The news out and the engagement ring twinkling on her finger, it was hard for Adrienne to keep her mind on her studies – and Brandon wasn't helping much. He was constantly urging her to go up to the Marsh ranch, insisting that his father was anxious to have them confirm the news in person. Everyone was so supportive – even her parents, who came up to meet Brandon as soon as they heard the news. To her surprise and delight, they instantly bonded with him.
She sat on her bed, cross-legged, a book in her lap. Yet her gaze was on the ring. Was it actually true? Could all this be happening to her? She was going to have her lifelong dream as well as the dream she had recently developed – a life with Brandon. With planning and diligence, his business would be on its feet in a few years and she would be working in the pediatric ward at the hospital. It all proved that any goal could be achieved if a person didn't allow themselves to get sidetracked. Some might call it luck, but she knew better. It was planning and perseverance and she had every reason to be proud.
She glanced up to find Brandon lounging against the door jam of her bedroom doorway. His arms were folded across his chest and a twinkle was in his eyes.
"You're going to wear it out just looking at it."
She wrinkled her nose at him. "It's pretty."
He chuckled. "Yeah. Why don't we go up and show it to Mom and Dad today?"
She shook her head. "I don't have time. Finals are week after next and I have to study. I don't know how you keep such a high grade average. You never seem to study."
"Oh, I study." He grimaced. "I guess I should stay here and study as well, but . . ." He shifted uneasily and then met her gaze. "Mom said Dad hasn't been feeling well, and he won't go to the doctor. I thought maybe you could look at him. You being a nurse . . ."
"Oh, no. In the first place, I'm only an LPN right now. In the second place, I'm not going to play doctor. If your Dad is feeling bad enough to warrant medical attention, he needs to see a doctor, not a nurse."
Brandon frowned. "But that's just the point. He won't go see a doctor, and Mom's worried about him. We thought maybe you could convince him to go, or at least look at him. Some medical attention has to beat none."
She shook her head. "Look. If I went up there, he'd think just like you are. Something is better than nothing. He sure wouldn't go to the doctor then. I'm not qualified, Brandon, and I'm not going to get this started, so forget it."
He sighed. "I guess you're right. If he thinks there's no help coming to him, maybe he'll to the doctor."
It was Adrienne’s turn to frown. "I didn't say you shouldn't go. I'm sure he'd be glad to see you – especially if he isn't feeling well. Maybe you could even talk him into going to the doctor – or at least calling the doctor."
Brandon crammed his hands into his pockets and stared at the floor, obviously in deep thought. Finally he heaved a long sigh and turned away.
"I'll wait until tomorrow. If he thinks I might be up today, he'll insist on staying home so he won't miss me. I'll call him and see if I can get him to see the doctor. In the mean time, I guess I'll get some studying done."
Adrienne watched him walk away, his shoulders drooped slightly. Maybe she should have agreed to go with him. If his father was that ill, maybe she could encourage him to go to the doctor. She sighed, remembering how strong-willed his father was. No, he wouldn’t listen to her either. Still, by refusing to go up there with Brandon, she was standing between him and his parents. She glanced at the book in her lap. Nose to the grindstone. In the last few weeks she had allowed herself to be distracted. If she kept that up, her grades would suffer. She had come this far, and nothing was going to stop her now.
When they all set down to supper, Brandon was still brooding. He picked at his food, and avoided eye contact with Adrienne. Was he angry because she didn’t go? If so, why didn’t he simply voice his objection?
She caught him alone in the hallway after supper, while Julia and Rachel were in the kitchen doing dishes.
“Are you angry with me because I didn’t want to go up to see your parents?”
He avoided her troubled gaze. “I’m not angry with you,” he answered tersely. Finally he frowned down at her. “It’s just that sometimes I wonder what is more important in your life – your career or me.”
She stared at him. “That’s not fair. You know how hard I’ve worked. You’re asking me to drop everything when I’m so close to achieving my goal. It isn’t a matter of which I love more. It’s a matter of priority. Do you want me to give up my schooling just to prove that I love you more?”
His neck darkened. “I don’t want you to give up anything. You’re already at the top of your class. Would it be such an imposition to take just one day off to go see my parents? Even your parents had to come up to see you. I think you’re obsessed with this thing.”
It was her turn to blush. “This thing happens to be very important to me. I’ve been planning it since . . .”
“And I’m not?” he interrupted, his voice rising slightly.
