With one final, frigid look Felicia’s way, Lorna called, “Jamie! Wait!” Rushing down the drive and slipping into the passenger seat a split-second before he pulled out.
Jamie looked at her in surprise. “What about – “
“As soon as we get to the hospital, I’ll call around and find a sitter to come and stay with Devon. Felicia can manage a few hours.”
Jamie nodded, now not being the time to observe that his mother-in-law’s competence as a care-taker had not been his primary concern.
“You drive, I’ll dial,” Lorna urged Jamie, leaving unsaid the implication that the last thing they needed now was to risk another accident. She reached Steven on the first ring, putting him on speaker-phone.
“What’s going on?” Jamie demanded.
“I don’t know,” Steven confessed. “He’s been in surgery since before I got here. Grant says no one’s come out to tell him anything.”
“Who’s the doctor in charge?”
“I’m not sure. Morgan is the surgeon.”
“Morgan…” Jamie repeated dully.
Sensing his concern, Lorna interjected, “I’m sure that won’t be a problem. Morgan would never take out his personal issues with us on Kirkland.”
“I know,” Jamie said quietly. Quietly enough to ensure Steven’s not hearing. “Morgan is a damn good surgeon. He’s the best one on staff.”
“I know Morgan’s schedule. It’s his day off. If they called him in for this, it’s got to be… It’s bad, Lorna.” Jamie cleared his throat and raised his voice. “Steven, do me a favor, son; track down either Russ or Alice? They should be able to get a straight answer for us. I’m on my way in now, but, call me back if you find them before I get there.”
“Will do,” Steven clipped, equally all business. And then, sounding younger than Lorna had ever heard him, pleaded, “Please hurry, Dad.”
“Happy New Year,” John awkwardly bent over to kiss Sharlene on the cheek, unable to think of any way to make the situation less uncomfortable.
“Happy New Year,” she parroted dutifully, stepping aside. “Come in. Please.”
“How have you been John?”
“Frozen,” he said.
That threw Sharlene briefly off their banal generalities script. She struggled, “It has been unseasonably cold lately…”
“I realized I’ve been frozen in place for the last year and a half.” No need to explain why. Not here. Not to her.
“Yes,” was all Sharlene felt she could – or should – add.
“I apologized to GQ Todd yesterday,” John said.
“You apologized to…”
“Our son did a horrible thing to him, an unforgivable thing.”
“An understandable thing.”
“To us, maybe. To GQ… Our son stole his. He went along with Allie’s lies and he committed legal fraud, to boot. So I apologized to him. On Gregory’s behalf.”
“And?” Sharlene felt certain there was an and.
“And… I feel like I can breathe again. Like I can move. Like I can move forwards. At last. I always felt there was something left unfinished with Gregory and me, something keeping me stuck in one place, spinning my wheels. Seems this was it.”
“In that case, you’re lucky you’ve found it.”
“That’s why I came here today.”
“To fill me in?”
“To be with you,” John said.
“What happened with Gregory, Sharlene, it didn’t happen to just me. It happened to both of us. It will always be something that happened to both of us.”
“Except now you’re ready to move past it.”
“Not so much past it as along with it. Forwards. But, I don’t – I can’t – do it without you.”
“Without me,” once again all Sharlene could do was repeat what John said, unable to – no, afraid – to fathom what he could possibly mean by it.
“I want us both to let go of the past. For Gregory’s sake, if not our own.”
“I want to, John,” Sharlene swore. “I do want to. It’s just so hard.”
“Let me help you,” he pleaded. “You can do this. We can do this. Together.”
“Yes. We can move forward together.”
“I – I’d like that,” she ventured, barely daring to hope that the thing she’d been praying on for years was finally coming true.
“Good. Good, I’m glad.” John smiled, and Sharlene couldn’t help mirroring his expression. But, only until John finished his thought, when it froze on her face like a death mask. “Because I realized I couldn’t move forward with my own life, go after Donna as wholeheartedly as I should, if I didn’t know you were free to do the same.”
Russ, with Steven planted at his side – lest the older man decide to bolt unexpectedly, was waiting for Jamie as soon as he and Lorna arrived, Grant and Sarah hovering on the periphery, eager to hear what Russ had to say, as well.
Russ showed Jamie what he had of Kirkland’s chart, drawing the younger doctor’s attention to a series of key notations before summarizing, “The internal bleeding was extensive. Morgan tried to avoid it, but he finally decided to go in and remove Kirkland’s spleen to get the situation under control.”
Jamie nodded thoughtfully, re-reading the info for the umpteenth time, even as he said, “Okay, yeah, that seems prudent under the circumstances.”
