The weekend dragged by so silently that Andrea wanted to scream. Every time she saw Rick, he was glaring at her or Jimmy. He barely spoke to anyone except Lee. But on Sunday night, he announced at the dinner table that he would be going to work on Monday morning and staying at a hotel near the office most of the week.
“At least he’s still talking to you.” Andrea told Lee as they were climbing into bed that night.
“He thinks that you and Jim are plotting against me. He overheard you saying you were glad he was leaving because you didn’t want him to find out. He just doesn’t know what you’re keeping from him.” Lee propped himself up on his elbow. “Sometimes I think I should just tell him.”
Her heart skipped a beat.
“And then I think about the way he keeps turning on you and it kills me.”
She slid under the covers and stretched out on her side, facing him, with her head cradled in her hand. “I’m sorry about everything. I didn’t know he was listening. I guess he told you he’s leaving.”
“Yup. He says he has business to get back to.” he sighed. “But I’m going to phone him every weekend.”
“I’m glad.” She brushed his hair out of his eyes. “At least something good has come out of all of this.”
His eyes turned liquid. “Yea.” He agreed with her even though they were talking about two totally different ‘somethings’.
Andrea watched Rick leave Monday morning with one of his suitcases. She ran out to talk to him as he was pulling out of the garage. “Rick!”
His face hardened as she approached.
She straightened her shoulders and stiffened her back, not wanting to appear weak. “Don’t forget about Lee’s appointment on Friday.”
“I’ll be back before then.” he said tonelessly.
“Fine.” She turned on her heels and went back through the garage into the house. She heard the tires squeal as the car drove off. Lee and Jimmy were both still asleep so she decided to do something sleuthing. Or snooping, as Lee would call it. Tiptoeing through the kitchen, she tried not to make any noise. She scurried along the hallway into the foyer, then took the steps two at a time. She looked around her, not remembering which room was his. Shrugging, she started opening doors, looking for a room that looked lived in. The third door she opened revealed a room that looked like it had been hit by a tornado. There were papers scattered about on the desk, the chair and the floor. The bed was unmade with clothes piled on the floor at the end of it. Scattered over the rest of the floor were shirts, socks, shoes and a pair of jeans. The closet bifold doors were folded back to reveal a half-empty closet with one suit hanging up and a pile of clothing on the floor.
“This should be easy.” she whispered, closing the bedroom door softly behind her. She walked over to the desk and looked around without touching anything. Then, she started opening drawers and pushing stuff around. She searched through the whole desk except for the file drawers on the left and only because it was locked. She would work on that later if she had to. Moving to the chest of drawers, she searched through there without finding anything interesting. But, on top of the chest was a rock that looked out of place. It was a fairly large rock, about the size of her fist, with a rough black surface. She picked it up to see how heavy it was and gasped. Turning it over, she found a tiny compartment, big enough to hide a key. Sliding off the cover, she pulled out the little bronze key and took it over to the desk. It slipped into the lock and turned easily. Grinning, she pulled open the drawer and looked inside. The contents were arranged neatly but they were covered with a thin layer of dust. There was a silver lockbox, a packet of rubber-banded papers that looked like letters, and unbelievably, another rock. She took the key out of that rock, then took the lockbox out of the drawer. As she set it on the desk, she hesitated. What she was doing was wrong and she should stop. Shrugging, she decided that if he could snoop into other people’s pasts presumably including her own, then she could snoop into his.
She unlocked the lockbox and lifted the lid. There were some photos that she immediately reached for. He was in the first picture, holding a woman but her back was to the camera. All she could see was a very revealing back of a red dress. The next picture was one hundred times better. Rick was standing in the middle of a room with the same woman in his arms, but this time, her back was against his chest. The photographer had caught both of their smiling faces. The last photo slipped from her hand and fluttered onto the desktop. It landed face down and there was some writing on the back. In neat, block letters, there was a name and a date. Melissa Koleson – April 1991. She picked up the picture to make sure it was the same woman and it was. But that didn’t solve anything. Looking back into the lockbox, she saw a small velvet box in the corner.
