Dinner was served half an hour earlier than usual as evening visiting at the clinic was at seven o’clock and restricted to close family only. Brad had eaten reasonably well, and he rose from the table before everyone else had finished.
“Will you all please excuse me? I need to get to Carrie.”
“I come to Mommy!” Sarah announced, slipping out of her chair before Nanny could catch her.
“No, Sarah!” Brad caught her by the arm. “Daddy has to go by himself! And you haven’t had your pudding yet.” He tried to sit her back at the table but she wriggled free, flinging herself onto the floor, screaming suddenly. He blinked in shock, as did everyone else! Sarah never threw tantrums!
It was Ian who picked her up from the floor, but she squirmed in his arms, crying, “No! I go to mommy!”
“You go,” he said to Brad. “I’ll see to her.” He saw the hesitation, and grinned. “She’ll be okay. Go on.”
Brad stood for another few seconds, feeling uncertain and embarrassed, his hands clenched at his sides. Sarah had never acted this way before, and he blamed himself for her insecurity now. But he could not let this outburst go unpunished.
“Sarah! Stop that right now!” His voice was harsh. But she screamed even louder!
Mark got to his feet and went around the table, taking the screaming and flinging child from Ian.
“Go, Brad! I’ll deal with this! Your wife is waiting.”
After another few seconds, and urging from the clan at the table, Brad turned away, walking from the dining room. He could hear Sarah’s sobs even as he went out of the front door, and it cut him to the heart. But he didn’t stop, telling himself that she had to learn that she wouldn’t get her own way just for a few tears, and especially not for a full-scale tantrum!
There were two nurses in the private ward with Carrie when he pushed open the door. Both of them gave him a bright smile, and the one who had been taking Carrie’s blood pressure said to her, “Here’s your husband now. I told you he’d be here soon.”
The top of the bed had been raised and Carrie was propped up with pillows now. The bandages fitted like a cap around her head but they had been changed and there was no sign of the wires that had hooked her up to the monitor. The IV unit had been moved away freeing her hand, but as she held it out it shook a little, and fell back onto the bed, as if she hadn’t the strength to hold it up.
As soon as the nurses had gone Brad took her into his arms and kissed her very gently, smiling into her pale face.
“My darling, as beautiful as ever. Is there pain, my love?”
Her smile was weak. So was her voice. “Not much. My head just feels heavy.” Her eyes scanned his face, “Are you okay, Brad? You’re not ill?”
“I’m fine.,” he assured her. “Everyone sends their love. You’ll probably be bombarded with visitors tomorrow.”
“I want to come home,” she reminded him. ”Mark said - maybe. They want to do tests. Did they tell you what’s wrong with my brain?”
“There’s nothing wrong with your brain!”
She gave a little sigh. “I still can’t remember being in the car. And I’m so tired.” She put her hand in his. “I need you close to me. And I need my baby girl!”
He bit his lip. “Sarah is fine! You need to get better. You lost a lot of blood. That must be why you’re so weak.”
She was silent for a while, scanning his face again. Then she muttered, “I can’t remember, Brad. Tell me again what happened!”
He shuddered, but he went over the whole thing again, slowly and sensitively, from the time when she left to take Sarah to stay with Edmund and Irene. He kept hold of her hand, watching her face carefully, but there was nothing but utter confusion and disbelief, and she was silent for a few seconds when he concluded the account.
After a moment, she mumbled, “It all seems so unreal! Will I ever remember it? The last thing I do remember was you wanting to finish your manuscript. Was that why I was taking Sarah to Edmund?”
Brad groaned. “Oh, God! Yes! She was nagging me to play the piano and I told her she was irritating me! Then her grandfather phoned and asked if they could have her for a couple of hours. I - I was only too glad to - to be free of her!”
It was as if he’d only just remembered that incident himself! Poor little Sarah! She had kept on tapping at the study door and he had yelled at her! He had been pleased when Edmund had wanted to take her, and instead of waiting for them to come and fetch her, Carrie had said she would drop her off to give Brad a chance to get some work done on his manuscript. That had been the last time he had seen the child until today! And the last time she’d seen her mother, too!
He groaned again at the recollection of her little voice in the car earlier.
“Daddy cross!” and “I want Mommy!” And now her tantrum! What was the poor child thinking? That she was a nuisance and they didn’t want her anymore?
Carrie had closed her eyes and her brow was puckered as if she was in pain, and Brad gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “What is it, love? Shall I call the nurse?”
She swallowed as she looked at him. “No, I’m just - bewildered! Why can’t I remember?” Tears filled her eyes. “I’m scared, Brad. I’m so scared!”
He took her carefully into his arms. “Don’t get upset, darling. It doesn’t matter whether you remember. Maybe it’s even good that you don’t!”
“I feel so weak,” she cried, her cheek against his chest. “I can’t even hug you.”
“But I can hold you,” he said soothingly. “I love you, Carrie. You just need to rest and get well again.”
He was terrified that he would hurt her, but he kept her in his arms until he felt the tension leave her as the heart-breaking sobs lessened. Then he gently sat her back against the pillows and forced a smile to his face. He mopped at her tears with his clean handkerchief.
“I’ll get thrown out if the nurses think I’m upsetting you,” he muttered. “And if Mark hears about it, he’ll never let me in here again!”
As if on cue, the ward door was pushed open, and Mark sauntered in, saying brightly, “Feel like another visitor?”
The pyjama clad child in his arms squealed, “Mommy!”
Mark laughed as he cautiously put Sarah down on the bed. “Careful now, remember what we talked about! No bouncing! Mommy is very sore!”
