In Between Shadows

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Chapter 7

Brad ate two pancakes for breakfast. He couldn’t face the bacon, sausage or the scrambled egg, but the doctor seemed satisfied that his friend had not needed the usual strident persuasion to eat. For the first time since the spinal fusion, Brad actually made an effort to listen to the chatter of his family around the table, although he made no direct comments of his own at first. Almost at the end of breakfast there was a rather awkward pause in the conversations when Sarah suddenly announced in her high-pitched voice, “Mommy sleep my room. Daddy cross with Mommy!”

Carrie glanced around the table, her face tinged with a pink glow of embarrassment, but she answered calmly, “No, Sweetie. He isn’t! He was just feeling ill.”

Brad’s attempt to smile failed, but he muttered, “I’m not cross with anybody.” Under his breath he added, ‘Except me!’ and he reached for Carrie’s hand, squeezing it to give him courage.

She met his eyes, and the look that passed between them did not go unnoticed by most of the adults at the table.

Ian laughed, winking at Sarah. “Your daddy could never get cross with your mommy! He loves her too much!” He changed the subject quickly. “You coming with me today to check out the pony I want to buy?”

Her eyes widened and she squealed with excitement. “Pony for Lucien?”

“Maybe! We’ll see!” He laughed again. “We need to ask your parent’s permission if you can come with me.”

“Should have asked us first then, before you got her excited,” Brad said solemnly, looking at Ian. “You buying Lucien a pony?”

All heads turned to look at Brad, surprised that he was showing an interest.

He swallowed, cleared his throat, and his hand tightened on Carrie’s. “You’re teaching him to ride?”

“Yeah. He seems to enjoy it,” Ian said, grinning. “You should come and watch them sometime. He doesn’t learn as fast as Sarah, but he’s pretty good! And he’s not as nervous of the grooms anymore, so his mom thinks it’s good for him. I thought he might like having his own mount, so I’m taking him out to Joe Whelan’s to look at a couple of two-year-olds he has for sale.”

“His parents know you’re taking him?”

“Of course. They’re coming with us.”

“That’s good.” Conversation over!

He glanced at Carrie, and she beamed her approval. He had tried, but now he lowered his eyes, still clinging to her hand. There was still a knot in his gut that he wasn’t able to release. His family must think he was losing his mind. God, he even thought so himself! Was he sulking because his Eternal Father had not answered his prayers in the way he’d expected? For so long, he had lived a miracle life. His constant pain had reminded him of that miracle. But now his pain was gone, his miracle was gone, his God was gone! He always thought he could do without the pain, but now he would be grateful for it! At least then there wouldn’t be this numbness that he felt in his body.

Vicki and Luke were going into Surrey, taking the triplets to visit Luke’s mother. It was the first time since the birth of the babies that they were taking them out of the estate, and the car was being loaded up with bags of bottles, nappies and other paraphernalia that the triplets would need. Brad watched from the lounge window as Luke secured the baby car-seats into the back of his Polo, and tucked the carry-cots into the boot.

“I think it’s time Luke had a bigger car,” he said, as Carrie came to his side.

Carrie smiled, knowing that her husband was trying hard to conquer his apathy. “I’m sure they’ll get one soon. What do you want to do today, darling?”

He shrugged. “Whatever.”

“Edmund and Irene are coming for lunch. I doubt whether any of the family will be here, except Nanny and Uncle Max.”

“They’re all avoiding their miserable brother!”

“It will be quiet without Sarah’s chattering,” she said, deliberately ignoring his last remark. “Nice of Ian to buy Lucien a pony! Grace thinks it’s wonderful that Lucien wasn’t scared at all when they took him for a check-up last week. She said even the specialist was amazed at the change in him.”

“Hmm. Sarah’s confidence has rubbed off on him.” He swallowed, running a hand over his eyes. “Carrie, - do you think I could have something for my headache? Or - or maybe just some water?”

Her eyes widened, and she looked closely into his face. “Of course! Why didn’t you tell me you weren’t feeling well?”

“I’m not ill, just a bit of a headache. But - but I - I have to be careful what I take, don’t I? If Max knows I want pills he might think…” He lowered his eyes, biting his lip. “I’d rather have you give them to me, in case I take the wrong stuff again.”

“Oh, Brad!” She was stunned. “We know it was a mistake! You were disorientated. Uncle Max knows you didn’t take the wrong ones on purpose!” She squeezed his arm reassuringly, “I’ll fetch your pills. Do you want to lie down?”

“No. I’m fine! Except that my head’s throbbing. The - the pills Jim gave me seem to work.”

“I’ll fetch them,” Carrie repeated. “I won’t be long.”

Jessica came in to the lounge while Carrie was away, and Brad swung the wheelchair away from the window. “Looking for Carrie, princess?”

