Lunch was superb as usual. Being Friday, the school had finished early, so the whole family, with the exception of Brad and Christopher, were at the table. Sarah’s little friend, Lucien, was still somewhat nervous of people, and he kept a wary eye on Jim, until he realised that both Sarah, and his mother, seemed completely at ease in the surgeon’s company.
Jim kept his eye surreptitiously on the child. Max had told him about this little boy, about his weak heart and the abuse he had gone through in his short life. The surgeon was extremely interested in the boy’s case, and as soon as lunch was over, he asked Grace, Lucien’s adoptive mother, if he could speak to her privately for a few minutes. Carrie gave them permission to use Brad’s study, and in the meantime, she took Sarah and Lucien back to the playroom so that they could show her the things they had made.
They were still there when Nanny hurried in, rather distressed. She kept her voice very soft so only Carrie could hear. “Carrie, let me take over here. Max wants you upstairs at once! Brad appears to be having some sort of allergic reaction.”
Carrie felt her heart thudding as she made her way back to the bedroom as fast as she could. What now? Brad had never had any reaction to sedatives before. They were so always so careful what drugs they gave him, and Jim regularly had the laboratory technicians in the general hospital test drugs for the famous patient.
When she entered the room, Brad was sitting up on the side of the bed, gasping for breath, one arm flailing, head rolling, and his eyes wide with fear. The clinic nurse was filling a hypodermic syringe. Max was also seated on the bed, one arm around Brad’s shoulders keeping him upright, while the other gripped his wrist. Carrie was not sure what was happening, but she flew across the room, falling on her knees in front of them. She grabbed the flailing arm, her fingers closing over the wrist tightly, and the doctor let go of the one he held, allowing her to take it. He didn’t say anything, but the grave look that passed between him and his niece said a great deal.
“Breathe, Brad. Slowly. Deep breaths. You’ll be fine,” Carrie said, trying to quell the panic rising inside of her.
A rasping noise came from Brad’s throat as he tried to breathe, and he slumped forward, closing his eyes as his body began to shake uncontrollably. A series of twists and jerks, and a savage kick, which sent Carrie reeling, and Brad slipped to the floor as Jim rushed into the room.
“Blast!” Max cursed, jumping to his feet. ” He’s fighting it! Help me get him back on the bed.”
While the two men grappled with a violent, petrified Brad who was struggling desperately to breathe, the nurse held out her hand and helped the winded Carrie to her feet. The kick had been hard enough to cause some damage, and Carrie wrapped her arm around her ribs, trying to breathe into the pain as tears stung her eyes.
When they had finally managed to get Brad on the bed again, Nurse Brink handed the syringe to Max, and he plunged it into Brad’s upper arm while Jim held him down. It didn’t take long for the medicine to work, mercifully, and the gasps were replaced with deep groans.
“What the hell happened here?” Jim rasped. “He’s not allergic to the sedatives! But that was a definite reaction!” He glanced at Carrie. “You ok?”
She nodded, squeezing back the tears. Her uncle was frowning. “He hasn’t taken anything else, has he?”
“Not that I saw!” the nurse said, rather defensively. “He was sleeping. Then he just started shouting and coughing. I thought it was a nightmare, but I saw the rash on his chest, and he was wheezing. That’s when I beeped you.”
“Rash? Wheezing? Oh, Brad, no, no!” Carrie gulped, opening the drawer next to her side of the bed. She shakily withdrew a small bottle that had contained strong painkillers that June Langley had prescribed for her after her accident. It was now empty!
“My God,” Max breathed. “How many were in there?”
The tears were now pouring down her cheeks. “Two! But he knows he can’t take those! No, no, no! He wouldn’t!” Max caught her as she sagged, and drew her to the chair at the side of the bed. She covered her face with trembling hands.
Nurse Brink put her hand on her shoulder. “I should have been watching him! But I was only in the bathroom for a minute, I promise! He was asleep, but when I came out, he was sitting on the side of the bed! He was a bit groggy, but when I settled him down again, he went straight back to sleep. He was fine until the coughing started.”
Brad’s groans were becoming more intense and his eyes were flickering now, his head moving from side to side. “Carrie!” he gasped, one hand clawing the air.
She took the hand, still crying. “I’m - I’m here.”
He gripped her fingers, turning his head towards her. “I - couldn’t - breathe,” he muttered, taking a breath between each word. “Don’t - leave - me, Carrie!”
