When he woke just before six o’clock in the morning, he was aware of the sharp pain in his back, and he swore under his breath, suppressing a groan. Carrie moved in his arms and opened her eyes, and almost immediately registered the lines of pain on her husband’s face.
“Oh, Brad! Are you ok?“′
He tried to smile, - and succeeded. “I’m fine. Good morning, my love.”
He kissed her gently, a kiss that was suddenly broken off as he drew in his breath sharply and rolled onto his back.
“Oh God! Not today!” he begged, closing his eyes tightly as the spasm washed over him.
Carrie gripped his hand weakly. “It’s because you carried me! And I can’t even help you!”
It was a few more seconds before the pain subsided and he could answer. He took a deep breath. “I’m fine, sweetheart. It’s gone! It was just the usual morning ache.”
She scowled. “Don’t lie to me! I’m a nurse, Brad, and I know pain when I see it! And my brain isn’t too muddled to know that was more than the usual ache.”
He grinned as he turned back towards her. “I’m not lying. The pain’s gone! Now, about that ‘good morning’ kiss!” And he covered her mouth with his own so she could protest no longer.
Brad was in the shower when Max knocked at the bedroom door and popped his head in.
“Good morning, my angel,” he said as he pushed the wheelchair into the room. “How are you feeling?”
Carrie smiled at him. “’Morning Uncle Max. Stronger, I think! But my head hurts a bit!”
“Nurse Biggs is only coming in after breakfast. She’ll change the dressings and give you your medication.”
He bent to give her a quick kiss on the cheek, and she whispered, “Brad’s having spasms of pain again, Uncle Max. He’s trying to ignore it, but it doesn’t help when he has to lift and carry me.”
“I only injected him on Saturday,” Max said, frowning. “It usually lasts for a week! But that husband of yours is too stubborn to tell me when he’s in serious pain! I’ll give him a check-up later. I’ve taken a few days leave from the clinic in any case, to keep an eye on things here while you’re still so ill.”
She blinked in surprise. “I’m not ill! Just weak!”
“My dear, you are a post-operative patient. You can expect to be weak! I’m here to see that you get the rest you need.”
“I seem to stay tired all the time!” She hesitated, but added, “I want to come downstairs today.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Do you really feel up to that, Carrie?”
“My baby thinks I’m going to die, Uncle Max! She was so scared, poor little mite. I need to show her that I’m not going to leave her.”
“Sarah understands that her mommy is poorly.” Max said. “Mark and I explained to her yesterday that you are going to be laid up for a while, but that you are not going to die! The nightmare she had was understandable in the circumstances, but she knows that you are not going to leave her.”
Carrie swallowed back a lump in her throat. “I couldn’t even hold her very tightly to comfort her. She was shaking and crying, and I felt pathetically incompetent as a mother!”
Max stared at his niece for a moment, shaking his head. Then he smiled. “Carrie, you are neither pathetic nor incompetent! Sarah will be perfectly all right, I promise. We’ll see what June says about you going downstairs today. You still need to get as much rest as you can.”
“I can lie on one of the couches to rest. We have visitors! I can’t let Brad stay up here with me and disregard our guests!”
“He would never ignore guests, you know that! And June is well aware of the way Brad feels about you. In any case, she will be at the clinic most of the time.”
“But her husband won’t! And Brad has his own work to do. He can’t write and attend to me at the same time!”
Max sighed, and shook his head slowly. “You are becoming just as stubborn as your husband, you know! Brad’s writing is not as important to him as you are! The man is infatuated with you! He didn’t write one word while you were unconscious, just sat at your side in the clinic!”
Carrie bit her lip, gazing at the wheelchair. “Well, I don’t want him to hurt himself by helping me. He said the pain was gone, but ….”
She broke off as the bathroom door opened and Brad came into the room, a towelling robe around him. “’Morning Max,” he said, heading into the walk-in closet and grabbing a pair of jeans.
Max eyed him critically as he emerged. “Good morning! You look a bit peaky today. You in pain?”
“Just the usual!” Brad replied quickly. Too quickly!
“So, you won’t mind if I have a look then?” Max said with a grin.
Brad’s grimaced, and his eyes went to Carrie’s face. “You told him, didn’t you?”
She swallowed guiltily, but before she could speak, Max said harshly, “Someone had to, because you are too stubborn to admit to your physician when you have pain. Let me have a look!”
“It was just a twinge!” Nevertheless, he dropped the robe and allowed the doctor to probe his spine, flinching a little.
When the examination was over, Max sighed. “Hmm. Get dressed Brad. Please tell me if you have anymore twinges today! Or if it gets worse.” He smiled at Carrie. “I’ve brought the wheelchair, so there should be no need for your stubborn husband to carry you at all!”
