't been able to eat anything all day. Her first thought had been to hop back on a plane and leave him there, to run away from the whole mess. She was embarrassed and angry. Her father had treated her like a child who had gone astray, a child that needed strict parental guidance to get back on track.

She thought back to his accusations about Tony. Perhaps she had been too harsh with her father. She really didn't think Tony was using her, but on the other hand, she hadn't known Tony all that long. She pushed aside the momentary feeling of doubt as she reminded herself to trust her feelings.

If Tony was not the person he appeared to be, then she intended to find out for herself.

Besides, the issue was not whether Tony was right for her. She wasn't sure about that herself. The issue was whether her father had any right to "forbid" her to see anyone.

She sighed as a pang of guilt stabbed at her conscience. She was acting like an indignant, self- righteous child. Her father was ill–and not only that, he was in a time warp. She was sure that part of him believed that she was still a little girl. He was trying to protect her in the same way he had protected her from dating a boy three years her senior. She should be happy that he was finally demonstrating paternal feelings. Expressing his dismay must have been a big step for him. At least he was communicating–even if he was telling her something that she didn't want to hear.

Since his surgery, he seemed to be trying hard to change… perhaps he just needed time. In the meantime, they both needed to realize that it was not going to be easy becoming a part of each other's lives once more. And she hadn't made it any easier by getting involved with the surgeon who had saved his life.

But what her father didn't realize was how being with Tony had helped her to understand him better. Until she became involved with Tony, she had had little idea of the stress her father had suffered. Tony had helped her to see her father not as a cold, distant, hard man, but as a man who was coping with a traumatic and difficult job as best he could.

The phone began to ring again. Kim knew it wasn't Tony; he was in surgery until later that night. She assumed it was her father calling to apologize. And she had now cooled off enough to accept.

But it was not her father on the phone. Nor was it Tony. It was Dr. Harkavey.

And he was calling to tell her that her father had suffered another heart attack.

Kim sat in the critical care waiting room. It was almost ten o'clock, and she hadn't had anything to eat or drink since Dr. Harkavey had called. All she could think about was that her father might die. And that it would somehow be her fault. Why had she upset him by gettiag involved with one of his peers? She had sacrificed the only family she had left for a relationship that would probably turn out to be no more than a… fling.


She looked up. Tony sat down beside her, putting his arm around her. "I just heard." She nodded.

"Sometimes this happens. I've spoken with Dr. Harkavey, and your father's already stabilizing. It was a very mild attack. He's responding very well to the medication. He'll be okay."

"Tony," Kim said calmly. "We need to talk.''

Tony stiffened slightly. "Sounds serious."

"I've enjoyed spending time with you, I really have. And I appreciate everything you've done for my father…"

"What are you saying?" Tony asked quietly, the surprise evident in his bloodshot eyes.

Kim took a deep breath and then said, "I think we should redirect our relationship. You know. Just be friends."

Tony just looked at her as the impact of her words settled. "What?"

"Look," she said reasonably. "I came back here to be with my father. I just…" She paused, her willpower suddenly crumbling. She blinked back the tears as she said, "Please try to understand."

"What's the matter, Kim? Is this because of how your father feels about me? Are you worried that he won't approve?"

"It's true that I don't want to upset him, but I'm not doing this because of him." She paused, as she quickly attempted to gather the thoughts that were darting around her mind. "My whole career… my life is in Florida. This is an important time for me. I'm just making a name for myself there____"

"You can make one here."

She shook her head. "No," she said, stubbornly. "I can't leave now."

"I'll wait. I'll wait as long as necessary…"

"I can't be with you, Tony. I'm sorry. I just… I know what your career demands. I know what my mom went through with my dad She wanted more… and because of that, neither she nor my father was happy."

"What are you talking about? I have a busy, demanding job, that's true. But so do you…" he said, frustrated.

Kim shook her head. "I know how difficult it is to love a man who's obsessed with his work. I don't blame you… I think you're a wonderful doctor. I just… that's not what I want for my life. I want someone who's there for me when I need him, someone who can be there for my children."

"You have children?" he asked, trying to throw in a little humor. She didn't smile.

"I'm not your father, Kim," he said as the smile faded from his mouth. "I don't live just for my career. I want a family, too… I want a wife to share life with…"

"Look at you, Tony," she said sadly. "You live in a house with no furniture. It doesn't bother you because you're never there. Why? Because you're always at work."

