She saw the tear as it rolled down his cheek, and she turned her head away as he brushed it away impatiently. The silence between them grew, although she could hear her own heart thumping. She felt his embarrassment, his longing to apologise, yet she understood his fear that she would refuse to accept it. She wanted to reach out to him, but she was held back by her own hurt.
Her head ached incessantly now and she knew her blood pressure would be raised too. A glance at the wall clock told her that it would not be long before the nurses from the clinic came in to change her dressings. She fumbled with the wheels on the chair as she tried to turn it, and he immediately helped her, but he didn’t speak. He pushed her back into the lounge, and left her, walking straight to his study without a word, and he didn’t look back at her as he closed the door very quietly behind him.
Carrie sat alone in the lounge, her mind in turmoil, and her heart still hammering painfully in her chest. When Max came into the lounge, he seemed concerned to find his niece staring into space, her face almost as pale as Brad’s was.
“Carrie? Where’s Brad? Are you ok?”
She swallowed. “He’s in there.” She indicated the study. ” My head hurts, but I’m ok. Did you - did you phone the surgeon?”
Max scowled. “I spoke to Jim. He can only come through on Friday. He said he wants a scan done. Now I just have to persuade that husband of yours to have the scan.” A pause, then, “Have you two made up?”
She shook her head slowly. “He hasn’t said a word! And - and I’m still irritated! I’m not ill, Uncle Max! I don’t want to be treated as if I’m too delicate to hear that he’s having these spasms again! I’m his wife, for goodness sake!”
“And I’m his physician, Carrie, but he didn’t tell me either!” he replied gently, adding, “It’s always been hard for Brad to admit when he has pain that is too much for him. He knows that there’s nothing to alleviate it completely, and you should know that any sign of not being able to cope, for him is a no-no. He’s too used to being in control, hiding the fact that he has pain. Pain is a weakness as far as he’s concerned! Be kind. Show him that you understand.”
For a moment she was silent, then she muttered, “It hurts, Uncle Max. It hurts that he doesn’t trust me enough to tell me about his pain.′
“He trusts you with his life, Carrie! He doesn’t want to cause you any anxiety while you’re recovering from a serious accident!”
“He causes me more anxiety by keeping silent about it!” she snapped. “I’m too angry with him to understand! He expects that I’ll let him help me, but he won’t let me help him!”
Max frowned. “And how, may I ask, could you help him right now? You haven’t enough strength at present to massage his pain away. Be reasonable, angel. Calm down and think about it. Be angry, if you like, but even before that anger fades, remember that he loves you more than life itself.”
“As I love him! I think - I think I could give him a massage, - well, at least, I could try - if he asked me. But he won’t. He’s too proud to ask for my help! But I still need his!”
The tears fell again, and Max shook his head very slowly. “Carrie, you knew before you married Brad, that he was proud and stubborn. Don’t let your anger at him come between you now. He might be one of the richest men in England, but that means nothing to him without you, you know that. You know your anger will fade - today or tomorrow or even the day after. But your love for him won’t!”
She sniffed and blew her nose on the tissues he had given her earlier. “Brad has never cared how rich he is,” she muttered. “His wealth means nothing to him! And I do love him Uncle Max. But I’m just so angry with him right now. He promised he'd never lie about his pain to me. But he always does!”
“So, be angry! Let him stew for a while, if you must. Carrie, I know you think you’re not ill, but you are stressed. Every little thing that happens becomes a big thing. As a psychologist, you know how stress works!”
He gave her a hug, whispering, “It’ll blow over. Try to relax, darling.”
Brad did not emerge from the study until dinner time, and even then, he sat at the table with such a black look on his face that no one dared speak to him, even little Sarah. When he was certain that Carrie was managing to eat by herself, he kept his eyes on his plate and spoke to no one. He ate none of his own meal, merely pushing the food around on his plate, and even left his dessert untouched. Before anyone else had finished the meal, he muttered a quick “excuse me” and left the table.
They heard the front door close quietly, and a few seconds afterwards they heard his Mercedes start up. All eyes turned to Carrie, and she bit her lip, and shrugged.
“Don’t ask!” she muttered. She looked at June and Neil. “I apologise for my husband’s rudeness. He - just needs to cool off. We - we’re - rather peeved with one another at the moment!”
June nodded. “I noticed the spike in your blood pressure! Don’t upset yourself, Carrie. Even a marriage as strong as yours needs to have a few hiccups sometimes. It's what keeps it interesting!”
Ian swallowed the last mouthful of his dessert and said testily, “I would have thought he would have more concern for your well-being at this time, than to go off sulking! I love my brother to bits but sometimes I think I’d like to punch him!”
“He’d punch you back - hard,” Christopher said with a grin. “And anyway, you wouldn’t dare!”
“Oh, wouldn’t I? I’m the one with the black belt, remember!”
“But you’d still think twice before taking Brad on, I’m sure,” Mark put in with a wry grin. “That fist of his is a dangerous weapon!”
“Now boys,” Nanny said quickly. “No one is going to punch anyone so let’s stop this nonsense!”
Carrie cleared her throat. “Brad hasn’t gone off sulking! He’s just embarrassed. I’m the one who’s angry, not him. It isn’t his fault!” She met her uncle’s eyes, and added, “It’ll blow over!”
Max laughed. “Even when you’re this hurt or angry, my angel, you still find it so easy to defend him, don’t you? You are as obsessed with him as he is with you!”
“All I’m saying,” Ian stated heatedly, “is that he shouldn’t go upsetting Carrie now when she’s recovering from such a terrible accident!”
