“Daltrar? Daltrar! What in the–” Louis stopped mid-sentence to see his editorial writer sprawled on the floor of her mall cubicle. “Looking for inspiration again?”

Twenty-five year old Joelle Daltrar offered him a sheepish smile before coming to her senses. She lifted herself off the ground and dusted off her clothes. “If by inspiration you mean my pencil, then yes. I was looking for inspiration.” She raised her left hand, showing off the found object before plopping back in her seat.

“I take it your working on the February piece right now,” Louis spoke. His tone was questioning. Joelle liked to do things on her time, especially when it came to her writing. Of course, she always made the deadlines, but it was definitely a struggle to wait on her.

“…something like that,” she laughed, spinning in her office chair to face him. “Don’t you have a meeting to go to? It’s almost noon.”

Louis checked his watch and cursed, turning on his heels to head to the conference room. “You too, Daltrar. It’s a staff meeting.”

“I know it’s a lot to ask of you guys, but back in my day, two pieces each was the minimum. I’m actually doing you people a favor.” Groans were heard around the table, bringing a chuckle to Louis’s lips. “I expect everyone’s monthly submissions by the January 31 date and the special submissions by February 7. Now, get back to work.”

Alexia Gentry slumped in her chair, heaving a heavy sigh. “Why are we so busy? I rarely have time to do anything for myself these days.”

Joelle nudged her younger co-worker, standing to her feet as she gathered the files on the table before her. “This is nothing. Wait till the summer when the stories pile up.”

“I don’t know what you’re cryng about, Lexie,” Colton Carroll smirked. “You have one tiny little column to do every month.”

“Not nice, Colton,” Joelle laughed.

The three of them walked out of the conference room, heading to their respective cubicles. Colton paused as he passed by Alexia’s desk, grabbing a stack of papers. “What is this? Personals?” he asked quizzically. “Lexie, are you looking for a boyfriend in the paper?”

The petite young woman snatched the papers from his hands, holding them to her chest protectively. “I was just looking,” she shot back, her death grip on the personals betraying her.

Joelle couldn’t hold back her laughter. “Lexie, you don’t need to do that. You’re beautiful, bright, and an overall great person. Why can’t you just find a guy the traditional way?”

“Because they’re all—!” Lexie stopped, looking away. “Nevermind, You wouldn’t understand?”

“What do you mean, I wouldn’t understand? Try me.”

“You’ve been a relationship with the same guy for almost three years. You guys are practically married now. You don’t know how competitive the dating world is these days.”

“It’s true,” Colton chimed in. “Girls are sharks.”

Alexia nodded. “See? Even he knows. It’s easy for a person in a relationship to say that finding love is easy.”

Joelle bit her lip, not sure of what to say. Thankfully, a shout down the hallway saved her from having to respond. “Oh, come on! Who keeps taking the last cup from the water cooler?!”

Once she was alone, Joelle sat at her desk, thinking. Her co-workers thought that she had it made, being in a relationship with the same man for three years. Little did they know that she’d just been dumped.

“G’morning, Dr. Beaver!”

Ryan shook his head and pointed to the nametag on his coat. “No, Sade. Not Dr. Beaver. Dr. Bevereaux.”

The seven year old stared at him as though he were stupid. “That’s what I said. What are you talking about?” Giving her pediatrician another look, the little girl turned her back to him and reached for her teddy bear. “Dr. Beaver must have the forget disease, Teddy.”

“Doctor?” a voice from behind shook Ryan out of his amusement. He turned to see a familiar nurse’s bright fish-covered scrubs and looked down.

“Oh, Sheila. What’s going on?”

The woman sighed. “That Campbell kid is refusing to take his medicine again. Says it slows him down. I think you’re the only one who can convince him, Ryan.”

Ryan nodded, tucking his clipboard under his arm and patting the older woman on the arm. “Gotcha. In the meantime, can you check Sade’s temperature? And get some ice cream for her teddy bear. I hear he’s been craving some.” Tossing a wink towards the little girl, Ryan spun on his heels for a room down the hallway.