“Oh, no.” she moaned, reaching for the box. She flipped it open to find a dainty gold ring and a small but pretty diamond. “Young and foolish.” she muttered. She closed the box, wondering why this Melissa person hadn’t accepted Rick’s proposal. She picked up the picture of the woman again.
She was a strikingly pretty woman with high cheekbones and beautiful flowing brown hair that framed her classical features. A bit on the short side, she stood in a relaxed pose for the camera, her laughing eyes wide and happy. She had a wonderful figure with soft curves and a good-sized chest. Snarling disgustedly, she went back to the photo of Rick and Melissa’s back. He looked young and handsome and carefree. His brown eyes were twinkling at her and his smile covered his whole face. He was devastatingly handsome for a young man of twenty. But she thought he looked so much better now. His body was better toned, his face was more mature and he held himself up with more confidence.
She put everything back into the lockbox, locked it and placed it back in the drawer. The key was placed back into the rock and the rock was returned to the drawer. After she closed and locked the drawer, she put the other key away and set the rock back on the chest of drawers. A minute later, she left the room, closing the door behind her. Down the stairs she went and back into the kitchen where she found Lee having breakfast.
“Good morning.” she greeted him.
“Hi. Where you been?” he asked, eating another spoonful of cereal.
“Around. Do you recognize the name Melissa Koleson?” She made herself a cup of coffee before joining him at the table.
“Sure. Rick dated her for a while.” he answered. “But only briefly, I think.”
“Oh, nothing serious, then”
“Don’t think so. Why?”
“Just being nosey.”
“Oh.” He didn’t think to question where she got the name. “Can we go to the zoo today?”
“You bet. We’ll even buy you disgustingly buttered popcorn to eat and peanuts to feed the elephants.” she told him.
“All right. Get Jimmy up now so we can leave right away.”
“Yes, master.” she saluted. “Can I finish my coffee first?”
“No way.” he got up and started out of the room. “I’m going to get dressed.”
“All right.” She hurried upstairs to Jimmy’s room and knocked on the door. “Jimmy!” she called through the closed door. “Get up, we’re going to the zoo today.” When she got no answer, she opened the door wide and went into the room. “Jimmy?” He was lying on his back under the covers and she thought he was trying to play a joke on her. “Come on, Jimmy, get up.” He still didn’t move so she went to his side to shake him by the shoulder. “Jimmy!” She panicked and placed her hand on his chest. She felt him breathing so she tried to wake him again. “Jimmy. This isn’t very funny!” Tears ran down her face, scorching her cheeks. “Oh my God!” She picked up the telephone on the bedside table and dialed nine, one, one. “Please, we need an ambulance right away! The end of Tamarack Lane! Yes, it’s a man, he’s sixty-six or so and I can’t wake him. Oh God! He’s in an upstairs bedroom! Oh, please, hurry! My name is Andrea Holivan. Oh, God! Jimmy, please!”
“Can you hold on!” she dropped the phone and raced to the top of the stairs. “Lee, Jimmy won’t wake up! Open the front door and wait outside for the ambulance.” Without waiting for an answer, she went back into the bedroom. “I have to hang up, I have to call my brother-in-law! What? Yes, he’s breathing! Please, I have to call Rick! The number? Uh, 555-9207. You’ll call? Tell him to meet us at the hospital! Oh, I hear the ambulance!” she paused to gasp in a breath. “Lee! Send them up here, quick!” Turning back to the man in the bed, she grabbed his hand. “Please, hold on Jimmy. What? You got to Rick! Oh, thank goodness.” She turned at the sound of voices. “In here, please! Yes, they’re here. Thank you.” She dropped the phone into the cradle and stood aside as the paramedics took over. She waited and followed them down the stairs. “Lee, oh Lee! We have to go with him!” she was just babbling as one of the medics returned to get them into the ambulance.
Andrea sat on the plastic couch, trembling so hard that her teeth were chattering. Lee sat next to her, his arm around her shoulders.
“Lee! Andrea! What’s going on?” Rick asked as he raced into the room.
She started crying all over again.
“They’re looking at him.” Lee answered. “They won’t tell us anything.”
Rick knelt in front of her and grabbed her hands in his. “Andrea, I have to tell you something. Jimmy, well, he has a brain tumor.”