“Thank you, Ian,” Carrie replied with a small smile. “But I doubt that your brother even knows why I’m upset. He hasn’t said one word to me since I exploded earlier. I think I rather over-reacted and may have said some things that I’d probably regret, if I could remember what they were. He’s hurting now, too! That’s why he’s gone off somewhere.”
“Hmph! So long as he doesn’t come back in an ambulance!”
The family knew to what he was referring, a freak accident, three years ago, that had left Brad in a coma for four days. But Neil raised his head quickly.
“Goodness! Will he be ok?”
Max frowned, but he said, “He’s probably gone to the lake. He’ll be back when he’s over his bad mood. Don’t worry, he’s a good driver.”
“So am I,” Carrie muttered. “Or I thought I was. But I still ended up like this.”
“Daddy cross, Mommy?” Sarah asked softly, her eyes as round as saucers.
Carrie smiled at her. “No, darling. He’s just gone to talk to someone. He’ll be back soon.”
But it was almost midnight before Carrie heard the purr of the Mercedes' engine in the driveway. June and Nanny had helped her with ablutions and settled her in bed, but she had been unable to sleep and had lain awake, waiting. The house was very quiet now, and it seemed an interminably long time before she heard the bedroom door open softly.
She watched him as he entered the darkened room. There was only the faint light from the garden outside and he bumped into the dressing-table stool as he made his way to the bathroom. She heard the mild curse as he tripped, and she put out her hand to switch on the lamp at her side of the bed. He glanced at her, but said nothing, closing the bathroom door behind him.
Carrie lay awake, waiting for him to finish his shower. He was quick, and when he came through, he sat on the side of the bed in the towelling bathrobe, his head down, not looking at her. She waited for him to speak, and when he didn’t, she gave a little sigh.
“Get into bed, Brad. I want to switch off the light now.”
He opened his mouth to say something, thought better of it, and closed it again. He threw off the robe and slipped into bed, lying stiffly beside her.
She sighed again, switched off the lamp, and the room was once again enveloped in darkness, with only the slight glow from the garden throwing dim shadows on the walls.
“Where did you go?” she asked softly, turning on her side towards him and putting her arm over his waist.
He lay rigid for a second, then he put his hand tentatively on her arm, stroking the skin with his thumb. His heart was thumping painfully, and he had to swallow a few times before he could answer her.
“The lake,” he whispered. “Are you - are you ok?”
“I will be, when you’ve kissed me goodnight,” she said gently. “And you?”
He groaned, and suddenly turned towards her, crushing her to his naked body. “Oh God, I’m such a bastard, aren’t I? I’m so sorry, Carrie! I didn’t want you to worry about my pain! And I just made it worse, didn’t I? I let you down! I don’t know what to do to make it better. Can you ever forgive me?” And he was suddenly sobbing like a baby, and in between sobs, he pleaded, begged her forgiveness.
Carrie held him and listened, and waited until the storm of tears had died down, before she said gently, “We’ve been through this before, Brad! You promised that you would never lie to me about your pain. And yet you have done just that, - in fact, numerous times.”
“I know! I know,” he sniffed. “Carrie! I tried not to stress you, and only ended up causing you even more stress! You have every right to be angry with me. I don’t know how to make you understand!”
“Oh, I understand,” she whispered. “I understand your pride even more than you do! But I’m your wife - and a nurse! I need to know when you have spasms of pain. I don’t care if you hide it from the whole world, Brad, but not from me! I realise that you didn’t want to worry me at this time, but I’m not an invalid! I might have been able to help you.”
He remained silent, trembling with emotion, and she let her fingers slide onto his back and along his spine. He didn’t flinch.
“Did you have any sharp spasms of pain while you were out?” she asked.
She noticed the hesitation before he said, “Once. That’s why I’m so late. I - I drove to the lake and just sat there, trying to pray. I had to get away. You were so furious, so disappointed in me, and - and I couldn’t even apologise! I was just about to come back when the throbbing started and - and I knew I’d have to wait until it was over before I attempted to drive again.” He gulped. “I’m sorry.”
Her forehead puckered. “You can identify when these pains are going to start?”
“They mostly start with a sort of throbbing, then the pain comes, sometimes in short spasms, but - not always.”
“Have you told Uncle Max about the throbbing?”
“No. He knows about the spasms though! I told him after we got back from - from our walk this afternoon. I’m such a bloody idiot - and all those other names you called me.”
She smiled. “If I could have thought of more, I think I’d have called you them too!” But her arms tightened around him slightly. After a moment, she said, “Please tell him, Brad! Professor Dennison wants you to have a scan. Don’t be stubborn about it, please. Maybe they can find out what it is that’s causing these pains again.”
“I’m not having another op!” he said immediately.
“A scan is not an operation. Don’t expect the worst!”
“You don’t understand, Carrie! No one does! If I have another op, I’ll spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. I know that for a fact!”
“How can you know that?”
He shuddered. “I just know! I’m not ready to give this up. Even with the pain! Sarah needs a daddy that can play with her. You need a husband who can make love to you!”
“You’re talking as if it’s the end of everything! Brad, all Professor Dennison wants is a scan to see what’s going on. He told you last time that he won’t operate again. Relax now. You’re getting yourself wound up for nothing.”
Brad took a deep breath, shuddering again as he expelled it. “I’m sorry, love. I’m keeping you awake now, too. Go to sleep.”
“Not without my kiss!”
His arms tightened around her, and he groaned, “I don’t deserve you.” But his mouth found hers in a soft, passionate kiss.
“I love you, Carrie,” he whispered against her mouth. “Please, promise me you’ll forgive me when I’m such a fool again.”
She laughed softly and snuggled against him. “Always!”