It was just before afternoon tea-time that Ian arrived back, and while he stayed a moment chatting to Max in the entrance hall, an excited Sarah bounced into the lounge, squealing that “Uncle Ian buy three ponies!” She hugged Irene and Edmund and clambered up onto Carrie’s lap, chattering about their outing to the Whelan farm, the horses, and the puppies, and the chickens they had seen.
In a break in her animated babbling, Brad squeezed her leg and muttered, “Am I the only one who doesn’t get a hug?”
Sarah’s eyes were as big as saucers as she leant over the side of the wheelchair, her little arms around Brad’s neck as he lifted her over from her mother.
“You better, daddy?” she asked quietly, planting a sloppy kiss on his cheek.
He hugged her tightly. “Not yet, Sweetie. But I still want my baby’s hugs and kisses.” He pulled a face at Carrie over her head, knowing that even little Sarah had been subjected to his sullen resentment of his infirmity. Carrie smiled gently at him, and he bit his lip, and hugged his daughter again. She sat on his lap and told him all about Lucien’s new pony.
Edmund and Irene left shortly after tea, but Brad invited them to come for Sunday lunch, which they accepted graciously. It was still drizzling with rain and was dark outside, but the floodlights in the grounds outside made everything look bright and cheerful. Ian excused himself and went down to the stables to check that the horses were safely in their stalls for what was predicted to be a raging storm.
Carrie went to settle Sarah for a very late afternoon nap, and when she returned to the lounge, Brad was staring out of the window. He looked up at her.
“Carrie, do you think it would be ok if I - if I went outside? Alone! I - I need to - to have a long overdue conversation with - with God. I’m still not sure He’s there anymore, or that He’ll listen, but …”
“God always listens Brad. But it’s very wet out there, and it’s still raining.”
“I won’t be long, and - and if it rains harder, I’ll come back! I - I need to - to do this! I can manage the wheelchair, and I’ll keep to the paths. Please understand!”
Carrie smiled. “Of course, I understand. You always want to be alone when you pray. And it’s good that you want to go outside! I’m just worried about the weather. You’re going to get very wet.”
“There’s shelter by the summer-house. I’ll wear my rain-jacket. I’ll be ok.”
She looked at him for a few seconds and then nodded. If this was going to bring his special relationship with God back, then maybe it was just what he needed. “I’ll get your jacket. Please come back if this rain gets worse! You’ll be all right?”
“I won’t go far away. You can watch from the window if you like.” He hesitated. “I don’t want you to think I’m shutting you out, my darling. I just need to get things sorted out with - with Him.”
“He hasn’t left you, Brad. He’s right where He’s always been.” She smiled again. “Stay here while I get your jacket.”
She made sure he was bundled up warmly, before he kissed her, and he guided the wheelchair outside and down the ramp. Her uncle joined her at the window and they watched him. He looked up at the night sky, before wheeling himself along the pathways in the direction of the summer house. He disappeared around the back of the building, and was no longer visible to them, and Max sighed.
“Clever! He knew we wouldn’t be able to see him there. I hope he doesn’t get too wet. All I need is for him to develop a chest cold too!”
“There’s a bit of shelter under the awnings behind the building where he always goes to pray,” Carrie replied, biting her lip anxiously. “He said he won’t be long. And if the rain comes down any harder, I’m sure he’ll come back. He won’t be able to get the chair up the steps of the summer house to get inside.”
“At least he’s making the effort to pray again! Brad has never gone this long without having what he calls ‘conversations with Jesus’. It’s been quite unnerving to see how low his faith has sunk. It was always strong, even when he was a child. But since the surgery, he won’t even say grace when we eat, and sits stony-faced when one of us does it! Jim says it’s a spiritual battle.”
Carrie nodded. “Jim’s right.”
They moved away from the window as Nanny came into the lounge. “Mark just phoned. He and Julie are staying for dinner with Julie’s parents,” she told Carrie. “I think we’re in for a storm, so I hope Luke and Vicki get back soon. Those babies don’t need to be out in weather like this!”
Max gave a gruff laugh. “Those babies will be nowhere near this weather, Ellen. Vicki will wrap them up warmly and their carry-cots and baby chairs have waterproof covering. If one of them so much as gets a sniffle, they have a brilliant doctor right here in the house! They will be fine.”
She raised her eyes to the ceiling, and shook her head in mock exasperation. “We all know what a brilliant doctor you are, Max. With a patient like Brad, you have to be! Where is he anyway?”
Carrie shrugged her shoulders towards the window. “Out there! He’s gone to talk to God. I hope he comes back soon if it’s going to storm.”
