The two young men and the young woman that accompanied them rushed from the elevator as the doors opened on the sixth floor. Their pace slowed, however, as they grew nearer to their loved one’s room. The Duke trio was eager to see their uncle, but they were also afraid to face the reality that awaited them in the near future: A reality where their uncle, who had always taken care of them, would be dependent on them for a while. They steeled themselves and entered the small, sterile-looking room. Their uncle wore a hospital-issue gown and looked to be sleeping. An IV dripped slowly into his left hand, but the white-haired man was otherwise free of hospital machinery.
Bo was the first to reach his uncle’s bedside. He looked down at his sleeping uncle and gently grasped the old man’s work-roughened hand. Jesse’s eyes immediately fluttered open and a gentle smile broke across his face.
“There’s my young’uns,” Jesse said in a quiet voice, squeezing Bo’s hand. “I thought ya’ll might have just left my old bones here and gone back home,” he said, with an attempt at humor, as his gaze took in all of his family.
“We’d never do that, Uncle Jesse,” Bo said, grinning, with unshed tears of relief glistening in his eyes.
Luke nodded his agreement and quickly wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. The emotions of the day had caught up with him after he saw his uncle talking and trying to joke. He grabbed his uncle’s free hand and held on tightly as he struggled to regain his composure.
Daisy unashamedly let her mixed tears of anxiety and relief streak her cheeks as she ran to the other side of the bed to embrace the man who had raised them all.
Jesse choked up as he felt the love pouring from his “kids” toward him. He tried to reassure them that he was better and would be fine in a little while.
“This is just a back-set,” he said. “It will take more than this to take this old ridge–runner out of commission. Mind you, a man don’t like hearing the news that he’s had a stroke; even if it was a mild one.” he said, seriously.
“Well, we’re all just thankful that it wasn’t any worse than it was,” said Daisy as she brushed her hand over her uncle’s forehead.
“Don’t you worry Uncle Jesse,” Luke said, “we’ll keep the farm runnin’ smooth. All you need to think about is getting better and taking it easy for a spell.” Bo agreed with him and gave Jesse his assurances, as well.
Jesse smiled at his family, thankful for their obvious support.
“We’ll see. I’m just ready to go home. This bed is too hard and there are too many people running in and out for my taste. Now just how do they expect a man to rest when they’re always bothering him for one reason or another?” Jesse groused. “Besides, all this coddling goes against my nature.”
The younger Dukes all laughed at their uncle’s very normal behavior.
“Now that sounds more like our Uncle Jesse,” said Bo after he finished laughing. Jesse fixed the young blond with a brief glare before he, too, chuckled.
“You just rest up and try not to give the nurses a hard time. They’re just doing their jobs and trying to take care of you.” Luke said while trying to keep a scolding expression on his face. He failed and ended up giving his uncle a wide smile.
Luke suddenly thought of something he and Bo had forgotten. He looked up at his cousin with wide eyes and said, “Bo…we forgot something.”
Bo tilted his head and looked at his older cousin with a creased brow. His eyes grew wide, as well, as it dawned on him what they had forgotten. “The mules…we left them in the field, didn’t we?” he groaned and slapped his forehead.
Jesse sat bolt up-right in the hospital bed. He divided a fierce glare between his two nephews. “You did what?” he roared. “I want you boys to get back to the farm and see to those animals right now! We’ll be lucky if they haven’t wandered off or hurt themselves! And don’t forget to put the tractor in the barn, either; I guess you forgot that, too! How am I supposed to trust you two addle-brained idiots to see to the farm when you can’t even take care of a couple of old mules?” Jesse continued, irately. The old man was red-faced and breathing hard in his fearsome anger.
Bo and Luke were speechless. They could only look at their uncle in shock. The boys knew their uncle had a mighty temper (and they had been on the receiving end of it many times), but under the circumstances, they thought he might have cut them a little slack!
Luke found his voice and held his hands out in a gesture of surrender. “OK, Uncle Jesse. Don’t get riled. We’ll go see about everything and then come back. Daisy’ll stay with you while we’re gone.” he said, trying to calm his uncle before another stroke occurred.
“Ya’ll can just stay at the house…and take Daisy with you! I don’t want anyone else standing over me right now. I’ve got enough of that with these dang-blasted nurses! I want you three to just keep yourselves at home until it’s time to come get me in the morning.” Jesse ordered them.
“But, Uncle Jesse, we…” Bo started to reply.
Jesse slowly turned his head toward his nephew, poked his finger into Bo’s chest, and answered ominously, “Don’t you sass me, young man!”
“I mean what I say. I may be in a hospital bed, but that don’t take away from my authority in this family! Now get to the house…all of you!” Jesse thundered, waving his hand toward the door.
