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Authors: Katherine Hall Page

The Body in the Wardrobe (15 page)

BOOK: The Body in the Wardrobe
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“My office is a petri dish of germs. At the hospital, you can bring her straight into an examining room. It sounds like she'll need a chest X-ray. I don't want to diagnose without seeing her first, but it sounds like pneumonia.”

“Pneumonia!” Faith hung up quickly and tried Tom's cell. It
was his day as chaplain at the VA hospital in Bedford, and she left a voice message when, as she'd expected, he didn't answer.

Amy was lying down in the nurse's office, tears rolling into her ears. Her face was puffy and bright red. When she saw her mother she started to cry harder. Faith pulled her into her arms. “Hush, it's all right. Dr. Kane is waiting for us at the hospital, and he'll make you feel better in no time.”

“Hospital! No!”

The nurse came over. “Amy, don't worry. Your doctor needs to take a picture of those lungs of yours to help you get over this cough.” She mouthed the word “pneumonia” over Amy's head. Faith didn't think she could feel any worse, but she did. She helped Amy get her parka on, wishing she could carry her, but those days were long gone.

By the time they reached the hospital, Amy had stopped protesting. Her eyes were glassy with fever and she was too sick to say anything even when the nurse inserted the IV Dr. Kane ordered for dehydration She was taken to have an X-ray, then back to the curtained cubicle in the ER. Faith sat by her daughter's side, holding her hand.

It wasn't long before the blood tests and X-ray revealed the culprit. It
was
pneumonia. Viral pneumonia, which Dr. Kane said they usually saw in older adults or younger children. The virus—RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus—did not respond to antibiotics, as bacterial pneumonia did, but he was prescribing an antiviral medication to keep it at bay along with ibuprofen to reduce Amy's fever and deal with the pain.

“It's caused by flu initially, and the schools are filled with kids whose parents send them to school sick.”

Like me, Faith thought glumly.

“Have you noticed that she has seemed tired lately, run-down? Maybe too much homework.”

“A little, but I thought it was because she's in a new school and it's been very stressful for her.”

Dr. Kane frowned. “Stress is not our bodies' friend. She'll be fine in time, with plenty of rest and fluids. Use the humidifier. Still, I want to keep her overnight.”

“I can stay with her, can't I?”

He smiled. “I wouldn't have it any other way. Miss Amy will need to be kept quiet and as relaxed as possible. She's always been in good health and the X-ray did not show any permanent lung damage, just fluid. I'll keep checking on her while she's here and you have my pager number.”

“Thank you. Tom's at the VA today, but I left a message, so he should be here soon.”

Dr. Kane left, giving Faith a hug and reassuring her once more that Amy would be fine. “And, Faith, these things come on suddenly. Don't beat yourself up.”

He knew her well. After he left, she pulled a chair up next to Amy. It wasn't a private room, but the other bed was unoccupied at the moment. She ought to call Pix and text Ben, the most reliable way to reach him, but right now Faith just wanted to sit with her precious daughter and watch her.

After a while, she heard Amy's soft, “Mom?” and instantly bent closer.

“Darling, how do you feel? There's juice, and Dr. Kane said you could have something to eat if you're hungry. I can ring for the nurse.”

“Thirsty,” Amy said.

Faith gave her the juice and after correctly interpreting Amy's startled look at the IV explained what it was and that she had pneumonia but would be better soon.

“In time for Christmas?”

“Maybe not that fast, but by Thursday you'll definitely feel better than today.”

“So no school tomorrow?”

“No school.”

Amy sank back into the pillows. The hospital made her look smaller than she was. Over the summer she had shot up and was
as tall as Faith now. Her expression was fearful and the tears were starting again. Faith reached for the buzzer to summon the nurse.

“What's wrong? Are you in pain?” Faith brought her face near her child's, wiping away the tears with a tissue. “Amy, what is it!”

“Ben can't go to France! You mustn't let him! Cassie said he'll be targeted by terrorists as an American and that her parents wouldn't let her brother go on the trip. She said his plane will probably blow up before he even gets there!”

Faith was torn between violent rage and the need to stay calm for her daughter.