Adrienne rolled her eyes. “Of course you are, but . . . Are we going to have one of these relationships where we have to constantly prove our love to each other?” She concluded angrily.
He bristled. “I’m not asking you to prove anything. I’m asking you to show a little consideration. Think of someone else, for a change.”
She gasped and took a step backward. “So now you think I’m selfish.”
His eyes flashed. “If the shoe fits . . .” He let the cliché hang ominously in the air.
For a moment they both stared at each other in silence. The moment was so tense that, when the telephone rang, they both jumped.
Julia brushed by them in the hall. “Will you two hold it down for a few minutes? I’m hoping that’s Jerry, and I don’t want him to hear you two fighting in the background.”
Adrienne turned on one heal and marched away from Brandon. In her room, she stared blankly at her book. Her vision was blurred by unshed tears. Brandon thought she was selfish. Was he regretting that he had asked her to marry him? They should have waited until after school was out, like she had suggested. Hadn’t she made it clear that she didn’t want any distractions? She wasn’t being selfish. She was merely dedicated. It would be stupid to go this far and then let a quarrel spoil her plans. Brandon simply wasn’t thinking clearly. In fact, he was the one who was acting selfish!
Julia answered the phone and called to Brandon. Through her bedroom doorway, Adrienne watched him as he listened solemnly. His face turned pale.
"When did this happen, Mom?" A pause. "I'll be right up." He replaced the receiver and hurried to his room.
“What’s the matter?” Julia called after him.
Silence, then finally Brandon answered in a controlled voice. "Dad had a heart attack this afternoon. They don't expect him to live."
Adrienne’s stomach lurched and chill bumps popped out on her arms. Her heart skipped a few beats and then thundered. She leaped from her bed, the book falling to the floor unnoticed. Darting across the room, she used the door jam to break her speed as she turned to Brandon’s room. There she stopped, staring at him.
"Do you want me to drive you there?"
He didn’t even look at her when he shook his head. He grabbed a few things from a dresser drawer. When he finally spoke, his voice was crisp. “Get a few things together. I know he'll want to see you.”
Without a word, she dashed back to her room and crammed a change of clothes in a bag, along with her books. Was he blaming her? Probably not yet. He was probably too shocked to think of that yet, but it would come. Right now she didn’t have time to think about that. Brandon needed her full support, and he was going to get it.
They wasted no time getting on the road and Brandon was driving fast. She glanced at him.
"If you get stopped, you'll loose more time than if you go the speed limit."
He shot her a warning look. "If I go any slower he might die before I get there." His jaw muscles worked. "I should have gone this morning, like I planned."
She gripped the armrest as he passed two cars at a time. A quick look revealed the speedometer was nearing the ninety mark – or did it merely look like it from her seat? Still, the car weaved as he guided it back into the right lane.
"It will serve no purpose to get us both killed on the way up there."
He shot her another warning look. "I know what I'm doing. Just sit back and don't distract me."
In other words, shut up. She glanced at him, keeping her voice even. "Look, I know you're out of your mind with worry. Maybe you should let me drive."
"I'll drive," came his tight-lipped reply.
Something had to be done before he got them both killed. "You'll drive," she minced the words out. "You're just like your father. Too head strong to do what you know is best."
"Shut up." His foot pressed harder on the accelerator and the car jumped forward.
The highway ahead of them was clear, except for one big truck coming their way . . . and a car approaching the highway to their right. The car came to a halt and then started to roll forward. Surely the driver wouldn't . . .
The little car pulled out in front of them. Adrienne screamed, cramming her foot into the floor as if she, too, had a break pedal. Brandon hit the breaks, and the car started to slide sideways . . . directly into the path of the Mack truck.
Adrienne screamed again, and then the little car ahead of them was pulling off the road. Brandon gave the car more gas and it straightened up, darting between the two vehicles.
Clear of the danger, Brandon pulled the car off the highway and glanced at Adrienne. His eyes looked huge in a white face. Without a word, he backed the car until they were close to the one that had pulled out in front of them. Adrienne followed him to the other car. If the driver was hurt, she might be able to help.
Brandon leaned down and spoke to the woman behind the wheel.
"Are you all right?"
The lady at the wheel reminded Adrienne of Mrs. Marsh. She stared at Brandon a moment before she spoke.
"I guess so. I'm sorry. I saw you, but I must have misjudged the distance. I thought I had plenty of time."
