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Brady's heart attack was her fault. Her fault.
As guilt ate at Laura, she knew she had to be strong for Sean and Kat. She couldn't cry. But her abhorrence of hospitals had her trembling inside. This waiting room for the cardiac intensive care unit was supposed to be an oasis in the midst of mayhem. Outside of its walls there were shiny tile f loors, glass cubicles, nurses clad in scrubs and patients the staff couldn't save.
Her first encounter with York General Hospital had come when she was twelve. Her parents had suffered a terrible automobile accident and they'd been brought here. They'd both died a few days apart. Early in her marriage to Brady, three miscarriages had been confirmed here. Their child who'd died of SIDS had been autopsied here.
She'd thought she'd learned to steel herself when she walked into the bright atrium lobby, trying to wrap a protective layer around herself-some kind of barrier that would remove her from everything that was going on behind the doors, on upper f loors, in operating rooms. But even as recently as last year, when she'd brought Kat to the E.R. after a skateboarding accident, she'd known she could never protect herself from what happened in this building. It had only taken her fifty-eight years to learn that.
Worried sick about Brady, waiting to hear from the cardiologist, she glanced at Sean and Kat, who were seated on the long sofa, still in shock and silent.
A white-coated doctor finally strode into the room. "Mrs. Malone?"
She realized so many of the doctors she saw in this time of her life were younger than she was. This one appeared to be in his forties. His brown hair, parted to one side, dipped boyishlyover his brow. However, when she looked into his gray eyes, she saw the maturity he needed to do what he did.
"Yes, I'm Laura Malone." She extended her arm to Kat and Sean. "These are my children. Brady's children." She and Brady had gone to great lengths to make sure Sean and Kat never felt adopted, always understood they'd been specially chosen. Kat had believed them. Sean-
"Why don't we sit down," the doctor suggested as he extended his hand to her. "I'm your husband's cardiologist, Dominic Gregano."
Laura gave his hand a quick shake, then followed him to the love seat perpendicular to the sofa.
He waited until she was seated, then lowered himself on the cushion next to her. "Your husband had a myocardial infarction-a heart attack. We're going to do a catheterization at 7:00 a.m."
"To find out if there's blockage?"
His brow furrowed. "And how much damage. The cath will tell us."
He was watching her, and she wondered if he thought she might collapse. She couldn't with two children to think of, not with Brady and her kids depending on her.
There was only one thing she was concerned about now. "Is he conscious?"
"Your husband is on meds, but he's probably conscious enough to realize you're present when you talk to him."
"I want to see him."
"I know you do." His face reddened. "I mean, I imagine that you do. But I'm going to monitor him another half hour or so before you come in."
With Sean and Kat right beside her, she had to be careful with what she said and how she said it. "What if something happens in the meantime?"
"If it does, our staff needs to be with him, rather than you."
Regrets pushed at her. "I have to tell him I love him. I have to let him know we're here."
"It's amazing what our patients know without our telling them. Were you with him when this happened?"
"Then I'm sure he knows you're here. A half hour seems like forever right now, but I'll be back for you as soon as I can." The kindness in this lean, tall doctor was evident, and she was grateful for it.
He was no sooner out the door than Kat turned to her mother and questions tumbled out. "Why did Daddy have a heart attack? And why were those vans in front of our house? I didn't see them until you yelled and I ran downstairs."
Laura was attempting to find the right words, when Sean responded first. "There was an article about him in the newspaper."
Kat focused on her mother again for an explanation. How could she say she had caused Brady's heart attack? How could she explain the impetus behind their argument and the stress that had caught up to her husband after all these years?
"A reporter wrote an article about something that happened when your dad was in the service," Laura replied carefully.
"It said he killed people." Sean ran his hand through his spiked brown hair, looking miserable. "Women. And maybe even kids."
So Sean had read the article already. She couldn't talk about this without Brady. She simply couldn't. "We're not going to discuss the article or your dad's experiences now."
"Is it true?" Sean persisted in spite of what she'd said. When she didn't answer immediately, deciding what to tell him, Sean asked, "Have you known all these years?"
She took a steadying breath. "I knew about what happened. But that article isn't the whole story."
That didn't seem to matter to Sean. He looked at her as if he didn't know her-as if she was some type of coconspirator. Oh, to be eighteen again. To be full of idealism and passion and to be able to separate black from white. Yet she noticed something else on her son's face. Fear? Was he afraid his dad would die?
That was on Kat's mind, too. "Will Daddy be okay?" Kat was beautiful, with her curly chestnut hair, her blue eyes, her heart-shaped face. There had never been any doubt that she was daddy's girl and would always be.
"This is a good hospital, with good doctors. We have to believe he'll be fine." Laura's fingers went to the charm bracelet on her arm, which she rarely removed. It represented her life and Brady's. It represented years of happiness as well as heartache.
