Brad was breathing heavily when he entered his bedroom and he turned the key in the lock and leant back on the door. His eyes automatically went to the framed photograph of his beloved Carrie on the bedside table at his side of the queen-size bed. He groaned as he stepped towards the bed and fell on his knees at its side.
“Please, Lord. Please don’t take her from me. Please give her back to me. Help her, Father, please!” he prayed, tears rolling down his face.
He stayed on his knees for a long time, sobbing into the comforter on the bed. He cried out to the God who had always been there for him, his God whom he hoped would still listen to him. He pleaded for help for Carrie, that she wouldn’t have pain, that God would lay His Healing Hands on her and make her whole again.
When he finally dragged himself to his feet, he stumbled into the bathroom to shower and shave, and brushed his teeth. He scowled at his reflection in the cabinet mirror. His eyes were red and swollen with both his crying and tiredness, and he didn’t want his family to see him like this. But what could he do? They were expecting him to join them for lunch!
He had been at the clinic since the paramedics had rushed his wife in on Wednesday afternoon. Her little Golf had been hit on the left side, sending it into a spin, and she had crashed into one of the old oak trees that lined the road. The tree fared better than either the car, or Carrie! The impact had knocked her unconscious, bleeding profusely from massive gashes on her scalp, caused both by the glass from the shattered windscreen and the metal body of her car. She had needed immediate surgery to stem the flow, and prevent brain haemorrhage. Her left hip and thigh had been badly bruised, but mercifully there were no other injuries.
When she came out of surgery, Brad had refused to leave her bedside, except for when he had been ordered out by the nurses or Dr Langley. If he had needed to relieve himself, he had only left her for minutes at a time. He had dozed on and off in the chair beside the bed, ignoring the recliner that had been sent in. He had hardly eaten, even though his chef had sent over some of his favourite meals. No one was able to tell him if and when she would regain consciousness. He had ordered her favourite music to be played continuously, held her hand and spoke softly to her. He even read to her from the book that he had written specially for her, a love story. Until today there had been no sign of response.
Brad dressed and was on his way downstairs when Max came in from the clinic. The doctor eyed him critically as he reached the bottom step, but merely shook his head at Brad’s unasked question. “She’s still sleeping. You need to get some sleep too! Pain?”
Brad shrugged and shook his head. “It doesn’t matter! I can manage my pain. I’d take all Carrie’s pain too, if I could! I can’t lose her, Max!”
“Stop saying that!” Max chided. “We’re not going to lose her! But you do realise that her recovery could take a very long time, don’t you? Even Dr Langley is not sure how long!”
“I don’t care how long it takes!” Brad said stubbornly. “I’ll help her, however long it is. Whatever she needs - or wants - she’ll have!”
At the lunch table, Brad took his usual place at the head, and tried to smile at the twins, make things as normal as possible. ” Hi, are you boys okay? What have you been up to?”
“We’re fine,” Kyle said, glancing at his twin, knowing that the question had been purely rhetorical. “Are you all right, Brad? Are you going back to the clinic?”
“Not right now,” he replied with a scowl. “It’s your brother’s clinic and he said I’m in the way!” He glanced at the empty seats at the table. “Where’s everyone?”
"I’m here,” Ian said as he walked into the dining room and took his seat. “Everybody’s at the fete, I think.”
“Isn’t it a school thing?” Nanny asked. “Aren’t you supposed to be there?”
Ian grinned. “Nope, I opted out! Told Mr Phillips I had other commitments. I’m only part-time so it doesn’t matter! In any case, he knows we have a family crisis at the moment.”
Max watched Brad as he silently pushed his food around the plate with his fork, and he sighed. “You won’t do Carrie any good by starving yourself and making yourself ill, you know! And Mark said I had to make sure you ate lunch and slept before he’ll let you back in the clinic! The last thing we need is to have to admit you there, too, with low blood sugar symptoms!”
“I’m not starving myself,” Brad muttered. “I’m just too worried about my wife to eat!”
“Force yourself, then!” Max’s voice was stern. “We’re all worried about her, Brad, but you have to keep your strength up! She’s going to need a lot of help. Eat your lunch!”
