Adele, Luke’s mother, arrived later than expected as there had been a delay caused by a major traffic accident on the main highway. Roy Clark opened the passenger-side door of the Mercedes, when he parked it behind the limousine, just as Brad came out of the mansion to greet their guest.
“Hi, Brad,” the chauffeur said, helping Adele climb out of the car. “We made it. Helluva pile-up on the road. Couple of dead! But your car doesn’t have a scratch, I promise! We avoided the crash! I think your guest is a bit shaken up though.”
“I’m fine. Not at all shaken!” Adele said, smiling at Brad. “Hello Brad. This young man certainly knows how to handle a vehicle! And so unruffled in a crisis. He kept everyone calm until the police and the ambulances arrived.”
Brad gave her a quick hug. “Sounds like Roy! Always in control. Keeps his cool in emergencies. Just the guy I need around when I lose it!”
Roy grinned. "You don't lose it anymore! Well, not often anyway! And you have Carrie to keep you in check!"
Brad gave a short laugh. "Oh, yes. Carrie won't let me go crazy!"
He turned back to Adele. “Congratulations on your new grandchildren. Saw them earlier. Gorgeous!”
“Thank you. It’s so exciting. So nice of you to offer me accommodation here. And - and Carrie? I believe she’s doing so well?”
“You’re welcome to stay as long as you want to, Adele. You know that! And yes, Carrie’s doing exceptionally well!”
He took the car keys that Roy passed to him. “Thanks Roy. You coming in to join us for lunch?”
“Thanks Brad, but I promised Margie I’d take her shopping before the girls come home from school, if there’s nothing else you need me for?”
Brad grinned again. “Nope! Take the rest of the day off!”
The sarcasm made the chauffeur laugh. “Thanks! I must have the best job in the world! And the best boss!”
“Hmm. Don’t forget that the next time we play chess!”
“Do I ever?” He winked at Adele, moving towards the limousine.
They watched the gleaming white vehicle slowly pull away and Roy gave Brad a mock salute. As they turned to move to the mansion, they both saw Carrie standing at the open doors. Standing! Alone!
Brad inhaled sharply and made a jerking movement towards her, until he saw Max step up to her side, and he let out his breath in relief. For a moment Brad stood still, just looking at her, and the smile on her face made his heart race.
“She is so very beautiful,” he whispered aloud, and Adele turned to look at him.
“Yes. Yes, she is!”
Brad gave a rather embarrassed grin. “Sorry Adele. You’ll get used to my fixation with my wife. I tend to speak my thoughts about her aloud sometimes!”
Adele lowered her eyes. “Lucky woman! How can I ever forgive myself for all those years I spent blaming her for …..” She swallowed as her words trailed off.
Brad frowned. “I’m sure we all have something for which we need to forgive ourselves, Adele! But we have a God who sent His own Son to die for the forgiveness of sins. We have no right to withhold our forgiveness, from others or ourselves!”
He coughed, then laughed. “Oh, gosh! I’m preaching again! That’s another thing I tend to do sometimes! Come inside, Adele. Carrie won’t be able to stand for too much longer!”
Carrie stayed on her feet long enough to greet Adele. Then both Max and Brad insisted that she sit back in the wheelchair. Mark came in from the clinic to join them for lunch, and afterwards he accompanied Adele back so that she could see her tiny grandchildren.
Brad took Carrie out into the garden, pushing the wheelchair along the paved pathways between the flowerbeds. Although now he seemed relaxed, there was a tightness around his jaw that Carrie recognised either as suppressed pain, or some kind of stress or anxiety.
She smiled gently at him when he sat down on the wall of the fountain.
“What’s wrong, Brad? You seem - distracted. Pain?”
He looked deep into her eyes, and a small smile lifted the corners of his lips. “You always know when I’m bothered by something, don’t you?”
“Something you want to talk about? Are you in pain?”
“No more than usual. It’s just….” He grimaced, lowering his eyes. “I don’t know. I can’t seem to get my book finished. It’s not that I don’t know what I need to write to get the plot wound up! It’s more that I - I really don’t feel like writing it!” He sighed. “Does that sound stupid? I’ve got a head full of ideas for other plots, but - but I can’t actually write anything! It’s never been like this before. There have been times when I’ve struggled with even getting a thousand words out, and times when I’ve been too ill or in pain to write, but never that I haven’t actually wanted to write! For God’s sake, I’m a writer! Writing is what I do! But now I just can’t! I seem to have lost the urge! My hands start shaking as soon as I touch the keyboard.”
He looked back at her, and he gave a little smile. “It does sound stupid, doesn’t it? And it really isn’t anything for you to worry about. It isn’t as if I write for a living!”
