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Authors: Marie Force

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Literature & Fiction, #Contemporary Fiction

Love After Dark (4 page)

BOOK: Love After Dark
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Poor Paul had to repeat the entire conversation six times before he had Marion strapped into the front seat of his truck.

Hope climbed into the back, carrying the bag she brought with her everywhere she went with Marion. It contained a change of clothes, an adult diaper, wipes, snacks and a bottle of water. She tried to be ready for any possible catastrophe.

Since Paul was driving and the sun was shining, Hope took advantage of the rare opportunity to gaze out at the bright blue sky, to let the cool September air wash over her face.

The battle began anew when they reached the clinic where Paul had to bribe and cajole his mother inside against her will. By the time they were seated in one of the exam rooms, Paul looked as exhausted as he did after a hard day of work.

“Where am I?” Marion asked in a small voice. Her gaze skipped right over Hope to focus on Paul. “George? Why are we here?”

“Doctor David wanted you to come by, remember?”

“Why? Am I sick?”

“No, Mom, you’re fine. Just a checkup.”

The conversation continued in circles until David knocked and entered the room. “Good morning. Hi there, Marion.”

She shrank from a man she saw almost every day, except for the last week when he’d been off island on vacation.

David was wonderful with her, answering Marion’s indignant questions over and over while somehow managing to examine her. His brows knitted as he assessed her.

Hope wondered if he saw what she did—Marion was declining rapidly. Despite the years of experience she had with dementia patients, it was no less heartbreaking to witness the relentless march of the awful disease.

“Anything new or different since I last saw you all?” he asked, encompassing both Paul and Hope in his kind gaze.

“There’s more of a shuffle to her walk in the last week or two,” Paul said.

“What time is Daddy coming to get me?” Marion asked Paul.

“Not until he’s done working,” Paul replied.

David asked if he could speak to Paul and Hope in private. His colleague, Victoria Stevens, came into the exam room to stay with Marion. As Hope left the room, she heard Marion asking Victoria to call her husband to come pick her up.

They followed David into his office. David, who’d grown up with Paul and Alex, shut the door and went around to sit behind his desk. He seemed to choose his words carefully. “I thought about your mother a lot when I was on vacation,” he said to Paul. “We’ve talked before about the seven stages of dementia. I believe your mother is well into the sixth stage. I’m actually surprised by the amount of decline in her physical condition since the last time I saw her.”

“I’ve noticed the contractures in her wrists and fingers,” Hope said. “I was going to mention it to you today.”

“What does that mean?” Paul asked. “Contractures?”

“It’s when rigidity sets in and causes the hands to curl in on themselves.” David demonstrated by bending his fingers. “I fear that your mother’s condition has reached the point where I don’t feel comfortable being the only doctor involved. I’d like to have her evaluated by someone who specializes in dementia and memory disorders, just to make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep her comfortable and safe.”

Paul glanced at Hope. “What do you think?”

“I agree with David. It certainly won’t make anything worse.”

“It would take a lot out of her to travel,” Paul said.

“I’d be there to make sure she was comfortable,” Hope said. She could ask Jenny to keep Ethan for a couple of days while they were away. Ethan was familiar enough with her and Alex by now that he’d be okay staying with them.

“That’s a lot to ask. You have Ethan…”

Paul looked so sad that Hope’s heart went out to him. If she could somehow make this easier on him, she’d do it in a minute. “He’d be fine with Jenny and Alex for a couple of days, if they’d be willing.”

“They would,” Paul said.

She could almost see him trying to figure out how he could be off the island and away from the business for even a few days.

“How soon are we talking?”

“I think it should be done as soon as possible,” David said.

“Okay,” Paul said, resigned. “You can set it up?”

“I’ll take care of everything.”

“We would’ve been so lost without your help, David.”

“I only wish I could do more to slow the progression.”

“Nothing short of a miracle could do that,” Paul said.

“One thing I’m sure of,” David said, “is the care you and Alex have given her and keeping her at home all this time has given her a much better quality of life than she would’ve had otherwise. You should be very proud of yourselves.”

Paul nodded in acknowledgment of the compliment, but he didn’t look proud. He looked defeated.

Chapter 3

By the time he got his mother and Hope home and settled, Paul was ready to give up on the day. But that wasn’t an option when there was work to be done. There was always work to be done. He changed into work clothes and then sat on his bed to put on socks. A wave of despair overtook him, threatening to suck him under.

“We’ve tried so hard, Pop,” he whispered. “We tried to do what you would’ve done and kept Mom home with us. But it’s so hard.”

Before he got sick with cancer, George Martinez had been a strong, capable man who never let anything get him down. He worked hard, loved hard, played hard and had very high expectations for both of his sons. Disappointing their father had never been high on their to-do list.

His father’s voice was always in Paul’s head, guiding every decision he made in business and in life. George Martinez was the yardstick by which Paul measured himself as a man, and today he found himself sorely lacking. They were going to the mainland to have his mother evaluated by a dementia expert who would—again—recommend she be placed in an in-patient residential home for her own good—and theirs.