Nanny glowered at her husband. “Don’t be so harsh, Max!” Then she spoke gently to Brad, as if he was still a little boy. “Just try to eat a little, dear. Carrie wouldn’t want you to be ill. Irene phoned earlier and told me that Sarah keeps asking for her daddy.”
“I’ll go and fetch her,” Brad said, rather absent-mindedly.
Ian lifted his head quickly. “No, you won’t,” he said. “I’ll go. You have to sleep after lunch. You still look exhausted and Sarah doesn’t need to have both her parents ill! I’ll bring her to you when you’ve slept.”
Brad sighed, but he was too weary to argue. He put a forkful of the pasta dish into his mouth and swallowed without even tasting it. He actually finished his lunch, but he was too wrapped up in his own thoughts to notice that he was eating. He didn’t speak again, or even hear any of the conversation around him. In fact, when he automatically put his knife and fork down neatly on his plate, he blinked in surprise that he had eaten at all.
He stifled a yawn and ran his hand over his eyes. The doctor eyed him steadily.
“You need to go and lie down on your bed,” he told him. “Do you have pain? I’ll wake you if there’s any change in Carrie’s condition.”
“I’ll just lie on a couch somewhere.” Brad said, ignoring the question about his pain. He always had pain. That was just normal. “Mark can’t keep me out of the clinic at visiting hour, surely?”
Max gave a little smile. “He’s not trying to be mean, you know! He’s worried about you. You’ve hardly moved from her side since the surgery. You need to rest, Brad.”
“I need to be with her.”
“She’s not going to recover any quicker if you’re there or not!” the doctor said sharply. “Be sensible! Go and sleep. I’ll wake you immediately if there’s any change, I promise.”
Brad really thought he would not be able to fall asleep, however tired he was. The gnawing ache in his lower back had become progressively worse. There had been some sharp spasms of pain while he was sitting at Carrie’s bedside in the clinic. He knew he should ask Max for the injection that would offer relief. But sometimes that relief brought drowsiness too, and he needed to be wide awake and alert if Carrie came out of the coma again.
He lay down on a couch in the music room, a cushion under his shoulders, and tried to breathe into the pain as Carrie had taught him long ago. He closed his eyes and willed his body to relax.
The little voice woke him from his slumber with a start, and he looked into the wide blue eyes of his three-year-old daughter. He groaned reluctantly, wincing as he felt the sharp pain as he tried to sit up.
“Daddy got ouchie! I get Grandpa Max!” Sarah said.
Brad sat up quickly. “No, Sweetie, I’m okay,” he called, but she was already running out into the hall, dodging Ian as he was just entering.
His brother laughed as he came in. “And where’s that little princess off to?” he asked.
“Fetching Max, apparently,” Brad replied, groaning again. “I’ll swear that little girl of mine will be a nurse like her mom, one day. She’s always so quick to spot my pain!”
Ian grinned, eyeing Brad carefully. “Well, you do still look pretty awful! She’s seen Max give you an injection to stop the pain! She’s a clever little madam!”
Brad tried to stand up, but he sank back down onto the couch, flinching in pain. “Ow! Maybe Sarah knows better than me what I need!” He passed a hand over his eyes. “Hell, I’m more tired now than I was before I slept! But I need to get back to Carrie!”
“Why? They’ll let you know when she wakes up! There’s nothing you can do for her until she does!”
“I want to be with her!” he replied irritably. “If your brother will let me back there! What time is it?”
Ian glanced at his watch. “Almost four-fifteen. Tea’s late!”
“What?!!” Brad was aghast. “I even missed visiting hour? Why didn’t someone wake me? Mark hasn’t called, has he?”
“Not that I know. I went to fetch Sarah. Took her for an ice cream while you slept! We’ve just got back!”
At that moment, Sarah came back into the music room, Max’s medical bag over one shoulder, while she pulled the doctor along with her other hand.
Max was laughing, but his expression changed when he saw Brad, and he glowered. “Why is it that your little girl needs to tell me her daddy’s got an ‘ouchie’, and you don’t bother to tell me yourself?”
Brad frowned. “It’s only just started,” he lied.
