In Baldacci's deeply moving debut novel, a woman with multiple sclerosis faces a new journey fraught with wrenching pain, enduring wisdom, and authentic joy.
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- 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.94(d)
- Age Range:
- 13 Years
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A Sundog Moment
By Sharon Baldacci
Warner FaithCopyright © 2004 Sharon Baldacci
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe dance floor was crowded with tuxedos and sparkling evening gowns, creating a breathing, living organism of excitement; it was New Year's Eve at the large corporate building that housed Whittaker Industries, and the collective ensemble glittered like a bevy of Christmas gifts waiting to be handed out.
Leaning against the rail of a balcony overlooking the party was a stunningly beautiful woman, Elizabeth Whittaker, who wore a seductive black evening gown. A hint of a smile adorned her face as she felt the enthusiasm and energy generated from the people down below. A man in a tuxedo inched close behind her.
"Dance with me," he commanded, putting a hand on her arm. She moved slightly away, her eyebrows rising disdainfully. "I'll have you know, I'm a married woman."
His smile deepened. "Believe me, I love married women," he assured her, "especially-"
Her interruption was curt. "I'm sure you do. I'm sure you have several silly married women just dangling, thinking you have eyes only for them."
"No"-he held up a hand-"I was only going to say that I especially love ..." He looked hard at her.
She waited, watching him before she finally prompted impatiently, "And what do you especially love?"
"Not what, who," he corrected. Her eyes narrowed as she drummed herfingers against the top of the rail. Finally, she sighed. "And whom do you especially love?"
"The woman I'm married to," he murmured, seeing a reluctant smile start to glimmer in her eyes. He leaned closer, but she twisted away so she could look straight at him for a long moment. Then, just as quickly, she pulled his head down to whisper directly into his ear.
"Scoundrel!" The voice was throaty and sensual and made his knees weak. Then her lips fastened on his for a kiss so loving and deep it made him slightly dizzy.
Below them, a small orchestra lifted instruments in a fluid motion on the conductor's cue and began playing; within moments the room was filled with a dazzling array of movements flowing with the timeless rhythm of the waltz.
"Dance with me?" She smiled, dazzling him all over again.
"Whatever you want, you've got it," he said helplessly. Hand in hand, they ran lightly down the stairs.
Once they swept into the crowd, it wasn't long before everyone began voluntarily moving back to watch the grace and grandeur of this special couple, a man and a woman who had adoring eyes only for each other.
Their movements intimately in tune, Michael and Elizabeth Whittaker were so enchanted by the beauty of the music and each other, they had no idea they were the only ones left on the floor. They were the center of attention, but had no clue until the dance ended and spontaneous applause erupted. Startled, they looked around, bewildered.
He merely laughed with pleasure, while Elizabeth's hand flew to her face. Still holding hands with his wife, Michael ducked into one of the hallways to escape, wanting some privacy. Elizabeth's face was pink; she had totally forgotten she was in a public place. How could she still feel like a newlywed after being married to this man for so many years? Michael's face beamed.
He was consumed with the pleasure of knowing he was exactly where he wanted to be with precisely the right person. Life was good, so very, very good. Still laughing, he led the way into his empty office.
The door was soon firmly shut and locked.
Elizabeth, now relaxing, smiled back at Michael, knowing there was no place in this world she would rather be than here, with her very foolish husband. Her color deepened at the way he was looking at her. He loved it that after so many years of marriage she was still vulnerable enough to blush.
"I love you, Mrs. Whittaker," he said softly, holding her closer and closer. She held up a hand against his chest.
"And I think ...," she whispered, looking at him and then dropping her eyes to his mouth.
"You think?" he asked, doing the same.
"Yes, I think I might be able to ..." She breathed deeply as he pulled her closer.
"You might be able to ...," he prompted, kissing her forehead.
"To say ...," she whispered, her voice low, her breathing shallow.
"Say ..." He leaned closer, breathing in her fragrance.
"The same thing," she finally breathed, closing her eyes, ready to lose herself in him. He suddenly stopped moving, which was enough to cause her eyes to fly open and see dark eyes brimming with laughter.
"You love Mrs. Whittaker, too?"
She blinked and threw back her head in laughter, then they held on to each other as they both dissolved into giggles.
"You wretch; you are a wretch," she gasped, "and I intend to go home-" Her last word was cut off in a definitive kiss that went on and on ... then there was no more conversation. Their bodies swiftly folded into each other, enjoying a familiar and exciting duet of touching and kissing ...
The small rattle of a hospital door jerked Michael awake, the dream that was a memory shattered like glass breaking. Quickly he looked toward the bed. No movement. Good. God knows she needs to rest.
He quietly met the doctor right inside the room. Michael motioned toward the hall and they didn't speak until the door was firmly closed behind them.
"Well?" The question was stark, asked roughly by a man sandwiched between a myriad of dreadful possibilities. Michael already knew a stroke, the first suspected cause, had mercifully been ruled out. He could barely breathe waiting for the news.
Records in hand, the doctor walked over and sat down on a nearby padded bench. He hit with the good news first. "It's not a brain tumor as we feared, Michael."