Suddenly Kat jumped up from the sofa, as if she had too much energy trapped inside. "I can't stay sitting in here just waiting. I'm going to go get something to drink."
"This is a big place, Kat-"
"Mom, I'm fourteen, not four. I won't get lost. There are signs everywhere."
"We don't need to worry about where you are," Sean argued.
Kat went to the door anyway and said over her shoulder, "Then don't," and was gone.
A heavy silence settled over the room until Sean asked, "Do you want me to go with her?"
Her daughter was independent. Yet she was intelligent and usually acted with some degree of common sense. "She'll be okay. She has to let off a little steam. She doesn't understand everything that's going on."
"Neither do I," Sean mumbled.
"The article is something your dad has to discuss with you. If something happens to him-" She'd never intended to say that. It had just spilled out. "If something happens to Dad, it'll be my fault. I heard you arguing about me."
How could he haveThen she remembered. He'd run in as soon as Brady collapsed. He must have returned home after baseball practice, seen the vans and heard them arguing. The most important thing was that he didn't blame himself. She knew what guilt did. Brady had taught her.
She moved closer to her son. "You are not to blame. The argument wasn't about you no matter what you think you heard. It was about the newspaper article. If anyone's to blame, I am. Vietnam is a touchy subject and I should have-" She stopped, not sure exactly what she should have done.
After a deep breath, she continued. "Sean, your dad had a medical condition we apparently didn't know about. That's what caused his heart attack. Okay?" If she repeated that often enough, maybe she'd believe it, too.
He stared back at her for a long time, then finally agreed, "Okay."
"The important thing now is to let the doctors do their job, then listen when they tell us what we can do."
She always felt better when there was something she could do. She'd always been like that.
Her fingers went to the bracelet again. She was the one at fault. She and Brady had made an agreement the day of their wedding not to talk about the past again. Yet when that past stood up and socked you in the faceGuilt gnawed at her anew. Why had she pushed so hard, when dealing with the article was her husband's decision to make?
Because the past still cast a shadow over him no matter how much he denied it.
Sean noticed her absently fingering a charm. Since he obviously preferred to change the subject, she let him when he remarked, "You've got a lot of charms on there. When did Dad buy you the last one?"
Her children knew the gold charms made her happier than any other gift. But they'd never shown much interest in their meaning.
She singled out a tiny ski. "The last one Dad gave me was two Valentine's Days ago. It was supposed to bring back all the memories from our winter trip to Vermont."
"The vacation I wanted to ditch?"
She nodded. It had been the vacation she'd proposed so they'd all have time to spend together as a family.
At first Brady had insisted, "I can't take a vacation now." As CEO of his own robotics firm, he could work twenty hours a day, get four hours of sleep and be perfectly happy. And more often than not, that was what he tried to do. But Sean had been having trouble in school because of his dyslexia. He'd become rebellious and needed reinforcement that they were a family. Kat had been entering her teenage years and Laura had known that soon Kat wouldn't want to spend time with her parents, either. Then to Laura's surprise, one day that January, Brady had come home early to celebrate winning a government contract and agreed they all deserved to get away for a few days.
She and Brady had slipped back to the chalet while the kids were taking a skiing lesson and made love in front of the fire.
"Which charm's the first one he ever gave you?" her son asked now.
Smiling, she pointed to two charms, both rife with symbolism of everything she and Brady had shared from the beginning. "He gave me the bracelet with the heart and the daisy before he went to basic training."
"You met Dad when he was home from college on spring break, didn't you?"
That had been their story all these years. And it was true. But it was a very small part of how they'd met. They'd never gone into it with the kids because their first encounter was connected to the memories Brady had of Vietnam. So they'd always kept their story simple. But now simple might not be enough. With Brady lying in intensive care, maybe it was time to break down barriers, even if she had to do it alone. Maybe it was time to let their children realize who she and Brady had been and possibly understand who they were now. They would only be able to do that with the truth.
Laura slipped back in time so easily that she could almost touch the daisy in her hair. Flower power at its finest. She could practically feel the wind whipping her long skirt around her knees as she'd stood with the antiwar protest line in front of the courthouse in York, in early April 1969-girls in everything from miniskirts and beads to guys with ponytails and beards taking advantage of their right to make their opinion count. Even more than that, they were rebelling against institutions they no longer believed in. All that passion paired with rebellion was scary, and Laura had shivered in spite of the warm day.
Although much of the protest against the war had originated on college campuses-she'd gone to business school for two years, then started working full-timeeveryone seemed to have an opinion. That day she'd worked until four at the Bon Ton department store, then had walked to the courthouse.
The underground newspapers at the coffeehouse along with the antiwar lyrics strummed on a guitar had touched deep chords inside her. Throwing off her fear of getting involved, she'd decided another voice might make a difference. This was her first demonstration and she was jittery about it. But she had high-school friends who were in Vietnam and she wanted them home. Why should they be fighting a war the U.S. could never win? Maybe didn't even know how to win.