Brandon looked sick. "You would have, if I hadn't been traveling so fast. I'm the one who owes you an apology, not the other way around. I just got word that my father had a heart attack. I'm headed up to Bartlesville to see him."
The woman nodded. "I understand, young man. You go ahead, but be careful. I'm sure he wouldn't want you to have a wreck trying to get there in a hurry."
Brandon nodded, his face still pale. He tossed the car keys to Adrienne and met her startled gaze.
The news at the hospital wasn't good. Mr. Marsh was in a coma and attached to life support machines. In actuality, he was dead. Only the machines kept his body working. The doctors were waiting on test results before they exercised the rights he had claimed in a living will.
Mrs. Marsh sat in a chair opposite Adrienne, hunched over like an old woman. Sometimes she would stop crying for a while, and it seemed that she was gaining control. Then she would be engulfed by another convulsive sob. It would start all over again. Brandon sat with a comforting arm around her shoulders. Mrs. Marsh’s face was white, and her eyes red and swollen, with dark circles under them. Brandon, on the other hand, was stoic.
It was a scene not unfamiliar to Adrienne, but she had been fortunate up to this point that it had never been a personal tragedy. Watching the two of them, it was all she could do to control her own tears . . . especially knowing that this was at least partly her fault. If she had come up with Brandon when he asked, she would have been there when Mr. Marsh suffered the heart attack. She could have administered CPR until the ambulance arrived. Instead, his brain had starved for lack of oxygen, leading to the present situation. In a way, she had killed her own future father-in-law. Brandon was right. She had been selfish. What would it have hurt to put her studies aside for one day? She was selfish. Selfish and stupid. How could she blame him if he wanted to call the marriage off?
She tried to swallow the lump that insisted on staying in her throat. She had to retain her composure. Even if Brandon and Mrs. Marsh now despised her, they still needed her support.
They all glanced up expectantly as the doctor strode toward them and quietly gave them the bad news. No brain activity. Officially Mr. Marsh was dead. They would disconnect the equipment after Mrs. Marsh and Brandon had their last moments with him.
Mrs. Marsh burst into a fresh bout of tears, and Brandon put an arm around her, his own eyes growing misty. His voice was low and husky.
"Come on Mom. I'll go with you. This is the way he wanted it. We've got to let him go. Now let's go in and say good-by."
"But what if they're wrong?" his mother asked.
"They're not wrong. You know that, Mom."
The doctor looked uncomfortable. "We can run another test, if you wish." He lifted a sheaf of papers. "We are certain about the results of this test, though."
Mrs. Marsh glared at the papers, as if they were to blame for the situation. "Can't we wait 'till tomorrow? Why is everyone in such a hurry?"
Brandon kissed her forehead. "Mom . . . his voice cracked. Dad is a donor. They can't wait. Nobody wanted this to happen, but don't let his death be a complete loss. They've done everything they can. Let him go."
"I can't," Mrs. Marsh sobbed, and leaned against Brandon for support. "I just can't."
Brandon glanced at the doctor. "How much time?"
The doctor shifted uncomfortably and glanced at Adrienne. "It should be done now, but . . . maybe an hour?"
Brandon nodded. "Give her a little time to accept the idea." For one brief instant, he looked at Adrienne as if he actually saw her.
The agony she saw in his eyes made her stomach roll. Was there something else, or was it her imagination? Was he blaming her?
“I’m sorry, Brandon.” Her voice broke and a tear slid down her face.
Brandon turned to his mother. “Come on now.”
Thirty minutes later, they emerged from the room. Mrs. Marsh was no longer crying. In fact, she was now comforting Brandon, whose face still held the trace of tears. Mrs. Marsh turned to Adrienne, and her voice was calm.
“He’s gone to heaven now. He’ll never suffer again.”
Brandon stared at the floor. When he finally lifted his head and spoke to Adrienne, his voice was devoid of any emotion.
You’d better call one of the girls to pick you up. I’m going to stay here with mother. I know you need to get back for your finals tomorrow.”
Then he was blaming her. What was worse, he was sending her away. Could she blame him? The sight of her right now must fill him with disgust. What he needed was time. Time to be with his mother, and time to get over his father’s death. He didn’t need her right now. He needed his family.
She stood and lifted her bag. For a moment she hesitated. Should she hug them? She finally opted to let them have their private moment.
“I’ll talk to you later. If you need anything, be sure to call me.”
Brandon was staring at the floor again. Was he ignoring her, or was his mind completely occupied with grief at the moment? It was hard to tell.READ MORE >>