As he stepped into the entrance hall Brad could hear the piano. It was Schubert’s March Militaire, and he knew immediately that Jessica was already back from clearing up at the fete. He was extremely protective of his youngest sister, although she appeared to be more self-confident and positive now that she was a senior in high school. Carrie had done much to allay Jessica’s fears as far as the opposite sex were concerned, and the teenager’s association with Clint Anders over the last two years had helped her realise that not all men outside her own family were cruel and ruthless.
He waited at the door of the music room until the piece was finished, then he applauded as he went in.
“You play so well, princess. Is everything clear at the park already?”
Jessica turned on the piano stool and smiled sweetly at him. “All clean and tidy! But Chris has gone back to help them with the sound equipment. He dropped me off first as he thinks he may be late.” She stood and came towards him. “How’s Carrie?”
“Very weak and tearful, but she’ll be okay. She doesn’t remember the accident, and I think that bothers her a lot. But Mark brought Sarah in for a cuddle, and that was great!”
“Nanny has taken Sarah up to bed, I think.” Jessica said. She frowned. “You still look tired, Brad. Are you sure you’re okay?”
He smiled. “I’m fine, thanks for asking. But I am tired. I think an early night is on the cards for me. And maybe I’ll pop in at the clinic before church tomorrow. If Mark will let me.”
“Why not ask me?”
Brad turned to face his brother as he entered the music room. “Oh, hi! Thanks for bringing Sarah this evening. She needs her mommy.”
Mark nodded, but he scowled. “She needs her daddy, too.”
“I know.” Brad lowered his gaze and bit his lip. “Poor Sarah must think we both abandoned her!“,
“Well, I don’t think it’s as bad as that,” Mark replied. “But she has missed you, I’m sure. Are you joining us for a nightcap?”
“I think I’ll give it a miss, if you don’t mind. I’m actually dead beat.”
“Yes, I can see that. How long did you sleep this afternoon?”
“I dunno. A couple of hours, maybe.”
“Not enough. Go to bed, Brad. Need anything to relax you?”
Brad shook his head. “No thanks. I’m sure I’ll be asleep when my head hits the pillow! Please tell everyone I said goodnight.”
“I’ll do that. And yes, you may pop in at the clinic in the morning. But quite honestly, I doubt that the surgeon will discharge Carrie yet. She’ll need constant supervision and help for quite some time! Of course, we could send you a nurse from the clinic, - but we’ll see what June has to say when the test results are in.”
“Are you working this weekend?” Brad asked. “Might be a good idea if you were the one to tell Carrie, if she can’t come home. You know what I’m like with her. I’m putty in her hands, and I can’t deny her anything. If she cries....”
“I’ll tell her,” Mark laughed. “June may very well decide that she would be better off here, although we have all the equipment in the clinic, and the nurses know exactly what to do, when to change the dressings etcetera. Don’t worry, Brad. Go and get some sleep.”
Brad gave Jessica a quick hug before he went upstairs. He felt terribly weary now, and hoped that Sarah would sleep well the whole night. She had never slept in her parent’s bed before. Her own little bed was in the converted nursery, right next door to their room, though the adjoining door was now kept closed and Sarah had learnt that she had to knock on the door and wait until they gave permission for admittance.
Nanny was sitting on the side of the bed, reading to little Sarah from a large book of bedtime stories. On seeing her father enter, Sarah gazed up at him lovingly.
“Daddy! You come sleep now?”
He smiled at her. “Yes, Sarah. What story are you hearing?”
“Three pigs!” she replied, sitting up in bed.
Nanny grinned, getting to her feet and handing Brad the open book. “Almost done, so you can finish it. Prayers are done already! You look drained. I’ll have some cocoa sent up for you.′
She smiled down at the child. “Sarah was very excited to see her mommy. But now this little madam says she’s not tired. I think she was just waiting for you.”
“Well, Sarah just better be tired, ’cos I’m exhausted!” Brad said, putting the book down while he gave his daughter a bear-hug, making her giggle. “I’m not finishing the story until you’re lying down,” he told her, settling her back on the pillow. “If you’re going to sleep in daddy’s bed, you be a good girl. Or I’ll let the big bad wolf eat up all the little pigs and that will be the end of the story!”
Sarah giggled again. “Silly daddy! That not the end!”
He laughed, sitting down and picking up the book as Nanny slipped out of the room. The child yawned while he read, and was asleep before he finished the tale. He hunted in the walk-in wardrobe for something to sleep in and found a pair of boxer shorts, checked that Sarah was still asleep and wandered into the bathroom. He was still there when Nanny tapped on his door, with a mug of steaming cocoa.