Before he entered Dante Campbell’s room, Ryan could hear the loud protests. “Get away from me with that! I’m ain’t taking no shot, bro!”

Ryan stepped inside, rapping on the door after he closed it. “Dante. I need you to take it easy. Get back in bed.”

The young man glared at him, shooting daggers at Ryan from where he stood. “She’s tryna give me that stuff. I thought I told you that I don’t want it. I told you it messes with my game.” Dante Campbell was a star basketball player for his school. He was in his junior year, and colleges from across the country were scouting him on a regular basis. However, he’d recently found out that he suffered from osteosarcoma, and the kid was unable to accept his disease.

“Okay,” Ryan laid his clipboard on the drawer beside the hospital bed and moved closer to the young man. “Before we talk about it, you have to calm down. Have you eaten anything yet?”

Dante shook his head. “No. Hospital food is disgusting.”

“Really, now? Because St. Vincent’s cafeteria actually serves the best hospital food in the South. It’s run by a critically acclaimed chef.” As he spoke, Ryan signaled for the nurse to run down to the hospital and moved toward the chair in front of the hospital bed. “Now, can you get back in bed, or am I gonna have to physically make you?”

Assessing the doctor’s six foot three frame and muscular build, the lanky boy reluctantly slipped back into bed. “Doc, I can’t take this. It messes up my game—I-I can’t concentrate when I’m hooping.”

Ryan nodded. “That’s because you’re not taking it regularly. Once you take your medicine on a daily basis, you’ll be better.”

Dante’s head dropped, and he fingered the white sheets on the bed. “It’s not fair,” he managed to choke out, not making eye contact. “I’ve never been sick before this. I was always healthy. And now, this? It’s not fair.”

Ryan watched as the young man tried to fight back his tears, tears that he’d been too proud to shed before. “Coach won’t even put me in anymore because of that one time I passed out. He always says, ‘Next time, Campbell. Next time.’ But I’ve only got one more year left. Coaches are scouting, and I can’t play college ball if I’m just a benchwarmer. That’s my future…and now it’s all gone because of cancer.”

Before Ryan could offer a comforting word, the nurse appeared again, this time, with a delicious looking turkey sandwich. “This is for you, Dante. Eat it, and then take the medicine. Your blood sugar’s too low right now.” Standing to his feet, Ryan walked out of the room.

Once outside, he leaned against the wall. That look in Dante’s eyes was one he’d seen too many times in the mirror. Hopelessness. Depression. Fear of what was next. Ryan knew those feelings all too well. Shaking away the painful memories, Dr. Ryan Bevereaux straightened his white coat and headed down to the intensive care unit where a premature newborn was waiting for him.

“Special announcement? I’m not sure I like the sound of that,” said Vivianne Schwimmer, Joelle’s best friend, as she sipped her cup of black coffee. “Your sister’s prone to getting involved in strange things. Remember the special announcement she made right before our senior prom?”

Nandi Underwood nodded eagerly, fixing her face into a pout and folding her arms across her chest. “Everyone, I’m never eating meat ever again! I can’t stand the thought of baby chickens, cows, and pigs being slaughtered!”

Joelle, Vivianne, and Nandi burst into laughter, hushing each other after a while because of the looks people were giving them. “Shh, guys. We’re gonna get kicked out,” Joelle giggled, looking around. “But seriously. What do you think it is?”

“Maybe she’s changing her major…for the third time,” Nandi piped up.

“What is she, stupid? My mom would kill her.”

“Dropping out of school?”

Joelle shook her head. “Even Aeva isn’t that crazy.”

Vivianne put down her coffee cup and locked eyes with Joelle. “You guys. What if Aeva’s getting married?”

Both Joelle and Nandi shook their heads. “Come on, this is Aeva we’re talking about,” Nandi crossed her legs in her seat. “She gets a new boyfriend every month. Have you ever seen her stay with a guy for longer than a month?”

“You’re right….Aeva can’t be engaged. So if that’s not the surprise, what is it?”

<<Prologue || Part 2>>