“Oh, no!” Her head bobbed up and down with the force of her sobs. “How did you...”
“He told me. He didn’t want to worry you.” Rick held onto her hands. “Andrea, stop crying. Pull yourself together!”
“No!” she sobbed. “I’m tired of pulling myself together!” she said brokenly. “I can’t take it anymore!” She fell into Lee’s arms and cried so hard that Lee had trouble holding onto her.
Rick jumped to his feet and went to find a nurse. He had given the emergency operator the information about Jimmy’s tumor so they could begin treatment immediately. He practically tackled a nurse passing by. “Can’t someone tell us about James Womatt, please!”
“We’ll be sure to let you know as soon as there is something to report.” she murmured soothingly before returning to her duties.
He returned to sit on the empty seat next to Andrea. “He’s gonna be all right. I promise, he’s going to be fine.”
“I just knew he was sick.” she wailed. “I wish he had told me himself!” The tears continued to pour down her cheeks. “I don’t understand why these things happen to everyone I love!”
Lee held onto her, whispering to her and wiping at her tears with his handkerchief. “If you keep on like this, you’ll have no energy left to see to him when he’s moved to his room.”
“I can’t help it! I love him so much.” she hiccuped, trying to catch her breath. “Why didn’t he tell me? Then at least I would have known this was coming.” She turned to Rick. “Is he going to die, Rick? He must have told you what was going on. Please, tell me everything he told you! Did he try treatment? Surgery?”
“Tell me! Tell me what kind of chance he has!”
“I’m not a doctor, honey. I can’t give you a diagnosis or prognosis.” he murmured.
“But he must have told you something!” she cried.
He thought of Jimmy’s blunt words of death but he couldn’t bear to repeat them to her. Not now, not ever. “He wasn’t very specific.”
“You’re lying! You’re lying to me! You know something and you won’t tell me!” The sobs took over again and she clung to Lee, turning her face into his shoulder.
Lee looked at his brother over Andrea’s head. A wave of concern passed between them and Rick reached over to clasp his brother’s shoulder.
“We’ll make it.” he whispered. “We’ll all be fine.”
An hour later, there was still no word. Rick went back to the nurse’s station to do some more probing while Andrea and Lee remained on the couch.
“What if he dies, Lee? What if I never get to see him again?” she looked at him out of red, puffy eyes.
“You can’t think that way. Of course you’ll see him again.” Lee pushed her reddish curls away from her round face. “Think positive, Andi. Jimmy’s a strong, healthy man, he’ll be all right.”
“You know as well as I do about these cases with brain tumors! Sometimes there’s just no hope!” she whispered tearfully.
“Jimmy’s different.” Lee said stubbornly. “He’s gonna be fine.”
“They said that the admitting doctor would be out to see us shortly.” Rick said as he dropped back onto the couch. He took one of her hands in his. “Andrea, the nurse said he’s in a coma.”
The breath drained from her body in one long whoosh. “What else?”
“That’s all she would say. She said that the doctor would tell us what is going on when he comes out.” Rick told her softly.
“But he’s alive, right?” there was a pleading note in her voice.
She closed her eyes for a moment. “Thank God.”
She looked up at the quiet voice. “Yes.”
“I’m Dr. Raros, the head surgeon here in the emergency room. I admitted Mr. Womatt.” he greeted her.
“Dr. Raros, how is he?” she hopped to her feet to face him.
“He’s in a coma right now and we have him stabilized. We would like to get in contact with his doctor. Do you have his name?” Raros asked.
“No.” Andrea answered.
“Yes.” Rick said at the same time.
“Well, Mrs. Holivan, you can go in and see Mr. Womatt while Mr. Holivan and I talk.” the doctor told her.
“Lee?” she turned to him.
She helped him to his feet and together they walked slowly down the hall to the room the doctor gave them. Carefully she pushed open the door and they walked in. “Oh, Jimmy.” She led Lee to the chair, then she approached the bed. Grasping his limp hand, she felt the tears welling up in her eyes. “Jimmy, why didn’t you tell me? I thought you promised me that we would never have secrets from each other. This was a really awful secret to keep.”