“But you do love it! Why do you think you can’t write anymore?”
He shrugged. “No idea. The last time I actually wrote anything was the day…” He bit his lip and shuddered. “I was working on it when Mark phoned to say you were in the clinic. Since then I - I haven’t even been able to force myself! I thought at first it was because I was scared that I was going to lose you.”
“Stress? You’ve had a lot to worry about over the last week. And you still need to help me, so you hardly ever leave my side!′
His eyes widened, and he smiled faintly. “And look what happens when I do? You stand by yourself!”
“I didn’t!” she protested. “Uncle Max was there! But I’m getting better, Brad!” She put her hand into his. “You deserve a rest sometimes, you know.”
He didn’t answer, just massaged her fingers gently, and after a moment Carrie said quietly, “Could you dictate? I can type it up for you if you think it’s just the actual typing that you’re avoiding!”
He swallowed. “I don’t even think I have it in me to dictate anything at the moment, but thank you for the offer, love. It’ll come back, I suppose!”
“You need to relax, forget about it for a while. How many words are you looking at?”
“About two thousand would probably do it! It’s only to tie things up! I could have had it done by now if I wasn’t so blasted lazy!”
Carrie’s eyes shone. “Oh Brad! Give yourself a break! It isn’t laziness! It’s just that you’re stressed, - and maybe a bit tired of writing!”
“Did you ever get tired of being a nurse?” The question came out spontaneously and Brad drew in his breath sharply. “Oh Carrie, I’m sorry! Of course, you didn’t! I don’t even know what made me ask that!”
She smiled at him. “You’d be surprised if I told you how many times I wanted to throw in the towel while I was nursing! Some patients are really - difficult! But then I remembered why I wanted to nurse in the first place. And why I loved it! As you love writing!”
He groaned, lowering his head as if ashamed. “I did! I do! Only - I just can’t do it anymore!”
Carrie squeezed his hand. “Relax Brad. Just take a minute to think about something else. I promise you that your urge to write will come back, probably when you least expect it! In the meantime, enjoy your holiday!”
“Holiday? Gosh, we haven’t been on holiday since our trip to Greece last year.” He frowned. “And even then, I spent a helluva lot of that time glued to my laptop! Do you want to go away again?”
“Brad! We don’t need to go away to make it a holiday!” She gave a short laugh. “In any case, my whole existence since I met you has been like a holiday for me!”
“Are you happy, Carrie? Am I a good husband?”
She blinked when she realised that he was being serious. “Goodness. You are being melancholy today! You know very well I’ve never been so happy and you are the best husband in the world! No woman is as loved as I am!” A pause. “What else, Brad? You’re worried about what Jim Dennison’s going to say tomorrow, aren’t you?”
He shuddered, and was silent for a moment. Then he looked her full in the face. “He’s going to say that he needs to operate again. I know it! I’m - I’m going to be a cripple, like Barbara said!”
They sat and stared at one another for a few seconds, then Carrie took a deep breath, dragging her hand out of his, her voice raised in anger. “Rubbish! What on earth is wrong with you today? I refuse to let you talk like that! You have no idea what the surgeon is going to say, and even if he does need to operate, that doesn’t mean you’re not going to be up and about within a few weeks! Don’t you dare start being negative again! I am not going to sit and listen to such nonsense!”
“Carrie - please understand ….” he began, but she shook her head, flinching suddenly, and tears stung her eyes as she felt the pain.
“No! I won’t listen anymore!” she cried through clenched teeth. She clapped her hands over her ears.
Brad shot to his feet, seeing her pain, He bent over her. “Hey, it’s ok! I’m sorry! Just calm down! I don’t want you hurting yourself by getting cross with me. Please, Carrie. Are you ok?”
She sat for a moment with her eyes closed. When she opened them, she gulped, and peeped up at him. “I forgot that I can’t shake my head like that. It - it hurt! Sorry love. I’m ok now!”
“God, I’m such a bastard!” he groaned. “Shall I take you back inside and let Max have a look?”
“No, Brad! I’m fine now. I just don’t want to hear negativity! I know how scared you are about another op, but you seem to be implying that it would be the end of the miracle. Have you never thought that it - could be the start of a new one?”
“I’d be in a wheelchair,” he muttered sullenly. Then he looked deep into her eyes. “But - I - I’d still have you, wouldn’t I?”
She smiled slowly. “Always. And you’d still have your family too! We love you, Brad. But you’re thinking the worst again! Do I have to remind you that you have a faith that can move mountains? Where does God fit in to these negative thoughts of yours?”
He swallowed, closing his eyes for a second. “Oh hell!” He leaned forward to kiss her. ” I’m the biggest idiot ever! Please Carrie. Just hold me! I need your strength again!”