“She’s not leaving you,” Max said, pulling up his eyelids to inspect his eyes, while Jim checked his heart rate. “What did you take, Brad?”
Brad blinked in confusion, frowning. “Headache - pills. - They - don’t - work!” He grimaced, but his breathing seemed to be returning to normal.
“Where did you get the pills, Brad?”
His hand gestured to his drawer, and he blinked again. “I - I’m going - to - throw up!”
The nurse held a stainless-steel, kidney-shaped dish and he threw up violently, but his fingers tightened on Carrie’s hand. Even when the retching was over, he kept her hand in his, but closed his eyes, taking deep gulping breaths.
“You do know, of course, that those pills were not yours?” Jim said sternly.
Brad’s eyes shot open. “What?”
“They were not prescribed for you!”
For a second Brad stared at the surgeon in utter puzzlement, then, after a moment, the penny dropped and he gave a bitter glare, and yelled vehemently, “You think I…? Am I that far gone that you think I want out of this life? Yes, I hate it that my blasted body is letting me down! I hate that wheelchair! I hate that I can’t play with my little girl anymore. I hate being too ashamed to go and play at a charity concert. I especially hate that I’m not man enough to make love to my wife anymore! But I would never - never - be stupid enough to attempt suicide! I had a blasted headache, that’s all! I sat up to get my pills! Not even the ones you prescribed. I took the only two of those mild things I have left! It isn’t the pills that made me ill! I ought to punch you for implying that I would ever do such a thing as try to take my own life! I don’t know why you would even think that!”
He was breathless after his furious outburst, and Max and Carrie were both surprised at the anger in his sudden rant. But Jim was smiling his satisfaction.
It was Carrie who broke the silence. “Those pills were not yours, Brad!” she said softly. “You must have been in a daze!”
He frowned incredulously at her. “You too?” he snapped. “Do you also believe I took the wrong pills? The empty bottle is still in the drawer! Look for yourself! I wouldn’t do that, Carrie!”
He was hurt, and she knew it. She brushed the tears from her face, looking at her uncle. What could she say? When she’d seen the empty pill bottle, the first thing that had gone through her mind was that he had deliberately taken them, knowing that they could kill him. He’d been so depressed for weeks! Hadn’t he told her that he couldn’t live like this any more?
Max smiled at her. But to Brad he said severely, “What are we supposed to think? Those pills you took were not even in your own drawer! They were the ones June gave to Carrie! If Nurse Brink hadn’t beeped me as soon as she noticed that something was wrong, you’d be on your way to the morgue right now! You could at least show her some gratitude for that!”
Brad let go of Carrie’s hand, ran his fingers over his chin and muttered a soft, but grudging ‘thank you’ to the nurse, then lapsed into a sulky silence, Max went to the second bedside drawer, and pulled out a small bottle, almost identical to the one Carrie still clutched in her hand. It contained two very mild headache tablets, that were the only things Brad could safely take for pain.
“So, these are what you supposedly took? And you wonder why we thought - other things!”
Brad swallowed, glanced at Jim, and mumbled something that was incoherent but could have been an apology. He still looked angry. But at least it had replaced the deadpan expression they had become accustomed to seeing on his face lately. There was even a tinge of colour in his cheeks, but that could have been from anger and embarrassment. He reached for the water jug next to the bed, but Carrie stood up, pouring some water into the glass and handing it to him. As he took it from her resentfully, she was taken aback by his glare. He gulped the water thirstily, and she put the glass back on the tray.
He didn’t reply to that, and she frowned. Was he angry with her? She glanced at her uncle and the surgeon as they chatted seriously to Nurse Brink.
“Is there anything I can get you, darling?” She was shocked at how small her voice sounded. Her ribs still hurt, and she knew that she was going to have a huge bruise there soon.
“Yes,” he retorted crossly. “You can get rid of this blasted catheter and get that bloody wheelchair over here so I can get up.”
She stared at him in amazement! He was angry with her! “I - I don’t think…” she stammered, but he cut her off sharply.
“Well maybe you should try it sometime!” he snapped.
For a second she didn’t understand, and when she did, tears stung her eyes.
“That’s not very nice! I only meant…”
But he interrupted quickly. “Just do as I say!′ he demanded.
“Brad! Why are you being …”
“The catheter!” he cut her off again!
That was too much for her! She burst into tears and fled from the room, leaving her uncle to unleash his wrath on her husband!