"I see," he said quietly. He shook his head. "I thought… after last night… I…" He paused searching for the right words as his eyes locked with hers. "I thought I had found the person I wanted to share my life with. Was I wrong?"

Kim glanced away.

"Kim, don't do this just because you're frightened. We can slow things down… take time to get to know each other," he said quietly, putting his hand on top of hers.

"Last night was a mistake," she said. "We're opposites, Tony. We had a good time, but it's not going to go any further than that."

Tony slowly withdrew his hand. "I know that you're going through a tough time right now…" he began.

"I'm sorry," she said definitively. "My mind is made up."

Tony looked into her eyes. It was obvious that there was no reasoning with her. At least not tonight.

He stood up. "All right, Kim. I… well…" He shrugged. "You know where to reach me if you change your mind," he said, still shell-shocked by the sudden turn of events.

She glanced away, not bothering to answer.

Her father opened his bloodshot eyes. "Kim?" he murmured.

"Hi, Dad," Kim said, smiling.

"I'm sorry… so sorry…"

She squeezed his hand. "I am, too. It was silly."

"I thought… I thought you were going to go back to Florida." His voice was thick and slow, but Kim could still detect the fear in his words.

"No, Dad. No. I was just angry. I'm sorry. I'm going to stay here and help you. We're going to spend Christmas together. Just you and me."

"Tony…" he began weakly.

She raised her hand as if to brush away his comment "It's over. It was never any big deal, anyway. My focus is getting you well enough to come home for Christmas."

Her father closed his eyes as a mixture of sadness and guilt washed over him. His daughter had been kind enough to rush to his side when he needed her, and he had repaid that kindness by criticizing her choice in men as though she were a mere child. When he awakened after his surgery and saw her by his side, he had promised himself that he would try to make up for years of bad parenting. He would attempt to be the father he knew she always wished she had. Instead he had disappointed her–once again. "I'm sorry for what I said about Tony. I wasn't being fair," he mumbled weakly.

"Dad," she said patiently. "It's over. Tony wasn't right for me. It didn't have anything to do with you."

He looked at her, not believing her words.

"Really," she said, although she wasn't convinced herself. "I need someone who's more settled. More… well, someone who doesn't work as much. Anyway," she said, smiling at him. "I don't want to discuss it anymore. I just want you to get better, so that we can go home. In time for Christmas."

"I want you to be happy, Kim," her father said.

She smiled. "I know you do, Dad."

He nodded, watching her.

"By the way," she said. "I was thinking about taking the pool cover off, turning it into an ice rink."

Her father nodded. "Does this mean that you're thinking about staying?"

"Yes. For a while. Maybe even… well, permanently. I mean, you're going to need some help, and I want to spend some time with you."

His eyes welled with tears. "So what do you want for Christmas this year, Kim?"

"I'd like to have my father home."

A voice from behind her said, "I think we can arrange that."

Kim turned to see Tony standing in the doorway. He gave her a weak smile as he focused his attention on Harold. "Good morning, Harold. How are you feeling today?"

"Better," Harold managed, looking at his daughter. She had turned a shade of pink and was glancing around uncomfortably for her purse.

"Kim, I'm glad you're here," Tony said. "Harold, I know you don't want to hear it, but you're going to need some assistance for a while after you return home. Just for a month or so. Maybe a nursing assistant. Someone to help you grocery shop, cook dinner…"

"That won't be necessary," Kim said quickly.

Tony shrugged. "Maybe not necessary, but it would be helpful. He's going to have to take it easy for a while…"

"I understand. But a nurse won't be necessary," Kim said, speaking to Tony across her father's bed. "I'm staying."

Tony was silent for a split second. "For how long?" he asked. It was clear to everyone in the room that he was not asking for professional reasons.

Kim met his eyes directly. She was not staying because she had changed her mind about dating him, she was staying because she was trying to rebuild her relationship with her father. "I don't know. Maybe permanently." She shot her father a quick smile as she grabbed her purse. "I'll see you later, Dad."

As Kim walked out of the room, Tony looked down at the chart, though he was too upset to focus. He had received Kim's message–loud and dear.

Harold stared at Tony, aware of the pain the young man was suffering. "You care about her, don't you?"' he asked quietly.

Tony shrugged as his eyes focused on his patient "Yes. Yes, I care about her. Very much." He sighed. "Anyway," he said, forcing himself to concentrate on the matter at hand, "I'm glad to see that you're stabilized."

"It helps to have Kim here," Harold said, watching Tony carefully. Tony smiled sadly. "Yes, I'm sure it does."