“I can walk a little,” she said quietly. “Sometimes I’m dizzy, that’s all. My head feels - odd.”
“I can help you,” Brad insisted as he pulled on his jeans. “You’re not allowed to walk or stand on your own yet.”
“I want to come downstairs!” she said.
“We’ll see what June says,” Max replied. “She’ll see you after breakfast when Nurse Biggs comes in. Make sure you eat well. And please, my angel, don’t try to be independent. You have enough people to help you.”
"I will help you…” Brad said firmly, “… with anything! Isn’t it too soon for you to come downstairs?”
“I’m not an invalid!”
Brad looked at her quickly, saw the little smile, and bent over to kiss her lips. He grinned. “That’s my line!”
“But I don’t remember having an accident, so I feel like a fraud, being waited on hand and foot! Apart from me being so tired and weak, there’s nothing wrong with me!”
Max raised his eyebrows. “You wouldn’t think that if you’d seen the amount of blood you lost! No wonder you’re weak!” He sighed. “We just don’t want you trying to do too much too soon. Give your body time to recover.”
Carrie bit her lip and remained silent. Brad eyed her for a few seconds, then he pulled his T-shirt over his head and said gently, “We’ll see how you feel after breakfast, love. You are going to eat breakfast, aren’t you?”
She swallowed, looking away from his scrutiny. “I’ll try,” she muttered.
She did try. And she managed to eat all her yoghurt, most of the porridge and even a tiny piece of crisp bacon. She dozed a little while Brad finished his own breakfast, but when the nurses came in, she was wide awake, insisting that she was well enough to get up. Brad did not leave the room while Carrie was being washed, but he sat at his laptop reading his emails until June came in to check on her patient. There were a few tears when, after the bandages around Carrie’s head were removed, June allowed her to have the hand mirror she asked for. The wounds on her scalp were healing nicely but what little remained of the once golden tresses was now lifeless patches of stubble. Her face was pale and gaunt, and she had dark circles beneath her eyes.
“You are gorgeous,” Brad told her as she gazed in horror at her reflection. “and your hair will grow again! You’re alive, that’s what matters!”
She thrust the mirror aside and allowed Brad to mop at her tears. “I’m so sorry you have to see me like this! I’m hideous!”
He smiled. “When are you going to believe that my love for you doesn’t depend on what you see! To me, you will always be the most beautiful woman in the world.”
Nurse Biggs chuckled. “True beauty comes from within, they say! And it’s enhanced by love! And everyone on this estate, - probably everyone in London, - knows how much your husband loves you, Carrie!”
“And I can assure you that you will not be able to see those scars on your scalp,” June said. “Even if I say it myself, those sutures are a nice piece of work! Even a hairdresser won’t know you had surgery once your hair grows again!” She smiled. “I’m pleased that there is no infection that I can see. The antibiotics worked well.”
Carrie took the tissue that Brad handed her, and blew her nose. “I’d like to come downstairs, please,” she said.
June seemed surprised, but she nodded. “So long as you don’t try to walk without help, and you lie down when you feel tired. I have patients to see at the clinic, but I’ll make sure I come back at lunch time to check on you. And your uncle will be here.”
She turned to Brad. “Your dear wife is recovering quicker than I expected. I knew it was right, letting her come home.”
She watched as the nurses renewed the bandages, and helped Carrie into the wheelchair, and she herself gave her the medication, before they left the room.
Brad looked thoughtfully at his wife. “You're sure about this, love? Promise me that you’ll tell me if you feel you need to lie down?”
Carrie smiled weakly. “I promise! If you will promise me that you’ll tell Uncle Max if you have any more pain!”
He gave a short laugh. “Quid pro quo! Okay, sweetheart. Are you comfortable in that chair? Would you like a pillow to sit on?”
“I’m fine, Brad. I want to see my baby. She was so upset last night. I need to make sure she understands that I’m not about to die!”
“She knows! It was a nightmare,” Brad said, pushing the wheelchair out of the door. “Probably brought on by what she heard in the church. If she was still unhappy, Nanny would have brought her in before she took her for breakfast.”
The kitchen area was full of activity when the lift doors opened, the staff diligently occupied in their allotted tasks, but they paused from their work to welcome Brad and Carrie.
“Good morning, dear,” Nanny said, coming into the kitchens. “Sarah is with Max and Dr. Langley’s husband in the lounge. They’re playing with that confounded skeleton! She didn’t eat much breakfast, but I don’t think she remembers her bad dream. Max said you were stressing about her.”
“Not really stressing, Nanny,” Carrie replied quietly. “I just don’t want her to believe her mommy is at death’s door! She was so scared, poor baby!”