Except how could it be “good” for any of them to have her living a ferry or plane ride away from the two people who loved her most? They were tied to the island thanks to the business their father had founded more than forty years ago. It wasn’t like they could suddenly abandon what they’d all worked so hard to build. When they hired Hope, they’d bought themselves some time. But what if that time was up now? What would that mean for her and Ethan when they’d recently uprooted their lives to move to Gansett?

Paul’s stomach was tied up in knots, and he still had to talk to Alex about the appointment with David, not to mention what he’d learned about Ethan’s father. Steeling himself to face today and whatever lay ahead with his mother, Paul stood and tried to shake off the gloomy mood. He had to believe his father would be proud of the herculean effort he and Alex had put forth to keep their mother at home for as long as they had. He had to believe that because the alternative didn’t bear entertaining.

He left his room to encounter angry shouts coming from the living room, where he’d left his mother and Hope.

“I don’t know who you think you are, young lady,” Marion said, “but I have no time to take naps during the day. I have a husband and two sons to care for. Who will do the washing if I’m napping? Who will cook their dinner?”

“You’ll have plenty of time to do all that when you get up,” Hope said calmly.

No matter how much crap Marion shoveled on Hope, she never lost her temper, never lost her composure or her patience. It was admirable, because at times, Paul wanted to scream his head off when his mother went off on him. Thank God for Hope. He and Alex had said that so many times since she arrived over the summer and literally saved their lives.

“Can I help?” he asked.

“Nope,” she said. “Go on ahead to work. We’ll be fine.”

“There’s my George now! Tell this woman, whoever she is, that I have things to do, will you please?”

It was a source of never-ending black humor to him and Alex that their mother couldn’t remember what happened a minute ago, except in the middle of an argument in which her memory became crystal clear. They had morbidly joked that they should fight with her constantly.

“Marion, Hope is just trying to help,” Paul said, channeling his father, who’d adored his wife to the point of distraction. “Will you please let her help?”

He watched as some of the starch went out of Marion’s rigid shoulders. “If that’s what you’d like me to do, George.”

“It is. It’s what I’d like you to do.”

“All right, then.” She glanced at Hope tentatively. “What did you want me to do again?”

Hope nodded for the door, encouraging Paul to get while the getting was good. He and Alex had made her promise from the outset to call them if anything ever happened that she couldn’t handle—even if they were working. They’d promised to come running. She’d yet to call.

As he walked out of the house and crossed the yard to the building where they kept their equipment, Paul texted his brother.
Where are you?

Alex replied immediately.

Stay put. I’m going to stop by.

I’m here for the day.

Paul loaded the truck with the tools he’d need for the abbreviated workday mapped out for him by Jenny, who now managed their workload as well as the store, and headed to the Chesterfield property, which was now owned by Jared and Lizzie James. They’d turned Mrs. Chesterfield’s estate into a first-class wedding venue, which would host Alex and Jenny’s wedding next month.

Alex had made the secret garden inside the elaborate hedges his own pet project, which Paul supported and encouraged. His brother had given up a fantastic job working at the US Botanic Garden in Washington, DC, to come home to help Paul when their mother’s condition took a turn for the worse.

If cultivating the gardens at the Chesterfield gave Alex an outlet for his considerable horticultural talents, Paul refused to begrudge him that. He’d never begrudge either of them anything that brought them even the slightest bit of joy in the midst of the never-ending sorrow of their mother’s illness.

Jenny brought Alex joy, too. His brother had been a different person since she came into his life, and no one was happier for both of them than Paul.

He parked in the circular driveway in front of the huge stone house and headed directly for the garden. Inside the tall hedges, Paul found his brother clipping and pruning and tending to the blooms, whistling while he worked. Paul supposed if he got laid three times a day without fail, he’d whistle while he worked, too.

The thought made him feel petty, so he squelched it as fast as he had it. “Hey.”

“Hey, what’s up? How was the appointment with David?”

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Uh-oh. That doesn’t sound good.”

“It’s not bad, but there was a development.” He explained David’s concerns and the plan to take Marion to the mainland to be evaluated by a dementia specialist.

Alex sighed, wiped the sweat from his brow and took a long gulp of the ice-cold water he guzzled all day long. “We’ve known we were living on borrowed time for a while now.”

“I guess. What’re we going to do if they tell us—again—that she needs in-patient care?”

“We’ll have to cross that bridge when we get to it. No sense speculating about what-ifs.”

After two years of living with his mother’s rapidly declining health, Paul had become an expert in speculating about what-ifs and worst-case scenarios. “I’ll go with her. Hope will come, too, if you and Jenny wouldn’t mind having Ethan for a couple of days. He can stay in my room.”

“Of course we will. He’s no trouble. Are you sure you’re up to going? I could do it.”

“You’ve got a lot going on with the wedding and the house. You need to be here right now.”

“I can take a couple of days away.”

“It’s fine. I’ll do it.”

“What else is bugging you?”

“Other than our mother’s increasingly depressing illness?”

BOOK: Love After Dark
12.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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