“Honey, yes, the world has seen some horrible things over this year, but aside from what Dad and I would allow, do you think the school and Ben's teacher would put students at risk? If there were any question at all that the trip would be dangerous, it would have been canceled. Ben and the others will all be staying with families. Families like ours. Cassie was just saying this to hurt you. I'm not sure she even has an older brother.”

“But why, Mom?” Amy moaned. “Why does she hate me so much?”

Faith paused. Why indeed? “I don't know, sweetheart. You may not believe me, but she's probably jealous of you. Afraid her friends will like you better. You certainly are nicer, prettier, smarter.”

This drew a wan smile. “You think so because you're my mom.”

Faith smiled back, although it
was
true. Faith had never seen Cassie, but she doubted she had Amy's beautiful big blue eyes and shining straight blond hair, and there was no question about who was nicer. As for smarts, both her children were distinctly above average, as Garrison Keillor would have said.

“Besides,” she said, “there are things we don't know that cause people to act the way Cassie has. She could have family troubles or be unhappy, and is taking her hurt out on you.” Faith paused. “Or she could just be evil.”

“Mom!”

The nurse came in and looked at the two of them. “I'd say someone, or both, may be feeling better. Let me check Amy's temp and a few other things while you get a snack. I'll be bringing Amy something soon if she feels as though she could eat.”

Faith left reluctantly but was immediately cheered by the sight of Pix and Tom coming off the elevator. She rushed over.

“The nurse is with her. She's going to be fine. I mean Amy, not the nurse. It's viral pneumonia, and that Cassie made her sick!”

Sophie rang Lydia Scriven's bell early Wednesday afternoon. She'd seen the woman walking Charlie a half hour ago so was hoping she'd still be at home and not off somewhere for Christmas Eve. She was.

“Sophie Maxwell! Merry Christmas! Come in, come in. I was just about to have a cup of tea, but we can have something more celebratory if you like.”

“Thank you,” Sophie said, stepping into the hall, which was painted deep peach. The banister on the stairs to the second floor ended in a mahogany carved acanthus newel post. A large oval mirror made the narrow space seem larger and the walls were covered with botanical prints. The color continued in the parlor, but these walls were covered with folk art paintings like those Sophie had seen by Jacob Lawrence and Horace Pippin.

“My husband and I used to pick these up at tag sales, and sometimes from the trash! When he retired he decided to try his hand. The ones on this wall are his.”

Sophie recognized the house and square—brightly colored, sunny pictures—and a warm, deep-hued portrait of Lydia herself.

“Now, what will you have? Some scuppernong wine? My cousin in North Carolina keeps me supplied.”

“Knowing my husband's family, I think I'd better have tea.
There will be plenty to drink at dinner tonight, and I should start with a clear head, tempting as the wine sounds. I know it's a sweet one, but I've never had it.”

“Tea it is and a slice of Scripture Cake. A recipe that's come down in my family from about the time Eve was having to come up with a pie recipe.”

“Scripture Cake?”

“Now, don't tell me you haven't heard of it. You must have it up north, too.”

Sophie shook her head.

“I'll make a copy of the recipe for you. But to give you an idea, each ingredient refers to a passage from scripture, twelve in all, just like the twelve apostles. For example First Kings, chapter four, verse twenty-two says, ‘And Solomon's provision for one day was thirty measures of fine flour.' Over the years, ladies have worked out the amounts. There are figs mentioned in Nahum and ‘sweet cane' in Jeremiah. My favorite is Second Chronicles, chapter nine, verse nine, ‘And she gave the king spices in great abundance.' Or as we say now, ‘Season to taste'!”

“I love it! I'm sure my friend Faith Fairchild has heard of the cake, but I'll send her a copy, too, if I may. She's a pastor's wife and a caterer.”

“She will most likely know of it, but
our
recipe tastes good, too. It's not just a gimmick!”