The door to Jesse Duke’s room suddenly opened. A petite nurse entered and glared at the room’s occupants. Her confident stance made her seem much taller and forceful. In a firm, authoritative voice she said, “What’s going on in here? Mr. Duke, you are going to have to calm down! You’ll cause your blood pressure to go sky-high if you don’t watch it and then you’ll be in here till the end of the week.” She turned to the three shell-shocked cousins and asked them to leave so their uncle could rest quietly.
Bo was pleasantly surprised to see that the nurse was Meghan…his nurse!
The Dukes said their farewells, as Jesse tried to calm himself, and followed the nurse into the hallway.
The four-some stood in the wide, brightly lit hallway of the neurology unit; surrounded by the typical sights and sounds of a busy hospital. The young nurse took a deep breath, intending to offer the Duke family some words of reassurance. When she finally took a good look at the people in front of her, Meghan Riley realized that she had met them earlier that afternoon.
She looked up at the blond man who stood in front of her and she felt a fluttery feeling in her stomach. ‘I didn’t realize he was so tall!’ she thought as she looked up to a face nearly a foot above her.
“Oh! It’s you! How are you feeling? Are you doing OK?” she asked Bo, as she touched his arm, her voice full of concern and professional interest. Meghan at least hoped her voice sounded professional, anyway.
She had been thinking about the gorgeous, very well-built, blond-haired man since she had left him in the ER; thinking that she wouldn’t mind having to listen to his lungs again; especially if it meant another chance to see him with his shirt open! Meghan was shocked at where her thoughts were taking her. Her attraction to this man was very strong. There was just something about him; some indescribable quality that drew her to him, even though she barely even knew who he was! She forced herself to look away from the blond Adonis in front of her. She stole a quick glance at his slightly shorter, muscular, dark-haired cousin and found him to be very pleasing on the eyes as well! ‘They just don’t grow men like these two where I’m from,’ she sighed and hoped she wasn’t blushing. Meghan tried to regain a professional attitude and chastised herself for thinking about patients and their families in such a way.
Bo blushed slightly. ‘She remembers me!’ he thought as his heart leapt briefly. “I’m a lot better. Thanks for your help. It was just nerves, I guess…” he said, his voice trailed off quietly as he looked down at her, getting lost in her wide, green eyes. He made himself look away, briefly in order to regain his wits and managed to give her a lopsided smile
Bo felt so awkward! If he didn’t watch out, he could easily fall head over heels for this woman; that is, if he ever got up the nerve to talk to her!
Daisy noticed that Bo had an odd look on his face and was uncharacteristically shy. She just assumed it was part of his reaction to Jesse’s outburst.
Luke paid his youngest cousin absolutely no heed. He was too interested in gaining the attention of the pretty little brunette nurse he had briefly met earlier that afternoon. His crystal-blue eyes sparkled as he smiled his most charming smile. He walked over to stand directly in front of the nurse, shoving Bo to the side. “I’m sorry,” Luke said, “but I didn’t catch your name earlier.” “I was a little distracted by ‘Wheezy’, over here,” he said, jerking a thumb in Bo’s direction and smiling widely. “My name’s Luke Duke.” He reached out to shake her hand. Bo made a face at his dark-haired cousin and anger briefly flared in his expressive blue eyes, but the others did not seem to notice
Meghan looked surprised at Luke’s obvious interest in her. She shook his hand and blushed to the roots of her brown hair.
She was simply not used to being around guys as gorgeous as the two Duke cousins and their presence was making her feel slightly nervous. (Meghan had always felt sort of insecure because she felt she was too short and too much of a book-worm. She was always the girl that guys treated as a best friend instead of a serious girlfriend. Besides, she had never really had a serious relationship with any guy; much less someone like one of these two… honestly, she had always thought guys like Bo and Luke Duke were completely out her league!) She definitely was not used to having a very attractive man, such as Luke Duke, come on to her! His gorgeous blond cousin, Bo, (Meghan had noticed, to her dismay) had barely spoken to her and acted distant; so she didn’t think he had any interest in her. ‘Too, bad,’ she thought, ‘because I definitely could be interested in him!’ However, this dark-haired man’s attention was very flattering and gave her a nice, warm feeling!
“Sorry,” she said, scrunching up her face. “When I go into ‘nurse mode’ I forget basic pleasantries. I’m Meghan Riley and I’m your uncle’s nurse.” she said, looking around at all three Dukes. “I was just passing through the ER, picking up some patient charts, when you caught me. My real home is up here in the Neurology Unit,” she replied, gazing up at Luke; her pretty green eyes sparkling.
Luke and Meghan continued to talk, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Bo and Daisy were standing next to them.
Daisy studied the petite nurse with much interest. She was not exactly the type of girl that her older cousin usually went for. Both Bo and Luke tended to be attracted to long-legged beauty queens who, in Daisy’s opinion, may or may not have enough sense to get in out of the rain! It was unusual for Luke to just zero-in on a girl like he had with Meghan, that was more Bo’s style; but her cousin seemed to be very taken with the young woman (Daisy had figured Meghan to be about Bo’s age). The girl seemed to be very sweet and kind-hearted; if her treatment of Bo during his asthma attack was any indication.
