Sunday, April 30, 2023

Highway Nurse

By Florence Stuart
(pseud. Florence Stonebraker), ©1965

Nurse Jan Lowell loved her fiancé and looked forward to her life with the brilliant young surgeon. Then why was she daydreaming about the young highway patrol officer? And what was there about his blue-eyed, unfriendly face that haunted her nights?


“Lucky you! Not every girl stopped for a traffic violation grabs such a gorgeous hunk of man to read her the riot act.”

“You carry a gun, don’t you? Couldn’t you arrange to have it go off sort of by accident, you know?” 

“It’s some distance between the hospital and the altar.”

It’s so hard being the responsible older sister. There’s just no end of crap you have to take for your little sister, like accept the blame for a hit-and-run when it was madcap Vicki behind the wheel of the light blue convertible roadster when they’d hit five-year-old Davey Barbour, knocking him into a ditch, and Vicki had driven on another few miles down the road. Finally Jan Lowell had convinced Vicki, now hysterical with a not-unreasonable fear that she’d do jail time given her already poor driving record, to turn the car around, but not before Vicki in full hysterics convinces Jan to take the rap: “If you won’t do a simple little favor like that for me, you’re just plain mean,” she pouts, and Jan ultimately agrees, her nursing license and ethics be damned.

But highway cop Bob Creasy, who arrives on the scene to investigate, does not believe Jan’s story that she was in shock after hitting the boy, then blacked out, and this was why she was so long in returning to the scene of the crime. He also doesn’t believe that Jan, who immediately strikes him as an honest, solid character, was driving, particularly since Vicki blabs a bit more than she should. Bob offers to drive Jan to the hospital, but detours past a coffee shop, where he tells her he’s quitting his job because he can’t stand feeling so helpless at car crashes and is planning on becoming a lawyer, as he has just passed the bar exam. He apologizes for snapping at her—and says that there will be no repercussions at all for the accident “even if I don’t accept every single thing you tell me as gospel.” He even asks her for a date, but she declines, since she’s engaged to Dr. Neal Darwin, a brilliant pediatrician. 

The problem with her engagement is that she refuses to name a date because Neal will not allow Vicki to live with them, and Jan doesn’t believe Vicki, at 20, is responsible enough to manage on her own—and given the whole car accident we’ve just witnessed, she has a valid concern. Neal, however, insists that Jan start putting him first: “Dump Vicki and marry me, or else,” he tells her. For her part, Vicki is in love with orderly Jimmy Lester, who is extremely good at his job—could even become a doctor, in Jan’s opinion—but Jimmy was born a ramblin’ man. “The birds have got the right idea: Fly away when you feel like it,” he says. He’s entertaining the idea of moving to Alaska, so Jan asks him to stop seeing Vicki, because she does not think Vicki could handle life there: “You’d have to wear a heavy fur-hooded parka and learn to ski if you wanted to get around any. You may not believe this, honey, but severe weather conditions can have a terrific effect on one’s life. They can even effect the metabolism. Ask any doctor.”

Meanwhile, Davey is recovering in the hospital and bonding strongly with the staff there, as the aunt who had been raising the orphan has split for Texas. All except Dr. Neal, however, because despite his choice of pediatrics as a specialty, he does not care for children much. Jan “couldn’t help wishing at times that Neal could display a little more warmth of heart toward his little patients,” instead of acting “like a man going in to examine a broken typewriter or a cash register that isn’t working.” Davey loves Bob, though, and decides he wants Jan and Bob to be his parents!

The best thing about this book is Bob, who is a kind, easygoing, thoughtful, honest person who never once grabs Jan or orders her around. Instead, he admires her strength, her capability. “The smooth satiny blackness of her hair was lovely to look at. So was the proud lift of her head, and the grace of her movements. She looked tired now. Faint lines of weariness showed in her face, which was without makeup. Her uniform was crumpled. She was certainly no glamour girl at the moment. And yet everything about her looked truly beautiful to him.” He doesn’t believe Jan was driving at the time of the accident and tells her so, but he never badgers her about it, just waits for her to eventually acknowledge the truth. He has a relaxed, warm, sardonic character that is genuinely attractive. The problem is Jan’s bizarre devotion to Dr. Neal that just won’t quit, no matter how awful he gets—even at his absolute worst, when he shoves Davey to the ground and completely loses his cool, even though Jan is “deeply shocked” by his behavior, “she still wanted to hold on to him”—chiefly, it seems, because she cannot tolerate being alone: "What would she do about the emptiness it would leave in her life? She felt like a little boat which had lost its anchor. She felt so lost.”

It's a relief that Florence Stonebraker hasn’t relied too heavily on her usual tricks: Dr. Neal never becomes a certifiable lunatic, no one waves a gun around or attempts murder, no character is named Kitty. And while the relationship between Jan and Bob is one of the nicest I’ve seen in a VNRN, overall the book doesn’t have a great enough zest that would put it into an A category. You can’t go wrong reading this book, but it probably won’t be one you remember in a month, either.

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