Harold paused, pushing himself up slightly. "I hear you've been running the department in my absence."

Tony shifted his feet uncomfortably as he glanced toward the door. "Yes, well, not officially. Just filling in for you until you get back."

"I've been hearing good things about you," Harold said.

Tony glanced at him, surprised. "Well, that's nice to know."

Harold nodded, signaling to Tony that he was dismissed. "Keep up the good work," he said.

Tony just looked at him. It sounded like Harold Risson was giving him his blessing. But his blessing for what? "Thank you," Tony said quietly. He hung the chart back up on the wall and left the room, shutting the door behind him.

Harold Risson closed his eyes. But he wasn't ready to go to sleep. He needed time to think. He wanted his daughter to be happy, and it was obvious to him that she cared about Tony. He needed to arrange for them to meet outside of the hospital… but how could he do that?

He smiled as he began to formulate a plan.

A few minutes later, he heard the door creak and opened his eyes to see Kim enter the room.

"Kim," he said tiredly. "How do you feel about representing me at the hospital Christmas party this Saturday night?"

"Hey, doc! Where do you want this?"

Tony walked to the front door. On the stoop, two men were holding an overstuffed armchair. "Next to the other one," he said, glancing into the living room.

"One more thing and you're not going to be able to move in here," the delivery man said.

Tony nodded. The room was totally furnished, couch, chairs, end tables, lamps. His entire house, in fact, was now completely furnished.

"What's going on?" the delivery man asked, looking at Tony. "You sure bought a lot of stuff. You getting married or something?"

Tony shook his head. "No. Not that fortunate, I'm afraid."

"Fortunate," the guy said, chuckling. "Take my word for it. You're fortunate right now. Big house, nice dog. No wife. Very fortunate."

Tony smiled as he shook his head. He didn't feel fortunate. All he could think about recently was Kim. And what might have been. In fact, he had been struck with the sudden urge to decorate when all of his other advances toward Kim had been rejected. Since the night of their breakup, she had been pleasant and polite, but unwavering in her decision for them to stay "just friends." He had been surprised by his unwillingness to accept the end of the relationship. He knew why. For the first time in his life–he was in love.

Kim stood next to Jason Neerbore, a radiologist who was even less exciting than his name suggested. He was talking to her about the difference between Bach and Mozart, a difference that in most situations she would have been happy to discuss. But right now, she was distracted. She had received a call from the gallery owner this morning, informing her that her show had been a success. They had sold almost all of the work she had presented and had received commissions for several more paintings. But tonight, on what should have been a night for celebration, all she could think about was Tony, and whether or not she would see him.

Still nodding at Jason's monologue, she shifted her position. She had inadvertently bought a pair of nylons that were a size too small, and she could feel the crotch drop a little each time she moved.

She felt a hand on her arm. It was Jason. "My partner just arrived," he said. "I'd like to introduce you to him. He did his residency in Florida."

"Oh, great," Kim murmured, trying to sound enthusiastic. "But I have to go to the ladies' room. I'll be just a minute."

"Okay," he said, sliding his glasses up his nose. "I'll be right here."

"Got it," Kim said. She made her way into the ladies' room and yanked up her nylons, causing the small run at the top to rip down the side. She shook her head as she turned before the mirror, trying to ascertain how noticeable it was. Considering they were off-black, and her dress was a snug, velvet green mini, it was just about as noticeable as it could get.

Kim hesitated before pulling them off. She threw them in the trash and slipped her black high-heeled shoes back on her bare feet. She turned away from the mirror, not happy with the reflection. She probably should have bought a dress that was a little more conservative, but she had postponed shopping for it until just that afternoon, a time crunch that inspired impulse buys. She made a mental note to hold in her stomach as she left the ladies' room.

As she walked by the bar, she was too busy holding her breath to notice anyone. "Kim," a voice called out. A voice so familiar it made her jump.

She turned around and found herself staring right up into Tony's deep green eyes. He looked handsome in his suit and tie, a change from his usual wardrobe of hospital scrubs or faded jeans, She exhaled quickly, allowing herself to breathe. "Hi, Tony," she said as casually as she could manage. '

"I'm surprised to see you here," he said, not bothering to hide his excitement.

"Yes, well," she said, shrugging, trying to play it cool, "my dad asked me to come."

He tilted his head slightly forward as though he was tempted to kiss her. He suddenly paused and straightened, as he said, "I'm glad I ran into you. Your show… it was last night, wasn't it? How did it go?"