She put it down on the bedside table, smiling at him as he came out of the bathroom. “It is okay if she stays here, isn’t it? Mark said you’d agreed to it. And she knows she can’t sleep in your bed indefinitely. I think she was just a bit confused. Missed you.”
He frowned. “Yes, poor little one. One minute her mommy was there, and the next she was packed off to her grandfather and her daddy ignored her existence! What on earth did she think?” He threw off his gown and slipped into bed, switching on the bedside light. “Thanks for the cocoa, Nanny. Gosh, I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired!”
She put her hand on his forehead as she used to do when he was a child. “Have your warm drink and settle down to sleep. You’ll feel better tomorrow. I’m sure Sarah will sleep all night.” She smiled. “I’ll come in the morning to get her ready for breakfast and Sunday School. Goodnight Brad. Sweet dreams.”
She picked the discarded gown from the floor and laid it at the foot of the bed, then switched off the main light as she left the room, closing the door very quietly.
Brad did have a good night. Whether or not his dreams were sweet, he had no idea, as he slept like a log. So did Sarah, and when he awoke, she was curled up against him, her little arm over his chest. He put a finger under a strand of her dark hair and moved it away from her face. As he did so she opened her eyes and stretched, yawning. Then she smiled at him as she always had on waking. Happy, contented little Sarah, who loved her daddy very much.
“Good morning, my precious girl,” he said, kissing her on her forehead. “Did you have a nice sleep in daddy’s bed?”
The child wriggled closer. “I sleep good.“′
“Well, Sarah,” he corrected. “You slept well, not good! And you always say thank you.”
“I sleep - slept - well, thank you.” she muttered, her eyes shining up at him.
He hugged her. He was proud that she was so ready to accept anything he tried to teach her. She had always learnt quickly and he knew that his approval was important to her.
“You sleep good - well, Daddy?”
He smiled. “I did, Sweetheart. Thank you. But we need to get up soon for breakfast. And you need to get ready for Sunday School.”
She eyed him solemnly for a moment, then without a word she slipped out of bed and padded to the bathroom. She didn’t close the bathroom door, and he heard her use the toilet and flush it, and she grunted as she climbed onto the chair by the basin to wash her hands.
When she came out of the bathroom she climbed back up onto the bed and grinned at him. But she didn’t say anything, merely rubbed the stubble on his chin with the back of her hand which was still slightly damp.
He met her blue eyes. “Daddy wants to go see Mommy after breakfast, but I can’t take you with me, Sarah. You understand, don’t you?”
She gazed at him, then nodded. “I go Nanny now?”
He wished he could read her little mind! “I’m sure Nanny will come and fetch you soon,” he said. “Stay here with me now. What would you like to do today when we get back from church?”
“Daddy going church?”
He reached for her, drawing her back down beside him and keeping his arm around her little body. “Yes, of course! And maybe we can go and feed the ducks in the park afterwards? Just you and me?”
She put her arm over his bare chest, snuggling up to him. “Ooh, yes! And I play on swings?”
He laughed. “If you want to. But your Granddad and Granny Irene will be coming to have lunch with us today so we can’t stay in the park too long.”
“Ian say....” She stopped and frowned. Started again. ”Uncle Ian say I ride pony.”
Brad raised his eyebrows. “Hmm. I don’t know. Maybe you’re still too small for that!”
“Oh, Daddy! I a big girl!” she laughed. “Uncle Ian teach me. Mommy have surprise!”
‘Oh boy,’ Brad thought, knowing Carrie’s uneasiness around horses, ‘she will have more of an anxiety attack than a surprise!’ But aloud he said, “So long as you’re careful and hold on tight.”
It was almost eight o’clock before Nanny came to fetch Sarah. Brad showered and shaved as quickly as he could but he was the last to arrive at the breakfast table.
“Good morning,” he muttered as he slid into his usual place at the head of the long table. Carrie’s place at his side was conspicuously empty. There was a chorus of ‘good mornings’ and he was very aware that most of the family were eyeing him inquiringly.
Mark grinned. “You certainly look much better than you did yesterday. Sleep well?”
“I did, thanks. It’s still okay for me to pop in to see Carrie before church, isn’t it?”
“I’ll walk with you.” Mark replied. “I’m only working at the clinic for a couple of hours this morning, so I’ll be here for lunch. ”
The rest of the family were still at the table when Mark and Brad left to walk around to the clinic. It was a beautiful day, and the sun was shining brightly. The kind of day that Carrie loved, when they were happy to be outside in the gardens or at the lake together. Together! Brad realised that he and his wife were seldom apart, even when he was shut up in his study working on his manuscripts. She was never far away! He could not imagine life without her by his side now.