“Well, she seems fine now.” She paused, then added, “I told her I’d bring her up to you after breakfast, but then Max said you were coming down. Are you feeling any better, dear?”
Carrie grimaced. “Still weak - and my head aches, but I’m okay.”
“I’ll make sure she lies down after about an hour, Nanny,” Brad said.
“You look a bit pale, too,” Nanny replied, eyeing him critically.
He grinned, rather sheepishly. “Nothing wrong with me. Max checked!”
He pushed the wheelchair to the lounge, and they waited at the door, watching Sarah as she bent over the life-size plastic skeleton which was lying face-down on the floor. Max was on his knees beside her showing her how the pieces of the vertebrae slotted into each other, forming the backbone. She clapped her little hands as the bones clicked into place, and as she did, she caught sight of her parents and squealed in delight!
“Mommy!” She ran to the wheelchair, and Carrie bent forward to try to lift her, but before she could do that, Brad scooped her up and sat her on her mother’s lap, saying, “Careful sweetie!”
He kissed his daughter on the top of her head. “Good morning. Are you having fun?”
Sarah hugged her mother and showed her the stethoscope hanging round her neck. “I listen your heart,” she announced in her shrill, excited little voice. “Grandpa Max show me!”
Brad pushed the chair further into the lounge and put out his hand to help the doctor up.
Max slowly got to his feet, groaning a little. “I think I’m getting too old for this,” he joked.
Neil shook Brad’s hand. “Good morning. We’ve been having a game to see how many of the bones I can remember. Did quite well. I think. But your little girl is brilliant for her age!”
Brad grinned. “I know! She’s a clever little madam!” He glanced at Sarah, the stethoscope in her ears, while Carrie sat meekly as the child attempted to listen to her heartbeat, and the doctor looked fondly on. “She’s already decided she’s going to be a doctor! And I think Max is loving the idea! He teaches her whenever he can!”
Max laughed. “She has a great memory. Watch this!” He caught Sarah’s attention and pointed to the vertebrae on the skeleton. “Tell Daddy what this is, Sarah?”
The child looked as Max pointed to the backbone, and then at Brad. “That called the spine. You got broken one, Daddy! You got ouchie? Grandpa Max fix it!”
“No, sweetie,” Brad replied with a laugh. “No ouchie now. But you are such a clever girl.” He lifted her from Carrie’s lap, making her giggle as he gave her a big hug. But his eyes met Carrie’s and his smile faded. “You ok, sweetheart?”
She tried to smile, but it ended in a painful grimace. “I - I just - feel a bit - strange. My head feels - heavy.”
“You need to lie down!” Max said immediately.
“Mommy sore?” Sarah’s eyes were wide and she wriggled in Brad’s arms. “I hurt Mommy!”
“I’m fine, Sarah,” Carrie mumbled, then promptly burst into tears.
Brad put Sarah down and bent over his wife, taking her hands in his. “It’s ok, my darling. I’ll take you back to bed.”
“Nooo!” she cried. “Please! I just want to lie down. I don’t want to go back upstairs. Please Brad!”
“Ok, ok, don’t get upset darling. Let me put you on the couch!”
“You will do no such thing!” Max said sharply, moving forward. “She’ll get even more upset if you try to lift her. I’ll do it. Come, my angel.”
Neil slipped out of the room as Max lifted Carrie gently and carried her to one of the couches.
Brad put a cushion under her head, saying rather sulkily, “I could have lifted you. My back is fine!”
Sarah stood next to the couch, a frown of concern on her little face. “I make you sore, Mommy.”
Carrie reached out her hand, and Sarah slipped hers into it. “I hurt you, Mommy?” she repeated.
“No, no my poppet,” Carrie muttered. “It wasn’t you. Mommy is just tired.” She looked to Brad for help to explain to the child, but Sarah’s face was already puckered, her lip quivering as she started to cry. Brad pulled her into his arms.
“Hey, sweetie. Don’t cry. What’s the matter? Mommy isn’t hurt.”
The child sobbed. “You give me back if I hurt Mommy! I stay here with you!”
Brad pulled a face, frowning in confusion. “Of course, you will stay here. I told you you’re not going back to Granddad. Don’t cry, Sarah!”
Sarah raised her chin and looked into Brad’s face through her tears. “You not give me away?”
“Give you away? My baby, I don’t understand what you’re asking me. No one is taking you away. You only stayed with Granddad and Granny Irene while I was with Mommy in the clinic. She’s home now, and I’m here too, so you don’t have to go back there.”
“No, Daddy,” she wailed, as if she could not make him understand. She sniffed. “Not to Granddad! You send me away to my other mommy! ”