"Thank God." Limp with relief, he sagged against the wall, his eyes closing briefly. Nothing, he was sure, could be worse than that suspicion.
"Then what is it? Do you know?"
Dr. Gordon Jones didn't like giving bad news to his patients; it was that much harder when it was a friend. He said nothing, merely held out a piece of paper. Michael looked at it and his mouth went dry and his heart was suddenly beating so hard his chest hurt. The noise in his head was deafening.
Gordon was speaking, but Michael just looked at him, dazed. "What?"
"Multiple sclerosis, as you may know, is chronic and incurable, but there are some new therapies that might buy us some time. My recommendation is to get her started on one as soon as possible. And Michael, there is every reason to be hopeful. Research is getting closer and closer. I don't want you, or her, to forget that. There is every reason to remain very optimistic."
Gordon wondered if his friend even heard him as he saw the stunned look, the wash of countless emotions sweep over Michael's face. He was sorry. But there was nothing he could do. "Do you want me to tell her? Or would you rather-"
Michael shook his head immediately. "God, I don't want to. But I'll try ... tomorrow. After I see how she is. Do you ... think she'll be better?"
Gordon shrugged. "Possibly. Hopefully. I'll be here early to check on her."
Michael nodded. "I'll be here." He looked hard at the doctor. "You are quite sure?" His voice was colorless.
"Completely sure. I've been consulting with the best neurologist in the city. He concurs. The MRI shows more than one lesion. Lesions or scarring is the result of the inflammation," he explained, "and that's causing the symptoms. The loss of coordination, the spasticity. That will, hopefully, be temporary. However, there may be some residual impairments. Or not. We'll just have to wait and see."
They stood and Gordon gave Michael a reassuring handshake. "Don't forget, there is a great deal of promising research going on." With these hopeful words hanging in the air, he left.
Michael walked into the silence of a deserted parking lot, shadows from the streetlights making it an eerie and unfamiliar place. He got into his car carefully, his movements as weighted and as heavy as his spirit.
When he arrived home the house was dark and looked as lonely as he felt. He entered through the back door, flipping on lights as he moved from room to room. He retrieved yet another newspaper from the front porch and tossed it on top of all the others that had been left unread over the past days. Last month it had seemed imperative to keep pace with current events nationally and internationally. Now the only event he was concerned about was sheltered in a small hospital room with uncertainties shrouding it.
Eventually the night began bowing out to morning and Elizabeth woke early, with no memories of the dreams that raced and snatched through the night, leaving only a dim trace of confused and scattered emotions.
Slowly, tentatively, her blue eyes opened to a shadowed room, a few faint brushes of gray etched on the drawn shades.
Tight, anxious breath escaped in a singular sigh of relief. Gone was the awful spinning, like an out-of-control top, and now that the world was no longer twirling it was soundless, the quiet so rich she felt she could snuggle down into it. This was not the case days ago, or was it weeks? Time had little meaning then. A second had taken on the weight of hours as she waited and prayed and hoped and bargained for life to shrink back to normal.
That infamous moment when she had got up in the middle of the night and stepped out of bed into a frenetic world of swirling motion with earsplitting calamity was too real a nightmare. She no longer had command over her own body, nothing worked, it was too horrible ...
But now, in its place was the world she knew, had known all her life, one of checks and glorious balances, of gravity and reality that could not do what was unintended. The relief was enormous. How long had it taken for this to be resurrected? Had it happened a month ago? Two days ago? She was clueless.
Elizabeth stretched timidly, rewarded as a smile began to erase the worry from her face. Everything worked! Her legs were just where they were supposed to be. She could feel them and almost laughed out loud at the pleasure of it all.
She looked toward the clock; it was very early. She should be sleeping. Then her eyes caught the play of light from the early morning sun on the wall and she was mesmerized. How could something that was nothing have such energy? She wondered what music made it dance so lively.
When she noticed the clock again she was astonished that thirty minutes had passed. Suddenly the early morning reached for her, pulling grateful eyes slowly shut, and she drifted off to sleep a little longer. Her last conscious thought was heartfelt prayer: Thank You, God!
Hours later, with her eyes still closed, Elizabeth could feel Michael's presence. A smile started lifting her heart, and when he leaned near enough to kiss her forehead, blue eyes opened slowly, cautiously.
"Michael," she breathed, embracing the smile he gave her and giving one in return; she was so happy to see him.
His heart jumped. "Elizabeth darling, how are you today? Better?" His eyes were encouraging but the voice was tentative.
"I can hardly believe how much better I am today; it's a miracle."
He had missed the sound of her voice, he suddenly realized. It had been several tense days, and she had been too dizzy, too sick to do more than slur a few words together, or to whisper, her voice ragged and strange. Now it was a sound that moved him nearly to tears.
Her voice was a husky alto and danced with the cadence of cultured Virginia at its southern best, like a pretty woman wrapped in fur-and nothing else. He cleared his throat. "Nothing could make me happier, Beth."
Impulsively she held out her arms. "Watch." Both arms straight out from her sides, she held his gaze, then shut her eyes and slowly brought both hands with knowledge to touch the tip of her nose. She felt his exultation even before he hugged her.