Kim smiled, impressed that he remembered. "It went very well. Thanks for… remembering."

He smiled at her, his eyes wandering toward the swell of her breasts above the tight green material. His eyes drifted down toward the rest of her body and then back up slowly, as if he wanted her to realize that he was appreciating every delicate curve. "How could I forget?" he asked, his eyes meeting hers.

"Kim! There you are," Jason said, loosely grabbing her arm. "Don't try and steal her away from me," he joked to Tony. "Steal her away?" Tony asked, glancing at Kim. Was she here with him?

'Tony!" a woman said, practically pouncing on top of him. "Or should I say, Dr. Hoffman. Ah, hell, we're not at the hospital!" She laughed.

Kim gave her a quick once-over. She was a petite, gorgeous blonde for whom Kim felt an immediate, almost inherent dislike. Kim had a feeling that her dislike had something to do with the way the woman looked in her tight, little black dress. Or maybe it was the way she casually looped her hand around Tony's arm.,

"Let's dance," the woman said. "'You promised."

Kim glanced at Jason uncomfortably, trying to ignore the jealousy that was yanking at her heart.

"Jenny," Tony said, talking to the woman on his arm even though his eyes hadn't left Kim. "Do you know Jason Neerbore?"

The woman nodded. It was obvious she had already had more than a few drinks. "I think so____"

"And this," Tony said, "is Kim Risson. Dr. Risson's daughter."

"Nice to meet you," she said, giving Tony a sloppy tug on his arm. "Come on, Tony."

Tony forced himself to break away from Kim and Jason. "Have fun," he said, accepting Jenny's hand as she pulled him onto the dance floor.

Jason smiled as he watched Tony and Jenny weave their way through the couples entwined together in front of the band. "That Tony. He's always got some beautiful girl on his arm. He's too much, isn't he?"

Kim stepped out of her car and adjusted her sunglasses. It wasn't as though she needed them to protect her eyes against the sun. In fact, even though it was nine o'clock in the morning, the day was dreary and overcast, making it look as though the sun had not yet appeared. But she was suffering from a lack of sleep, and her tired eyes were sensitive to the slightest glare. She wouldn't have minded if she was suffering from a good cause. But her bloodshot eyes were not a result of a good time; they were a result of a restless night spent thinking about Tony. After Jenny had pulled him onto the dance floor, Kim had lost track of him temporarily. Unfortunately, when she saw him again, he was following Jenny out the door.

Kim had left the party shortly after, tormented by emotions she did not want to admit.

Kim glanced to her right as a bright red car pulled in alongside her. Her heart stopped beating when she saw that inside the bright red car were none other than Tony and Jenny. Together.

"Hi, Kim," Tony said, swinging open his door.

"Hello," Kim replied, giving him a curt nod. She suppressed an instinct to run away and instead stood still, politely waiting for them to join her.

"Jenny," he said, standing up. "You remember Kim Risson?"

Jenny hesitated as she slammed her door.

"From last night," Tony said.

She laughed. "I don't remember much about last night." She glanced at her watch. "Oh boy, I've got to hustle. I'm late. All because of you," she said, nudging Tony with her elbow.

Kim swallowed as she picked up her pace. So much for Tony changing his ways.

Tony scurried to keep up with Kim. "Jenny works with the thoracic team."

"How nice," Kim said, giving him a look that she hoped would stop him in his tracks. It didn't.

"Transplant coordinator," he said, as if Kim cared. She didn't. The only thing she cared about was never seeing him again.

Jenny made a sharp right turn as soon as she headed into the hospital. "Bye, guys. Tony, I'll see you tonight around six," she said, taking off her coat as she ran toward Administration. Kim and Tony were left alone. Kim continued walking, hurrying toward the elevator.

"Jenny is…"

"I don't really care about Ginny…"

"Jenny," Tony corrected her.

"Whatever her name is," she interrupted, pressing the elevator button.

"She's a transplant coordinator. She lives–" he began.

"Look," she interrupted him, impatiently hitting the elevator button again. "You don't have to explain anything. It's none of my business who you spend your time with."

The elevator doors opened and an elderly woman stepped out. "Good morning, Dr. Hoffman," she said, breaking into a smile. "I'm glad I ran into you. I have a question about my husband…"

Kim used the distraction to escape inside the elevator. The doors snapped shut before Tony could join her.

"What's the matter," her father asked. "Didn't you enjoy yourself last night?" Kim forced a smile. "It was all right."

