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Authors: Georgia Bockoven

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BOOK: Disguised Blessing
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It took time to stop loving someone. For her it always had. She’d had to come home from the lake early one Sunday and find Jack in bed with another woman before the hurt became more powerful than the love.

An inner voice told her that it wouldn’t take as long with Tom. She would stop loving him, soon. Eventually she would even hate him for the things he’d said and felt about Lynda. She just needed a little time.

“We won’t be friends,” she said softly.

“I understand it might be hard right away.”

“It will never happen.”

“Why would you want to make this harder than it has to be?”

“You don’t give a damn about how hard this is on me. You’re worried how it will look when the word gets out that you dumped me while Lynda was
still in the hospital.” She would not let him manipulate her again. “I want you to take me to the hospital—now.”

“How will you get home?”

“You’re not paying attention, Tom. This is my car. The question is, how will you get home?”

“It doesn’t have to be this way.”

“Oh yes, it does.” Finally she looked at him. “And about ‘our’ friends? I’d start making new ones if I were you. I have no doubt the men will still be happy to play a round of golf at the club and to take the money you lose so freely, but their wives are the ones who issue the invitations to parties. None of the women I know shop at Victoria’s Secret. They’re not likely to be impressed with the analogy.”

“The mouse roars, is that it?”

“I’m a Leo, Tom. You might do well to remember that.”

11

C
ATHERINE STOOD OUTSIDE
L
YNDA’S HOSPITAL ROOM
, undecided whether she should tell her about Tom that night or wait until her daughter was home. Lynda was sure to notice that something was wrong. Now that she was taking less pain medication, she’d started picking up on the subtleties of the world around her again.

“Mom?” Lynda came out of Ray Tatum’s room, Brian in tow. “What are you doing here? I thought you and Tom were going home after your meeting.”

“I decided to come by to see how the new hat looked,” she said far too brightly. When Lynda’s head was shaved to take the skin for transplant, the doctor left a fringe of hair along the front and sides that she could wear in curling wisps outside a floppy hat or baseball cap. After the first surgery, Rick presented her with a cap from his fire department. Now he brought one with every visit, each sporting a logo from a different fire department in the area.

Lynda self-consciously touched the brim and her hair as if assuring herself both were still in place. Discovering the bandage exposed in the back, she tugged on the cap to pull it lower.

“I think I like this one the best,” Brian said. “The blue brings out the color of her eyes.”

Lynda looked at him and gave him a shy smile.

Every night, Catherine said a little prayer that Brian would be at the hospital the next day. In this, her prayers were answered. He had become Lynda’s link to the outside world, the world of teenagers and music and fast food. When she’d finally had her fill of crab cakes from California Cafe, Brian stepped in to supply hamburgers and french fries, pizza, and tacos, matching her consumption down to the last french fry, refusing to let her quit until the calorie intake for the day was satisfied.

“How’s Ray tonight?” Catherine asked.

“Okay,” Lynda said. “The police found a relative in Kansas. An aunt, I think. She’s supposed to be on her way here to see him.”

They moved into Lynda’s room. “Does he talk to you about what happened?”

“He’s said some things to me,” Brian said. “But it’s the same stuff over and over again. He keeps telling me how he tried to save his little sister. It’s like he’s trying to convince himself he did everything he could. I don’t know if anyone told him that she didn’t make it, so I don’t say anything. I just listen.”

“He’s pretty out of it most of the time,” Lynda said. “He knows he’s burned, but I don’t think he
knows how bad. At least he never says anything.”

“They had to take another part of his hand yesterday,” Brian said.

“His fingers are all gone now,” Lynda added. “That’s so awful. He’s the quarterback of his…at least he was the quarterback.” She stopped in front of the mirror over the sink and looked at herself. “I’m so lucky nothing like that happened to me,” she said softly.

Catherine had waited for the moment when Lynda would show a self-awareness that put her injuries into perspective. It was something she couldn’t be told, something she had to feel for herself. Now the mental healing as well as the physical healing could begin. “I have a sudden craving for ice cream. Anyone care to join me?”

Lynda sat on the edge of her bed. “You’re so obvious, Mom.”

“Sounds good to me,” Brian said.

Lynda looked from Brian to her mother and then back again. “When I get out of here I’m never going to eat ice cream again.”

“Marshmallow sundae it is,” Brian told her. “What about you, Mrs. Mil—Catherine?”

She smiled. “Nice catch, Brian.” She’d been after him for days to stop calling her Mrs. Miller. “You might as well make it three.” On the grand scale of things what were another thousand or so calories? A month of marshmallow sundaes and Tom could tell their friends he’d had to leave her because she’d let herself go. That was something they would have no trouble understanding. At least according to him.