“What does that mean, remove his spleen?” Grant demanded. “Is the spleen some superfluous organ like the appendix, so he’ll do fine without it? Or is it more like a kidney, where he’s got a spare?”
“It’s a necessary organ,” Jamie explained. “But, the kind of blow Kirk took, he might have bled to death if Morgan hadn’t removed it.”
“If it’s necessary, then how is he supposed to live without one? Will he need a transplant – “
“Kirkland will be more vulnerable to infection for the rest of his life; still, it’s preferable to the alternative,” Russ reassured.
“Morgan’s got the hemorrhaging under control?” Jamie confirmed.
“He’s closing up now.” Russ looked over the assembled. “Kirkland lost an immense amount of blood. Last time I checked, there were only a few pints left in the bank – “
“I can do it,” Grant got the hint, cutting off Steven, who’d been about to offer the same thing. “Kirkland and I have the same blood type. I can donate whatever he needs.”
“That would be much appreciated,” Russ said. He indicated the far end of the corridor. “If you follow the green lines, they should take you right to the blood bank. Tell them I sent you.”
Grant nodded and without another word, set off in the direction Russ indicated. Sarah immediately trotted off after him. Though Lorna was the only one who noticed. And, like Steven earlier, immediately made the disturbing connection.
Jamie was saying to Russ, “Kirkland underwent surgery for a brain aneurysm when he was younger. He had an anaphylactic response to the post-op antibiotic, nearly died, from what I understand. I wanted to make sure…” Jamie flipped through the chart. “Good, it’s in there.” Jamie took out a pen and made a more prominent note on the front page, then smiled at Russ apologetically, “Indulge the overprotective dad?”
“Absolutely,” Russ took back the file. “I’ll make sure the Intensive Care nurse sees this.” Jamie opened his mouth to ask, but Russ anticipated, “And I’ll get you in there to check on him yourself as soon as possible.”
“Thank you, Russ. Really. I don’t know how to thank you for all this.”
Russ merely clamped Jamie on the shoulder and prompted, “You remember what I told you when it was Lorna in this situation?”
“Yes, sir. I do.”
“Still stands. Always has, always will. I’m going to visit our boy now. I’ll be out with more information as soon as I can.”
Russ disappeared through the ICU doors and Jamie allowed himself a small exhalation of relief, Lorna squeezing his arm reassuringly and Jamie turning to kiss her in gratitude for Lorna just being there – and for the deadly bullet he suspected they’d dodged, before Steven interrupted with, “I’m sorry, Dad.”
“What?” Jamie turned away from Lorna to face his son. “What are you sorry for? You were a champ through all this. You took care of your sisters, you got your brother the treatment he needed, you dealt with Grant, which couldn’t have been easy. I’ve never been more proud of you, or more grateful.”
“I forgot all about Kirkland’s allergy to antibiotics. If you hadn’t been here – he could have died, Dad. Kirk could have died because of my stupidity.”
“The information was already in his chart,” Jamie reminded reassuringly. “I was just double-checking.”
“I should have double-checked it first. I should have remembered.”
“Your brother isn’t your responsibility.”
“Yes, he is. He’s always been, since the beginning. When Mom was running around and switching babies and getting kidnapped and fighting with Grant and marrying Jake and following him to Oakdale and dying…. Somebody had to take care of Kirk.”
“And you did. You did a great job. But, I’m here now.”
“You don’t have to be. Kirkland’s not really yours, you don’t have to take care of him, you can walk away at any time.”
“I’d never do that,” Jamie said levelly, understanding that Steven’s anger wasn’t directed at Jamie, declining to take it personally. “I’d never do that to him, I’d never do it to you.”
“You did, though. When I was little. You did. You left me.”
“And I’ve regretted it every day of my life since.”
“You tried to kill yourself. If you’d succeeded…”
“I didn’t. And that will never, ever happen again. You have my word.”
“But, if you had and if you do, that just leaves me to look out for Kirkland and Bridget and Michele. I’m all they’ve got left, and, Dad, I don’t know what I’m doing….”
“The girls are upstairs, playing with Devon. I’ll call them,” Felicia told Donna stiffly as Bridget and Michele’s grandmother arrived to take the pair home.
“I appreciate you keeping an eye on them until I could take over.” Donna’s voice proved equally as taut, both understanding that a single incorrectly inflected word might set off yet another battle royal. And now was neither the time nor the place.
“They were a big help. Showing me where Jamie and Lorna keep everything. Devon just adores them. Has there been any word on Kirkland?”
Donna shook her head, pained. “When Steven called, he only told me to come pick up Michele and Bridget. I guess I’m not worthy of being told how my grandson is faring.”
“I haven’t heard anything either,” Felicia confessed. As close as she was willing to come to commiserating about their mutual, respective persona non grata standings.