"That bad, huh?"

Kim smiled. "The shrimp was good."

"Did you, ah… run into Tony there?"

Kim nodded. "Yes," she said. "He was there."

"Did you talk to him?" he asked hopefully.

She paused, looking at him suspiciously. "Dad… what are you up to?"


"Look, Tony is not my type. I'm not sure what my type is, but he's not it. End of subject. Besides," she said, looking at him suspiciously, "I thought you didn't like him."

"I never said that. I just… well, I had made some assumptions about him. But I've decided that if you want to marry him–"

"Marry him?" Kim interrupted loudly. "Where the heck did you get that idea?"

He shrugged. "It seemed obvious that you cared about him____"

"Whoa," she said, raising her hands. "Look, Dad, he's a nice guy and all, but we… well, we're not right for each other. If I married Tony–which, by the way, is ludicrous even to mention," she rambled on, "considering we only went out a couple of times– but, if I did, which I won't, my whole life would revolve around his schedule. I have a career, a career that means everything to me."

Her father wrinkled his brow, confused. "You're an artist," he stated. "You can't marry a doctor? How come?"

"It's not just the doctor thing. It's the marriage part. I mean, I spend all my time working, unencumbered with thoughts like: What time is he coming home? Do I have to fix dinner? Do I have to pick up dry cleaning? Do I have to… take a shower?" She sighed, as if exhausted by the very thought.

"Your career is everything to you, huh?" he said, thinking. "Sounds like you're more like me than you care to admit."

Kim paused, thinking about what her father had said. For so long he had represented everything she resented. Was she so busy resenting the choices he had made that she hadn't noticed herself doing the same thing?

"You're a beautiful, warm girl," her father said paternally. "And you're not married. You've never even come close. How come?"

She shrugged. "I haven't met anyone interesting. I work by myself all day, and at night I'm too tired to go out." "I don't know Tony very well, but he certainly seems interesting to me… and I know a lot of women at this hospital would agree."

"Then they should marry him."

"He doesn't want them. He wants you."

Kim shook her head. "You're wrong."

Her father watched her carefully. The pain was evident in her eyes. She cared about Tony, and regardless of what she said, her eyes could not deny the intensity of her feelings. "Are you afraid that Tony will treat you like I treated your mother?"

"What?" she asked, surprised.

"Tony isn't like me. He's a different man… from a different generation–"

"Dad," she interrupted.

He raised his hand, silencing her. "Your mother and I had our issues. They were ours, and our alone. My job didn't drive a wedge between us, Kim. I did. It wouldn't have mattered what kind of job I had."

"What are you trying to say?"

He paused. "I don't think Tony should pay for my mistake."

"What is this? I thought you didn't like him!"

He shook his head. "I like him. I just don't like what he represents."

"Which is?"

"Change. I think there are some people around here that would like to see Tony replace me as head of thoracic surgery."

Kim shifted her eyes downward.

He continued, "I'm beginning to think that might not be a bad idea. You see, I'm not afraid of change anymore–or the future. In fact, I look forward to it. I have a chance to change, a chance to correct some mistakes I've made."

Kim smiled sadly. "I look forward to the future, too.

Her father hesitated. "Where's my wallet?"

Kim wrinkled her forehead, confused. "Your wallet?"

He nodded.

She pulled open a drawer next to his bed and pulled out the worn, brown leather case. "Right here."

"Look inside the top fold there. Behind the credit cards."

She opened the fold and glanced at a worn piece of paper, neatly folded up. What's this?" she asked.

He nodded. "Read it." She unfolded the note. In large, light script was written:

Dear Daddy,

Because I haf skwandired my alowance, I am giving

you Max for Christmas. Plese take care of him.

Love, Kimberly Risson

When she was finished reading the note, she looked up at her father, surprised that he was sentimental enough to have kept this letter in his wallet for all these years.

"You were six years old when you wrote that. You probably don't remember, but I was always telling you…"

"Not to squander my allowance."

He smiled.

"Who's Max?"

"Max was a stuffed duck that you took with you everywhere. It was a total, unselfish gift of love."

"And you've kept this note in your wallet… ?"

"Ever since."

Kim smiled. Her father was certainly full of surprises. Surprises that she was more than happy to discover.

I learned a lot from that gift… and I've learned a lot from you. I hope this Christmas I can give you something that will mean as much to you."

"You already have," Kim said.

Harold just smiled. He knew what his daughter really wanted, and he had every intention of getting it for her.