Sophie followed her hostess into the kitchen. It had not been touched, except for updated appliances, since the 1950s, and happily so. Sophie wondered if her new friend knew how much the cabinets, countertops, canisters, and dinette set would bring in a midcentury-modern shop in Manhattan. After Sophie's appreciative remarks, they talked about the way new kitchens lacked character—“all that stainless steel and granite, so cold,” Lydia said. It turned out she was an HGTV devotee nonetheless. Sophie agreed about the soullessness and told her how much she
was looking forward to doing up her own kitchen, adding to herself, as soon as possible.

“Your mother-in-law must be chewing nails at how slow the work is going on her place here on the square. They started almost a year and a half, no make that two years, ago. Word is that she switched contractors, so that may be the problem.”

Sophie was surprised. From what Will had said, Gloria was a quick flipper. Maybe she had other plans for this particular house. She hoped she wouldn't offer it to them. Sophie wanted a place all their own at this point, no matter how lovely Gloria's finished product would be.

“We always end up in the kitchen, now let's be proper ladies and sit in the parlor. Will you take the tray?” Lydia said.

Over what was truly a heavenly slice of cake, Lydia told Sophie she would be going out to her sister's south of Savannah near Jekyll Island for the holidays. “You must be so happy to have your husband home. Your first married Christmas!”

“I am, but he won't be getting here until late this afternoon, I'm afraid.”

“But I saw . . . no these old eyes of mine do play tricks on me. Now, I have a little something for you two to enjoy over the holidays. Divinity. Do you know what that is?”

“I have a notion, but I'm pretty sure it's not the one you're giving us unless you have even greater powers than I already think you have,” Sophie said. While Lydia was out of the room, Sophie wondered about the woman's “eyes playing tricks” comment. Was that what it had been or had she seen Will today? Will, who was still supposed to be in Atlanta.

Lydia returned with a tin filled with what looked like small snow-white meringues, each morsel topped with a pecan. “Try one. It's basically sugar, corn syrup, and egg white. Southern nougat.”

“I'll have to put these on a high shelf out of temptation's way
or there won't be any left for Will! Thank you so much, and here's a little something for you.”

Sophie had ordered one of L.L.Bean's Christmas gift bags—a small version of their famous canvas boat bags decorated with an embroidered Christmas tree and filled with Maine treats: a jar of wild blueberry jam, a jug of maple syrup, and barley sugar lobster lollipops.

“I will be the envy of my book club when the bag is empty! It's the perfect size for my reading material and my reading glasses.”

Lydia's last word reminded Sophie of the earlier comment—about the older woman's eyes playing tricks on her—and hoped that's what had happened.

They were expected for drinks at six and Sophie was ready by five thirty, excitedly waiting for her husband. The pleasure of putting on the new dress and the heirloom jewelry had chased any other thoughts far away. She pulled her hair back into a sleek French twist to show off the pearls. When she heard Will's key in the door she ran to greet him.

“Merry Christmas, darling!”

He stopped still for a moment, stepped in, and closed the door behind him.

“Sophie!” He sounded choked up as he reached for her. “You look like you just stepped down from the top of a tree, a Christmas angel! Oh, shug, I love you so much!” He pulled her close.

It was all she could do to keep tears of joy from falling, wrecking the makeup that had taken her so long to put on. She usually just went for mascara, blush and lip gloss, but tonight she had gone all out. It was obviously working.

“I don't want to muss you up,” Will murmured. “Think we have time . . . ?”

Just as Sophie was about to say they would always have time, the doorbell sounded.

“Damn! Who could that be? It's Christmas Eve! Can't a man have a moment with his wife?”

“You go change.” Sophie sighed. “And I'll see who it is. Probably a late delivery.” Babs had sent a large package of gifts, and others had also arrived, including one from the Fairchilds. Surely Uncle Paul wasn't near a post office in the remote part of Asia where they were spending the holiday? But he was very resourceful, Sophie thought, opening the door.

“Merry Christmas, y'all. Where's Will? We always exchange gifts Christmas Eve and I have his right here.”

Miss Laura. Sophie bet the ice queen—all in white velvet tonight—had a very special one in mind. She stepped over the threshold.

“I'm so sorry, Laura, but Will is changing for our family dinner.” Sophie emphasized “our” and “family.” “We're running late. Give me the gift and I'll put it under our tree.” Again with the “our.”

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