“Will you let me know if you do? I realize I have no right to ask, but I’m afraid… I’m so afraid for Kirkland. I love all my grandchildren equally, I swear I do. But, Kirkland… Kirkland has always seemed the most vulnerable. The most sensitive. Steven, he has his purely intellectual world to withdraw into, nothing can hurt him there. And the girls, it’s silly of me, wishful thinking, perhaps; but I can’t help believing they’ve inherited both Jake and Victoria’s resilience. They just roll with the punches, no matter what. Kirkland – it’s as if he were missing some protective layer the rest of us are born with.”
“If we’re lucky.”
“If we’re lucky,” Donna agreed. “He’s so open, so trusting, so decent… and so easily wounded, as a result.”
“He has a great many people pulling for him. And Jamie will see to it he gets the best possible medical care.”
“I don’t know how much more of it I can stand,” Donna burst. “Being shoved to the outskirts of my family in this manner. I’ve already lost Michael and Victoria, now Marley wants nothing to do with me, and if Steven ultimately has his way, neither will Michele and Bridget. What right do any of them have… How dare they? Who do they think they are, by virtue of what extensive life experience or innate superiority do our children decree themselves qualified to judge us?”
“We’re their parents. We’re the ones entrusted with teaching them right from wrong. When we act in contradiction of our own set code, they think that gives them permission to call us on it.”
“Right and wrong, black and white… Nothing is ever that simple, that clear-cut. Not outside the pages of fiction, in any case.”
“I don’t know,” Felicia balked, lest this conversation get too familiar or tolerant. There was just so far she was willing to bend. Even under the current circumstances. “Some acts truly are beyond the pale. Some sins truly are unforgivable, no shades of gray.”
“You’d better hope Lorna doesn’t feel that way. Not forever, in any case.”
“Despite your best efforts to the contrary?”
“I want my family back,” Donna refused to back down. “I want my daughter, and my grandchildren, and M – Everything. All of them. I will do anything and everything in my power to make that happen. You don’t have to like it, Felicia, or condone it. But, I would think that you, of all people, should understand it.”
“We’ll start with a pint,” the phlebotomist inserted a needle into the pulsating vein at the crook of Grant’s arm, and adjusted the collection bag over the IV pole next to him. “See how you do, and go from there.”
“Forget the pint,” Grant snapped. “Take as much as you need. Take all of it, I don’t care. And get it directly to my son. Russ Matthews’ orders.”
Predictably used to such self-sacrificing theatrics, the tech merely advised, “Your getting sick and needing a transfusion yourself won’t do your son – or this hospital, frankly – any good. Slow and steady wins the race. I’ll be back in a few minutes to check on you, Mr. Harrison.”
Grant growled in his white coated wake, as Sarah pulled up a chair to sit next to him, taking Grant’s free hand in hers.
He turned his head to look at her, disengaging their linked fingers to raise his palm and stroke the side of Sarah’s face. “You came…”
She shrugged. “You needed me.”
“You said you wanted to keep this – us – a secret for the time being. But still, you came.” He tried, but failed to keep the awe out of his voice.
“You needed me,” Sarah repeated. “I knew Steven and his family would treat you like garbage when it came to Kirkland. What I wanted or didn’t want just wasn’t important anymore.”
“I gave Kirkland that car,” Grant said, seemingly apropos to nothing but, in actuality, finally verbalizing the one thought that had been running incessantly through his mind since the police first called – having found Grant’s name on the registration.
“Doesn’t matter,” Sarah said so definitively, Grant could only shake his head in wonder.
“What would I do without you always on my side?”
“Play your cards right,” Sarah leaned in to kiss him quickly. “And you’ll never have to find out.”
Grant jerked his head away, looking around anxiously, despite the fact that they were the only civilians currently in the blood bank, and the staff truly could not care less.
“It’s alright, Grant, I told you. I don’t care anymore. If people find out, they find out.”
“Why the change of heart?” he needed to know.
“Because. I was afraid… Allie said… I was scared she was right.”
“That I only do things to get a reaction, usually a negative one. That none of my actions are ever sincere, they’re just for effect and shock value.”
“Allie has never been the sharpest knife in the drawer, Sarah.”
She raised a reproving eyebrow.
“Sorry,” Grant gulped.
“Allie is my friend. My best friend. She knows me better than anyone. I had to listen. And I was afraid she had me pegged. But then, when I heard about Kirk getting hurt, and you waiting here, all I could think about was getting to you and being with you, and helping you in any way I could. I didn’t care about what other people might think, or even whether or not they’d think anything at all. You were all that mattered.”