“I’m going to the Baskin-Robbins, but I’ll be right back,” Brian said at the door.

Catherine didn’t have to search for her answering smile. She really liked this kid. “We’ll be here.”

Lynda left the bed and sat in the rocker. Catherine put her purse in the cupboard and joined her, taking her place on the bed. “How does your head feel?”

“Worse than my back, but it’s okay.”

“I tried calling Grandma this afternoon, but she wasn’t home.” Catherine’s mother was the only person she knew who didn’t have a cell phone. “Did you see her today?”

“She and Uncle Gene came by on the way home from the airport. He brought me those scarves.” She pointed to a stack of neatly folded, brightly colored scarves on the shelf by the television. “But he said he thinks the caps Rick gave me look better.”

“I’m glad he’s home.” For more reasons than Lynda needed to know right then.

“Me too. He said Rick is going to take him ocean fishing and that I could come along if I wanted.”

“Oh?” She wasn’t sure why it surprised her that Gene would be interested in doing something with Rick. Other than being alumni of the same school, they seemed to have so little in common. “And what did you tell him?”

“No way.”

From somewhere in the middle of the dark cloud that Tom had created that night, Catherine found a smile. “You never know, you might like it.”

Lynda made a face and shuddered at the sugges
tion. “Brian’s mom and dad came by, too. They want to know if they can do anything for me. It doesn’t matter what I say, they just keep asking. Maybe I should make something up.”

“They feel bad about what happened.”

“It wasn’t their fault.”

“That doesn’t make any difference. They’re nice people and that’s what nice people do.”

“How was your meeting?”

The question seemed innocent enough, but Catherine picked up something in the way it was asked that put her on the alert. “Interesting.”

“That’s it?”

“They talked about a lot of things that don’t apply to us.”

“Like?”

“New advances in facial reconstruction.”

“Oh.”

Catherine leaned over and took Lynda’s hand. “What is it you’re really asking?”

“I was wondering what happened to Tom. Didn’t he go with you?”

Had she known Lynda was headed in this direction, she wouldn’t have asked. “I would imagine he’s home by now,” she answered truthfully, if evasively.

“He doesn’t like being here, does he?”

She took a deep breath. “No, he doesn’t.”

“Is it me?”

“Is what you?”

“Why he stays away.”

Lynda was beyond being satisfied with easy
answers; still, Catherine wasn’t ready to tell her the complete truth. “He doesn’t like hospitals.”

“I don’t either, but if someone I loved was in one, I’d be there for them.”

Plainly Tom’s absence had been bothering Lynda for some time. “It seems Tom is not the man I thought he was.”

“You had a fight, didn’t you? I could tell something was wrong.”

“It was more than a fight, Lynda. Tom and I broke up tonight.”

“It was because of me, wasn’t it?”

“Yes—and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to thank you enough. You kept me from making a huge mistake.”

“I thought you loved him.”

“So did I. Shows you even I can make mistakes.” She forced a smile. “Not many, and certainly not often, but in this case quality made up for quantity.”

“I’m sorry.”

Catherine reached for Lynda’s other hand and looked her daughter in the eye. “You have nothing to be sorry about, do you hear me? If none of this happened I would have married Tom. We might even have made it work—for a while. Until I needed him. Then I would have been on my own. You kept me from making the biggest mistake of my life.”

“I thought Daddy was your biggest mistake.”

“You are the best thing that ever happened to me. And since I wouldn’t have you without him, there’s no way he could have been a mistake.”

“That’s what parents always tell their kids.”

“Because that’s how parents feel.”

Lynda sat up straighter in her chair. “Now what?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t had a lot of time to think about it yet. I guess the first thing I should do is cancel the reservations at the church. And then there’s the invitations…and the caterer.”

“Didn’t you tell me Tom arranged all that?”

“We did it together.” At the time she’d thought he was doing it for her, but now she understood he was doing it to make sure the arrangements were to his liking.

“But wasn’t he going to pay for it?”

“You’re obviously leading up to something.”

“It’s his money—let him take care of it. If he doesn’t cancel in time, he’ll forfeit his deposit.”

“You don’t seem very upset about this.” Certainly not enough to justify Catherine’s concern.

“You liked Tom, and I didn’t hate him, so I never said anything. I hate him now, so I sure hope you aren’t thinking about getting back together.”

“There’s no way that’s going to happen.”

“Good.”

Brian opened the door. “They were having a special on banana splits. I got three. I hope that’s okay.”

“We need to talk about this some more,” Catherine told Lynda.