“Goodness! He hasn’t left the house for a couple of months, and now decides to go and pray on a day like this!” Nanny tutted. “Well, I suppose it is helping him out of this awful depression. Maybe he can find God again.”
“He hasn’t lost Him,” Max grinned.
“You know what I mean! Brad’s faith is as important to him as Carrie is!”
Carrie smiled. “It should be more important! He used to joke about that; that God knew about his obsession, but that He understood!”
“Brad has had a rather peculiar relationship with God since he was a child,” Nanny mused. “He used to say that God was his best friend. It didn’t surprise me at all in the hospital when he insisted that he would walk because he and God had an understanding.”
“Well, it certainly surprised the medical community,” Max said with a laugh. “Me included! Miracles as big as that are not the norm. I feel quite privileged to have seen it.”
“I don’t believe it’s over,” Carrie said quietly. “Brad is convinced that he has no sensation in his legs, but he said he felt it when I touched his thigh, and he kicked out when he had that allergic reaction.” She put her arm across her rib area. “I have the bruise to prove it!”
“The only thing the spinal fusion removed was his pain.” Max said. “Maybe he was so used to it, that now that it’s gone, he believes he doesn’t deserve to have his miracle. Who knows what’s going on in that wonderful brain of his? We need to get him writing again, and playing the piano.”
They all heard the car pull up in the driveway, and Nanny went to the window. “It’s Vicki and Luke. I’ll get a couple of staff to help them before it rains harder. What time are the twins coming from the Youth function?”
“They’ll be here before dinner,” Carrie replied. “Jessie arranged with Roy to fetch them all, and he’ll bring Clint too. She told you that Clint is coming for dinner, didn’t she?”
Nanny nodded. “Yes, she did. Nice boy. I hope it lasts!”
As she went into the hall, she was very pleased to see that two male staff members were already on their way out of the door to help. She waited by the door, greeting Luke and Vicki as they came up the steps. It was still drizzling at present, but the wind seemed to be picking up.
The babies were all asleep, the boys tucked into their carry-cots, and Casey had nodded off in the car-seat. Vicki looked very tired, but she greeted Carrie and the doctor, as she went into the lounge. She thanked the staff as they put the carry-cots down. Luke put the car seat on the floor, and helped Vicki off with her jacket.
He handed the jacket and his overcoat to the waiting staff member, and sank into an armchair, pulling Vicki down onto his lap.
“Wow, what a day! I don’t think we’ll be going out there again very soon.”
“Long drive?” Max asked.
“Well, yes, but if I’d known that my brother was going to be there, I’d never have agreed to go in the first place.” He sounded bitter, and Vicki stroked his cheek softly.
“You can’t keep the babies away from their grandmother, Luke!”
He sighed. “I suppose not. But next time I’ll make sure they haven’t let Tim out of rehab for the weekend! He’s not coming anywhere near my children - ever!”
Vicki giggled, and told them all. “I really thought there was going to be a punch-up! Luke told Tim in no uncertain terms that if he even looked at his babies, he’d smash his face in!”
Carrie gave a little frown. “He is their uncle!”
Luke scowled. “And he’s also the drug addict who put two bullets in Brad!” he said bitterly. “I can’t understand why my mom would have him back in her house. She eventually admitted to me that he beat her up so she’d give him the money I sent her to live on!”
“Where is Brad, anyway?” Vicki asked, trying to change the subject when she saw the look of regret that crossed Carrie’s face. The bullets that Tim Grantham had put into Brad had never been meant for him at all.
It was the doctor who answered. “He’s gone out - in this weather - to argue with God probably!”
Carrie bit her lip. “That’s what he said he was going to do. I do hope he comes back soon. But at least he’s making an effort now!”
She stood, and walked to the window. But there was still no sign of Brad. She frowned at the black sky. The storm wouldn’t be long in coming. Maybe she should go and look for him. She was about to turn from the window when movement from beside the summer house caught her eye, and she saw him, wheeling himself back along the wet pathway beneath the trees.
She breathed in relief. A relief that was short lived, as the rain began to suddenly pelt down so hard that she could see it bouncing on the path in front of the wheelchair. There was a flash of lightning, followed by several claps of thunder. The wind whipped a heavy branch from the tree, just as another bright flash of lightning lit the whole sky. She let out a scream as she watched another branch fall, and saw it crash down onto the wheelchair. Brad was flung out onto the soaking grass as the chair fell heavily onto its side, and another branch plummeted onto the spinning wheel.
Carrie screamed again, hysterically, bringing her sister-in-law and Nanny to her side, as Max and Luke shot to their feet and raced to the door.