He was lying prone on the hospital bed, his white hair combed back from his face. There were tubes running into his arms and up into his nose and mouth. The sheet was pulled up to his armpits with his arms laying on top of the covers next to his body. The machines next to his bed were beeping quietly, the blue lines running across the screen.
“Jimmy, you didn’t have to go through any of this alone. I would have been there. But now, I promise, I won’t let you go through anything else alone. You never left me when I needed you and now I’ll be here with you.” she gripped his hand tighter and smoothed her free hand over his cheek. “I won’t leave you to deal with this alone.”
“Andrea.” Rick spoke from the doorway. “Dr. Raros is contacting Jimmy’s doctor as we speak.”
“Thank you.” she whispered.
“How does he look?”
“Come in and see for yourself.” She touched Jimmy’s shoulder. “Rick is here with me and Lee. He came in from work to be here.” Her voice caught and the tears finally fell. They landed quietly on Jimmy’s sheets and after a few seconds her shoulders began to shake.
Lee looked over his shoulder at Rick. He motioned with his hands for Rick to go and comfort her because he didn’t have his walker or his cane.
Rick went over to her side. “Andrea.” He grasped her trembling shoulders and turned her around. Immediately she fell into his embrace, her arms wrapping around his waist for support. He held her tightly against him and felt her tears wetting his shirt, but he didn’t care. He wanted to hold her forever, keeping her safe in his arms.
“Andrea.” Rick called her name. It had been over an hour since he had held her and still he could feel her body next to his. “I think the doctor wants to see you.” Dr. Raros was standing just outside the door in the hallway.
“I’m not leaving Jimmy.”
“I’ll stay with him.” Rick offered.
“No. Tell Dr. Raros to come in here, I’m not leaving.” She kept a tight grip on Jimmy’s limp hand.
Rick went out into the hallway to speak to the doctor.
“Andi, you can’t stay here forever. You have to go home sometime.” Lee said from his chair. “You know Jimmy wouldn’t want you getting sick over him.”
“Lee, he spent the last two months alone, in a state thousands of miles from his friends, suffering. I can’t let him be alone anymore.” she told him.
He sighed and leaned back in the chair. “No, no one should have to be alone, ever.” he said, thinking about his brother. He had seen the look on Rick’s face when he was holding her. They should be together after he dies. They could comfort each other. A heaviness settled onto his shoulders. He wouldn’t be around to see his brother’s happiness. He wouldn’t be around to see Andi truly happy. His choice was to tell his brother the truth, annul his marriage to Andi and let them be happy together while he was still alive to see it. But would Rick ever forgive him for lying about his marriage?
Both men spoke at the same time.
She looked up. “Yes?”
Rick answered first. “Jimmy’s doctor wants to fly him home immediately.”
“No. Tell him I’ll spare no expense to have him flown here. I want Jimmy here with me.” she replied.
“He has other patients, Andrea.” Rick reminded her.
“Then we’ll hire the best doctor and have him flown here. Jimmy stays!” she said stubbornly. “Have the hospital contact the best doctor available if Jimmy’s doctor won’t come.” she repeated.
“Andrea.” Rick took another step into the room. “You’re being unreasonable.”
“So? This is Jimmy’s life we’re talking about! The man who gave me what I always needed. I won’t send him away from me when he needs me!” she growled.
“Rick, there’s no arguing with her now. Please, just do as she asks.” Lee said quietly.
“I’ll do what I can.” was his reply.
“We’ll get you the best, Jimmy. We’ll see you through this, no matter what.” she promised him.
Rick left he room to talk with Dr. Raros again. They walked away from the doorway to talk.
“Lee, you should have Rick drive you home so you don’t wear yourself out.” she spoke conversationally as she stroked Jimmy’s hair. “I’ll call you with updates.”
“Andi, I’m fine and I’m staying. I don’t want you here by yourself.” he held up his hand to stop her comment. “You know damn well I can be as stubborn as you.”
“Then we’ll have them bring in a cot so you can nap.” she instructed. “You shouldn’t strain yourself.”
“Oh, Andi, how do you manage to take care of everyone at the same time?” his voice was soft and caressing.