Brad stared, open-mouthed, at his brother, and Mark chuckled again. “I know I’m breaking every rule in the book, but hey, this is my clinic! And Sarah knows she can only stay a minute!”
The little girl was already curled up against Carrie, her blue eyes brimming over with happy tears, her little hands reaching up to touch her mother’s face, oh so gently.
Carrie’s arm automatically slid around her, and she bent her head slightly to kiss the child’s cheek weakly. “Hello, my baby! My beautiful girl!”
“Mommy sick.” Sarah announced, but she smiled through the tears. “Mark say I come see you!′
"Uncle Mark,” Brad corrected. “Careful, Sarah!”
“I careful.” Sarah mumbled, leaning against Carrie. She looked solemnly at Brad for a few seconds, then said, “I not hurt my mommy.” There was a slight emphasis on ‘my’ and Brad swallowed hard.
“I know, sweetie. But Mommy might have pain - ouchie - if you move.”
“There’s no pain,” Carrie said quickly. “I’m just tired.” She stroked Sarah’s hair. “Are you being a good girl?”
The child gave a quick nod, but her eyes never left Brad’s. He smiled, and for her benefit, he told Carrie, “Sarah has been visiting her Granddad. He said she was as good as gold!”
Mark had picked up the folder from the trolley at the foot of the bed, and was paging through it briefly. He frowned at Carrie.
“You didn’t eat dinner? Dr Langley won’t be pleased!”
“I don’t like being fed!” she replied defensively. “I’m not a child!”
He raised his eyebrows. “Would you rather be fed intravenously?”
“I can do it myself!” she muttered peevishly.
He gave a little grin. “Hmm, now you sound like Sarah! Your uncle did warn me that nurses don’t make good patients! But you’ll need help until you’re a bit stronger. Be sensible now, Carrie. Don’t make the nurse’s job harder by trying to be independent.”
“I will eat. I just wasn’t hungry!” she murmured.
“I eat peas at Granddad’s house!” Sarah said suddenly, and Brad laughed. Even Carrie smiled. They had never managed to get Sarah to eat peas.
“Did you, sweetheart? And did you like them?” she asked her.
The child wrinkled her nose. ” Peas are green. Jamie say green yucky!”
Brad gave a mock scowl. “Um - I think I need to have a word with Uncle Jamie! But broccoli is green too! And you eat that!”
Sarah’s face broke into a smile again. “I like broccoli. Daddy like peas!”
Mark laughed. “Hmm. Your Daddy likes chocolate too! So do you! Even the green minty kind! Come, Sarah. Mommy needs to rest now and Nanny wants to put you to bed. Say goodbye!”
Obediently, Sarah gave Carrie a hug, then held out her arms to Brad.
“I sleep Daddy’s bed?”
Carrie met her husband’s eyes over Sarah’s head as he hugged her, and he grimaced. But he said, “Okay. Just until Mommy needs her place back!”
As Mark took his niece in his arms he winked at his brother. “Visiting time is almost over. Time for you to say ‘goodnight’ too! See you back at the house!”
At the door, he looked back at the patient and grinned. “Don’t tell anyone I broke the rules! But this little madam needed to see you!”
Brad mouthed the words, ‘Thank you’, to Mark, and blew his daughter a kiss, returning her little wave, as she was carried out of the ward.
Carrie gave a weak smile when they had gone. “That was nice of Mark to bring her. Children are not allowed in the wards.”
For a moment Brad hesitated, then he shrugged. “I think Sarah is having a hard time adjusting to the fact that her Mommy is ill, and her daddy doesn’t seem to care about her!”
“Oh, Brad! She knows you care about her!” Carrie was astounded. “You love her to bits! Why on earth would she think you don’t care?”
“I didn’t even go myself to fetch her from Edmund’s,” he said quietly. “I’ve been too absorbed with my own misery to think about how this must be affecting Sarah! And even before you took her there, I was irritable with her. God, everyone thinks I don’t care. Why would Sarah be any different?”
“Brad, they all know you care! Please don’t start being negative. Sarah adores you!”
“She had a tantrum because I couldn’t bring her with me. Flung herself on the floor and screamed blue murder! If one of the twins had acted like that when they were her age, I would have walloped them!” He frowned, sighing. “And now she wants to sleep in our bed!”
Carrie smiled faintly. “Are you worried because you have to wear pyjamas?”
His head came up quickly, and he grinned suddenly. “I can hardly sleep naked with my baby girl in my bed, can I? But I do think she needs a bit of attention from her daddy. Even at the fete, it was Ian who spent time with her, not me!”
Carrie reached for his hand again. “There’s always someone to take care of her when we can’t. She knows how much she’s loved.” A pause. “As I do, too.”
Brad lifted her hand and kissed her fingers. “I am obsessive, aren’t I? God, Carrie! I really thought I was going to lose you. I’ve never been so terrified in all my life! I can’t live without you!”
She scowled. “If I didn’t feel so weak right now, I think I’d smack you!” she said calmly. “You do know you’re talking nonsense, don’t you? You can live without me, and would, if you had to.” Her eyes suddenly came to life as she gazed at him, and she added, “But I’m very much alive, so please, just kiss me!”
The bell to end visiting hour rang while he was still kissing her, and he didn’t take his mouth away from hers until the nurse pushed open the ward door.
“Mr Conway - Brad - I’m afraid we have to.....”
“Yes, I know,” he sighed. “I have to leave! At times like this I wonder what possessed me to sign this building over to my brother!”