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Dana came to with Mrs. Pibbs standing over her, taking her pulse. For just a moment she was back in her student nurse's class six years earlier, watching Mrs. Pibbs give pointers on nursing procedure. But when she felt the stabs of pain in her head and the bruises on her slender body, she realized that she wasn't in class. She was a patient in Ashton General Hospital.
Her face felt tight when she tried to speak, and her head throbbed abominably. "Mother ?" she managed weakly.
Mrs. Pibbs sighed, laying the long-fingered young hand down on the crisp white sheet. "I'm sorry, my dear," she said gently.
Tears ran down the Nordic face, misting the soft brown eyes in their frame of tousled platinum-blond hair. She'd known before she asked the question. Her last memory was of her mother's unnatural position in the metallic tangle of the front seat. But she'd hoped
"Your father is here," Mrs. Pibbs said.
Dana's hurt eyes flashed. "No," she said stiffly.
The older woman looked shocked. "You don't want to see Mr. Steele?"
Dana's eyes closed. After what her mother had confessed just before the wreck, she never wanted to see him again. "I don't feel up to it," she said tightly.
"You aren't critically injured, Nurse," Mrs. Pibbs reminded her in that tutor voice. "Just some bruises and a few deep lacerations; not even a broken bone. We're observing you because of a concussion and shock more than for any great injury."
"I know. Please, Mrs. Pibbs, I'm so tired," she pleaded.
The plump woman's hard face melted a little at the look. For all her facade of stone, she was a marshmallow inside. "All right," she agreed finally. "I'll tell him you aren't up to it. Shall I ask him anything?"
Dana blinked her eyes. "The funeral arrangements . Is my Aunt Helen taking care of those, or must I ?"
"Your aunt and I spoke briefly this morning. Everything is being taken care of," came the quiet reply. "It's to be tomorrow. Your aunt will be by later to explain."
Dana nodded, closing her eyes wearily. It seemed like a nightmare. If only she could wake up!
"I'll tell Mr. Steele you're indisposed," Mrs. Pibbs added formally, and left Dana alone.
Dana turned her face to the wall. She couldn't bear even the sight of her father, the sound of his name. Poor little Mandy, poor little Mandy, who hadn't the weapons to survive all alone after twenty-five years of being provided for. It was inevitable that she'd break eventually. For the first few weeks after the divorce was final, Dana had been on the lookout for it to happen. But it hadn't, not even when Jack Steele announced his marriage to one of the women he worked with, a blond, motherly woman whom Dana had only seen once.
Mandy had held on, working at a florist's shop, doing well, apparently happy and with everything to live for. Until Jack had been married three months. And then, last night, Mandy had called Dana, crying hysterically, and begged for a talk.
Dana had gone, as she always went when Mandy called, and found her mother drinking heavily. "Let's go out to supper," Mandy had begged, her pale brown eyes watery with hot tears, her wrinkled face showing its age. "I can't bear being alone anymore. Let's go out to supper and talk. I thought you might want to come back home and live with me again."
Dana had been as floored by the state her mother was in as she was by the request. She didn't want to live at home again; she wanted her independence. But there had to be some kind way to tell Mandy that, and she was searching for it when they went out to the car.
"I'll drive," Mandy had insisted. "I'm fine, dear, really I am. Just a couple of martinis, you know, nothing heavy. Get in, get in."
At that point Dana should have insisted on driving, but she'd been upset by her mother's sudden request that she move back in and she'd climbed obediently into the front seat.
"It will be lovely having you home again," Mandy cooed as she drove them toward a nearby restaurant.
"But, Mother" Dana began.
"Your father said you wouldn't, but I knew he was lying," Mandy had continued, unabashed. Tears had suddenly sprung from her eyes, and her hands on the wheel had trembled. "He said you were glad we'd divorced, so you could spend more time with him without without having to see me at the same time. He said you hated me."
Dana remembered catching her breath and staring blankly at her mother. "I didn't!" she burst out. "I never said such a thing!"
The thin old mouth began to tremble. "He made me go along with the divorce, you know. He made me ."
"Dad?" she'd queried, shocked. It hardly sounded like him, but Mandy wouldn't lie to her, surely.
"There have been other women since we married, Dana," she'd continued hotly. "He only married me because you were on the way. And he tried to get rid of you as soon as he found out "
Dana had been devastated. She opened her mouth to speak, but her mother wouldn't let her get a word in.
"I called you tonight because I'd decided that that I was going to kill myself." Mandy had laughed hysterically, and her hands on the wheel had jerked; the car had accelerated. "But then I got to thinking that I needn't do thatI needn't be alone. You could come home and stay with me. You don't need to stay in that apartment alone."
"But I'm not alone, I have a roommate," Dana had tried to reason with her.
"We'll have such fun," Mandy continued wildly. She turned her head to look at Dana. "He never wanted you, but I did. You were my baby, my little girl ."