She smiled at him. “Well, both of you really. I wanted to ask if it’s ok if Clint comes for dinner this evening?”

“Of course. Why are you even asking? He’s welcome, at any time.”

There was a slight hesitation before she said, “You’ve been - unsociable - for ages, so we’ve kept out of your way! But today you seem - a bit better?”

He forced a smile. “Yeah. Sorry! I suppose I’ve just been too wrapped up in my own misery. I’ll try to be more affable. Please tell Clint he’s very welcome to join us for dinner at any time.”

Jessica leaned over and gave him a hug. “We all love you, Brad!” she whispered. “We know it’s hard for you, but please don’t shut us out!”

He closed his eyes, holding his young sister against his chest. Sweet, loving Jessica, the peacemaker. Yet, even she had left him alone these past weeks to wallow in his gloom and despair.

When Carrie came back into the lounge, her uncle was with her, carrying a glass of some kind of smoothie that he put into Brad’s hand.

“Here. Drink this. It’ll raise your blood sugar, and might help with the headache. Ellen said I mustn’t take no for an answer, so it’s on your own head if you want to argue with her.”

Jessica pulled a face. “Ugh. It’s green! What’s in it?”

Max laughed. “I have no idea, but I promise you that his nanny is not going to poison him.” He winked at Brad. “I don’t think it tastes as bad as it looks!”

Brad took a tentative sip of the concoction, and his lips turned up in a small forced smile. “Not bad at all. Some banana in there, - and a hint of mint, I think. Not enough to make it that awful colour though!”

He put the glass on a table and took the pills that Carrie offered him, drinking them down with a sip of water. Then he pulled her down onto his lap, nestling his head into her shoulder. He let out a sigh, wishing he could feel as contented as he used to be.

Max grinned. “You look a bit more alive today, I must say! Why don’t you let Carrie take you for a walk in the grounds? Put some colour back in your face. Fresh air will be good for you.”

Brad raised his chin and scowled. “Actual walking would be good for me! Anyway, it’s going to rain!”

“It’s not raining yet, Brad! You need to get out. You spend far too much time moping. If you’re not going to even try to get back on your feet, you can at least try to make life a bit more pleasant for the rest of the family!”

Carrie cringed at her uncle’s words, but Brad glared at the doctor, and spat out, “Go to hell! Do you think it doesn’t bother me that my family are all staying as far away from me as they can? Do you think I don’t know how I’m disappointing everyone? I may have lost the use of my legs, Max, but my brain is still intact!”

“Well, use it then!” Max retorted. ’You are intelligent enough to know that God will never leave you. You decided for yourself that your miracle was over, even before you had the op, so stop trying to blame the fact that you can’t walk, on God!”

“Uncle Max, please!” Carrie pleaded, worried that Brad was either going to crawl back into his shell of misery, or explode.

“I’m not blaming God!” Brad muttered, but his voice shook slightly.

Completely ignoring Carrie’s plea, Max stormed, “Oh, are you not? Well, it certainly looks that way! You won’t even let your friends at church pray for you, and you sit with such a blank expression during Pastor Davies’s sermon that I wonder why you bother to go at all! No one dares approach you anymore! I’ve tried to be patient, Brad, but someone has to tell you that this misery of yours is not going to go away unless you stop trying to convince yourself that your miracle ended as soon as your pain did!“,

Jessica gasped, screwing up her face in dismay, and she looked at her brother, waiting for his retort. But none came. There was a shocked silence, then Brad lowered his head, his arms tightening around Carrie.

“I - I c-can’t feel Him anymore! I always knew He was th-there before.”

Tears stung his eyes, and he cried out in anguish, “I don’t know how to get Him back!”

He buried his face in Carrie’s shoulder, and she held him, while Max put his hand on his shoulder, and said more gently, “You don’t need to get Him back, Brad. He hasn’t gone anywhere. Remember what you used to quote to us from the bible - ”I will never leave you, nor forsake you”. God hasn’t changed His mind. The spinal fusion took away your pain, not your miracle! Start believing that!”

“I -I - can’t anymore!”

Carrie gave his shoulders a little shake. “Hey. No negativity, remember! You said you’d work with me, that you’d try not to be despondent. It’s early days, my love, but you can do this!”

He swallowed back his emotions and nodded shakily. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “Don’t give up on me, Carrie. I’ll - I’ll try, I promise.”

Close to tears, Jessica said softly, “I’m sure Dr. Max didn’t mean to be harsh, Brad.”

“Oh, he meant it!” Brad muttered. He almost smiled. “It’s ok, Jess. The good doctor has been like a dad to me for years! He knows when I need to get shouted at.”

Max raised bushy eyebrows and grinned. “I don’t shout, I’m forceful! Which is what Ellen will be, with both of us, if you don’t drink that awful green concoction that she made for you!”

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