“Sarah…” strapped for words, drowning in feeling, Grant could do nothing more than murmur her name, even as the pragmatic side of him warned, “The situation is already hellish enough. If Steven sees you with me and takes the time to put two and two together, he could make it a thousand times worse, which is the last thing any of us need.”
“Don’t worry about Steven,” Sarah reassured. Then, kissing Grant for real this time, stood up, telling him, “I’ll be right back.”
Sarah stepped out into the hall, opening her phone, dialing, then coolly ordering, “Steven needs you. Kirk’s been in an accident, he’s in critical condition and Steven’s freaking out. We’re at Bay City Hospital. I don’t give a damn what is going on, or what you’re pretending isn’t going on between the two of you. Figure it out or don’t. But, Steven needs you. You’d better get down here, and fast, Jen.”
“So does this mean you… forgive me?” Jeanne asked Matt cautiously.
“I… yeah.” He shrugged. “It’s only fair. I mean… yeah. I’ve been… lately… I told you I’ve been working on seeing things from someone else’s point of view. It’s not easy. But, I’m hoping it’ll be worth it. Help me to understand. Not be so judgmental.”
“You really are a nice guy,” Jeanne said, smiling as if she’d won a point Matt didn’t remember giving up.
“You used to dislike that about me,” Matt reminded.
“I did,” Jeanne agreed. “I thought… I thought nice guys were weak and useless. They couldn’t protect the people they loved. Like my dad and my mom, with Jerry Grove.”
“You changed my mind, Matt. You showed me that a nice guy could be strong in his own way. And that’s when I fell in love with you.”
She ignored his attempt to cut her off and change the subject. “And then, when a good person like you said you thought I could be a good person, too… No one ever said that to me. Ever. I had this image of myself… Well, you know what I thought of myself. And why. But, then, you gave me a glimpse through your eyes. And, for the first time, I liked what I saw. I’ll never be able to thank you enough for that.”
“I did care about you, Jeanne. I do. It’s just, this marriage…”
“You were everything I wanted. Before I knew I wanted it. And you were everything I needed. Everything I still need. That’s why I want to be the wife you need. Just tell me what you’d like me to be for you, and I’ll – “
“I never meant to hurt you,” Matt swore. “I really did like you.”
“I can make you love me.”
“I’ll do anything you say. I’d do anything for you. Anything to make you happy. Just ask.”
“No! A relationship, it can’t work that way; one person dictating terms and the other just going along uncomplainingly. It isn’t fair. Honest, you don’t have to – “ A knock interrupted Matt’s attempt to tell her the truth.
He couldn’t precisely say he was sorry about it.
“Dean. Hey.” Matt opened the door. “Happy New Year, man. What are you doing here?”
“I needed to talk to you,” Dean fidgeted nervously, practically vibrating from the barely contained tension. “It’s about me. And your wife. And last night.”
With Steven on one end of the waiting room couch, punching the keys on his phone so ferociously the plastic hinges all but rattled, and Jamie on the other, looking compulsively from his watch to the overhead clock, as if that might somehow speed up the infinitely dragging minutes, Lorna sat between them, rubbing Jamie’s back with her fingers in what she hoped was a soothing, or, at the very least, non-aggravating manner.
He smiled weakly. “I’m okay. I’m okay, really.” Jamie turned to face her. “How are you holding up? Have you eaten anything in the past few hours?”
“Finest fare the vending machine has to offer. May I offer you an assortment of crumbled candy bars, tepid coffee and flat soda?”
“Please take care of yourself. If not for your sake, then for mine. I can’t be worried about you and the baby same time as… “
“We’re both fine.” Lorna took his hand and rested it an inch above her navel. “Want to feel?”
At the tiny thump against his palm, Jamie finally smiled for real, even as he urged, “Go home. Look in on Devon. Get some rest. Come back later. I’ll still be here. I’ll be here for a good, long while yet, Lorna.”
“I’m not leaving you alone.”
From the other side of the couch, Steven cleared his throat, loudly and pointedly.
“You’ve done enough,” Lorna corrected smoothly, as inoffensively as possible. “If anyone should go home and rest, it’s you. I’ll keep an eye on your Dad.”
“Or you could both leave him to me.”
Jamie, Lorna and Steven raised their eyes to find Rachel standing there, managing to look sympathetic, tender – and ready for a fight.
“Mom.” Jamie struggled to get up. “What are you…”
“Felicia told me about Kirkland. How is he?”
“I’m not sure yet. He made it through surgery. I’m hoping to see him in recovery soon. Mom, please… don’t.” Jamie didn’t have the energy to get into it. “I can’t… I can’t do this. Not now.
“No.” Rachel said firmly. “My grandson is in trouble. My son needs me. I’m staying, Jamie.”
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