Liza poured herself a cup of coffee, took it into the spacious den, and lowered herself onto the overstuffed cream, soft-leather sofa. She’d just finished making some calls upstairs for a parent-teachers meeting and wanted a few minutes of off time.
She took a scalding sip and admitted to herself that her rush to busy-ness was mostly to detract from the sting of Garrison’s callousness toward Angel. Never mind his smart-ass reference to Liza’s being manipulative. She rolled her eyes; that was another thing entirely.
Her gaze settled on a mantle portrait of the elder Wakefields.
At that moment, she hated Garrison’s parents for what they’d done to him in his youth. They weren’t truly bad people; exemplary citizens, actually. They just hadn’t wanted children. Garrison—the proverbial accident—had messed up their dreams of an unencumbered lifestyle of travel and leisure. During much of his youth, they’d pushed him away when he threatened to intrude upon their intimacy or shuttled him off to his grandparents.
Garrison, the end product, was a storehouse of contradictions. He had a level of sensitivity that could take one’s breath away. He was the most protective, noble, and giving of men. Yet, to him, giving meant materially and physically—not emotionally. Not anymore. Once, it had.
She pushed away the pity that always ambushed her when she thought of Garrison as a young, lonely boy. She couldn’t allow it to cloud her judgment when it came to Angel.
The next sip of coffee tasted bitter. Needed sugar.
What was it with Garrison? Why did he allow history to repeat itself in his father/daughter situation? Liza knew Garrison loved Angel, but couldn’t he handle her a bit more gently?
Liza took another hot sip and made a face. Had she done the right thing tonight in overruling Garrison? After all, he was being protective. It was just that she couldn’t bear to see the crushed look on Angel’s young face when Garrison so blatantly rejected her overtures. Didn’t Garrison realize a girl’s need for her father’s acceptance and validation? The girl deserved some fun in her life.
Liza clicked on Fox News. A young woman was missing in Georgia. A college student. Her picture flashed across the screen. She was blond and had a big smile that reminded Liza of her own daughter. How sad.
The doorbell rang. She frowned as she uncurled her legs and headed for the door, wondering who it could be.
* * *
Garrison shifted in his chair and stretched his tired back. He stood and glanced at the antique mahogany wall clock, surprised that well over two hours had lapsed since he had begun working. He paused. Was that the doorbell? He couldn’t really tell over the rain, now a soft nettling hum against the tin.
Tonight’s progress pleased him. One logo, for a new dentistry clinic, read “Gentle Dental Care . . . Gentle Care for Sensitive Patients” in elaborately prepared script. Another logo, for a restaurant, read “WASABI . . . Traditional Japanese Cuisine.” Above it loomed an imposing Samurai warrior with signature topknot and kimono topped with Kamishimo, sword raised high, ready to engage in battle. Under the logo, in intricate script, appeared the line “Chefs experienced in the art of tableside knife tossing and salt and pepper juggling.”
He shrugged. Not exactly a masterpiece or particularly challenging, but accounts like these put a roof over their heads and provided all the comforts of life. As long as he remained busy.
Garrison straightened his work and clicked off the desk lamp. The dampness outside left him with a chill. It was a good night to be in- side.
Descending the stairs, he heard voices, soft at first, then Liza’s rising in alarm.
He spanned the last steps two at a time. At the open front door stood two uniformed highway patrolmen. Alarm blasted through him. The smell of rain wafted inside.
“What?” He rushed to Liza’s side and turned her to face him. Liza’s face was pasty white.
“What?” The word burst from him and he knew he really did not want to know what caused her to look like this. But he had to know.
“My God, Liza. What’s wrong?”
Her lips struggled to move, but tears trailed down her cheeks and the words choked off. He spun to face the two officers. “What’s going on here?” he demanded hoarsely.
“There’s been an accident and you’re needed at the hospital.”
Garrison’s brows drew together in confusion. “But . . . who?”
“Your daughter, sir. And the young man with her.”
“No, no. You’ve got the wrong house.”
He looked at Liza, brow furrowed. Then why is she crying?
“But they’re here,” he insisted, confusion and desperation emanating from him like atomic discharges. His voice dropped to a whisper as he gazed at his wife. “Aren’t they?”
She gulped, swallowed, and replied in a voice barely above a whisper, “No, Garrison. No, they’re not.”
* * *
The ride to Spartanburg Regional Medical Center was silent, except for Garrison’s oft repeated, “Why? Why did you let them go?”
“Oh my God—what have I done?” murmured Liza. She struggled to breathe as the world crashed in upon her. How could I have been so stupid? Reacting in anger, impetuously. How could I not have known how dangerous—
Near panic, she turned to her husband, whose hands gripped the steering wheel with knuckle-whitening intensity. “Garrison?” she whispered.
Help me, please. Tell me it’s going to be okay, her heart cried out.