"Mama, look out!" Dana had seen the truck, but Mandy hadn't. Before she could get her fogged mind to function, the truck was on top of them. Then there was only the sound of crunching metal, splintering glass .
Dana felt hot tears run down her cheeks. She wept bitterly. Not only had she lost her mother, but now she understood why there had been arguments all the time, why her parents had been so hostile toward each other. It even explained why her father hadn't come near her since the divorce. He'd only married Mandy because he'd had to. He hadn't wanted Dana, not ever. No wonder he had always been away from home. No wonder he'd never tried to build any kind of relationship with his daughter. He'd hated her because she'd forced him to marry a woman he didn't lovehad never loved.
Suddenly Mrs. Pibbs walked into the room, and Dana dabbed at the tears with a corner of the sheet.
"Your father's gone," she told the young nurse, wincing at the deep lacerations on the once spotless complexion. There would be scars, although Mrs. Pibbs had determined that she wasn't going to tell Dana about that just yet; Dana had had quite enough for one day.
Dana licked her dry lips. "Thank you, Mrs. Pibbs."
She managed a wan smile. "A really murderous one. Could I have something, do you think?"
"As soon as Dr. Willis makes his rounds." She checked her wristwatch. "And that will be in a very few minutes."
Dana became aware of the discomfort in her face and felt the bandages on one cheek. She started. "My face !"
"You should heal very well," Mrs. Pibbs said firmly. "It was inevitable, with all that broken glass. It isn't so bad, my dear. You're alive. You're very lucky that you were wearing your seat belt."
Dana's lower lip trembled. "Mrs. Pibbs, my mother Was it quick?"
The older woman sighed. "It was instantaneous, the ambulance attendants told us. Now, you rest. Don't dwell on it, just rest. The memory will fade, the cuts will fade. It only needs time." Her eyes were sad for a moment. "Dana, I lost my mother when I was fifteen. I remember very well how it hurt. I still miss her, but grief does pass. It has to."
"If only I'd insisted on driving !" Dana burst out, the tears returning. "It's all my fault!"
"No, my dear, it isn't. The truck that hit your mother's car ran a stop sign. Even if you had been driving, it would have been unavoidable." She moved forward and uncharacteristically brushed the wild blond hair away from Dana's bruised face.
"The driver of the truck was only scratched. Isn't it the way of things?" she added with a sad smile.
Dana bit her lip. "Yes," she murmured.
"Jenny said she'd see you later, by the way," the older nurse added. "And Miss Ena asked about you."
Dana couldn't repress a tiny smile, even through her grief. Miss Ena had undergone a gall bladder operation days before, and was the bane of the nursing staff. But strangely, she'd taken a liking to Dana and would do anything the young nurse asked.
"Tell her, please, that I'll be back on duty Friday night," Dana said gently. "If that's all right with you."
"That depends on how well you are by then," was the stern reply. "We'll wait to see about the funeral until Dr. Willis has seen you. You have to be prepared: he may very well refuse to let you go."
Dana's eyes blurred again with hot tears. "But I must!"
"You must get well," Mrs. Pibbs replied. "I'll see you later, Nurse. I'm very busy, but I wanted to check on you. Dr. Willis will be around shortly." She paused at the door, her eyes frankly concerned as she watched the blond head settle back on the pillow. Something was wrong there, very wrong. Dana's father had said as much when he was told that she refused to see him. But he wasn't going to insist, he told Mrs. Pibbs. Dana would work it out herself.
But would she? Mrs. Pibbs wondered.
Dr. Willis stopped by thirty minutes later, and Dana was shuttled off shortly afterward to X-ray. For the rest of the day, tests were run and results were correlated, and by night the tearful young nurse was given the verdict.
"No funeral," Dr. Willis said with faint apology as he made his night rounds. "I'm sorry, Dana, but a concussion isn't something you play around with. Your head took a brutal knock: I can't risk letting you up so soon."
"Then can they postpone the funeral ?" Dana asked hopefully.
He shook his head. "Your aunt is in no condition to put it off," he said bluntly. And he should know: herAunt Helen was his patient too. "Mandy was her only living relative, except for you. She's pretty devastated. No, Dana, the sooner it's over, the better."
"But I want to go," Dana wailed bitterly.
"I know that. And I understand why," he said gently. "But you know that the body is only the shell. The substance, the spark, that was her soul is already with God. It would be like looking at an empty glass."
The words were oddly comforting and they made sense. But they didn't ease the hurt.
Dr. Willis took her pulse and examined her eyes. "Shall I call Dick and have him come by and talk to you?" he asked when he finished, naming her minister.
She nodded. "Yes, please. It would be a great help right now. Aunt Helenis she coming to see me?"
He shook his head. "Not tonight. I've had to sedate her. The shock, for both of you, has been bad. Where's Jack? I'd have thought he'd be with you."
"My father has a family to think about," she said bitterly.
He stared at her. "You're his family too."