“Okay, but not now.”

“Want me to go away and come back later?” Brian asked.

Catherine almost said yes and then looked at Lynda. In the two and a half weeks she’d been in the
hospital Brian had given Lynda more attention than Tom had the entire time they’d been engaged. Catherine made a snap decision, an alien action. She gave most things—like Tom—careful thought. “I was just telling Lynda that Tom and I won’t be getting married after all.”

“Mom,” Lynda wailed. “He doesn’t need to know that.”

“Maybe not,” Brian said. “But I’m sure glad you told me. This way I won’t wind up with my foot in my mouth because I said something I shouldn’t have.” He opened the bag and handed Lynda a large container, spoon, and napkin. “I know it’s none of my business, but I think Tom’s an idiot for letting you dump him.”

She liked that he assumed she’d done the dumping, or that he pretended he did. It shouldn’t have mattered, but with her ego as battered as a heron in a hurricane, it did.

The door opened again. Rick looked through and smiled. He was in uniform, his appearance so star-tlingly different, he took all of them by surprise. “Looks like a party.”

Rick Sawyer was the last person Catherine wanted to see. Well, almost the last. “I thought you were working today.”

“I am.” He looked at Lynda. “We were on the way back from a call and I thought I’d look in on you and Ray. I like the hat, by the way.”

“We were with Ray earlier,” Lynda said. “He was okay then.”

“He told me you’d been by.” Rick checked out
the container of ice cream. “He also told me you’d been giving him a lecture about food and how to work the system.”

“He’s a nice guy,” Brian said. “Having his family die like that really sucks.”

“And his hand,” Lynda added.

“He told me,” Rick said.

Catherine stood on a mental sideline while they were talking. This was the first time she’d seen Rick in uniform. He seemed less approachable somehow. Too good-looking. Cliche or not, there was something about a man in uniform.

“Now that I see you’re being well taken care of,” he told Lynda, “I’m outta here. Enjoy your ice cream.” He looked at Catherine. “Want to walk me out?”

When she hesitated, he added, “I have a new hat in the rig that I forgot to bring in with me.”

Confused, she played along because it was Rick, and in the time she’d known him, he’d never done anything without a purpose. “Sure—that would be nice.” She put her ice cream container on the tray table and said, “I’ll be right back.”

When they were in the hallway, Rick took her arm and guided her into an empty examining room. “I just got a call from the captain at Station Thirteen. Tom’s been in an accident. He’s fine,” he added quickly. “It was just a fender-bender kind of thing. The air bag didn’t even deploy. The ambulance crew said they couldn’t find anything wrong with him, not even a bruise, but he kept insisting they take him in so he could be examined by a real doctor. He also
insisted that someone call you to tell you that he was on his way to the emergency room.” The next he added reluctantly. “He kept mumbling something about the accident being your fault.”

Catherine leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes. The day just kept getting worse and worse.

“The captain at the scene is one of the counselors at burn camp and he made the connection between us when Tom told him where you were and then threw my name into the mix. He called me to let me know that Tom was—well, you get the idea.”

“We had a fight.”

“You don’t owe me an explanation. I almost didn’t come, but then I thought maybe you’d want a little forewarning so you could keep Lynda out of it.”

“Thank you.” She put her hand on the doorknob. “Did this captain happen to say if Tom was with anyone?”

“He was alone.”

She frowned. “What kind of car was he driving?”

“A green Lincoln Navigator.”

She exploded. “That son of a bitch! He waited until I was inside the hospital and then took my car.”

“I’ll call the police when I get back to the station and see if I can find out where it was towed.”

Without her car, she had to arrange for a ride home. If she asked her mother to come and get her, she’d want to know why Tom wasn’t available. Damn. She really didn’t want to talk to anyone else about Tom that night.

Catherine jumped when she heard a knock on the door.

“Mrs. Miller?” The night nurse looked inside. “There’s a phone call for you. It’s Mr. Adams. He said he’s at Sutter Hospital and needs to talk to you right away.”

“Thank you. I’ll be right there.” To Rick, she said, “And thank you. Again. For the hundredth time. I don’t know what I would have done if Tom had blindsided me with this.”

“You would have rolled with it the way you have everything else.” He waited to follow her out of the room, but she showed no sign of leaving. Finally, he said, “I’m out of my district so I can’t hang around, but if you need me for something, you can reach me at the station.”

She nodded. “Will you be here tomorrow?”

He’d planned to stop by for a few minutes on his way home and then spend the rest of the day taping and texturing wallboard. “I’m free all day if you need something.”

BOOK: Disguised Blessing
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