While My Sister Sleeps Barbara Delinsky Perfect for fans of Jodi Picoult, a tale of personal tragedy, human resilience and the healing power of family love.Robin Snow has everything to live for. By her early thirties she’s a world class marathon runner at the peak of her career. Then, tragedy strikes. Whilst training, she suffers a heart attack, leaving her brain-dead and on life-support.The difficult question for her family: when to pull the plug?In a powerful and heart-wrenching tale which dissects the strength of family bonds, While my Sister Sleeps will leave the reader with one question: what would you do? If you like Jodi Picoult or Diane Chamberlain, you will love Barbara Delinsky. BARBARA DELINSKY While My Sister Sleeps To Andrew and Julie forever Table of Contents Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Acknowledgments About the Author By the same author Copyright About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) 1 (#ub02bbdb4-800c-53f7-9f2e-2b2079b3618a) There were days when Molly Snow loved her sister, but this wasn’t one. She had risen at dawn to be Robin’s water-carrier only to learn that Robin had changed her mind and decided to do her long run in the late afternoon, fully expecting Molly to accommodate her. And why not? Robin was a world-class runner–a marathoner with a dozen wins under her belt, incredible stats, and a serious shot at making the Olympics. She was used to people changing their plans to suit hers. She was the star. Resenting that for the millionth time, Molly said no to late afternoon and, though Robin followed her from bedroom to bathroom and back, refused to give in. Robin could have easily run that morning; she just wanted to have breakfast with a friend. And wouldn’t Molly love to do that herself! But she couldn’t, because her day was backed up with work. She had to be at Snow Hill at seven to tend to the greenhouse before customers arrived, had to do purchasing, track inventory and sales, preorder for the holiday season; and on top of her own chores, she had to cover for her parents, who were on the road. That meant handling any issues that arose and, worse, leading a management meeting–not Molly’s idea of fun. Her mother wouldn’t be pleased that she had let Robin down, but Molly was feeling too put-upon to care. The good news was that if Robin went running late in the day, she would be out when Molly got home. So, with the sun bronzing her face through the open windows, Molly mellowed as she drove back from Snow Hill. She pulled mail from the roadside box, without asking herself why her sister never did it, and swung in to crunch down the dirt drive. The roses were a soft peach, their fragrance all the more precious for the short life they had left. Beyond were the hydrangeas she had planted, turned a gorgeous blue by a touch of aluminum, a sprinkling of coffee grounds, and lots of TLC. Pulling up under the pin oak that shaded the cottage she and Robin had rented for the past two years but were about to lose, Molly opened the back of the Jeep and began to unload. She was nearly at the house, juggling a drooping split-leaf philodendron, a basket of gourds, and a cat carrier, when her cell phone rang. She could just hear it. I’m sorry for yelling this morning, Molly, but where are you now? My car won’t start, I’m in the middle of nowhere, and I’m beat. Molly was shifting burdens to free up a key when the phone rang again. A third ring came as she knelt to put her load down just inside the door. That was when guilt set in. Seconds shy of voice mail, she pulled the phone from her jeans and flipped it open. ‘Where are you?’ she asked, but the voice at the other end wasn’t Robin’s. ‘Is this Molly?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘I’m a nursing supervisor at Dickenson-May Memorial. There’s been an accident. Your sister is in the ER. We’d like you to come.’ ‘A car accident?’ Molly asked in alarm. ‘A running accident.’ Molly hung her head. Another one of those. Oh, Robin, she thought and peered into the carrier, more worried about the little amber cat huddled inside than about her sister. Robin was a chronic daredevil. She claimed the reward was worth it, but the price? A broken arm, dislocated shoulder, ankle sprains, fasciitis, neuroma–you name it, she’d had it. This small cat, on the other hand, was an innocent victim. ‘What happened?’ Molly asked distractedly, making little sounds to coax the cat out. ‘The doctor will explain. Do you live far?’ No, not far. But experience had taught her that she would only have to wait for X-rays, even longer for an MRI. Reaching into the carrier, she gently drew out the cat. ‘I’m ten minutes away. How serious is it?’ ‘I can’t tell you. But we do need you here.’ The cat was shaking badly. She had been found locked in a shed with ten other cats. The vet guessed she was barely two. ‘My sister has her phone with her,’ Molly tried, knowing that if she could talk directly with Robin, she would learn more. ‘Does she have cell reception?’ ‘No. I’m sorry. Your parents’ number is here with yours on her shoe tag. Will you call them, or should I?’ If the nurse was holding the shoe, the shoe was off Robin’s foot. A ruptured Achilles tendon? That would be bad. Worried in spite of herself, Molly said, ‘They’re out of state.’ She tried humor. ‘I’m a big girl. I can take it. Give me a hint?’ But the nurse was immune to charm. ‘The doctor will explain. Will you come?’ Did she have a choice? Resigned, Molly cradled the cat and carried it to her bedroom at the back of the cottage. After nesting it in the folds of the comforter, she put litter and food nearby, and then sat on the edge of the bed. She knew it was dumb bringing an animal here when they had to move out in a week, but her mother refused to let another cat live at the nursery, and this one needed a home. The vet had kept her for several days, but she hadn’t done well with the other animals. She wasn’t only malnourished; she looked like she had been at the losing end of more than one fight. Her little body was poised, as if she expected another blow. ‘I won’t hurt you,’ Molly whispered assuredly and, giving the cat space, returned to the hall. She trickled water on the philodendron–too much too soon would only drain through–then took it to the loft and set it out of direct light. It, too, needed TLC. But later. First, a shower. It would have to be a quick one–she could put off the hospital only so long. But the greenhouse was hot in September, and after a major delivery of fall plants, she had spent much of the afternoon breaking down crates, moving pots, reorganizing displays, and sweating. The shower cleared her mind. Back in her room to dress, though, she couldn’t find the cat. Calling softly, she looked under the bed, in the open closet, behind a stack of boxes. She checked Robin’s room, the small living room, even the basket of gourds–which was one more thing to pack, but it filled an aesthetic need and could easily hide a small cat. She would have looked further, if her conscience hadn’t begun to nag. Robin was in good hands at the hospital, but with their parents somewhere between Atlanta and Manchester, and with her own name first on that tag, Molly had to make tracks. Letting her long hair curl as it dried, she put on clean jeans and a t-shirt. Then Molly drove off with the cell in her lap, fully expecting that Robin would call. She would be resilient and sheepish–unless it truly was an Achilles rupture, which would mean surgery and weeks of no running. They were all in trouble if that was the case. An unhappy Robin was a misery, and the timing of this accident couldn’t be worse. Today’s fifteen-miler was a lead-up to the New York Marathon. If she placed among the top ten American women there, she would be guaranteed a spot at the Olympic trials in the spring. The phone didn’t ring. Molly wasn’t sure if that was good or bad, but she didn’t see the point of leaving a message for her mother until she knew more. Kathryn and Robin were joined at the hip. If Robin had an in-grown toenail, Kathryn felt the pain. It was lovely to be loved that way, Molly groused and, in the next breath, felt remorse. Robin had worked hard to get where she was. And hey, Molly was as proud of her as the rest on race day. It just seemed like running monopolized all their lives. Resentment to remorse and back was such a boringly endless cycle that Molly was glad to pull up at the hospital. Dickenson-May sat on a bluff overlooking the Connecticut River just north of town. The setting would have been charming if not for the reasons that brought people here. Hurrying inside, Molly gave her name to the ER desk attendant and added, ‘My sister is here.’ A nurse approached and gestured her to a cubicle at the end of the hall, where she fully expected to see Robin grinning at her from a gurney. What she saw, though, were doctors and machines, and what she heard wasn’t her sister’s embarrassed, Oh, Molly, I did it again, but the murmur of somber voices and the rhythmic beep of machines. Molly saw bare feet–callused, definitely Robin’s–but nothing else of her sister. For the first time, she felt a qualm. One of the doctors came over. He was a tall man who wore large, black-framed glasses. ‘Are you her sister?’ ‘Yes.’ Through the space he had vacated, she caught a glimpse of Robin’s head–short dark hair messed as usual, but her eyes were closed, and a tube was taped over her mouth. Alarmed, Molly whispered, ‘What happened?’ ‘Your sister had a heart attack.’ She recoiled. ‘A what?’ ‘She was found unconscious on the road by another runner. He knew enough to start CPR.’ ‘Unconscious? But she came to, didn’t she?’ She didn’t have to be unconscious. Her eyes might be closed out of sheer exhaustion. Running fifteen miles could do that. ‘No, she hasn’t come to yet,’ said the doctor. ‘We pulled up hospital records on her, but there’s no mention of a heart problem.’ ‘Because there isn’t one,’ Molly said and, slipping past him, went to the bed. ‘Robin?’ When her sister didn’t reply, she eyed the tube. It wasn’t the only worrisome thing. ‘The tube connects to a ventilator,’ the doctor explained. ‘These wires connect to electrodes that measure her heartbeat. The cuff takes her blood pressure. The IV is for fluids and meds.’ So much, so soon? Molly gave Robin’s shoulder a cautious shake. ‘Robin? Can you hear me?’ Robin’s eyelids remained flat. Her skin was colorless. Molly grew more frightened. ‘Maybe she was hit by a car?’ she asked the doctor, because that made more sense than Robin having a heart attack at the age of thirty-two. ‘There’s no other injury. When we did a chest X-ray to check on the breathing tube, we could see heart damage. Right now, the beat is normal.’ ‘But why is she still unconscious? Is she sedated?’ ‘No. She hasn’t regained consciousness.’ ‘Then you’re not trying hard enough,’ Molly decided and gave her sister’s arm a frantic jiggle. ‘Robin? Wake up!’ A large hand stilled hers. Quietly, the doctor said, ‘We suspect there’s brain damage. She’s unresponsive. Her pupils don’t react to light. She doesn’t respond to voice commands. Tickle her toe, prick her leg–there’s no reaction.’ ‘She can’t have brain damage,’ Molly said–perhaps absurdly, but the whole scene was absurd. ‘She’s in training.’ When the doctor didn’t reply, she turned to her sister again. The machines were blinking and beeping with the regularity of, yes, machines, but they were unreal. ‘Heart or brain–which one?’ ‘Both. Her heart stopped pumping. We don’t know how long she was lying on the road before she was found. A healthy thirty-something might have ten minutes before the lack of oxygen would cause brain damage. Do you know what time she started her run?’ ‘She was planning to start around five, but I don’t know whether she made it by then.’ You should have known, Molly. You would have known if you’d driven her yourself. ‘Where was she found?’ The doctor checked his papers. ‘Just past Norwich. That would put her a little more than five miles from here.’ But coming or going? It made a difference if they were trying to gauge how long she had been unconscious. The location of her car would tell, but Molly didn’t know where it was. ‘Who found her?’ ‘I can’t give you his name, but he’s likely the reason she’s alive right now.’ Starting to panic, Molly held her forehead. ‘She could wake up and be fine, right?’ The doctor hesitated seconds too long. ‘She could. The next day or two are crucial. Have you called your parents?’ Her parents. Nightmare. She checked her watch. They wouldn’t have landed yet. ‘My mom will be devastated. Can’t you do something before I call them?’ ‘We want her stabilized before we move her.’ ‘Move her where?’ Molly asked. She had a flash shot of the morgue. Too much CSI. ‘The ICU. She’ll be watched closely there.’ Molly’s imagination was stuck on the other image. ‘She isn’t going to die, is she?’ If Robin died, it would be Molly’s fault. If she had been there, this wouldn’t have happened. If she hadn’t been such a rotten sister, Robin would be back at the cottage, swigging water and recording her times. ‘Let’s take it step by step,’ the doctor said. ‘First, stabilization. Beyond that, it’s really a question of waiting. There’s no husband listed on her tag. Does she have kids?’ ‘No.’ ‘Well, that’s something.’ ‘It’s not.’ Molly was desperate. ‘You don’t understand. I can’t tell my mother Robin is lying here like this.’ Kathryn would blame her. Instantly. Even before she knew that it truly was Molly’s fault. It had always been that way. In her mother’s eyes, Molly was five years younger and ten times more troublesome than Robin. Molly had tried to change that. She had grown up helping Kathryn in the greenhouse, taking on more responsibility as Snow Hill grew. She had worked there summers while Robin trained, and had gotten the degree in horticulture that Kathryn had sworn would stand her in good stead. Working at Snow Hill wasn’t a hardship. Molly loved plants. But she also loved pleasing her mother, which wasn’t always an easy thing to do, because Molly was impulsive. She spoke without thinking, often saying things her mother didn’t want to hear. And she hated pandering to Robin. That was her greatest crime of all. Now the doctor wanted her to call Kathryn and tell her that Robin might have brain damage because she, Molly, hadn’t been there for her sister? It was too much to ask of her, Molly decided. After all, she wasn’t the only one in the family. While the doctor waited expectantly, she pulled out her phone. ‘I want my brother here. He has to help.’ 2 (#ub02bbdb4-800c-53f7-9f2e-2b2079b3618a) Christopher Snow was at the kitchen table, eating the flank steak that his wife had grilled. Erin sat on his right and, on his left, in her high chair, was their daughter, Chloe. ‘Is the steak okay?’ Erin asked when he was halfway done. ‘Great,’ he answered easily. Erin was a good cook. He never had complaints. Helping himself to seconds, he picked out a kernel of corn from the salad and put it on the baby’s tray. ‘Hey,’ he said softly, ‘how’s my pretty girl?’ When the child grinned, he melted. ‘So,’ Erin said, ‘was your day okay?’ Nodding, he dug into his salad. The dressing was great, too. Homemade. The baby struggled to pick up the corn. Christopher was intrigued by her concentration. After a time, he turned up her hand and put the slick nugget into her palm. ‘How was your meeting with the Samuel people?’ Erin asked. He nodded fine, and ate more of his salad. ‘Did they agree to your terms?’ she asked, sounding impatient. When he didn’t reply, she said, ‘Do you care?’ ‘Sure, I care. But they’ll be a while going over the figures, so for now it’s out of my hands. Why are you angry?’ ‘Chris, this is a major building project for Snow Hill. You spent all last night preparing your pitch. I want to know how it went.’ ‘It went fine.’ ‘That doesn’t tell me much,’ she remarked. ‘Want to elaborate? Or maybe you just don’t want me to know.’ ‘Erin.’ He set down his fork. ‘We’ve talked about this. I’ve been working all day. I want to get away from it now.’ ‘So do I,’ his wife said, ‘only my day revolves around an eight-month-old child. I need adult conversation. If you won’t talk about work, what do we talk about?’ ‘Can’t we just enjoy the silence?’ Christopher asked. He loved his wife. One of the best parts of their relationship was that they didn’t have to talk all the time. At least, that’s what he thought. But she didn’t let it go. ‘I need stimulation.’ ‘You don’t love Chloe?’ ‘Of course, I love her. You know I love her. Why do you always ask me that?’ He raised his hands in bewilderment. ‘You just said she wasn’t enough. You were the one who wanted a baby right away, Erin. You were the one who wanted to stop working.’ ‘I was pregnant. I had to stop working.’ He didn’t know what to say. They had been the town’s favorite newlyweds, both blond-haired and green-eyed (Chris would say his own eyes were hazel, but no one cared about the distinction). They had been an adorable couple. But what was happening between them now was not so adorable. ‘Go back to work, then,’ he said, trying to please her. ‘Do you want me to work?’ ‘If you want to.’ She stared at him, those green eyes vivid. ‘And do what with Chloe? I don’t want her in day care.’ ‘Okay.’ He hated all arguments, but this was the worst. ‘What do you want?’ ‘I want my husband to talk to me during dinner. I want him to talk to me after dinner. I want him to discuss things with me. I don’t want him to come home and just stare at the Red Sox. I want him to share his day with me.’ Quietly, he said, ‘I’m an accountant. I work in the family business. There is nothing exciting about what I do.’ ‘I’d call a new building project exciting. But if you hate it, quit.’ ‘I don’t hate it. I love what I do. I’m just saying that it doesn’t make for great conversation. And I’m really tired tonight.’ And he actually did want to watch the Red Sox. He loved the baseball team. ‘Tired of me? Tired of Chloe? Tired of marriage? You used to talk to me, Chris. But it’s like now that we’re married–now that we have a baby–you can’t make the effort. We’re twenty-nine years old, but we sit here like we’re eighty. This is not working for me.’ Unsettled, he stood up and took his plate to the sink. This is not working for me sounded like she wanted out. He couldn’t process that. At a loss, he picked up the baby. When she put her head on his chest, he held it there. ‘I’m trying to give you a good life, Erin. I’m working so you don’t have to. If I’m tired at night, it’s because my mind has been busy all day. If I’m quiet, maybe that’s just who I am.’ She didn’t give in. ‘You weren’t that person before. What changed?’ ‘Nothing,’ he said carefully. ‘But this is life. Relationships evolve.’ ‘This isn’t just life,’ she fought back. ‘It’s us. I can’t stand what we’re becoming.’ ‘You’re upset. Please calm down.’ ‘Like that’ll make things better?’ she asked, seeming angrier than ever. ‘I talked with my mother today. Chloe and I are going to visit her.’ The phone rang. Ignoring it, he asked, ‘For how long?’ ‘A couple of weeks. I need to figure things out. We have a problem, Chris. You’re not calm, you’re passive.’ The phone rang again. ‘I ask what you think about putting Chloe in a playgroup, and you throw the question back at me. I ask if you want to invite the Bakers for dinner Saturday night, and you tell me to do it if I want. Those aren’t answers,’ she said as another ring came. ‘They’re evasions. Do you feel anything, Chris?’ Unable to respond, he reached for the phone. ‘Yeah.’ ‘It’s me,’ his sister said in a high voice. ‘We have a serious problem.’ Turning away from his wife, he ducked his head. ‘Not now, Molly.’ ‘Robin had a heart attack.’ ‘Uh, can I call you back?’ ‘Chris, I need you here now! Mom and Dad don’t know yet.’ ‘Don’t know what?’ ‘That Robin had a heart attack,’ Molly cried. ‘She keeled over in the middle of a run and is still unconscious. Mom and Dad haven’t landed. I can’t do this alone.’ He stood straighter. ‘A heart attack?’ Erin materialized beside him. ‘Your dad?’ she whispered, taking Chloe. Shaking his head, he let the child go. ‘Robin. Oh boy. She pushed herself too far.’ ‘Will you come?’ Molly asked. ‘Where are you?’ He listened for a minute, then hung up the phone. ‘A heart attack?’ Erin asked. ‘Robin?’ ‘That’s what Molly said. Maybe she’s exaggerating. She gets wound up sometimes.’ ‘Because she shows emotion?’ Erin shot back, but then softened. ‘Where are your parents?’ ‘Flying home from Atlanta. I’d better go.’ He stroked Chloe’s head, and, conciliatorily, touched Erin’s. She was the one on his mind as he set off. They had only been married for two years, the last third of that time with a child, and he tried to understand how dramatically her life had changed. But what about him? She asked if he felt things. He felt responsibility. Right now, he felt fear. Being quiet was part of his nature. His dad was the same way, and it worked for him. Molly, on the other hand, tended to be highly imaginative. Robin might have suffered something, but a heart attack was pushing it. He might have talked her down over the phone, if he hadn’t wanted to get out of the house. Erin needed time to cool off. Did he feel things? He sure did. He just didn’t get hysterical. Putting on his indicator he turned in at the hospital. He had barely parked at the Emergency entrance when Molly was running toward him, her blond hair flying and her eyes panicked. ‘What’s happening?’ he asked, leaving the car. ‘Nothing. Nothing. She hasn’t woken up!’ He stopped walking. ‘Really?’ ‘She had a heart attack, Chris. They think there’s brain damage.’ She drew him inside, through the waiting room to a far cubicle–and there was Robin, inert as he had never seen her. He stood at the door for the longest time, looking from her body to the machines to the doctor by her side. Finally, he approached. ‘I’m her brother,’ he said and stopped. He didn’t know where to begin. The doctor began for him, repeating some of what Molly had said and moving on. Chris listened, trying to take it in. At the doctor’s urging, he talked to Robin, but she didn’t respond. He followed the physician’s explanation of the various machines and stood with him at the X-ray screen. Yes, he could see what the doctor was pointing out, but it was too bizarre. He must have been looking doubtful, because the doctor said, ‘She’s an athlete. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy–inflammation of the heart muscle–is the leading cause of sudden death in athletes. It doesn’t happen often, and the instance is even lower in women than men. But it does happen.’ ‘Without warning?’ ‘Usually. In cases where there’s a known family history, a screening echocardiogram may diagnose it, but many victims are asymptomatic. Once she’s in the ICU, she’ll have an intensive care specialist heading her case. He’ll work with a cardiologist and a neurologist.’ Chris knew his parents would want the best, but how could he know who that was? Feeling inadequate, he looked at his watch. ‘What time do they land?’ he asked Molly. ‘Any minute.’ ‘Are you going to call?’ ‘You are. I’m too upset.’ And Chris wasn’t? Did he have to be visibly shaking? Facing the doctor, he said, ‘Is this–what is she–comatose?’ ‘Yes, but there are different levels of coma.’ He pushed up black glasses with the back of his hand. ‘At most levels, patients make spontaneous movements. The fact that your sister hasn’t suggests the highest level of coma.’ ‘How do you measure it?’ Chris asked. He didn’t know what he was looking for, only knew that Molly was standing at his elbow taking in every word, and that his parents would ask the same questions. Numbers had meaning. They were a place to start. ‘A CAT scan or an MRI will show if there’s tissue death, but those tests will have to wait until she’s more stable.’ Chris glanced at Molly. ‘Try calling Mom and Dad.’ ‘I can’t,’ she whispered, looking terrified. ‘I was supposed to be with her. This was my fault.’ ‘Like it wouldn’t have happened if you’d been waiting five miles down the road? Be real, Molly. Call Mom and Dad.’ ‘They won’t believe me. You didn’t.’ She was right. But he didn’t want to call. ‘You’re better with Mom than I am. You’ll know what to say.’ ‘You’re older, Chris. You’re the man.’ He took the phone from his pocket. ‘Men stink at things like this. It’ll be enough when she sees my caller ID.’ With a sharp look, he passed her the phone. Kathryn Snow turned on her BlackBerry as soon as the plane landed. She hated being out of touch. Yes, the nursery was a family operation, but it was her baby. If there were problems, she wanted to know. While the plane taxied through the darkness to the terminal, she downloaded new messages and scrolled through the list. ‘Anything interesting?’ her husband asked. ‘A note from Chris–his meeting went well. A thank-you for the Collins’ wedding shower. And a reminder from the newspaper that the article on flowering kale is due at the end of the week.’ ‘It’s all written, ready to go.’ Appreciative, she smiled. Charlie was her marketing chief, a behind-the-scenes guy who had a knack for writing ad copy, press releases, and articles. In his quiet way, he invited trust. When he suggested to TV producers that Kathryn was the one to discuss autumn wreaths, they believed him. He had single-handedly won her a permanent spot on the local news and a column in a home magazine. Speaking of which, ‘Grow How is due at the end of the week,’ she mused. ‘It’ll be for the January edition, which is always the toughest. Molly knows the greenhouse better than I do. I’ll have her write it.’ She returned to the BlackBerry. ‘Robin didn’t e-mail. I wonder how her run went. She was worried about her knee.’ Accessing voice mail next, she smiled, frowned, smiled again. She finished listening just as the plane reached the gate. Releasing her seat belt, she put the BlackBerry in her pocket and followed Charlie into the aisle. ‘Voice mail from Robin. She had to drive herself because Molly refused to help. What’s wrong with that child?’ ‘Just refused? No excuse?’ ‘Who knows,’ Kathryn murmured, but grinned. ‘Good news, though. Robin got another call from the powers-that-be wanting to make sure she’s set to run New York. They’re counting on her for the trials next spring. The Olympics, Charlie,’ she mouthed, afraid to jinx it by speaking aloud. ‘Can you imagine?’ He lowered her suitcase from the overhead bin. Kathryn was lifting its handle when her BlackBerry jangled. Christopher’s number was on the screen, but it was Molly’s voice that came on saying, ‘It’s me, Mom. Where are you?’ ‘We just landed. Molly, why couldn’t you help Robin? This was an important run. And did you lose your phone again?’ ‘No. I’m with Chris at Dickenson-May. Robin had an accident.’ Kathryn’s smile died. ‘What kind of accident?’ ‘Oh, you know, running. Since you weren’t around they called us, but she probably wants you here. Can you come by on your way home?’ ‘What kind of accident?’ Kathryn repeated. She heard forced nonchalance. She didn’t like that, or the fact that Chris was at the hospital, too. Chris usually left crises to others. ‘She fell. I can’t stay on now, Mom. Come straight here. We’re in the ER.’ ‘What did she hurt?’ ‘Can’t talk now. See you soon.’ The line went dead. Kathryn looked worriedly at Charlie. ‘Robin had an accident. Molly wouldn’t say what it was.’ Frightened, she handed him the BlackBerry. ‘You try her.’ He handed the phone back. ‘You’ll get more from her than I will.’ ‘Then call Chris,’ she begged, offering the BlackBerry again. But the line of passengers started to move, and Charlie gestured her on. She waited only until they were side by side inside the gate before saying, ‘Why was Chris there? Robin never calls him when there’s a problem. Try him, Charlie. Please?’ Charlie held up a hand, buying time until they reached the car. The BlackBerry didn’t ring again, and Kathryn told herself that was a good sign, but she couldn’t relax. She was uneasy through the entire drive, imagining awful things. The instant they parked at the hospital, she was out of the car. Molly was waiting just inside the ER. ‘That was a cruel phone call,’ Kathryn scolded. ‘What happened?’ ‘She collapsed on the road,’ Molly said, taking her hand. ‘Collapsed? From heat? Dehydration?’ Molly didn’t answer, just hurried her down the hall. Kathryn’s fear grew with each step. Other runners collapsed, but not Robin. Physical stamina was in her genes. She caught her breath at the cubicle door. Chris was there, too. But that couldn’t be Robin, lying senseless and limp, hooked to machines–machines that were keeping her alive, the doctor said after explaining what had happened. Kathryn was beside herself. The explanations made no sense. Nor did the X-rays. Her daughter’s hand, which she clutched, was inert as only a sleeping person’s hand would be. But she didn’t wake up when the doctor called her name or pinched her ear, and even Kathryn could see that her pupils didn’t dilate in response to light. Kathryn figured the person doing the prodding wasn’t doing it right, but she had no better luck when she tried it all herself–not when she pleaded with Robin to open her eyes, not when she begged her to squeeze her hand. The doctor kept talking. Kathryn no longer took in each word, but the gist got through with devastating effect. She didn’t realize she was crying until Charlie handed her a tissue. When Robin’s face blurred, she saw her own–the same dark hair, same brown eyes, same intensity. Two peas in a pod, they had neither the fair features, nor the laid-back approach to life of the others in the family. Kathryn refocused. Charlie seemed desolate, Chris stupefied, and Molly was stuck to the wall. Silence from all three? Was that it? If no one else questioned the status quo, it was up to her–but hadn’t it always been that way when it came to Robin? Defiant, she faced the doctor. ‘Brain damage isn’t an option. You don’t know my daughter. She’s resilient. She comes back from injuries. If this is a coma, she’ll wake up. She’s been a fighter since birth–since conception.’ She held Robin’s hand tightly. They were in this together. ‘What comes next?’ ‘Once she’s stabilized, we move her upstairs.’ ‘What’s her condition now? Wouldn’t you call it stable?’ ‘I’d call it critical.’ Kathryn couldn’t handle that word. ‘What’s in her IV?’ ‘Fluids, plus meds to stabilize her blood pressure and regulate the rhythm of her heart. It was erratic when she first arrived.’ ‘Maybe she needs a pacemaker.’ ‘Right now, the meds are working, and besides, she wouldn’t be able to handle surgery.’ ‘If the choice is between surgery and death-’ ‘It isn’t. No one’s letting her die, Mrs Snow. We can keep her going.’ ‘But why do you say her brain is damaged?’ Kathryn challenged. ‘Only because she doesn’t respond? If she’s been traumatized by a heart attack, wouldn’t that explain the lack of response? How do you test for brain damage?’ ‘We’ll do an MRI in the morning. Right now, we don’t want to move her.’ ‘If there’s damage, can it be repaired?’ ‘No. We can only prevent further loss.’ Feeling thwarted, Kathryn turned on her husband. ‘Is this all they can do? We can live with a heart condition, but not brain damage. I want a second opinion. And where are the specialists? This is only the ER, for God’s sake. These doctors may be trained to handle trauma, but if Robin has been here for three hours and hasn’t been seen by a cardiologist, we need to have her moved.’ She saw Molly shoot a troubled look at Charlie, but Charlie didn’t say anything, and Lord knew Chris wouldn’t. Frightened and alone, Kathryn turned back to the doctor. ‘I can’t sit and wait. I want to be proactive.’ ‘Sometimes that isn’t possible,’ he replied. ‘What’s crucial right now is getting her up to the ICU. The doctor there will call in specialists. This is all standard protocol.’ ‘Standard protocol isn’t good enough,’ Kathryn insisted, desperate that he understand. ‘There is nothing standard about Robin. Do you know what she does with her life?’ The eyes behind the glasses didn’t blink. ‘Yes, I do. It’s hard not to know when you live around here. Her name is in the local papers so often.’ ‘Not only the local papers. That’s why she has to recover from this. She works all over the country with budding track stars. We’re talking teenage girls. They can’t see this. They can’t begin to think that the reward for training hard and aiming high is…is this. Okay, you may not have had a case like this before, but if that’s so, just say it and we’ll have her transferred.’ She searched family faces for agreement, but Charlie seemed stricken, Chris was frozen, and Molly simply looked pleadingly from her father to her brother and back. Useless. All three. So Kathryn told the doctor, ‘This isn’t a personal indictment. I’m just wondering whether doctors in Boston or New York would have more experience with injuries like these.’ Molly touched her elbow then. Kathryn looked at her youngest in time to hear her murmur, ‘She needs to be in intensive care.’ ‘Correct. I just don’t know where.’ ‘Here. Let her stay here. She’s alive, Mom. They got her heart going, and it’s still beating. They’re doing all they can.’ Kathryn arched a brow. ‘Do you know that for fact? Where were you, Molly? If you’d been with her, this wouldn’t have happened.’ Molly paled, but she didn’t retreat. ‘I couldn’t have prevented a heart attack.’ ‘You could have gotten her help sooner. You have issues, Molly. You’ve always had issues with Robin.’ ‘But look,’ the girl urged, glancing at the medical personnel hovering at the door. ‘They’re waiting to take her upstairs, and we’re slowing them down. Once she’s there, we can talk about specialists, even about moving her; but right now, shouldn’t we be giving her every possible chance?’ Molly followed the others to the ICU and watched the team get Robin settled. At one point she counted five doctors and three nurses in the room, as frightening as it was reassuring. Monitors were adjusted and vital signs checked, while the respirator breathed in and out. Every minute or two someone spoke loudly to Robin, but she didn’t respond. Kathryn left the bedside only when a doctor or nurse needed access. The rest of the time, she held Robin’s hand, stroked her face, urged her to blink or moan. As Molly watched from the wall, she was haunted by the knowledge that her mother was right. If Robin had started breathing sooner, there would be no brain damage. If Molly had been with her, Robin would have started breathing sooner. But she wasn’t the only one who had let Robin down. She couldn’t blame her mother for being frantic back in the ER, but where was her father? He was supposed to be the calm one. What had he been thinking letting Kathryn go on like that? Even Chris could have spoken up. They didn’t have the guts, Molly decided, and then modified the thought. They knew better. You have issues. You’ve always had issues with Robin. She knew her mother was upset, but Molly was feeling guilty enough to be flayed by the words. As the minutes passed and the machines beeped, she remembered occasionally deleting a phone message, buying the wrong energy bar, misplacing a favorite running hat. Each offense could be balanced with something good Molly had done, but the good was lost in the guilt. Chris left at midnight, her father at one. Charlie had tried to get Kathryn to leave with him, to no avail. Molly suspected that her mother feared something awful would happen if she wasn’t there to stand guard. Kathryn had always been protective of Robin. Hoping her own presence might go a little way toward making up to Kathryn for what she had not done earlier that day, Molly stayed longer. By two, though, she was falling asleep in her chair. ‘Are you sure I can’t drive you home?’ she asked her mother. Kathryn barely looked up. ‘I can’t leave,’ she said and added, ‘Why weren’t you with her, Molly?’ with a speed suggesting she was brooding about just that. ‘I was at Snow Hill,’ Molly tried to explain. ‘The management meeting, remember? I didn’t know how long it would run. How could I commit to Robin?’ There was also the issue of the cat. But putting a cat before her sister was pathetic. Kathryn didn’t ask how long the meeting had run. She didn’t even ask how it had gone. If she was brooding, it was about Molly’s negligence toward Robin, not about Snow Hill. And Molly was guilty. That thought beat her down, before she finally broke the silence by asking, ‘Can I get you something, Mom? Coffee, maybe?’ ‘No. But you can cover for me at work.’ Startled, Molly blew out a little breath. ‘I can’t go to work with Robin like this.’ ‘You have to. I need you there.’ ‘Can’t I do something here?’ ‘There’s nothing to do here. There’s plenty to do at Snow Hill.’ ‘What about Dad? Or Chris?’ ‘No. You.’ She doesn’t want me around, Molly realized, her feeling of devastation growing. But she was too tired to beg for mercy, too wiped out even for tears. After asking Kathryn to call her if there was any change, she slipped out the door. 3 (#ub02bbdb4-800c-53f7-9f2e-2b2079b3618a) Molly’s cottage faced south, bringing year-round sun to the loft, while the forest behind the backyard shaded the bedrooms and scented the air with pine. Molly had learned of it by accident when its owner, who was leaving New Hampshire for Florida, came to the nursery looking for a home for dozens of plants. Now the owner wanted to renovate and sell, so Molly and Robin were being kicked out. Molly thought the vintage kitchen was just fine. She loved the weathered feel of the wide-planked floors and casement windows. Although Robin complained that the place was drafty and the rooms dark, she didn’t really care where she lived. She was gone half the time–to Denver, Atlanta, London, L.A. If she wasn’t running a marathon, half marathon, or 10 K, she was leading a clinic or appearing at a charity event. Most of the boxes in the living room were Molly’s. Her sister didn’t have many things to pack. Robin was happy to move. Molly was not, but she would go along, just to have Robin be her old self again. Waiting for her mother’s call, Molly slept with the phone in her hand, far from soundly. She kept jolting awake with the hollow feeling of knowing something was wrong and not remembering what it was. Too soon she’d recall, then lie awake, frightened. Without Robin getting up to ice one body part or another, the house was eerily quiet. At six a.m., needing companionship, Molly looked for the cat. It had eaten and used the litter. But the creature was nowhere to be found, though Molly searched even harder than she had the night before. She had been wasting time then, wanting Robin to wait for her for a change. How petty that had been. Brain damage was light years worse than a torn-up ankle or knee. Of course, Robin may have woken up by now. But who to call? Molly couldn’t risk dialing her mother, didn’t want to waken her father, and Chris was no use. The station at the ICU would give only an official status report. Critical condition? She didn’t want to hear that. So she watered and pruned the philodendron in the loft, picked hopeless leaves off an ill ficus, misted a recovering fern–all the while whispering sweet nothings to the plant until she ran out of sweet nothings to say, at which point she put on jeans and drove to the hospital. Preoccupied, she went straight to intensive care, hoping against hope that Robin’s eyes would be open. When they weren’t, her heart sank. The respirator was soughing, the machines blinking. Little had changed since she’d left the night before. Kathryn was asleep in a chair by the bed, her head touching Robin’s hand. She stirred at Molly’s approach and, groggy, looked at her watch. Tiredly, she said, ‘I thought you’d be at the nursery by now.’ Molly’s eyes were on her sister. ‘How is she?’ ‘The same.’ ‘Has she woken up at all?’ ‘No, but I’ve been talking to her,’ Kathryn said. ‘I know she hears. She isn’t moving, because she’s still traumatized. But we’re working on that, aren’t we, Robin?’ She stroked Robin’s face with the back of her hand. ‘We just need a little more time.’ Molly remembered what the doctor had said about the lack of response. It wasn’t a good sign. ‘Have they done the MRI?’ ‘No. The neurologist won’t be here for another hour.’ Grateful that her mother wasn’t yelling about the wait, Molly gripped the handrail. Wake up, Robin, she urged and searched for movement under Robin’s eyelids. Dreaming would be a good sign. But her lids remained smooth. Either she was deeply asleep or truly comatose. Come on, Robin, she cried with greater force. ‘Her run was going well until she fell,’ Kathryn remarked and brought Robin’s hand to her chin. ‘You’ll get back there, sweetie.’ She caught a quick breath. Thinking she had seen something, Molly looked closer. But Kathryn’s tone was light. ‘Uh-oh, Robin. I almost forgot. You’re supposed to meet with the Concord girls this afternoon. We’ll have to postpone.’ As she glanced up, she tucked her hair behind her ear. ‘Molly, will you make that call? She’s also scheduled to talk with a group of sixth graders on Friday in Hanover. Tell them she’s sick.’ ‘Sick’ was a serious understatement, Molly knew. And how not to be sick in this place–with lights blinking, machines beeping, and the rhythmic hiss of the respirator as a steady reminder that the patient couldn’t breathe on her own? Between phones and alarms, it was even worse out in the hall. Molly had had a break from it, but Kathryn had not. ‘You look exhausted, Mom. You need sleep.’ ‘I’ll get it.’ ‘When?’ she asked, but Kathryn didn’t answer. ‘How about breakfast?’ ‘One of the nurses brought me juice. She said that the most important thing now is to talk.’ ‘I can talk,’ Molly offered, desperate to help. ‘Why don’t you take my car and go home and change? Robin and I have lots to discuss. I need to know what to do with the boxes of sneakers in her closet.’ Kathryn shot her a look. ‘Don’t touch them.’ ‘Do you know how old some of them are?’ ‘Molly…’ Molly ignored the warning. There was normalcy in arguing. ‘We have to be out in a week, Mom. The sneakers can’t stay where they are.’ ‘Then pack them up and bring them home with the rest of your things. When you find another place, we’ll move them there. And then, of course, there’s the issue of her car, which is parked on the side of the road somewhere between here and Norwich. I’ll send Chris to get that. I still can’t believe you didn’t drive her there.’ Molly couldn’t either, but that was hindsight. Right now, Robin made absolutely no show of hearing the conversation. And suddenly, for Molly to pretend that any part of this was normal didn’t work. To be talking about old sneakers, when the runner was on life support? Heart in her throat, she searched Robin’s face. As a child, Molly had often waited for her sister to wake up, eyes glued to her face, hopes rising and falling on each breath. Molly would be grateful for any movement now. ‘If you need help packing,’ Kathryn offered, ‘ask Joaquin. Check his schedule when you get to Snow Hill.’ ‘I really want to stay here,’ Molly said. ‘This isn’t about what you want, Molly. It’s about what’ll help most. Someone has to be at Snow Hill.’ ‘Chris will be there.’ ‘Chris can’t communicate with people. You can.’ Molly felt tears spring up. ‘I’m a plant person, Mom. I communicate with plants. And this is my sister lying here. How can I work?’ ‘Robin would want you to work.’ Robin would? Molly fought hysteria. Robin had never worked a forty-hour week in her life. She ran, she coached, she waved, she smiled–all in her own time. She had an office at the nursery and, nominally, was in charge of special events, but her active involvement was minimal. On the day of those events, she was away more often than not. She was an athlete, not a wreath-maker or a bonsai specialist, as she had told Molly more than once. But to repeat that to Kathryn now would be just as cruel as asking aloud what would happen if Robin never woke up. Snow Hill had been family-owned since its inception over thirty years before. Spread over forty acres of prime land on New Hampshire’s border with Vermont, it was renowned for trees, shrubs, and garden supplies. But its crown jewel–with solar panels that stored summer heat for winter use, a mechanism for recycling rainwater, and computer-regulated humidity control–was a state-of-the-art greenhouse. That was Molly’s domain. Even after stopping to see Robin, she was the first to arrive at Snow Hill. The greenhouse had been Molly’s childhood haven in times of stress, and though she no longer scrunched into corners or hid under benches, she found the surroundings therapeutic when she was upset. For all its technological advancement, it was still a greenhouse. The cats greeted her with rubs and meows. Counting six, she scratched heads and bellies, then she uncoiled hoses and began watering plants. While the cats scampered, she moved from section to section, watering heavily here, lightly there. Some plants craved daily drink, others preferred to dry out. Molly catered to each. A bench of overturned potted plants suggested that rabbits had visited during the night, likely chased off by the cats, who were effective guards, though not known for neatness. Setting the hose aside, Molly righted the plants, retamped soil, removed bruised leaves, then swept up. After spraying the last of the dirt down the drain, she resumed watering. The sun wasn’t high yet, but the greenhouse was bright. This early hour, before the heat rose, was definitely the time to water. And Molly enjoyed it as much as her plants did. When the spray glistened in oblique rays of sun and the soil grew moist and fragrant, the greenhouse was peaceful. It was predictable. She needed that today. Pushing Robin from her mind didn’t work for more than a minute or two at a time. It took constant effort. Recoiling the hose and putting it where no customer could possibly trip, she wandered the aisles. She checked a new shipment of chrysanthemums for aphids, and carefully cut brown tips from several Boston ferns. Wandering deeper among the shade benches, she spoke softly to peperomias, syngoniums, and spathiphyllum. They weren’t showy plants, certainly nothing like bromeliads, but they were steadfast and undemanding. Carefully, she checked them for moisture. The shade cloth, regulated by a computer program, would rise later to protect them from the bright light they hated, but the worst of summer’s intensity was over. Her African violets were thrilled at that. They consistently went out of flower to protest the heat, for which reason Molly carried fewer in July and August. She had just restocked and now rearranged the pots to showcase their blooms. She picked up several tags from the floor, made note of a bench that needed mending, and, for a lingering moment, stood in the middle of what she saw as her realm. There was comfort in the warm, moist air and the rich smell of earth. Then she saw Chris, who was never here this early. He stood under the arch separating the greenhouse from the checkout stands, and he didn’t look happy. Heart pounding, Molly approached him. ‘Did something happen?’ He shook his head. ‘Were you at the hospital?’ ‘No. Dad’s there. I just talked with him.’ ‘Do they know anything more?’ ‘No.’ ‘Is Mom okay?’ Chris shrugged. A shrug didn’t do it for Molly. She needed answers. She needed reassurance. ‘How could this happen?’ she cried in a burst of pent-up fear. ‘Robin is totally healthy. She should have woken up by now, shouldn’t she? I mean, it’s fine for her to be unconscious for a little while, but this long? What if she doesn’t wake up, Chris? What if there is brain damage? What if she never wakes up?’ He looked upset but said nothing, and just when Molly would have screamed in frustration, Tami Fitzgerald approached. Tami managed their garden products store. She was rarely in this early either, but there was purpose in her stride. Molly wasn’t in the mood for a delivery problem. Not now. Apparently, neither was Tami. ‘I heard Robin was in the hospital,’ she said, looking concerned. ‘How is she?’ Actually, Molly would have preferred a delivery problem. Snow Hill people were like family. What should she tell them? Not having run this past Kathryn or Charlie, she deferred to Chris, but his face remained blank. Curious, she asked Tami, ‘How did you hear?’ ‘My brother-in-law works with the ambulance crews. He said something about her heart.’ So much for just saying Robin was ‘sick’. Again, Molly waited for Chris, but he was silent. And someone needed to say something. ‘We don’t know much more,’ Molly finally said. ‘There was some kind of heart episode. They’re running tests.’ ‘Wow. Is it serious?’ How to answer that? Too much, and Kathryn would be angry. ‘I just don’t know. We’re waiting to hear.’ ‘Will you tell me when you do? Robin’s the last person I imagine having even a cold.’ ‘Really,’ Molly said in agreement and added, ‘I’m sure she’ll be fine.’ ‘That’s good. Robin is absolutely the best. Let me know if there’s anything I can do.’ Molly waited only until Tami disappeared into the garden center before glaring at Chris. ‘I didn’t know what to say. Couldn’t you have helped?’ ‘You did great.’ ‘But what if it’s not true? What if she’s not fine?’ He put his hands in his pockets. ‘Last night?’ Molly hurried on, needing to confess. ‘When the hospital first called? I thought it was nothing. The nurse told me to come right away, but I didn’t want to have to wait for Robin, so I did things around the house for a while. She was in a coma, and I was taking a shower so I’d feel nice.’ He looked pained but remained silent. ‘She has to wake up,’ Molly begged. ‘She’s the backbone of this family. What would Mom do if she doesn’t wake up?’ When Chris shrugged, she cried, ‘You’re no help!’ ‘What do you want me to say?’ he asked. ‘I don’t have the answers!’ Molly checked her watch. More than an hour had passed since she’d left the hospital. ‘Maybe Mom does. I’m going back to the hospital.’ Kathryn stood between her husband and the neurologist, studying MRI shots of a brain. The doctor said it was Robin’s, and yes, Robin had been wheeled out of intensive care and been gone the requisite amount of time. But based on what the doctor was saying about the shade and delineation of dead tissue, this film couldn’t be Robin’s. The damage here was profound. Kathryn was more frightened than she had ever been in her life, and Charlie’s arm around her brought little comfort. She looked to the intensive care specialist for clarification, but he was focused on the neurologist. We’ll get another specialist, she thought. Two specialists, two opinions. But there was Robin’s name, clearly marked on the film. And there was all that dark area showing no flow of blood. There was nothing ambiguous about it. The neurologist went on. Kathryn tried to listen, but it was hard to hear over the buzz in her head. Finally, he stopped speaking. It was a minute before she realized it was her turn. ‘Well,’ she said, struggling to think. ‘Okay. How do we treat this?’ ‘We don’t,’ the neurologist said in a compassionate voice. ‘Once brain tissue dies, it’s gone.’ Darting a look at Robin, she shushed him. The last thing Robin needed was to be told that something was gone. Softly, she said, ‘There has to be a way to reverse it.’ ‘I’m afraid there isn’t, Mrs Snow. Your daughter was without oxygen for too long.’ ‘That’s because the fellow who found her waited too long before starting CPR.’ ‘Not his fault,’ Charlie said softly. The intensive care specialist came forward. ‘He’s considered a Good Samaritan, which means he’s protected by law. Your daughter had a heart attack. That’s what caused the brain damage. According to this film-’ ‘No film tells the whole story,’ Kathryn broke in. ‘I know Robin’s with us. Maybe an MRI isn’t the right test. Or maybe something was wrong with the machine.’ She turned pleadingly to Charlie. ‘We need another machine, another hospital, another something.’ Kathryn had first fallen in love with Charlie for his silence. His quiet support was the perfect foil for her own louder life. He didn’t have to speak to convey what he felt. His eyes were expressive. Right now, they held a rare sadness. ‘Does brain damage mean brain dead?’ she asked in a frightened whisper, but he didn’t answer. ‘Brain dead means gone, Charlie!’ When he tried to draw her close, she resisted. ‘Robin is not brain dead.’ 4 (#ub02bbdb4-800c-53f7-9f2e-2b2079b3618a) Molly was stunned. ‘Brain dead?’ She asked from the door. Kathryn looked at her. ‘Tell them, Molly. Tell them how vibrant your sister is. Tell them what she plans to do next year. Tell them about the Olympics.’ Molly stared at her sister. Brain dead meant she would never wake up, would never breathe on her own, would never speak again. Ever. Tearing up, she went to her father’s side. He took her hand. ‘Tell them, Molly,’ Kathryn begged. ‘Are they sure?’ Molly asked Charlie. ‘The MRI shows severe brain damage.’ Sharing her mother’s desperation, Molly turned to the neurologist. ‘Can’t you shock her or something?’ ‘No. Dead tissue can’t respond.’ ‘But what if it’s not all dead? Isn’t there another test?’ ‘An EEG,’ he replied. ‘That will show if there’s any electrical activity at all in the brain.’ Molly didn’t have to ask what it meant if there was none. She knew her mother was thinking the same thing when Kathryn quickly said, ‘It’s too early for that test.’ But Molly needed grounds for hope. ‘Don’t you want to know, Mom? If there is electrical activity, there’s your answer.’ ‘Robin isn’t brain dead,’ Kathryn insisted. ‘The term isn’t one we take lightly, Mrs Snow,’ the doctor said. ‘We use the Harvard criteria, which calls for a pair of EEGs taken a day apart. The patient isn’t considered brain dead unless both show the total absence of electrical activity.’ ‘We need to do this, Mom,’ Molly urged. ‘We need to know.’ ‘Why?’ Kathryn asked sharply. ‘So they can turn off the machines?’ Disengaging herself from Charlie, she took Robin’s hand and leaned close. ‘The New York Marathon is going to be amazing. We’re staying at the Peninsula, right, sweetie?’ Looking up at the doctors, she explained, ‘Marathoners taper their training in the week before the race. We thought we’d do some shopping.’ The intensive care specialist smiled sympathetically. ‘We don’t have to do the EEG right now. There’s time. Give it some thought.’ ‘No EEG,’ Kathryn ordered, and no one argued. Moments later, Molly was alone with her parents. Kathryn continued to talk to Robin as if she could hear. It was understandable. Robin had always been the focus of family activity. For all the times Molly had resented that, she couldn’t imagine it not being so. It was like cutting back an orchid that had once been gorgeous, and not knowing if it would ever grow again. Something beautiful once…now maybe dead. Kathryn broke into her thoughts. ‘I really need you at Snow Hill, Molly. Please don’t fight me on this.’ Fine. Molly wouldn’t argue. But there was bad news. ‘I just came from there. Tami Fitzgerald’s brother-in-law is in the ambulance crew. He told her about Robin.’ At Kathryn’s look of alarm, she added, ‘He didn’t say much. But Tami was asking. All I said was that Robin would be fine.’ ‘That’s good.’ ‘It won’t be for long, Mom. Word’ll spread. Hanover isn’t a big place, and the running community is tight. And Robin has friends all over the country–all over the world. They’ll be calling.’ Glancing around, she spotted the plastic bag that lay on the floor by the wall. It held Robin’s clothes and bumbag. ‘Is her cell phone there?’ ‘I have it,’ Kathryn said. ‘It’s off.’ Like that would solve the problem? ‘Her friends will leave messages. When she doesn’t answer, they’ll call the house. What do you want me to say?’ ‘Say she’ll get back to them.’ ‘Mom, these are close friends. I can’t lie. Besides, they could be supportive. They could come talk to Robin.’ ‘We can do that ourselves.’ ‘We can’t tell them it’s nothing. If Robin’s had a massive heart attack—’ ‘—it’s no one’s business but ours,’ Kathryn declared. ‘I don’t want people looking at her strangely once she’s up and around again.’ Molly was incredulous. To hear her mother talk, Robin might wake up in a day or two and be fine, be perfect. But even mild brain damage had symptoms. Best-case scenario, she would need rehab. Molly turned to her father. ‘Help me here, Dad.’ ‘With what?’ Kathryn asked, preempting Charlie. Molly shot an encompassing look around the room. Her eyes ended up on Robin, who hadn’t moved an inch. ‘I’m having as much trouble with this as you are.’ ‘You’re not her mother.’ ‘She’s my sister. My idol.’ ‘When you were little,’ Kathryn chided. ‘It’s been a while since then.’ My fault, my fault, Molly wailed silently, feeling all the worse. But how to do something positive now? She appealed to her father again. ‘I don’t know what to do, Dad. If you want me at Snow Hill fine; but we can’t pretend this isn’t serious. Robin is on life support.’ ‘For now,’ Kathryn said with such conviction that Molly might have stayed simply to absorb her confidence. Gently, Charlie said, ‘If anyone asks, sweetheart, just tell them that we’re waiting for test results, but that we’d appreciate their prayers.’ ‘Prayers?’ Kathryn cried. ‘Like it’s life or death?’ ‘Prayers are for all kind of things,’ Charlie replied and glanced up as a nurse came in. ‘I’d like to do a little work here–bathing, checking tubes,’ the woman said. ‘I shouldn’t be long.’ Molly went out to the hall. Her parents had no sooner joined her when her mother said, ‘See? They wouldn’t be bothering with mundane things like bathing if there was no point. I’m using the ladies’ room. I’ll be right back.’ She had barely taken two steps, though, when she stopped. A man had approached and was staring at her. Roughly Robin’s age, wearing jeans and a shirt and tie, he looked reputable enough to be on the hospital staff, but with haunted eyes and a dark shadow on his jaw, he was clearly upset. ‘I’m the one who found her,’ he said in a tortured voice. Molly’s heart tripped. When Kathryn didn’t reply, she hurried forward. ‘The one who found Robin on the road?’ she asked eagerly. They had so few facts. His coming was a gift. ‘I was running and suddenly there she was.’ He seemed bewildered; Molly identified with that. ‘Was she conscious when you were with her? Did she move at all? Say anything?’ ‘No. Has she regained consciousness yet?’ She was about to answer–truthfully, because his eyes begged for it–when Kathryn came to life. Shrilly, she charged, ‘You have some gall asking that after standing there paralyzed for how long before calling for help?’ ‘Mom,’ Molly cautioned, but her mother railed on. ‘My daughter is in a coma because she was deprived of oxygen for too long! Did you not know that every single second counted?’ ‘Mom.’ ‘I started CPR as soon as I realized she had no pulse,’ he said quietly, ‘and I kept it up while I called for help.’ ‘You started CPR,’ Kathryn mocked. ‘Do you even know how to do CPR? If you’d done it right, she might be fine.’ Appalled, Molly gripped her mother’s arm. ‘That’s unfair,’ she protested because, family loyalties aside, she felt a link with this man. Kathryn was blaming him for something he hadn’t done, and, boy, could Molly empathize. That he had revived Robin was reason enough for her to connect with him. ‘Did my sister make any sound?’ she asked. ‘A moan, a whimper?’ Either would be an argument against brain damage. His eyes held regret. ‘No. No sound. While I was compressing her chest, I kept calling her name, but she didn’t seem to hear. I’m sorry,’ he said, returning to Kathryn. ‘I wish I could have done more.’ ‘So do I,’ Kathryn resumed her attack, ‘but it’s too late now, so why are you here? We’re trying to deal with something so horrifying you can’t begin to understand. You shouldn’t have come.’ She looked around. ‘Nurse!’ ‘Mom,’ Molly shushed, horrified. She wrapped an arm around Kathryn, but felt far worse for the Good Samaritan. ‘My mother’s upset,’ she told him. ‘I’m sure you did what you could,’ but he was already backing away. He had barely turned and set off down the hall when Kathryn turned her wrath on Molly. ‘You’re sure he did all he could? How do you know that? And how did he get up here?’ ‘He took the elevator,’ Charlie said from behind Molly. His voice was soft but commanding. Kathryn quieted instantly. With a single breath, she composed herself and continued on to the toilet. As soon as she was out of earshot, Molly turned on her father, prepared to condemn Kathryn’s outburst, but the sorrow on his face stopped her cold. With Kathryn so involved, it was easy to forget that Robin was Charlie’s daughter, too. Thoughts of the Good Samaritan faded, replaced by the reality of Robin. ‘What do we do?’ Molly asked brokenly. ‘Ride it out.’ ‘About Mom. She’s out of control. That guy didn’t deserve that. He was only trying to help, like I try to help, but I’m almost afraid to speak. Everything I say is wrong.’ ‘Your mother is upset. That’s all.’ Still there was a weight on Molly’s chest. ‘It’s more. She blames me.’ ‘She just blamed that fellow, too. It’s an irrational thing.’ ‘But I blame myself. I keep thinking it should be me on that bed, not Robin.’ He drew her close. ‘No. No. You’re wrong.’ ‘Robin’s the good one.’ ‘No more so than you. This was not your fault, Molly. She’d have had the heart attack whether you’d driven her or not, and no one–least of all Robin–would have had you crawling along in your car, keeping her in sight the whole time. At any given point, you might have been fifteen minutes away.’ ‘Or five,’ Molly said, ‘so the damage would have been less. But if I was the one in a coma, Robin would be able to help Mom. She won’t let me help. What do I say? How do I act?’ ‘Just be you.’ ‘That’s the problem. I’m me, not Robin. And if they’re right about her brain,’ Molly went on, because her father was so much more reasonable than her mother, and the life support issue was preying on her, ‘this isn’t about life and death. It’s only about death.’ She choked up. ‘About when it happens.’ ‘We don’t know for sure,’ he cautioned quietly. ‘Miracles have been known to happen.’ Charlie was a deeply religious man, a regular churchgoer, though he usually went alone, and he never complained about that. He accepted that what worked for him didn’t necessarily work for his wife and his kids. For the first time in her life, Molly wished otherwise. Charlie believed in miracles. She wanted to believe in them, too. He pressed her cheek to his chest. His warmth, so familiar, broke her composure. Burying her face in his shirt, she cried for the sister she alternately loved and hated, but who now couldn’t breathe on her own. Murmuring softly, he held her. Molly was barely regaining control when she heard her mother’s returning footsteps. Taking a quick breath, she wiped her face with her hands. Naturally, Kathryn saw the tears. ‘Please don’t cry, Molly. If you do, I will; but I don’t want Robin seeing us upset.’ She pulled out her ringing cell phone and summarily turned it off. The BlackBerry followed. ‘I can’t talk,’ she said with a dismissive wave. ‘I can’t think about anything right now except making Robin better. But I would like to clean up while the nurse is with her. If you cover for me here, Molly, your father will run me home. We’ll be right back. Then you can go to Snow Hill.’ Molly wanted to argue, but knew the futility of it. So she glanced at her father. ‘Someone has to call Chris.’ Charlie’s eyes went past her. ‘No need. Here he comes.’ Chris had tried to work, but his heart wasn’t in it. He kept thinking about the mess his life was in, and since he didn’t know what to say to Erin, the hospital seemed the place to be. One look at his parents, though, and he had second thoughts. They were grim. ‘No change?’ he asked when he was close enough. The silence answered his question. ‘The MRI shows brain damage,’ Molly told him. Kathryn shot her an annoyed look. ‘MRIs don’t show everything.’ ‘They need to do an EEG,’ Chris said. ‘Mom wants to wait.’ ‘Please, Molly,’ Kathryn said. ‘You’re not helping.’ When Molly opened her mouth to protest, Charlie intervened. ‘She wasn’t being critical, Kathryn.’ ‘She’s rushing things.’ ‘No. The doctors suggested the EEG. She’s just updating Chris.’ Reaching for Kathryn’s hand, he told Chris, ‘I’m taking your mother home. We’ll be back.’ Watching them leave, Chris saw no evidence that Kathryn was arguing, which made his point. His father didn’t have to say much to be effective. Erin had to understand that. ‘Nightmare,’ Molly murmured. ‘Mom or Robin?’ ‘Both. I agree about the EEG. We need to do it, but Mom’s afraid. Chris, the nurse is with Robin. If she leaves, will you go in? I’m going down for coffee. Want any?’ He shook his head. When he was alone, he leaned against the wall. And how not to think about Robin? His earliest memories in life were vague ones of her sitting him in a room and building forts around him, or dressing him up in old costumes. He couldn’t have been more than three. More clearly, he remembered tagging along with her on Halloween night. He would have been five or six then. By the time he was ten, she was taking him down black diamond ski slopes. He wasn’t anywhere near a good enough skier, but Robin was–and with Robin it was all about the challenge. ‘Hey,’ came a familiar voice. He looked up to see Erin and felt instant relief. He wanted his wife with him now–needed her. ‘Where’s Chloe?’ he asked. ‘With Mrs Johnson. How’s Robin?’ Not good, he replied with a look. ‘The MRI shows brain damage.’ ‘From a heart attack? How could she have had a heart attack?’ Chris had passed the disbelief stage and felt a wave of anger. ‘She pushed herself. She was always pushing herself. If a challenge was there and someone could do it, she had to be the one. She already holds every local record and half a dozen national ones. So she wanted to win New York, but she went too far. Why did she have to set a world record? Wasn’t winning enough?’ Erin put a hand on his arm and gently said, ‘That doesn’t matter right now.’ He took a steadying breath. ‘How’s your mom handling this?’ she asked. He made a face. Lousy. ‘Is your dad any help?’ That revived Chris. ‘Yeah. He is. He doesn’t have to say a lot, but it works. I just saw that. He says two words, and she quiets down.’ ‘They’ve been married more than thirty years.’ He shook his head. ‘It isn’t the time; it’s the nature of their relationship.’ ‘Chris, I’m not your mom. She and I are totally different. Besides, she’s out of the house all the time. She was even when you kids were little, and I’m not criticizing that. I’m envious. She started Snow Hill back then, and look what it is now. She’s an amazing woman. If I created something like that, I could live with silence at night.’ ‘She’s driven.’ ‘By what?’ He shrugged. He couldn’t figure his wife out, and she was less complex than Kathryn. ‘So,’ he asked, needing to know, ‘are you going home to visit your mom?’ ‘Omigod, no,’ Erin said quickly. ‘Not with Robin so sick.’ Her voice dropped to a whisper. ‘But what’s happening between us isn’t going away, Chris. We will have to deal sometime.’ When Molly returned to Snow Hill, the parking lot was filled with customers’ cars. Slipping inside, she took the back stairway to her office and closed the door. She shooed one cat from her chair and another from the keyboard, then sat and folded her hands. She didn’t want to be here, but her father had asked. And besides easing her guilt, Molly wanted to help. She could fight it long and hard, but pleasing Kathryn had always been high on her list. Right now, Kathryn wanted her to work. So, dutifully, she logged on and pulled up her calendar for the week. Today and tomorrow were for ordering, but Thursday she was supposed to follow up her mother’s speech at a women’s club in Lebanon with a how-to on making dish gardens. Obviously, they couldn’t go. What excuse to give? Same with a pruning demonstration in Plymouth. And Friday’s appearance at WMUR in Manchester? Molly hated being on TV, even with Kathryn doing the talking. Television made her eyes look too close, her nose too short, her mouth too wide. She had experimented wearing her hair back versus loose, wearing trousers versus jeans, wearing blue versus purple or green. No matter what, she paled beside Kathryn. Neither of them would be up to doing TV on Friday so her father could cancel that one. Her intercom buzzed. ‘Any news?’ Tami asked. ‘Not yet,’ Molly replied, feeling disingenuous. ‘We’re waiting for more tests.’ ‘Joaquin was asking. He was worried when he didn’t see either of your parents’ cars. They usually get here early after they’ve been away.’ Joaquin Pea was Snow Hill’s facilities man. Not only did he maintain the buildings and grounds, but because he lived on-site, he handled after-hours emergencies. Joaquin adored Robin. Tell him she’ll be fine, Molly wanted to say, but the MRI mocked that claim. So she simply said, ‘Dad’ll be here later,’ which begged the question of what to tell Joaquin or anyone else who might ask about Robin. But Charlie was good at this. Wasn’t he their PR man? Ending the call, she sorted through the requisition forms she had collected at yesterday’s meeting. With fall planting season under way, Snow Hill’s tree and shrub man had a list. Their functions person had booked three new weddings and two showers, and the retail store was gearing up for October’s opening of the wreath room, all of which required special ordering. And then there was Liz Tocci, the in-house landscape designer and total pain in the butt, who was arguing–yet again–in favor of a supplier who carried certain elite specialty King Protea plants but who, Molly knew from experience, was overpriced and unreliable. Molly loved King Proteas, too. As exotic flowers went, they were gorgeous. But Snow Hill was only as good as its suppliers, and this supplier had sent bad flowers once, the wrong flowers another time, and no flowers at all the third time Snow Hill had placed an order. In each instance, clients had been disappointed. No, there were other exotics Liz Tocci could use. But how stupid was it to be worried about Liz when Robin was comatose? Unable to spend another second thinking, Molly set to ordering for the functions. But she wasn’t in a wedding mood. So she focused on Christmas. It was time to preorder. Last year, they had sold out of poinsettias and had to rush to restock at a premium cost. She wanted plenty at wholesale this year. How many hundreds to order–three, four? Eight-inch pots, ten-inch, twelve-inch? And how many of each size to upgrade to ceramic pots? She struggled with the decisions, but came up short. She was about as interested in poinsettias as she was in moving. Digging up her landlord Terrance Field’s phone number, she punched it in. ‘Hey, Mr Field,’ she said when the old man picked up, ‘it’s Molly Snow. How are you?’ ‘Not bad,’ he replied warily. ‘What is it now, Molly?’ ‘My sister’s had an accident. It’s pretty serious. This time I really do need an extension.’ ‘You said that last time, too. When was that, a week ago?’ ‘That was a problem with the moving company, Mr Field, and I did work it out. This is different.’ In the space of a breath, she realized that her argument was lame without the truth. ‘Robin had a heart attack.’ There was a pause, then a gently chiding, ‘Am I truly supposed to believe that?’ ‘She collapsed while she was running. They say there’s brain damage. She’s in critical condition. Call Dickenson-May. They’ll verify it.’ After another pause came a sigh. ‘I’ll take your word for it, Molly, but I’m over a barrel here. You promised to be out Monday, and my contractor is starting Tuesday. I’ve paid him a hefty deposit to work quickly, because if the house isn’t ready for the estate agent to show by the first of November, selling will be difficult. I need that money.’ Molly knew his estate agent. She was an old family friend. ‘Dorie McKay will understand,’ she pleaded, ‘and she’s totally persuasive. She can work things out with the contractor. All I want is an extra week or two.’ But Terrance didn’t budge. ‘It isn’t the contractor, Molly. It’s me. First of December, my rent is tripling. The building is going condo. If I don’t sell in Hanover, I can’t buy here in Jupiter, and I can’t afford the triple rent.’ Molly might have begged–just one extra day? two extra days?–but one or two days wouldn’t make a difference, not with Robin breathing through that god-awful respirator. Besides, it wasn’t like she couldn’t do the packing. Robin wouldn’t have done much anyway, and they did have a place to go. Molly just didn’t want to move. Despite all the natural beauty in the area, Snow Hill being the least of it, there was a special charm to the cottage. She loved driving down the lane and parking under the oak, loved walking in and smelling aged wood. The house made her feel good. It would be nice to stay a while longer, especially with Robin’s future in doubt. One thing was for sure: Robin would be neither conducting a clinic that afternoon nor talking with sixth graders on Friday. Molly began with the Friday call, knowing that a Phys Ed teacher, who was less personally involved, would accept a cancellation more easily than a running group would. And she was right. When she explained that Robin was sick, the teacher was disappointed but understanding. The head of the running group was another story. Jenny Fiske knew Robin personally and was concerned. When she asked what was wrong, Molly couldn’t get herself to blame the flu. ‘She had some trouble yesterday during a long run. They’re doing tests now.’ ‘Is it her heel again?’ That would have been the recent bone spur incident. But a bone spur wouldn’t keep Robin from meeting with a running group. Robin adored meeting with running groups. She would have gone on crutches, if need be. No, for her to cancel out on a running group would take something serious. Molly tried to come up with a possibility. Pneumonia? Stomach cramps? Migraines? Lasting for weeks? Finally she just said, ‘It’s something with her heart.’ ‘Oh God, the enlarged heart thing. She was hoping it would go away.’ Molly paused. ‘What do you mean?’ ‘I don’t think she meant to tell me, but we were together last year when the news reported autopsy results on a guy who died during the Olympic marathon trials. He had an enlarged heart. It was totally tragic. I mean, he was only twenty-eight. Robin was saying how scary it was, because she has the same thing.’ That was news to Molly. It would be news to her parents. But Robin told Kathryn everything. If she had known something like that and hidden it from her mother for the sake of glory, it would be awful! ‘Is that the problem?’ Jenny asked. ‘Uh…uh…’ ‘Is she all right ?’ Oh, yes, her mother would have wanted her to say. But it was a lie, possibly compounded now by Robin’s lie. Angry at her sister, and at her mother, who reveled in the glory of parenting a world-class runner, Molly blurted out, ‘Actually, she’s not. She hasn’t regained consciousness.’ ‘Omigod! Is she at Dickenson-May?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘In the ICU?’ Starting to worry, Molly backpedaled. ‘Yeah, but will you kind of…not tell people, Jenny? We don’t know where this is headed.’ 5 (#ub02bbdb4-800c-53f7-9f2e-2b2079b3618a) Molly kept an eye out for Chris. The minute he returned to Snow Hill, she was in his office. ‘Did you hear anything last year about Robin having an enlarged heart?’ He shook his head. ‘Who says she did?’ ‘Jenny Fiske. She implied Robin knew there was a problem and ignored it.’ ‘You told her Robin had a heart problem?’ he asked. Molly grew defensive. ‘I had to. And anyway, it’s ridiculous keeping this to ourselves when there are friends who really care.’ ‘Mom will be furious.’ She threw a hand up. ‘Oh, well, what else is new? I can never say the right thing when it comes to Mom. Lately it’s Nick.’ She had met Nick Dukette two years earlier on the sidelines of one of Robin’s races. Nick had been there as a newspaper reporter, Molly as a fan, but they started talking and hadn’t stopped. Since then, he had briefly dated Robin, and though it hadn’t worked out, Molly and he remained friends. Kathryn had nothing good to say about the man. ‘She’s been after me for even meeting him for coffee. But I knew him first. So just because Robin breaks up with him, I have to stop being his friend? He is not an evil man.’ ‘He’s media.’ ‘He was media when he was dating Robin, and Mom wasn’t against him then. Wouldn’t Robin have spilled more inside information than I have, or is it just that Mom thinks I’m stupidly nave? What did I do to make her distrust me? By the way, Dad agrees with us about the EEG. If anyone can convince Mom to have it done, it’s him.’ ‘Y’think?’ ‘Definitely. She may be the leader, but he’s smart. He doesn’t have to raise his voice, and she listens.’ ‘Exactly,’ Chris said with uncharacteristic feeling. ‘He’s a quiet force.’ Molly was feeling sensitive enough about her mother to take his sudden show of passion personally. ‘And I’m not? Is that what you’re saying? I’m sorry, but I can’t not express my feelings.’ ‘Maybe the problem is how you do it. Maybe you should lower the volume.’ ‘But that’s not me. You inherited quietness from Dad. I didn’t.’ ‘Could you be married to a guy like him?’ Molly wasn’t thinking of marriage just then, but since he had asked, she answered. ‘In a minute. I’m like Mom. I need someone to calm me.’ ‘Wouldn’t you find it boring? Dad comes home from work and doesn’t say much.’ ‘But he’s always there.’ She had a sudden thought. ‘Do you think Mom and Dad knew about the enlarged heart and kept it secret?’ Chris snorted. ‘Go ask.’ Molly considered that for all of two seconds before saying, ‘I will.’ She wanted to be at the hospital anyway. * * * ‘So Molly will box everything up and take care of the move,’ Kathryn told Robin. ‘It’s perfect that you two share a place. Molly’s a great backup person for when you’re away. And even now, she’ll keep your friends up on what’s happening until we get rid of this stupid tube-’ Catching a breath, she came out of her chair. Charlie was quickly by her side. ‘Did you see that?’ Kathryn asked excitedly. ‘Her other hand. It moved.’ ‘Are you sure? There’s a lot of tape on that hand.’ Kathryn’s heart raced. ‘Did you do that, Robin? If you did, I want you to do it again.’ She stared at the hand. ‘Come on, sweetie,’ she ordered. ‘I know it’s hard, but you’re used to hard stuff. Think what it’s like at that twenty-first mile when you hit the wall and feel dizzy and weak, and you’re sure you can’t finish. But you always do. You always manage to dredge up a little more strength.’ The respirator breathed in, breathed out, but not a finger moved. ‘Do it now, Robin,’ she begged. ‘Let me know you can hear me speak.’ She waited, then tried, ‘Think of the games you play. When you run, you imagine that long, smooth stride. Imagine it now, sweetie. Imagine the pleasure you get from moving.’ Nothing happened. Brokenly, she whispered, ‘Am I missing it, Charlie?’ ‘If you are, I am, too.’ Discouraged, she sank back into the chair and brought Robin’s hand to her mouth. Her fingers were limp and cool. ‘I know I saw something,’ she breathed against them, wanting only to keep them warm. ‘You’re exhausted,’ Charlie said. She looked at him sharply. ‘Are you saying I imagined it? Maybe your problem is that you don’t want to see it as much as I do.’ There was a pause, then a quiet, ‘Low blow.’ Kathryn had known that the instant the words left her mouth. With his warm hazel eyes, shoulders that were broader in theory than fact, and a loyalty like none she had seen in any other person before or since, Charlie had been there for her from the start. The fact that she could accuse him of less showed how stressed she was. Stressed? She wasn’t stressed. She was devastated. Seeing Robin like this was killing her, and that was even before she thought of the long-term meaning. This wasn’t just a setback. It was a catastrophe. Charlie understood. She could see it on his face, but that didn’t excuse what she’d said. Slipping an arm around his waist, she buried her face in his chest. ‘I’m sorry. You did not deserve that.’ He cupped her head. ‘I can take it. But Molly can’t. She’s trying, Kath. None of us expected this.’ His hand lowered to massage her neck at just the spot where she needed it most. Kathryn looked up, haunted. ‘Did I push Robin too far?’ He smiled sadly. ‘You didn’t have to push. She pushed herself.’ ‘But I’ve always egged her on.’ ‘Not egged. Encouraged.’ ‘If I hadn’t, maybe she wouldn’t have pushed so hard.’ ‘And never run a marathon in record time? Never traveled the country inspiring others? Never eyed the Olympics?’ He was right. Robin lived life to the fullest. But that knowledge didn’t ease Kathryn’s fear. ‘What are we going to do?’ ‘Ask for an EEG.’ Her panic shot up. ‘What if it shows no activity?’ ‘What if it doesn’t?’ Charlie was the face of quiet confidence. Always. And she loved him for it. But this was too soon. ‘I can’t take the risk. Not yet.’ ‘Okay,’ he said gently. ‘Then what about friends? They can’t get through to you, so they’re calling me. We need to tell them the truth.’ ‘We don’t know the truth.’ He chided her with a sad smile. ‘You aren’t asking to have her transferred, which tells me that you accept the MRI results.’ How not to, when the pictures were so clear? ‘Okay,’ she conceded. ‘Let’s tell them there are irregularities. That’s the truth. We don’t have to tell them everything, do we? I can’t bear having the world think the worst.’ ‘These are friends, Kath. They want to talk to you. They want to help.’ But Kathryn didn’t want sympathy. She wasn’t the type to talk for the sake of talking; she couldn’t bear the thought of giving progress reports to friend after friend, especially when there was no progress to report. And what were friends supposed to do? No. No calls. Kathryn didn’t want people saying things that she wasn’t ready to hear. ‘I can’t talk with them yet. I just can’t. Handle this for me, Charlie?’ Molly struggled at the hospital. Showing no improvement at all, Robin lay pale and still, a cruel parody of the active person she had been, and Kathryn was appalled at mention of an enlarged heart. ‘Absolutely untrue,’ she declared. ‘Robin would have told me if she had a serious problem.’ Molly kept her voice low. She had never thought of her brother as being particularly insightful when it came to human nature, but she wasn’t doing real well herself. What better time to test his theory than with something as difficult as this? ‘You might have stopped her from running. What if she didn’t want that?’ ‘Robin may be daring, but she isn’t stupid, and she certainly isn’t self-destructive. Why in the world would you believe a stranger over your sister?’ ‘Because I can’t ask my sister,’ Molly said softly still. ‘I’m just trying to make sense of this, Mom. Did the doctors mention an enlarged heart?’ Confused, Kathryn looked at Charlie, who said, ‘Yes. We assumed it was something new.’ ‘Did anyone in your family have an enlarged heart?’ Charlie shook his head and deferred to Kathryn, who said, ‘I have no idea. I never heard of anything, but doctors didn’t know as much in my parents’ or grandparents’ day. Besides, it’s the kind of thing a person wouldn’t know unless he had symptoms.’ ‘Did Robin have symptoms?’ ‘Molly. You’re assuming it’s true. Please. And why does it even matter? This is water over the dam. Robin had a heart attack. It’s a fait accompli.’ ‘For her maybe, but what about for Chris and me? Shouldn’t we know whether we’re at risk?’ Realizing how selfish that sounded, she added, ‘If Robin knew she was at risk, she never should have run so hard. She never should have run alone.’ ‘She always ran alone.’ ‘Most runners train in groups. If she had a heart condition, shouldn’t she have made sure there were other people around just in case?’ ‘You were supposed to be around.’ Molly might have argued, but her mother was right. Somberly, she said, ‘Yes. I’ll have to live with that. Always.’ Kathryn seemed taken aback by the admission, but only briefly. ‘Besides, there was someone else there.’ The Good Samaritan. ‘He didn’t have to come see us, Mom,’ Molly said, still cringing at her mother’s outburst. ‘That took courage.’ ‘It was guilt. He wants to be absolved.’ ‘He was concerned,’ Molly argued, deciding that Chris’s theory wasn’t worth beans. Loud voice, soft voice–she just couldn’t get through. ‘He wasn’t the one who put her here. If we’re talking cause and effect, what doctor would have let Robin run marathons if he knew she had this condition?’ ‘Like a doctor could control what she did? Please, Molly. You were the first one defending doctors last night. Why the change?’ ‘I don’t want my sister to die!’ Molly cried, eyes filling with tears because Robin was lying there, totally unresponsive. ‘When we were kids,’ she said brokenly, focusing on her sister, ‘I’d be on her bed, moving closer and closer, imagining that I would wake her up with just the power of my eyes, and she’d lie perfectly still until I got really close. Then she’d bolt up and scare me to death.’ She took a shaky breath and looked at her mother. ‘I’m sorry. I feel helpless. I want to know why this happened.’ ‘Anger doesn’t help,’ Kathryn said quietly. Neither does denial, Molly thought. ‘Can’t we do the EEG?’ she asked. ‘Just to know?’ But Kathryn was still hung up on the enlarged heart issue. ‘Robin wouldn’t lie to me about something as important as a heart condition. She shared everything with me.’ Let it pass, Molly told herself, but the remark was just too outrageous. ‘Did she tell you she got drunk with her friends the night after she ran Duluth?’ Kathryn stared. ‘Robin doesn’t drink.’ ‘Robin does. I’ve driven her home afterward.’ ‘And you let her drink?’ Kathryn asked, shifting the blame. ‘And why didn’t she tell me about Duluth?’ ‘Because you’re her mother, and you hate drinking.’ Molly took pity because Kathryn looked truly distraught. ‘Oh Mom, I wouldn’t have said anything if you hadn’t been so adamant that Robin wouldn’t lie. Duluth was a blip. No harm came of it. I’m sure that if you’d asked her outright whether she’d ever been drunk, she’d have told you. But she didn’t want to disappoint you. She swore me to secrecy.’ ‘You should have honored that.’ Molly hung her head. She couldn’t win. Discouraged, she looked at Kathryn again. ‘All I’m saying is that Robin didn’t tell you everything. She was human, like the rest of us.’ ‘Was human? Past tense?’ Charlie held up a hand. At the same time, from the door came a gentle, ‘Excuse me?’ It was the nurse. ‘We have people gathering in the lounge down the hall. They say they’re Robin’s friends.’ Kathryn’s eyes went wide. ‘How do they know she’s here?’ ‘I told Jenny Fiske,’ Molly said. Her mother was already angry; a little more couldn’t make it worse. Kathryn sagged. ‘Oh, Molly.’ ‘It’s okay,’ Charlie said. ‘Jenny’s a friend. Molly did what she felt was best.’ ‘Robin would want Jenny to know,’ Molly tried. She was actually sure about this. ‘She’s always been right out there with her friends. I think she’d want Jenny here. And she’d want that EEG, too. She liked knowing the score–likes knowing the score, likes knowing what she’s up against. I mean, think of the way she studies the competition before every major race. She wants to psych it all out–who’ll run how on a given course, whether they’ll break early, how they’ll take hills, when they’ll fade. She’s a strategizer. But she can’t strategize for this race unless she knows what’s going on.’ When Kathryn continued to stare at her, Molly figured she had pushed as far as she could. And Jenny was in the lounge. The last thing Molly wanted was to have to be the one to talk with her. Plus she was worried about the nurse’s reference to friends, plural. Feeling responsible, she set off to do damage control. Kathryn wondered if Molly was right. Robin might want to know what she faced. The problem was that Kathryn didn’t. She wanted to see improvement first, which was why Molly’s spreading the word wasn’t good. ‘Why did she have to tell Jenny?’ Charlie drew up a chair. ‘Because we put her in an untenable position. How can she talk with a friend of Robin’s and not tell her Robin is sick? Really, Kath, there’s nothing wrong with what she’s done. What happened to Robin isn’t a disgrace. It’s a medical crisis. We could use people’s prayers.’ This time, Kathryn didn’t argue about prayers. She had begun saying a few herself. Doctors had been in and out all morning examining Robin, and they never actually denied Kathryn hope, simply gave her little to hold onto. Same with the respiratory therapist, who checked by every hour and refused to say whether he saw any change in Robin’s breathing. And the nurses? As compassionate as they were, repeatedly testing Robin’s responsiveness, they were cautious in answering Kathryn’s questions. Once too often she had been told that patients didn’t come back from the kind of brain damage Robin had suffered. Charlie took her hand. ‘Molly’s right, y’know. Not knowing is the worst.’ Kathryn knew where he was headed. ‘You want the EEG.’ ‘I don’t want any of this,’ he said in a burst so rare that it carried more weight. ‘But we can’t go back,’ he added sadly. ‘The Robin we knew is gone.’ Kathryn’s eyes teared as she looked at her daughter again. Robin had been an active infant, an energetic toddler, an irrepressible child. ‘I can’t accept that,’ she whispered. ‘You may have to. Think of Robin. How can we know what to do for her if we don’t know the extent of the damage?’ It was a variation of Molly’s argument. And it did hold some merit. ‘You love Robin to bits,’ Charlie went on. ‘You always have. No one would question that.’ ‘I wanted so much for her.’ ‘She’s had so much,’ he urged. ‘She’s lived more in her thirty-two years than many people ever do, and you were the force behind it.’ ‘I’m all she has.’ ‘No. She has me. She has Molly and Chris. She has more friends than any of us. And we love her. Yes, Molly too. Molly’s had to live in her shadow, not always a fun place to be, but she does adore her sister. She covers for Robin a lot.’ ‘Do you believe her about Duluth?’ Kathryn asked in a moment’s doubt. ‘How can I not? You set yourself up for that one, my love. No daughter tells her mother everything, especially when she knows it’ll disappoint.’ ‘I wouldn’t have been disappointed if Robin had told me she had an enlarged heart. Worried, yes.’ ‘You’d have discouraged her from running.’ ‘Probably.’ ‘What if she didn’t want that? What if she wanted to take the chance? She’s an adult, Kathryn. This is her life.’ Is? Kathryn thought. Or was? She had criticized Molly for using the past tense, but if Charlie was right, and the Robin they knew was gone, everything changed. She had always thought she knew Robin through and through, and that what she wanted, Robin would want. If that wasn’t so, and if Robin couldn’t express her wishes now, how could Kathryn know what to do? This wasn’t the time for a crisis in confidence, but Kathryn suffered one nonetheless. It had been a long time since the last such crisis. She was rusty at it. Crises in confidence had been the norm when she was growing up, something of a family tradition. Her father, George Webber, was a lumberjack. Then a carpenter. Then a bricklayer. Then a gardener. At the first sign of discouragement in one field, he moved on to the next. Same with her mother, Marjorie, who ran a little cottage industry–first knitting sweaters, then sewing tote bags, then weaving country baskets. Everything she produced was beautiful–or so Kathryn thought. When business was brisk, Marjorie agreed; but at the first sign of a lull, she moved on. Kathryn learned from her parents. She raced for the town swim team until she realized she would always be second tier, at which point she turned to violin. When she couldn’t get beyond second seat in junior high, she turned to acting. When she couldn’t get beyond chorus in the high school musical, she turned to art. That was when she met Natalie Boyce. Head of the high school art department, Natalie was a free spirit prone to wearing wild clothing and speaking her thoughts. Kathryn was mesmerized by her confidence and no match for her resolve, neither of which she saw much of at home. At Natalie’s suggestion, she started with watercolor. She immersed herself in the basics of brush control, palette, texture and wash, and she thrived on Natalie’s encouragement. Natalie loved her use of line and shape and saw a natural feel for space in her work–but timidity in her use of color. Kathryn tried to be bolder, but her life was more muted tones than vibrant ones. So she switched from water-color to clay. Natalie was having none of that. They talked. They argued. Their discussions went beyond art to life itself. Kathryn returned to watercolor. She worked at it doggedly through her last two years in high school. When she applied to art school, the strength of her portfolio was her use of color. But it wasn’t until she left her parents’ home that she was able to articulate what she had learned. Her parents were loving people who wanted to provide for their family–wanted it so badly that they went from one thing to the next in an endless search for a smash hit. What they didn’t understand was that smash hits didn’t just happen but took talent, focus, and hard work. 6 (#ub02bbdb4-800c-53f7-9f2e-2b2079b3618a) The friends in the lounge were runners, clustered at a small table in a knot of denim, spandex, and backpacks. Molly recognized them as Dartmouth graduate students with whom Robin often worked out. They had no connection to Jenny Fiske. Had she known that, she wouldn’t have rushed out. But it was too late. She was surrounded before she could retreat. ‘My cousin was in the ER last night with her little boy,’ one explained. ‘How’s Robin?’ ‘Uh, we’re not sure,’ Molly managed. ‘I ran with her three days ago and she was fine,’ said another. And a third, ‘We talked in the bookstore just yesterday.’ ‘I heard it from Nick Dukette,’ put in a fourth. ‘Nick?’ ‘Newspaper Nick. He saw it on the police blotter this morning, and he knows I know Robin. He said she’s in critical condition.’ Molly was taken aback. Nick claimed they were good friends; but if that was so, he should have called her first. Granted, she had her cell phone on vibrate and had been distracted enough to miss it. Pulling the phone out now, she scrolled down. Okay. There it was. A missed call from Nick. No message. Nick was a reporter for the state’s largest paper. On general assignment when Molly first met him, he had since been named to head the local news desk; but with his strength in sniffing out a story, he was a shoo-in for investigative editor at the next change in command. Like Robin, he had star written all over him. And he was hungry for it. He had piercing blue eyes that could either drill or charm, and he used them well. Had he been a lawyer, he would have chased ambulances; he was that addicted to breaking news. Molly admired his doggedness, but there was a downside. What Nick knew, the world might soon know. Kathryn would be horrified and would surely blame Molly. She had to talk with him. But first these runners. Denying Robin’s official condition was absurd. The question was how much more to say, and the key was saying it quietly. The lounge wasn’t empty. A woman and her daughter dozed on one sofa, a family huddled on another. Molly leaned into the group. ‘The official status still is critical condition,’ she said, because anyone calling the hospital would hear that. ‘We’re waiting for follow-up tests.’ ‘Was she hit by a car?’ ‘No. It’s an internal thing.’ ‘Internal, like organs?’ Molly gave a quick nod. ‘Will she be okay?’ ‘We hope so.’ There was a moment’s silence, then a quiet barrage. ‘Is there anything we can do?’ ‘Can we make calls?’ ‘Does she need anything?’ ‘Positive thoughts,’ Molly said and was momentarily startled when one of the women she didn’t know gave her a hug. She was even more surprised to miss the warmth when the woman pulled back. Unable to speak, she waved her thanks and, cell phone in hand, made for the door. Waiting just outside in the hall, standing half a head taller than Molly, was the Good Samaritan. His tie was loose, collar unbuttoned. He was visibly relieved when she stopped. With the earlier scene rushing back, how could she not? Her first thought was to apologize for her mother’s abominable behavior, but he spoke first. ‘How is she?’ Molly scrunched up her nose and shook her head. He made a defeated sound. ‘I knew it was bad. She was clammy and cold. It was terrifying. As soon as the paramedics took over, I left.’ He seemed tormented. ‘I just freaked out. Her name was right there on her shoe tag, and after I read it, I recognized her face. She’s every runner’s idol, and there I was, trying to get her to breathe. It didn’t help, did it.’ Molly hesitated, then shook her head. ‘Brain dead?’ he whispered. She lifted a shoulder–couldn’t quite deny it to this man, who clearly connected the dots. He seemed to deflate. ‘I keep thinking that if I’d been doing a faster pace, I’d’ve gotten there sooner.’ Molly hugged herself. ‘If you’d been on a different road, you’d never have found her at all.’ ‘I should have stayed, maybe gone in the ambulance; but she didn’t know me, so it wasn’t like I was a friend going with a friend.’ ‘I’m her sister,’ Molly blurted out, ‘and I was supposed to have been tracking that run, only I had other things to do. Know how guilty I feel?’ He didn’t blink. ‘Yes. I do. The minute the ambulance crew took over, I turned around and ran home so I could shower and go back to school and try to convince parents that I’m a good, caring person who’s well qualified to teach their kids. As if I could really focus on work.’ Oh boy, did Molly agree. Sitting in her office had been a joke. She couldn’t work while her sister was on life support. Nick was working, though, and she did need to reach him. Gesturing toward Robin’s room, she said, ‘I have to make a call.’ She set off, stopped, turned back. She was really glad he returned. ‘Thank you.’ ‘I didn’t do enough.’ ‘She wasn’t breathing. You did what you could. She’s alive now because of you.’ When he still looked haunted, she smiled. ‘Forget what my mom said. She needs to blame someone for this. One day, she’ll thank you herself.’ She continued on this time, past Robin’s room to a spot by a window where her cell phone had four bars. ‘It’s me,’ she said when Nick picked up. There were several seconds of newsroom buzz, then a passionate, ‘Geez, Molly, I’ve been trying you all day. Why’d you take so long returning my call?’ ‘It’s been a little hectic, Nick.’ ‘How is she?’ ‘She’s holding on.’ ‘What does that mean? Is she awake? Talking? Moving around? Is she breathing on her own? Has she been stabilized?’ Molly could feel those prodding blue eyes. She wasn’t sure she liked being on this side of the notepad. ‘They’ll run more tests later.’ ‘Was it a heart attack?’ ‘They’re trying to figure out exactly what’s going on.’ ‘But the initial problem–definitely the heart? Has she had heart trouble before? Is it a structural problem, like a valve or a hole? Can they fix it?’ Molly was growing uneasy. ‘Is this for an article?’ ‘Molly,’ he protested, sounding hurt. ‘It’s for me. I used to date Robin. Plus, her sister is my friend.’ Molly was duly chastised. ‘I’m sorry. You just sound so reporter-like.’ And there was the issue of Andrea Welker and a bad drug test, something Robin had told him in confidence that had shown up in the paper. Nick swore he had gotten the information from a separate source, but neither Robin nor Kathryn fully bought that. Don’t believe what he says, Robin had told Molly once too often, and lest she forget, Kathryn repeated the warning often. But Molly liked Nick. He was interesting, and he was going places. That he liked Molly enough to want to be her friend even after her sister had shafted him was flattering. ‘No, I’m sorry,’ he said now, conciliatory. ‘If you’d called me last night, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. When you didn’t return my call this morning, I started calling other people. It’s an occupational hazard.’ ‘That’s what frightens me. Nick, I need your help. Can you keep this out of the paper?’ There was a short pause, then a surprised, ‘How can I do that? It’s news.’ ‘You have clout there. You can get them to hold off. The more people hear, the more they call us, and we just can’t talk until we know more.’ ‘What do you know now?’ Molly had been hoping for a promise. Disappointed, she didn’t reply. ‘Are we friends?’ he asked quietly. ‘Friends trust one another.’ Friends also call more than one measly time before calling other people, Molly thought. Of course, she was hypersensitive. But she wasn’t stupid. ‘The point is my family needs privacy,’ she explained. ‘And honestly, there isn’t much to tell. Robin did have a heart event, but all her vital signs are good.’ It wasn’t exactly a lie. ‘Is a heart "event" the same as a heart "attack"?’ ‘They’re just words to me right now. I’m pretty shaken. We all are. I’ve told you as much as we know for sure.’ Not exactly a lie, either. ‘Okay. That’s okay. Will you call me when you learn anything more?’ She said she would, but ended the call feeling uncomfortable. It was a minute before she put her finger on it. For all his questions, he hadn’t asked how she was doing with all this. Friends who claimed they were good buddies did that. Telling herself that it was a simple oversight–that he knew she was upset, so had no need to ask–she closed her phone and went back up the hall. She was nearly at Robin’s door when her father emerged. He was taking his own phone from his pocket. ‘Your mom agreed to the EEG. Want to stay with her while I give Chris a call?’ The EEG wasn’t done until early evening to accommodate the neurologist, who wanted to be present to interpret the results. The machine was brought into Robin’s room. Since quiet was required for the truest reading, Kathryn was the only family member allowed to stay. She was grateful that the nurses sensed her need to be there, but if she had been hoping to bring Robin luck, it didn’t work. She cheered silently. She repeated every motivational thought that had goaded Robin on in the past. She counted on her brain waves connecting to Robin’s. But the news wasn’t good. After an hour of the machine’s pen scratching on paper, Kathryn could see it herself–one flat line after the next over twelve different readings. What could the neurologist say? Crying quietly, Kathryn couldn’t think to ask new questions, and after he left, the nurse lingered, focusing not on Robin but on her, which almost felt worse. Did she want to talk with social services? No. Perhaps a minister? No. I want that second test, Kathryn finally managed to say. The nurse nodded and replied, It’s a process, which didn’t help at all. Kathryn didn’t want a process. She wanted her daughter. For the longest time after the nurse left, Kathryn stood holding Robin’s hand, studying her face, trying to square what the test said with the daughter who had done cartwheels at the age of three. Charlie was behind her, with Chris and Erin nearby. Molly was back by the wall. No one spoke, and that didn’t help either. It wasn’t fair, none of it–not their silence, not her pain, not Robin’s fate. Furious, she turned on her family. ‘You all wanted this done. Are we able to help Robin more now?’ Charlie looked crushed. Chris clutched Erin’s hand. Molly was in tears. ‘I said it was too soon,’ Kathryn argued, starting to cry again herself. Charlie gave her a tissue and held her until she regained composure. ‘Some patients need more time. The doctor said that. I’m going to keep talking to her. She hears me. I know she does.’ Determined, she returned to Robin. ‘And I know how to give pep talks, don’t I. So here’s a really, really important one.’ She bent down, spoke low. ‘Are you listening, Robin? I need you to listen. We’ve faced tough fields before. You’ve competed against some of the best runners in the world and come out ahead. That’s what we’ll do this time. We’ll surprise them all. We’re going to win.’ Molly materialized at her side. ‘Mom?’ she asked in a very young voice. Kathryn softened at the sound. Molly wasn’t often vulnerable. It was a throwback, a reminder of what Charlie had said. ‘What, honey?’ ‘Maybe we should tell Nana.’ Kathryn should have been hurting enough to be immune to more pain, but there it was. Squeezing her eyes shut, she fought hysteria. She wasn’t sure how much a person was expected to bear all at once, but she was reaching her limit. Opening her eyes, she said, ‘Nana isn’t herself.’ ‘She has lucid times.’ ‘She can’t remember our names, much less take in something we tell her. She isn’t the Nana you knew, Molly. Besides,’ she returned to Robin with a last glimmer of hope, ‘it would be cruel to tell a woman her age something we don’t know for sure. This was only the first EEG. There’s a reason they require two. I don’t care what the doctors say; I’m not believing a thing until the second is done.’ Of the disagreements Molly had with her mother, with one the least and ten the worst, their dispute over her grandmother ranked an eight. That was one of the reasons she went from the hospital to the nursing home. Visiting hours were over by the time she arrived, but the staff was used to her coming and going. She smiled at the woman at the front desk and was quickly waved on. After running up the stairs to the third floor, though, she faltered. ‘Is she alone?’ she asked at the nurse’s station. She didn’t mind that her grandmother had a boyfriend. The staff said that they didn’t actually have sex, but Molly wasn’t taking any chances. The nurse smiled. ‘Thomas is in his room by himself. He has a cold.’ Grateful, Molly slipped into a room halfway down the hall, closed the door and turned to the figure in the chair. Marjorie Webber was seventy-eight. She had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years before, and for the first two of those years had been cared for by her husband. Then his health declined, and hers spiraled to the point where she needed round-the-clock attention. Putting her in a nursing home had been the only option. To be fair, Molly knew Kathryn had agonized over the decision. They had all agreed that moving Marjorie in with Charlie and her was impractical, what with so many stairs. Besides, Marjorie needed constant watching, and Kathryn was rarely home. A dedicated facility seemed their best hope for maximizing safety and care. They had looked at many before choosing this one. Housed in a large mansion with multiple wings adapted for the purpose, this nursing home exuded warmth the others lacked. Part of its appeal was its closeness to the Snows’ home. Kathryn had taken her father to visit often, and after George died, went by herself. Then Marjorie met Thomas, and Kathryn flipped out. No matter that George was dead, she took her mother’s having a boyfriend as a personal affront and stopped visiting. Kathryn reasoned that her mother didn’t know whether she came or not, and Molly had no proof either way. She herself had always adored her grandmother. Even in her diminished state, Marjorie gave Molly comfort. This evening was no exception. Her room was filled with reminders of the past–framed family photos, a bag Marjorie had sewn that was now brimming with yarn, a woven basket in which Molly had put small pots of pothos, foliage begonia, and ivy. In the midst of these soothing mementos, Marjorie looked totally sweet and, in a cruel twist, more like a woman ten years her junior. Her hair was gray but remained thick, styled in a bob much like Kathryn’s. Always a pastel person, she wore a pink robe, and she was reading a book–such a familiar activity for a long-time reader that Molly could pretend she was mentally there. ‘Nana,’ she whispered, hunkering down by the chair. Marjorie looked up from her book and studied her quizzically. And here was another cruel twist: though they had been warned she would lose facial expressions, she hadn’t yet. She appeared to be totally aware, which made some of her behavior seem even worse. Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/barbara-delinsky/while-my-sister-sleeps/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. 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