Everyone said that he was living a miracle, and he knew that it was true. Yet no one could comprehend his unwavering declaration that God and he had an ‘understanding’! Mere man did not make deals and arrangements with an omnipotent God! Yet no one had ever been able to dispute his word. It was definitely something miraculous and supernatural that kept him on his feet with a spine that was as badly shattered as his had been!
As they approached the door to the private ward, they could hear Carrie’s groans of pain, and the surgeon speaking gently to her, and Mark put his hand on his brother’s arm, restraining him.
He went into the ward, closing the door firmly behind him, leaving Brad staring after him, his face suddenly an anxious grey.
It seemed to be a long time before the door opened again, and a nurse came out, smiling at Brad as he sat slumped in a chair.
“Good morning,” she said brightly. “You may go in now.”
Brad thanked her, taking a deep breath before he pushed open the door.
Carrie was propped up by pillows again, still as pale and wan as she had been the previous evening. There were tears in her eyes, but she made a valiant effort to smile as Brad approached the bed. He glanced at Mark and the surgeon who were whispering together in the corner, discussing the file that they were poring over. Brad bent to press a soft kiss on her mouth.
“Hello, my darling. How are you feeling today?”
“Tired,” she murmured. “And my head’s sore!” A few tears spilled over and she lifted her hand weakly to brush them away.
Brad frowned, and looked helplessly at Mark, but it was the surgeon who came to the side of the bed. Her face was grave as she took Carrie’s pulse, and she looked carefully into the tear-filled eyes.
“The tests that we need to finish will be over by lunch time. If you try to eat your lunch, and promise that you will follow all my instructions about your treatment from this moment, I will consider allowing you to go back to the mansion this afternoon.” She met Brad’s eyes and continued, “It will mean strict bed-rest of course, and nurses from here to help, change dressings and such, until I’m satisfied that she can manage. I will be available daily to check on her condition.”
Brad gripped Carrie’s hand, and gave a small, tentative smile. “Of course! Anything she needs!”
Dr Langley nodded. “What she needs most at the moment is to relax and rest. I feel she may be more able to do that back at home.”
But Carrie’s face was suddenly contorted in pain, and she clamped her eyes shut.
“I’m s-sorry!” she stammered, tearful again. “It - it hurts! I d-don’t know w-what’s wrong with m-me!”
She was shaking now and Mark moved forward. “Brad, could you just wait outside again for a minute, please?”
They didn’t wait for Brad to comply, and before he did, he saw them both start to work on Carrie, lowering the pillows, raising her feet. She was crying again, and her breathing was becoming strained.
Brad slipped out of the room, tense himself. He sank into the chair. What was going on? The surgeon had just said she could go home again. She wanted that, so she should have been smiling! But she was in pain! Was this some kind of relapse? Why was she crying? He wished he could take her pain. Or at least be able to help her in some way.
He took a walk down the corridor to the small cafeteria, carrying his paper cup of hot chocolate back to the chair outside the private ward. But it was still a while before Mark came out of the ward.
“Carrie is extremely stressed,” he told Brad. “Go and say goodbye to her and please make it clear that you’ll see her after lunch back at the house. We’re going to finish the tests as soon as we can.”
“She can still come home?”
“June seems to think she’ll be better off there.”
“You don’t agree?”
Mark smiled. “I do, actually. She needs you close. Max has a few days leave, so he’ll be there, and the nurses from here will pop in from time to time. June will also come in to check her vitals.”
“Is she in a lot of pain?”
There was a slight hesitation, but Mark shook his head. “She’ll obviously be stiff and sore for a while, but we’re giving her analgesics. Her headaches are caused by the stress, we think, although we’ll know more when our assessments are done. She has no memory of the accident and that is causing even more anxiety.”
Brad pulled a face. “I feel so helpless. Is there nothing I can do to help her?”
“You can make sure she gets enough rest, only allow the family in to visit for short periods, don’t let Sarah bounce on the bed, - but don’t keep her away either! Carrie herself will let you know what she wants. Oh, and you can help her to eat! She’s too weak to do it herself at present, but she hates the nurses feeding her!” He grinned. “I’m sure she’d prefer to have your help!”
“She’ll let me feed her! So I should let her tell me what to do for her?”
“Brad, she’ll be very weak and ill for a while! She can sit in the wheelchair and you can even push her outside if she wants to go, but it’s going to take a long time before she’s going to be back to normal. You’ll have to be prepared for her tears, for her frustration, or even anger.”
“Whatever it takes,” Brad replied. “I’ll do anything in my power for her!”
Back in the ward, he held her in his arms and promised that by dinner time she would be back in her own bed. She was very tired as well as tearful. But he held her and spoke gently to her and she was sleeping when he left to go back to the house.