Max took the medical bag from Sarah, and she pushed herself into Brad’s arms, holding onto him tightly.
“I hold you, - like Mommy,” she said. “It won’t hurt, Daddy.”
Brad gave a tired smile, wrapping his arms around his daughter. “I know, my baby girl. You’ll look after me, just like your Mommy does.”
Max lifted Brad’s T-shirt and ran his fingers along his spine. Brad stiffened slightly as the needle penetrated the skin between the vertebrae. He closed his eyes and tried not to flinch as he felt the initial burning sensation, but it was only a few seconds before the pain receded and he relaxed in relief, dropping a kiss on the top of Sarah’s head.
She smiled up at him. “Daddy all better now?”
He nodded gravely. “I am. Thank you, sweetheart.” He glanced up at Max. “Any change?”
The doctor finished putting away his equipment before he answered. “She’s opened her eyes a couple of times, apparently, but she isn’t fully awake. You can go back after tea - for an hour. No longer!” He winked at Sarah. “Your daddy looks very tired, doesn’t he?”
The child’s forehead puckered a little as she looked up into Brad’s face. “Nap time, Daddy!”
“I just had a nap!” he said, lifting her onto his lap. “And you need to tell me what you did at Grandad’s house! Did you miss me?”
“’Course!” she giggled, leaning against him. “Granny Irene make popcorn. We make Nanny’s cookies! I go see Mommy? ”
Ian crouched down in front of her. “I told you, princess. Mommy needs to sleep to make her better, and children aren’t allowed in the wards. We’re going to give her a surprise when she comes home, remember?”
Sarah smiled, and squirmed on Brad’s lap excitedly. “Oh, yes! I make picture! I go get it!” She wriggled down and ran out of the room before anyone stopped her.
Ian laughed as he stood upright. “Does she never walk anywhere? Even the twins say they have a hard time keeping up with her!”
Brad swayed a little as he got to his feet and Max caught him automatically. “Hey! You okay?”
“I’m fine,” he replied. “A bit dizzy for a minute! I need to use the bathroom.”
“I’ll help you. I need to check your blood sugar. Can’t have you being ill, too.”
“I ate lunch - I think!” Brad said quietly as the doctor helped him to the bathroom. “My sugar levels are fine! I’m just tired, and worried. I need my wife to be well again.”
“As we all do.” Max replied. “But you also need to be here for your daughter and the rest of the family. Carrie is in good hands, and you can’t help her by sitting moping and being negative. You hardly left her side from the moment she was brought in. I can give you something to help you sleep, if you like.”
“I did sleep! I even missed visiting hour!”
“Which was a good thing. She hasn’t woken, and even when she does, we’re not sure what her mental condition will be. You need to be rested and ready.”
Brad looked at his doctor with narrowed eyes. “You think she might not know us? I can’t believe that, Max. I won’t believe it!”
“None of us want to believe it, Brad. But the possibility is there! Dr. Langley isn’t even sure that she managed to prevent a stroke. Obviously, she’s hopeful, but there’s no guarantee.”
“Carrie looked at me when she woke up. She knew me! I’m sure of it.”
Max frowned but nodded. “Hmm. I thought so too. I just don’t want you to get your hopes up too high. She keeps slipping between actual coma and natural sleep, but it’s normal after trauma to the head. It could be hours before we have the results of the new tests. And when she does wake, we need to do more.”
“You still have the music playing?”
“We do. All her favourites like you suggested. But it doesn’t seem to be making much difference.”
Brad said nothing further until he’d finished in the bathroom. Carrie was as fond of the classics as he was, although she had her absolute favourites. He had hoped that she would be able to hear the music he had asked Christopher to arrange on a CD disk especially for her, to be played continually, hoping that it might bring her out of the coma. But there had been no outward response, even though the monitor had told the medical staff that her brain was active.
Sarah met him as they emerged from the bathroom and thrust a rather grubby page torn from a colouring book into his hands.
“Look, Daddy. I make Mommy picture. Uncle Ian help me!”