Daisy laughed to herself and thought, as she watched the shorter woman juggle a couple of charts while she and the dark-haired Duke talked, ‘Luke must really like her; he won’t shut-up and let her get back to work!’
She elbowed Bo and started to tell him what she had just thought; when she noticed that her younger cousin also seemed to be enthralled by the little brunette nurse! Bo was staring at the girl like a starving man staring at food and hanging on her every word.
Daisy’s eyes grew round. She thought ‘Oh, boy…this could get interesting. I just hope there ain’t any trouble between the boys over this girl!’ Daisy realized what she had just been thinking and prayed that her thoughts wouldn’t be prophetic. She consoled herself with the thought that Meghan might just be a little too “grown-up” for the boys and that there would be no need to worry. Besides, the Duke family had more important things to be worrying about right now instead of Bo and Luke’s romantic escapades.
Daisy Duke decided to make her presence known. She stepped up to Luke’s side and loudly cleared her throat, instantly getting everyone’s attention. The strikingly pretty young woman smiled warmly at Meghan and spoke. “Hi, I’m Daisy and these two knuckleheads are my cousins,” she said and earned funny looks from Bo and Luke as well as a grin from Meghan. Daisy turned to Luke and directed her next comment to him. “Luke, I’m pretty sure Meghan has a lot she needs to do and is just too nice to tell you to shut-up.” she said with humor as she looked from Luke to the nurse. Meghan flushed brightly and stammered, “Umm…Yeah, I really do need to get caught up on my charting and…uh… it’ll be time to make rounds again in about an hour. I guess I had better go. I’ll let you know if there are any changes with your uncle. Nice to meet ya’ll.” The pretty brunette waved and then walked quickly to the nurses’ station, sat down and began to write in one of her many charts.
As she wrote about one of her patients, Meghan thought that it would be really nice to get to know the Duke family better, if only as friends, since she was still new to Georgia. They all seemed like really nice people and she wondered if she would ever see any of them after their uncle was released from the hospital.
Luke Duke glared angrily at Daisy for her interruption. Daisy ignored him and proceeded to herd her two male cousins toward the elevators. Luke quickly lost his anger and waved at Meghan as they turned to leave. Bo gave the nurse a soft smile and quickly ducked his head; as if afraid she would see him. Daisy was very surprised at the boys’ behavior…especially Bo’s strange shyness. Usually he was flirting and talking with every woman in site…young, old, beautiful or plain. He was unusually quiet…it was weird! Maybe it was just because he felt bad. She had a funny feeling, though, that something would end up happening between her cousins over all this, but she quickly pushed the thought away.
The entire time the Dukes were waiting for the elevator, Bo craned his neck to get a glimpse of the petite nurse who was now sitting behind the desk at the end of the hall. Daisy noticed, but Luke didn’t seem to see his blond cousin’s quiet interest in Meghan Riley. Luke was too busy making his own plans to see the little nurse again. The three boarded the elevator and rode in silence down to the first-floor lobby.
When the elevator car stopped, Bo sighed loudly and hooked his thumbs in his jeans pockets. As he, Luke and Daisy walked out into the lobby and toward the sliding glass doors, Bo hunched his shoulders and looked sideways at his cousins.
“I guess what we saw upstairs was just an example of what Dr. Wilson was talking about. Uncle Jesse sure was mad.” he said nervously. Bo looked at the toes of his boots as he and his cousins exited the hospital and walked toward the jeep.
Luke sighed, and said, “Yeah…I guess so. Things may be pretty rough for awhile until Uncle Jesse gets to feeling better. You know he always gets irritable when he’s sick. Daisy, don’t you remember…he almost whipped us all last year when he had the flu?”
Daisy, who was walking between her cousins, placed an arm around each man. She said with a brief smile, “Oh, I remember alright! Bo…Luke… don’t fret. We’ll make it. Things may be rough for a few weeks, but Uncle Jesse will be back to normal…just be patient. We’ll just have to stick together like we always have. We’re Dukes and it’ll take more than this to get us down!”
The cousins smiled and embraced in a clumsy group-hug beside Daisy’s white jeep. They had needed that pep talk. Luke broke the embrace and said, tiredly, “I don’t know about ya’ll, but I’m ready to see this day end!” He rubbed his hands over his face and through his hair.
Bo nodded, “Me too…and we’ve got a long day ahead of us tomorrow.”
The Dukes climbed into the jeep and headed home to tend to the abandoned mules and start the evening chores. After a quick supper of hamburgers, Bo, Luke and Daisy spent the evening preparing for their uncle’s return from the hospital and went to bed early; each one silently wondering if and how life at the farm would change after this day’s events.