If he heard or sensed her desperation, he gave no indication. His face appeared cast in gray stone as he parked the car in the Emergency parking area and helped her from the car, not meeting her pleading gaze. Her legs felt rubbery, and when she swayed with dizziness, his arm slid around her. He propelled her swiftly through the warm misting rain to the entrance and inside, where air conditioning slapped her damp clothing and flung her into chills.
Garrison relentlessly impelled her along the white corridor of the ER. There, a doctor ushered them into a small consultation room and seated them at a table.
“I’m Dr. Abrams, head of Neurosurgery and—”
Garrison sprang to his feet in one frantic motion. “Where’s our daughter?”
“Please,” the doctor said quietly. “I know this is difficult, but try to be calm.”
“Is she . . .” Liza’s voice was a mere wisp of sound as she convulsed with chills.
“She’s alive, but barely.” The doctor ordered a passing nurse to get a blanket for Liza. “I want to be up-front with you.” The man’s features and manner painted a grim picture. “Your daughter has sustained terrible trauma to the brain and is unconscious. At present, she cannot breathe on her own. We’ve inserted a breathing tube and hooked her to a respiratory machine. Right now, we know that there are injuries to both the back and legs. We’ll need more tests to show the extent of her internal injuries.
“The prognosis is . . . not good. I think you should prepare yourselves for the worst. Naturally, we’ll do everything we can to save her, but at this moment, I can’t promise anything other than to keep you informed.”
“What—” Liza licked her dry lips “—what about Troy?” Another chill assailed her. The nurse entered and quickly wrapped Liza’s shoulders with a blanket.
Dr. Abrams was silent for a moment, head lowered, then he looked at her. “I’m sorry. He died instantly. The car hydroplaned before leaving the road and crashing into a tree. The impact was profound.”
“Oh my God!” Liza sobbed and buried her face in the blanket’s fold.
Garrison looked at her, his eyes dazed. “Does Troy’s family know?” he asked the doctor. Dr. Abrams said that they did and that they’d informed the staff that Troy was an organ donor. They wanted to honor that, to give someone else life. They were currently preparing for the organ procedures, as well as making arrangements with a local funeral home.
“Is your daughter an organ donor?” asked Dr. Abrams.
“No.” They both spoke at once.
Then Liza said, “We—I’m not ready to—”
“Right,” Garrison confirmed abruptly.
“I understand,” said Dr. Abrams.
Organ donor. Liza squeezed her eyes shut. The nightmare grows. The doctor leaned and took Liza’s icy hands in his. He spoke soothing words to her, then turned to Garrison and asked, “Are you all right?”
Garrison shook his head. “No. I’m not.”
Liza heard the anger in his voice and withdrew even more within herself. Will I survive this?
“Is there anything I can do for you?” Dr. Abrams asked.
Garrison’s white lips tightened into a thin line and he looked at Liza, his eyes black as onyx. “Yes. Undo tonight.”
* * *
Liza gazed down into her daughter’s still, ghastly pale, swollen face and despair slammed her, sucked the breath from her. Tubes protruded from the young body in Frankenstein fashion. Seeing the hose down Angel’s throat nearly gagged Liza. Did it have to be so big and intrusive? How must that feel? Oh, God—my baby.
Had she not known who Angel was by her wheat-blond hair alone, she could never have ID’d her. How can I live with this? I caused it all. She swayed and then caught the mattress edge to steady herself.
Reality slapped her again. She could not depend on Garrison right now. The poor man now paddled his own canoe as hard as he could. Upstream. Over rapids. Liza, too, would have to paddle hers alone.
Standing on the opposite side of the hospital bed, he’d not so much as glanced her way since their arrival in the antiseptic, dimly lit chamber. Will he be able to forgive me?
Shock. Some people react this way. Liza felt an overwhelming sympathy for Garrison and resolved to be stronger. To face this thing. She must.
Much later, at 3:00 A.M., upon doctor’s orders, they drove home to get some rest. The rain had let up. A dismal fog replaced it. “You won’t be of any use to your daughter or yourselves if you don’t get some sleep,” Dr. Abrams had pointed out. “Besides, you can’t go back to the ICU until morning.”
What he said was true. It only made sense to go home and pray that no call came through the night.
She turned to Garrison in the car. “Garrison, I wish they wouldn’t keep bringing up the subject of organ donation. At least two different physicians have broached it.”
Her husband grunted assent, looking so tormented that her hand automatically reached to touch his cheek. But he recoiled discernibly, turning his face to avoid contact. Taken aback, she faced the front of the car again and forced herself to calm down and not react. When they arrived home and he opened her car door, she didn’t flinch when he averted his gaze from hers and again evaded her touch.
Oh, God, how she needed his arms around her. She pulled her feeble strength about her and put one foot in front of the other. Garrison simply needed to work things out in his own way. She knew he would soon adjust to the situation, as she was struggling to do. In time. After all, their daughter’s survival was their top concern. Patience. That’s what it would take. And hope. Much hope.