It was a horse! Typical of Ian to have chosen a picture of a horse, Brad thought! Though he had never seen any of the horses in the equestrian centre as bright and colourful as this one! There were splashes of purple, red, green and orange all over its body, and its head was blue, but for a three-year-old she had surprisingly kept the colours within the lines. A row of squiggly plus signs, which Brad presumed were kisses, ran along the bottom of the page and Ian had guided her hand and helped her write I LOVE YOU MOMMY just above them.
“My darling, it’s beautiful!” Brad said, handing it to Max to look at. “Mommy will love it.”
Max gave a low whistle. “Wow, Sarah. You’re going to be an artist!”
The child laughed delightedly. “No, Grandpa. I going be doctor - like you!”
“Hmm.” Brad mumbled. “I knew it was something medical.” He winked at his little daughter. “You’re such a clever girl. You can be anything you want!”
“I make mommy better!” Sarah announced. She took the picture out of Max’s hand and studied it for a moment, then she looked up at them as if suddenly remembering something.
“Nanny bring tea. And cookies for you, Daddy!” She took Brad’s hand and led him into the lounge.
Ian was already helping himself to some of the eats the kitchen staff had provided. He grinned at Sarah. “Come, have your milk and some cake, sweetie, then I’ll take you down to the fete for an hour while daddy goes to see mommy.”
“I might take a walk down to the fete later,” Brad said softly. “I need to clear my head!”
Nanny raised her eyebrows, handing him his coffee. “You’ll be okay?”
He gave a slight smile. “I’m a big boy, now. Do I really look that bad?”
“You look tired,” Max put in. “Pain gone?”
Brad shrugged. “No pain at all, now. And I slept too. I’m fine! I need the exercise - and God and I need to have a serious chat!”
“Just be careful then,” Nanny said. “When you pray as you walk, you tend to not watch where you’re going! And you ignore anyone you meet! It’s just fortunate that everyone knows that if you don’t even see them it’s because you’re praying!”
“Hmm.” Ian gave a short laugh. “I ought to try that excuse when I see people I don’t want to talk to!”
“To whom you don’t want to talk.” Brad muttered automatically. He had a habit of correcting sentences that ended in a preposition. Then he frowned. “Am I rude? I really try not to be!′
“You are never rude on purpose,” Nanny told him. “Everyone understands how strong your faith is - and they all know you’re living a miracle life, so they’ll never question it.“′
For a moment Brad was silent, watching Sarah munching on a cream-filled brandy snap and making a mess on her pink T-shirt. Then he lowered his head and muttered, “I think my faith is failing. God’s not helping my wife!”
“You don’t know that!” Max said sternly. “We have one of the best neuro-surgeons in the country at the clinic right now when she would have been at a conference in New Zealand! You don’t think God had a hand in getting the conference postponed until next month? Co-incidence that she’s here just when we need her? This is no time for you, of all people, to lose faith!”
Ian scowled. “You’ve always taught us that we have to praise Him even if He doesn’t seem to answer our prayers. Even when things go wrong! He’s helping Carrie, even if you can’t believe it right now!”
Brad swallowed back a hard lump in his throat but remained silent until Nanny handed him a plate with a selection of his favourite cakes. He took it from her mechanically, muttering an instinctive, “thank you.” But he didn’t eat. He put the plate on the table next to him and sipped at the hot coffee instead.
Sarah wiped her hands on her T-shirt and smiled at him. “Daddy like cake,” she said.
He gave a little smile. “I do, yes. But I’m not hungry now. Do you want to eat it?”
Sarah considered for a moment, then shook her head. “I full. I go with Uncle Ian. Daddy give Mommy picture?”
“I will. She’ll love it.”
Nanny smiled at the child. “Before you go anywhere, young lady, you let me change your clothes. Uncle Ian doesn’t want a messy child with him.” She gave Brad a disapproving glance, and told him, “Eat your cake!” as if she was talking to a petulant child.
He blinked in surprise, then he laughed. “Okay, Nanny. I’ll be good. And I won’t mess on my clothes!”
She nodded, grinning. “At last, an unforced smile! Wonders! You’ve eaten, you’ve slept, and now you’ve laughed! Things are looking much better already!′
Ian also laughed, and winked. “You smell better, too!”