"Elizabeth, my God, that is wonderful. It's incredible." Yesterday she couldn't do this simple thing. That she could today was too wonderful to put into words.
Moments later the door swung open and Dr. Gordon Jones walked in, shuffling papers. He was a tall, solid man who was often unkempt. Either his hair was in need of a trim or his shirt was skewed because buttons done in a perpetual hurry were mismatched; there was too little precious time to waste on nonessentials. His appearance was deceiving because he was a first-rate doctor. And the kind of friend who'd meet you anywhere at a moment's notice if you needed him.
Elizabeth clutched her husband's hand a little tighter as Gordon came closer. The doctor sat down in the small rolling chair, dropped the charts on the side of the bed, and smiled. "How are you feeling this morning?"
"Incredibly better. Whatever is in that liquid you have dripping through my veins? Why, it must be magic!" Her smile became a little smaller as she asked the next reluctant question. "Gordon, what happened to me?" She gripped Michael's hand even tighter.
Gordon's eyes glanced toward Michael, eyebrows raised. He noted the slight shake and cleared his throat and donned his professional cloak. "Elizabeth, the good news is that it's not a brain tumor-"
Her shocked exclamation cut him off. "No one told me that was ever considered. Michael, did you know?" Astonished, she looked at Michael and saw his face redden.
"I didn't want to worry you, Elizabeth, until we knew for sure. Remember, you weren't in any shape to ... discuss this." He squeezed her hand, his face anxious.
Elizabeth's attention riveted on the doctor. "So ... now do we know-for sure? Do you know, Michael?" Again this was directed at her husband, but he kept his eyes averted while he frowned.
"Gordon told me last night, Elizabeth. You were asleep and I wasn't about to wake you. I was going to tell you this morning, but, well, there wasn't time. Gordon can explain it better than I. And then you can get mad at him; you know, the bearer of bad news and all." He was so nervous he hardly knew what he was saying. His hoped-for levity fell flat as a burst water balloon; he suddenly felt clammy, every bit of him dreading what was to come. Then he heard Elizabeth's voice, felt her hand leave his.
"I would never get angry at you, Michael, for telling me the truth." The words were quiet, but he heard the reproach and was momentarily surprised. What had he done wrong?
"Gordon, if it's not a brain tumor, what is it?"
With a neutral voice he gave her the clinical details.
"Multiple sclerosis, probably the milder form, which is relapsing/ remitting. You've responded well to the treatment ..." He continued talking, giving her an overview and then a detailed clinical description of the disease. Most of it she couldn't understand.
As she tried to listen intently to everything he said, one word bolted from the rest and she repeated it in disbelief.
"Incurable?" In others' lives, she knew there were some things medicine couldn't cure, but now that it was personal, she couldn't believe it.
"Yes. However, there is every reason to be optimistic.
Excerpted from A Sundog Moment by Sharon Baldacci Copyright © 2004 by Sharon Baldacci. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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My husband has been an avid reader of Baldacci books and when I discovered that his sister is also an author, I investigated further. Finding this book by chance, it seemed to appeal to me. While reading it, it seemed to me that the author had either done a tremendous amount of research factually or had personal and emotional knowledge of her topic. Not until after I had read and enjoyed the book did I research her personal background and find the reason for this feeling of familiarity. Sharon has created an engrossing work of literature.
Michael and Elizabeth Whittaker are a loving well-balanced couple fluid like Astaire and Rogers in all they do. However, without warning, Elizabeth begins to become uncoordinated. Concerned they have her checked out fearing a brain tumor. Though not that, both are stunned when Dr. Jones informs them she suffers from multiple sclerosis. Their harmonious world will never be the same. Her family and friends react with horror only adding to Elizabeth¿s sudden feeling of isolation from the secure world she knew. Her mom is over the edge her best friend has no idea how to act with her and her loving spouse fears leaving her on her own. Needing understanding not trepidation, Elizbath joins the Northern Neck Neuromuscular Support Group, but some members turn to marijuana for healing and pain relief. Instead Elizabeth turns to Father Wells who advices her to seek the sun where sundogs provide halos of hope when things seem it¿s darkest. --- This insightful inspirational character study will grip the audience from the moment that the heroine begins to comprehend that she has more than just an illness to battle as caring relatives and buddies drive her up a wall. Elziabeth¿s search for solace goes through the five steps of grief as she struggles spiritually as much as emotionally especially as her body fails her. Though the realistic portrayal that makes this a strong novel at times slows down the pacing, Sharon Baldacci, an MS sufferer, provides a wonderful tale of a courageous woman
The author has a gift for placing her readers in the hearts and minds of her characters. You gain a real appreciation for what it feels like to suffer from multiple sclerosis and to be constantly reminded that you are 'damaged.' This book will provide inspiration and comfort for those who suffer from any type of physical or mental affliction. It will also provide inspiration and comfort for those who care for someone who suffers.
This is so beautifully written, the real life out here as it actually happens, even though is fiction, I guarantee anyone reading this will come away far richer by having read this